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+

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