Sorry for the lack of a post yesterday. It has just been one of those weeks so far.
This post is a call for any suggestions you might have for draft coverage. I’m open to doing pretty much anything if it’s within the realm of drafting.
I’m going to have another book review up this weekend, this one on John Schuerholz’ Built to Win. That’s pretty much the only definite piece I have for this week, so if you want to see anything in particular, I’m willing to try it.
I’m in the middle of a study on re-drafts, the point being to see which teams draft players that turn into top prospects later on, getting re-drafted higher than they were drafted out of high school. I’m also putting together something about how draft position out of high school affects draft position out of college, and also the economics behind the decisions made there. It’s a lot of data entry and interviewing, but it should be a really good study once it’s done. I hope to really put together something definitive on a subject that’s only talked about in generalities.
It’s obvious that someone like a Matt Purke will have trouble finding a bonus amount that equals his best offer out of high school, but what about those players drafted in the 17th round who turned down $200K to sign? What are your chances of getting that much and more, along with inflation, your savings in college, etc.? See how many variables can be involved? It’s not as easy a decision as it can be made out to be.
That’s what is going on around here, in addition to report writing.
Post your suggestions in the comments, and I’ll get started on them for tomorrow.
Just as a sign that I am making good progress with my preliminary draft reports for the MLB Draft Notebook, I’m going to pepper with you with excerpts throughout the week of various players, some already known, some not as well-known.
Here’s what I have written for Jonathan Gray, keeping in mind this information isn’t reflecting his spring performance so far:
Jonathan Gray Position: RHP
School: Chandler HS State: OK Height: 6’4’’ Weight: 240
Birth Date: XX/XX/XX Seiler Rating: XXX
Jonathan Gray is a big-bodied right-handed pitcher from Chandler, Oklahoma, a town roughly equal distance from Oklahoma City and Tulsa in the middle of the state. Gray is a late riser up draft boards, and while he doesn’t offer a lot in terms of projection, he offers a durable body with solid current stuff. Using a pro body that profiles to eat innings, he brings an above-average fastball with average to above-average command, and it sits 88-92, touching 94. It plays up due to his command, so while it doesn’t have elite velocity, it is a solid first pitch to his arsenal. He only throws one other pitch consistently, a slider, but that doesn’t seem to be a major issue for most scouts. The slider flashes above-average potential, sitting 78-80, and he can spot it pretty well, too. There’s concern that he struggles with repeating it, and he might be prone to some elbow troubles as the result of some awkward deliveries of the pitch. He throws a variant of a splitter as his neutralizing pitch for lefties, but it’s fairly raw, and it’s likely to get scrapped in favor of a true changeup in the pros. Much of Gray’s value is in his body, and his raw stuff profiles best as a number four starter that eats innings at league average production. His Oklahoma scholarship may get in the way, but he profiles as a solid 6th-8th round prospect that could go a couple rounds higher if a team believes his stuff is a little better.
If you haven’t noticed this already, I constantly read and re-read books, articles, and blogs about baseball, with a particular focus towards anything involving drafting or scouting. It’s not the same as talking to scouts, but it gives me a fairly well-rounded picture of how drafting and scouting have ended up where they are now. Everything has a past, and scouting is no different from that.
One of the books on my bookshelf is Scout’s Honor by Bill Shanks. I’ve already read it a couple of times, but I picked it up again a couple weeks ago and decided to read it in my free time. Every time I’ve read it, there’s been something new or different that I’ve picked up on. That’s why you should always read books like that more than once. Since scouting always offers something new to build upon, and even the most experienced scout should be learning something new constantly to stay up with the game, reading a book like Scout’s Honor more than once is pretty pivotal, so I can’t exactly do the book justice in one short review.
As you can tell from the picture above, Scout’s Honor is about how the Braves built their farm system into a consistent winner at the Major League level. If you’re interested in well-written, logical arguments about why such success came to be, this really isn’t the book for you. This is what I like to call a book of personalities. You read this book to get a little glimpse into how some scouts, players, coaches, and front office men operate, not how they actually make decisions.
For example, when you read the back cover of the book, you get the impression that this book will be a thought-out response to how Moneyball portrayed scouting. Ok, that makes sense. However, when you get inside the book, there’s no evidence of how the Braves actually operate. Yes, they prefer a high school player, that’s obvious. However, you don’t get to see inside their operations at all when it comes to decision-making. Instead, the book turns into a lot of personal stories, which is why I read it. If you want to know a lot about Paul Snyder, this is your book.
Here are the positives. You get to know names and backgrounds of a lot of important scouting names. There is a lot of info about the aforementioned Snyder, Mike Arbuckle, Dick Balderson, Roy Clark, and more. That’s just the nature of the book. Get to know the names, connect them to their history, and you start to see how the Braves’ scouting and player development system started long before the Braves, actually originating back in Baltimore over 40 years ago. It has spread in different variations throughout baseball, even during the same time the Braves were starting to become farm system monsters. The Braves’ success was due to retaining a lot of important scouting and development personnel, having a substantial budget, and committing long-term to the system. They were also lucky, and the author doesn’t address this at all. Other teams tried carbon copies of this system and failed, so the general premise of this book, that the Braves are unique and that’s why they’re successful, is pretty much wrong. You can trace Arbuckle, Chuck Lamar (who Shanks clearly doesn’t like), Dean Taylor, J.J. Picollo, Frank Wren, Jack Zduriencik, Logan White, and Terry Ryan to “Brave” philosophies, and they’ve had varying degrees of success, though a lot of these names are quite popular.
The negatives of this book are quite numerous, but I’m not going to get into it too much. There are some typos and grammar mistakes, which is the biggest sticking point for me. I was really disappointed when I spent the money and found those mistakes, because I felt cheated. It wouldn’t have been a huge issue, except the content wasn’t great, either. Shanks never stops to actually address Moneyball directly, instead taking a cheap shot at Billy Beane and Michael Lewis at every chance he gets. He doesn’t address the failures of the Braves’ system, instead acting like every Braves prospect and draftee is the next big thing. Players such as Charles Thomas, Blaine Boyer, Bubba Nelson, and Jung Bong are given pages of praise, only to become flameouts. Not to mention the praise for Jeff Francoeur, who was compared endlessly to Dale Murphy. The book just lacks objectivity, and I was sad to see the whole book as one big propaganda effort for the Braves.
I loved reading all about the scouting names and how that certain system of drafting and development originated back in Baltimore. The situation in Atlanta was just a situation where things meshed well, and they had a program with a commitment from ownership. Things went right out of planning and out of luck, and that should have been addressed. If you’re interested in a book where you can read a lot of basic information on scouting and how the Braves’ scouting and player development departments came to be, this is a book for you. If you’re looking for insight or a real alternative to Moneyball, this isn’t for you. It really, really isn’t for you if you get offended by writers attacking Moneyball. If you hate reading Tracy Ringolsby, this is a less-talented version of his writing.
Don’t get me wrong. I like reading everything baseball. This just isn’t the top book on my shelf.
I decided to take this weekend off from games so I can write reports for the MLB Draft Notebook. I’m getting close to having all the preliminary reports done, so I’m pretty much on schedule.
Tomorrow’s entry, my weekend column, will be a book review of Bill Shanks’ Scout’s Honor, a book about the Braves’ scouting and player development departments. It’s one of the better books out there about drafting and developing when it comes to one team’s philosophy, so I generally recommend it, though those of you that heavily favor statistical analysis might be offended by his writing at some points. He wrote it soon after Moneyball came out, so he’s quite defensive about scouting.
I hope you guys have a nice, relaxing weekend, and I’ll pop in a few times throughout to write a few things about my observations from the weekend without going to games.
I’ve received plenty of questions about who just missed being in my mock drafts for the first and supplemental first rounds earlier this week. I’ve purposely kept silent on answering those questions so far, as I want to talk about some of those players in a separate column, which comes now.
Here are a good number of the players that received consideration for my mock draft, along with some information on each. These are in alphabetical order, so don’t draw any conclusions on the order in which they come in the column. Keep an eye on these players, as a lot of them are on their way up.
Drew Cisco, RHP, Wando HS (SC)
Cisco is simply an excellent pitcher. For being so young, he is probably one of the most polished high school pitchers to come along in awhile. He knows what he’s doing on the mound. The reason he’s not higher is that he simply lacks front-line stuff. A number of teams feel that he’s a number four starter at best, despite his plus pitchability. He could easily slide forward a bit, but I think he’s more in line for a mid-second round selection, similar to David Holmberg a year ago.
Todd Cunningham, OF, Jacksonville State
Cunningham has always been seen as a solid college outfielder, and he profiles best as a fringe regular or fourth outfielder. His best attribute is a lack of a glaring weakness, along with a hit tool that was seen as advanced enough to handle good pitching. A good summer on the Cape proved he could handle wood bats, but without much pop. He slumped against fringy pitching over the last few weeks before recovering a little, but the numbers still aren’t good enough for a supplemental first round selection.
Sam Dyson, RHP, South Carolina
I think a bit of a red flag went up when South Carolina chose Blake Cooper over Dyson to be the Friday starter for their team this year, and Dyson has only made that selection look smarter than it did at the beginning of the season. His raw numbers aren’t great, but he’s also been one of the unluckiest pitchers so far, so there’s hope he’ll recover. There’s still the issue of his shoulder and whether it will hold up, making him look more like a second or third rounder.
Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Minooka Community HS (IL)
Scouts are starting to drool over the raw stuff that “Folty” is putting up, as he has consistently improved velocity and breaking stuff over the last two years, making him a real draft prospect after being a fringe draft prospect before last summer. He absolutely exploded after Perfect Game’s Indoor Pitching/Catching Showcase in Iowa late last month, and a lot of scouts will be hot on the trail when the weather heats up in Illinois. However, he’s still raw, and I’d like to see him consistently show that plus stuff before he moves up.
Kevin Jacob, RHP, Georgia Tech
If you’ve been paying attention closely, you’ve noticed that I haven’t put Jacob in any of my mock drafts, even after he pushed his velocity up to the upper-90s last summer in Alaska. That’s for a few reasons, starting with the fact that relievers are very prone to wild swings in draft stock. I knew that much of Jacob’s value would be based on his spring performance. My reason for holding him back now is what I’ve seen in person, including the disappointment in the scouting community. His raw stuff is way down, as he only sits in the low-90s, touching 94, and his command isn’t sharp. With his Boras commitment, he could even be back at Tech next year.
Tyrell Jenkins, RHP, Henderson HS (TX)
I hope you’re hearing this name more and more at other draft sites, as this is one of the bigger helium names so far this spring. Jenkins is a tall, lanky, and very athletic pitcher that has simply exploded this spring, which wasn’t necessarily expected. He’s now drawing much more interest, as his raw stuff is better and scouts think he might have what it takes to jump right into pro ball and succeed. He’s still very raw, though, which is why he’s still a second round arm to me.
Barret Loux, RHP, Texas A&M
Notice the spelling of Barret. B-a-r-r-e-t. Spell it right now, because you’ll need to when he’s in the Major Leagues. Loux was someone I identified as a possible helium candidate entering the spring, as his raw stuff is number two starter caliber, but I worried about his durability, as he’s coming off minor elbow surgery last year. He’s answered some questions this year, and I might be underestimating him, as he could easily be a supplemental first round arm in the mold of Garrett Richards.
Kyle Parker, OF, Clemson
Parker has gotten a lot of national interest, mainly because he even brings along the interest of college football fans. Clemson’s quarterback in his down time (yes, I said it), he brings premium athleticism in a class very short on impact college bats. He’s also simply hitting the ball when others aren’t, and he’s on his way up. However, there are still questions about how much he wants to play football in the fall, which will impact his signability, making him miss my mock.
Brian Ragira, OF, Martin HS (TX)
I know Ragira is a favorite in the internet draft community, as he has all the tools to be an impact outfielder. He’s a solid runner, has a plus arm, and has a true middle of the order bat that has projection left for strength and power. However, let me remind you that Ragira has a Stanford commitment. That may not mean much to you, but that’s top of the line when it comes to signing a player away from a college commitment. Unless a team sees him as a surefire first round talent, he could drop like Jake Stewart did last year.
A.J. Vanegas, RHP, Redwood Christian HS (CA)
Vanegas had an up-and-down summer, but I think I oversold him when I put him in the back of my original first round mock and my last mock for the 2010 draft. He has solid stuff and a projectable build, but there’s worry that he won’t be able to maintain plus stuff throughout a full outing. Like Ragira, he also has a Stanford commitment that could be very expensive to buy him away from, and I see him as a solid second round prospect anyway.
Drew Vettleson, OF, Central Kitsap HS (WA)
Vettleson became a bit of a circus show as a switch-pitcher with solid stuff, though he doesn’t profile as a pitcher at the next level. Rather, he has the tools to be an excellent corner outfielder with the arm and range to handle right field. He’s a solid hitter with some projection, but my worry is that he can’t hit for enough power to hold down a corner outfield spot, as he’s more of an average hitter when he’s going right. He almost has to force power, so that makes him a second round prospect to me.
Taijuan Walker, RHP, Yucaipa HS (CA)
This is due simply to rawness, as I still like what I hear about Walker’s projectability and current stuff. He has come out of the gate a little more slowly than the other elite pitching prospects, and a number of scouts have attributed that slow start to the fact that he’s fresh off a basketball season in which he was an excellent performer, as well. Walker offers some of the best upside in this class, but until he starts reaching some consistency, I have him closer to the second round.
Austin Wates, OF/1B, Virginia Tech
Most scouts envision Wates as a toolsy center fielder, but Virginia Tech doesn’t seem to get that message. The Hokies use him everywhere possible, including plenty of first base time, where his athleticism is pretty much wasted. However, Wates does have some of the best overall tools in the college hitting class, which is lacking this year, so he’s moved up a lot, but he needs to prove he can handle center field before I move him higher than the second round.
Asher Wojciechowski, RHP, The Citadel
I think I struck a nerve a couple weeks ago when I pointed out Wojciechowski’s outing against Western Carolina lasted 138 pitches. Aside from the fact that this wasn’t too good for his arm that early in the season, the reason he went so deep is because his stuff is downright devastating this year. He has improved his raw stuff to the point that he’s seen as a possible number two or three starter, but since he doesn’t face top competition, he might suffer in terms of draft stock.
Christian Yelich, 1B, Westlake HS (CA)
Yelich has come out of the gate on fire, and he’s starting to be considered as one of the best first base prospects in this year’s class. He has a good frame, along with power and strength projection, and he’s really squaring balls this spring. Some teams may look at Yelich as a possible left fielder, too, as he’s a solid-average runner with a fringe-average arm, and I could see him as a possible Major League regular with power development. He’s still a second round player to me, but he’s on the rise.
Last Saturday, I took in a game between The Walker School and Marietta High School, with The Walker being the host. I went to the game purely to see Chevez Clarke, and I was not disappointed. Clarke features excellent athleticism and a good idea of how to use it, and I came into the game expecting to see something special. Scouts were a little down on him entering the spring, as his effort was seen as subpar, and he really lacked pitch identification at the plate. However, I knew beforehand that he was showing a renewed enthusiasm on the field, coupled with better pitch identification, resulting in a better overall product. That was the Chevy Clarke I saw on Saturday.
Let me preface this by saying that Clarke was facing competition clearly below his level. The Walker School has a solid history as a successful small-school baseball program, but they’ve typically done it with players that are well-coached rather than extremely skilled. Notable recent alumni, though, include 2009 third round draftee David Hale, who came out of Princeton, and possible early round 2010 prospect Matt Price at Virginia Tech. They don’t have a Hale or Price on this year’s team, but you could tell they were a smart team, though one that didn’t match up with Clarke’s pure talent level.
Knowing that little fact, I came into the game wary of what I might see. Clarke could have easily dominated the game, but I wasn’t sure what that would tell me. There weren’t even any other scouts there, as this wasn’t a matchup that scouts expected to yield any new information. However, since I hadn’t seen Clarke before, I felt the trip was worth it. As soon as I got to the field, I could tell which player Clarke was, even without jerseys or numbers, as Marietta warms up in t-shirts before putting their jerseys on right before the game. He just stood out, both for his body and for his swagger. He just had that extra little something that catches the attention of those watching. When you see him up close, you can see why scouts dream on him. He stands roughly at six feet tall, and his frame is just simply described as wiry. He has wiry strength on a lithe frame, and he’s the type of kid that projects to add strength while keeping his athleticism. He simply needs to fill out in his upper half. His legs are strong, and he has a mature lower half in general. Once his upper half matures and fills out, he could be dangerous.
I left plenty of time to see Clarke in action in warm-ups before the game, hoping to get a glimpse at what is described as an above-average to plus arm. I was a little disappointed when I didn’t see that arm really let loose. He would get to a ball quickly, and then simply throw it at what looked like 80 percent to the base during infield. Even then, though, his arm looked like an average weapon with obvious room for more, since he wasn’t even getting behind his throws. I didn’t get to see him unload a throw during the game, either, but I’m pretty sure that the reports about his arm are true.
In game action, the Marietta team has Clarke hitting leadoff. I can see the advantages of that, but I have to wonder if they might want him to drive in some runs every once in awhile. He never got to hit with anyone on base other than a time when he was intentionally walked and had a single runner on first, so if I were coaching for Marietta, he’d be more useful in the middle of the lineup. However, I’m not the coach, so I got to see how Clarke would look as a leadoff hitter, which is his eventual destination anyway in the pros. In his first at-bat, he took some pitches, but he fell behind quickly as a result. When he did decide to swing, he was fooled badly by a well below-average curveball, jumping out on his lead foot and swinging through the pitch for strike two. The pitcher, realizing Clarke’s problems reading that pitch tried to sneak one past him again, but Clarke simply rolled over the pitch instead, grounding it fairly weakly to the second baseman. He was thrown out with plenty of time to spare, and he reached first in 4.51 seconds, having slowed down in the last ten feet.
Now is the time to tell you about a player I really enjoyed watching on Marietta, which was sophomore shortstop Dansby Swanson. One of only three sophomores on the Marietta roster (a second being his middle infield partner), Swanson immediately stood out during infield. I figured he was like most lanky, young shortstops in that his hitting was well behind his solid fielding and average arm, but I was wrong. Marietta had him hitting third in the lineup, over a number of experienced upperclassmen. He hit from the right side in his first at-bat, from the left side in his second at-bat against the same pitcher, and then went back to the right side for the remainder of his plate appearances. His first at-bat was a bit of a revelation, even though it only lasted a single pitch. I expected a kid that would try to muscle the ball up, but instead, Dansby simply blasted a fastball right back through the box with solid-average bat speed, getting a single to center field. He never showed much more than fringe-average speed, but he looks like he could be an excellent follow for the 2012 class. It’s a nice surprise when you go to a game for one prospect, but come out feeling good about another, and Dansby made the trip enjoyable.
Clarke didn’t come up again until the third inning, mainly due to Marietta hacking at a pitcher with high-70s velocity. Unfortunately, Clarke did the same thing. After fouling off a few pitches to get behind in the count again, he got something out over the plate, and he flashed plus bat speed on a screaming line drive to right-center field for a single. He reached first base in 4.56 seconds on the turn, showing good speed once again. Once Clarke was at first, though, I was treated to how raw of a baserunner he is. Against a pitcher with an average pickoff move, he was nearly picked off with an average lead at first on two separate occasions, back-to-back. When the batter following him hit a solid groundball for a perfect double play ball, I did like what I saw in Clarke’s effort to break up the double play, though he was unsuccessful. He did go in hard, though, and I liked that he didn’t let up simply to save his own body.
In the fourth inning, I got to see Clarke’s defense in action. The Walker was threatening to open the game up, leading 2-0 with the bases loaded and only one out. A hitter stepped in, and when ahead in the count, he ripped a medium-height line drive that looked like a sure bases-clearing double off the bat. The parents in the stands immediately stood up cheering, thinking the same thing. However, Clarke got an excellent jump on the ball, and he showed plus closing speed into the left-center field gap. About ten feet short of the wall in deep left-center, while at full speed, he laid out in mid-air, getting the ball in the very tip of his glove, holding on as he tumbled over, the effect of such a high-effort move. You could tell The Walker players were coached well, as a runner still scored by tagging up, but the catch was simply demoralizing. The stands grew silent, and then started buzzing as parents started asking each other if what they saw was true. I, myself, just stared with my jaw dropped open, then I looked over at his posse (as I like to call his family and family friends who support him at games), who just smiled back. It was a Major League center fielder’s catch, and that erased all doubts about him being able to play center field.
Clarke came up in the top half of the next inning, ready to show off his hitting skills once again. The Walker had a second pitcher in, this one throwing in the low-80s with consistently better stuff than the first pitcher. It still wasn’t even a fair fight, but it was closer. After watching the pitcher against his teammates, Clarke stepped in knowing he wanted a first pitch fastball in. He got it and ripped another single, this between the first and second basemen. He simply has some of the quickest wrists out there, and I have great confidence that he’ll be able to turn on even the best fastballs in the pros. His issues with breaking balls are different, but he can sure hit fastballs. He made it up the line in 5.01 seconds, having no sort of hurry. His baserunning was once again raw on this trip on the bases, which saddened me. With a runner ahead of him at second, the hitter behind Clarke hit a solid flyball to left-center field, which landed just beyond the reach of the left fielder. The runner at second was conservative, and rightly so, since he could have been thrown out at second if he ventured too far and it was caught. Clarke, however, was also much too conservative, and he was only about 20 feet from the first base bag when the ball landed and rolled to the wall, and he only ended up at third after a very athletic effort, getting to third in 10.27 seconds from the time the ball landed. When at third, he became even more conservative, getting one of the smaller leads I’ve seen from such an elite player with plus speed. On a groundball to the shortstop, who was playing back with one out and a two run lead, he didn’t even try to score, having taken a tiny secondary lead in a situation where the run was being granted. He ended up being stranded at third in the inning, with his team down 3-1 with only a couple of innings to go, forcing me to shake my head in frustration. He’s going to need some significant work on the basepaths in order to unleash his athleticism, and I wonder if he’ll ever be aggressive enough to make a difference there.
In the next inning, Clarke once again showed something with his defense, though it wasn’t all positive. On a tailing flyball on a windy day from the bat of a right-handed hitter with no one on base, Clarke’s first instinct was to take a couple of steps in. He quickly realized that was the wrong decision. He circled back immediately, and the ball landed ten feet behind him after he started running at a dead sprint a second earlier. He reached the ball quickly and hurtled the ball back into the infield, but it was too late to catch the runner at second. I thought it could have simply been the wind, so I just wrote down a question mark about his reads, since it wasn’t a definitive play. However, against the very next batter, I was thoroughly convinced that his outfield reads would be right up there with his baserunning and pitch recognition in terms of what pro coaches will need to work on. On a ball tailing the other way, to his right, he got another late jump, though he made sure not to take a step forward this time. Instead, he froze, but then caught up to the ball in the alley at a dead sprint. Instead of simply catching the ball at his waist on the run, though, he did what I considered showboating, though I can’t be positive of the motives behind it. He slowed up and then laid out in similar style to his earlier catch, though the move was quite obvious. I wouldn’t have cared too much if that dive didn’t give the runner at second time to retreat ten feet, tag up, and make it to third with time to spare. His dive cost his team a base, and that could have been worse if The Walker didn’t strand him.
The Walker brought in a left-handed pitcher to try and preserve a 3-1 lead heading into the 6th inning. I was very excited about the possibility of seeing Clarke hit right-handed. However, before Clarke even came up, his teammates walked and doubled, making it runners at second and third with two outs. The Walker coach proceeded to intentionally walk Clarke, which is done without a pitch at the high school level, and Marietta stranded all three runners in the inning, leaving me very disappointed.
That was the last I got to see of Clarke doing anything in the game, but I’m not done with my story. Remember Dansby Swanson, the promising young Marietta shortstop? Well, he wasn’t ready to go out quite yet. Leading off the 7th inning for Marietta, down 3-1 entering the frame, Swanson proceeded to swat an impressive home run to dead center field, with the ball landing approximately 360-370 feet away. This wasn’t some wind-aided home run. This was legit. Marietta did manage to scratch across another run, tying it going into the bottom of the inning, but after loading up the bases with two outs, Swanson proceeded to bobble a potential inning-ending groundball, and all were safe, with The Walker scoring the winning run for a 4-3 victory. That miscue aside, I’m going to enjoy coming back to see Dansby more times over the next two years.
My overall impression of Clarke was positive, despite my numerous words about his weaknesses. One of the best scouts to ever run a scouting department, Paul Snyder, formerly of the Braves, used to say that he wanted to know what a player could do, not what he couldn’t do. I’ll tell you what Clarke can do. He can hit fastballs as good as anybody in this class, and he’ll be able to handle Major League fastballs. He can make adjustments from at-bat to at-bat. He can foul tough balls off, even if he’s fooled by them. His hand-eye coordination is obviously plus, and he could be a .300+ hitter as a Major Leaguer if he learns to lay off the breaking stuff. He can run. He can play plus center field defense. He will give you effort, even when the team you’re playing against is beneath him in terms of talent. That’s what Chevez Clarke can do. He will be a solid addition to a team looking for a franchise center fielder, and even though it may take him a number of years to make it through a minor league system, he’ll be one of the most well-rounded center fielders in those development years in all of the minors. He still looks like a late first-round to early second-round player, and now the only question to me is how much his Georgia Tech commitment is worth.
Mock drafts are a little controversial this early in the season. I actually think that’s a bit of an understatement. They even cause anger and irrationality.
There’s a couple of ways that comes to pass. First, there’s the fan reaction to mock drafts. When fans see that their team has mock drafted a player they don’t like, the reaction can be strong, to say the least. If I had a nickel for every time a reader got mad at me for not mock drafting the player they like to their team, I’d be one rich man. I also get fun responses that tell me how stupid I am for valuing player X over player Y, because clearly player Y is better. Then they tell me they’ll never read my stuff again. This kind of reaction is always interesting, and it’s more common than you think.
The second way that mock drafts anger a community is how they anger a lot of prospect writers, especially early in the season. If you were to ask the various solid prospect writers out there who is projected to go where, you’ll get a variety of answers mostly based around “IT’S TOO EARLY TO TELL! LET THE PLAYERS PLAY!” My response to this is that it’s obvious that it’s too early to tell. Teams haven’t started making decisions about players yet, so of course my mock drafts aren’t to be taken as signs that teams are considering that player directly. It’s more of an exercise of fun and draft stock rather than connecting specific players to specific teams. Taking that too seriously is a flaw, and treating readers like they’re stupid for asking is wrong and defeats the purpose of writing in general.
I write about the draft. Therefore, I pay attention to what team picks in what position. Can I tell you who the Oakland A’s are zeroing in on for the #10 pick yet? No. Can I tell you what players are top ten caliber players and that fit the drafting history of the A’s? Yes. That’s what my mock drafts are about at this time in the year. I’m not naïve. I don’t think I can take a tiny bit of information from a scout and turn it into something bigger, something that says that a team wants player X more than player Y. There’s still two and a half months until the draft, and most teams don’t even sit down to make those decisions until the week before the draft. I simply take the draft stock of players, combine it with the trends I discussed in the draft previews for each team, and then I put together the mock draft. It’s that simple. Nothing more, nothing less. Readers like it (for the most part), and I love doing it. It makes me work, and it makes me think about where players are valued. The more information that is available and thinking that is done, the better.
I guess this is what some would call a rant. It might be. I’m just tired of seeing numerous writers around the baseball world answering questions from readers in a way that’s demeaning and doesn’t answer their question at all. If I were to receive a question that asks me who the Rangers might pick for the #15 pick, I shouldn’t say “THAT’S THE WRONG QUESTION! IT’S TOO EARLY!” I should answer it in a way that explains what philosophy they likely have behind the pick, list a few players that fit that philosophy, then qualify it by saying that it’s a little early to tell who they really want, but that I will do my best to answer their question. That’s my job. I like answering questions, and I encourage them, even if they aren’t the most educated questions. Fan focus on the draft at all is fairly new, and I don’t expect every fan to know the thinking behind it or the timeframe in which teams make decisions. That’s too much to expect. The reader I want is the reader that is curious and asks questions, even if the answers are simple and other writers think it was too stupid to ask. I’d even welcome a reader that’s never watched a baseball game. How else are we going to grow the sport?
We need to quit treating scouting, the draft, and baseball in general like it’s a sport that deserves to be shrouded in secrecy and caution. Scouts, players, and executives are people, and so are writers and readers. I don’t take this writing gig so seriously that I can’t have fun with what I like to write about. I also don’t take myself so seriously as to think I have all the answers. I write about baseball because I love baseball. It’s deep in the core of who I am. Watching amateur players is a passion of mine, and I’ve just been lucky enough to develop that into something more. Mock drafts are one way in which I drive interest in the draft, even if it is too early to connect players to teams. I want more people to read about the draft and the players that are eligible. That’s all.
Thanks for taking the time to read this rant. If you have thoughts on the subject, feel free to talk it up in the comments.
Here is the continuation of my third mock draft series, focusing on the supplemental first round today.
33. Houston Astros – Cameron Bedrosian, RHP, East Coweta HS (GA) – Bedrosian is a possible late first round prospect, and I think a lot of his perceived value has to do with his signability. He has an LSU scholarship, which can be a big hurdle, so the scouts that believe he’s more signable will take a strong run at him, as he definitely has the makings of a solid pro pitcher. Previously: #32.
34. Toronto Blue Jays – Kris Bryant, 3B, Bonanza HS (NV) – Bryant still has one of the most powerful bats in the entire class, including college hitters, and the big question is whether he can hit with wood. However, there are plenty of teams out there that believe they can help Bryant transition to wood, while keeping his 40 homer potential. Previously: #44.
35. Atlanta Braves – James Paxton, LHP, Kentucky – Though I illustrated that the Braves simply don’t spend much in the draft, I expect them to spend late first round money on their first pick if the right player is available. Paxton’s pretty much in limbo, but I can see a team like the Braves that value projection from the left side picking him no matter what he does this spring, granted that he’s healthy. Previously: #25.
36. Boston Red Sox – Matt Harvey, RHP, North Carolina – Welcome back to the conversation Matt Harvey. Harvey has come back with a vengeance this spring, and it’s only my conservative nature that keeps him out of the natural first round right now. His Scott Boras connection will haunt him no matter what he does, but he could be moving up fast if he continues to dominate on Fridays. Previously: NR.
37. Los Angeles Angels – Chad Bettis, RHP, Texas Tech – The Angels have a history of taking college pitchers with excellent natural stuff that are projected as relievers by a number of organizations. That was Garrett Richards a year ago, and Bettis is a comparable pitcher this year. He has done well in a starting role at Texas Tech, though he’s been more hittable than expected. Previously: #26.
38. Toronto Blue Jays – Kyle Blair, RHP, San Diego – I expect the Blue Jays to fill in with some upside college arms and bats in the supplemental first round, perhaps only to keep their expenses down when they more picks than I can count. Blair still has the mechanical and command issues he’s always had, but he has the upside of a number two starter, making this more believable. Previously: #40.
39. Boston Red Sox – Jarrett Parker, OF, Virginia – Parker fits into the Boston mold for drafting, as he has both the athleticism to fit in their system, as well as the pop in his bat to believe that he could move quickly through the system. He also should be signable, which might be important in the early picks if their first round pick is worth more than slot. Previously: #38.
40. Los Angeles Angels – Peter Tago, RHP, Dana Hills HS (CA) – Tago’s not the most projectable arm in the class, but he might be one of the most advanced. The Angels have a ton of picks for the second year in a row, and I see them going for one solid prep arm in the supplemental first round, similar to them nabbing Tyler Skaggs a year ago. Tago fits that bill. Previously: #34.
41. Toronto Blue Jays – Michael Choice, OF, UT Arlington – Choice has come out on fire this spring, and I found myself considering him for the back of the first round. However, his lack of elite-level tools beyond the power in his bat makes him more of a supplemental first round choice. The Blue Jays will be looking for power arms and power bats. Previously: #50.
42. Tampa Bay Rays – Deandre Smelter, RHP, Tattnall Square Academy (GA) – Smelter has an elite arm, but like Stetson Allie, he lacks the refinement and rotation potential in most teams’ eyes. He projects as more of a closer, and the fact that he throws a splitter at such a young age worries some scouts with regards to the arm action of a split. He’s still a solid pick at this level. Previously: #33.
43. Seattle Mariners – Brett Eibner, RHP, Arkansas – This will be the Mariners’ first pick, and it will be interesting to see how much they budget for this pick, since there could be a few prep names that are elite, but fall due to signability issues. Eibner has pitched well in limited innings as a Sunday starter for Arkansas, and I see him as a solid mid-rotation option if a team prefers him on the mound. Previously: #43.
44. Detroit Tigers – Reggie Golden, OF, Wetumpka HS (AL) – This is the Tigers’ first pick, and like the Mariners, it will be interesting to see how much they budget for this pick. They favor prep bats with athleticism and pop and Golden fits that mold quite well here. His stock isn’t really changing so far, but this is simply a decent fit. Previously: NR.
45. Texas Rangers – Jedd Gyorko, 2B, West Virginia – I expect the Rangers to go after a few more bats in the draft this year when compared to their recent history. Gyorko is easily the most refined bat available here, and while he’s limited defensively, there are a few teams that think they can make him an average defender at second with above-average hitting for the position. Previously: #36.
46. St. Louis Cardinals – Gary Brown, OF, Cal State Fullerton – Brown has been on fire this spring, and I’m becoming more comfortable with having him up this high. He’s still pretty much a two-dimensional player, offering a good hit tool and plus-plus speed, but some teams may like his ability to becoming a leadoff hitter in short order. Previously: #46.
47. Colorado Rockies – Justin Grimm, RHP, Georgia – One of the things I took away when I saw Justin Grimm a few weeks ago was that he simply lacked the ability, present or future, to have good command. However, the talented arm is there, and he could become a mid-rotation starter on pure stuff alone. He’s going to be a draft prospect as long as he stays healthy. Previously: #41.
48. Detroit Tigers – Rick Hague, SS, Rice – Hague’s problems with breaking balls are catching up to him, but he still is showing his prospect value with the glove. He’s getting steadily better with his glove, and his bat still has starter upside, so he’s still an early round prospect despite some ugly early numbers. I still like him more than most. Previously: #24.
49. Texas Rangers – Bryan Morgado, LHP, Tennessee – Morgado is the left-handed version of Grimm, as he simply lacks the ability to command his pitches. However, he offers above-average stuff from the left-hand side, and a team that sees him as an easy sign with mid-rotation upside will draft him earlier than his third round draft slot last year. Previously: #39.
50. St. Louis Cardinals – Marcus Littlewood, SS, Pineview HS (UT) – I have a strong feeling that the Cardinals are looking for a potential early-round middle infielder, and Littlewood offers good upside. It will be interesting to see how teams scout him, as the competition he faces isn’t good enough to really compare him. Most of his value will be from his summer performances. Previously: NR.
Here is the start of the third installment of my mock draft series. The first round starts today, followed by the following rounds beginning tomorrow.
1. Washington Nationals – Bryce Harper, C, CC of Southern Nevada – This is increasingly becoming a no-brainer as Harper puts his tools into action on the field. The cost for Harper might be becoming increasingly expensive, but there would be no excuse for passing over what I consider the top talent in the draft by a solid margin. Previously: #1.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates – Deck McGuire, RHP, Georgia Tech – I know this one will bring plenty of wailing from the Pittsburgh community, but I simply don’t see any connection between the Pirates and Jameson Taillon. With Anthony Ranaudo out right now, McGuire has stepped up to become the best draft-eligible college pitcher in the country, and he offers solid stuff with some projection remaining. Previously: #10.
3. Baltimore Orioles – Jameson Taillon, RHP, The Woodlands HS (TX) – If Taillon does fall into the laps of the Orioles, this will be another no-brainer type of selection. There was a little bit of worry a couple of weeks ago when Taillon’s velocity dipped a bit in a start, but it was back up in his most recent start. Cost is the big factor here, considering Taillon might be the most expensive prep arm ever. Previously: #3.
4. Kansas City Royals – Drew Pomeranz, LHP, Ole Miss – I have just been extremely impressed with Pomeranz this spring, as he’s really taken another step forward. There are still some slight concerns about his motion, but with #2 potential from the left side, it will be hard seeing him drop out of the top ten if he’s healthy and dealing. Previously: #16.
5. Cleveland Indians – Chris Sale, LHP, Florida Gulf Coast – Right behind Pomeranz is Sale, especially since Sale is considered the more signable of the two. The much-anticipated matchup of Sale and the U. of Miami hitters in a midweek game was rained out, but Sale has flat-out dominated the competition so far, though that’s to be expected. Previously: #12.
6. Arizona Diamondbacks – A.J. Cole, RHP, Oviedo HS (FL) – This is reminiscent of the Diamondbacks’ pick of Jarrod Parker a few years ago. Cole hasn’t been as heralded this spring, but he still offers the best projection of anyone in the class and one of the few arms that project to be a true number one starter. Arizona may have their pick of the best prep arms behind Taillon. Previously: #6.
7. New York Mets – Dylan Covey, RHP, Maranatha HS (CA) – Covey has been solid so far in early season action, and his fastball-curveball combination is considered the most polished pair of offerings in the prep class. He offers #2/3 upside with better current polish than pretty much anyone in the prep class, and he shouldn’t be as expensive as some of the other names. Previously: #7.
8. Houston Astros – Zack Cox, 3B, Arkansas – I had Cox here in my first mock draft for 2010, and even though he doesn’t fit Bobby Heck’s traditional mold for up-the-middle athleticism, he’s emerged as one of the few available impact bats in the college class. I expect this pick to be a hitter as it stands, so Cox is simply the best available hitter here for an affordable price. Previously: #5.
9. San Diego Padres – Manny Machado, SS, Brito HS (FL) – Machado is one of those players that is hard to gauge, because so much of his value is wrapped up in projectability, yet he still produces on the field in a body that doesn’t offer many of the same attributes that scouts project him to have. If he can stick at short, he’s the best middle infielder available in this class, and the Padres’ new scouting focus should lead to him for numerous reasons. Previously: #11.
10. Oakland Athletics – Austin Wilson, OF, Harvard-Westlake HS (CA) – The rumors of the Athletics being heavy on Donavan Tate last year lead me to believe that they’re really looking for impact center field talent in the prep ranks if the right player is available. They’ve proven they have the budget, and Wilson, fully recovered from a back ailment in the fall, could be an impact player there if he can prove he’s a long-term center fielder. Previously: #13.
11. Toronto Blue Jays – Karsten Whitson, RHP, Chipley HS (FL) – Whitson’s not necessarily behind either Cole or Covey right now, but this is the de facto order that those pitchers come in at this moment. Whitson offers as much upside as anyone, though there’s a tad more risk here than in his counterparts. The Blue Jays are likely looking to build with more high school talent, so this is a good fit. Previously: #9.
12. Cincinnati Reds – Micah Gibbs, C, LSU – I know a lot of Red fans would be upset with this pick, but I think this is a solid fit. The Reds generally push for slot with their early pick, and they’re without an impact catcher throughout, so this is a similar situation to the Astros when they picked Jason Castro in 2008. Gibbs has had a great start to his junior year. Previously: #49.
13. Chicago White Sox – Brandon Workman, RHP, Texas – Workman’s transition to the rotation at Texas has been an unqualified success, and the questions about his ability to start are slowly starting to fade away. He should be an affordable arm with good upside and a solid pitch mix, and the White Sox are one of a few possibilities for his landing. Previously: #31.
14. Milwaukee Brewers – Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, LSU – Say what you want about Ranaudo getting a mulligan so far, but with all the missed time, there is plenty of concern about his durability, one of his better attributes before his injury. He needs to come back and pitch well, especially with his newfound Scott Boras connection. The Brewers are one of a few landing spots on the way down. Previously: #4.
15. Texas Rangers – Alex Wimmers, RHP, Ohio State – Wimmers has been excellent in his first five stars, and he’s really setting himself up to be a solid first round candidate for June. He’s always been in the conversation, but the consensus was that he had to continue to blow away the weak competition he faces to stay in the first round. The Rangers need a pretty signable pick here, and Wimmers would be a solid addition to a farm system deep in arms. Previously: #15.
16. Chicago Cubs – Jesse Hahn, RHP, Virginia Tech – The Cubs have a pretty solid history of taking college arms that have experience closing and turning them into starters, though Hahn has already made the transition this year, and it’s been very successful. He’s still learning to pitch, but his raw stuff and returns early this year have been great. Previously: #35.
17. Tampa Bay Rays – Yordy Cabrera, SS, Lakeland HS (FL) – I had Cabrera here last time, and it still continues to make sense. Cabrera has the sort of elite power potential that teams look for, but he still has to answer how his age relative to his competition affects his performance. As it is, though, he could be a power-hitting right fielder for years to come. Previously: #17.
18. Los Angeles Angels – Josh Sale, OF, Bishop Blanchet HS (WA) – This one was tough, because the Angels don’t have a long history of taking corner outfielders, especially ones that are viewed as somewhat questionable on the athletic side of evaluation. However, Sale’s bat is just so good that it compares favorably with Hank Conger, the all-bat prep catcher taken by the Angels a few years ago. Previously: #14.
19. Houston Astros – Kevin Gausman, RHP, Grandview HS (CO) – It’s hard to change this pick from the last mock draft I did, simply because Gausman just started his season this past weekend. The Astros love the projectable workout arms, and Gausman certainly fits those criteria. He’s a definite first round option for a lot of teams, and the question is how much his LSU commitment is worth. Previously: #19.
20. Boston Red Sox – Nick Castellanos, 3B, Archbishop McCarthy HS (FL) – Castellanos has come out on fire this year, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that he’s a legitimate first round candidate. He put on shows on the showcase circuit over the summer, and the main question he has to answer is whether he can stick at third base. The Red Sox like power bats or athletic bats, and Castellanos fits in category number one. Previously: #18.
21. Minnesota Twins – Kaleb Cowart, RHP, Cook County HS (GA) – I still go back and forth on Cowart, just as a number of scouts are going back and forth. Cowart has the pure talent to go in the first round as either a bat or an arm, but the early returns on his arm are quite good. If a team believes he has Ethan Martin potential with the arm, he is a lock for the first round. Previously: #21.
22. Texas Rangers – Yasmani Grandal, C, Miami – Most that know my evaluation of Grandal believe I have a bias against him. However, he’s come out and answered most of my questions so far, hitting well, playing solid defense, and improving his stock. The Rangers still need catching in their system, and Grandal is fighting with Gibbs for the place of the top collegiate catcher. Previously: NR.
23. Florida Marlins – Justin O’Conner, SS/C, Cowan HS (IN) – O’Conner is in a similar situation to Gausman in that he gets started so late that any changes in mock drafts are more about players around him than his play. If the catching transition is successful, I see this as a solid fit, and even if it isn’t, O’Conner’s the best bat to stay at shortstop among the top prep shortstops in the class. Previously: #30.
24. San Francisco Giants – Christian Colon, SS, Cal State Fullerton – O how the mighty have fallen. Colon has come out extremely flat so far this year, and it brings back bad memories of Grant Green’s rough start for USC last year. However, Colon doesn’t have the tools to fall back on that Green has, so the fall is faster and deeper. Previously: #2.
25. St. Louis Cardinals – Stetson Allie, RHP, St. Edwards HS (OH) – Another cold-weather player, Allie still offers the most electric arm in the entire class, Taillon included. However, the lack of refinement and probable bullpen destination makes Allie a more questionable first round candidate, and I seriously considered dropping him out altogether. Previously: #20.
26. Colorado Rockies – Bryce Brentz, OF, Middle Tennessee State – Scouts flocked to see Brentz play a midweek matchup against Tennessee a few weeks ago, and they were treated to a nice display of the power of Brentz. However, with the concerns of his competition still being out there, he needs to put up the video game numbers of 2009 to be an early pick. Previously: #22.
27. Philadelphia Phillies – Chevez Clarke, OF, Marietta HS (GA) – Clarke still has some problems with pitch recognition, but he is a much more improved player than who he was last summer. He still has the excellent athleticism that the Phillies seek, but he also offers better refinement and effort, and he just looks more mature. Previously: #28.
28. Los Angeles Dodgers – Sammy Solis, LHP, San Diego – Whereas teammate Kyle Blair has slowly started dropping off the radar as a first round candidate, Solis has stepped up after missing last year with a back injury. The Dodgers love their left-handed arms, and I have to think that Solis is right near the top of the board, being a Southern Californian and having a great comeback season. Previously: #37.
29. Los Angeles Angels – Stefan Sabol, C, Aliso Niguel HS (CA) – This one is getting tougher, because the early reads on Sabol’s catching continue to be mixed. His athleticism is still never in question, so whichever team picks him has the alternative of developing him as a premium defender in the outfield. However, if the Angels pick him this early, it will be as a catcher. Previously: #23.
30. Los Angeles Angels – Scott Frazier, RHP, Upland HS (CA) – Frazier has jumped on to the early round scene with an excellent early round of games, including a no-hitter that featured plus stuff and results. He offers premium projection and a big frame, both things the Angels love, and the most important thing in this pick is that they get upside with signability, and Frazier is expected to be signable for slot this early. Previously: NR.
31. Tampa Bay Rays – Robbie Aviles, RHP, Suffern HS (NY) – There is still no conclusive read on how Aviles’ Florida commitment affects his signability, and that will play a big part in his draft position come June. Being a cold-weather pitcher, teams are going to have limited looks on him, so his signability is a big factor, since he’ll be a little behind as it is. He’s quite projectable, though, and the Rays could get premium talent for their buck here, since this pick is compensation for not signing LeVon Washington a year ago. Previously: #42.
32. New York Yankees – LeVon Washington, OF, Chipola JC (FL) – I defended Washington early on when scouts were saying that he lost a step, but it’s gotten far enough into the season for me to start worrying. His plus-plus elite speed just isn’t there right now, and he doesn’t offer enough other tools to be a top ten or even top twenty pick. I do still like his bat, but this is as far as I can go. Previously: #8.
Stay tuned for the next part tomorrow, when I’ll give you my latest supplemental first round mock draft.
On Friday, I got the chance to check out Ralston Cash, a senior right-handed pitcher from Lakeview Academy in Gainesville, Georgia, about an hour from downtown Atlanta. I knew a good amount about Cash before I even headed down there, and in the interest of knowing that before I even give you the report, here’s the Draft Notebook writeup I had for him ahead of time:
“Ralston Cash is a tall, projectable righty from Cornelia, Georgia, a small town about 75 miles northeast of Atlanta. While he doesn’t feature the plus current stuff that some of the top pitching prospects in this year’s prep class offer, his projectability is up there with almost everyone not named A.J. Cole. Currently, Cash offers three quality pitches that could turn into plus offerings with time and maturity. His fastball is a solid 88-91 mph pitch with average life most of the time, but at the lower end of that range, he can put some serious sink into it. With his downhill plane, he could turn into a power groundball pitcher, every team’s dream. His breaking ball is a curveball that can loosen up and get slurvy sometimes, but at its best it can be a sharp above-average pitch in the 75-78 mph range. He throws a better changeup than most pitchers his age, and it could be another above-average offering. It’s usually in the 81-84 mph range when it’s at its best. Add in the fact that Cash is athletic and features excellent mechanics, and you have yourself a bit of a sleeper. He could go in the 3rd-5th round, but a team could absolutely get a steal there, as Cash has middle of the rotation potential.”
I found most of what I had been told to be pretty close to the truth, though I found a little less refinement than I hoped for when I saw Cash in game action. Cash’s opponent on Friday was Commerce High School, making this a matchup of two very small schools, meaning the competition wasn’t as intense as you’d like to see when catching a game. Cash was the only prospect on the field, but he’s played with a solid prospect before. His catcher last year was Brett Armour, who is now a draft prospect at Young Harris College, a junior college in North Georgia, as a freshman, hitting .304/.385/.506 in 79 at-bats as a starter. Needless to say, Cash would have been helped out by having a little better backstop on this day, as it’s hard to almost any prep catcher to catch the kind of stuff that Cash brings.
I arrived to the field early enough to catch Cash’s bullpen session before the game, and I really got to see his frame up close. He was a bit thicker than I was told before, and I’m wondering if he’s put on some strength over the offseason. He’s listed at 6-4/200, though he looked closer to 210 or 215 pounds to me, though he’s built very solidly. He looks like a ballplayer when you see him, and I’m encouraged to see that the weight is pretty well-distributed. He has very thick legs and a very solid core, and I now envision as a sturdy number four starter. The bullpen session itself was nothing special, as the catcher was having enough trouble catching his stuff, but I did pick up on a little bit of a concerning motion with his changeup. His bullpen before the game was almost completely curves and changeups, and the changeup arm action was considerably slower and more noticeable than either his curve or fastball. He hid it a little bit better in the game, but he only threw the change early on, and it was ineffective, so I didn’t get a better view. However, I knew what to look for in the game after catching the bullpen, which is why I encourage fans to arrive early for games if they’re seeing a draft prospect, as it’s sometimes the closest you’ll ever get to them in order to check out the body type and other such telling signals that are harder to pick up on when you’re busy scouting multiple things in game action at the same time.
On to the game, I really got to know something about how Cash operates. As a quick side note, almost all coaches call pitches for catchers at the high school level, and any criticisms I have for pitch selection aren’t criticisms for Cash, and even for the coaches at Lakeview. I simply want to point out that sometimes draft prospects are victims of a less refined approach to their craft than is the norm for either college players or those with pro instruction, so the lines of pitchers are sometimes bigger than you’d like to see. Such was the case on Friday. Cash came out in the first throwing harder than he had been in the bullpen and even in warm-ups for the inning. His first pitches were 90-91 mph fastballs with average life, and his control of that pitch was consistently solid throughout the game. Notice I said control and not command. We’ll get to the command part later. He set up the first batter with two fastballs, then rung him up looking with a solid 79 mph curve that was more of a slurve than a true curve. Cash’s delivery is a true three-quarter bordering a low three-quarter, so it’s going to be harder for him to really develop a consistent curveball. I’d probably change his grip to make it a true slider, which is easier to command anyway, but he’s obviously put a lot of work into his curve. It had above-average shape for much of the game, and I can see where a number of scouts saw the potential for an above-average pitch, but his command of it wasn’t great for most of the game. He had to take off some break to throw strikes with it, making it flatter and more like a slider, but his bigger benders were slower with more up-and-down break. He couldn’t throw strikes with that variant, but it shows potential if he can find the release point. The second batter popped up Cash’s first changeup of the afternoon, an 84 mph pitch that had pretty much no life on it, and the second baseman caught it for the second out. After breaking off a better 77 mph curve to the third batter, he retired him with a ground out, ending the first after just three batters. It was pretty impressive, but not overwhelming, so I wanted to see more.
One of the things I love about watching small schools play is that someone like Cash is not only the star pitcher, but the star hitter, as well. He hit third in Lakeview’s lineup, and he was just noticeably bigger than anyone on the field. After a weak swing on a below-average curveball from Commerce’s pitcher, I realized the reason why Cash is only seen as a pitching prospect. His pitch recognition skills were consistently below-average, and he has no balance at the plate. He grounded out in his first at-bat, lunging at a low-80s fastball. He was clocked at 4.75 seconds to first, though he pulled up for the last ten feet after the first baseman caught the ball. That’s a well below-average time, but he did pull up, and I didn’t see him try to leg out anything else on the afternoon.
Cash came out in the second inning throwing at the range I had been told in the fall, 88-91, and he sat there for most of the afternoon. He threw a couple more 79 mph curveballs that looked more like sliders than curves, and some scouts started wondering if he had actually switched to a slider because of the shape. He threw a pair of changeups on the inning, and he really struggled to finish off one hitter in particular. After the hitter fouled off a few pitches with two strikes, Cash made a mistake, which started with the pitch call. He delivered an 82 mph changeup right over the heart of the plate to a left-handed hitter, and the pitch simply looked like a straight fastball, as it lacked both depth and break. The hitter batted it down the left field line, and because of a poor attempt at diving for the ball by the left fielder, the hitter ended up at third with a triple that should have been a single. Cash did recover from that miscue with a solid effort against the next hitter, striking him out with a 79 mph curve, but the ball bounced away from his catcher for a wild pitch with all runners safe, including the hitter. The next hitter, a righty, proceeded to pop the ball out to right-center field, but because of the tail on the ball and the wind, the center fielder completely misread it for a double that scored one runner, advancing the runner that reached on the wild pitch to reach third. After squeezing in an out, the hitter following hit an average fly ball to center for a sacrifice fly on a 90 mph fastball, making it two runs that shouldn’t have been scored than had come across. Cash finished off the inning with a swinging strikeout on a fastball, but the damage was done. He allowed two runs that were officially earned, but that wouldn’t have scored with better defense behind him, which came to be a theme on the afternoon.
Cash’s third inning was also a victim of some questionable defense. He came out with a solid strikeout looking on a curveball to start the inning, and then allowed a pair of singles, both of which were legitimate hits. One was absolutely scorched to right field by a left-handed hitter, and I wonder how Cash will handle lefties at the next level. However, the next hitter reached on a normal ground ball that the third baseman tried to backhand instead of get around on, leading to another run, making it a 3-1 game, with Lakeview behind. I clocked Cash’s time to the plate consistently through all these jams, and he was normally in the 1.50 range with runners on second, though he had a solid slide step that was in the 1.34-1.36 second range consistently. He’s not going to hold runners very well with his current delivery, as it takes him awhile to get going forward, but it wasn’t awful. After allowing another weakly-hit single that was pretty much slapped past the infield, I got to see how Cash dealt with a big jam. The bases were loaded with only a single out, and I wanted to see how he would react to bad defense and frustrating situations. What I ended up seeing was pretty encouraging. The first hitter up got behind quickly against the fastball, and he ended up actually twisting his ankle when he was way ahead of Cash’s best curve on the afternoon, getting a strikeout and an injury, though he stayed in the game after limping back to the dugout. The following hitter faced the same fate, striking out swinging on another curve, though the ball bounced away from the catcher again, though he recovered enough to throw the runner out at first to end the inning.
Starting in the fourth inning, I started seeing a different Ralston Cash. He fed off a big inning from his offense and the way he ended the previous inning. Pitching with a 4-3 lead, he started pitching confidently, not afraid to shake off his catcher to throw more fastballs, which were obviously overpowering a fairly weak Commerce offense. He was throwing 87-89 in the inning, getting a pair of swinging strikeouts when he elevated 88 mph fastballs on back-to-back hitters. The last hitter hit a weak fly ball to right field on an 87 mph fastball to end a quick 1-2-3 inning, and I was utterly impressed with the new pitcher I saw on the mound. He was simply different from the pitcher of the first three innings. That confidence only lasted for a pair of innings, but I saw some real potential in the pitcher I saw in the fourth and fifth innings.
In the fifth inning, I was one of the few evaluators left at the field, as most of the scouts had departed from the Georgia-Auburn game in Athens. Cash started to tire a little bit, but still bumped up his velocity when he needed it. He was 85-86 mph to a weak hitter in the back of the lineup, but also threw 88-90 against better hitters around that hitter, showing me that he knows what he’s doing and has a good idea who he’s facing. He threw a pair of 77 mph curveballs, one of which went for yet another strikeout, his 9th on the afternoon. I got the chance to see him get off the mound to field a swinging bunt, as well, and I was impressed with his poise. He got to the ball pretty quickly, showing above-average reaction time, and when he picked up the ball cleanly, he didn’t rush his throw or throw it too hard for the situation. He calmly delivered a solid throw right on the money for an easy out in a situation where some prep pitchers would have thrown it down the right field line. The last hitter hit a weak ground ball to third base to end the inning with another 1-2-3 frame for Cash. Like I said in the previous paragraph, this was simply a different pitcher from the early innings.
Cash’s final inning, the sixth, was an unfortunate thing to watch. He was throwing mainly 87-89 in the frame, touching 90, but his stuff was a little less sharp than it had been. He started relying heavily on his curveball, and it was actually much softer than it had been in previous innings, sitting more in the 73-77 mph range than the earlier 77-79 range I witnessed. The difference was noticeable to the naked eye. The results were not too great, though. After allowing a soft single to short left field, a hitter fisted a ball down the left field line for an RBI double, cutting Lakeview’s lead to 7-4. After getting a flyout to center field on an 89 mph fastball, things started to fall apart, though it wasn’t Cash’s fault. The next hitter surprised Cash and company with a running bunt, and Cash’s reaction time wasn’t as impressive this time, but he once again showed solid instincts with his fielding. Instead of trying to do too much, he understood that the play was over and held onto the ball, allowing a bunt single instead of a three base error. He promptly struck out the next batter looking with a 75 mph curve for the second out with runners on the corners, but then his defense departed him. He started pitching off his curveball almost exclusively, and he made his first real mistake of the night on defense. On a normal ground ball, he made a bad throw, allowing the runners to move around, and one scoring to make it 7-5. The next batter hit an easy ground ball to the shortstop that should have ended the inning, but on his easy toss to the second baseman, the second baseman completely dropped it, allowing another run to score, making in 7-6. Cash faced the last hitter of the inning as if pitching without a defense behind him, obviously going for the strikeout. He got in on a 78 mph curve in the dirt, ending his outing with 11 strikeouts in 6 innings. The final line was 6 runs allowed on 8 (generous) hits, with his defense committing 3 errors, 1 by him, and he also didn’t walk a batter.
Cash moved to shortstop in the final inning as Lakeview tried to close it out, and I got to watch one of the more interesting plays I’ve ever seen. Cash lacks the mobility to play shortstop at any level in the future, as he has the body of a third baseman more than a shortstop. However, he was solid in the opportunity he had. With runners on second and third and no outs, Cash went to his backhand to field a sharply-hit ground ball, and the runners froze. He looked back the runner at third, and then delivered an absolute strike to the first baseman right on target, and the runners took off on the throw. The first baseman got the out at first, and then delivered a solid throw to the catcher, who tagged out the runner coming out for the second out. The runner at second had only taken off when he saw the runner ahead of him getting close to home, and the catcher delivered a solid throw to the third baseman, who put down an easy tag well ahead of the runner for what should have been the third out. However, the umpire, who was consistently off, called that runner safe, which obviously ticked off the home team and their crowd. Lakeview did close out the game, but I thought I was going to be in the middle of a riot.
My overall impression of Cash was quite positive. He displayed the solid natural stuff that I expected, though his command wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. He consistently left pitches up in the zone, though the Commerce hitters lacked the strength and bat speed to catch up to the ball. His curveball needs some work, and like I said above, I’d change him to a slider based on his arm speed and angle. The pitch even looked like a slider at times, so I wouldn’t see a tough transition. There’s a good bit of upside here, and I came away still seeing him as a solid 3rd-5th round prospect. He had a bad defense behind him, and every scout that evaluates him will have to completely ignore his final line and actual results on batted balls, but the approach is there for a pro pitcher. He’ll need to learn to adjust to having a competent defense behind him, and he’s going to be a flyball pitcher in the long run, but I’m glad I got to see Cash throw a pretty solid outing.