Monday, November 19, 2012

Revisiting the Draft Forecasts of WWBA, FLDCS Participants

It has been a while since my last rundown of amateur players, and I plan on continuing with the series, but since Baseball America recently released their HS Top 100 list ($ubscription only), I’d figure it’d be helpful to take a look back at some guys that I’ve already covered.

#11 Oscar Mercado: As I said in one of my first posts about the Florida Diamond Club Showcase, Mercado has been a known entity for quite some time—as he was a regular on the showcase circuit. However, he has obviously improved his stock quite a bit, as the quick twitch athleticism, fluid actions in the field, good bat speed, and plus instincts have enamored those within the industry. 

#17 Travis Demeritte: I was lucky enough to stumble upon Demeritte while in the back fields of the WWBA in Jupiter, and I was impressed with his arm strength and lateral movement/agility.  I was a bit concerned with his load/trigger phase as I felt that the hands were a bit noisy, but he generates easy plus bat speed and showed a patient, advanced approach during his at-bats.  I didn’t offer a draft projection in my original, brief analysis because I only saw Demeritte in passing, but others, like BP’s Jason Parks were very high on Demeritte’s skill set, so it is not too surprising to find the South Carolina commit listed so high in Baseball America’s Top 100.

#34 Jan Hernandez: As I mentioned in my last entry, much Hernandez’s value is dependent on his ability to stick at shortstop. Those within the industry are mixed, as Hernandez’s detractors are worried about how much bigger he will get over the next few years.  His frame (6-3, 195) and athleticism leave little to be desired, and I saw a nice, mechanically sound swing at the FLDCS with some power potential down the road. Feel free to draw some of your opinions by taking a look at this FREE video of Hernandez courtesy of Baseball Prospectus’ Nick Faleris.

#40 Tucker Neuhaus: I’ve written about Neuhaus extensively, both for Baseball America and out of personal interest, but I remained hesitant in offering a personal draft projection given my relative inexperience with amateur scouting, and the questions about his defensive profile.  BA’s HS Top 100 is based on talent alone (not signability, etc.), and I was a bit surprised to see Neuhaus up so high given the defensive question marks.  However, Neuhaus is a great, hard-working kid who features legitimate pull power and quality arm strength.  While I feel his body (6-3, 190) forces off 3B and into RF, the bat is a legitimate weapon, and it appears that scouts and those within the industry are confident enough in its ability to play up that it has lifted Neuhaus into the top half of the list.

#44 Josh Hart: As with Demerritte, I only got a chance to see Hart in passing while at the WWBA. As such, I didn’t have too much to say other than,

Plus athlete with body for projection (6-3, 190). Good reads and quick breaks in the outfield—near diving play in shallow RCF. Premium projection and ceiling.

Hart’s East Cobb team won the tournament, so scouts had a number of opportunities to see the center fielder in action, and it appears that they came away similarly impressed with the center fielder. I would personally be surprised to see the Georgia Tech commit ever set foot on campus, as I think Hart ends up receiving some big-time (over-slot) money to pry him away from his college commitment.

#52 Brian Navaretto: I wrote about Navaretto extensively in my post on Arlington Country Day’s contingent at the FLDCS. He clearly garnered the most attention of the group—and Nathan Rode suggested that the catching prospect projected to be a 2nd -4th round pick.  After a couple of weeks of calls/recon work with scouts it appears that Rode’s original suggestion was on point, as Navaretto checks in at #52 in BA’s HS Top 100 (perhaps 2nd, likely 3rd round pick depending on the number of college players selected). Just a quick rundown for those unwilling to read my original analysis: athletic frame, strong forearms/wrists, plus bat speed with leverage, swing got long at times, plays with energy and confidence, very strong arm (1.76-1.84 pop times).  Even though this year’s crop of amateur catching talent is particularly deep, I think that Navaretto climbs up draft boards with a strong spring campaign.

#69 Nick Longhi: Had a strong summer on showcase circuit and is a big dude with very real raw power. I wasn’t too sure about his draft prospects because the defensive profile limits him to LF or 1B, but his place in the BA Top 100 shows that some teams think that the LSU commit’s power potential is worth pursuing, regardless of any defensive limitations and swing mechanics that need ironing out.

#81 K.J. Woods: I didn’t have much to say about Woods—I only saw him in passing at the WWBA, but the 6-4, 210 pound OF/1B is a physical specimen. Ft. Mill, South Carolina native doesn’t have much projection remaining, but people are obviously drawn to the special combination of size/power potential and athleticism.

#96 Josh Greene: Like Neuhaus, another guy that I’ve written quite a bit about for both BA and personal interest. Unlike many to make the Top 100, Greene was not a big name coming into 2012. However, the Ocala native’s impressive skill set—plus(to plus-plus) speed, average arm strength, great instincts/reads—makes for a solid defensive center fielder.  The bat very much remains a question mark, but he features quick wrists and generates solid bat speed, and organizations are often willing to work with a youngster that provides solid defense at an up-the-middle position (regardless of the bat’s current grade).  With that being said, I was pleasantly surprised to find Greene within the Top 100, but his performance this summer/fall has clearly made believers out of more than just myself.

**Just missed Top 100: Christian Arroyo (gamer; absolutely love this kid despite the commitment to University of Florida) Brett Hanewich (Stanford commit, great athletic frame, two way threat—probably ends up as pitcher), Dane Dunning (also UF commit, serious room for projection), Sheldon Neuse (only saw a few innings for Texas Scout Yankees--liked lateral movements in field, approach at plate, instincts on basepaths)

Other Top 100 guys I’ve seen in person/Players to be covered in next post: #100 Edwin Diaz (PR), #75 Willie Abreu, #26 Chris Okey, #55 John Sternagel, #42 Zack Collins, NR Ronald Healy

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

FLDCS Observations: Railey, Greene, Hagenmiller, Hernandez

Last time I detailed the Arlington Country Day quartet of Brian Navaretto, Iramis Olivecia, Bernardo Bonifacio, and Blake Hennessey. Today I continue with some of my observations from the Florida Diamond Club Showcase.

2014 CF Matthew Railey, North Florida Christian HS, Tallahassee, FL: 6-0, 190, L/L, FSU commit.  Currently a junior, Railey more than held his own at the FLDCS with players one year his senior.  Although he came off the bench in both games and went 0-3, Railey worked two walks in game action, and showed out in batting practice.  Listed at 190 pounds, Railey is a fast-twitch, premium athlete.  While his frame may not ooze of projection as Josh Hart’s (previously covered) does, Railey has broad shoulders, a tapered waist and a well-proportioned, muscular physique.  Furthermore, the Tallahassee native has strong forearms and snappy wrists that allow the ball to jump off of his bat. Railey is able to generate plus bat speed with ease, but his swing has some serious length to it as he uses an extended load/trigger in which his hands drop significantly. While the (currently) lengthy swing will limit his ability to make consistent contact against top-notch pitching, Railey’s bat speed alone warrants potential plus-power. Turning in a 4.1 home-first split on a ground out to 2B, Railey is at least a plus-runner at present.  He flashed fringe-average arm strength in IF/OF, but the plus (to plus-plus) speed, range, and instincts should allow Railey to stick in CF.  At present, Railey is a bit raw and his lengthy swing can be exploited by quality pitching, but the tools (speed, power potential) and athleticism are evident. As a junior in high school, Railey still has nearly 18 months to grow as a ballplayer before the 2014 draft.  Although he is currently committed to play for the hometown Seminoles, I’d be surprised to see Railey wearing the Garnet and Gold at Mike Martin Field/Dick Howser Stadium, as a player with his defensive profile and tools/athleticism should be popped early in the draft.

2013 CF Josh Greene, Forest HS, Ocala, FL: 5-10, 165, L/L, High Point commit.
Despite being relatively unheralded before FLDCS, Greene dazzled on the final day of the showcase. Like Railey, Greene is at least a plus-runner at present, and he should be able to stick in CF.  Unlike Railey, however, Greene started in both of the North squad’s games.  In both contests he showed great instincts and reads off the bat.  His arm is nothing special—and though it was inconsistent at times he flashed average arm strength. At the plate, Greene has some length in swing but good bat speed and quick wrists.  He went 3-7 with a BB on the weekend, and was a nuisance on the basepaths.  While short and stout, with little room for further projection Greene provides some value defensively and showed that he could hit quality pitching.  While it is tough to gauge where he will end up in the draft, Greene certainly boosted his stock at the FLDCS.

2013 3B Ian Hagenmiller, Palm Beach Central, West Palm Beach, FL: 6-1, 210, R/R, uncommitted
Hagenmiller did not get much of a chance to shine in game action, as his team’s predominant 3B was Jan Hernandez (see below).  However, Hagenmiller showed extremely smooth actions in the field for a non-premium athlete. He has soft hands and flashed an extremely strong and consistent, accurate arm.  At the plate, Hagenmiller utilizes a toe-tap and a high hand set.  He showed the ability to backspin the ball and tap into some of his strength and raw power during batting practice, but he struggled to make contact in game action, striking out in 3 of his 4 at-bats. Probably destined for college ball or a late-round selection, Hagenmiller provides a solid blend of defensive chops at the hot corner and power potential (and a strong arm—90 mph off the mound).

2013 SS/3B Jan Hernandez, Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy, Caguas, PR: 6-2, 195, R/R, uncommitted

Here’s what fine folks over at Baseball Prospectus had to say while watching Hernandez play at the WWBA in Jupiter:

First Take: Long-limbed, athletic body reminds me of a young Alex Rodriguez frame in short look. Soft feet with plus arm, appears to have skills to remain at short. Highly touted infielder, looks the part, right handed bat.–Dan Evans
Second Take: Good frame; clean actions in the infield; footwork plays around the bag; left side arm; collegiate shortstop and has chance to stick at pro ranks if he doesn’t get too big; power potential; natural lift; delivers barrel well; average runner likely slows as body matures; game projects across the board.–Nick Faleris
And now for my humble take:

I didn’t get a chance to see Hernandez at WWBA, but he did stand out at the FLDCS.  He has a good, solid frame and natural athleticism.  Right now he is a solid-average runner, turning in a 6.8 60-yard dash time at the showcase. As such, in my opinion he probably profiles best as a 3B down the road, but his hands are great, actions extremely smooth, and arm strong and accurate, so an organization may allow Hernandez to play his way off SS.  At the plate, he has a good swing path, and he turned in two very solid BP rounds.  His swing is compact and he flashed gap power and an innate ability to square up balls—the power should play up and develop as the body matures. Obviously much of Hernandez’s value is dependent on his ability to stick at shortstop. If evaluators like Dan Evans think that he can stick there, he will most likely end up as a high draft pick come June, as his other tools are polished yet projectable.

Monday, November 5, 2012

FLDCS Observations: Arlington Country Day Edition

Last time I wrote about a number of players that stood outat the Florida Diamond Club Showcase, and today I will continue with my analysis with a brief rundown on a handful of players from Arlington Country Day. ACD is a high school that has long been associated with dominance in basketball and baseball, as Javier Baez (currently Chicago Cubs top prospect and 2011 1st round pick) and a handful of other talents have provided the program with some serious buzz in the Southeast. Of the following four players, three call Puerto Rico their home (as did Baez), and some within the high school athletics industry have questioned the legitimacy of such schools and whether or not they should be able to allowed to compete for state championships. Indeed, ACD was fined by the Florida High School Athletic Association for recruitment violations and in 2010 the school announced its intention to withdraw from the organization. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs about the intersection of education and athletics in high school and the circumstances of ACD’s roster compilation, there is no doubt that Brian Navaretto, Iramis Olivecia, Bernardo Bonifcacio, and Blake Hennessey will make some serious noise (be it in the collegiate or professional ranks) over the next few years.

2013 C/1B/OF Brian Navaretto: 6-3, 220, R/R; currently uncommitted.

First here is what the fine folks over at Baseball Prospectus had to say about Navaretto in their rundown of a handful of players they say at the WWBA in Jupiter last weekend:

Outstanding catching prospect with impressive energy and tools. First guy out, first guy in dugout. Showed 60+ arm with accuracy and loved to use it. Great frame (6'3" 200 lbs). Quick bat. Aggressive with intangibles.–Dan Evans

And now for my humble synopsis:

Great frame, athletic and well-proportioned body. Large forearms, broad shoulders, tapered waist and well-developed lower-half; basically everything you look for physically in a prospect. He utilizes his strong forearms and wrists and upper-body strength to create easy plus bat speed and leverage.  At times, Navaretto’s swing showed some length as he appeared enamored with his power (wanted to put on a show in BP for scouts?). In game action Navarreto showed an innate ability to barrel balls and create loud contact, including a ground-rule double. Navaretto oozes confidence and plays with swagger.  He was not overwhelmed by the showcase and the attention it garnered—he thrives on the big stage and the competition.  Constantly upbeat, energetic, and plays with a smile. From what I can recall, nobody at the FLDCS tested his arm during the two games he played, but in IF/OF he showed off a very strong arm, turning in 1.76, 1.83, 1.84 pop times and athleticism/agility that should allow him a chance to stay behind the dish.  Unfortunately, I was too focused on catching a glimpse of everybody at the tournament, and fulfilling my duties for Baseball America that I was not able to get a good read on his receiving skills.  I had hoped to get another look at Navaretto at the WWBA, but I was only able to catch one of his team’s (East Cobb Baseball) games and he was sitting the bench (as he had caught earlier in the day).  From what I heard, scouts were impressed with Navaretto’s arm strength and athleticism but questions still remained about his catching future, although former Dodger’s GM Dan Evans seemed pretty convinced in the quote listed above.  If Navaretto is able to confirm that he has the potential to stick behind the plate, he has an outside shot of being a late first-round or supplemental first-round pick, but organizations are generally hesitant to select high-school catchers unless they are sure they can handle the defensive responsibilities. As such, Navaretto currently projects to be a second to fourth round selection (according to former colleague and all-around good dude Nathan Rode, whom you can follow on Twitter @BAHighSchool).

2013 OF Iramis Olivecia: 5-9, 170, R/R; currently uncommitted. Although all players who participated in the FLDCS were invited by various area scouts, Olivecia was relatively unknown to many scouts in attendance.  Nonetheless, Olivecia performed well enough to make sure those covering Northern Florida pay attention this spring.  Olivecia features a small, compact frame, as he listed at 5-9, 170.  A classic quick-twitch athlete, Olivecia’s performance in IF/OF and game action highlighted his athleticism and loose movements. At the plate,  he was balanced throughout time in batter’s box and consistently turned in solid, if not spectacular rounds of BP.  He immdediately turned heads in game action, however, as the Puerto Rican native bit a two-run HR to left center field off RHP Nick Eicholtz in his first AB of the weekend.  Although he didn’t record another hit in that game, he did sting a single in his second game and showed an ability to work the count.  Overall, the bat looks promising and the approach generally sound—although it was still tough to get a solid read as he went up against a relatively mediocre group of pitchers in the second game. In the field, Olivecia played predominately in the corner outfield positions, as CF was ceded to either Josh Greene or Matthew Railey (observations forthcoming), and I cannot rememeber his arm being tested in game action.  However, in IF/OF, Olivecia flashed solid-average arm strength although his consistency and mechanics were quite inconsistent. Overall, Olivecia is an intriguing prospect—despite his small stature he showed some in-game pop and a balanced approach in the batter’s box. While his movements and actions were athletic and loose, Olivecia remains a bit raw and he turned in a disappointing 4.5 home-first split on a ground ball to second base (although he did slow down towards the end).  I’m not sure where he ends up come next summer, but I think he definitely opened a few eyes at the FLDCS.

2013 INF Blake Hennessey: 6-1, 175, R/R, Oklahoma State commit. Hennessey was listed as a middle infielder on the roster, but he played the majority of the weekend at the hot corner.  Regardless, the ACD product features a projectable and athletic frame.  He flashed a strong, accurate arm that should allow him to stay on the left side of the diamond if he is forced to move off shortstop down the road.  He made some solid defensive plays in game action, specifically on relay throws from the outfield—he gunned down a couple of runners trying to take an extra base on balls hit into the gaps.  At the plate, Hennessey generates some solid power and leverage, but he had a tendency to get sloppy with hands as he dropped them during his trigger/load phase.  As such, his swing got long and loopy, he struggled to maintain a consistent swing path, and he had some contact issues (3K during the weekend).  However, when his hands were correct, Hennessey was able to make some solid contact and hit with authority. Since Hennessey’s time at SS was limited throughout the weekend, it would be foolish to discuss his defensive capabilities at length, but the fact that he was not given the opportunity to start may indicate that scouts prefer him at 3B.  At present, Hennessey probably does not have the power of an ideal third baseman, but he has the frame to carry more mass, so teams may be willing to take him later in the draft and try to pry him away from his OK State commitment.

2013 OF Bernardo Bonifacio : 5-9, 200, R/R, Bethune Cookman commit. Bonifcacio, the final member of ACD’s Puerto Rican triumvirate was listed as a CF on the roster, but the thickly built outfielder spent all weekend in either corner.  Bonifacio is probably maxed out physically, but despite his thick build the youngster is still a plus-runner, turning in a  4.2 from the RH side.  Like Olivecia, I cannot remember Bonifacio’s arm being tested in game action, but in IF/OF he flashed solid-average to plus arm strength with some consistency issues in his mechanics, rhythm, and accuracy. At the plate, Bonifacio’s had a few issues as his hands and hips were not always working together. As a result he frequently hit with only his upper body. Regardless, his swing path was relatively sound and consistent and his raw strength impressive enough to suffice at the amateur level.  As he climbs the ladder Bonifacio will have to adjust and clean up his hands/hips in order to thrive and hit consistently, but the tools are in place.  His ceiling is not nearly as high as Navaretto’s, and he will most likely lose a step or two as he gets older, but Bonifacio boasts a plus arm, good athleticism, and juice in the bat, so he is an intriguing prospect nonetheless.

I’m excited to have stumbled upon these amateur talents and I’m looking forward to seeing them play for ACD this spring.

Next up I’ll be focusing on a handful of players, including a few from from Tallahassee’s North Florida Christian (like 2014 stud Matthew Railey).

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Florida Diamond Club Showcase Observations

As I mentioned briefly yesterday, I still have a ton of raw scouting notes on a handful of players that participated in the WWBA this past weekend and the Florida Diamond Club Showcase two weekends ago.  Yesterday I touched upon a few players that I only got to see for a couple of plate appearances, innings, hours, etc., but today I will focus on some guys that I was able to see over the course of an entire weekend’s worth of games, batting practices, and infield/outfield routines at the Florida Diamond Club Showcase.  

2013 SS Oscar Mercado: 6-1, 177, R/R, Florida State commit. Those within the industry have known about Mercado for a while now, as he has been a regular on the showcase scene. Baseball Prospectus’ Nick Faleris provided an analysis on him here. From what I saw at the showcase, Mercado is a great athlete and possesses the necessary quick-twitch athletisicm that is necessary for a major-league middle infielder. He has fluid movements, nimble footwork, a quick transfer, and a solid arm--all of which indicate that he should be able to stick at shortstop at the highest level. On the second day of the showcase he did play CF and actually looked very natural there, despite not playing there much at all over the past few years. If for some reason things do not work out for Mercado at SS, he has the athleticism, instincts, speed, quickness, and arm to transition to CF. At the plate he was a bit inconsistent, and I felt that like he’s late with his trigger and load at times.  Regardless, he features very good bat speed and quick wrists that allow the hit tool to play up (at present).  I didn’t get any run times on Mercado, as he spent so much time barreling balls into the outfield and working walks, but he was a nuisance on the basepaths, swiping three bases over the course of the weekend. SYNOPSIS—Mercado showed out at the FLDCS and is a legitimate athlete at a premium defensive position; I’d be extremely surprised if he was not drafted in the first round of the draft

2013 3B/OF Tucker Neuhaus: 6-3, 190, L/R, Louisville commit. Neuhaus plays shortstop for his high school team and is committed to Louisville in part because of the coaching staff’s willingness to let him play short for the Cardinals. During the showcase weekend he played at third base and right field, both of which fit his profile better. He has a long frame with more room to add mass in both his upper and lower halves. He is pretty athletic, but he does not profile as a shortstop at the next level. He looked decent at third base, showing off some soft hands and plus arm strength, but he had some accuracy issues as his throws tended to sail on him. I personally like him better as a RF, especially as he continues to mature and add mass over the next few years.  He put on a show in batting practice on the first day, and it continued into game action, as he belted out a homerun off a lefthanded pitcher. There is some length in his swing but throughout the weekend he showcased some true pull power. During the second game, Neuhaus swung a bit “uphill” at times and displayed that his long swing could get him into trouble at times. Overall, Neuhaus presented an intriguing combination of plus power potential and plus arm strength. I’m not entirely sure of his draft prospects given his defensive profile, but  I liked the overall package.

2013 1B/OF Nick Longhi: 6-2, 212, R/R, LSU commit. Longhi made some noise this summer at the Area Code Games in California, and he had a solid weekend in Lakeland for the FLDCS. He has a muscle bound body with a thick lower half. Combine that with a below-average arm, and I feel that his future probably lies at first base rather than the outfield (although he is a solid athlete for such a big guy). Longhi has a high hand set in the batter’s box, and he lowers his hands during the pitcher’s delivery, which makes for a lot of pre-swing movement. The slight hitch and hole in his swing makes for some swing and miss, but did not present too much of an obstacle over the weekend, as he generates good bat speed and easy plus power with plus-plus potential. At times he can hit entirely with his upper body as he tends to “spin”, but his enormous strength allows the power and bat to play at present. Down the road, he will have to make some slight adjustments, but the bat has some serious juice. Again, I’m not too sure on his draft prospects—the defensive profile may scare off some teams—but the power is real, so even if he ends up in Baton Rouge, he remains a college bat to keep an eye on over the next few years.

2013 RHP/INF Brett Hanewich: 6-3, 208, S/R, Stanford commit. I don’t think he even played in the field during game-action at the FLDCS, but if he did I missed it. I wasn’t too enthralled with his showing during the two BP rounds, as he had a tendency to jump at the ball and hit front-footed. His body is impressive and imposing for an 18-year-old, as he is chiseled with broad shoulders.  His fastball sat between 86-91 during his two innings in Lakeland, but he showed out more in Jupiter, when he sat between 89-93 with a hammer curve between 73-75.  The pitch got a little loose at times, but it had a good shape and flashed plus. His delivery was pretty clean overall, although one could nitpick and say that it was a bit too mechanical/rigid and limited his momentum towards the plate.

2013 C/3B Adrian Chacon: 6-1, 195, R/R, UNC commit. Chacon saw limited time in the field for the West squad at the FLDCS, but he was impressive during BP and I had the chance to see him briefly at the WWBA in Jupiter. Chacon is solidly built with a muscular physique. I felt that he profiled better as a catcher (although I did not get much of chance to see him behind the plate), so he will probably be able to add on mass without sacrificing much defensively behind the dish. At the WWBA he threw out a runner trying to steal second base and clocked in a 1.89 pop time. It was difficult to get a read on his receiving skills, but I was very high on his ability in the batter’s box. At times he hit too much off his front-foot and his hands got a little noisy and drifty, but overall Chacon was solid. He did a fine job of throwing his top hand through the zone and creating a nice, fluid, direct path to the ball.  He also showed the ability to backspin the ball and consistently square up pitches. It is always hard to evaluate how high school catchers will be able to handle the responsibilities of catching professionally, so my gut instinct is that Chacon ends up in Chapel Hill, but scouts that are more familiar with Chacon may feel that he has “it” so I would also not be surprised to see him popped in an early-mid round rang of the 2013 draft.

2013 RHP Spencer Trayner: 6-0, 160, R/R. UNC commit. Chacon’s high school teammate, Trayner is also a Tar Heel commit that performed well at the FLDCS and the WWBA. While he doesn’t possess the traditional pitcher’s frame, Trayner was able to flash solid-average to plus velocity at both events, sitting 90-92 in Lakeland and 91-93 in Jupiter. Trayner normally throws from the traditional high ¾ arm slot, but on occasion he would drop down El Duque style and deliver a sidearm 87-88 mph fastball.  Although he threw it sparingly, Trayner also flashed a late-breaking 80 mph slider with good two-plane depth. 

2013 RHP Dane Dunning: 6-3, 190, R/R. Florida commit. Dunning features a long, lithe frame with room for future projection.  He has an easy and seemingly clean delivery, and he appears to stay over himself well.  Throwing from the common high ¾ arm slot, Dunning has a solid release distance and stride length, which helps his 86-91 mph FB play up a bit. The pitch appears to have some real life and jump in on righthanded hitters. His secondary pitches, a 73-80 mph CRV and 80 mph CH, were used sparingly so it was hard to get a true gauge on the quality, although the curveball had good shape. Florida’s 2012 recruiting class was decimated due to a plethora of high MLB draft choices, and 2013 may be no different.  Dunning offers some serious projection and it will be interesting to see how high his draft stock may rise this spring.

2013 MIF Christian Arroyo: 6-0, 180, R/R. Florida commit. Arroyo starred for USA Baseball’s 18U team that won the Gold medal at the World Championships is South Korea this summer. I had the chance to interview Arroyo twice this summer and he is an outstanding young man and was by far the best interview I conducted while interning for Baseball America. On the field, Arroyo typically fits the “gamer” profile as he does not have one loud or exceptional tool. However, he is an extremely instinctual player. He features only average speed presently, and given his thicker lower half, he projects best as a second baseman professionally. His arm strength may also be average at best, but his transfer and release are extremely quick.  At the plate Arroyo utilizes a short, compact swing. He was able to consistently control the bat and square up pitches to make solid contact.  Furthermore, Arroyo has an advanced approach at the plate and a good feel for hitting in general—he was able to work the count, use the entire field, and borderline pitches throughout the FLDCS weekend and the WWBA tournament in Jupiter. High school “gamers” are not often selected early in the draft, as pure athletes who feature more projection than the polished yet understated Arroyo, so it is more likely that we see him donning the Orange and Blue in 2013.

More to come in the following days, including observations on Brian Navaretto, Bernardo Bonifacio, Matthew Railey, Iramis Olivecia, Shaun Anderson, Ian Hagenmiller, etc. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Some Thoughts & Observations from WWBA

This past weekend I was able to attend the World Wood Bat Association Championship, a tournament showcasing the largest(?) collection of domestic, amateur baseball talent, in Jupiter, Florida. The previous weekend I was fortunate enough to cover the Florida Diamond Club Showcase in Lakeland, Florida for Baseball America. My recaps for the three days of action at the Diamond Club Showcase can be found here, here, and here (all FREE). The Florida Diamond Club Showcase was a tremendous experience and I was able to jot down some raw scouting notes on dozens of top prospects from the state and talk to a handful of scouts and players (much of which I will be disclosing on the blog in the future). 

Needless to say, after seeing a number of high profile amateurs such as Oscar Mercado and Brian Navaretto, I thought that my experience in Lakeland would prepare for me for the WWBA weekend in Jupiter. 

I was wrong.  Much of my confusion was due to the fact that I arrived midday and mid-tournament.  The tournament was slated to begin on Thursday—but weather only allowed one game to be completed. Friday was also dicey, as the weather forecast steady rain, much of which was nonexistent.  Regardless, because of the forecast I did not travel the nearly five hours down to Jupiter until Saturday, at which point I arrived at around 1 or 1:30.  After paying the entrance fee and obtaining a program I wandered over to the nearest (and most visible) field—Roger Dean Stadium—spring training home for the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins.  Unfortunately, I had no idea who was playing—they don’t operate scoreboards, have announcers, etc. and the tournament schedule had been completely changed because of the weather.

Eventually, I was able to determine that I was watching the Texas Scout Team Yankees, one of the traditional powerhouses at the WWBA, and Farrah Scout, a team primarily composed of players from New Jersey and New York. Although it is difficult for a Jersey boy like myself to admit---the Northeasterners were completely outclassed. I could withstand the beatdown for a couple of innings before I walked around the complex.  Luckily, I was able to jot down a few notes on players from the Texas Scout squad that were particularly interesting in the hour or so that I got to see.

2013 SS Brett Boswell: L/R, 6-0, 170, Texas commit; loose athlete with rhythm at the plate, plays with swagger, quick wrists and ability to barrel the ball with a quality, compact swing path

2013 SS/2B/RHP Sheldon Neuse: R/R, 6-0, 180, Oklahoma commit; was playing 2B—showed athleticism, moved well laterally with clean actions. Worked opposite field while at the plate—barreled a ball over the RF head for a double, did a good job staying closed and working backside. Solid runner, instincts on basepaths.

2013 IF/RHP Garrett Luna: R/R, 6-1, 200. Corner profile—not a premium athlete and “goofy” actions while running. Saw the bell well at the plate—good feel for hitting and advanced approach

2013 LHP Tyler Alexander: 6-2, 175, TCU commit. Athletic, projectable frame. Showed a clean delivery. Stays over top of himself and repeated delivery well from both windup and stretch. Solid command of FB down in zone. Slightly slower arm speed and lower release point/slot on CH. Plus potential on breaking ball/slider with late tilt and depth.

Despite being pounded and outdone on all fronts, one player from the Farrah Scout squad did stand out as a sleeper type.

2013 RHP Shawn Kanwisher: 6-2, 190. Athletic, lithe frame that should be able to handle more mass, and hopefully velo down the road. Sink and armside run on FB—solid action on the pitch. Little command of the pitch as he began tired. Not a premium prospect or “guy” per se, but he is a high school teammate of one of the top prep arms in the upcoming 2013 draft, LHP Rob Kaminsky. As such, Kanwisher may benefit from the extra attention that Kaminsky will garner this spring.

Later I wandered around the back fields of the complex, wading through throngs of parents, college recruiting coordinators, scouts, crosscheckers, and kiosk vendors selling shirts, bats, gloves, hats, etc. to find a few other games going on. In many ways it was a sensory overload, and I wasn’t able to take quality notes until later in the night when I had settled in.  While I was trying to keep my eyes on two fields at once, a handful of young athletes stood out.

2013 OF/1B KJ Woods (Royals Scout Team): Ft Mill HS, South Carolina. L/R. 6-4, 208. Only saw one AB—he struck out but it was a quality AB—worked the count, fouled off at least four pitches, caught out a bit out in front a few times. Large, mature body, but he is an athlete. Played in RF and did a good job of turning and running on a ball hit over his head. Gunned down a runner trying to stretch hit into a triple with solid throw to cutoff man (solid avg. to plus arm). Would’ve loved to see more in game action.

2014 SS Maurice Cooley (Royals Scout Team): Fleming Island HS, Orange Park, FL. R/R. 6-0, 180. Very athletic body and strong, solid frame. Didn’t get a run time on him, but am quite sure he is at least a plus runner. Good range in field. Juice in the bat—flashed oppo power, flying out to RF, warning track. Am looking forward to catching him play this spring, as he is in the Jacksonville area.

2013 CF Josh Hart (East Cobb Baseball): Parkview HS, Georgia. L/L, 6-3, 190, Georgia Tech commit. Plus athlete with body for projection. Good reads and quick breaks in the outfield—near diving play in shallow RCF. Premium projection and ceiling.

2013 3B/RHP Travis DeMerritte (East Cobb Baseball): R/R. 6-1, 185, South Carolina commit. Solid body and frame. Athletic in field, moved well laterally at hot corner and showed solid instincts. Plus arm in the field (didn’t see him pitch). At the plate he has noisy hands and an extended load/trigger phase but he generates plus bat speed. Patient, advanced approach—didn’t chase at all or expand zone.

2014 RHP Cobi Johnson (Cardinals Scout Team): James W. Mitchell HS, Florida. R/R, 6-4, 175. Body has real room for projection down the road. Arm action is clean and delivery looks nice, easy, with limited effort. He does throw slightly across body as his foot strike is on third base side and he closes himself off a bit. 89-91 mph FB with late life down in zone. 80 mph CH. 76-77 CRV with good shape.

Finally, in the nightcap I was fortunate enough to see a premium prep arm in action. Jordan Sheffield, a 2013 6-1, 180 pound righthander out of Tullahoma, Tennessee came out of the bullpen to relieve his younger brother, 2014 lefthander Justus Sheffield. While the younger Sheffield was solid in his own right, sitting 87-91, the eldest stole the show.  Jordan’s delivery was a bit smoother and more athletic, and he was able to consistently fire off 95 and 96 mph fastballs, hitting 98 once.  For more on the Sheffield Bros check out Nathan Rode’s recap at BA here and here.

Rode (@BAHighSchool) and Conor Glassey (@conorglassey) were at the showcase all week, so for more information I would highly recommend the BA blogs. Baseball Prospectus also had a significant contingent in Jupiter so I’m sure they will have some more quality analysis on the WWBA forthcoming.

I still have a significant amount of raw notes left over from the Florida Diamond Club Showcase and the WWBA, so I will provide some more information about players that stood out over the next few days (provided I feel motivated). 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Brenden Webb, OF, Orioles

Player: Brenden Webb 
Position: OF
Bats/Throws: Left/Left
Hometown/School: San Diego, CA/Palomar Junior College (Calif.)
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Drafted: 30th round and 896th overall by the Baltimore Orioles in 2009

Background/Stats: Webb was undrafted coming out of high school so he stayed close to home, attending Palomar Junior College in San Diego County. His freshman season at Palomar was impressive enough to earn him a spot at the University of Southern California, but the Orioles nabbed him in the 30th round of the 2009 draft and offered him a well-above slot bonus of $250,000.  Webb signed close to the deadline in 2009 and only got 43 at-bats for the Orioles Gulf Coast League affiliate. In 2010, as a 20-year-old Webb hit .244/.348/.412 in the Appalachian League. Webb began the following season in Low-A Delmarva, where he struggled. He hit just .218/.344/.288 in his first taste of the South Atlantic League. Given his struggles with Low-A pitching, the Orioles assigned Webb to the Delmarva roster again in 2012. The 22-year-old spent the vast majority of the season in the Sally League, hitting .251/.422/.457, before a late-season promotion to High-A Frederick in mid-August. Webb hit .270/.382/.500 in just 74-at bats with the Keys.

Firsthand Observations: I saw Webb play in Hickory, North Carolina against the Texas Rangers Low-A affiliate Hickory Crawdads on July 7th.  I had no prior knowledge of Webb and made the trip out to Hickory to watch a number of other guys, specifically Rougned Odor, Jorge Alfaro, Luis Sardinas of Hickory and Nicky Delmonico, Jason Esposito, and Parker Bridwell of Delmarva.  However, Webb immediately caught my eye pre-game. Simply put, Webb looked good in the uniform. No, we’re not selling jeans here, but listed at 6-3, 190 pounds, Webb has the tall, loose, and muscular frame that you tend to see at the highest level of professional baseball.  Although it would be foolish to read too much into pre-game calisthenics and warm-ups, Webb’s movements were smooth and he appeared to be the most athletic player on the Delmarva roster. His arm appeared strong and his arm action mechanically sound, although I did not get to see him air it out in game action.  Webb played RF in the game, as he did for the overwhelming majority of the season, and showed some defensive chops and solid instincts when he quickly and correctly read the ball off of the bat and flashed impressive closing speed to nab a bleeder of the bat of a right-handed hitter near the RF line.

At the plate, Webb did a good job of staying balanced and tracking pitches. Utilizing a slightly open stance, Webb stayed balanced throughout his load and weight transfer. In his first two plate appearances Webb faced Hickory starter, LHP Kevin Matthews. He did a fine job of tracking sliders and some close fastballs below the knees to work a walk in the first inning. In the second, Webb struck out on three pitches (took a CRV, fouled off a FB, and swung through a nice CRV), as Matthews had settled in during the third frame. In the fifth, against reliever Arlett Mavare, Webb grounded out to third base on a low and away CH and turned in a well-below average 4.5 home-to-first split, although he got a late start out of the box and did not appear to be running full speed. Webb flew out to CF in the eighth and worked a walk in the ninth. All in all, the results were nothing to truly write home about, put I was relatively encouraged by Webb’s set up, quiet hands, and ability to track pitches.

Going Forward: Webb’s 2012 season was a solid albeit unspectacular campaign.  When looking at Webb’s career statistics, it is evident that the young man has a propensity to strike out (with a career K rate of 28.4%).  However, Webb has also clearly improved his plate discipline, as the 22-year-old drew a career high 98 walks and raised his OBP nearly 80 points in the process. Furthermore, Webb began to tap into some of his power potential, hitting a career-high 14 homeruns. Overall, I was pretty happy to stumble upon Webb, and surprised to learn that he was a 30th round selection, given his impressive size and athleticism. In that same vein, I completely understood why Baltimore was willing to go way above slot to get the young man to sign.  His absolute ceiling actually appeared higher to me than that of his more high-profile teammates (Nicky Delmonico, Jason Esposito).  With that being said, like so many other young, athletic corner outfielders, Webb’s ability to hit will determine how far he progresses. Webb will be 23 years old come Opening Day, and I would expect him to start off 2013 in High-A Frederick in what figures to be an extremely important year in his 
developmental process. 

Ceiling: Solid-Average RF
Feasibly: 4th OF
Floor: Double-A

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Portrait: Robert Benincasa

Player:  Robert Benincasa
Position: RP
Throws: Right
Hometown/HS: Tampa, FL/Armwood HS
Height/Weight: 6-2, 195
Drafted: 7th round and 234th overall pick of the Washington Nationals (2012)

Background/Stats: Benincasa was drafted in the 33rd round (and the 1000th overall pick) of the 2009 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. He earned first team All-State honors during his time at Armwood High School in Tampa, and elected to attend Florida State University rather than sign with Toronto.  As a freshman, in 2010 Benincasa was shuttled between the bullpen and starting rotation, making a few starts mid-week for the Seminoles. In 2011 longtime FSU manager showed a bit more confidence in Benincasa, utilizing the righthander in mid-relief and setup situations. Benincasa went 2-2 with a 3.58 ERA and 24 K in 32.2 IP over 20 appearances.  Benincasa’s 2012 was by far his most successful season, as he truly came into his own as the Seminoles closer. He went 4-2, 1.32 ERA with 16 saves and racked up 58 strikeouts (to only 7 walks) in 41 innings and helped Florida State advance to the College World Series. The Washington Nationals selected Benincasa with the 234th overall pick, and according to Baseball America he signed for $145,000.

Firsthand Observations: Even as a longtime Seminole fan, I knew very little about Benincasa before the 2012 season.  I had seen him pitch in a few games on television with mixed results, but those that I talked to were pretty high on his potential and arsenal.  Fortunately, I was able to see Benincasa pitch many times over the course of the spring and summer.  Listed at 6-2, 195, Benincasa has a nice tall frame and thick legs. Unlike many relievers, Benincasa works from a full windup when runners are not on base, and his movements in the windup are clean, balanced, and athletic. He does a fine job of staying overtop of his body throughout his delivery and features solid posture, but his release point and arm angles can be a bit inconsistent, particularly with offspeed pitches. However, since Benincasa will almost certainly be used exclusively as a reliever “tipping” his pitches should not be too much of an issue, as the release point inconsistency is relatively miniscule.  Benincasa offers a true three-piece mix, as his fastball typically works between 90 and 93 miles per hour. The pitch features some late arm-side run, and Benincasa showed solid command, particularly glove-side.  His primary offspeed pitch of choice is his slider, a sharp 78-82 mph offering that has late two-plane depth. Benincasa proved to be particularly adroit at commanding the slider throughout FSU’s 2012 season, and it appears as if he was able to continue the trend with the Auburn Doubledays of the NYPL, as the righthander only surrendered 3 walks in his 23.1 summer innings.  Finally, Benincasa also showed a decent feel for a low 80’s changeup, but he rarely needed to utilize the pitch at the collegiate level.

Going Forward: After dominating in 23.1 innings in the short-season NYPL (2-0, 3.09 ERA, 32 K, 27 H, 3 BB) like a college arm should, I would expect Benincasa to break 2013 with Hagerstown, Washington’s Low-A club, but I also would not be surprised to see him start the year with their High-A club in Potomac. The entire package is nothing too sexy—the fastball is solid-average, the slider a solid pitch and I could argue for a plus grade, while the changeup is currently fringe-average with room for further development.  He probably will not end up being an impact arm at the MLB level, but I would be surprised if, health permitting, Benincasa is not a setup man or middle reliever in the big leagues.

Etc.: See this excellent YouTube video by Jeff Reese/Bullpen Banter in order to form your own opinions.