Analyzing Amateur Baseball Talent as it pertains to the MLB Draft

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College Notes 3-30-09

Aaron Fitt of Baseball America reported last week that Santa Clara catcher Tommy Medica is going to miss the rest of the year after separating his shoulder. Medica was one of my favorite prospects to follow, which I guess I'll be able to do next spring, as it's unlikely he would sign out of college with this news. Hopefully his throwing arm will recover.

Fitt also noted that Rice RHPs Ryan Berry and Mike Ojala will also miss some time. Ojala is only expected to miss a week or two, but Berry is expect to be out four to six weeks. Rice is always loaded with pitching, but this is a lot of overcome, so it will be interesting to see how they fare during this time.

Onto my own observations from the weekend. Buckle in, I watched a lot of good talent...

Starting with Strasburg

I caught the first several innings of Stasburg's eight inning, 14 strikeout performance against TCU on Friday. As I noted in a blog at PGCrosschecker, TCU is the first big matchup (at least on paper) for Strasburg this season, and the results were much the same as his previous five starts. He picked up his fifth win in the process, allowing three hits, two earned runs and a walk.

TCU second baseman Ben Carruthers homered off of Strasburg to open the bottom half of the first inning. If the Aztecs hadn't scored three runs of their own in the top of the first frame, this may have done more to electrify the crowd on hand, as it seemed as though a lot of fans in the Fort Worth area headed to the ballpark to get a taste for the Strasburg phenomena.

The home run didn't phase Strasburg, who settled down to retire the next three batters in order, the last two going down swinging.

TCU did score another run in the sixth. Center-fielder Corey Steglich led off the inning with a double, and scored thanks to a pair of infield groundouts to second base. A late rally in the ninth didn't matter, as San Diego State was in control from the first pitch of the game, winning easily 11-to-5.

This was my first chance to see Strasburg this year, and as good as he has I must say it was probably only the third or fourth time I have seen him pitch. He is as good as his billing, with an amazing arm and incredible velocity on his fastball. Watching online I wasn't privvy to radar gun readings, but you can tell his fastball is nearly unmatched. His curveball is also a nasty pitch, although I must say his accuracy wasn't as good as what I have seen it in the past. I think TCU could have done a better job working the pitch count against him, but that's easy for me to say since I wasn't the one facing upper-90s fastballs and one of the best breaking pitches I've seen all year.

In other words, yes (in case you haven't heard), he's very, very special.

Boxberger vs. Leake Spence

Arizona State travelled to Southern California this past weekend to take on the Trojans, and the second ranked team in the nation ended up taking two of the three games, thanks in large part to stellar pitching performances by Josh Spence and Mike Leake.

Spence, a lefty, got the start in game one, as Sun Devils Head Coach Mike Murphy saved Leake for Saturday as he felt it gave his team the best chance to win the series, and now of course it’s hard to argue with the results. Spence is enjoying a fine season, coming off of two very successful seasons playing for Central Arizona JC. He doesn’t throw hard, probably topping out in the mid-80s, and he’s pretty slight of build, probably 160 pounds or so max, and he doesn’t help himself to the naked eye by the pajamas he calls a uniform.

He does however throw two very impressive breaking pitches. His curveball is a big sweeper, and he also throws a harder version of the pitch that has more down and away movement to it. He threw these two pitches almost exclusively, and went the distance tossing almost 140 pitches in doing so. He also has a good pickoff move, fields his position well and has an effortless low three-quarters delivery. Overall he is a similar prospect to Jeremy Sowers at a similar stage of his career, although Sowers was able to throw 90 mph, which obviously is a huge difference.

Brad Boxberger did keep his Friday spot in the rotation and looked very good. He was throwing 92-95 in the early innings, and then 90-91 in the sixth and seventh. In addition to the velocity he was showing very good command. Once he realized he wasn’t getting the strike called at the knees, he started working from side-to-side and enjoyed the results.

He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, showing how unhittable he has been this year, but Mike Leake of all people (who came on to play second base) broke it up with a shallow flare to the outfield.

His curveball was really working for him Friday, as I don’t recall seeing him throw as sharp of a true 12-to-6 breaker. He also threw a slider and what looked like a splitter. It’s unfortunate he took the loss in this game, as he just doesn’t get enough run support to win as often as he should.

There were several front office executives on hand, as well as a handful of scouting directors and plenty of crosscheckers. That of course means he’s a near lock for the first round, probably more likely to go in the 15-25 range overall, as some are still not convinced that he’s a starter down the road.

Leake Keeps Pace

As noted above, Leake’s usual Friday start was pushed back to Saturday, and it clearly doesn’t matter when this young man pitches. His strikeout totals were down (four over eight innings), but he looked very sharp, and induced a ton of groundballs. The one run he did allow came in the first inning, when Grant Green hit a triple (a ball that looked as though it would be handled by the shortstop, but then rolled all the way to the warning track) and scored on a single.

He threw 89-91 and touched 93. He threw his usual full repertoire, which includes two different breaking balls, each with a unique break to it but both equally impressive. He commands the strike zone so incredibly well, and his arm action is effortless. If he were a couple of inches taller, people would be talking about him as a legit top five-to-seven pick overall, and who knows, he may indeed go that high if he keeps it up.

RHP Andrew Triggs started for the Trojans on Saturday, and he also looked pretty good. He came out firing, showing a nice changeup and a sinking fastball. His breaking ball is also a good, not great pitch, in that is breaks, but not a lot, but he commands it fairly well and can change the speeds with it. He has a very good, projectable frame, and will be a name to keep an eye on moving forward.

Going back to Grant Green, he looks like a clone of Corey Hart. He’s tall, lanky and angular, with a pretty big, but aggressive swing as well as a similar stance and overall mannerisms. Green’s swing can get long, but you can see why he has so much power potential with the bat speed and extension necessary to pile up extra bases. However, right now it doesn’t look as though his swing is in sync, despite a three-hit performance. He has done a good job overcoming a slow start to bump his average on the sunny side of .300 as well as slowing his error pace.

Fellow USC slugger Ricky Oropesa, a freshman first baseman/outfielder, is a picture-perfect athlete. He had a big spring leading up to last year’s draft coming out of high school, and is a former Aflac All-American. He has big-time power potential, but he also has a big swing, and despite his impressive stature, he’s probably limited to either first base or left field. He has the power potential to play those positions, but is going to need to shrink a few holes in his swing.

As for the Arizona State hitters, Jason Kipnis is currently the best the Pac-10 has to offer. He’s a shorter athlete with a left-handed swing, continuing in the tradition of hitters such as Andre Ethier, Travis Buck and Tim Smith (freshman John Ruettiger may be next in line). Kipnis shows outstanding patience at the plate and has great plate coverage with his swing. He has good speed, and overall is a pesky player that makes the most of his skills. Dustin Pedroia comparisons are likely to follow this young man to the professional level.

Catcher Carlos Ramirez continues to interest me. He definitely has a power swing, currently leading the Pac-10 in homers, and he also looks good behind the plate. I didn’t spend a lot of time following the hitters, as I was keyed in on the pitchers, but the number 55 on his back made it easy to think of Ramon Hernandez.

Dean Smokes, Mitchell Burns Ole Miss

LSU is currently the top rated program in the nation, and for good reason. They have the perfect balance of a solid pitching staff, a dynamite offense that can beat you so many different ways, a solid defense and a good bullpen.

On Saturday I got to see something I don’t think I have ever seen before.

With two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth inning, Blake Dean hit a shot past the first baseman’s glove for a single, but directly to the right fielder. Jared Mitchell, the base runner at first base, was running on the pitch. He rounded second by the time the right fielder got the ball, and ended up scoring on the play, giving Dean a bases-clearing single.

I’ve seen runners score from first on singles before, but not on a single that was hit right at the right field and was not bobbled or misplayed whatsoever.

Mitchell is a very impressive athlete. I’ve been a big fan of his ever since I got to see him play live and in person during the summer of 2005 at the Aflac All-American Classic. He impressed me in that he showed an advanced and natural sense for the game despite having to contend with an equally exciting football career.

That football career has caused him to not entirely devote himself to baseball, playing wideout for the equally impressive Tigers football team.

And by playing wide receive for a power team in a power conference you know this young man can fly. That’s not a big surprise given how he scored on a single, but he is arguably the most electric player in college baseball.

In the third inning he laced a fastball to left field for an RBI single. In the eighth he hit a laser that continued to carry all the way above Ole Miss’ center-fielder Jordan Henry’s head. With the relay throw coming in to the shortstop, Mitchell rounded second and headed to third for a triple.

That type of baserunning aggressiveness draws comparisons to Carl Crawford. His upright, quiet stance reminds me of Ruben Sierra (the pre-freakishly bulked up Sierra). He may not have that kind of power potential, and definitely offers more speed, but he definitely is a difference-maker both at the plate and on the bases.

The aforementioned Blake Dean entered the game hitting .235, and ended up going four-for-five with four RBI. He had a huge year a season ago, and entered the spring at the top of all stat lovers’ wish list.

His tools are definitely limited, and while he’s listed at 6-foot-1, I would be surprised if he’s even six feet tall. His patience is definitely his best attribute, as he works the count like few others. His bat speed is good, not great, and since all four of his hits barely made it past the right-side of the infield, it was difficult to get a sense for his power potential, at least if you hadn’t seen him play before (like during last year’s SEC tournament).

LSU Shortstop D.J. LeMahieu, a draft-eligible sophomore, has first-round tools, but hasn’t been hitting the ball as well the past few weeks as he did to open the season. He continues to show the opposite field approach that I’ve seen since catching him play in high school, with very good power to left center-field. He is a great looking athlete, with a strong yet loose lower half and plenty of room in his upper body to add strength.

Center-fielder Leon Landry will need to tone down his swing to hit for better contact, but his aggressiveness does give him exciting power potential. He’s known for his defense in center, with very good speed, an average arm and a fearless approach. His stocky, mature build reminds me a little of Ray Lankford (still having that famous collision at home plate in my head).

I was excited to get a chance to see right-handed starter Louis Coleman take the mound. Having followed his numbers, I wanted to see if his stuff matched his productivity, and was happy to see it did.

He’s not a flamethrower, but did comfortably sit in the 87-91 range. His best pitch is an absolutely nasty slider that the Ole Miss hitters seemed to have no chance against.

Coleman has a rather long and exaggerated leg drive that makes it look as though he’s throwing across his body. That creates natural deception, especially given how much his slider breaks. While he has very good command, his best use in the future may be as a short reliever, with a nasty one-two punch that may allow him to thrive as a closer, even if his fastball velo isn’t particularly gaudy.

Closer Matty Ott has been sensational this year, with a 34-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 21 innings of work. He has five saves and a 2-1 record in 13 appearances.

Ott’s best pitch is also an absolutely nasty slider. He looked as though he was going to come in the ninth inning and absolutely shut down the Rebels, but the Rebels came out swinging, and while no ball was hit particularly hard, they managed to put together a nice little rally to come within one run of the Tigers.

While LSU is loaded with future pro prospects, Ole Miss isn’t. They do have a nice collection of good, not great talent, the best of which is Friday starter Drew Pomeranz, who I had the chance to see pitch against Vanderbilt’s Mike Minor earlier this year.

Jordan Henry probably has the best pro prospects, with very good speed and a slash and dash approach. He is very skinny through the waist, and needs to add strength to his upper body. He employs a slash-and-dash approach very well, and was among the league leaders on the Cape last summer in hitting (with a wood bat).

Duke vs. Wake Forest

Normally I wouldn't go into a Duke/Wake Forest contest excited about what I was about to see, at least not like I did in watching the ASU/USC series and LSU on Saturday. However, I was looking forward to seeing funky left-hander Chris Manno pitch, and was hoping Alex Hassan would get the chance to come on to close.

Manno pitched a dandy, and Hassan did indeed get his chance in the ninth.

Manno was very sharp, showing incredible fastball command and a great curveball. Having read previous reports on Manno, it seems as though fastball command and the consistency of his curveball are the two things that have worked against him in the past, but that was not the case on Saturday.

He moved his fastball around the zone perfectly, something he needs to do since he doesn’t throw particularly hard. He was spotting the pitch both inside and out, and went up in the zone a few times to get key strikeouts. His curveball was a true 12-to-6 breaker that froze a few batters and made a few more look rather silly trying to hit it.

His delivery is a textbook definition of herky-jerky. There are a lot of moving parts to his delivery, both in the upper and lower half, as it looks almost as if he’s trying to wriggle a few extra miles per hour out of his body. I’m not a pitching coach, but I don’t see anything glaringly wrong or at least potentially damaging about his delivery.

Right fielder/closer Alex Hassan entered the game leading the ACC in hitting, with an average well above .400. He finished the game 0-for-5, so it was a little tough to get an idea of what he’s capable of. His swing looked rather long, and I remember thinking the same thing the last time I saw him hit. His tall, athletic frame would lead you to believe he has good power potential, but he’s more of a line-drive, gap-to-gap hitter.

I agree with Anup Sinha’s assessment from a few weeks ago that Hassan profiles better on the mound. His tall, angular frame gives him a very projectable body, and I too would like to see what he can do when he focuses on pitching full-time.

He threw mostly fastballs in his one-inning performance, getting ahead of the count to set up his big-breaking curveball. He got the first two batters of the inning out quickly before hitting the third batter in the helmet with one of those curveballs that got out of his hand early. The next batter reached when Hassan slipped on an easy comebacker. The fifth and final batter was retired on yet another curveball.

His fastball-curveball combo is good, but not great, at least not closer great at the big-league level. I would really like to see that combo used as a starter, mixing in a changeup, which I didn’t seen thrown, assuming he has one or can learn to throw one.

The Blue Devils, who were coming off of a surprising series victory over the Tar Heels the previous weekend, have several interesting hitters. First baseman Nate Frieman is a huge right-handed hitter whose size alone makes him imposing. I’m skeptical that his size translates to game power, and while he is very patient, I’m not so sure he can make consistent enough contact.

Second baseman Gabriel Saade is a very interesting left-handed hitter and defender. I remember being impressed when I saw him play in high school, as he’s a shorter, left-handed hitter that has some Ron Belliard to him. He has good range on defense and turns the pivot at second very well. He employs a short, compact swing and some gap power to give him some promise at the next level.

The hitter I was most impressed with was freshman center-fielder Will Piwnica-Worms. His last name isn’t a typo, and I remember being bummed that I didn’t have the chance to see him a year ago at the Perfect Game Indoor Showcase.

He’s a good looking athlete, built thin and lithe, but with long and strong limbs. His bat is his best tool, with very good bat speed and a line drive approach. He carries a confidence with him into the batters box, and exhibits a very good eye. He has good, not great speed, and will need to develop more over-the-fence power if he doesn’t have enough speed and range for center-field.

Florida Shocks 'Bama

Some big scores and one big comeback victory highlighted the SEC scoreboards on Saturday, with the Gators stunning 'Bama for seven runs in the ninth inning to overcome an eight-to-two deficit.

Florida is playing very good baseball, as they ended up sweeping the Crimson Tide, and are now 18-8 overall and 16-4 at home. Their schedule certainly doesn't get any easier, as they still have series against Ole Miss, LSU, Georgia and Kentucky to prepare for.

Freshman lefty Nick Maronde took the mound for the Gators, and similar to the last time I saw him, he looked very sharp early before falling apart in the mid-innings, roughly the third time he faced the batting order.

His fastball is his best pitch, a true power offering that he can get away with elevating it in the strike zone. He was getting the outside strike and took advantage of it. He threw a few changeups, which looked to be show-me pitches, but didn't see him throw any breaking balls. Overall his season numbers are very good, and has been a big part of the Gatros' success this spring.

I didn't pay too much to outfielders Matt den Dekker or Riley Cooper just because I have seen so much of them in the past. They really are who they are. Florida's lineup was energized as soon as they placed den Dekker at the leadoff spot, while Cooper has been struggling at the plate lately. You can tell he's trying to be more selective, and hopefully for him he will learn to be selectively aggressive which would play to his power potential.

Alabama also started a freshman lefty, Adam Morgan, on Saturday. Morgan has a more projectable build than Maronde, with a good delivery and overall proportions. He needs to throw more fastballs, as he relied almost entirely on his curveball in the early innings. His curve is a good pitch, but you just can't throw that many breaking balls and have success (or good health). He was sharp through nine innings before the Crimson Tide fell apart in the ninth inning.

'Bama has some intriguing athletes in their lineup, and collectively as a team they're hitting .338/.420/.594 with 66 doubles and 54 home runs. Kent Matthes is the most interesting, and he is having a huge season after spending a lot of time in the gym over the past year adding strength. The hard work has paid off, as Matthes currently has 16 home runs and 43 RBI, and is one of the front-runners for the Golden Spikes award.

Brandon May is probably their second-best pro prospect. A good hitter that is somewhat without a defensive home, May's swing is made for contact, but he doesn't have enough power to be a fit at first base, and he's not a particularly good athlete to play anywhere else. He could turn into a Shea Hillenbrand type of hitter. He has sloped shoulders that most of the best hitters posses, but a low waist and somewhat dumpy lower half really limits his potential.

Third baseman Jake Smith, shortstop Josh Rutledge and catcher/designated hitter Clay Jones all have big swings with some intriguing power potential. I think Smith in particular could be a sleeper to watch at the next level with good bat speed and extension, he just needs to work on being more selective at the plate.

One for the Locals

Illinois hosting Michigan State wasn't on many people's radar over the weekend, and based by the lack of people sitting behind homeplate, that included the scouting community. The game was carried by the Big Ten Network, and given the HD broadcast, catching a college baseball game in HD was a treat.

Illinois' top of the order caused havoc for the Spartans from the opening inning, as center-fielder Joe Bonadonna, left-fielder Casey McMurray and shortstop Brandon Wikoff went a combined 9-for-13 with six runs and eight RBI.

Bonadonna and Wikoff both are shorter, pesky players whose upsides are seriously limited. Wikoff has some professional potential since he bats left-handed and can play the middle infield. Illini catcher Aaron Johnson may have the most value at the pro level. He has good (not great) bat speed, some pop, and looks good behind the plate. The Milwaukee Brewers drafted Aaron Johnson out of high school, and Illinois brought him to Champaign to continue their recent tradition of Canadian catchers (Chris Robinson, Lars Davis).

Michigan State's best player is Chris Roberts, an Oshkosh, Wisconsin native (specifically Oshkosh West, as apparently folks in Oshkosh don't get along very well) who profiles, and has mannerisms similar to Whitefish Bay native Craig Counsell. Roberts also bats left-handed, and looks like a potential big-leaguer with a good, athletic frame and long, wiry strong limbs. He shows a patient approach at the plate and carries a cocky confidence about himself in the batters box. He isn't as versatile as Counsell on defense, but he does offer more power potential offensively.

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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