We’re only at the beginning of March, with snow still covering the ground of much of the country and exhibition games just starting up. At the same time, the draft is only just over three months away – talent evaluators are already scattering across the country to check out some of the top talent, and there’s already been some movement amongst prospects despite limited viewing. Keep in mind that there’s still a lot of baseball to go, and it’s early, but here are some initial thoughts from those making the selections.
- Like last year, the college hitting pool is shallow, but one elite talent stands out in Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters, who has rebounded from a slow start to firmly establish himself as the top hitter in the draft.
“Look, he’s a switch-hitter, he can really hit, and he has huge power as well,” said one scouting director. “What’s not to like?” One concern in the past has been Wieters’ ability to stay behind the plate, but most think those concerns revolve around his 6’5″ frame as opposed to his talent.
“I really think he can catch,” said another evaluator. “The height is an issue, but he’s done a nice job and it’s going to come down to the body holding up – even if he has to move, that bat will play.”
Another scouting director was even more gushing, saying that if he has the first overall pick in the draft, Wieters would be a possibility. “[Vanderbilt lefthander David] Price wouldn’t be a slam dunk for me if I was picking 1-1,” said the executive. “The offense is a no-brainer and he’s a 6 or 7 (on the scouting scale) arm with good footwork, balance and flexibility behind the plate.”
- Third baseman Matt Mangini put himself on the map last year with a breakout year at North Carolina State and a Cape Cod League batting title, but the Oklahoma State transfer is having some trouble keeping the momentum going early on.
“There really are two big issues with him,” said one scouting director. “First, he can’t hit lefties; second, he can’t really play third base very well.” The director added that he didn’t see him going as high as some projected going into the season. “He has hitting ability, he has some power, but in the end it’s a big slow body and he’s a reach at third base – I’d be surprised to see him go in the top 20.”
Another scout added he might see why Mangini got so much early attention. “He looks just like Alex Gordon, that must be where the fascination is coming from.”
- Once again, the name of the game on the college side is pitching, and David Price leads the pack. A 6’6″ power lefty who is generally considered the top talent in the draft, how does he compare to Detroit’s Andrew Miller, a 6’6″ southpaw who was generally considered the top talent in last year’s draft? Three scouting directors weighed in.
“There’s a lot of similarities to Miller really,” said one. “Good size, rocket arm, good slider – in the end Price is a little more physical, and Miller flashed a little more arm strength.”
Another saw similarities in their performance as well. “Price was for from great at the Minute Maid tournament, and they both have had some uneven performances as amateurs,” he said. “But the stuff is all there to be good.”
A third said he actually preferred Price over Miller. “Three reasons: better athlete, better control, third pitch,” said the scouting director. “Miller might have a slightly better fastball/slider combination, but for me Price is the more complete pitcher.”
- While he’s made just one start on the season, Missouri State righthander Ross Detwiler opened some eyes while striking out 13 over seven two-hit innings in his debut.
“He’s on people’s radar now,” said one scouting director. “He was sitting in the low 90s and showing a plus curve – you don’t want to get too excited about one look, but he came out of the chute pretty strong.”
Another saw a third plus pitch, but also had some concerns about Detwiler’s build. “His changeup was potentially plus as well,” he said. “But he’s built like a pencil, he’s just not a very physical guy.”
A third had similar concerns about the 6’4″, 175 pound starter. “It’s almost a high-school body, so while he’s showing good stuff, we need to see how he maintains it,” said the executive, who also had some mechanical concerns. “It’s not a classic delivery – he has a big leg lift and kind of jumps at the hitter, so while he’s throwing strikes, there’s control there, but not a lot of command.”
- Cal State Fullerton righthander Wes Roemer as a statistical oddity was discussed at length in Monday’s Ten Pack. But what about Roemer the draft prospect? A pair of scouting directors indicated that Roemer was still a guy in the mix for the supplemental first round, and both had concerns about how players with his profile are valued. “The stuff is obviously not outstanding – his fastball is 88-90 mph and touches 92, his slider is good but not always plus,” said one scouting director. “But at the same time it’s rare to find command like that and he can just flat-out pitch. Sometimes we just think of those guys as quote-unquote ‘safe picks,’ but sometimes those guys really surprise you in the end.”
Another executive agreed to a point. “He’s a six-foot righty with average stuff, he’s not very physical but he’s a strike-thrower deluxe – our industry as a whole might undervalue them, but how many innings can you put on that body?
- High school baseball has barely started in the warmer parts of the country, and scouting that talent doesn’t really heat up until April and May. Still, some players are getting some early heat. In 2005, Reds outfielder Jay Bruce was the player who leapfrogged from well-regarded to top of the charts with a strong senior year, while last year’s version was Baltimore’s Billy Rowell. While it’s early to identify this year’s model, third baseman Kevin Ahrens from Memorial High School in Houston is putting his name in the hat with some impressive early performances.
“I think he’s very advanced,” said one scouting director. “He’s a switch hitter with a seasoned, polished approach.” When it came time to compare him to somebody, even the scouting director had to reel himself in. “This might sound crazy, but he reminds me of Chipper Jones at the same age,” he said, comparing him to 1990’s first overall pick. “The swing, the power, the body, the plus arm, the shortstop who’s going to move to third – there’s more than a little bit of him there. I know Jones was a number-one pick, so let’s calm down a little and call him a poor man’s Chipper.”