June 26, 2008
AL East Notebook
A Tale Of Two First-Round Picks: Prior to drafting Brian Matusz this year, the Orioles spent each of their last two first-round picks on massive sluggers. Both are playing at High-A Frederick, and are having polar-opposite seasons, both in terms of production, and in how the scouts perceive them.
Matt Wieters, last year's first-round pick, has been tearing through the Carolina League to the tune of .342/.445/.560, and one scout who recently bore down on the Keys was as impressed as the catcher's numbers might suggest, although with some minor reservations. "He might be susceptible a bit to upper-level velocity, and that prevents me from seeing him as a true No. 3 hitter," said the scout. But, don't get me wrong-he's a friggin' stud who conducts himself like a big leaguer." At six-foot-five and 230 pounds, some are concerned about his position long term, but the scout had positive things to say about his defense. "I know some will think he's too big, but for me, he stays back there," commented the scout. "He receives pretty well and while the feel doesn't always get in line right, the arm strength more than makes up for it."
On the other end of the spectrum is 2006 first-round pick Billy Rowell, who is hitting a lowly .237/.295/.362, with just three home runs and 48 strikeouts in 177 at-bats. The scouting report reflects those numbers. "I'm totally off that. Look, when he centers a ball, it's really good-it's a lot of power, but it hardly ever plays because he has lots of swing problems and is constantly bailing against lefties." Defensively, there are real concerns about Rowell's effort. "He's just lazy," said the scout. "I don't like the energy, and I just sit there wanting to yell, 'Dude! Move!'I don't even like how he catches the ball-it's just annoying to watch him play.
Not Spinning Their Wheels: Even though the Red Sox didn't have a selection in the 2007 draft until the 55th overall pick, the team still spent a lot of money on a few players who dropped due to signability issues. With a Low-A Greenville roster stocked with young talent, many of these players didn't see their names in a box score until the short-season leagues began play, and Boston's New York-Penn League affiliate at Lowell is filled with names to keep an eye on from last year's pick-fest as well:
Filling Joba's Slot: While the move of Joba Chamberlain to the rotation was the correct long-term decision, there's now a hole in the bullpen where there used to be a set-up man who handled those key "bridge innings" between the starter and Mariano Rivera. While they might not arrive this year, there are plenty of prospects in the Yankees' system who could be filling that role sooner rather than later. In order of prospecty goodness:
The New Best Rotation In The Minors: Oakland's group at High-A Stockton opened the year with that title, but they've been broken up since, with Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson moving up to Double-A; Henry Rodriguez arrived there before any of them, but then got sent back when he stopped throwing strikes; and Fautino De Los Santos is on the shelf with elbow surgery. Already in possession of a stud righty/lefty combination at Double-A Montgomery with Wade Davis and Jacob McGee, the Rays' Southern League affiliate now wears the crown of best rotation in the minors with last week's additions of David Price and Jeremy Hellickson.
Tampa was very cautious with their number one overall pick last June, and Price was held out for the first six weeks of the season with some elbow soreness. He was good as advertised upon his return, putting up a 1.82 ERA in six starts for High-A Vero Beach, while striking out 37 and walking just seven in 34.2 innings. He's been good enough that some think he could retire big league hitters right now, and don't be surprised if he gets that shot by the end of the year.
Hellickson had a breakout campaign in his full-season debut last year, and he's kicked it up another notch this season, as average stuff/very good command has transformed into above-average stuff and outstanding command. That combination allowed him to compile a 2.00 ERA in 14 starts for Vero Beach, along with an eye-popping 83-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 76 2/3 innings. In his last three outings, he pitched 14 scoreless innings while allowing just two hits.
A Trio Of Young Lugnuts: With a bevy of early picks last year, the Blue Jays moved away from the organization's college-oriented focus and took some toolsy high school talent with their high selections. As a group, they began the year at Low-A Lansing, and while they've struggled on a performance level, here's how one veteran scout evaluated them:
Bursting The Bubble On Collins: One of the Lugnuts' relievers, lefty Tim Collins, has some of the best numbers around. In 17 games he's allowed one earned run in 31 2/3 innings, while allowing 12 hits, walking 15 and striking out 45. One scout just doesn't see that kind of performance lasting as he moves up. "He's maybe the smallest pitcher I've ever seen," said the scout. "He's listed at five-foot-seven, and that's generous-he might be five-foot-five." The scout also felt his stuff falls a bit short. "It's an overhand delivery, and his fastball is 85-88 mph, and he throws a 12-to-6 curve that's below average. What he does do is throw strikes, and when you do that in Low-A, you can put up numbers. You have to give him credit though, I was totally blown away to see 88 mph come out of that body. When he was warming up in the bullpen I was wondering why the batboy was throwing off a mound during a game."