Archive for Game Report

2016 Draft: Kyle Lewis Swings Way to Top-Five Consideration

After a breakthrough summer in the Cape Cod League, Mercer outfielder Kyle Lewis entered the spring as a potential first-round pick and has managed to dramatically improve his stock over the course of the season. He’s among the country’s leading hitters with a .411/.545/.729 line, 17 homers and 61 walks against 43 strikeouts at the time of this publication, numbers that helped him win the Southern Conference Player of the Year Award for the second straight season. With elite performance to back up five-tool promise and one of the best swings in the class, he’s in the conversation to be one of the first five players off the draft board.

I saw Lewis this past weekend when the Bears traveled to North Carolina for their regular-season series finale at UNC-Greensboro. The video below offers two angles from batting practice and a couple throws from center field, concluding with his first three plate appearances of the series. Other draft follows from this series get their own blurbs at the end.

Physical Description

Playing in the Southern Conference, Lewis looks pretty different from everyone else on the field. He’s listed at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, and features a high-waisted, athletic build that should add another 15 pounds or so. He shows fast-twitch ability in all phases, coupling athletic movements in the box with fluid actions in the field.

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Will Craig’s Power Bat Buoys 2016 Draft Stock

In a draft year that’s churning out a better college hitting crop than the industry expected before the season began, Wake Forest infielder Will Craig is another such college hitting prospect that’s making a strong case for a top-two-rounds selection.

I saw Craig this weekend when the Demon Deacons visited N.C. State for a three-game series that included a rare Monday night game, which aired on ESPNU. He’s a high follow mostly for his bat, and he’s done nothing but rake since he arrived in Winston-Salem. As of publication, he’s comically slashing .466/.581/.909, placing him inside the nation’s top five in all three categories. Perhaps then it’s no wonder that he surfaces as the ACC’s top draft-eligible batter in Carson Cistulli’s latest installment of top college players by (maybe) predictive stats.

The video below moves from batting practice to pre-game infield to game swings. For the sake of an evaluation, it helped that he was facing N.C. State left-hander Ryan Williamson, a solid pro prospect who gets his own video and bullet point further down. Both videos also feature receiving demonstrations by N.C. State catcher Andrew Knizner, another solid prospect who gets mentioned in this space.

Physical Description

Craig looks every bit of his listed 6-foot-3, 235-pound constitution, a big-bodied frame that has reached its full development. His natural strength is concealed by a soft, thick build that’s supported by a pair of tree trunks. He also has unexpected rotational athleticism for such a big dude, which is more apparent when he’s pitching than when he’s doing anything else. Ideally, his pro training regimen trims 10-15 pounds and replaces the void with muscle. Craig was drafted by the Royals in the 37th round of the 2013 draft out of Science Hill HS (Tenn.), where he teamed with Tigers lefty Daniel Norris.

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Blake Rutherford Shows Tools of a Top-Five Draft Pick

I got my first look at Blake Rutherford (Chaminade College Prep, Calif.) at USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars showcase last summer. The 18-year-old outfielder, whom evaluators considered a top 10-draft prospect entering the spring, reinforced that status at last weekend’s National High School Invitational at the USA Baseball complex in Cary, NC, perhaps elevating himself given the underwhelming performances of some of his similarly talented peers.

The video below merges Rutherford’s batting practice from Tournament of Stars and his four at-bats from the Chaminade Prep vs. Walton HS (Ga.) contest at NHSI.

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Tennessee’s Nick Senzel Among 2016 Draft’s Top Bats

Infielder Nick Senzel has been an impact player for Tennessee ever since he arrived in Knoxville, but his draft stock took a major jump forward last summer when he was named MVP of the Cape Cod League and positioned himself as a first-round candidate heading into the spring.

He’s built on his momentum in his first 12 games this season, hitting .396/.500/.521 while answering some questions about his glove and where he’ll play at the next level. I caught Senzel when the Volunteers visited East Carolina in Greenville, N.C., as part of the 13th Annual Keith LeClair Classic last weekend. The video below starts with his pre-game batting practice in ECU’s indoor cages, then moves to pre-game infield and concludes with his first three at-bats from the game.

Physical Description

Listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Senzel has a muscular, pro build that looks about five to 10 pounds denser. He’s barrel-chested with broad shoulders and, in general, well developed and proportioned. Though he won’t get much stronger than he already is, you probably don’t want him to, either, as added mass would just limit his flexibility and medium-twitch athleticism.

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Lefty Jake DeVries Gives Air Force a High Draft Follow

There have been just three Air Force draftees since 2007, with the most recent coming last year when senior right-hander Ben Yokley was signed by the Cardinals as a 29th-round selection. Now the program is entering unchartered territory thanks to two pitchers in junior left-hander Jake DeVries and junior right-hander Griffin Jax, each of whom will command more scouting attention this spring than any Air Force player of the last decade.

I first wrote about DeVries in October after he flashed some intriguing pitching tools in the Cape Cod League last summer. As I mentioned then, Air Force players have obligations that supersede baseball and make it more complicated for teams to sign them out of the draft. This is particularly the case for players who aren’t seniors, as noted by Brent Briggeman in a piece recently for The Gazette of Colorado Springs. DeVries and Jax, explains Briggeman, basically have three options: they can (a) sign a pro contract and remain at Air Force to graduate while playing baseball on available leave time until the academy grants them a release from active duty, (b) resign from the academy and face two years of active duty as an enlisted airman, or (c) come back for their senior year like Yokley did, sign the contract, and then balance pro ball with combat training.

Briggeman notes that neither DeVries nor Jax has asked out of their commitments, though their performance this spring might change the situation. I’m told that academy leadership doesn’t have a thorough understanding of how the draft process works and may be uncomfortable setting a precedent in letting players out of those commitments. This is obviously a fluid situation, but the takeaway for now is that teams will have to clear administrative hurdles to sign either pitcher away from their senior seasons at the academy.

I got an up-close look at both DeVries and Jax this past weekend when Air Force and Navy squared off in a three-game series known as the Freedom Classic in Kinston, N.C. The video of DeVries is from the first inning of his start on Saturday, and the video of Jax (further down) is from the third inning of his start on Friday.

Jake DeVries

DeVries has most of the baseline attributes you want to see in starting pitcher prospect. He’s big, throws with little effort, has plus velocity and can spin a breaking ball. The biggest question mark surrounds his ability to throw strikes. Let’s talk about the pros first.

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College Team USA Loaded with Draft Talent as Usual

As dependably as Earth orbits the sun, so too does USA Baseball stack its Collegiate National Team with premium talents that later find themselves atop teams’ draft boards. Each summer, Team USA plays a few tune-up games against various teams from the summer collegiate Coastal Plain League before embarking on a multi-week schedule competing against Chinese Taipei, Cuba and other international squads. For major-league clubs, this summer tour and the Cape Cod League are the top destinations to scout the best college talent available in next year’s draft.

I’m going to compile a ranking of the top prospects on Team USA once its season is over, but having seen the first three games and the preceding batting practices/infields, I have enough notes to share in advance of a more comprehensive and penultimate post. Let’s do three hitters, three pitchers and a bonus round of 2017 guys. All of these players appeared in Kiley’s 2016/2017 draft rankings.

Corey Ray, CF, Louisville

Ray has been the most impressive position player over Team USA’s first three days, and if I was forced to rank all these guys now, he would slot in as my top hitting prospect and No. 2 overall behind Georgia RHP Robert Tyler. The quick-twitch center fielder has taken loud batting practices with a fluid, lefthanded stroke that produces above-average raw power and has shown a deliberate approach in games, using plus speed to set the Team USA single-game steals record with five in the first contest against the Holly Springs Salamanders of the CPL. He’s still developing instincts for his position, but his range, solid average arm and controlled aggression fit the center-field profile.

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Jeff Hoffman Surprisingly Polished in Return from Surgery

The Blue Jays’ farm got stronger last week, as last summer’s first-round pick, right-hander Jeff Hoffman, made his pro debut for High-A Dunedin. Hoffman was in the mix to go #1 overall last year until he underwent Tommy John surgery just before the draft and slid to ninth overall. The 6-foot-4 righty has the size and athleticism to support his frontline starter stuff, which was already back in his first regular season after surgery.

Fastball – 65/75

Hoffman came out establishing his fastball and showed his premium arm speed, sitting 95-98 and touching 99 mph early on. The pitch had life up in the zone and, when located down, the heater had good run and sink. It’s a heavy pitch that has the ability to swallow up opposing hitters’ barrels. In the second inning, Hoffman was leaving the pitch up and out over the plate, causing it straighten out. He was hit hard and loud that inning, but that was the only bump in the road.

Hoffman allowed four runs on four hits that inning, but put up zeros in the other four innings, scattering another four hits. He also showed the ability to hold his premium velocity while working out of the stretch, sitting 93-97 mph. The fastball command was better than I anticipated, as well. Even though he was getting squeezed a bit, Hoffman was regularly working the fastball to both corners and moving it up and down in the zone. Fastball command is usually one of the last traits to return after an injury like his, so it’s an encouraging sign to see glimpses of it this early.

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Cal Poly Pomona’s Cody Ponce Still in Play for First Round

Cody Ponce entered the spring as a potential first-round pick following a breakout summer in the Cape Cod League. That’s still the case now just two weeks before the draft, and I saw why during his Sunday start against Tampa in the Division II World Series, which was played at USA Baseball’s National Training Complex in Cary, N.C.

In the Cape, the Cal Poly Pomona right-hander sat 92-94 mph, touching 97, and combined his fastball with a hard cutter, curveball and changeup. That’s the same four-pitch mix he’s working with now, although the stuff wasn’t as sharp in my look compared to the reports from the summer. Still, he’s logged 62.1 innings this spring on his way to a 1.44 ERA with 54 hits allowed, 14 walks and 67 strikeouts so far this season, albeit against inferior competition.

At no point over the last 10 years has Cal Poly Ponoma produced a player that was drafted inside of the top-10 rounds. Ponce, who ranks No. 23 on Kiley’s latest draft board, will certainly end that streak and likely become the program’s highest-drafted player since 1983, when the Dodgers selected left-hander Mike Munoz in the third round.

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LSU’s Alex Bregman Firmly Among the Top-10 Draft Prospects

I’m not usually compelled to make a seven-hour round trip to scout one player, but that’s what I did last weekend when I drove from my home in Raleigh, N.C., to Columbia, where South Carolina hosted Louisiana State in both teams’ final regular season series before the SEC tournament. The featured attraction was LSU shortstop Alex Bregman, who ranks No. 4 on Kiley’s draft board and went sixth in his mock draft at the time of this writing.

A 29th-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2012, Bregman has been hitting from the moment he stepped onto campus in Baton Rouge, winning the Brooks Wallace Award as the nation’s best shortstop in his freshman year. Offensively, he took a step backwards in his sophomore campaign, but seems to have added a bigger power element to his game as a junior this season, slashing .329/.417/.577 with nine home runs and 29 stolen bases through 55 games.

A native of Albuquerque, N.M., he grew up playing travel ball with Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart. Because of that friendship and the fact that the organization drafted him three years ago, it’s hard to see Bregman falling past Boston at seventh overall. But as Kiley noted in his most recent mock draft, teams ahead of Boston have eyes for him as well.

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Tempering Expectations for Virginia’s Nate Kirby

Of the pitchers expected to be selected in the first round of this year’s draft, Virginia lefthander Nate Kirby is one of the safer bets to remain a starter as a professional. But despite a clean profile, his limited upside restrains my enthusiasm as we head down the home stretch of the college baseball schedule.

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Louisville’s Kyle Funkhouser States Case for Top-Five Selection

In an otherwise depressing draft season, Kyle Funkhouser did his best to raise our spirits over the weekend, delivering a signature performance that – outside of Dillon Tate and the recently injured Chris Shaw – most of this year’s top amateur prospects have yet to.

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FSU’s D.J. Stewart Offers First-Round Tools in Unusual Package

Florida State outfielder D.J. Stewart was regarded as a first-round talent heading into his junior season, but after seeing him during an Easter weekend series at N.C. State in Raleigh, I came away with a lesser opinion.

A 28th-round draft pick by the Yankees out of high school in 2012, Stewart batted .364/.469/.560 as a freshman, then slashed .351/.472/.557 as a sophomore last year on his way to being named the ACC Player of the Year. He hit a disappointing .232/.362/.316 while playing for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team last summer, although he’s now carrying a .306/ .506/.595 line through 37 games this season. I got two looks at Stewart last week – one on Thursday and the other on Saturday – which is more time than you want to spend without sunscreen at Doak Field unless you’re a masochist who delights in the stinging pain of hot showers.

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Miami’s Andrew Suarez Searches for 2014 Form

The results weren’t pretty for Andrew Suarez, who battled himself as much as he did the North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill last Saturday.

Pulled after throwing 60 pitches in just three innings (4 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 2 SO), the Miami lefthander repeatedly missed with a fastball that didn’t reach higher than 91 mph and was altogether a much different version from the one selected by the Nationals in the second round last year (subsequently becoming the highest-drafted college player to not sign). Granted, a late-February oblique strain caused him to forego his next two starts – missed development time that can explain the lower velocity from last year. But the control struggles were entirely new, as he walked just one batter in the two starts leading up to Saturday.

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Duke’s Michael Matuella Rediscovers Premium Stuff

The primary concern that scouts have about Michael Matuella is durability. So when the Duke righthander was scratched from making his second start of the season due to a forearm strain, it was a setback that led the Blue Devils training staff to keep him on strict pitch counts over his next few appearances. On Friday night against Pittsburgh, however, the reins were loosened and he showed evaluators the form that made him a candidate to be a top-five draft pick before the season began.

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Reports From Instructs: Richie Shaffer

Since I missed Taylor Guerreri in Rays instructs, the biggest name player I saw in camps was recent first round pick Richie Shaffer. The Rays took Shaffer 25th overall out of Clemson and was seemingly the second-highest player on the board for many clubs in the first round, with at least one team in the top 10 picks having Shaffer in their final group. I didn’t see Shaffer as an amateur but got a solid look before he went to the Arizona Fall League and he’ll be an interesting player to monitor in 2013 to see how his tools play in pro ball.

The one thing scouts would mention first about Shaffer when I talked to them before the draft was bat speed. Not his hit or power tools, but bat speed specifically. If you’ve read my other articles you know that I focus on power and fastball velocity and how it is created—if it’s natural arm speed or strength or if the player is cheating mechanically to enhance his tools. Bat speed is to hitters what arm speed is to pitchers. It’s the building block of hitting and power so you don’t have to cheat to get either and have a chance to have both. A player can be raw at the plate but if he has bat speed there will always be a scout willing to overpay the player.

Shaffer doesn’t disappoint in this regard because it’s true plus bat speed, especially rare to find in a college hitter for the aforementioned reasons. Normally bat speed comes from a wiry strong, athletic, skinny-frame player, typically dual sport guys that can run a little bit. Another reason scouts lead with the bat speed on Shaffer is that he doesn’t fit in this box. Shaffer has a pro body, a strong, lean, tapered 6’3, 210 pounds with broad shoulders and an above average arm that could play anywhere on the field. That said, Shaffer isn’t a quick-twitch type athlete, as a below average runner with some stiffness and mechanical movements in his defense at third base. He could move to right field but given the foot speed and a body that should only get bigger, first base seem like his eventual home.

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Reports From Instructs: Rays Power Arms

Instructs is a great place to find prospects you weren’t able to see during the season whether they were injured, hidden on backfields, or recent draftees. Rays righty reliever Nick Sawyer fits into the last two buckets as the 1232nd pick out of 1238 picks in the draft and a late-rising arm that signed for only $50,000 out of a Texas junior college.

Sawyer is only 5’11, 175 and during draft season, the rap on him was a smallish righty with some arm speed and command issues. While his command isn’t great, it’s fine and his delivery is cleaner than I anticipated. Sawyer sat at 93-96 mph for a few innings with his four-seamer, often spotting it up in the zone but with enough juice that hitters had trouble doing anything with the pitch.

Sawyer’s curveball was 79-83 mph and was very effective, buckling the knees of Bill Hall twice. The break would vary from three-quarters to more of a downer pitch with slight tilt but have very tight rotation and bite, flashing plus potential when it’s right. The thing to follow with Sawyer is his changeup, as the 86-87 mph was bad the first few times he threw it, improving throughout his outing. Eventually, he flashed a couple average pitches with some sink, fade and solid arm speed.

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Reports From Instructs: Phillies Wrap-Up

As promised, there’s only a few instructs reports left but it’s lasted me the (most warm in Florida) winter as junior colleges started this week and I was in the Dominican last week to see the top July 2 players. Along those lines, this wrap-up from Phillies camp will lead off with a high profile American but finish with three recent international signees that caught my eye.

Larry Greene signed with the Phillies for $1 million as the 39th overall pick in the supplemental round of the 2011 draft. Greene is from the South Georgia, the same area that has recently produced Buster Posey, Kaleb Cowart and Byron Buxton. Unfortunately, Greene isn’t the same kind of prospect but, as the signing bonus suggests, he has the tools to be a successful big leaguer. The first thing you notice about Greene physically also stands out on the roster—the Phillies updated his height and weight to 6’1, 259. That should create a certain mental image, but Greene isn’t fat and runs better than you’d expect; think NFL fullback. And don’t think Ryan Howard because that’s really lazy.

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Reports From Instructs: Phillies Top Picks

I swear I’ve posted almost all of my instructs reports. From Phillies camp, I’ve got two of the top three picks from the most recent draft, both multi-sport athletes as the Phillies are notorious for drafting.

Mitch Gueller was the 54th overall pick (sandwich round) in June from a Washington state high school that signed for slot, nearly $950,000. Gueller was a high school quarterback and also played basketball, so his solid-average speed and athleticism stood out, along with his 6’3, 215 pound frame and fastball that peaked at 95 mph. Unfortunately, it appeared Gueller was fatigued the two times I saw him in instructs as his velo was down and he had more command issues and trouble repeating his delivery than he should.

The first time I saw him, he was facing Gerrit Cole (report) and while Cole was busy hitting 101 mph, Gueller was a more workmanlike 87-89 mph. He spotted his fastball well early, wasn’t afraid to come inside and he kept the ball down. Gueller was throwing a four-seamer that didn’t move much and as he lost his release point, tried throwing a cutter, sinker and slider, all of which weren’t working. The second time I saw Gueller he was much more crisp, sitting 89-90 mph and showing a usable cutter and slider. Gueller’s slider was 81-83 mph and showed average potential and 12-to-6 tilt with late, short bite. His changeup was a solid pitch, also showing average potential in both outing at 79-82 mph with more sink than fade but good deception and arm speed.

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Reports From Instructs: Pirates Notes

For the last entry from Pirates instructs, I’ll run through a number of players that caught my eye for different reasons, lightning-round style.

I saw Mel Rojas Jr. and Gift Ngoepe a good bit during the FSL regular season, and both will flash big league potential at times but had some struggles at the plate. Ngoepe is a great story as a South African-born, 5’10, 180 pound switch-hitting shortstop that will likely get at least a cup of coffee in the big leagues. He’s a switch hitter with plus speed and an above average arm with good hands and fluid actions that will be enough to allow him to stick at shortstop long term. He also uses his speed effectively in his offensive game, often bunting, stealing bases and finding ways to contribute.

Ngoepe’s weakness is his well-below average raw power and some rawness in his offensive game. He gets thrown out a little more than he should on the bases and needs to pick better spots to run but also needs to tighten up his strike zone. For as much as Ngoepe understands his limitations at the plate and tries to play within them, he can get pull-conscious and try to do something with anything close to the plate rather than being more selective. If Ngoepe can shrink his zone and continue to develop his game, there’s a potential big league future as a utility infielder. He’s a little tough to project given his unusual path, but from what I’ve seen I graded Ngoepe as an up/down player that will make the big leagues.

Rojas has some similar qualities to Ngoepe as a guy with big league tools and a good defensive profile who needs to tighten up his approach at the plate to reach his potential. That said, Rojas has much better size and tools; as a 6’3, 215 pound athlete Rojas is a solid-average runner with a solid-average arm and is a switch-hitter with above-average bat speed and average raw power from both sides. You can see why, with a toolset like that, the Pirates took him in the 3rd round out of an Illinois junior college in 2010.

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Reports From Instructs: Pirates Power Arms

Despite having covered the headliner arms of Pirates instructs — Gerrit Cole (covered last week) and Jameson Taillon (looking basically the same as when I covered him midseason) — there were still some interesting high ceiling arms on display.

First up is righty Nick Kingham, whom the Pirates signed for an over-slot bonus just under $500,000 in the 4th round of the 2010 draft from a Las Vegas area high school. Kingham made his full season debut in Low-A West Virginia as a 20 year old in 2012 and had a solid campaign—groundballs, good control and a solid K rate despite what appears to be a fluky home run rate fueling a 4.39 ERA.

Those stats imply an evaluation close to what I saw from Kingham in instructs. In a two inning stint, he sat 92-94 with consistent above average two-seam life down in the zone and solid location. Kingham’s 82-83 mph slider was above average at times with long action, occasional hard bite and three-quarters tilt. His changeup was the better off-speed pitch, consistently above average with better command, fade and bottom at 82-85 mph and he threw one that was plus.

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