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April 1, 2007

Future Shock

Pro Scouting Report

by Kevin Goldstein

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The bags are packed, as teams have broken camp in preparation for Opening Day. Let's finish up our spring training coverage with a wrap-up of what scouts saw in Florida and Arizona, including a group of BP favorites who go into the season as highly-regarded rookies by the statistical community. Do the scouts agree?

  • One scout in Arizona likes Arizona center fielder Chris B. Young quite a bit, but thinks he'll fall short of his PECOTA projection. "He hit .276 in Tucson last year, and that's not so great," explained the scout. "I still see holes in that swing, and some length, where his arm gets out there but the head of the bat doesn't." He also thought some of the adjustments he was working on in camp were not necessarily in his best interest. "He's trying really hard to be an opposite field hitter, but that might be counterproductive in the end," he continued. "It's making him tentative and he's still finding himself. I don't know why teams do this to guys, trying to make them perfect instead of just accepting what they are--he can't be everything to everyone." In conclusion, the scout talked about the great rookie conundrum. "They have to commit to him, and play him every day, but there are going to be days against some tough righties where he won't be the ideal guy in the lineup to give you a win."
  • Finding more support from scouts of late is Colorado catcher Chris Iannetta, who goes into the season with the starting job after a very good camp. "First time you see him, you just focus on the slow body and he doesn't really light you up, but he really grows on you," said an Arizona-based scout. "I have to give it up to him, he just has a special feel at the plate," he continued. "He recognizes pitches, he knows when to cheat and when to pull off and when to go the other way--he's just really proved himself." The scout finished with a final comparison to another prominent Colorado rookie. "I think Troy Tulowitzki is the better prospect in the long tern, but I bet Iannetta will have the better year."
  • Also gaining traction with scouts is Padres third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, another statistical favorite after a minor league career line of .332/.395/.556. "His idea of the strike zone is terrific, his power is better than expected, and I'm way up on him--plus you can now live with him at third," said one scout. "I'm just really impressed with him," he said. "Not that I didn't like him before, but it seems like he's taken it to another level."
  • One scout who spent time in Florida is confused as to why Dodgers righthander Chad Billingsley has been sent to the bullpen, considering his 7-2, 3.16 mark in last season's second half, continued by some impressive spring showings. "Between the plus fastball, the slider--which is probably his best pitch--and a real good curve, that's three solid offerings," said the scout. "His command is shaky at times, but they chose Brett Tomko over this? Please."
  • Toronto righthander Dustin McGowan, who has been moved back and forth between starting and relief, will go back to starting at Triple-A Syracuse. He drew a mixed review from scouts. "Great body, but his mechanics are scary for a guy who has already had a Tommy John surgery done," said the scout. "It's a lot of effort for him, and the arm comes way across the body." That said, the scout added that you can't argue with the stuff. "It's big league stuff for sure, the fastball and slider are both plus pitches for me, but his command can be pretty up and down. If his arm holds up, he'll be a good one, but it's not without its concerns."
  • 2006 first-round pick Kyle Drabek had a tough pro debut with the Phillies, and one scout in Florida was unpleasantly surprised by the righthander when he saw him pitch for the first time. "I just expected much more out of him," he said. "There's no way, no how he's six feet tall. He's maybe 5-foot-10, and stocky and muscly, and there's just nothing to project on." And the stuff? "The curveball is good, but he was like 88-92 mph and I was not impressed--I don't see him as much more than a reliever."
  • A recent review of Cubs righthander Jeff Samardzija fit the general consensus of what has been said about him of late--very high ceiling, but a long way from it. "I can see the argument for him; the upside is obviously very interesting," said the scout. "But he's more raw than refined, and just kind of weird," he said, while also assessing the pure stuff. "He was 92-94 mph with good movement, but he's got funky arm action and I didn't see a good slider and I don't even think he has a changeup. He might take some time, and then the fear becomes his contract forcing some impatience within the organization."

Quick Takes: Going into the season, all Kelly Johnson had to do was prove he could handle second base defensively and the job would be his. He did so, according to the Braves, and another team's front office executive agreed. "I'd call it passable," he said. "He's not going to be a defensive star, but he moved well and had good reactions--and the bat looked very good." ... Is this the year B.J. Upton turns it around? With Jorge Cantu's surprising assignment to the minor leagues, Upton is the starting second baseman, and one team adviser is optimistic. "He's been more aggressive at the plate than when I saw him last year," he said. "His bat is still very quick and his plate discipline is still outstanding." ... In the search for the impossible, I found the scout who's not crazy about Tampa rookie Delmon Young. "We know he has strike zone issues--he's exploitable up and in and then he chases sliders away," said the scout. "I know he's good, but when I see him, I just don't see 'special.'" ... One scout thinks San Francisco No. 1 prospect Tim Lincecum should be used as a closer, but it has nothing to do with his size or mechanics. "I'm not bothered by his delivery at all, and he pitches taller because he's long and lean," said the scout. "His fastball is so straight that I think hitters will line it up after the first time through," he continued. "I know you always want 200 innings out of guys instead of 70, but as a closer he'd be so tough and he has the demeanor, and absolutely no fear."

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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