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March 14, 2011
Prospects Will Break Your Heart
Scouting Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer
After catching a few tracking sessions on the back fields of Surprise, I made the trek to Los Angeles to scout UCLA’s Friday and Saturday starters: Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer. Scouting elite talent is always fun, and despite being easier than scouting talent that elicits a wide-range of opinion, it never gets old watching professional scouts, cross-checkers, scouting directors, and writers all look giddy after witnessing something special.
Cole, UCLA's ace, took the loss on Friday, but nobody really cared. He was dominant through six innings, with front-rotation stuff, a major-league body, and more poise and polish than I was led to believe he owned. As inarticulate as this might seen, Cole was just awesome, and seeing him throw three 70-grade pitches made the long drive to worth it.
UCLA’s second starter, Trevor Bauer, had the impossible task of following up the likely first overall pick in June's Rule 4 draft. Even so, I have to say that watching him pitch was the highlight of the trip for me. From his idiosyncratic warm-up/cool-down routines to his electric arsenal, Bauer might play second-fiddle to Cole on UCLA’s staff, but his presence on the field more than eclipses the shadow cast by his more celebrated teammate.
The following is a basic scouting report on both pitchers, with grades on the 20-80 scale, and enough “scout speak” to either make this unreadable or awesome; I’ll let you decide.
Name: Gerrit Cole
Arm Action: Clean and quick.
Abilities: Incredible arm strength and smooth mechanics allow for overpowering velocity from his four-seamer, and also provides good late life in the zone. The two-seamer has natural weight and arm-side run, and he has an ability to command the pitch to both sides of plate. Cole releases the ball at top of three-quarters slot, giving him excellent angle on the pitch. He also maintained his velocity deep into game.
The slider is currently above-average, with bat-breaking cutter action into left-handers and sharp darting action away from right-handers. It comes in with aggressive tilt, staying on fastball plane until late in the process, when it shows two-plane movement.
The changeup is a beast, with excellent deception (Cole hides the ball well, and has late-hand break) and good arm speed. The pitch bores into righties with weight, and can show splitter-like movement when spotted down in the zone.
I was under the impression his curveball was dragging behind the slider, but it was his best secondary pitch on the night, and it flashed legit 70 potential. Delivery and actions are clean, with repeatable mechanics; uses entire body well, with fluid pickup and stride, and stays on a good line to the plate.
With runners on, Cole was a consistent 1.28 to plate, with a good move to first base, and a good double move as well. He kept his composure, and maintained elite stuff despite losing feel for sharp command, and in the face of lapses on defense by his teammates.
Weaknesses: Cole lost his above-average command as game went on; he threw strikes but caught too much plate and started to elevate his pitches. For minor nitpicks, his slider could be a little tighter, as it would get slurvy at times and also harder to throw for strikes. The inside curve to righties would often bore in too much, walking the fine line between an “in on the hands” pitch and “hit the batter on the hands” pitch. His main weakness is the fact that he is facing college competition, so it's easy for him to get out of trouble by throwing smoke rather than by sequence and fine-tuned location. I don’t see many problems with his overall arsenal.
Summation: Cole is the best pitcher in the collegiate ranks, and capable of pitching in a major-league rotation as of yesterday. He wears his well-above-average arsenal well, with the delivery and mechanics to log heavy innings while maintaining his stuff; Cole can miss bats with all four of his pitches. The day Cole enters the professional ranks is the day he becomes the best pitching prospect in baseball, and given the overall maturity of his arsenal, his stay in the minors should be very brief. OFP: 68; future ace at the major league level.
Name: Trevor Bauer
Arm Action: Very quick.
Abilities: He throws a plus fastball with good downward plane and late-zip. The start I saw was very fastball heavy; Bauer shows extreme confidence in the pitch. He flashed two different breaking balls: the slider was used sparingly and sequenced the second time through the order; it showed two-plane break and wipeout ability at 84 mph. The curveball was the much better pitch, with enough depth to rival the Mariana Trench. The big breaker was a plus pitch at 79 mph, and not only missed bats, it forced awkward swings and weak contact. Some scouts will champion the slider, and I get the promise that it holds, but that curve was nasty, and it gives Bauer another above-average to plus pitch in his current arsenal. The changeup wasn’t in heavy rotation against St. Mary’s, but it did have a few good moments, as he was getting heavy action on the pitch at 83 mph. When he kept the ball in the lower quadrant of the zone, Bauer was difficult to pick-up and lift, and even though he struggled with command early and often in the start, his raw stuff was good enough to get him out of trouble.
Weaknesses: Before I get to anything else, I just want to touch on Bauer’s mechanics and delivery. When talking to scouts, I got a mixed bag of opinions regarding Bauer’s unorthodox delivery. He’s a little Lincecum-like in his initial tilt, throwing with violent torque and exaggerated stride, but Bauer isn’t nearly as fluid and smooth, and his command was clearly affected by his less-than-ideal delivery.
Like the scouts I spoke with, I’m not really sure what to make of this; the mechanics kept him from finding consistency with his release point, so that is an obvioius negative. I can only speak to what the mechanics allowed him to do or not do during the game, but I have to say I’m skeptical of his delivery. I just can’t tell if the specifics of Bauer’s delivery allow him to have the above-average stuff he displays, or if they fight against the above-average stuff he displays. One thing is for certain: his javelin long-toss routine and his “throw a bullpen from your knees” routine and his “try to decapitate the catcher with a violent max-effort fastball from behind the mound ” routine were remarkably entertaining to watch, so I selfishly hope that he keeps the idiosyncratic warmups on the menu.
On the arsenal front, his fastball velocity was hard to argue with, but the aforementioned release-point issues kept the ball sailing high and tight to righties all game, which undermined its effectiveness. His slider is considered by many to be his money pitch, but given his high release, the ball has more tumble than tilt, and its hard for me to see how it could be better than his curve, which I thought was very good. That curve was okay, but he didn’t use it much, and his body slowed down a little bit when he brought the pitch out. I can see the potential of the pitch, but I didn’t see the potential of the pitch, if that makes any sense.
Summation: Bauer has first-round talent, but he comes with serious question marks surrounding his delivery and mechanics. On the one-hand, it’s quite possible that he is just an athletic oddity who will find success with his unique delivery and eventually refine an already-impressive arsenal. If that happens, the team that has the cojones to pop Bauer in the first-round could be looking at a solid #2 starter or prototypical eccentric closer.
However, what happens if a team elects to re-craft Bauer’s mechanics in an effort to improve his command and consistency, only to find his stuff is 75 percent what he was already, without the human trebuchet delivery? Based on stuff and stuff alone, I am very high on Bauer and his potential in professional baseball. Looking at the overall package, I’m hesitant to get too crazy with the projections because of the questions about his delivery.
OFP grade: 56; he can become a solid to average third starter at the major-league level.