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April 1, 2010

Future Shock

Grapefruit League Scouting Notebook, Part 1

by Kevin Goldstein

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With camps wrapping up as teams prepare for their cash-grab exhibition games, it has been a good week to catch up with scouts about what they've seen over the past six weeks. Here are some of the best revelations from the Grapefruit League.

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Pirates top prospect Pedro Alvarez did not play winter ball during the offseason in order to focus on his conditioning, and a pair of scouts noted the results.

"He still a bit hefty, but he looks much better overall," one scout said. "He has far away the best raw power on that team right now, and I'm including the big-leaguers."

"He's by no means svelte," added another, "and his lower half is thick, but he's still in good shape."

The second scout was also impressed with Alvarez's defense, believing that a much-discussed move across the diamond to first base might be a bit premature.

"He was pretty solid at third," said the scout. "I heard he was clunky and slow, but he's got good hands and a good arm."

As for the offense, the scout agreed that Alvarez is nearly ready for the big leagues.

"He has serious bat speed," said the scout. "He had some weak swings against lefties, but he'll make adjustments and should be ready this year. I'll go out on the limb here and say that Pittsburgh would be a better team right now with him at third base instead of Andy LaRoche."

The biggest prospect to move in the Roy Halladay deal was Kyle Drabek. The Blue Jays right-hander has been wowing scouts with both his ability and poise as he gets closer to his big-league debut.

"He's pretty awesome," said one veteran scout. "He's just that rare double threat who has stuff, but can also really pitch. He was sitting 93-94 mph with a filthy 78-mph breaking ball, and now he's broken out this upper-80s cutter that's nasty, too."

With a rotation beset by mediocrity and injuries, Drabek's trip to Toronto could come sooner rather than later.

"He works quick, he has a compact delivery, and every pitch has good life," the scout concluded. "There's no reason he shouldn't be up soon, as he's as good as anyone in their rotation right now."

While he's not a future ace like Drabek, St. Louis lefty Jaime Garcia won the fifth starter's job this spring, and one scout thinks that the Cardinals made the right decision.

"After seeing all the candidates, Garcia is the right guy," the scout said. "He has a heavy sinker, and he's like a point guard out there in that he's distributing the ball all around the infield. I realize he's young and untested, but he sure looks good to me."

When the Phillies acquired Halladay, that led to the Cliff Lee deal, and one of the most interesting prospects acquired from Seattle was speedy outfielder Tyson Gillies, who got mixed reviews last year after putting up huge numbers at High-A High Desert, the most inflated offensive environment in the minors. One scout who saw Gillies this spring is convinced he's the real deal, if not much more.

"He was the talk of Phillies' camp early on," said the scout. "He's very toolsy, he tracks balls well in center field, he throws well, he's a great runner, and he'll surprise you with some power."

The scout added that Gillies was so good that scouts began to see him as one of the top players in the system.

"Here's how good he was—after a couple days, scouts started talking about him versus [top prospect] Dominic Brown," the scout said. "He doesn't have Brown's upside, but he plays center field and I'm not sure that Gillies wouldn't be better in the big leagues right now should an emergency come up."

Another propsect who drew good marks in the Phillies' camp was Rule 5 draftee David Herndon, who made the big-league club as a ground-ball reliever. One scout who saw the Phillies this spring thinks Herndon is ready for action, and won't need to be hidden on the big-league roster.

"Hell, he's been their best reliever, period, this spring," the scout said. "He's sitting 90-91 (mph) with heavy, heavy sink. He'll flash a fringy slider, but it's really not a big part of the game—it's just fastballs down the middle that sink down and into the knee against lefties and away from righties. All he does is just get broken bats and ground balls."

One-Liners

Orioles LHP Brian Matusz: "He might have been the best pitcher I saw all spring, and I'm not just talking about prospects."

Rays OF Desmond Jennings: "You just look at him and say, 'Whoa.'"

Braves SS Edward Salcedo: "I saw where you wrote that he'd be around No. 5 on your Braves list, and that's way too low. He's not a shortstop, but he has a hose and huge power. Get ready for that guy."

Yankee RHP Andrew Brackman: "He's been up to 94 mph, but the command still comes and goes and his breaking ball is still this slurvy mess. He's just kind of generic for me at this point."

Blue Jays C J.P. Arencibia: "I'd never seen him before, and I looked at his numbers, but that's nothing like what I saw. He was this big, athletic catcher with power and good defense. He looked like a stud the days I saw him."

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 Coming Friday: A three-star pitcher in the Rays' system gets a pair of outstanding reviews, the best catching prospect in Florida according to one scout, and much more.  

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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