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July 19, 2006

Future Shock

Sunshine State Scouting Notebook

by Kevin Goldstein

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While things are hot all over the country lately, it's always warm in Florida, and the Florida State League has been a hotbed for talent this year. Even though the bevy of top pitchers like Homer Bailey (Reds), Yovani Gallardo (Brewers), Philip Hughes (Yankees) and Mike Pelfrey (Mets) are long gone, there's still plenty to find in the Sunshine State. I talked to a number of scouts on both sides of the state to get some impressions of some of the top arms that have shown up in the season's second half. Just for fun, we talked about some hitters, too.

  • While Pelfrey and Alay Soler have graduated to the majors after beginning the year at St. Lucie, righthander Philip Humber has returned from Tommy John surgery and earned some rave reviews. "He has two big power pitches with the fastball, which is 90-94 mph, and that curve which is just a hammer and a real out pitch," said one National League scout about the third overall pick in the 2004 draft. "He also has a power changeup--and I love those--it's not a touch/feel pitch; its velocity is in the 80s so it gets there with some speed and just bottoms out." Having just returned after missing nearly a year, Humber still struggles with his location, but the scout didn't see it as a long-term concern. "It's really going to depend on command and control with him," the scout added. "It has to improve, but that's always an issue for guys coming back from TJs--there's no reason it shouldn't improve."
  • I'm been pumping Cubs lefthander Donald Veal since before the season, and he's made me look smart with a breakout campaign that includes a 1.20 ERA in five starts since a promotion to Daytona. The National League scout was as impressed with his stuff as his stats. "He's awesome," gushed the scout. "A big, strong, athletic, physical pitcher with a great body and a loose arm--he was sitting at 92, touching 94 and his arm works so easy with great extension--the ball just jumps on hitters and you see a lot of bad swings." While the scout graded his breaking ball as fringy but usable, he saw a very good changeup from Veal, giving him three pitches and two plus offerings, a formula that bodes well for his future as a starter. "It's a good straight change with nice deception--same arm slot, same arm speed. He's legit."
  • Like Veal, Cardinals lefthander Jaime Garcia broke out this year in the Midwest League. Unlike Veal, he's struggled since the jump to Florida, with a 4.45 ERA in five starts. Nonetheless, one National League scout was impressed. "He's 90-92 mph on both sides of the plate," he said. "Both the curveball and the changeup show flashes of being plus." What puts Garcia over the top however, is how he uses his arsenal. "The pitchability is really advanced for his age--he just turned 20," said the scout. "He mixes everything up, throws strikes, keeps guys off balance--he just knows how to pitch. It was fun to watch."
  • One American League scout thinks the Reds may have found a usuable lefty in 2002 fourth-round pick Camilo Vazquez, who was recently promoted to Double-A Chattanooga. "I realize his numbers aren't great, but he's a bit of a sleeper for me as a potential No. 4 or 5 starter," he said. "The curve is a real out pitch, and his fastball is only in the upper 80s but has really nice movement with some tailing action, and the change is usable. He's got a chance to break through."
  • While the Dodgers affiliate at Vero Beach isn't the prospect-haven that it usually is, a National League scout found something to see in second baseman Blake DeWitt, the team's first-round pick in 2004 who is batting .270/.346/.446 and has 13 home runs in his last 40 games. "I love it, he flat out rakes," he said. "Really nice swing with great timing and rhythym. Hard contact to all fields, excellent pitch selection--he's going to be a .300+ hitter with 30-35 doubles and 15 home runs in the big leagues. He's got a chance to be special." Drafted as a third baseman, Dewitt's transition to the middle of the diamond has been a difficult one, however. "He's rough with the glove, there's no other way to put it," added the scout. "His range isn't real good, his feet aren't real quick, his hands aren't real good. But he's 20, he's a good athlete, and has great makeup--there's no reason he can't become playable there."
  • Like Veal, Brewers center fielder Charlie Fermaint has been a long-time KG favorite, and a pair of scouts had similar opinions on him, seeing him as a possible starting outfielder in the big leagues now, with the potential to improve that rating. "He's got a lot of athleticism, with very good tools--if he can improve his plate discipline and in-game power, he could become a real good player," said an American League scout, while one scout from the National League was also impressed with his offensive abilities: "The hands, the bat speed and the swing are all there," he said. "There's some strength there, he can drive some balls." Defensively, the reviews were mixed. The AL scout saw plus speed, good instincts and an average arm, while his NL brethren saw some effort problems. "He loafs on some balls and flips some throws--so I'm left to wonder how good he'd be if he played harder out there," said the scout. "The overall package is interesting and I do like him--I'm just not sure if it's an impact first-division kind of talent. He's a tough one for me."
  • One player the two scouts couldn't differ more on is Twins shortstop Trevor Plouffe, a first-round pick in 2004 who has struggled mightily at Fort Myers, batting .216/.316/.290. "I still like him and I think he needs to repeat the level, but I like his hand-eye coordination and instincts quite a bit. He does hit some hard line drives," said an American League scout. "He's an excellent defender with easy actions and a plus arm; he's still young and figuring things out. I think he'll hit much better than this." A National League scout disagreed. "He doesn't belong in this league for sure, but he has such a long way to go that I can't see him being more than a fringy utility guy at best," he said. "There's not a whole lot to get excited about for me. There's just not any strength to his game. The glove is nice and the arm is a 60+ [on the 20-80 scouting scale], but I don't know what that's worth if he can't hit."

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

Related Content:  Philip Humber,  Scout

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