Chaminade vs. Harvard Westlake: March 15-16
Blake Rutherford, CF, Chaminade College Prep (Canoga Park, CA)
Rutherford is one of those prep players who showed up on scouting watch lists very early on, and in two looks last week it was easy to see the appeal. He boasts a frame straight out of “projectable prep bat” central casting, currently standing about 6-foot-2 and somewhere in the neighborhood of 190-200 pounds. The shoulders are square and could easily carry more bulk later on in his career, but for now his wiry athleticism provides some quick-twitch explosiveness to his movements.
In the box he starts from a tall, quiet setup with a minimal load and a toe tap into a balanced weight transfer. He has some length into the zone, but already-above-average bat speed gives him slightly more margin for error. It’s a leveraged swing with outstanding hip rotation. He showed some backside collapse and a tendency to lose his back shoulder when he tried to turn on pitches, but on balance he held his mechanics with advanced consistency. The swing is geared to drive the ball, and he already shows enough raw strength to suggest above-average raw power, with ample opportunity to project it out further.
The run tool is plus at present, with an impressive initial burst out of the box and explosiveness into his second gear. The above video includes a 4.06 dig, and I got him at 4.2 on a late pull-up as well. The utility plays up in the field, where his quick acceleration allows him to cover a significant swath of green in center field. He did well in battling a harsh sun field and some mischievous breeze in the second look, maintaining composure and tracking some cloud-scrapers with confidence. His breaks are fluid and he showed no difficulty with his reads in either game. The arm strength is above-average as well, with a solid line and carry on his throws during practice, and he demonstrated body control and sound footwork in transferring and throwing accurately in game situations as well.
There isn’t a tool in the box that stuck out as projecting into elite territory, but Rutherford is a legitimate five-tool talent with plenty of fives and sixes on the board, and he’s rightfully going to receive plenty of consideration near the top of this year’s draft.
Jake Suddleson, CF, Harvard-Westlake High School (Studio City, CA)
Suddleson was the best player on the field for the Wolverines last week. His long, projectable frame looks to be about 6-foot-2, and 185-190 pounds at present. He’s a good athlete with plenty of physical projection remaining, and he showed as a smart, patient hitter with some pull-side pop. The swing is quiet, with a minimal load and simple stride, though he gets to his front side early right now and robs himself of lower half torque. Still, for a high school kid he showed some bat speed and an ability to separate and drive the ball with leverage. He’s committed to attend Harvard in the fall, so for now this is more of a heads-up for the Ivy League-watch list aficionados among you.
USC vs. Cal: March 17
Daulton Jefferies, RHP, University of California
Jefferies stands a modest 6-feet, 180 pounds, with relatively long limbs and fluidity in his movement. His athleticism stands out pretty quickly, with easy, natural actions and quickness around the mound.
Jefferies’ delivery is relatively simple, and he repeats it well. There are some ostensible flags to it: He doesn’t drive particularly hard, he lands off-center and a little stiff, there’s some cross-fire and lower-half deceleration that cuts him off…and yet he showed an advanced feel for his body and comfort with his physicality all night, spotting the ball with ruthless efficiency to the arm side and, to a marginally lesser extent, the glove side as well. He maintains excellent posture and rhythm through his early checkpoints, with a short arm swing and clean, quick action to a three-quarters release. He comes from the extreme third-base side of the rubber, and the cross-fire action and arm speed helps him generate deception.
The fastball showed just average velocity, sitting 89-91 all night, rarely scraping 92. He commanded it, consistently spotting it in the lower third of the zone. There’s some modest run to the pitch helps it stay off barrels, though it flattens out when he works it up in the zone. He worked in a heavy dose of sliders in the low 80s, commanding the pitch all night (one hanger out of 30-plus), and stealing strikes with it early in the count. There’s some sweep to the pitch, as it tracks early and too often lacks late bite, but above-average horizontal movement makes it a tough pitch to square, and he generated ample swing-and-miss with the offering as a quality finishing pitch. Once he got into the middle innings it was changeup time, and he showed similarly advanced feel and command with his third pitch. There was some inconsistency to the its shape that may or may not have been intentional. Within the 83-86 velocity band he turned some over with plus fade and some tumble, while others came in firmer with more of a split action. All told the cambio showed utility as a solid groundball offering with moderate swing-and-miss potential.
If you’re looking for a guy who lights up the radar gun and blows hitters away, Jefferies is not your man. He’s much more a sum-of-his-parts hurler, and one with outstanding pitchability; all three pitches work together off the same plane and play up with deception and strong command. He’ll go to any of them in any count, and he generated as many uncomfortable swings (and takes) in this look as any arm I’ve seen this spring.
Brett Cumberland, C, University of California
Jefferies’ batterymate is a draft-eligible sophomore, and one who will gallop up draft boards this spring if he continues to demonstrate the offensive ability he displayed at University Park. His 5-foot-11 frame currently sports somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 pounds on it, with some thickness in the middle and notable strength in his shoulders. His setup and swing mechanics appear noisy at first glance, but, upon further review, illustrate the old adage about judging books by their covers.
He sets up with an aggressive bat waggle off his back ear, with the back elbow flying all over the place and a deep hitch as he coils into his load. Hitches aren’t inherently bad things, however, provided a hitter has the timing, rhythm, and body control to be consistent to the launch point, and Cumberland is a great example of this, as he’s able to settle into a perfectly balanced trigger at the apex of his stride. His weight transfer is fluid, and he corrals his momentum to the front side well, to where he’s able to keep his hands back and make adjustments within the swing and retain bat speed when fooled. He fires his hips early and cleanly, and generates separation and leverage to drive the ball with authority. Advanced pitch recognition and an intelligent approach lend cause for optimism that the hit tool will allow him to get to his power consistently in games.
The defensive package is much less refined at present. His setups are bouncy and halting, often with a late target, and he’s pretty blatant in announcing the forthcoming pitch type by the width of his setup. He moves well enough, with solid-average agility, however, he struggled with game speed on his pops and fielding attempts. He didn’t show very good balance out of the crouch, staying low with poor posture and rushed timing to a three-quarters arm slot that left his throws tailing and inaccurate all night (he threw three balls away on the night). The raw arm strength is closer to average, and he’ll need to make significant strides with his footwork if he’s going to stay behind the dish.
The bat is a clear calling card here, and a drafting team may very well elect to have him shed the tools of ignorance if it proves that much more advanced than the glove.
Jeremy Martinez, C, University of Southern California
Prior to Friday night, I had yet to see Martinez behind the plate despite a half-dozen views between USC and the Cape. He’s really grown into his frame over past year, turning some baby fat into muscle and filling out his 5-foot-11, 200 pound frame the right way. He boasts prototypical catcher’s legs, with thick thighs and a strong base. The agility is better up and down than side-to-side, and he shows strong body control to the ground. His receiving is raw at present. He’ll often stab late, and he doesn’t really go get it out in front of him, costing a couple inches on frame attempts with a softer receipt. His raw arm strength is plus, though some length ate into his between-innings pops.
He’s made some adjustments offensively since last summer, most notably trading in a mild leg lift for a much more aggressive leg kick that allows for a better weight transfer and generates power with his lower half. He’ll still get steep into the zone, though his superior hand-eye coordination and strong command of the zone continues to limit the swing-and-miss in his game. The foundation of a future plus hit tool remains, and I’ll look forward to another couple viewings later this spring to see if the new mechanics lend any additional game power projection.
Kyle Davis, RHP, University of Southern California
Davis is in much better shape compared to my last look at him as a reliever last spring, down a good 20 pounds, with better physicality than he showed. The velocity was down a couple ticks in his current starting role, and he showed a kitchen-sink arsenal that worked off an 89-91 mph fastball that he used to pound the zone. He appeared to show both a two- and four-seam variant, as some versions featured modest sink and run, while others stayed fairly straight on plane. His slider and change run into each other in the low 80s, and he’ll mix in a round curve in the upper 70s as well. His arm speed slowed notably on the curve and change, and he visibly altered his arm path to get on top of the latter pitch.
Davis competes well on the mound, demonstrating an ability to bounce back from poor pitches, maintain his composure, and execute when in trouble. The problem, at least on this night, was that he delivered far too many poor pitches. His delivery has some cadence issues through his leg kick and gather, where he starts slowly and speeds up as he goes. His posture is poor, with a pronounced spine tilt and a drop-and-drive delivery that too often results in extraneous collapse onto his back leg and inconsistent stride length. All of that adds up to additional length to his release point and inconsistent command, particularly up in the zone, and his average stuff flattens out dangerously when he leaves it dancing north of the border.
Aaron Knapp, CF, University of California
I didn’t get any clocks on him, but Knapp is at least a plus runner (quite possibly more), and he can play the hell out of center field. He showed very strong reads and acceleration on multiple chances, ranging far into each gap and displaying instinctual track-and-close abilities. He has virtually no power at the plate, however, on account of leaky hips and a short, quick stroke.
Mitchell Kranson, 3B, University of California
Kranson may be the anti-Blake Rutherford, with a frame straight out of “beer league softball player” central casting. “El Gaucho” looks kind of like “Nacho Libre,” yet he actually moves around at third with surprising athleticism. His footwork is short and choppy, and while nobody would every accuse him of being a graceful player, he does show some mobility and lateral agility. The real attraction here (aside from a sweet ‘stache) is the bat. He was dialed in in my view, cracking four hard-hit balls around (and out of) the yard amid a torrid 17-for-34 streak. An aggressive leg kick and late hitch create a bunch of leverage, though it comes with some loop into the zone thanks to a high back elbow and an early hip rotation that should, at least in theory, leave him vulnerable to soft stuff away and hard stuff up. He certainly showed no such weakness on this night, however.
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