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Fish Foursome

It’s certainly one of the most unique rotations in minor league history, with four first-round picks all from the same class. With five selections among the first 44 picks last June, the Marlins spent each pick on a pitcher, with four of them coming from among high school ranks. All four of them are in the rotation at Low-A Greensboro in the South Atlantic League, and I caught up with a National League scout who has recently seen the quartet in action. Here are his brief thoughts.

Aaron Thompson: “He doesn’t have that one devastating pitch, but as a whole package it works pretty well.”

Ryan Tucker: “He’s got a big arm, sitting at 91-92 mph and touching 95, but he’s the rawest of the four and the furthest away.”

Chris Volstad: “The command is there and he’s going to get better, but he struggles to put hitters away and that’s something he’s going to have to learn. He’ll never miss a ton of bats, but he gets a lot of ground balls. Derek Lowe is a decent comp right now, but he could be better than that if his stuff improves a tick with the projection in that body.”

Sean West: “He’s just so much larger than he was in high school. He’s a big donkey out there now, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. He has the highest ceiling of any of them, but there’s still a lot of dreaming there as he’s still figuring things out mechanically.”

The responsibilities of a scout can vary widely from organization to organization. Some work only on the amateur beat, some do amateur work until June, after which they transfer over to the pro side, and some only evaluate professional players, with assignments varying from all affiliates of a small number of teams to all of the minor league teams within a certain geographical area. No matter the assignment, it’s much more than a Monday-Friday 40-hour gig, and here’s what some of the folks who go to the ballpark nearly every day are saying about some of the big-name players (and some not so big) they’ve seen lately.

  • Last month’s scouting notebook had a surprisingly scathing review of Dodgers outfielder Joel Guzman, and another scout who recently took a trip to the desert oasis agreed with the assessment. “He’s basically fool’s gold,” said the scout. “I just don’t see a lot of bat speed there, and in the field, he’s downright lumbering.” The 21-year-old Guzman has been the subject of much hype since signing for a Dominican-record $2.25 million five years ago, and is currently batting .294/.356/.441 for the 51s, but his monthly splits have been downright bizarre. In April, Guzman hit .330 in 94 at-bats with five home runs and just three walks. In 22 May games, Guzman has drawn a much-improved 12 walks in 77 at-bats, yet he’s batting just .247 with one home run. A former shortstop that outgrew the position and has been splitting time this year between left field and first base, Guzman has seen his first action of the year at third base twice in the past week.
  • The same scout was impressed with Las Vegas first baseman James Loney, who has been on a tear since spending the first three weeks of the season with the big league club. In 26 games since going down to the Pacific Coast League, the former first-round pick has been a hitting machine, compiling averages of .353/.417/.482. “There’s a lot of John Olerud there,” said the scout. “He’s a guy who could hit .320 with 40 doubles and 14 home runs in the majors–I realize that’s atypical for a first baseman, but when you measure the overall production, it’s pretty good.”
  • While St. Louis righthander Anthony Reyes pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings in his first major league start of the season (if a start against the Royals counts as a major league start), and has a 48-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 52 1/3 innings for Triple-A Memphis, one scout feels he has regressed. “He’s at 95 mph and he’s got a good change, but his breaking ball has gone backwards and it’s because of Tom House,” said the scout. “House turns guys into dart throwers, and their elbow ends up sucking into their body and they get under the ball and their arm action gets messed up.” As for the fact that injured Cubs righty and fellow USC alum Mark Prior is considered by some to have ideal mechanics and turned Reyes onto House, the scout was more concise. “Anybody who says Mark Prior has great arm action doesn’t know what they are looking at,” he argued.
  • A 13th-round pick in 2004, Devil Rays righthander Andrew Sonnanstine gained some attention for the numbers he put up in his full-season debut last year. Splitting time between Low-A Southwest Michigan and High-A Visalia, Sonnanstine gave up 174 hits in 180.2 innings, but the numbers that stood out were the 178 strikeouts against just 18 walks. While Double-A has been a bit more of a challenge this year, Sonnanstine has still been effective, putting up a 3.26 ERA in ten starts with 54 strikeouts in 60.2 innings with just 11 free passes. Despite stuff that is marginal at best, one scout who recently took a trip through the Southern League liked what he saw out of the Birmingham ace. “He’s one of those guys that doesn’t have good stuff–but so many of those kids nip at the corners,” the scout stated. “Sonnanstine is different. He is not afraid of contact, knows how to pitch, and knows how to pitch backwards,” he added, referring to Sonnanstine’s tendency to use his barely-average fastball late in the count as a surprise pitch. “He’s not going to make a huge impact, but I think he gets to the big leagues in some capacity.”
  • Some of the sickest numbers in the minors belong to Sonnanstine’s teammate, righthanded closer Juan Salas. The 27 year-old Salas is in his third year at Montgomery, but just his second on the mound, as he was converted to pitcher after six mediocre seasons as a third baseman. This year, Salas has been almost literally untouchable, with a perfect ERA of 0.00 in 17 games, 35 strikeouts in 23.2 innings, and a grand total of five hits allowed. Sleeper? One scout thinks suspect is more like it. “He’s 93 mph with his fastball, and there’s a little cut to it,” opined the scout. “But he throws across his body and slows his motion on his secondary pitches. That fastball is awfully good, but one pitch isn’t enough to get by in the majors.”
  • Blue Jays righthander Casey Janssen has been impressive in six major league starts so far this year, and one advance scout who saw Janssen recently walked away surprised at just how impressed he was with the 2004 fourth-round pick. “He’s very in control on the mound and he doesn’t just throw strikes, he really commands his pitches within the strike zone remarkably well,” said the scout. “He’s interesting because I’m not sure he has a plus-pitch, but he’s one of those guys where the total package is far greater than the sum of the parts.”