October 18, 2012
Scouting the Draft
Uhen Shines on Pro Scout Day
Pro Scout Day at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has been on the calendar of Midwest area scouts for two years now, and it did not disappoint. October 13, 2010, just under two dozen pro scouts attending a joint workout for UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside were treated to a pleasant surprise in the form of freshman Josh Uhen (RHP), while simultaneously being reminded just how difficult their job can be at times.
Uhen, an Oshkosh, Wisconsin native, went undrafted in 2010 and reported to UW-Milwaukee to begin his college career. It started with a bang, as Coach Scott Doffek and his staff witnessed a near 5 mph bump in Uhen’s velocity between June and October. At 6-foot-4, 185-pounds, Uhen was always considered a projectable arm with the potential to add velocity as he matured. Few, if any, expected that jump to come so quickly.
Uhen began his mound session on 2010’s Pro Scout Day throwing at a sizable group of scouts with maybe five radar guns out between them (mine being one). By the time he finished his dozen or so pitches, everyone was taking readings on their Stalkers. The freshman was now sitting 91-94 mph with his fastball, up from around 87-89, and had bumped over 80 mph with his slider, which now flashed some hard bite. The excited chuckles were quickly tempered as reality sunk in: this kid had been in the region and available for the taking just four months ago and all thirty organizations had passed on him approximately fifty times each.
The road between that 2010 Pro Scout Day and yesterday’s has been a bumpy one, as Uhen saw his first season with the Panthers cut short by an elbow injury in the spring of 2011. The young righty was shut down and subsequently underwent Tommy John surgery. Uhen was back throwing by the following winter and once again appeared in game action in April 2012. Over the next five months Uhen continued to slowly work back from his surgery, totaling 12.1 innings pitched for UW-Milwaukee and 28.1 innings pitched for the Lakeshore Chinooks of the Northwoods League, a collegiate summer wood bat league.
Yesterday, two years removed from his coming out party in the fall of 2010, Uhen once again toed the rubber in front of a gaggle of pro scouts, this time with a solid twenty pounds added to his frame and a major surgery under his belt. He proceeded to pop a 95 mph fastball with his first pitch. Over the next few minutes Uhen showcased a lively 2-seamer that repeatedly hit 95 mph, mixing in a hard 4-seamer that consistently registered 96-97 mph. He is still working to get feel back for his slider, with the pitch sitting 80-81 mph and flashing best on a couple of balls well out of the zone. Perhaps the most impressive growth has come from his changeup, which now comes with a 10-12 mph velocity differential from his fastballs, solid arm speed deception and some late tumble.
It is of course important to keep in mind that this was a little over a dozen pitches over a short stint, and it may be unlikely that he will hold this velocity through longer starts. Case in point, one scout noted to me that word had Uhen hovering around 94 mph during a scrimmage last week. Still, if Uhen can continue his fall success he is an easy early-round arm who could still see more growth in his stuff between now and June. Not bad for an undrafted kid from Oshkosh and yet another name to know in a Midwest region brimming with 2013 draft talent.
Yesterday’s workout began with one of the more impressive team-wide displays in the 60-yard dash that you will find. After the first two runners there were jokes from the mob of scouts that the kids were running an impressive 55-yards. Four runners later Coach Doffek wondered aloud whether he and his staff measured incorrectly, promptly putting a halt to the workout and breaking out the tape for a re-measure. 60-yards plus some. In total, nine of the sixteen Panthers that ran clocked Major League average or better times, with six of those players clocking above-average to plus times. The fastest was an eye-popping 6.20 seconds from sophomore outfielder Luke Meeter, a 2014 draft eligible. As one evaluator noted, “That’s a 10 [on the 2-8 scouting scale].” Meeter led the team in hitting last spring and was successful in 16 of 18 stolen base attempts.
The top draft-eligible position player on the UW-Milwaukee squad is third baseman Sam Koenig, who showed well in the field and at the plate. Koenig has an easy left-side arm, rating as a 60 or 65, and soft enough hands to stick at the hot corner in spite of a fringy lower-half. He handles himself well on the run and delivered the ball with consistent accuracy. At the plate he shows a solid path with the bat and raw strength that could be molded into some usable power. His in-game showings during the spring will determine his draft stock, as Koenig hasn’t showcased much pop thus far for UW-Milwaukee and was underwhelming in limited Northwoods action this summer.
Two position players who could get attention later in the draft are redshirt sophomore Derek Peake (OF) and junior Pat Wilson (1B). Peake ran a solid 6.65 60-yard dash and showed an average arm with accuracy and some carry during outfield workouts. At the plate he has a level line drive swing from the left side, but can get out in front in his weight transfer, potentially exposing him to quality secondaries. He projects as a late-Day 2 or Day 3 target, depending on his spring, and could profile as a center fielder at the next level. Wilson is a big-bodied left/right first baseman who showed some potential pop to the pull side. A JuCo transfer from the College of Lake County (Illinois), Wilson comes with an impressive track record at the previous level and will work to prove his at-times-lengthy swing will play against Division-I arms and, perhaps, at the pro ranks.
Two more draft-eligible redshirt sophomores could draw some attention this spring on the mound. Eric King (RHP) is an undersized arm who sat 91-92 mph and flashed a solid 80-82 slider. His offspeed is a firm 84-86 mph changeup with some dip, but likely not enough velocity differential to trip up advanced bats. Gunnar Eastman (RHP) sat 91-92 mph with his fastball, touching 93 mph out of the zone. He throws a 79-80 mph breaker that is caught between a curve and a slider and also showed an 83 mph changeup. Both King and Eastman project to double-digit round selections and profile as relievers at the next level. Click here for video of King’s session and here for video of Eastman.
Nick J. Faleris is a practicing structured finance attorney and Sports Industry team member in the Milwaukee office of Foley & Lardner LLP. The views he expresses in Baseball Prospectus are his own, and not necessarily those of the law firm.