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April 3, 2009

Future Shock

Arizona Scouting Notebook

by Kevin Goldstein

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As spring training camps prepare to break, here's what some scouts on the left side of the country have been talking about while they wrap things up in the desert.

One player receiving nearly universal praise was White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham, who was sent down to the minors (he'll begin the year at Double-A) at the end of March after batting .270/.325/.568 in 37 at-bats. The 2008 first-round pick has just 14 pro games on his resumé, but he still almost made the team. "As a pro scout, I'd never seen him, so he came here with a lot of hype and I went in looking for something not to like," said one evaluator. "I was totally knocked out by him. He works the count like a pro, centers the ball every time up-he's just doing everything right," he concluded. Another scout who saw Beckham was equally impressed, saying that only his lack of experience was working against him when it came to roster decisions. "If he was 24 and was a guy with a couple of years in the minors," the scout explained, "he just flat-out would have made this team."

Another 2008 first-round pick earning glowing reports is Rangers first baseman Justin Smoak, who hit .280/.357/.600 over 25 at-bats in big-league camp. "He's just fun to watch-he certainly looks like he belongs in big-league games, and the team doesn't miss a beat with him out there," said one scout, who had even stronger words for the former South Carolina star when the subject of Smoak being blocked by Chris Davis came up. "He's going to be better than Davis," the scout concluded. "He's going to be an All-Star, no question about it."

The scout was also impressed with Rangers catcher Taylor Teagarden, who has hit .300/.364/.700 this spring, re-kindling the debate over whether he or Jarrod Saltalamacchia should be the team's everyday option behind the plate. "Teagarden is just an unbelievable defender, and he really shuts the running game down," said the scout. "And I think he's going to hit," he added. "He's narrowed the gap offensively more than Salty, who has gotten better behind the plate defensively. It's a nice problem to have."

Indians outfielder Matt LaPorta had a tough second half of the 2008 season after being the primary talent acquired in the CC Sabathia deal. Based on what scouts saw this spring, the bat is back, and the numbers agree as he hit .361/.439/.611 in 36 at-bats before being reassigned to Triple-A. "He looked good enough to be in the big leagues to me," said one scout. "If they need a corner outfielder, I wouldn't feel uncomfortable at all starting him in the big leagues-he should be one of their first call-ups unless they decide to work his service clock."

One-Liners From the Desert

Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers: "He's been much more consistent with the glove, and the Rangers don't need much from him offensively. He'll hit .255-.260 with seven home runs and be fine."

Kyle Blanks, 1B, Padres: "I was shocked as to how good an athlete he is, but I can't get past how weird he is at the plate. I still haven't seen him really drive a ball, and I can't see how he does with that short swing."

Andrew Cashner, RHP, Cubs: "He wasn't throwing a lot of strikes, but based on just his delivery and arm action-I'm buying it."

Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals: "What a monster. I love Moustakas, but Hosmer is better."

Brett Lawrie, 2B, Brewers: "He sure can hit, but I don't know what they're going to do with him now that he's not a catcher. Second base was just a joke. No way, no how he's going to be able to stay there."

Beau Mills, 1B, Indians: "He can hit, but he looks like a DH in the making. I was surprised at how bad he was at first base because, you know, he's supposed to be a professional athlete."

Carlos Santana, C, Indians: "I know there are questions about his defense, but he sure looked good to me back there."

Rising Stars From the Land of the Rising Sun

Plenty of scouts in Arizona were assigned to take a five-hour drive (scouts tend to drive fast) to San Diego to pick up some World Baseball Classic action, and the talk of the tournament was the pitching in Asia, with one scout saying, "If you let me grab the best from Korea and Japan, I'd have a legitimate major league staff." Of course, the talk of the town was Japanese ace Yu Darvish, who the scout put down as a #1 big-league starter. "I could see a Dice-K adjustment period," said the scout, "but he could be better in the end." Unlike breaking down most pitchers, going through Darvish's entire arsenal takes a long time. "He's up to 93-96 mph with his four-seam fastball, but he throws a sinker and a cutter and things in between, with the 91 mph pure cutter just being a ridiculous pitch," the scout added. "His slider is a little loopy but it would work, and then he has this slow curve, and then a slurvy thing between the two pitches, and a changeup." As if that wasn't enough, the scout also noted two other pitches in the arsenal, joking that he almost ran out of room on his scouting report. "There's a changeup too, and this kind of splitty thing. You just never know what's coming next."

Japan's other top starter, Hisashi Iwakuma, while not in Darvish's league, was also generally seen as a solid big-leaguer. "It's average stuff, but he can really pitch," explained one scout. "He has superior fastball command to both sides of the plate, and I saw him go three innings without throwing a fastball out of the strike zone, so despite ordinary stuff, he could be a fourth starter."

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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