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June 15, 2006

Future Shock

Scouting Notebook, 6/15/06

by Kevin Goldstein

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With the 2006 draft finally over, and the bigger contract negotiations left to the scouting directors and upper management, many scouts step away from the amateur side of things for awhile to begin their pro coverage. With that in mind, here's what some of the top talent evaluators in the country are saying about some of the top prospects.

  • Tired of hearing about positional player prospects and only learning about power potential and bat speed, with the only mention of defense referring simply to a player's ability to stay at his current position? Fine, let's talk about glove work. When compiling a list of the top defensive players in the minors, one American League scout would like to throw Dodgers shortstop Chin-Lung Hu's name into the ring. "I just like watching him. He's an absolutely special defender--you are talking Gold Glove level," said the scout who recently saw the 22-year-old Taiwanese import at Double-A Jacksonville. "He is in such control out there--nothing fazes him and everything looks so easy and effortless. I haven't seen that kind of confidence in the field since Adam Everett." As for the offensive side of things, Hu is currently batting .285/.367/.345, and the scout thinks his skills at the plate are more than adequate to project him as an everyday shortstop. "He has a bad approach, he steps in the bucket, and he takes too big a hack at times, but you watch him and he makes pretty good contact," said the scout. "It's hard to say he's really going to hit much, but it should be more than enough to play every day with those kind of defensive skills."

  • On the other end of the defensive spectrum is Devil Rays shortstop Reid Brignac, who has struggled in the field, but impressed with the bat at High Class A Visalia, where he is batting .324/.374/.544. One American League scout who recently caught Brignac came away more than just a little impressed with Brignac's offensive work. "He doesn't belong at shortstop, but he's one of the better young hitters I've seen all year," he said. "He's so physical, and it's hard to believe he's just 20. There's no apprehension at the plate--he gets a fastball in the strike zone and he knows he's going to crush it." The scout then went even further in his praise for the 2004 second-round pick. "I really think if you put him in the big leagues right now, he'd be overmatched at times, but he'd do some productive things as well--he's that good."

  • Despite promotions of a number of top prospects in the first half of the season, the Florida State League is still loaded with pitchers, and I caught up with another American League scout who recently saw a pair of single-digit first-round picks; Toronto's Ricky Romero and Cincinnati's Homer Bailey. Romero, the sixth overall pick in 2005, has a 2.12 ERA in eight starts for Dunedin and delivered a seven-inning shutout in his last start, but the scout saw him as no more than a solid number four starter in the end. "The issue is that overall, the stuff is average," said the scout. "The fastball is 88-90 and I grade it up a tick because of the way he commands it, but it's still getting hit hard too much for me." He gave a similar grade to Romero's changeup, but would like to see Romero's curveball more. "It's a plus pitch--a hammer. It generates a lot of swings and misses, but he doesn't throw it unless he's ahead in the count."

  • In Homer Bailey, the seventh overall pick in 2004, the scout saw a potential ace who still has plenty of work to do. Bailey has allowed just 49 hits this year in 70.2 innings for Sarasota while striking out 79, but he's been dogged by inconsistency, allowing five or more runs four times. "He's sitting at 94 mph, and he's still going to fill out a little, so there's more in there," said the scout. "And when the curve ball is on, it's just unhittable." As for Bailey's occasional struggles? "He's young and he's used to dominating and his approach ends up hurting himself," he said. "Instead of being convinced he can get anybody out any time, he needs to start getting ahead of the count more often."

  • Cubs righthander Sean Gallagher was anything but a first-round pick. In fact, he lasted until the 12th-round in 2004, but he's now one-level ahead of both Bailey and Romero, as the Cubs promoted him to Double-A West Tenn after he put up a 2.30 ERA in 13 starts for Daytona with 80 strikeouts in 78.1 innings. One National League scout who saw Gallagher both recently and as an amateur says the transformation has been impressive. "I saw him in high school in Fort Lauderdale and teams just weren't on him," he said. "He was stocky and maybe 88 mph with a lot of effort and there wasn't much projection." Two years later, Gallagher projects for the scout as a potential No. 3 starter. "Give him credit, he's found a lot more on the fastball, which is 92-93 mph now and he just pounds the strike zone with it," said the scout. "The breaking ball is hard and sharp, the body is still a little square-ish, but he's strong and durable--it's a pretty nice overall package."

  • The NL scout was not nearly as excited about the future of Cubs outfielder Ryan Harvey, the sixth overall pick in the 2003 draft who is batting .211/.254/.335 at Daytona in 218 at-bats and now has 297 strikeouts in 243 career games. "He can crush fastballs, but look at the numbers and it's pretty obvious that he's not doing a whole lot at the plate beyond that," said the scout. "That's the thing with high school hitters--sometimes you really don't know how they're going to deal with professional breaking balls--some just can't hit them." The scout then summed it all up in one line: "If you saw him, and you didn't know who he was, you wouldn't think he got $2.4 million, that's for sure."

  • Forgetting about first-round picks, or players who got even drafted at all, one National League scout thinks the Marlins may have found a potential bullpen arm in undrafted Todd Doolittle, who was signed last year out of Mississippi State and is now relieving at Low Class A Greensboro for a team that features four first-round picks in its rotation. "He's got to get out of Greensboro because he's 23, but he's got a chance," said the scout. "He can touch 92, and he short-arms it so he's sneaky quick--and the slider is a real plus pitch, it's a 55 or 60 [on the 20-80 scouting scale] and he has a solid average curve and an OK changeup." With the four-pitch mix, Doolittle has dominated the younger hitters of the Sally League, compiling an 0.58 ERA in 46.1 innings while allowing just 28 hits and striking out 58. "He's 5-10 and obviously, there's not a ton of upside there," added the scout. "But he's definitely at least some kind of prospect."

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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