Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fantastic Leg Kicks and Where to Find Them

Thousands of hitters dig into a professional batter’s box every season and all of them, despite sharing a common goal, do their jobs in a way that is individually exclusive. The moments between when a hitter decides to swing and when he impacts the baseball – or doesn’t – are filled with countless, hitter-specific traits that comprise a baseball swing. Bat speed, load depth, load height, lever length, head movement, stride length, stride timing; the list of the bio-mechanical variables is comically long. These swings, and the constant adjustments hitters are making to them are the snowflakes of summer. They are wholly unique works of art, tirelessly crafted until some advance scout or opposing catcher sees a hole, exploits it, and forces the hitter to patch and rebuild.

A recent pervasive and effective swing adjustment which has aided some of the most notable leaps in performance among Major Leaguers is The Leg Kick. An increasingly popular style of hitting footwork, the leg kick (that’s what we’re calling it in this piece, anyway) occurs when the hitter lifts his front leg high off the ground and draws his knee up toward his body before taking a big, aggressive stride back toward the baseball during the swing.
This has a few functions. First, it allows the hitter to utilize their lower half in an athletic way by loading all their weight onto their back foot before that potential energy becomes kinetic and explodes back into the ball. Simpler, more conservative strides simply don’t add as much to a swing. It also, as some hitters have described, aids with a hitter’s timing as certain aspects of the swing get set earlier – often before the pitch is even thrown – which gives the hitter less to do later in the process.
Some of the hitters who have integrated an aggressive leg kick into their swing have become monstrous offensive contributors of late. Most notable of these is Josh Donaldson whose early big league swing featured a little toe tap before it evolved into the MVP caliber cut we know today. 
Then Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis -- who has played a role in a number of late-blooming hitters' careers -- had the following to say in a Jon Morosi piece on Donaldson's life:
"His swing, when it’s under control, is a power swing. He generates a lot of power through his body. And when he’s making good contact, he can do damage to a team in a lot of ways. Now, that swing would be pretty hard to teach because of all the movement in it — the leg kick, the hands dropping and coming back up. But the key to that swing, and that approach, is being under control — being slow and early with the leg kick, not stompy or jumpy. Being under control with your mindset, not trying to force the issue. Get a pitch I can hit and square it up. And trust that, if I square it up and get through it, I’ve done all I can do and something good can happen."
Note how often Davis mentions the need to be "under control" and stash that in the back of your mind because we're coming back to that later. 
Donaldson, at his kick's pinnacle. From the Morosi piece.
Here's what Donaldson said about the change:
I’ve watched unlimited hours of Jose Bautista on film. What led me to leg kicking was him. I was always in between — doing a leg kick, toe tap, getting my foot down. When I saw that, I said, “I feel like I can do that every day.” So I’ve stuck to it.
Yes, Jose Bautista (old, new) is another of many hitters who have benefited from the change. Marlon Byrd (old, new, in-depth) Justin Turner (old, new) and the suddenly healthy and elite A.J. Pollock (old, new) have all made similar modifications that have coincided with dramatic statistical improvements.
Justin Turner
Perhaps the most successful implementation of the leg kick came more than 50 years ago when Yomiyuri Giants 1B Sadaharu Oh, after converting to hitting full time, adopted his famed “flamingo” leg kick.  As outlined in his auto-biography, The Zen Way of Baseball, Oh was craving something to aid with his timing and, with consultation from hitting coach Hiroshi Arakawa, developed the kick which helped turn Oh into one of the greatest hitters ever to walk the earth.  

Lest ye believe this sort of mechanical adjustment is some sort of magical slugging elixir that would benefit any hitter who might adopt it, the leg kick is a double-edged sword. Such a boisterous mechanical feature can be difficult to control and it can create issues with balance, posture and embarrassingly early weight transfers that result in the world’s ugliest swings. Oh also notes these concerns in his book and describes his own tireless practice sessions which included repeatedly swinging in front of a mirror. With a samurai sword. All to train himself to avoid the leg kick’s many potential pitfalls.
Cubs infielder Javier Baez has struggled to tame his own leg kick and is in the midst of mechanical adjustments to tone things down. Baez has some of the most electric bat speed scouts have ever seen from any hitter, let alone a middle-infielder, and elite raw power but his 2014 debut was mired by strikeouts. A .169/.227/.324 line and 41% strikeout rate won’t cut it, even at a 30 home run pace and evaluators league-wide were concerned that Baez’s problems went far beyond the usual struggles newly risen prospects often endure. 
Baez began his season rehabbing in the rookie-level Arizona League and was clearly trying to dilute things. I attended some of his rehab appearances and, as you can see in the video below, Baez has been working to either situationally or completely eradicate his big stride and try to find a happy medium between his natural power and his ability to tap into it. Early returns have been positive as Baez has a .798 OPS in 53 Major League plate appearances this year.

Pederson's ground balls per
Another young hitter who might benefit from by reexamining his own extreme stride is Dodgers CF Joc Pederson. His leg kick is so violent and aggressive that he often has difficulty maintaining his posture and will begin falling down the first base line mid-swing. This has resulted in lots of groundballs to the right side of the infield, enough that opponents are now shifting Pederson and suppressing his BABIP down to a career-standard .275 after it was hovering over .300 in April and May. This corruption of Pederson’s posture has also made him vulnerable on the plate’s outer half and pitchers have taken notice. According to, twenty-five percent of the pitches Pederson has seen this year have been down and away out of the strike zone where Pederson can’t do damage. It seems to be working. Pederson has seen his average exit velocities dip as the season has gone on. They’ve been below league average seven of the last nine weeks.
2015 pitches to Joc Pederson, from catcher's perspective. (Via

Yes, Pederson has had a tremendously productive rookie season as a three-true-outcomes hitter who plays an up the middle position. He’s been worth nearly 3 Wins Above Replacement. But he’s been trending in the wrong direction since July and is going to have react to the adjustments the league has made to him to repeat that level of value next year. Perhaps simplified footwork would be beneficial, though it’s difficult to imagine Pederson undergoing a mechanical overhaul in the middle of a pennant race. Dodger's Digest writer Chad Moriyama posited that Pederson actually embellished his leg kick coming into the season. As I saw last weekend when the Dodgers were in Arizona, it generates mixed results.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Pitching Doctor

Rod Fridley clamored to stay in the sun on what, for Phoenix, was a brisk, early December Saturday morning, his advanced age no doubt intensifying his earthly discomfort. The sun seemed to rise skyward more slowly than usual, casting long shadows across a humble, browning high school baseball field at the north end of the city. Baseball fields are usually built facing the northeast so that, as most games begin in the evening, the sun is at a place in the westward sky where it can do the least amount of damage to spectators and players. At just before 8am, however, if you want to head down the third base line and look at hitting and pitching mechanics as a scout like Rod Fridley is apt to do, your retinas are right in its crosshairs. It matters not for Fridley whose eyelids sag down from his brow after decades of squinting into the glare, providing him with a sort of natural, Darwinian ocular shade. Forehead wrinkled beneath a cap he bought while the Clinton administration was in office, Fridley wears a permanent frown, the corners of his mouth having succumbed to gravity over time. This is the face of a baseball lifer, someone the game has chewed up and spit out times over. Once near the top of the industry, Fridley now struggles to make ends meet.

A native Virginian, Rod Fridley has been around baseball for four decades now. Along that road, which has become unquestionably rocky, he’s been a player, coach, scout and executive. His resume reads like baseball’s version of the Abraham to Jesus lineage passage of the Bible. The most successful stretch of that journey came with the Chicago White Sox in the late 1980s. “I was first brought on as an area scout,” said Fridley in a bourbony drawl that sounds as though it aged a bit farther south of the Mason Dixon line than Virginia, “and on my own had to cover all of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.”

It’s not unusual for a scout’s area of coverage to be that vast despite how daunting it may seem to those unfamiliar with the job. Eventually, Fridley’s area grew and changed to incorporate the talent-rich Southeast. This included Georgia where Fridley would pluck future All-Star Mike Cameron out of, as Fridley puts it, “that awful football factory in LaGrange” in the late rounds of the 1991 MLB Draft. It was another feather in the cap of a successful talent evaluation regime in Chicago led by then Scouting Director Al Goldis. Jack McDowell, Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Ray Durham, Alex Fernandez, Mike Cameron. All stars, all drafted while Goldis and/or his staff (including Fridley) were doing the picking. “I think, years later, Baseball America called our 1990 draft the Draft of the Decade,” Fridley remembers, “We got an awful lot of big leaguers out of that draft. Six if I remember correctly.”

More than 20 years later on this particular Saturday morning, Fridley isn’t at Roadrunner Park in North Phoenix to look at any significant young player, no prospects of note who might be part of some historic draft class. He’s simply here to stay sharp just in case someone comes calling for work. That hasn’t happened in some time now. Fridley has spent a good deal of what little money he has scampering about at various baseball networking havens like the Winter Meetings in San Diego or at Fall League games from Surprise to Mesa as he tries to remind executives with hiring power that he exists. “I’m just tryin’ to scratch together enough to get out there,” Fridley said without specifying where “there” is, though it’s likely wherever Social Security and his pension will take him and no farther.

Fridley is regarded by those who know him (this qualifier is important) as one of, if not the best, scouts they’ve ever come across. The adjectives thrown around by Rod’s peers are comically hyperbolic, especially for men who are paid to be abject realists and fawn over players whose skills can be deemed “average” as it pertains to the Majors. One of those peers is Dave Perkin, a scout and author who has known Fridley since 2007. “Rod is the best scout I’ve ever come across. He’s the most knowledgeable, the most thorough. He’s the best in the business at breaking down pitching mechanics,” says Perkin, “I would stop him and ask what he was seeing. Arm action, hip and shoulder separation…Rod has a checklist of things he’s looking for and he breaks down every one of them.”

While effusive praise is common from those who do know Fridley, it’s strangely difficult to find people who recognize his name. Baseball’s scouting community is a narrow social group made up exclusively of men. This social structure is put together like Russian nesting dolls. Scouts develop relationships with high school and college players, those players turn pro and some become scouts and the cycle repeats. In essence, scouts know the guys they’ve scouted, the scouts they’ve scouted with and the elder statesmen who scouted them as amateurs. This results in a remarkable amount of social rapport among men who are, professionally, at odds with one another in one of the most competitive industries on Earth. Everyone knows each other in the scout section of your local college game. They eat together, drink (heavily) together, discuss where they’re staying, how many travel points they’ve accrued on their credit cards, what a pain in the ass it is to log their expenses in the team’s new system, etc. Not Rod Fridley. He sits in solace with remarkable posture and is rarely approached by anyone while he scouts.

Despite the success of their amateur talent acquisition during Fridley’s tenure, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf mutually parted ways (though not on good terms) with General Manager Larry Himes, Goldis and the rest of the staff after the 1990 season. Goldis caught on with Milwaukee in ’91 and left less than a year later after a spat with the team over the extent of his duties. All this left Fridley in limbo as well. Himes, who had become the general manager of the Chicago Cubs, brought Goldis to the North Side, Fridley in tow. After a disastrous 1994 season, Himes was fired and Goldis was canned a year later. Fridley was left floating again before he latched on as an area scout with Cleveland until he was part of a classically bro-ish in-office altercation that could not be properly fact checked for publication. He was let go and has struggled to get both feet back in the game ever since.

The grotesqueness of that unverifiable incident isn’t enough to blacklist anyone for twenty years, especially when that person is purportedly at the top of his field. Much more marginal talents have been coddled through their improprieties, some quite severe. Baseball is, almost to a fault, an unwavering meritocracy. If a team thinks you can help them win they are going to hire you. After spending months talking to and observing Fridley, his issues run a bit deeper than one intense verbal altercation with another scout. Fridley has some communication issues. His circuitous way of storytelling is endearing but inefficient and often confusing. Forty years of knowledge and experience forces itself out of his mouth like Coke from a shaken bottle and it often results in a verbal stream of consciousness that leaves the listener weary or, as Fridley calls it, “with a tin ear.”

In a line of work where communication skills are just as important as one’s ability to identify talent, executives don’t want to sift through metric tons of verbal and written rubble to extract a few nuggets of gold. Even if Fridley is an excellent scout he may not be able to delineate his observations in a way that is useful to someone willing to pay him. That could be impeding his ability to find work.
Another issue plaguing Fridley is his unabashed disdain for nearly everyone he’s come across during his years in the game. Plenty of scouts, coaches and analysts that have gone on to achieve resounding success can’t escape Fridley’s ire, and he’s not afraid to say so, even to people he’s only just met. He describes many of them as “perfectly nice guys,” or “nice enough” before adding an omnipresent “but” as he begins to rip their baseball acumen to shreds. The term “Pitching Doctor” is a particular favorite pejorative label Fridley likes to apply to coaches he thinks are ruining pitchers by altering their mechanics in inefficient or harmful ways. He often discusses past colleagues the way an old man might talk about the way his young neighbors take care of their lawns. The only men Fridley seems to have professional respect for are his former bosses, Al Goldis and Larry Himes. This is an issue in, again, an industry as socially inclusive as professional baseball.

“I’ve lost my sponsors,” Fridley says of Himes and Goldis, the latter having been inducted into the Scouts Hall of Fame in 2009, both gone from the game. “I think that and some of it is a bit of age discrimination. Lotta the guys doing things now are young guys from Ivy League schools who have never set foot within a mile of a baseball field. I don’t have that background, but they certainly don’t have mine.”

Dave Perkin seemed to agree, adding “There’s an increasing rate of numbers guys doing baseball jobs and it’s shutting out guys like Rod who have probably forgotten more about baseball than these guys will ever know.”

The statistics vs. scout strawman narrative has existed for over a decade now. The truth is most teams use a heavy dose of both evaluation methods and the ones who don’t have a balance lean heavily on scouting and eschew stats, not the inverse. The idea that old timey baseball men are an endangered species is a misnomer. Perkins continued, “Money is likely another factor. He’s going to cost more with his experience and tenure than someone young will. Control is a big thing in baseball. People are hired to do what you want them to do. It’s full of acolyte sycophants.”

Whatever the reasons for Fridley’s extreme difficulty finding employment, his struggle is ongoing and gut wrenching to watch despite his petulance. “It is my life and my love, a little bit,” he said. It was ironically as clear and concise as a statement can be, ringing true with immaculate affection. Rod Fridley continues to clamor for the sun.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Hypothetical Northeast Scouting Schedule

For the last few years I’ve graced readers with my tentative amateur scouting schedule at the onset of every spring. Despite my notable absence from the area, I see no reason to deprive you of what my hypothetical schedule would look like if I were still living in Eastern Pennsylvania. If you’re looking for a reason to see more baseball this spring (including in March when there isn’t any other way to get it) or to expand your horizons as an observer by watching baseball in a strange and interesting environment, this list is a nice guide for you to follow. In the past I’ve sorted these by conference and school, but since I don’t care to mess around with tables right now, I’d rather just do it in long form, chronologically.


March 13th-15th
There’s a nice little six-team pool (Villanova, LaSalle, St. Joseph’s, Niagara, Wagner, Northeastern) playing in good ole Philly this weekend. It’s an efficient look at a number of teams who typically have a mid to late round guy or two. The most notable of which in this instance are Nova RHP Max Almonte, Wagner RHP Noah Long, LaSalle RHP Joe Ravert and Northeastern SS Mike Foster. 

Underclassmen (2016 draft and beyond)
RHP Dustin Hunt, 2B Max Burt
St. Joe’s
RHP Ryan Kelly, OF Nick Fuhrmann, RHP Dominic Cuoci, RHP Justin Aungst
LHP Hunter Schryver
RHP Danny Marsh, SS Phil Dickinson, OF Anthony Godino

March 18th
Make a mid-week stop at Penn State (for baseball and ice cream, of course) where the Nittany Lions take on a damn fine Canisius club that boasts OF Brett Siddall, 3B Connor Panas and flamethrowing righty Devon Stewart (though he likely won’t throw that day).

March 20-22
If you’re into heavy-hitting weekend trips then head down to Charlottesville to see Florida State take on Virginia. Potential top 10 pick, UVA LHP Nathan Kirby headlines a host of Cavaliers who are worth a long, hard look.  Included in that list is LHP Brandon Waddell, RHP Josh Sborz, SS Daniel Pinero (a very interesting prospect), 2B John la Prise and sophomore righty Connor Jones who might be a first round pick next year. You’ll also get Florida State outfielder DJ Stewart who might go in the back half of the first round this year.
RHP Connor Jones, LHP/OF Pavin Smith, LHP/OF Adam Haseley, RHP Derek Casey
Florida State
OF Ben DeLuzio, RHP Cobi Johnson, SS Taylor Walls

If you’d rather take a shorter drive to see some lesser known guys, Fordham at Seton Hall might be the way to go. Seton Hall SS DJ Ruhlman, 1B Sal Annunziata and Fordham RHPs Brett Kennedy and Joe Serrapica are draft eligible players to watch. Be sure to peek at sophomore Rams SS Luke Stampfl. 

March 28-29
Lehigh has a four game (2 DHs) home series against Army which will give you looks at Black Knight RHP Alex Robinett and Lehigh’s trio of interesting guys in RHPs Kevin Long and Brandon Kulp and CF Justin Pacchioli, a Nazareth HS product who posts 70 run times.

March 29th
If you had a good look at the Mountain Hawks and Black Knights on Saturday you can take the turnpike south to Penn on Sunday and see them take on Dartmouth. Check the schedules to see if Dartmouth RHP Duncan Robinson pitched the day before. He’s who you’re going to see.


April 3
Bryant takes on Saint Joe’s in Philly at 11am and then Villanova at SJU’s field right afterward. If Bryant RHP Kyle Wilcox throws in game 1 and you get good looks at OFs Adam Zaronzy, Matt Albanese (2016 eligible) and James Karinchak (’17) then zip on down to College Park to see Nebraska and Maryland at 7pm. More on that series in a bit.

April 4th
Louisville comes to UVA for a Saturday-Monday set so take advantage of that to get a rare look at Nathan Kirby on a Saturday. His opponent that day will likely be Louisville ace Kyle Funkhouser, who is also a potential top 10 pick. Be on the lookout for sophomore reliever Zack Burdi as well.

April 5th
Nebraska takes on Maryland in College Park all weekend and while the Huskers only have Super Sophomore Ryan Boldt, Maryland has a slew of mid-level prospects for this year’s draft. LHPs Alex Robinson and Jake Drossner , 2B Brandon Lowe, RHP Kevin Mooney and, a personal favorite of mine, 3B Jose Cuas are all going to get drafted. Sophomore Terp righty Mike Shawaryn should be on your radar as well. Double dipping on the 3rd is a good idea if you’re going to cover as much as possible.

April 11-12
Columbia stops at Princeton. Check the schedules to see what day Princeton’s Cameron Mingo and Columbia’s George Thanopolus will be starting.

April 15th
Coppin State makes a mid-week stop at Lehigh which is a bit of a lottery ticket as it’s unlikely, but not impossible at this point, that either LHP Anderson Burgess or RHP Yahya Muhammad will pitch. Those are the two arms to watch for 2015. Beyond that, however, Coppin State has interesting sophomore outfielders in Jack Craft and Barrett Arnold as well as soph SS Bryant Miranda. You’re basically guaranteed to see those guys. Sounds like a nice excuse to take a half day to me.

April 17th
Head down to Newark, DE where the Delaware will take on the College of Charleston at 3pm. Hopefully RHP Chad Martin will be throwing for the Blue Hens and RHP Taylor Clarke for the Cougars. Get a good look at them and CofC 3B Carl Wise. All three are on the draft radar for this year so bear down on them and leave the long list of interesting underclassmen in this game for next year because you’re leaving this game early to get to….

Cal State Fullerton at Maryland in College Park at 7pm. It’s rare for a powerhouse west coast school to venture this far east at all, let alone at this point in the season. Stick around for Friday and Saturday’s games to see RHPs Justin Garza, Tommy Eshelman and just about everybody else on Fullerton’s roster because they’ve always got guys.

April 19th
Head back up to Philly for Xavier at Villanova and/or VCU at Saint Joe’s. Depending on how rotations shake out you might see Matt Blanchard throw for VCU or either of Adam Hall or Jake Bodner pitch for Xavier. You can also check in on Musketeer SS Andre Jernigan.

April 24-26th
Back to State College for Illinois LHP Tyler Jay and more ice cream.


May 8th-10th
Back down to Charlottesville to see all of UVA’s kids one more time as they play Duke and potential 1-1 selection RHP Mike Matuella. It’ll be one of if not the last look at Matuella pre-draft so it’s a biggie. Assuming he’s still healthy at that point.

That's just college stuff. Do what you can to see Stroudsburg High School righty Mike Nikorak, a potential top 10 selection who will obviously be playing all over Eastern PA all spring.

If anyone has questions, I'll answer all of them in the comments.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Longenhagen's February College Scouting Notes

February has passed and so too has the feverish sprint of college baseball here in Arizona. While the rest of the country remains numb and depressing, the Valley of the Sun has been teeming with activity. During February’s twenty-eight days, seventeen Division 1 programs with draft-worthy players (not counting Grand Canyon and Arizona State) ventured to the Phoenix Metro area for tournaments and the like. It made for a whirlwind month of scouting. Below are reports on 2015 draft eligible players I felt were worth discussing in descending order of their Future Value grades. A Pref List, if you will. I’ve excluded most players from schools who will be back down my way again this spring (like Oregon State, New Mexico and UNLV) for obvious reasons as well as notable underclassmen who aren’t draft eligible this year, like Ryan Boldt and KJ Harrison. I’ll write them up in a separate post.

Riley Ferrell, RHP, TCU
We say this about college relievers every year, but Ferrell has a chance to be the first 2015 draftee to each the Majors and could do so in 2015 given the right situation. The 6-foot-1, 200 pound (listed) closer was pumping in fastballs in the 92-96mph range against Arizona State. The slider sat 84-86mph with a terrific amount of two plane movement. It’s an above average offering right now but will flash plus often enough that saying it “flashes” is underselling it a bit. It should solidify there at maturity and might even play a bit above plus if Ferrell can really improve the way he sequences and locates it. Unlike a lot of pure college bullpen guys, Ferrell throws a pleasantly surprising volume of strikes thanks to a delivery that sends every bit of his ample mass headed to the plate (he looked heavier than 200lbs to me).  His overhand release allows him to get a good amount of plane on his pitches, something that will mitigate some of the flyball concerns scouts often have about short righties. There’s some effort here, enough that I’m convinced he can’t start, but Ferrell’s squat stature helps minimize the impact that pitch-to-pitch mechanical variation would have on his control if his limbs were longer. Despite the aggressive nature of some aspects of Ferrell’s mechanics, he maintains eye contact with his target at all times. In short, this is a reliever’s body and stamina with a backend starter’s control.

The whole package allows him to throw plenty of strikes and hopefully soon he’ll be able to throw them where he wants to. At the college level, Ferrell’s stuff is good enough that it’s going to work no matter where he’s locating. In pro ball that will change. He showed some feel for that sort of artistry when I saw him. I have Ferrell pegged as a low closer, high setup type of reliever who has a chance to ascend quickly if the command comes together. That sort of prospect typically comes off the board in the back half of round 1.

Longenhagen’s Grades: Fastball: 65/70, Slider: 55/60, Control: 45/55, Command: 40/50, FV: 50 (Low closer, high setup)

Alex Young, LHP, TCU
Ferrell’s teammate is another of about a half dozen Horned Frog arms that scouts have their eyes on. At 6-foot-2, 205lbs, Young has a generic, lean pitcher’s body. There are some stop and start elements to the delivery, some crunch in the shoulder but the arm is snappy and generates good spin on the baseball despite just average arm acceleration overall. This isn’t a dominant strike thrower but there’s enough athleticism and cleanliness in the mechanics to project for average control. Stuff wise, Young sits 88-91mph with the fastball that comes in with good plane but little run. The secondaries are advanced with a currently fringe-average curveball in the 78-81mph range. It has effective 10-4 depth and projects to above average. Young also shows feel for how to spin a changeup anywhere from 80 to 85mph. It should become an average pitch but the arm isn’t loose and quick enough for me to project it as a truly impactful offering. Overall, the package isn’t sexy but that of a solid backend starter. He feels like a sandwich round guy right now.

Longenhagen’s Grades: Fastball: 50/55, Curveball: 45/55, Changeup: 40/50, Control/Command: 40/50, FV: 45 (5th Starter)   

Cam Gibson, OF, Michigan State
There’s a lot of awkwardness to Gibson’s game but he seems to make it work thank to the simplicity of his swing, strength in the wrists and good eye-hand coordination. That wrist strength is important as it’ll likely be the lone source of Gibson’s well below average power. Gibson loads his hands high and has a linear bat path that’s naturally going to produce a lot of slappy ground balls. It’s difficult to project any more than 40 future power for Gibson, even if he makes some adjustments and uses that special hand-eye coordination to improve the way he backspins the baseball. Despite the lack of power, I think Gibson will hit at an above average clip at peak.

Gibson can run, clocking in at 4.10 in a straight sprint through the bag on one trial and at 4.12 with the turn on a triple later that day. As a true plus runner, Gibson has the wheels to occupy center field but currently plays left. The team that ultimately drafts Gibson will likely give him a look in center after signing to take some of the pressure off the bat. There’s also the possibility that Gibson becomes a speedy, elite defender in left field a la Brett Gardner which could allow him to profile as an everyday guy despite lacking the raw power usually required to profile in an outfield corner. His arm strength is below average, so he’s limited to center or left. The tools aren’t explosive enough for me to project Gibson as a no-doubt everyday player but there’s enough for me to think he’s more than a fourth outfielder. A lot of Gibson’s ultimate profile is going to depend on where he ends up defensively.

Longenhagen’s Grades: Hit: 40/55, Raw Power: 50/50, Game Power: 30/40, Run: 65/65, Defense: 40/50, Arm: 40/45, FV: 45

Conor Costello, RHP/RF, Oklahoma State
Costello plays both ways and scouts seem to like things on the mound (where Costello is touching 92mph) a tad more. I, however, prefer the bat due in large part to Costello’s explosive hands. The swing is not without its maladies. Costello’s hands load late and he’s often late on even average velocity, he doesn’t track the baseball consistently and there’s just general violence in his swing that is going to lead to some striking out. As such I only have a future 45 grade on Costello’s bat. But the hand/bat speed is good and there’s above average raw power here that should grow to plus as Costello’s 6-foot-3 frame continues to fill out. The game power will play below that because of all the swinging and missing, but it’s in there. There’s always the possibility that limiting Costello’s scope of development to just offense will allow him to make some adjustments, clean things up, and improve the amount of contact he’s making. 

Defensively, Costello takes that 92mph fastball with him to right field where his glove should be average with reps in pro ball. It’s a pretty traditional right field profile. Organizations may view Costello’s two-way duties in different ways. Some may look upon the situation with favor, wondering what more they might be able to squeeze from Costello once they focus him full time on hitting (or pitching) and others might view scoff at drafting a college player with this much work left to do. I’d be willing to bet on the bat speed and power in the sandwich or early second round.

Longenhagen’s Grades: Hit: 35/45, Raw Power: 55/60, Game Power: 45/55, Speed: 40/35, Defense: 45/50, Arm: 60/65, FV: 45

Gage Green, C/OF, Oklahoma State
Green would garner a better grade from me if I thought he could stick behind the plate. Unfortunately, Green had too many issues with receiving and blocking balls in the dirt for me to be optimistic about him back there. More than likely he’ll have to move to the outfield. There’s some pretty impressive bat to ball here, as Green tracks the baseball well, has quick wrists, strong forearms, and overall simplicity to his cut. He could be a future average or even above average hitter. But if Green does, as I expect, move out from behind the plate and to an outfield corner, his 40 power isn’t going to play. At 5-foot-10, 193 pounds, there’s not much room for Green to improve upon his 40 power by way of physical development. 

Positional versatility will be Green’s friend. If he can catch here and there, play some of all three outfield spots (I don’t think he has the wheels for CF but others do) and hit a little bit then he has a chance to be a bench guy.

Longenhagen’s Grades: Hit: 35/50, Raw Power: 45/45, Game Power: 40/40, Speed: 45/40, Defense: 40/50, Arm: 50/50, FV: 40

Preston Morrison, RHP, TCU
Morrison is by far the most interesting player I’ve considered for this year’s class. He mowed down Arizona State to the tune of a complete game, three hit, one walk, eighty-seven pitch shutout but showed very little in the way of stuff. Before we get into the details of pitch type and quality, we need to discuss Morrison’s delivery. Morrison delivers the ball from a nearly sidearm slot after rotating hard and clearing his hips early. It looks like something your cousin might do during your Labor Day Wiffle Ball game. Morrison’s arm works just fine (more evidence that this slot is natural for Morrison: when he throws the ball around the infield he does so underhanded) and the hard rotation and wide open hips don’t negatively impact his spectacular command. He’s found something that works for him, it just happens to look odd.

Morrison’s fastball sputters in between 86 and 88mph (he touched 89 once for me) with a considerable amount of sink and run thanks to his arm slot. The movement and location of the pitch allows it to play up a bit above what the velo histogram suggests but it’s still just a 45 pitch. Morrison’s lack of velocity as well as his arm slot mean he has no margin for error with location, especially against lefties who will be able to pick up the baseball early out of his hand and mash. The repertoire is deep, featuring a slider, curveball and changeup. The slide piece is the best of these, sitting mid to upper 70s with frisbee movement. It projects to average and should do some damage against righties. He alters the spin on the pitch a bit to produce a more vertically-oriented curveball in the low to mid 70s. It isn’t as explosive and difficult to track as Morrison’s slider but if it’s spotted right it can be effective. The changeup has the same sort of fade and run to it that the fastball does but Morrison slows his arm a bit when he throws it, making the pitch easier to identify out of his hand.

I’ve never put a plus control grade on an amateur pitcher before but based on what Morrison showed me I have no choice. He pounded the bottom half of the strike zone with remarkable efficiency, only two or three times missing up in the zone. Morrison’s ultimate role is difficult to nail down. You hate to waste such impressive strike throwing ability in the bullpen but it’s hard to look at Morrison’s stuff and see him getting outs consistently against anyone other than right-handed hitters with platoon issues. I have him pegged as a swingman/emergency call up arm. Result-based box score scouts are going to love him. It’s possible, though unlikely, that he lives at hitters’ knees for the next decade and is a 200-inning mid-rotation unicorn. If that happens I’ll eat crow.

 Longenhagen’s Grades: Fastball: 45/45, Curveball: 40/45, Changeup: 40/45, Slider: 45/50, Control: 60/65 Command: 55/60, FV: 35+  

Trey Cobb, RHP, Oklahoma State
Cobb is a draft eligible sophomore who went to Archie Bradley’s high school in Oklahoma and who will require much less discussion than Morrison. His fastball sat 89-91 and touched 92 when I saw him. At 6-foot-1, 190lbs, there’s a little room to add mass and some fastball velocity. The slider flashes above average in the 77-80mph range. If it gets there and stays there then Cobb can be a middle reliever.

Longenhagen’s Grades: Fastball: 50/55, Slider: 45/55, Changeup: 30/40, Control: 40/40, FV: 35+

Toller Boardman, LHP, New Mexico
Boardman has a prototypical pitcher’s build at 6-foot-3, 215lbs and some feel for a changeup but a stiff delivery, long arm action and checkered injury history have scouts cautious. He was 86-90 for me with a below average changeup that flashed fringe average in the upper 70s. The breaking ball was anywhere from 74-79mph with varying shape and depth and I can’t decide if there were two separate pitches in there or if it’s one really inconsistent curveball. Despite the rough delivery, Boardman throws strikes and should have average command. The changeup is the meal ticket here, but the breaking ball will have to find some modicum of consistency.

Longenhagen’s Grades: Fastball: 45/50, Curveball: 40/45, Changeup: 40/45+, Control: 45/50+, FV: 35

Travis Eckert, RHP, Oregon State
Eckert, a JUCO transfer, has feel for all three of his pitches but doesn’t have big stuff. The fastball will creep into the low 90s at times with a bit of run and should be a future average pitch. The curveball is consistently below average and doesn’t offer much room for growth but it has some depth and Eckert will throw it for strikes. Eckert’s best weapon is his changeup, a pitch in the low 80s that he’ll throw to both lefties and righties in any count. I projected it as an average pitch. At 6-foot-2, 190, Eckert has some room to fill out. That plus some tweaks in the way he uses his lower half might result in s little more zip on his fastball. Generally, Eckert is loose and fluid but doesn’t repeat his release point and struggles to throw strikes in spurts when he loses himself. Even with fringe stuff he might have a role for himself if he can find a way to command it consistently.

Longenhagen’s Grades: Fastball: 45/50, Curveball: 40/45, Changeup: 40/50, Control: 40/45, FV: 35

Cam Vieaux, LHP, Michigan State
A big, somewhat projectable lefty with an upper 80s fastball is going to get looks and Vieaux fits that bill at 6’4”, 191lbs. He touched 90 for me but sat a few ticks below it with a 75-78mph curveball that will flash average when he really gets on top of it. If Vieaux adds some juice to the fastball and finds consistency with the curveball then there might be something here, but the arm is slow, the changeup isn’t going to fly and there isn’t great control here. He’s likely an org arm with a chance to be a LOOGY or mop-up if a slew of variables fall in his favor.

Longenhagen’s grades: Fastball: 40/45, Curveball: 40/50, Changeup: 30/40, Control: 40/45, FV: 35

Blaise Salter, C/1B, Michigan State
A massive human being at 6-foot-5, 245lbs, Salter’s issues with mobility as a catcher should come as no surprise. Salter’s size also makes it difficult for him to get out of his crouch on throws down to second base and it has him popping between 2.10-2.14. That’s too much of a liability for teams to consider him as a catcher. There’s 60 raw power here, at least, but an arm bar and too little bat speed to compensate for it preventing Salter from actualizing it. He’s a future 40 hitter for me, likely not enough to play every day at 1B or DH.

Longenhagen’s Grades: Hit: 35/40, Raw Power: 60/60, Game Power: 50/55, Speed: 20/20, Defense: 30/40, Arm: 40/40, FV: 35

Joshua Fredendall, RHP, Washington
After missing 2013 and 2014 with an arm injury, Fredendall is back on the mound and sitting 91-93mph with the fastball and flashing an average curve in the upper 70s and he at least maintains his arm speed on the changeup. His size (5-foot-11, 195lbs), high-effort delivery, injury history and poor control scream reliever. That’s a fairly long list of warts, presenting quite a bit of risk for a college signee.

Longenhagen’s Grades: Fastball: 55/55, Curveball: 40/50, Changeup: 40/45, Control: 30/35, FV: 30+

Mylz Jones, SS/3B/2B/CF, Cal State Bakersfield
Jones has some tools and an athletic, projectable body but he’s sushi raw. He’s got more upside than eight of the other players on this list and will be a fascinating developmental project for whoever takes a chance on him. First let’s discuss what Jones can do. He’s a 70 runner who clocked in at 4.10 from home to first using long, majestic strides. Jones also has an above average arm that projects to plus as his 6-foot-1, 185lb frame fills out. But, Jones is a well below average hitter who has issues identifying breaking balls, long levers that exacerbate inconsistent bat speed, weak forearms and poor footwork at shortstop. There’s a lot here that needs cleaning up.

With that said, I am pessimistically intrigued. Give that speed a look in CF, hope the frame fills out and the added strength makes the bat speed more consistent and the power more potent. Even if Jones’ issues with making contact were to remain, you’d still have a plus run, plus arm, up the middle player with some pop. That’s quite a collection of developmental hurdles to clear and there are no guarantees Jones can conquer any of them, let alone all of them which is what he’d likely need to do to be relevant as a prospect. He’s a college signee who’ll probably have to spend two years at a complex.

Longenhagen’s Grades: Hit: 20/40, Raw Power: 40/45, Game Power: 30/40, Speed: 70/65, Defense: 30/45, Arm: 55/60, FV: 30+

Sunday, September 28, 2014

UCLA QB Brett Hundley Scouting Report

I took advantage of my proximity to Arizona State's campus and enjoyed Thursday night's Sun Devil football game versus UCLA. I went primarily to see Bruins QB Brett Hundley who's got a shot to go in the first round of next year's NFL Draft. I wasn't the only one there to see Hundley. Two dozen NFL scouts were there, among them was 49ers GM Trent Baalke, Chargers GM Tommy Telesco, and Rams GM Les Snead. We left impressed.

Hundley stands 6'3" and weighs in at about 220lbs. It appears he's added weight to his frame since last year when I did some rudimentary film study of him in case he were to enter the draft. I had concerns about how thin and wiry he was and whether his body could stand up to an NFL beating. That was one of the things that caused Teddy Bridgewater to fall. While a potentially fragile build isn't a death sentence on its own (yeah, Bridgewater is skinny but he was the top QB on my board last year) it does factor into the evaluation and I was glad to see Hundley had added mass. He suffered a hyper-extended elbow a few weeks ago but
 it was more of a freak thing than damage caused by typical football contact. Hundley isn't built like Ben Roethlisberger or Cam Newton who are essentially human obelisks, but I feel better about his ability to stay healthy than I did last winter.

So the frame is there and so are the physical skills. Easy arm strength, touch when it makes sense, drive when he needs it. He can make all the throws and while the release isn't the quickest, it's not Byron Leftwich water wheel slow. There are times when Hundley's mechanics break down a bit, his arm action gets shorter, like a catcher's, and he one hops receivers. He does it when he rushes throws and it doesn't occur that often. Hundley's passing accuracy is also solid, if unexceptional. He struggles to throw across his body to his left, consistently throwing behind receivers on drag routes from the strong to weak side but this might be able to be corrected with improved footwork in these situations.

Speaking of footwork, Hundley's is mostly fine, if a little slow. He transfers his weight into his throws well and rarely throws flat footed. He doesn't have the in-pocket elusiveness of a Tony Romo or Mike Vick and is more the statuesque-type after he completes his drop back. His a long strider, so while he does have good straightline speed it takes him a while to get there. Like Donkey Kong in MarioKart. The athleticism comp here, for me, is Alex Smith.

What stood out to me was Hundley's willingness to stand in the pocket and go through his progressions. Many times Hundley's gaze would traverse one end of the field to the other before finding the most impressive of these was a play in which Hundley dropped back, went through his progressions, recognized the defense was zone, felt the pocket collapsing, climbed the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield (something he struggled with last year) and delivered a strike to a receiver who was just crossing into a hole in the zone. Hundley will have to do a better job of identifying who will be open based on his presnap reads because he can't hold the ball as long as he does at the NFL level, but the mental tools are clearly here for a good decision maker.

There are a few issues though they're not fatal. Hundley doesn't seem willing to make stick throws in man to man coverage. In the NFL, QBs have to make on-the-numbers throws vs tight man coverage all the time. Even if the receiver hasn't created much separation. Hundley isn't willing to throw the football into decent 1-on-1 coverage. He's going to have to learn to place the football in spots only his receiver has access to in these situations, because they're commonplace in the pros.

It's not flawless, but the package is great and I like Hundley more than I liked a good deal of recent early round QBs (I like him more than I liked Geno Smith, Johnny Manziel, EJ Manuel, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill) and have a strong first round grade on him right now while I acknowledge more film study will e required.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Chris Dwyer Scouting Report (Kansas City Royals)

I’ve never seen a no-hitter. Over the past six years I’ve been to probably 500 baseball games in person and it’s never happened. On Tuesday, I came as close as ever to finally seeing one as Royals left-handed pitching prospect Chris Dwyer was perfect through 6 2/3 innings. He was positively masterful and hurled one of the best games I’ve ever seen anyone pitch, ever.  

Dwyer stands a solid 6’3” and is listed at a solid 210lbs. While his weight is something of a question (he had a thyroid condition in 2012 that caused some pretty serious weight fluctuation) he looks solid and strong now and while the thyroid condition might give me pause about his long-term health, he showed no signs of the 83-86mph fastball he was pitching with while he was sick.

The delivery is nearly straight over the top and Dwyer stands tall throughout while using his lower half adequately while sending everything toward the plate. There’s some deception and all of Dwyer’s pitches come out of his hand at the same release point. The fastball sat 87-90mph and topped out at 92mph. The heater features nice run, especially for someone with an arm angle as vertically oriented as Dwyer. Towards the very end of his start, Dwyer lost a good amount of velocity. He was down to 85-87mph range in the seventh when it became clear el perfecto wasn’t going to happen. He pitched up in the zone a little too often for my taste with the fastball but through a ton of strikes and can move everything in and out. I put a 50 n the fastball and a 60 on his control of it with the command lagging a bit behind it. Oddly, Dwyer’s main bugaboo during his minor league career had been his poor control and command. Many thought it would be the death of any chances he had to start. On this night, however, he was almost surgical.

The changeup sat in the high 70s and had nice arm action and some fade when Dwyer threw it right but it sailed on him at times. Overall it’s an average pitch and it might have some projection, though Dwyer is already 25 years old. The curveball has been plus in the past and I can see why some really like it, but for me it’s a 5. This is a near 12-6 offering with plenty of depth but it’s a little loopy and slow for me, sitting in the 74-76mph range. I’m not sure it’s going to get the swings and misses in the big leagues that it’s getting right now. Dwyer relies heavily on it.

Overall we’re looking at three average pitches. If the control/command I saw on Tuesday night were backed up by reports from the past I’d have no problem labeling him a #4/5 starter. But the discrepancy between what I saw and what Dwyer’s track record has been has my enthusiasm tempered at least a little bit. I’ve got him pegged as a role 45 player, a #5 starter who isn’t exactly an innings eater.