Analyzing Amateur Baseball Talent as it pertains to the MLB Draft

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College Notes 3-21-09

True Sleeper

As my colleague Allan Simpson reported this past week, Kentucky LHP James Paxton is the talk of the scouting circuit with an unexpected jump in velocity this spring. It's not that Paxton was a complete unknown, having been named one of the top prospects in the Alaskan summer league in 2007, but his velocity went from the 88-90 range to the 94-97 range.

And it's not just the velocity that is impressive, but the movement. He gets great, natural sinking movement on his fastball, and he also throws a really sharp curveball. He does is with a free and easy arm action and overall delivery that makes it easy to believe that he should be able to maintain this spike in velocity over time, and deep into ballgames. His delivery come from a low three-quarters arm slot, which gives his stuff great deception and has been compared to Randy Johnson's delivery.

However, having seen him before I can tell you he and Randy Johnson are nothing alike, although few, if any, resemble the Big Unit.

Here is what I had to say about Paxton after watching him last year in early April: Low 3/4 delivery, athletic frame. Commands FB well with good run to it. Loopy breaking ball, not nearly as sharp as FB command, although he did sharpen up the pitch to get out of a jam in the third. He induced a bunch of ground balls in 3 innings of work. He's a sophomore and not draft eligible until next year. Good, not great prospect.

A native of British Columbia, it's not that huge of a surprise to try and figure out how and why Paxton is such a late bloomer. Much of his improvement this year is attributed to better weight and conditioning tranining in which he has added 20 pounds of muscle since last year.

After shutting down LSU a week ago, and squared off against fellow SEC LHP Mike Minor and the Vanderbilt Commodores last night. I got to see the free and easy delivery first-hand, as he was really tough to hit, and the Commodores had a hard time making hard contact against him. Much of that has to do with the fact that of the 20 outs he recorded, 10 were on strikeouts. He mixed in his curveball perfectly with his fastball, using his fastball probably around 75 percent of the time while trying to establish the strike zone.

While he was consistently around the strike zone, he worked deep in counts on nearly every hitter. That is part of Vanderbilt's M.O., but still he had ot be pulled before getting through the seventh inning as his pitch count crept towards 120. 10 strikeouts and three walks will help push up the pitch count total, but he needs to do a better job being more efficient.

Now he's a candidate to be taken in the first round, and what college left-handed pitcher with a mid-90s fastball and hammer for a curve don't go in the first round?

As noted, Mike Minor started against Paxton for Vanderbilt. This is the third time this year I have seen Minor pitch, and close to 10 times I have watched him pitch during his college career. I think his draft stock is going to slip if he does start pitching like he's capable of really soon, as he isn't commanding the strike zone as well as he has in the past, and he's not fooling too many batters either.

He's not pitching terribly, as last night he tossed seven strong innings, but he's not pitching like a Friday starter in the SEC may be expected to.

In the starts I have seen him start this year he has gone up against Paxton, Jeff Inman of Stanford and Drew Pomeranz of Ole Miss. That's a nice collection of talent, however the Commodores are 0-3 in those games. Minor is better than that, as he showed the past two summers against international competition, and hopefully he finishes the spring strong as the weather gets consistently warmer.

Mizzou's Gibson dealin'

After Paxton was pulled from his game last night, I switched over to watch Kyle Gibson faced Texas A&M, one of the top rated programs in the nation. Gibson was coming off of a complete game shutout of the Texas Longhorns from a week ago, and managed to hurl yet another victorious complete game effort, pushing his record to 4-1.

That's two top five to 10 programs in two weeks, and that's also a couple of weeks removed from dueling Arizona State's Mike Leake in a classic matchup.

Last night he faced LHP Brooks Raley, who is having a nice season of his own serving as the Friday ace for the Aggies. To be honest, I didn't pay too much attention to Raley, but Gibson was dealing, again.

His fastball velocity isn't overly impressive the times I have seen him. He usually sits in the 89-91 range, and typically I don't have a problem with that, especially given how nasty of a pitch his slider is. However his fastball can be very, very straight. It appeared as though he was working on throwing a two-seam fastball to give the pitch more sinking life, and it seems to be workign very well for him. He struck out 16 batters last night, walking only one and tossing 117 pitches over his nine innings of work.

With Alex White struggling a little with command this spring, Gibson may have snuck ahead of him to assume the role as the second best right-handed pitcher in the nation, behind Stephen Strasburg of course.

Sean Black, meet Jeff Inman

Earlier yesterday I tuned into the Seton Hall/Notre Dame online telecast, and got to take a peak at Sean Black. Black, like Inman, has an incredibly loose arm and very good stuff, and when watching him it is a little surprising to see that he struggles as much as he does when looking at his stats.

He throws mostly fastballs, and is always around the zone. When he catches the zone he gets hit hard, and when he does he becomes timid and starts throwing his curveball, another plus pitch, more than he should.

Both pitchers are players that could really benefit from facing hitters using wood bats on a regular basis. On Friday night, Black was getting dinked and dunked on duck snorts and balls that just seemed to find the right hole. I can't say whether or not this is a common occurence for Black, like it is for Inman, but hits like that probably will start to diminish as batters that get a bad swing with a wood bat usually aren't rewarded for it.

That isn't meant to place all of his problems on aluminum bats, but I liken the situations of Inman and Black to that of Justin Verlander, who also had dynamic stuffin college but inconsistent results.

The Legend Continues...

Not mentioning Stephen Strasburg on a weekly basis would be like Peter Gammons not mentioning the Boston Red Sox.

Strasburg had yet another double-digit strikeout game, setting down 15 Brigham Young batters via the K in seven innings of work. Unfortunately the Aztecs bullpen crumbled late, and Strasburg didn't pick up the win, but he now has an absolutely astonishing 74-to-seven strikeout-to-walk ratio this season over 34.1 innings of work.

Dandy Dozen

SP
Tyler Matzek Polished lefty with power arsenal
SP
Alex White Second best college RHP to Strasburg
SP
Zack Wheeler Rising draft boards with impressive FB/CB
UT
Brooks Raley Smooth lefty leads A&M in ERA, BA
C
Luke Bailey Baseball rat with compact build, swing
1B
Jonathan Singleton Powerful prep slugger with big LH bat
IF
Ryan Jackson Slick defender with questions about bat
3B
Jiovanni Mier True SS with exciting tools
SS
Robbie Shields 2B/3B type with promising bat
OF
Tim Wheeler Exciting blend of power & speed
OF
LeVon Washington Blazing fast with exciting leadoff tools
OF
Everett Williams Great athlete with tools galore

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