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Day 1 at Tournament of Stars

The summer showcase circuit is upon us! USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars kicked off on Tuesday with its Evaluation Day. Games start tomorrow, so today was reserved for workouts. 60-yard dashes, infield/outfield, batting practice, that sort of thing.

Much as I wish I could be in North Carolina for the TOS, I’m not. But I will be talking to people who are there. Not a ton to report from the eval day — there will be more once games get going (keep in mind that USA Baseball uses this to determine their 18 and under National Team). But there was the 60-yard dash times…

Here are the top 10 times overall. A total of 70 players ran it at least once, with most running it twice. There are some repeats — these are just the top 10 times overall:

Name Pos City ST School Time
Blake Perkins OF Litchfield Park AZ Verrado 6.43
Reggie Pruitt OF Kennesaw GA Kennesaw Mountain 6.49
Nick Madrigal IF Elk Grove CA Elk Grove 6.5
Tyler Williams OF Peoria AZ Raymond S. Kellis 6.53
Tyler Williams OF Peoria AZ Raymond S. Kellis 6.57
Reggie Pruitt OF Kennesaw GA Kennesaw Mountain 6.6
Trenton Clark OF Fort Worth TX Richland 6.62
Chad Smith OF Snellville GA South Gwinnett 6.63
Nick Madrigal IF Elk Grove CA Elk Grove 6.63
Nicholas Shumpert IF Lone Tree CO Highlands Ranch 6.66

A couple of other early impressions: Chris Betts and Brandt Stallings did well during BP; Nick Madrigal (listed above) looked sharp in the middle infield and Nick Dalesandro impressed as an OF/C who showed good arm strength and excellent athleticism (he ran a 6.7 in the 60).

More to come.

What to make of Jacob Gatewood

Is there any Draft prospect in this year’s class tougher to figure out than Jacob Gatewood (Michael Gettys fans, you’ll just have to wait)?

It’s been tough to figure out where the NoCal high school shortstop will go when considering mock drafts (I had him going No. 22 overall in my first projection of the opening round). While it’s still very unclear if that’s the right spot for him, I have been getting more and more feedback that Gatewood belongs in that neck of the woods, with interest coming from the mid-first round on down.

“I think you would have to consider him [in that area],” one cross-checker said. “I think he’s right around there.  I think he’s still going to go towards the end of the first round. I’d feel comfortable taking him in that area.”

There are a couple of things to consider about Gatewood before trying to pass any kind of final judgement about his future. The first is that people were probably a little too over-zealous in their praise and that expectations were too high after the summer. If he had been thought of as a mid-to-late first round pick all along, there wouldn’t be talk about him sliding, etc. (Call it a market adjustment).

Gatewood has a playoff game on Tuesday, giving scouts another look in a pressure situation as the Draft rapidly approaches. And there are sure to be private workouts, which can really help a player like Gatewood.

It’s also important to recall other hitters who had similar concerns, i.e., the swing and miss in their game and what it meant in terms of them reaching their power potential. Some examples:

Joey Gallo. Gallo and Gatewood aren’t great comps, because Gatewood is more athletic, but there were the same issues being voiced by scouts when the now-Rangers prospect was a high school Draft prospect  in 2012. He ended up going in the supplemental first round (No. 39 overall) as a result. Sure he struck out 172 times in 2013, his first full season, but he also topped the Minors with 40 homers. He’s doing it again this year (18 homers) and he’s also hitting .342 in the Class A Advanced Carolina League. He’s, that’s right, making adjustments at the plate.

Kris Bryant. Yup, that Kris Bryant. When he was coming out of high school, there were all sorts of questions asked about his hit tool. He was an all-or-nothing type with tremendous pop, but holes in his swing. The question was: Would he be the Kris Bryant we all see now? Teams weren’t sure enough to really go after him. Three years later, he’s one of the top offensive prospects in the game.

Giancarlo Stanton. He was Mike back in 2007, a multi-sport athlete who every team in the first round overlooked. What it came down to was the work a scout with the Marlins did to really know what Stanton was all about.

“Stanton wasn’t really anything out of high school. That Marlins scout was on that one and was relentless. He did not relent since Area Codes. Everyone who tried to catch on to that late, he knew the makeup, that he wanted to play. Someone will have to know that about this kid.”

That’s what the key will be for Gatewood, for one team to know him well enough and feel comfortable that he’ll be able to make adjustments. Baseball has been full of guys like this who have become superstars. And a fair share have gone the other way.

But could Gatewood be Stanton? Absolutely. And the team that thinks he will be — and has done the exhaustive homework about his makeup, his approach, his process — is the one that will take him before the first round is over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Draft tidbits — pitching, pitching, pitching

This time of year, information starts coming in fast and furious regarding the 2014 Draft class. I’ll try to update everyone as I get good intel in.

Today, it’s all about pitching. Here’s what I’ve been hearing the last day or two:

  • Hawaii high school lefty Kodi Medeiros (Ranked No. 24 on the Draft Top 100 currently) made his final start of the season on Wednesday, a tough 2-0 playoff loss to St. Louis HS in the quarterfinals. But Medeiros was impressive, up to 95 mph with his fastball and showing his outstanding slider. He maintained his velocity throughout his 119-pitch performance with a lot of scouts in attendance.
  • He was bested by St. Louis HS right-hander Jordan Yamamoto. Yamamoto isn’t on the same level, Draft-prospect wise, as Medeiros, but he certainly helped his stock in this duel. He tossed a complete-game shutout, a two-hitter that needed 100 pitches to finish. He was at 92-93 mph all game and had outstanding control. He’ll likely be in the Top 200 we unveil closer to the end of the month.
  • Questions about Luis Ortiz’s (Ranked No. 33) health may have been answered on Thursday. The NoCal high schooler had missed time with a forearm issue, but appears to be 100 percent now. On Thursday, he threw a two-hit shutout, striking out 11 and walking none. He was 93-97  mph with his fastball and maintained that velocity throughout.
  • One of the wild cards in the first round is TCU left-hander Brandon Finnegan (No. 11). He missed time with shoulder stiffness and teams want to see if he’s healthy before making a call on him. If healthy, he’s a top 10 pick candidate. If not… who knows? He made his second start since missing time on Thursday. The results weren’t great — 3 1/3 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K — but scouts were pleased with how he threw. His velocity was fine; he just wasn’t sharp as he continues to shake off the rust. He’ll get a conference tournament start and a likely regional appearance to further convince teams he’s good to go.
  • Hartford lefty Sean Newcomb had a rare Friday morning start today. The early start didn’t seem to bother the southpaw, ranked No. 14. Through his first seven innings, he allowed one run (on a play that should’ve been an error), walking one and striking out eight while getting his fastball up to 95 mph (sat at 92-94 throughout) against Stony Brook. Nothing was hit hard and he was commanding his fastball very well. Among those in attendance: Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, for whatever that’s worth

More talk about season rebounds

Last week, I wrote a feature that focused on Courtney Hawkins, Brandon Nimmo and Trevor Bauer and how, in different ways, they were all bouncing back from either up-and-down or subpar seasons in 2013 to have solid-to-outstanding 2014 campaigns to date.

As is often the case, I had way  too much information from the conversations I had with players and farm directors. Rather than send them into the vitrual trashbin, never to be seen again, I figured I’d post them here for your perusal. Some of it was used partially, but most of it didn’t make it into the final version of the story.

 

Brandon Nimmo:

“The numbers weren’t horrible, but they weren’t where I’d like them to be. This year, one of the biggest things was in the offseason, I got to some warmer weather sooner. I was little more focused on bringing the baseball aspect of it into my workouts instead of just focusing on strength and speed. Going to IMG for seven weeks really helped. We worked on everything from mental to vision to strength and speed and flexibility. We also would go on the field and work on the swing, get out there, hit with guys like Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Starlin Castro. To hit with those kinds of guys, I really benifitted from picking their brains a little bit. I’m stronger, more control of my body, which is going to happen as I mature.”

“I put the work in this offseason, lets see the results. So far, so good. There will be some bad times, but I’m trying to be more consistent and iron out those down times more.”

“You can’t let one bad game spiral into a week or two of bad games. Or maybe you had a good game, or got some cheap hits, you need to realize that’s not what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to hit the ball on the barrel all the time. You’re picking up small things that might help you not fall into those long droughts. When you’re in the droughts, you try to [remind yourself] it takes a little bit of time. Maybe you created a bad habit and it’s not going to take one swing to get out of it. [Learning to deal with success and failure are] both essential in developing for a Major League career.”

 

 Courtney Hawkins:

“I had my times where what I was capable of would pop out. I’d start feeling good and say, ok time to breakout. You really do have to take things pitch by pitch, day by day. If you let one at-bat get to you, you’re going to be screwed that whole game. I can tell you from personal experience.”

“I don’t worry about the media stuff this year. Last year, I’d read stuff and say, ‘I’m going to prove them wrong.’ I just go out and play ball now.”

“At instructs, I was hitting well again. It didn’t really click until this offseason. My second offseason, I knew how to go about stuff. I didn’t take much time off. I stayed in the groove and kept going at it. When I came into the hitting camp in January,they could tell the difference. I felt good in Spring Training. Toward the end of Spring Training, they lowered my hands more. Since then, I’ve been putting my bat on the ball more.”

“Last year, whenever they told me to do something, I did it. That’s why you saw so many different stances. I kept tyring to find something that was clicking. You ‘d be back to square one every time.  Lowering my hands clicked fast for me. But it doesn’t always work that way. You have to work on it.”

“I was tyring to get that callup, but you can’t think that way. It’s so much easier to play when you’re not worrying about the other stuff. That first summer, I had the mentality, all I worried about was just playing ball. My whole mindset changed. Now I’m back to that, just go out and play ball and not worry about anything else.”

White Sox farm director Nick Capra (on Hawkins):

“This last year, experience of first full year of baseball, maturity has a lot to do with it, him learning he didn’t have to be in a hurry to get in the big leagues. In his mind, he thought he was on a fast track. He got ahead of himself.”

“We moved him from CF to LF this year. He’s responded tremendously. His defense has improved. He looks like an OF with a passion to [play defense].”

“There are different personalities, different kids. They have to find themselves somehow, rather than look at what other people are doing. They have to focus on what they are capable of doing and how they’re doing.”

On whether in hindsight they feel they rushed him:

“I don’t think so. When he signed, he progressed rapidly. We got him to Kannapolis and he really stood out in the SAL. We got him to the Carolina League for the playoffs and he excelled. We thought he’d settle in during his first full year and grow on the success he had before. It’s easy to look back, but no I don’t think so.”

On his progress:

“I think it was more of a gradual thing. He worked on things in instructs that he brought into Spring Training. Then we worked on other things in Spring Training. A lot of it was the mental things that figure into how you play. He’s adjusted to things rather well. You have to have confidence and it plays a big factor in how you compete. This kid had never failed before. He failed a little bit last year. Now it’s about how he responds to failure. He is definitely a more confident player last year.”

Indians farm director Ross Atkins (on Trevor Bauer):

“I can tell you I haven’t met many pitchers that are as passionate about delivery mechanics, about pitching philosophically and mechanically, as Trevor. It’s been great for us to learn with and from him about him and about pitching. He has incredible toughts about pitching.”

“Even last year, when he wasn’t at his ‘best,’ we were still extremely encouraged. His results and velocity weren’t where they were. We didn’t see him back off from trying to master his skills and craft. Obviously, this year in Spring Training, you see the spike in velocity and strikeouts, how he’s pitched this year, we’ve been extremely encouraged. Although the results have varied, we’ve never been disappointed with his commitment. I know he had a hard time with last year. He was extremely frustrated. The fact he was coming close to making such a significant adjustment to his approach and still was competing, it gave us faith he’d find that comfort level eventually.”

“With Trevor, we really have been, from the start, extremely impressed and encouraged by his process and how committed he is to being great. He’s never tried or focused on , ‘I’m going to show or prove to someone,’ it’s not about how he was traded. It’s always about how can I be great. That’s why we’ve always been so encouraged. Now that he’s having more productive results, obviously we’re encouraged by that. I can honestly say , there were never levels of discouragement. He’s always been in a very good place.”

“All pitchers have ebb and flow. He’s now higher than we’ve every seen him, consistently in the mid to high 90s. His curve, slider and changeup are all average to slightly above-average weapons. They vary which one is most effective; that makes him more interesting.”

 

 

 

 

It’s (Minor League) Opening Day!

That’s right, folks. Today’s the day we get to watch all those prospects (save those in the big leagues) in action. You can check out my story about where the Top 100 prospects are playing right here. And I highly recommend the MiLB.TV package so you can watch these guys in action.

Obviously, I’m not the only one excited for Opening Day. The players are fired up about the start of the 2014 season. I asked Marlins prospect Andrew Heaney (He pitches Friday for Double-A Jacksonville, a game that is on MiLB.TV.) about what Opening Day means to him and what his hopes for the 2014 season are. Here’s his outstanding response:

“Opening day means a fresh start both individuals and as a team. It’s my first minor league opening day because I was hurt last year. I wanna prove myself throughout the course of a full year. I want to get better at the things I need to work on. If I can do that I’ll consider it a successful season for myself.” — Andrew Heaney

The Twitterverse has been ablaze with Opening Day excitement as well. Here’s a string of what some of the game’s best prospects have been  tweeting yesterday and today:

There are obviously many  more. You can check out my list of top prospects or, even better, look at the comprehensive one @MLBPipeline has going

Draft update: More (bad) news on Dylan Cease

A couple of days ago, it was reported here that Dylan Cease would miss this year’s National High School Invitational, which began on Wednesday at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina (Cease’s Milton High School lost its opener to The First Academy).

At the time, Cease was hopeful that rest would be all he needed for an elbow that had been bothering him. An initial MRI reading, he reported, showed no tear.

While he still hopes to avoid surgery, there might be a little less cause for optimism. MLB.com has learned that an additional reading of the MRI uncovered a small tear of the UCL. UCL tears often lead to Tommy John surgery.

For now, though Cease is opting to get what is called Platelet-Rich Therapy (PRP), where platelets are injected into the elbow. Will Carroll does a discusses the treatment in this thorough discussion of Matt Harvey’s injury (Harvey waited weeks after being diagnosed before having the surgery, trying to rehab first).

Cease will be out for about six weeks and it seems doubtful he’ll pitch again for Milton. If all goes well, he could potentially be able to throw in pre-draft workouts for scouting directors and general managers as the June Draft approaches.

This approach is not without precedent, though the majority do end up going under the knife. Takashi Saito, says Carroll, is the first Major League player known to have tried PRP therapy for an elbow injury. Zach Greinke also had the injection for his elbow and avoided surgery (Chad Billingsley, on the other hand, had the PRP treatment late in 2012, but ended up going under the knife in April 2013). Adam Wainwright suffered a UCL sprain in the Minors in 2004, managed to avoid TJ surgery until 2011.

Cease should get the injection early next week and then it will be time for everyone, Cease, pro teams, even Vanderbilt University (where Cease is committed), to wait.

Updates to this story will come as news develops.

Draft update: Dylan Cease to miss NHSI

Dylan Cease, ranked No. 26 on MLB.com’s Draft Top 50 list from this past fall, was slated to be among the highlights at the 2014 National High School Invitational. Instead, an elbow issue will force him to be able to only watch the action as his Milton High School team returns to th NHSI for the second straight year.

Cease, owner of one of the better fastballs in the class that regularly touches the upper-90s, is resting his powerful right arm for a month after dealing with a sore elbow. Cease said that he first felt discomfort in a start with game-time temperatures of around 30 degrees.

“I got to the fifth inning and it started feeling sore,” Cease said. “I should’ve rested for two weeks, but I tried to work through it. It’s still sore, so now I’m going to give it a month.”

Cease will receive an injection and will hope that rest and rehab will do the trick. He had just gotten MRI results back and was told there was no ligament damage, allowing the Vanderbilt commit to breathe a sigh of relief.

“I don’t need surgery,” Cease said. “I was just happy to hear that. I’ll get the shot and see what it does and we’ll go from there.”

Cease has tried to remain optimistic about the prognosis, and the MRI results certainly helped. But he admitted the tension over the condition of his right elbow had gotten to him a bit.

“It is kind of stressful,” Cease said. “People act like it’s armaggeddon, like I’m going to have to have my arm cut off. But I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”

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If all goes well with this course of action, Cease could return to the mound with enough time to show scouts that he’s fully recovered and ready to go.

Cubs camp extras

Not a lot of extras from my final camp visit. I guess I left it all out on the field. You can see if you agree by reading my Spring Training camp report. You can also view the Cubs’ Top 20 list, Bernie Pleskoff’s take on how the system fists the big league needs, as well as Jim Callis’s 21-25 prospects (he did their Top 20).

Here’s the video piece:

 

There was one answer Neil Ramirez gave me, before we were rudely interrupted by a team meeting (what nerve). I asked him about what had happened to cause him to kind of back up after he made that huge leap forward in 2011, and what he’s been able to do to get past it (He was better in 2013 than in 2012).

Ramirez: I think I put a little too much pressure on myself after 2011 coming into 2012. I thought I had to do a little too much. Now I’m back to worrying about what I can control.

Good news for the Cubs, who while rich with hitters, could use Ramirez’s contributions on the pitching front.

With that in mind, my One More Guy is another arm:

OK, it might seem like a copout because Callis has him at No. 21, too, but I still like Duane Underwood‘s upside, even after his terrible 2013. One of the key reasons for his struggles was the fact he was not in good shape to start the year. But when I was in Cubs camp, farm director Jaron Madison used Underwood as an example of one of a few arms who had really worked hard this offseason. I’m intersted to see what that translates to on the mound in 2014.

 

Dodgers camp extras

After a brief hiatus (I got to spend some quality time with the B3 family), I’m back at it, heading to Arizona after my travels through Florida. On the site today are reports from Dodgers and Giants camp (I’ll post separately on my Giants extras).

For the Dodgers, be sure to check out:

I do have some extra stuff from 2013 first-rounder Chris Anderson. We talked a bit about the struggles he had at times during his junior season at Jacksonville (which led to a really interesting talk about pitch counts — he’s not a fan). At any rate, I asked him if he was concerned about how he was up-and-down a little bit and what impact that would have on his Draft status:

Anderson: I wasn’t too worried about it. I think every pitcher has those days when it’s just not their day. The college season is so short, you’re under a lot of pressure to perform every single week, but you only have a couple of months to perform. With those rough starts, I think it made me better, I learned from them and got better as I went on with the year.

You come to an organization that has a pretty good track record for developing pitching, especially power arms. How excited are you to be in that next wave of guys to be able to keep building on that track record?

Anderson: I’m very excited. I’m blessed to get this opportunity with the Dodgers here. They’ve given me a great opportunity. I’ve just come out here to work hard and try to become the best I can be.

My One More Guy would be Jesmuel Valentin. Maybe I’m putting too much stock in the MLB bloodlines, but I think he still has a chance to hit, probably play 2B, and has a good understanding of the game.

 

Yankees camp extras

My last Spring Training stop in Florida was at the Yankees’ Minor League facility.  Here’s the resulting Spring Training report, as well as the new Top 20 ranking and Bernie Pleskoff’s take on how the system fits the organization’s needs. Jim blogged his picks for prospects Nos. 21-25.

Here’s the video piece:

And boy, do I have extras for you. Yankees’ senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman and I discussed all sorts of things during our chat. First, about Mason Williams and previous reports about his lack of effort:

Newman: It hasn’t been this spring and it wasn’t for most of the time last year, either. He has momentary relapses, and they’re relapses out of frustration. He’s doing fine there. With young kids, it happens. There aren’t many Derek Jeters who show up here and know what it’s like to play hard every day. So we teach them that. Gary Sanchez and Mason are 21, 22; they’re like college juniors. They’re learning this stuff.

Some of the problems, Newman thinks, stem from the amount of attention young players get before they set foot in the big leagues. Some can handle it, others can struggle, not only with expectations, but with a certain sense of entitlement that can come with fame that comes prematurely (at least in Newman’s opinion):

Newman: Twenty-five years ago, when I started doing this, people didn’t do what you’re doing. I never talked to anybody about prospects. If I had my way, I’d never talk about them ever. They haven’t done anything yet. Now they have this notoriety in short order and they haven’t done anything to deserve it, other than be talented. They won the gene pool. They have to learn how to play and perform. They’re making progress. Mason’s problem is not going to be effort.

Now, if you thought Newman was talkative, you need to meet Eric Jagielo, one of the most engaging prospects I’ve met to date. Here’s the rest of our conversation.

Going back to last year, at what point did you get to finally take a breath and look back at everything that happened?

Jagielo: I was able to take some time off right after instructs. I was able to go back to Chicago for a little, then go to Notre Dame. I think that was the first time it all kind of settled in. I was planning on working out at Notre Dame, so I was there. I was able to see some friends and guys from my class and realized that my life had changed a little bit, for the best. But I was in a different kind of spot. Was the chance to reminisce a little bit. My three years at Notre Dame were the best years of my life. This is a new chapter and I’m excited to get it started.

Was it weird to be there and your friends are still in classes?

Jagielo: Especially the first couple of weeks. The coaches here, they said to make sure to take my time off. The college season, it was basically three years straight, with going into fall, then to spring, then to summer ball and then right back to fall ball. It was kind of three years of straight baseball. Especially with the hamstring injury, I really wanted to get healthy for this first full season of pro ball and be an everyday guy. Everything is good. The Yankees did a wonderful job, keeping me back for a couple of weeks after the Draft, smoothing things out and making sure there was nothing wrong with it. Then, when I did make the debut in Staten island, I was ready to go. I felt fine there. I was able to participate in instructs and get the best instruction.

You’re 21, you’re working out with Derek Jeter. How long did it take before you weren’t star struck?

Jagielo: Looking back at it now, I don’ t know if I ever got past it. This spring, you see him, you’re thinking about working out with him. Every time you use him on TV, or the tribute to him retiring, you’re like, wow, you’re on the same field with him.  It’s an honor. To be able to talk to him and have a different kind of conversation rather than when you’re a little kid and you’re asking for an autograph…just trying to pick his brain so you can just do things they’ve done.

There’s a profile for 3B. They think power production. Do you have to remind yourself  to stay within your own approach? Do you have to make sure you don’t go out there and try to fit that profile?

Jagielo: Reggie Jackson was out here during instructs. I was in a group with Aaron Judge, who just has ridiculous power. He miss-hits balls and he’s inside-outing balls and he’s hitting them over the right-field fence. We were talking and he said, “It doesn’t matter how the ball gets over the fence. You’re going to get your home runs. Just stay with the backspin, just stay with the middle of the field, gap approach and do your things and the ball will fly.” I think that’s when it hit me, you can’t try to be anybody else but yourself. God gave you so much talent and power. What I have now, I try to pride myself on that, the doubles, the gap guy, run production. I don’t think you have to move up in the rankings just by hitting home runs. What I’ve been trying to do is take the singles when they need to be singles and then hammering the mistakes when you need to and putting them over the fence.

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