Next year, on draft day, the MLB Network will show the usual crop of limited highlights they have on the high school draftees. Much of the video, for a certain group of players, will come from an event played two days ago: the Under Armour All-American Game, presented by Baseball Factory, held at Wrigley Field. This, along with the AFLAC All-America Game, played in San Diego yesterday, are the final significant events in a summer rife with showcases for the nation’s top prospects. The games this weekend surely each had a couple players that will hear their name called by Bud Selig next June.
Living two miles south of Wrigley Field, I had no choice but to make an appearance on Saturday morning to get my first taste of this high school class. In the interest of full disclosure, I was only able to stay for batting practice and the “Home Run Derby.” Lucky for me, the event was televised, so I was still able to catch the game on DVR. Still, it’s amazing how much you pick up from a single batting practice, and I was joined by 50-75 scouts furiously taking notes as each kid had his turn. Here are 10 talking points from three different perspectives about the event.
What I Learned From Watching Batting Practice On the First Base Side at Wrigley
1. Rookie Davis is a beast of a man, his 220 pound listed weight (on a 6-foot-5 frame) is laughable. One of 17 pitchers to have his turn on the mound, the ECU commit stood out more in batting practice. Because of his strength, he doesn’t need to square up the baseball to hit home runs in Major League stadiums. His bat speed didn’t match some of the other raw athletes, but no one hit the ball farther.
2.In a similar vein, Jerrick Suiter entered the event with some helium for his mound prowess, having impressed many of the same scouts the week before at the Area Code Games. On Saturday, his appearance was a train wreck: he threw twice as many pitches as anyone else. His delivery and command were inconsistent if not plain bad. But while not viewed much as a hitter, his batting practice was one of the most impressive. He’s got an easy right-handed swing, showed a willingness to hit to right field, and has some untapped power. I wouldn’t close the door on an offensive career yet.
3. The name Dante Bichette Jr. jumped off the roster page at me, and Bichette bears a striking resemblance to his father. At the plate, he had a weird day. He hit a few balls out of Wrigley, albeit by design: he swung as hard as anyone all day, and almost fell over more than once. His swing lacks balance, and he has a strange leg lift that he uses as a timing mechanism. Bichette pulls everything (his knock to right field in the game was more accident than “a good piece of hitting”), so pitchers would be smart to feed him a diet of balls away.
4. I don’t love Home Run Derbies in events like this; it promotes a bad approach to young hitters. But for Mason Robbins, who I was told hit just three home runs in his junior season of high school, it did show the proof of some power. I liked Robbins’ batting practice much, but wrote that it looked like a gap power profile and nothing more. Then, he hit four home runs before making five outs at the Derby — ultimately falling short of the “prize” — and shut me up. Robbins is the type of guy that will flash all five tools, but each is closer to “50″ on the scouting scale than anything else.
What I Learned From Reading Some Friends That Stayed For the Actual Game
5. Keith Law ranked Bubba Starling as the best prospect in the high school class last week, and found his belief reinforced on Saturday. This, despite the fact that football (Starling is a Nebraska-bound quarterback) has kept his game raw: “Starling is still just throwing rather than really pitching … [but] it’s hard to forecast future velocity below the 92-95 range,”Keith wrote. His offensive abilities are similar: he has real power, but his swing is inconsistent and has some swing-and-miss. Committing to baseball will make him a lot of money.
6. The game’s offensive MVP was Wyoming product Brandon Nimmo. It was a good day to impress, as his state doesn’t have high school baseball, and his summer legion team won’t play much (if at all) before next year’s draft. He made sure, though, that scouts won’t forget him, with a good BP and an impressive triple to the opposite field. “I liked his approach, and he uses the whole field…” a scout told Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com.
7. The pitching MVP was local product Nick Burdi, a right-handed pitcher from Downers Grove, a suburb 30 miles southwest of Wrigley. I’ll cut to Baseball America’s Conor Glassey on why his outing was award worthy: “Burdi struck out all three batters he faced, using a 91-94 mph fastball, 79-83 changeup and an 85 slider. “ KLaw got more of a reliever vibe from Burdi, who throws from a very low arm slot. I side with Keith there.
8. Frankie Piliere was decisive in giving Top Pitcher honors to Lance McCullers Jr. , another son with a big league pedigree. “He was far and away the best arm on display in Chicago, sitting 95-97 mph with his fastball,” Piliere wrote. The hard-thrower had a reputation as a hitter, too, but there’s no question his future is on the mound. His swing was funky for me; his velocity came easy. Of course, he doesn’t have to make the decision until June 2012 — he’s only a rising junior.
What I Learned From My DVR: Tele-Scouting.
9. Between the TV replay and a stop watch, I can tell you that Shon Carson posted a sub-4.2 second home-to-first time. Carson is a really good running back that shows a lot of promise in baseball: while just 5-foot-9, the ball jumped off his bat more than anyone else there. I also graded his arm at plus, so it might make sense fiscally for Carson to choose baseball.
10. I’m a sucker for a good change-up, but events like this are about the last place you’re bound to find one. That’s why Idaho native Clayton Porter was such a welcome break from the rest. The 6-foot-4 lefty had this series of pitches to begin his inning: fastball called strike over outside corner, 1-to-7 curveball that just missed low and inside, 88 mph fastball a little up and away fouled off, plus 81 mph change-up off the plate low and outside for a swinging strike three. Projectable with a feel for offspeed stuff? Sign me up.
(Tomorrow, when the dust clears: a review of the 2010 draft, seen through the prism of who actually signed. Today at 4 p.m. ET: Prospect Chat.)
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