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Game Writeup Coming

I caught the first game of a doubleheader between Middle Georgia JC and Georgia Perimeter JC on Saturday, and I have a writeup coming tonight.

Reggie Williams really impressed with the bat, but was raw in other phases of the game, so that gives you something to look forward to in the writeup. LeAndre Davis didn’t play, mainly because his offense has been awful most of the year, and scouting reports I’ve been given match the numbers. He’s been a big disappoint, but he’s only a freshman, and I expect him to turn out to be pretty good next year.

Hope you guys have had a solid weekend, and stock up/stock down pieces will be coming at you this week.

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April 3, 2010 Posted by | Posting Schedule | 1 Comment

Scouting and The Scout’s Life: Part 2

So I think I’ve established the fact that amateur scouting is more complicated than meets the eye. I don’t think that anyone familiar with scouting would argue that it’s a glamorous job filled with star players at every turn. It’s quite the opposite. However, despite the difficulties, it’s a job that is highly sought after by thousands upon thousands of baseball enthusiasts every year.

Why is it that people think they want to scout? I always wonder about this, because I know the hard work behind the fun job title. However, no matter how much I talk about how much work goes into it, I know there will still be thousands of people who want to scout. You know what I think about that? I think that’s great! The reaction of people inside baseball isn’t necessarily the same, mainly because they get tired of being hounded by people asking them for jobs. That’s understandable, but that’s not my perspective.

The number one qualifier to be a scout is to have the passion to find players. That means doing whatever it takes, including putting in long hours and traveling long distances. If you aren’t willing to do that, you can’t be a scout. Some ex-players might be able to pull that off for a very short period of time, but it will catch up to them, just it would anybody else. However, if you have the passion and energy to find ballplayers, then you move up that one level to being picked and analyzed for your skills. If you can’t put in the time and effort, your skills as an evaluator don’t matter.

Once you’ve proven that you have the work ethic, it’s all about your ability to understand what makes a good future ballplayer. Notice I said future ballplayer. Finding a player that stands out on the field now is easy. Pretty much every team in America has a player that is their best player. He probably plays shortstop or catcher or center field and also pitches regularly. That’s not hard to find. You need to be able to tell what a player will be in the future.

This is where people that have played in the game have a leg up on the competition for scouting jobs. First, they already know people inside baseball teams, having played for them. Most scouts come from ex-minor leaguers. However, it’s not just about knowing people these days, as you can put your work in front of most teams quite easily with technology in the 21st century.

The advantage most former players have is that they know what makes up a good ballplayer, as they’ve been there. They’ve either played with those ballplayers that had that something extra or they themselves were that player. They’ve seen hundreds of games in person, been a part of the action, and they already know the minor league lifestyle. They can go into a kid’s house and honestly answer questions from him and his parents instead of making the minors seem more glamorous than they are. They’ve ridden on the bus trips for hours on end, and they can help kids become more realistic with their outlook of pro baseball. You don’t want to draft a kid, only to find that he had no idea that the minors were so much work and so much bus traveling. They’re much more likely to quit, and your job is on the line, because you recommended and signed them.

So, in other words, don’t take it personally when teams prefer the ex-players over you. Other the last ten years, scouting and player development have undergone a tremendous revolution, along with the rest of baseball. The competition is much more intense for jobs in the industry, and scouting has been touched by that as much as any other department. The way scouting has been impacted is a little unique, though.

Scouting was relatively untouched by the outside world for a number of decades. Scouting departments underwent natural changes as information and scouting itself became more nuanced. However, most scouts would agree that Moneyball changed the way their job is viewed. I don’t mean this post to be controversial, as this is pretty much undeniable in the baseball community. Overnight, scouts went from admired tradesmen to old, out-of-touch men with radar guns.

I think I should admit this now. I read Moneyball early on, and I loved it. I liked getting a glimpse into a front office that wanted to turn traditional ideas upside down. However, it made me very uneasy, knowing that scouting would never be the same. Oakland wasn’t the only team to re-organize the way they scouted amateurs. Teams weren’t the only ones changing their views of scouting. The scouting community found itself in the middle of a public debate about their worth. Some people went as far to say that scouts simply didn’t matter anymore. I think the vast majority of the baseball public didn’t feel this way, but it was out there.

I say all this to point out that scouts’ jobs are now much more difficult. Guys that used to be pretty anonymous outside of the core baseball community are now known by name by the public. That makes things a little more complicated, as you might expect.

A few weeks ago, I was at a game, sitting in the row right behind a few scouts. A couple innings in, a guy that looked to be about 18 sat in the row right in front of the scouts. I noticed he was looking really nervous, fidgeting around and turning around a few times during the inning. Apparently he was working up the nerve to talk to the scouts. He eventually turned around, breaking the ice by asking how fast the pitcher was throwing. One scout answered quickly, not really paying him any attention. The guy once again worked up the nerve and introduced himself to the scouts. This is where I started to grin, chuckling a little. The scouts simply said ok. I had to try hard to not burst out laughing. One last time, the guy tried to break into conversation by asking what team the scouts were from. Game over. The same scout that gave the velocity readings said something to the effect of, “We’re doing our job. Leave us alone.” The guy sat there until the end of the inning in silence, then left, never to come back.

I’ve seen scenes similar to this play out over and over, at almost every field I’ve been to so far. Scouts are bothered a lot more than they used to be. Now they have to juggle the scouting, the talking to kids and their parents, and also dealing with that public that has much more interest in them now. They do that all in the same game. That’s why I don’t approach scouts at games. Unless they come up to me, I let them do their job. I don’t want to be that person that is the extra nuisance for them.

I guess this post is less about the life of a scout than it is about how the life of scouting itself has changed over time. Think you want to be a scout? Read through all these things first. If you want to deal with all these complications, then maybe you stand a chance. Scouts work harder than pretty much anyone in baseball. I hope these pieces have helped you understand just a fraction of that work.

April 2, 2010 Posted by | Scouting | 1 Comment

Scouting and The Scout’s Life: Part 1

Amateur scouting is a complicated subject. I think the general baseball public takes advantage of an idea that scouting is as simple as going to a baseball game, taking a seat, and then watching kids play baseball. I’ve probably perpetuated this thought at times. However, it’s much more complicated than that. This post will give you a more realistic view into amateur scouting, including its difficulties and complications. When you see the whole picture, you realize that being a scout isn’t as glamorous as one would think.

Going to games is only a tiny piece of the puzzle, and scouts spend a lot more time doing other things. To begin, let’s think about the life of scouts during the spring scouting season. There is an assumption in the general baseball public that scouts live in the same area they work. They can simply get out of bed at a comfortable time in the morning, sip some coffee, and then head out to games after reading the morning newspaper. That’s about as misleading as it can get. Though some scouts live in the same area they work, a large number don’t even live anywhere near their area. They spend almost their entire season in hotels, usually of the extended stay variety. A lot of scouts spend as much time talking with each other about how nice the hotels in an area are as they spend chit-chatting about baseball. It’s an uncomfortable reality of the job. If you have a family, don’t expect to see them very often.

Now that you know that scouts aren’t living a nice life in the comfort of their own home, now you need to understand that a large amount of their time is spent in a car. Take Georgia for example. If an area scout covers just Georgia (which isn’t always the case), that means they cover an area that takes roughly eight hours to drive the state corner to corner, and that’s without traffic, which isn’t a reasonable assumption, since you have to drive through the Atlanta area to get anywhere. That’s before you add in North Florida or Alabama or Tennessee or South Carolina, all states that can fall in a Georgia area scout’s area, depending on the team. As a result of this life in a car, the vast majority of your time is spent alone, using car chargers for radar guns and cell phones and making a lot of calls on the road. A lot of scouts use that time to make their calls to their sources in the area or to check in with their crosschecker or family. If you don’t like driving, being an area scout is not for you.

So now we’ve checked into our hotel and stretched our legs after a five hour drive. What do we do now? A lot of stuff that has nothing to do with the game you’re about to see. Scouts are always planning ahead, some more meticulously than others. They constantly check the weather, check in with their associate scouts or pure informants, all for the reason of getting quality views of the players in their area. Knowing the pitching schedules of collegiate players is easy, but what do you do when you’re scouting a high school arm? The answer is that you create a network of informants. A parent, coaches, associate scouts (who are often coaches), and pretty much anyone else in the know on high school teams can help scouts out with who will be pitching, how many pitches they’ll be throwing, and practice schedules. Little of this information is available online. Position players are much easier to plan for, as most pure schedules are online, but pitching schedules are not. So when you check into that hotel, you may be working the phone or checking the weather all over the state, also thinking about that pitching matchup you want to see in a couple days. If that matchup is on the other side of the state, you probably want to plan to see another game that’s on the way tomorrow. This is all part of the plan, but you must also be incredibly flexible, as prep players have some of the most volatile schedules out there. They get hurt, they get pulled for a matchup later in the week, they get suspended for a game, or you flat-out can’t get the info you need on their schedule. It’s a continual chess game, and handling those issues is a big part of becoming a successful scout. If you’re sitting around in a hotel room not scouting anyone on a Friday night because you didn’t plan ahead, you’re not doing your job.

Now that I’ve covered the basics, it’s time now to head to the field. That’s easier said than done sometimes, because if you’re not intimately familiar with your area (say you’re new to Georgia), it’s pretty easy to get lost headed to some fields. Directions aren’t always the best, and it really depends on the info you have on getting there. However, I’m going to assume you’ve now arrived at the field safely and with plenty of time to spare. If you’re interested in a hitter on the home team, you want to leave plenty of time to see batting practice. That’s a given. I’ve gone over the particulars of where scouts sit and how they move around in previous posts, so I’ll leave that out now.

Getting on towards game time, scouts have to deal with a number of factors, and this is where I answer the questions from the suggestions thread yesterday. Depending on the player, and how familiar you are with him, there are a number of things entering your mind on what you want to see. Since weather was a suggestion, let’s tackle that issue. Say I’m going to scout Robbie Aviles, a right-handed pitcher from Suffern, New York, where my wife lived for a couple of years. Let’s contrast that to what I would be focusing on when I scout Cam Bedrosian. Most scouts don’t have to think about this contrast, since they’re confined to a single area, but this is a question crosscheckers continually have to answer. Where is the focus? Can you really compare those two pitchers?

I know these are two well-known names, but the thought process is the same for less well-known players. If I’m scouting Aviles, I need to keep in mind a few things. First, he’s not even close to being a finished product. He hasn’t received the instruction that Bedrosian has, hasn’t had the number of innings to get a feel for pitches, and he hasn’t faced the same competition. There are a lot of places to improve, though that also means that he’s farther away from the majors and might run into a few more bumps along the way. There’s a lot of projection to be made. If you see that Aviles is very mechanically sound, has a solid pitch mix already, and has a projectable frame, you want to project more room for growth compared to Bedrosian, all other things being equal. Makeup matters, too. With a player that’s received a lot of instruction and logged a lot of innings like Bedrosian, you know that he’s pretty committed to working on stuff, and you have more time to evaluate his makeup during a season. In cold weather situations, that’s not the case. Once Aviles jumps into the grind of minor league baseball, with it becoming his 24/7 focus, will he still have the same desire? Players in warm-weather environments with a lot of experience have already found themselves in that 24/7 environment during summers with well-known travel teams. The transition will be easier. So you have to be more careful when evaluating the cold-weather players like Aviles, because you need to be 100% positive that he’ll transition well on the mental aspect of pro baseball. Performance doesn’t necessarily matter as much, because there’s a lot of room to grow, but it’s not irrelevant, either.

That’s a lot to think about when evaluating. It’s a complicated process. I’m going to continue my story on the life of a scout in a later column, as I’ve only scratched the surface. Hope you enjoyed the read, and there’s more to come!

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Scouting | 5 Comments

Seeking Suggestions

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.

March 31, 2010 Posted by | Posting Schedule | 14 Comments

Draft Notebook Excerpt: Jonathan Gray

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
Commitment: Oklahoma

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.

March 29, 2010 Posted by | MLB Draft Notebook | 2 Comments

Weekend Column: Scout’s Honor by Bill Shanks

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.

March 28, 2010 Posted by | Book Reviews | Leave a comment

Writing Reports

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.

March 27, 2010 Posted by | Posting Schedule | Leave a comment

Players Left Off Mock #3

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.

March 26, 2010 Posted by | Mock Draft | 10 Comments

Player Game Report: Chevez Clarke, 3/20/10

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.

March 25, 2010 Posted by | Player Game Report | 2 Comments

A Note on Mock Drafting

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.

March 24, 2010 Posted by | Mock Draft | 9 Comments