May 2010

The strange case of Anthony Ranaudo

So, we all know what’s been going on with LSU’s Anthony Ranaudo of late. Early injury, major struggles since, Draft slide as a result. His start today in the SEC Tournament could go a long way toward either reversing the disturbing trend or continuing his fall, perhaps even out of the first round.

His performance was his best of the season, though that’s not saying a whole lot based on what’s gone on the past few weeks. He went 7 2/3 innings, by far his longest outing of the year. Over his first two innings, he was touching 95 mph and his breaking stuff, said scouts, looked better than it has in a long time. As the game went on, he lost some velocity, finishing at 91-92 mph in the eighth. And here’s the puzzling thing. His stuff got raves, with some calling it “top 10″ pure stuff. But at the same time, it very hittable. He gave up eight hits and was charged with six runs (five earned), though he left the game with runners on base and the bullpen didn’t strand them.

Ranaudo struck out two in the first inning and his stuff was downright nasty. And while LSU and Ranaudo were thrilled that he was “back,” he looked a little more ordinary later in the game. There is definite concern about the lack of life on his fastball. Straight and 95 mph might work here, it won’t at the next level; straight at 91 mph even gets hit here.

So where does that leave Ranaudo? I was chatting with Baseball America’s Jim Callis about that very subject (yes, us arch rivals do talk to each other) and he felt today’s start had to help the right-hander, at least a little. I’m not sure how much it helped him, but I agree it definitely didn’t hurt him. I think it helped him stop the slide to an extent, especially if he follows it up with a better outing in a regional. That could mean, as Callis pointed out, that a team that might have thought he’d slip into the sandwich round will have to snag him in the first round instead.

In the end, then, it can be looked as a step in the right direction, however unsure it may have been. Things are still inconclusive, I think and what he does in regional play could go a long way in determining if Ranaudo can sneak back up draft boards.

Pomeranz is back

Well, I now know that perhaps I should take Drew Pomeranz at his word.

He told me yesterday that his strained pectoral muscle was just fine, that his drop in velocity was because of some rhythm/delivery sync issues and that he had figured some things out since his last start.

Turned out the Ole Miss lefty was telling the truth. Pomeranz righted his ship in his SEC Tournament start by throwing seven shutout innings. He gave up six hits and walked only one (a good sign since his command had been off during his recent struggles) while striking out seven. He did throw 111 pitches over seven innings, 78 for strikes.

As important, if not more so, was that his velocity returned to pre-“slump” status. He was touching 93 mph consistently throughout the start. In the past few weeks, he had reportedly been throwing just 86-90 mph. Today, he was sitting at 91 mph comfortably. According to scouts watching, his arm action looked a lot better, not as stiff.

It is just one start, and just like with this recent off-stretch, you don’t want tor read too much into a small sample size. But in this case, another rough start with command and velocity would’ve turned a small stretch into a full-on slump in some eyes and the guy who had cemented himself as the top college arm in the class may have slid a little further down.This strong start halts that immediately.  Some would point to his track record and say that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated, but even those who were worried might feel a bit better after his start today.

In my most recent mock draft, I had Pomeranz going No. 6 overall to the Diamondbacks.Not exactly a slide, but he was not long ago thought to be a lock to be in the top four. It will be interesting to see if he moves back into the mix for any of the teams picking in the top five.

Anthony Ranaudo taking his warmup pitches now for LSU. Back with more on him.

Game 1 at SEC Tournament and thoughts on Pomeranz

It’s the second inning of the Ole Miss-South Carolina game here in Hoover, Alabama. Drew Pomeranz looked sharp in the first inning. His velocity was back up, at least in the first inning, up to 93 mph. He’d been sitting 86-90 in his previous starts. We’ll see if he can maintain it. He told me yesterday that it’s largely been a matter of his rhythm and timing and that he worked on some things over the past week that led him to believe he’d be back to the guy who typically had been in the 92-93 mph range for much of the year. Stay tuned on that one.

Every year at tournaments like these, pitchers who aren’t in that elite, first-round group, help themselves tremendously with strong performances in front of a ton of scouts, scouting directors and even general managers. A couple of years ago, it was Jess Todd. Most of the talk at the tourney that year was about Pedro Alvarez and Justin Smoak. Lance Lynn was coming out of Ole Miss that year and ended up being a supplemental first round pick. Then there was Arkansas’ Jess Todd, who dominated and struck out 15 or so batters. He ended up going in the second round.

This year, that player could be Alabama’s Jimmy Nelson. He’s been a little up and down this year, but mostly pretty good, though he’s never been thought of as a top prospect type. That might have changed with his tournament start today. He was up to 93 mph throughout his complete game victory, allowing just one run on five hits. He walked none and struck out six. The big right-hander needed just 97 pitches to finish off Auburn, throwing 64 strikes. A performance like that in front of about 10 scouting directors and a GM or two should mean he’ll get some second-round interest.

More later…

Greetings from the SEC

Tomorrow’s a big day here in Hoover, Alabama, with the start of the SEC Tournament. Four games today, four tomorrow. Dozens of scouts planning to attend.

They’ll get their money’s worth in Day One on Wednesday. That’s because Drew Pomeranz is pitching for Ole Miss against South Carolina in Game 2 and Anthony Ranaudo starts for LSU in Game 3. I talked to Pomeranz, who was named SEC Pitcher of the year, today for a story that will run in a few days.

I also talked to Arkansas third baseman Zack Cox. While Pomeranz is pitching Wednesday, scouts who were hoping to see Cox swing that bat in this tournament will be disappointed. Cox missed three out of the four games against Vanderbilt last weekend with a ribcage injury. Playing in that one game, it seems, aggravated the injury, so he’s not going to play. Arkansas is ranked highly and has the chance to host a Regional regardless of what happens here. For the same reason, Brett Eibner is unlikely to play much, if at all. The two-way player got hit in the hand a couple of weeks back and it’s continued to bother him. He pitched in relief over the weekend and the velocity was fine, but he gave up two homers and the Razorbacks think he was changing his mechanics because of the injury. Scouts will have to wait to get one more look at the potential first-round tandem (as well as lesser prospect Drew Smyly) until regional play. Smyly, for those interested, is Arkansas’ top starter and would’ve faced Vanderbit and Sonny Gray on Wednesday if it hadn’t been for a bliser problem.

There’s no doubt the starts for Ranaudo and Pomeranz are big. As detailed in my last post,  both have had some struggles lately, with Ranaudo’s more dramatic and slide-inducing. He ended up relieving twice over the weekend. Pomeranz started and wasn’t terrible, but wasn’t dominant and once again, was reported to have a drop in velocity.

This has created opportunities for other college arms to step up. There’s no doubt that Florida Gulf Coast’s Chris Sale has taken advantage and most people believe he’ll be the first college arm taken on June 7. Deck McGuire has been very good consistently. He may not wow people as much as some of the others have been capable of in the past, but sometimes slow and steady win the race. McGuire may not be a top 10 player in terms of raw stuff/talent, but there’s a good chance he’ll go there, particularly with the question marks left by the other supposed top arms.

Guys like Matt Harvey and Asher Wojciechowski have helped themselves as well, perhaps to a lesser extent. But again, they’ve generally been good and that stands out right now. Pomeranz still should go ahead of both of these guys, but they’ve cemented themselves more as middle-of-the-first types because of their consistency.

Be sure to check back here and on Twitter (@JonathanMayoB3) on Wednesday for reports from the tourney.

What on earth is going on with college pitching?

Remember when it was the college arms that were the safest picks in the Draft? The guys with track records, at big programs were often the way to go when push came to shove, right?

Well, if that’s the case, can someone please tell me what’s happening lately?

I’m talking, of course, of two pitchers who began this year at or near the top of many draft lists, not just for pitchers, but for overall picks. They’re both in the SEC, pitching for big-time schools, and had some track record for success. But things have gone awry lately.

The case of LSU’s Anthony Ranaudo has been well-documented by now. Once thought to be the top college arm in the class, he missed a chunk of time with an elbow issue. He’s back now, but clearly not himself. Some have said it’s not the injury still, but for whatever reason, he has not been throwing well. Here are his last four starts, dating back to that big matchup against Ole Miss:

April 24:    1.2 IP, 9 H, 9 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
April 30:    2 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 0 K
May 7:      2.2 IP, 5 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 1 K
May 14:    4.1 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 3 BB, 4 K

Overall, that’s just 10 2/3 IP over four starts, during which he’s allowed 28 hits and 26 earned runs (That’s a 21.94 ERA for those of you scoring at home). His performance, along with his advisor (one Mr. Scott Boras) make him extremely hard to figure out in terms of first-round projections.

Then there’s the lefty who faced Ranaudo in that Ole Miss-LSU matchup, Drew Pomeranz. The southpaw spent the first half of the season cementing himself as the top college arm — if not the top pitcher — in the Draft class. With a strong track record of success he seemed as sure a thing as there was to go near the top of the first round.

Now? Not so sure. There are many scouts who will say that you don’t throw away three yearsPomeranz-Drew_RM_v.jpg of strong performances based on a few bad/iffy ones, but I have to think at some point, it becomes concerning. Pomeranz was equally awful as Ranaudo in that game, but did bounce back the following week, leading many to be willing to give him a mulligan on the one really rough outing. But it’s been heading in a bad direction since. Here are his starts from that LSU-Ole Miss game on:

April 24:   3 IP, 1 H, 4 ER (5 total), 9 BB, 3 K
April 30:   6.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K
May 7:     6.2 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 8 K
May 14:   5 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 7 BB, 9 K

Cumulatively, that’s 21 IP, 16 H, 10 ER (4.29 ERA), 19 BB, 31 K. His line from this past Friday is beyond bizarre. Now, there have been reports of a strained pectoral muscle and that may have something to do with these performances, particularly the complete loss of command. He threw 108 pitches, only 58 were strikes in his last start. Beyond this pec issue, which the school and Pomeranz downplayed last week, there’s been a loss of velocity. He was throwing 85-90 mph in that May 7 start and in his last start, he was sitting around 87 mph.

I think Pomeranz can right himself if he returns to form in these last couple of starts, but a scouting director was telling me that Pomeranz had a drop in velocity last year late in the season as well. He did not pitch well down the stretch as a result, though he won his regional start (it was against Monmouth) and pitched well in his super regional outing. Whether teams extrapolate from that and worry about his durability and ability to withstand the long Major League season and pitching every five days remains to be seen. But it will definitely make teams pause and want to see how he finishes off the season.

We’ll have to see what this means for the shape of the first round. Tomorrow, I’ll write about some of the college pitchers who have performed well and may have supplanted Pomeranz and Ranaudo as the top of the class.

I’ve got my first projection of the top 10 picks running on Wednesday. Should be interesting, to say the least…

Draft talk: Yasmani Grandal

Things are getting very interesting, as they always do this time of year. I had a scout tell me today that May is always the shortest/fastest month. Too many players to see, too little time to see them.

While it’s still a bit early to really project who will go where, things are starting to shake out a little bit. Right now, it seems that there are four names that belong at the top of the list. The general consensus is that Bryce Harper will indeed go No. 1 (look for that story, along with a an overall preview, on Monday). After Harper, in no particular order, are these three:

James Taillon, RHP, The Woodlands HS, Texas
Drew Pomeranz, LHP, Ole Miss
Manny Machado, SS, Miami Brito HS, Florida

I could take a guess who might go where, but other than a hunch that perhaps Pittsburgh will take Taillon, I’m going to wait on that until my first projection. After that four, and there’s no guarantee that those will be the top 4, there’s a whole mess of names kind of bunched together.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Harper goes No. 1 and the Pirates do take Taillon next. The Orioles certainly have an interest in those other two guys can could very well take Machado. They also could go all Hobgood on us and take someone most don’t put in the top 4-5 names. Then it’s Kansas City’s turn.

Conventional wisdom might say to take an arm there and they could go Pomeranz or Deck McGuire, maybe even Chris Sale. In other words, unless Taillon drops, don’t look for the Royals to take a high school pitcher. There doesn’t look like there’s the premium bat to take, but I bet they’re doing due diligence on the advanced college hitters. That means they could potentially take, again in no real order: Zack Cox, Yasmani Grandal, Michael Choice, Bryce Brentz or Christian Colon. Like I said, still a long way to go.

Grandal is an interesting one because he’s certainly put up the numbers, but I’ve gotten mixed messages in terms of how much people like him. He is, however, the top catcher in the class and he’s going to go pretty high. Will it be Tony Sanchez high? That remains to be seen.

24-grandal-yasmani-10ex-001_Miami.jpgBut the good folks at College Splits (fantastic stuff, I highly recommend it) helped me take a little closer look at Grandal’s numbers. Keep in mind he enters this weekend of play hitting .424/.551/.741. But with College Splits’ help, lets drill down a bit, shall we?

The left-handed hitting backstop has feasted off of righties to the tune of .485/.592/.897. Southpaws have been a little more challenging: .328/.488/.508. He’s hit .508/.600/.908 away from home, for whatever that’s worth. He’s a terrific hitter with two outs (.474/.610/.772) and with runners on base (.447/.600/.753).

At the University of Miami, Grandal plays in the very competitive ACC. So it’s worth noting that he seems to rise to the occasion. In out-of-conference games, the catcher has hit .366/.521/.620 in 71 at-bats. Not too shabby, until you compare it with his in-conference numbers: .471/.578/.839.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this. In the college game, as many of you know, Friday is the day when teams send their top pitcher to the mound. So every Friday, Grandal is facing an ACC ace, in effect. Well, guess what his favorite weekend day to hit is? That’s right, Friday, though his power numbers go up when he faces the No. 2 and 3 guys later in the weekend:

Friday: .462/.571/.641
Saturday: .375/.528/.700
Sunday: .400/.500/.725

Interesting stuff, at least.

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