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May 7, 2010

Future Shock

Scouting Notebook, Part 2

by Kevin Goldstein

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After covering the stars in yesterday's report, let's dig deeper today to discuss a few diamonds in the rough who haven't showed up on many prospect lists... yet. 

I've received numerous e-mails over the past few weeks concerning Twins right-hander Liam Hendriks, and with good reason, as the 21-year-old Australian has a 0.64 ERA in his first five starts for Low-A Beloit, with three scoreless outings and two in which he's allowed one run. In 28 innings, he's allowed just 12 hits, walked three, and struck out 32, but one talent evaluator who saw him recently said his scouting report doesn't match the stats, although there's still plenty to be excited about here.

"It's not crazy stuff, but he really knows what he's doing," the scout explained. "He sits in the upper 80s with his fastball, tops out at 91 mph, and throws a curve, slider, and change. He's a potential No. 5 starter—he really pounds the strike zone, and the best word to describe him might be 'crafty.'"

While the Rangers are a system loaded with pitching prospects, one scout loved what he saw from a lesser-known one in right-hander Matt Thompson. A seventh-round pick in 2008 out of a Texas high school, Thompson had a 4.38 ERA in a mediocre showing at short-season Spokane last year. He has bounced back this year with a 2.52 mark in six games for Low-A Hickory, although he's still allowed 30 hits in 25 innings. The scout says you can ignore the numbers for now, as with Thompson, it's all about dreaming on his future.

"He's absolutely the perfect projection pitcher," said the scout. "We're talking 80 delivery, 80 arm action (on the 20-80 scouting scale), and it's easy to dream on. He's 88-92 mph now with sink, an average curve, and average change, but he could really move in the future."

The Tigers' Low-A affiliate at West Michigan has precious little when it comes to position players, and most of the focus on pitching has been on 2009 first-round pick Jacob Turner, the system's top prospect. But with Turner missing three weeks early in the year with some arm soreness, some lesser know pitchers have garnered some surprisingly positive reviews. A 21st-round pick last year out of Puerto Rico, lefty Giovanni Soto has a 2.59 ERA in five starts for the Whitecaps and 29 whiffs in 24 1/3 innings. While he's not blowing anyone away on a stuff level, one scout thinks that could change in the future.

"He has got a nice delivery, he's super loose, and super skinny... we're talking rail thin," said the scout of Soto, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and just 155 pounds. "He's 85-88 mph and throwing four pitches with a curve, slider, and change—none of them are really good right now, but you can't eliminate any of them, either. I hate projecting velocity, but this is the kind of guy you look for when doing it."

The real sleeper on the West Michigan staff might be 21-year-old Dominican Ramon Lebron, who has a 3.32 ERA in five starts and 21 whiffs in 21 2/3 innings, although he has also walked 15. The strong-armed righty impressed with his stuff, but there is still plenty of work to be done here.

"He's lean, strong, very long and lanky and 90-94 mph—more than that in shorter stints—with a solid average curve and all the makings of the plus change," the scout said. "We're talking easy plus change, maybe even better. It was downright nasty, and I haven't seen a lot of changes with that kind of action all year. That's a chance for three above-average pitches."

But again, it's not without risks.

"The command and control is pretty bad," the scout continued. "And while his arm is super quick, you see the whole arm circle, and he gives hitters every opportunity to time the arm speed, and that could be an issue as he moves up.

Back to the Sally League, but sticking to pitching, one scout really liked what he saw in White Sox right-hander Ryan Buch, an eighth-round pick last year out of Monmouth University in New Jersey. Pitching out of the bullpen for Low-A Kannapolis, the 22-year-old has given up just one run in 10 appearances and eight hits in 14 2/3 innings.

"He was one of those guys that wake up the scouts and demand their attention," said the evaluator. "There are some command issues for sure, but he had two plus pitches by sitting at 91-92 mph with his fastball while touching 94 and a plus, classic 12-to-6 curve."

With a .381/.443/.503 showing in the Gulf Coast League last year, Nationals outfielder Eury Perez put himself on the map and landed on the Nationals' Top-11 list, but his full-season debut has been a disaster so far, as the 19-year-old is batting a lowly .239/.295/.261 in 25 games for Low-A Hagerstown, leading to some not surprisingly poor reviews from scouts.

 "Look, he can absolutely fly and covers a ton of ground in center field, but I have major questions about the bat," the scout explained. "A lot of his hits come through bunts or just beating out weak infield balls, and he's not hitting for average even with that. He's so physically immature that he just isn't strong enough to provide any kind of hard contact."  

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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