Some young prospects might be getting their assignments to minor league camp right now, but not before scouts get to see who has impressed and who has not.
Now that we're approaching mid-March, early cuts have begun at spring training sites. For some this makes the games more interesting, as the big leaguers play more innings; for others, the earlier games are the ones to watch since the younger players get to play more, even if they're not as polished. Many scouts fall into the latter group, as early games mean extended looks at 2011 draft picks, or introductions to big-name prospects who play for organizations the scouts don't normally cover. So before all of the prospects head down to minor league camp, here are some players opening scout's eyes–for good or bad reasons–in Florida so far.
Don't play with sharp objects, don't lie down in traffic, and never assume that any player is blocked.
When, early on Sunday morning, it was revealed that Ryan Zimmerman had signed a contract extension that had the potential of keeping him in Washington until 2020, I predicted that Kevin Goldstein would spend his day answering questions about the future of Anthony Rendon, a fine third-base prospect to be sure, but not one who would seem likely to be dogging Zimmerman’s heels anytime soon given that he has yet to play a professional game.
Kevin’s predictable response to those easily-predictable questions was that a lot can change between now and 2020, or between now and next year, including our entire view of both Zimmerman and Rendon. In fact, the potentialities of either could be radically altered as soon as… now. Or now. And also now. Entering 1971, the syndicated columnist Jimmy Cannon asked Casey Stengel for his opinion on Johnny Bench, then entering his age-23 season and coming off an MVP-winning campaign in which he hit .293/.345/.587 with a National League-leading 45 home runs and 148 runs batted in.
“I’ve had Al Lopez and Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra, which goes to show you,” the old man said. “But at his age, which is young, Johnny Bench is the greatest catcher I ever seen. But he could fall out of an airplane or his eyes could go bad, which could happen to a young catcher.”
With the rankings now complete, is our resident prospect man about to turn his back on who he ranked at the top of each position?
Right-Handed Starters Shelby Miller (Cardinals) The Case For: First and foremost, Shelby Miller is a Texan, and therefore already has an advantage over his competition for this title. I’m open about my bias. See the second rule.
From a scouting perspective, Miller has everything I look for in a future top-of-the-rotation arm. With prototypical size (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) and room for additional strength, Miller has the body and the delivery to log innings and maintain his stuff deep into games. His fastball is a legit plus pitch, and can show plus-plus velocity, as he touches the upper 90s at times. The curveball is another above-average offering, flashing plus more than it flashes the potential to be plus, with excellent depth to the break and a tight spin. As with most young power pitchers, Miller’s changeup was underdeveloped in relation to his other offerings when he was drafted, but it has quickly emerged as another plus-potential pitch. It plays well off his fastball with good weight and some arm-side fading action.
Just because many third basemen are failed shortstops does not mean there isn't an abundant supply of talent at the hot corner.
Leader of the Pack (Present): Anthony Rendon (Nationals) The case for: Even though he has yet to play a professional game, Rendon’s combination of tools and polish make him the face of the position. At the plate, the native Texan (another plus attribute) is able to generate tremendous bat speed; his hands and hips work at near elite levels, and his raw strength is above average. Rendon’s hit tool projects to be plus-plus (70 grade)—which should allow him to become a perennial .300 hitter—with the overall approach to work counts, set up favorable hitting counts, and reach base at a high clip. His power potential ranges from average to plus, with a swing that some believe is better suited for gap-to-gap power, rather than a swing with the necessary loft and backspin to produce 25-plus homers per season without selling out his approach.
In the field, Rendon projects as an above-average defender at third, with both the leather and arm grading out as plus tools, and the instincts necessary to bring the physical package together. Speed isn’t a part of Rendon’s game, but his feet aren’t heavy, and he shows good first-step quickness and reactions. Despite not being a physical force, Rendon has all the attributes necessary to become an All-Star talent at the hot corner, with the ability to hit for average, reach base, hit for some power, and play above-average defense. It remains to be seen if Rendon ends up at third base for the Nationals, but that’s a byproduct of organizational depth, not a developmental deficiency in Rendon’s skill set.
Kevin Goldstein, ear to the ground, tells you how he hears the draft will go down.
1. Pittsburgh Pirates: Gerrit Cole, RHP, UCLA. Upgrade this call from “lean” to “heavy lean.” It seems clear that Anthony Rendon is out of the picture, so it's between Cole and Danny Hultzen, who did himself few favors by throwing out a big bonus number over the weekend. With no inexpensive option to turn to, Cole is the guy. Last Mock: Gerrit Cole.
With less than a month to go until the draft, high school and college ballplayers are ramping up their games for top-20 consideration.
The top of the 2011 draft is certainly a lot more interesting to track than the previous two years. In 2009, Stephen Strasburg entered the year as one of the top college arms in baseball history, and then spent all spring proving why. Last year, it was the legend of Bryce Harper, one that only grew when he put up massive numbers as a 17-year-old in a junior college conference using wood bats. This year, we finally have fluctuation as to who will go first overall, and with less than a month to go, it's a wider race than ever.