Analyzing Amateur Baseball Talent as it pertains to the MLB Draft

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College Notes 4-11-10

I’ve long that it would be a good idea for one of the major networks to carry Friday night college baseball games to highlight some of the premier pitching matchups in the nation. ESPN seems to be doing just that this year, with a focus on the SEC. It’s a good year to focus on the SEC, with Friday night arms such as Anthony Ranaudo, Drew Pomeranz, Justin Grimm, Sonny Gray and Drew Smyly.

Georgia for whatever reason has been involved in the Friday night telecast each of the last two weeks, and will face Arkansas this coming Friday. That means viewers have been able to get a good look at Justin Grimm, although he has had some pretty touch opponents in Ranaudo and Pomeranz (in a week from Friday, ESPN is schedule to be at the Ranaudo-Pomeranz matchup in Oxford, Mississippi).

Last Friday gave me a chance to see Pomeranz, who I haven’t seen since late last spring when he propelled Ole Miss to their late season run. I will also break down some of the players from a matchup between Virginia Tech and Miami.

Drew Pomeranz

I’ve seen Pomeranz a few times each of the last few years, and he was a talented recruit coming out of high school. He was dominant in this game, as he has been all year, striking out 15 Bulldogs over eight innings of work while allowing only four hits. The only run that scored on him came on a misplay in right field, as the outfielder aggressively charged a ball that dropped in for a single that allowed the baserunner to score from first base.

The first thing you notice is his size. He’s not hulking, and he’s not overly projectable, but he has a good, mature body with good present day strength. His height allows him to release the ball that much closer to the batter, and it looked as though he had a very late release point, getting full extension from his stature during his delivery, making him that much more difficult to time. He’s a good athlete that repeats his delivery well.

His fastball has some running life. Not much, but the pitch isn’t as straight as an arrow. It sat in the 90-92 touching 93-94 at times, particularly early in the game. Towards the later innings he was more 89-91, but remained just as dominant as he had earlier in the game.

His curveball was thrown in the 77-79 range with good, not great to it. It’s a little slurvy, and isn’t what I would call a true hammer, as the late release point I mentioned before made it look almost as though he’s telegraphing the pitch. But he’s not. Batters had a really hard time timing it, especially when they had to look for his heater.

And Pomeranz was simply over-powering the Bulldogs. Many of his strikeouts came on fastballs down the middle that the Georgia hitters couldn’t catch up to. Plus, he made it look so easy. Time after time he pounded the strike zone, switching between his fastball and curveball while carving up the lineup. I don’t mean to overly gush about him, but he really was simply dealing in this game and it was a joy to watch. He finished strong in the game and reinforced what scouts have been saying about him all spring about how well he maintains his velocity late into games.

Pomeranz has to factor heavily into the first three to five overall selections. If I had to guess, he makes a ton of sense for the Pirates with the second overall pick and wouldn’t carry the usual signing headaches that some players present.

Justin Grimm

I should be able to catch three consecutive starts for both Pomeranz and Grimm, with this game presenting the second of three for the Georgia right-hander.

As much as he struggled to open the season, he really appears to be getting back on track. Unfortunately his team can’t say the same, but they are having a hard time re-grouping while facing some really tough SEC opponents in consecutive weeks, and there really doesn’t appear to be a break for them.

Grimm has done his part against Ranaudo and Pomeranz, and definitely gave his team a chance to win in both games. He too went eight innings last Friday, matching Pomeranz nearly pitch for pitch even though he wasn’t quite as dominant. But he was equally effective.

His delivery is almost exaggerated in step-by-step parts as he brings his hands high over his head, elevates his leg, brings his arm down and fires the ball to the catcher. That isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with his delivery, just interesting to watch. His fastball command looked really good in this game as he was throwing 90-92, hitting 93. He was also snapping off some nice curveballs, a plus pitch that continues to be one of the better breaking balls I’ve seen this year. That pitch sat in the 77-78 range, and like Pomeranz, he did a nice job playing between his fastball and curve.

I saw him throw one changeup, a nice, fading pitch that was not thrown for a strike. I would like to see him throw more of these, although he didn’t need it in this game. As always important with a change, he threw it with the same arm action as his fastball and really seemed to put on the breaks once it his homeplate.

It’s hard not to like his stature, with a lean but athletic build and plenty of room for added strength. He fields his position well and looks as though he could hit a little if he had to.

It looked as though his outing was going to be stopped in the seventh, as he allowed a hit, a walk and hit a batter to open the inning. He settled back in and did a nice job getting out of that frame by only allowing one runner to score on a sac fly. The only other run he allowed came on a solo home run in the eighth. Once again, he settled back in, and finished the game strong, striking out the last two batters he faced, giving him six punchouts on the day.

Grimm has dropped recently on some top prospect lists, including my own, but I think he has shown enough in his last two starts to start creeping back up to be considered in the first round. As noted earlier, he has another tough opponent in Arkansas this coming Friday.

Zach Cone

The Bulldogs do have some exciting talent despite their struggling record, with centerfielder Zach Cone standing out. He really stood out for me last summer on the Cape, as I remember thinking just how much it looked like he belonged when I first saw him.

He’s a great looking athlete with perfect proportions and sloped shoulders. He didn’t do much in this game, or the one the week before, but he’s posting good numbers this season and has an exciting blend of power and speed. I really like the way he has taken to center, as he glides easily to where the ball is projected to land, puts himself into position and makes the catch. He plays the position the way it is supposed to be played by running to the spot instead of running to the ball. It’s pretty obvious he has good, natural instincts out there, and I already know he has a strong throwing arm, so this is a nice boost to his overall value.

And he carries himself with the usual confident swagger that some of the best possess. He has great bat speed and is showing off his talents this spring with six doubles, five triples and seven home runs. He’s a sophomore now, one of several sophomores in the Bulldogs’ lineup, and is potential first rounder for the 2011 draft.

Yasmani Grandal

Grandal is off to a great start this year, entering the spring as a fringe first-rounder and doing his best to make his case for the 15-25 range. He’s hitting well over .400 while continuing to show a patient eye at the plate and a powerful swing from the left-side of the plate.

Against Matt Price and Virginia Tech, Grandal hit consecutive two-run home runs in the first and third innings. The first one he snuck just inside the left-field foul pole, quite the poke driving a high fastball the other way. It wouldn’t have carried that far if hit with a wood bat. The second one he yanked to right on a low, inside fastball, which was a shot that just made it inside the foul pole. He flipped his bat on both occasions, taking a moment to admire his handiwork, although it didn’t look as though either hit was a gimme when it left the bat.

He has a very good build, particularly for a catcher. He has a well-defined upper half and has good proportions. He also runs fairly well for a catcher. His defense has always been considered good but not great, as his value comes in his power and patience. This is the first time in college that he has hit over .300, much less .400, so I’m interested to see how hot he stays for how long.

Miami is loaded with young, exciting, athletic talent. Third baseman Harold Martinez, shortstop Stephen Perez and outfielder Nathan Melendres all have exciting pro potential. Martinez has the most offensive upside, with a well-proportioned wiry strong build. He was an Aflac All-American in high school, and at one point was considered a premium, mid-first-round talent. He has great bat speed and gets great extension. While that makes him prone to strikeouts, it also gives him great power potential. I like that he’s playing third base on an everyday basis this year, and I think it’s a position he can stay at long-term.

To his left at shortstop is Stephen Perez, another talented player coming out of high school that was once considered a potential first-round pick. He doesn’t have the size of Martinez, or Grandal for that matter, but he’s a good looking athlete and shows good bat speed. He didn’t do much in this game, and is only a freshman, but his talent is evident.

Melendres doesn’t have the upside of Perez or Martinez, but he’s a solid prospect with some bat speed, foot speed, and good range in the outfield. He’s another player I covered in the Northwoods League last summer, with a few managers calling him the best defensive player in the league. He played in right field in this game by necessity, but he has very good natural instincts and a pretty good arm despite his smallish stature. Melendres, like Martinez, isn't draft-eligible until next year.

Austin Wates

Wates’ recent success has been creating quite a stir recently, as he was named the ACC’s player of the week last week, belting a pair of home runs and driving his average well above .400. He was 0-for-4 in this game, so it was difficult to get too good of a read on his swing.

His talent, and athleticism is evident, with a loose body and plenty of room to add strength. He has an aggressive, uppercut swing, at least he did on this day, and I know overall he has been a work in progress that has been making adjustments and learning quickly. I plan to catch Wates in another game later this week to get a better feel for his abilities.

The start for Virginia Tech in this game was Matt Price, who could be selected somewhere in round three through eight in this year’s draft. He has a skinny, projectable frame with some athleticism on the mound. He lands stiff on his plant leg and there is a little hitch in his delivery. I’m not sure if it serious enough to be concerned about.

He started the game very well, striking out the first two batters before walking Scott Lawson prior to Grandal hitting his first two-run shot. He showed a 92 mph fastball early in the first, but started to rely pretty heavily on his curveball and changeup almost from the beginning. Both his curve and change have good break and he commands them well, but he needs them to complement his fastball, not the other way around. He was driven from the game in the third after giving up eight earned runs, including the two, two-run shots by Grandal and a three-run home run.

Dandy Dozen

SP
Cameron Bedrosian Son of Steve with big-league curve
SP
Ryne Stanek Projectable RHP on the rise with big FB
SP
Seth Blair Sinker/slider RHP with improve velocity
SP
Zach Cates Former catcher showing big-time arm
SP
Jesse Biddle Big lefty throwing more in the 90s
CL
Kevin Munson Power closer with big FB, SL
CL
Chance Ruffin Son of Bruce has thrived in closer role
C
Kellin Deglan Good D' tools with improving lefty bat
IF
Kellen Sweeney Athletic IF with sweet lefty swing
SS
Mason Williams Speedy, toolsy former CF on the rise
OF
Drew Smyly Power prospect also strong armed QB
OF
Ryan LaMarre Five-tool CF prospect from Big Ten

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