From February 28th through March 3rd, the Rangers’ and Royals’ spring training facility in Surprise, AZ hosted the Coca-Cola Classic. It’s a round-robin event featuring four college programs—University of Arkansas, Arizona State, Gonzaga, and University of the Pacific—and several interesting draft-eligible talents. Dozens of decision makers were in attendance, both at Surprise Stadium and at games on the back fields to get early-season looks at top draft arms Ryne Stanek (Arkansas), Marco Gonzalez (Gonzaga), Trevor Williams (Arizona State), Colby Suggs (Arkansas) and Barrett Astin (Arkansas), as well as some interesting positional talent, including Razorbacks second baseman Dominic Ficociello.
Arizona State finished the weekend a perfect 4-0, while Arkansas, who entered the weekend ranked in the top five in multiple collegiate polls, dropped all four of their contests (two against ASU, and one each against Gonzaga and Pacific). Below, we highlight three performances of particular import for draft evaluators, and provide further scouting notes on various other draft talents, both present and future.
Marco Gonzales | LHP/1B | Gonzaga Univ.
6-foot-1/185 pounds | left/left profile | draft day age 21y 4m
Although Gonzales didn’t have the best pure stuff, he put on arguably the best performance, tossing a complete-game shutout against second-ranked Arkansas. The strike-throwing southpaw carved up the Razorbacks and threw 79 of his 111 pitches for a strike. Lacking serious projection or overpowering velocity, Gonzales’ draft ceiling is likely limited to the back end of the first round or the supplemental first round, but he’s one of the best pitchability guys in this year’s draft, with polish that should enable him to move quickly through the minor-league ranks.
Notes: Gonzales had all three pitches for strikes at his disposal on Saturday. The mixture of pitchability with a 4+ fastball (playing up due to deception), 6 changeup, and 5 curveball was too much for the Arkansas bats to handle. One scout in attendance likened his game to Angels lefty Jason Vargas––it’s not sexy, and it’s not a top-end arm, but it’s safe (as far as young pitchers go) and solid. The lack of overpowering stuff and projection (he’s 6’ 1” with a mature frame) won’t make him an attractive option to every team in the late-first or supplemental rounds, but he’ll likely find a home in that vicinity.
Gonzales found success against Arkansas by locating and mixing his three-pitch arsenal effectively throughout the game. He’s a good athlete who repeats his delivery and hints at a plus command profile. While his fastball wasn’t above-average––sitting between 88-90 mph and touching 91––he maintained the velocity into the late innings with some late arm-side life and deception.
Hitters didn’t appear to see Gonzales’ stuff out of the hand very well––particularly his fastball and plus 77-80 mph changeup. They were late to react and generally off-balance all afternoon. His highly deceptive changeup is a least a 60-grade pitch with good fading action; he had some serious confidence in the offering. After throwing his fastball and changeup almost exclusively early in the game, Gonzales began mixing in an average 75-77 mph curveball with some depth the third time through the order.—Jason Cole
Trevor Williams | RHP | Arizona St. Univ.
6-foot-3/228 pounds | right/right profile | draft day age 21y 1m
Entering the spring, Williams was generally regarded as a power arm who lacked a true out pitch, averaging less than five strikeouts per nine innings in 2012. Williams has taken a step forward, both in stuff and in implementation, in 2013. Through his first three starts, the Arizona State ace has averaged nine strikeouts per nine innings while maintaining his strong control profile, as evidenced by a 7.0 SO/BB rate. Early returns have Williams establishing himself as a Day 1 arm with a four pitch mix, sturdy build and a likely future in a pro rotation.
Notes: Long arms; thicker build; hard to get exact with lower half because of baggy uniform; really like the way the arm works; delivery has some effort; big back bend; some carry toward first in follow-through; showing multiple fastball looks; 90-91 with some late sink; four-seamer worked 93-95 and maxed out at 96; shows strike-throwing ability; multiple breaking-ball looks; curveball was 75-77; thrown in the zone; caught several hitters looking; good sight-line pitch; probably average at best, but effective; harder breaking ball started showing up later in outing; thrown with more muscle at 81-82; slicing action; expand-the-zone pitch, but some bat-missing potential; effective off fastball; dropped a few low-80s changeups; limited look; excellent pace overall; trusted stuff and shoved it in the zone against swing-happy bats; starter’s arsenal and feel; delivery could be smoother. First-round talent.—Jason Parks
Dominic Ficociello | 2B | Univ. of Arkansas
6-foot-4/200 pounds | switch/right profile | draft day age 21y 2m
A shortstop out of Fullerton Union High School (CA) with a highly projectable frame back in 2010, Ficociello passed on signing with the Tigers in favor of three years in Fayetteville. The book on Ficociello entering Arkansas was that he was likely to shift over to third base as he matured physically, where his emerging power would play well. Instead, Ficociello spent his first two Razorback seasons as a solid fielding first baseman with limited pop (.140 ISO in 2012 with six home runs), and his draft stock slipped each year as a result. Arkansas has shifted Fico over to second base this year, where he profiles much better offensively at the pro ranks. If he can prove capable there, defensively, his gap-to-gap bat and solid approach at the plate could push him back into early Day 2 territory. His showing at the Coca-Cola Classic was a step in the right direction.
Notes: Added strength from sophomore year but retains long/lean physique; high waist and long limbs limit ability to finish at the margins of his range; feet work, showing surprising lower-half quickness on pivots and throwing from multiple angles; needs reps to improve first step and off-the-bat reads from new position on the field, but early returns solid; retained athleticism as he’s matured (showed well on one of the best defensive plays of the weekend – video here); fringe-average to below-average speed improves when underway; puts together solid at-bats; still some struggles with quality off-speed, out in front; bat in and out of zone too quickly at times – needs to find longer pitch-plane match to improve likelihood of hard contact; decent feel with the barrel; overall solid early season showing, worth multiple check-ins April/May; second base still up in the air, but at least a possibility; chance at third- to fifth-round profile.—Nick Faleris
Double Takes: Player Notes
Informal thoughts on eight additional draft prospects, present and future, from last weekend:
Ryne Stanek | RHP | Univ. of Arkansas | 2013 draft class
6-foot-4/190 pounds | right/right profile | draft day age 21y 10mo
First Take: I hope it was just a bad day because I was expecting a 1:1 candidate and didn’t come away agreeing with that projection. I like the body; long limbed; some deception in the delivery; bit of a slinger from a three-quarters slot; arm is incredibly fast; arm strength is easy plus; fastball worked 91-93; was working up and finding barrels; slider flashed nasty potential; easy 6 projection; thrown with velocity and good tilt; fast to the plate with runners on (1.15-1.25); limited looks at changeup; only charted one; delivery and arsenal fit relief profile. First-round arm, but not top tier for me.–Jason Parks
Second Take: Stuff a full grade down across the board from where I saw him mid-spring, 2012. Fastball formerly 93-96 was working low-90s with a couple bumps to 95 but with surprising inability to miss bats. Slider flashed plus down in the zone but was inconsistent, grading to future plus but lacking 7 projection from previous looks. Changeup lacked hard fade from previous looks and feel generally not there for him Friday, though pitch has projected to 5+ in the past. Lots of pitches early on and mechanics faded by the fourth inning, leading to shoulder dip, arm drag and increasing inconsistency in release and execution. Top 10 arm off of strength of past showings but early-2013 results have been lacking. Needs to rediscover 2012 stuff with strong March to re-establish value.–Nick Faleris
Ryan Burr | RHP | Arizona St. Univ. | 2015 draft class
6-foot-4/215 pounds | right/right profile | draft day age 21y 0mo
First Take: Big 6’ 4” righty with developed frame and some thickness in his thighs; not much physical projection remaining at all but already shows serious velocity as a freshman; used his height and arm slot well to work on a downward plane with plus velocity, making his fastball difficult to square; sat 92-94, touching 95 and 96 in a three-inning stint on Thursday; returned two days later for a two-inning appearance and worked 94-96, hitting 97 once; consistently threw strikes with his 75-77 mph curveball; showed the ability to spin it; curve looked like a potential second plus pitch with tight spin and good depth; didn’t show a changeup in the two relief outings; attacked hitters with confidence in the late innings; currently closing but should eventually get a chance to start given the total package; it’s early, but he’s a definite high-follow guy with 2015 first-round potential.–Jason Cole
Second Take: I really liked it. Husky arm strength; pitches with purpose; fastball sat 95 in bursts; touched 97 once on my gun; deeper look at 92-94; some late zip; curveball with good shape and depth at 77-78; shows bat-missing potential with two pitches; freshman, but could develop into serious power relief arm or mid-rotation type.—Jason Parks
Colby Suggs | RHP | Univ. of Arkansas | 2013 draft class
6-foot-0/225 pounds | right/right profile | draft day age 21y7mo
First Take: Worked with velocity (94-95, topping 96) and hides ball well; breaking ball a hard downer in 80-82 mph range with depth and arm-slot/pitch-plane deception off fastball; draws swings and misses off strength of offerings and downhill plane; command current, and likely to be future, issue due to high effort mechanics, but late-inning upside; current second- to third-round talent for team looking for relief arm that could move quickly; did not show off-speed in this outing.–Nick Faleris
Second Take: College closer with a relief profile all the way; short, thick frame; high-energy/effort mechanics and approach on the mound; high front side in delivery; comes from over the top; can create some angle despite lack of height when down in the zone, but struggled with release point in this look and fastball was all over the place; showed 93-95 mph velocity; fastball can touch higher and is a legitimate bat-misser at all levels; inconsistent 80-83 mph breaking ball but showed a couple good ones with late downward snap; late or supplemental first-round draft ceiling; could be a late-inning reliever in the pro ranks, but there are questions to be answered about the command/control and breaking ball consistency.–Jason Cole
Drew Stankiewicz | SS| Arizona St. Univ. | 2014 draft class
5-foot-10/185 pounds | left/right profile | draft day age 20y 11mo
First Take: Gamer all the way; softer tools; makes plays; run is fringe; range is fringe; actions were smooth; footwork was easy and coordinated; comfortable on turns; arm played on left side of diamond; hit tool might only be fringe tool; shows some contact ability; didn’t pack a loud punch; swing plane was linear; controlled the bat well and had a plan at the plate; role 4 future for me, but a fun player to watch.–Jason Parks
Second Take: Limited profile; likely future second base due to foot speed and range, but shows ability to finish at the margins with soft hands, athleticism and quick release; compact to contact at the plate, allowing ball to travel and slapping to the opposite field; solid approach for underclassman and stuck with some quality arms throughout the weekend; will be challenged often by pro arms and will need to develop some ability to drive the ball in order to keep arms honest.–Nick Faleris
Jake Wise | C | Univ. of Arkansas | 2013 draft class
6-foot-0/200 pounds | right/right profile | draft day age 21y 10mo
First Take: I liked some of the tools; good receiving skills; good lateral movements for size; catch/throw ability; pops under 2.0; arm was strong; stick had some juice; returned good velo right back on same plane. I was more focused on the arms, but his overall profile stood out.–Jason Parks
Second Take: Solid catch-and-throw type who should get a look in pro ball; stood out over the weekend with his receiving, arm, and aggressiveness throwing to the bases; popped 1.95 between innings; bat has been very light in the past and probably always will be, but played better in this look, showing a little raw juice; best college defender behind the plate I’ve seen so far this year.–Jason Cole
Brett Lilek | LHP | Arizona St. Univ. | 2015 draft class
6-foot-4/190 pounds | left/left profile | draft day age 21y 10mo
First Take: High-follow arm out of high school who has a chance to be among the top college lefties in 2015; legit 6’ 4” frame with big feet and long limbs; plenty of room for physical growth and should add to velocity; worked 89-91 (T92) in first inning before settling in at 86-89 in later innings; pitched down in the zone with fastball and changed eye levels well, elevating with two strikes on occasion; showed a feel for pitching and mixing his three-pitch arsenal to keep hitters off balance; secondaries are less advanced than fastball at present but showed all three for strikes; breaking ball and changeup both ranged between 71-77 mph; both showed promise, but didn’t consistently get on top of curve and floated the change at times.–Jason Cole
Second Take: Very similar to style he showed as a prep arm, mixing fastball, change and two breaking balls (with some pitch bleed in the middle). Sat 89 to 91 with the fastball, working the black and occasionally elevating after setting-up with change or curve. Off-speed best in 74-76 range with some fade, matching fastball release fairly well. Showed low-70s curve with consistent shape and short slider/slurve in the 76-78 range with less up-and-down than the curve. Has begun to fill in and should mature well, physically, over the next two years. High 2015 follow.–Nick Faleris
Trey Killian | RHP | Univ. of Arkansas | 2015 draft class
6-foot-2/190 pounds | right/right profile | draft day age unlisted |
First Take: I really liked this kid. Limby; lean; very good athlete; moved well off the mound; worked in wind-up delivery; lower arm slot; easy arm action; repeats mechanics; pitches with poise and confidence; fastball was steady at 90-92; touched 93 on late punch-out; I think he has more in the tank (velocity wise); really liked the slider; sweepy at 79-81, but late bottom-heavy action; good command of the pitch; could drop it for strikes or lengthen it for chase; had feel for a changeup; didn’t have the best raw stuff but was my favorite arm at the Coca-Cola Classic; lots of pitchability and projection. –Jason Parks
Second Take: Freshman threw just 80 pitches in 6 1/3 innings against Arizona State, K’ing nine without walking a batter; impressive pitchability with a tough, mature demeanor on the mound given his youth; couples polish with decent “now” stuff; fastball sat 89-91 mph and held throughout, topping at 93 late in his start; 80-81 mph slider improved as the game progressed, showing longer break with some depth; repeated his delivery well and threw strikes; body is on the mature side and not a ton of projection remaining, but there’s room for refinement of secondary consistency; fast arm that may produce a slight tick more velocity down the line; total package should lead to a very successful collegiate career; certainly not the highest-ceiling arm of the weekend, but polish and solid stuff make him an intriguing 2015 name to watch.–Jason Cole
Barrett Astin | RHP | Univ. of Arkansas | 2013 draft class
6-foot-1/200 pounds | right/right profile | draft day age 21y 7mo
First Take: Miscast as a starter; stuff plays up in relief and lacks diversity in looks to turn over pro lineups. Sat 89 to 90 with the fastball, touching 91, but works 91 to 93 in shorter stints. Mixed in an effective slider/cutter pairing that ran from the low- to upper-80s. Showed a soft upper-70s curve that was easy for hitters to pick up out of the hand. Has shown a mid- to upper-80s split in the past that I did not see on Saturday. Solid draft prospect as relief arm with early Day 2 potential. Nick Faleris
Second Take: Currently working as a starting pitcher but profiles best as a reliever, where his stuff plays up a tick; stuff is very fringy in a starting role; fastball sat between 88-91 mph with some late arm-side life against Gonzaga; often more comfortably low-90s when in relief; displayed a deep repertoire, though none of the secondaries really stood out; mixed in an 86-87 mph cutter, longer 82-84 mph slider, 79-80 mph curveball, and mid-80s changeup.–Jason Cole
140 miles southwest of the Coca-Cola Classic, the Arizona Wildcats hosted the San Francisco Dons for a weekend series. Saturday’s match-up featured USF’s 6’ 6”, 225 lb. (listed) righty Alex Balog – a 2013 draft eligible touted as a power arm capable of reaching the mid-90s with regularity. He has drawn heavy interest from pro scouts and some decision makers who were in town for the weekend to catch the high-draft arms up in Surprise.
Balog had a forgettable afternoon, underwhelming around 30 evaluators in attendance with a fringy fastball in the 89-91 mph range, never topping 92 on my gun. His changeup was his best secondary on the afternoon, flashing a bit of fade and some deception in his arm slot and release, and he threw the pitch with a high level of comfort, leading with the offering on several occasions once the lineup turned over. Balog showed two breakers in a loopy upper-70s curve and a low-80s slider that came with two-plane action at its best, but backed up on him repeatedly throughout the start. It’s still early in the spring, but this was a setback for the Dons’ Saturday starter who had preseason early-round heat after reports from the fall indicated a big jump in velocity.
Arizona’s bats had little trouble handling Balog, with Riley Moore (catcher, 2014), Johnny Field (CF, 2013), Brandon Dixon (3B, 2013) and Trent Gilbert (2B, 2014) all driving the ball in the early innings. Arizona starter James Farris (RHP) was effective with average stuff, pitching primarily off of an upper-80s fastball that he moved well around the zone, and a mid-80s cutter that worked well in and out. He also dropped an occasional 76-78 curve with solid shape and average bite, and a 78-80 changeup that drew multiple empty swings from USF bats.
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