I spent much of the week on the phone with a variety of scouts to discuss some of their second-half coverage. Here are some highlights, focusing primarily on players that have been discussed in recent chats and Ten Packs. Their performances made the grade, but what did the scouts say?

  • Just how good is Justin Upton, who is still just 19, in Double-A, and hitting .319/.400/.549 on the season? Here’s what one scout, and not a guy exactly known for his optimistic viewpoint, had to say. “He’s tremendous, among the best minor leaguers I’ve ever seen,” gushed the scout. “I have every tool for him as at least plus, with many of them more than that, except for the arm. Top of the line hitting, plus power, plus speed, incredible pitch recognition–he’s just tremendous.” Even more impressive is the transition Upton has undergone from athletic-yet-erratic infielder into top-of-the-line center fielder. “Outstanding range–he basically put on a highlight show when I saw him. In the end, I can’t believe he’s 19. Within a few years he’ll be among the 10 best players in the big leagues.”
  • Rangers third baseman Chris Davis recently tied the California League record with a 35-game hitting streak, but his strikeout totals (112 in 354 at-bats) were a bit of a red flag. One West Coast-based scout who saw Davis during the streak had mixed feelings about him. “That’s serious power–we’re talking Home Run Derby power with bat speed and good leverage,” said the scout. “For a big power guy that strikes out as much as he does, you actually have to be kind of impressed with the streak. He really squares the ball up, but he does have a hitch in his swing, and he’ll always strike out a lot.” As for his defense, the 25 errors do tell a story. “He can’t stay at third, and he shouldn’t even be there now, as he misplays routine stuff,” the scout added. “I don’t see him evolving into a first-division corner guy, but he’s got a chance to be a useful first base/designated hitter type.”
  • In some recent chats, the subject of Mets right-hander Kevin Mulvey came up. The team’s top pick (second round) in 2006, Mulvey was given a highly aggressive assignment to Double-A Binghamton for his first full season, and he’s done well, posting a 3.12 ERA, though his peripheral numbers, including 102 hits allowed in 106 2/3 innings and 73 strikeouts, lack any sort of wow factor, and a scout who recently saw him pitch was also far from impressed. “He’s really just kind of the ultimate, generic, fringe righty,” said the scout. “Mediocre stuff, no real plus pitches. If he was more athletic or lively I might give him more of a chance, but I just don’t see it,” he added, before going into a definition of mediocre stuff: “His command is good, but he’s 87-91 mph with the fastball, and it doesn’t move much. Some might say the slider is plus; I think it’s average, and the changeup is just plain not good, and he throws it so rarely. It’s not like he’s some tall, loose projectable guy; what you see is what you get with him, and I don’t see him as more than a middle reliever.”
  • The breakout of Dodgers shortstop Chin-Lung Hu has been well documented in the weekly Ten Pack, and following an MVP showing in this year’s Futures Game, he’s gunning for more ink by going 15-for-30 with three home runs in his first week at Triple-A Las Vegas. Is it real? The scouting reports are coming in, and the answer is a rousing yes. “He’s definitely an everyday shortstop in the big leagues for me,” said one scout. “I think he’s going to hit .290 or so with around 15 home runs a year, and he does it all defensively,” he added. “At the very least he’s solid, but he might be an All-Star as well,” concluded the scout. Another scout was just as impressed. “He’s just really come on this year. He’s bigger and stronger and he’s always had good hitting instincts, but now he’s driving balls.”
  • One player it’s much harder to get a read on is Hu’s former teammate at Double-A Jacksonville, left-hander Greg Miller. Once considered among the brightest pitching prospects in the game, Miller had multiple shoulder surgeries that cost him almost two years, and while he still flashes outstanding stuff, he’s simply never found any kind of control, as evidenced by this year’s totals of 49 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings, but with 63 walks. “I’ve seen him up to 95-97 mph, but depending on when you see him, he either has it or he doesn’t–not just game-to-game, but inning-by-inning,” said on scout who recently saw Miller pitch. “He could be a great lefty set-up guy–hell, he could close with that stuff–but there’s no way you can put him in right now with the game on the line,” he surmised. Another scout was just as frustrated with Miller, but also admitted that he’d like to have an arm like that in his organization. “I’ve seen the 94-97 mph, and I’ve seen the command issues, but he’s still really interesting to me because he’s still left-handed, and even though it seems like he’s been around forever, he’s still only 22,” said the scout. “What I wonder about is where he stands in the organization; he used to be great, but he’s never been healthy or good under the current regime there in L.A.”
  • There’s been a lot of talk about how to get some of the hot hitters at Triple-A Tacoma into the Mariners‘ big-league lineup, and one scout who recently saw outfielders Adam Jones (.312/.378/.589) and Wladimir Balentien (.318/.388/.569) had very different evaluations despite the pair’s very similar numbers. “Jones is a special, primo athlete with ridiculous bat speed and raw power that is almost freakish for his frame,” said the scout. “Everything about him is so controlled. In batting practice he hits everything hard all over the field, and then in the last round he’ll start launching balls at will. I love that–he even has a plan in batting practice.” As high as the scout is on Jones, he does think there are still adjustments to be made. “He’s getting a pretty steady diet of sliders off the plate of late, and he’s still learning how to lay off those because he still expands his strike zone at times.” But in the final analysis, Jones still has stardom in his future, according to the evaluator. “He’s an athlete and a baseball player, and that’s a fantastic combination.”

    As for Balentien, the scout still liked him, but wanted to see some refinement. “I love the bat speed and love the power potential. He has more raw power than Jones and just hits the ball so freaking hard,” said the scout about the 23-year-old native of Curacao. “But he has a very uncontrolled approach-at times,” he added, explaining further that Balentien’s style varies from at-bat to at-bat. “He’ll gets himself out a lot, because sometimes he just goes up there hacking. I’ve seen him have a great at-bat, and then next time up he works the count 3-0 and then strikes out on three pitches that were nowhere near the zone. Is it a focus issue? I don’t know. But at times he’s literally falling down because he’s swinging so hard at pitches he has no chance whatsoever to hit. How many big leaguers do that?”

  • Scouts rarely share sleepers. They are usually more than happy to give their opinions, good or bad, on well-established players, but they usually like to keep a few secret favorites to themselves. But one scout couldn’t help but rave about Giants righty Kelvim Pichardo. Acquired two years ago from the Phillies in a minor deal for Michael Tucker, the 21-year-old Pichardo didn’t do much in 2006, but he dominated at High-A San Jose during the first half of this year, striking out 71 in 46 2/3 innings before getting bumped up to Double-A Connecticut, where he’s delivered four shutout innings, allowing just one hit, in his first two appearances. “I really like his arm. He’s small and there’s some effort in him, but he’s mid-90s with excellent movement, his slider is good, and he even has a pretty nice change,” said the scout. “He’s aggressive, he’s kind of cocky and immature; sometimes he gets a little pumped up and when he calms down he has better movement, but I really like him as a potential late-inning reliever.”
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