Diggin’

In the fall, I wrote about how I’m not really writing about prospects any more. That’s still the case, but there’s a lot to scouting that has nothing to do with individual players or the reports on those players. Over the past few months I’ve learned a lot about the process of following players, and this weekend I’ll begin my first spring of sending player reports in to Major League officials.

Many of the players I’m following are players that a mainstream audience won’t care about. There are potential backup catchers, fourth outfielders, fifth starters, middle relievers, and plenty of one-tool wonders. There’s one potential day one draft prospect in my area, and my coverage of this prospect will be marginal; my boss and my boss’s bosses and my boss’s bosses’ bosses will be all over this player. I’m excited to see the head honchos come in to see this player, as I might get the chance to pick the brains of scouting minds that are much more experienced than my own.

I want to help my immediate boss out in whatever way possible, and the best way to do that is by seeing players that aren’t the top priority for him (or other scouts in the area) to see, at least early in the season. The JUCOs, D2s, and athletic players who weren’t very good at baseball when they initially met scouts’ eyes. I really enjoy this process, as I’ve been getting to know some extraordinary young men who understand that the odds are stacked against them. Some of these players have shown Major League work ethic and made themselves legitimately draftable.

I’m sort of at odds with this process. I want these players to succeed; they’re good kids, many of whom deserve the chance to play professionally. If I were acting on behalf of these players, I’d have annoyed the hell out of the scouts in the area to see them. But I’m not acting on their behalves. My job is to find talented baseball players, and if no other organization is aware of a prospect, that prospect can be acquired at a lower cost–a later draft pick or a lower signing bonus.

This dilemma makes the process a little less fun, but I’ve thought about it a lot, and there are 30 organizations that are doing the same exact thing, trying to get more bang for their buck by hiding players. In 2011, an area scout for the Rangers did the dirty work to nab C.J. Edwards in the 48th round. Two years later, that 48th round pick helped them land a middle-of-the-rotation arm as they pursued a postseason berth. You can debate the thinking behind trading the individuals that Texas traded, but Edwards was still a 48th round pick that clearly shouldn’t have been available in the 48th round. The Rangers turned a 48th round pick into a chunk of Matt Garza.

So, while I don’t like not doing whatever I can to get a player seen by teams, I love the idea of contributing to a scouting department, even in such a likely marginal way. Digging for prospects, even prospects that fans don’t care about, could help the organization win games. Winning games will make it more fun for fans to come out to the ballpark, which will create more interest in the world’s greatest game. I’m not going to lose sight of that.

A lot of fans–even hardcore fans–dismiss players that are not key contributors to successful teams. Scouting gives you such a great appreciation for what players are able to do, and the amount of work they put in even to be below average Major Leaguers. I cringe whenever I hear someone say that a Major League baseball player “sucks”. It’s like calling the least wealthy person on the Forbes 400 list a peasant; it’s nonsensical. I’d like to live in a world where every fan realizes just how special what’s happening on the field is.

Many fans are aware of the top prospects in this year’s draft class. They’ll read reports at Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Perfect Game, or JohnnyMcScout.com, then snobbishly critique each team’s draft. Sometimes fans are right in their criticisms, but the reality is that no pick is exactly what it seems. If a team is really high Player X and Player Y, but has seen a team that’s picking behind them at many of Player X’s games right before the draft, they might be more inclined to favor Player X when constructing the draft board, thinking that they could potentially get Player Y later on. It might not even be a conscious thing. As a scout, I know that I constantly question my opinion, but when I receive positive affirmation about what I thought, I often like the player even more than I originally had. It’s a weakness that isn’t always caught.

This weekend, the process of diggin’ begins. Over the past few weeks, I’ve checked in on a few players, seeing indoor cage sessions and bullpens and trying to get to know some players. But this weekend is where it starts to count. Will Joey Shortstop’s new swing work for him? Has Bobby Backstop improved his transfer and release? Workouts, bullpens, and BP sessions only tell you so much. Game action allows you to truly evaluate a player.

Hasta Luego

Happy Friday, folks. When I started this blog, I thought I’d try to build it into something big, using my industry contacts and the scouting that I’ve done over the past few years to provide readers with a unique perspective on baseball prospects. For a long time, I’ve aspired to be a professional scout for a Major League organization. In fact, I wrote about prospects because writing allowed me access to the ballpark, where I could practice evaluating talent and could pick the brains of the scouts around me. Writing wasn’t really a part of my long term plan, but things quickly changed when people started to read what I was writing, and I really enjoy interacting with fans of prospects, mostly because they are a very insightful group that isn’t afraid to challenge what people are writing.

For a time, I thought I’d like to push myself further down a path of prospect writing, establishing myself as an evaluator and a journalist. But towards the end of this summer, I got talking with a scout at a game, sharing some of my experiences over the past few years, and some of my goals in baseball. Most scouts are genuinely awesome people, and the scout offered to bring me on as an associate scout.

I am now an associate with the Tampa Bay Rays. My role is very minor; I’m helping out with New York and the Ivy League. The first few weeks have reminded me that my ultimate goal is to play a role in building a team that wins a World Series. My fervor for winning has resurfaced, and I am back on the track to pursuing a full-time job in baseball operations somewhere.

I haven’t been asked to stop writing, but I’m obviously not going to report on players that I’m scouting, which was the original purpose of Hardball Scouting. Instead of providing reports to readers, I’ve decided to blog about subjects that I find interesting over Batting Leadoff. I’ve already written about Mariano Rivera and scouting makeup, and I just began a series on aces this week. I will also continue to maintain Halos Daily, an Angels blog that I started almost two years ago.

I don’t know what my future holds, but I know that I am incredibly excited about my current opportunity. There isn’t a ton of elite talent in New York, but there’s a lot of talent to be found in the nooks and crannies of the state. In recent years, Colin Moran and Jeff Hoffman have gone undrafted out of high school, and Patrick Corbin was not only undrafted out of high school, but undrafted after his freshman year at Mohawk Valley Community College. My goal is to know everyone who is a prospect, everyone who isn’t a prospect, and why. New York is a challenge, and will hopefully prepare me well for an area scouting position.

This may be my last post here, so, for now, hasta luego.

Scouting Report: Lucas Giolito

Player: Lucas Giolito

Organization: Washington Nationals

Acquired: 1st round (16th overall), 2012 amateur draft

HT: 6’6 WT: 225+

DOB: 7/14/1994

Twitter Scouting Report: Classic power pitcher with polish. Some mechanical red flags, but special combo of stuff and command.

Overview

Giolito entered his senior season of high school as the consensus top prospect in the 2012 draft class. Earned the moniker “Ex Lax”, presumably because of the effect he had on even the best high school hitters. Giolito missed all of his senior season rehabbing his elbow, and slipped all the way to no. 16, where the Nationals nabbed him and signed him away from a hard commitment to UCLA. The Harvard Westlake product had Tommy John as last season came to a close, and began working his way back this year in the Gulf Coast League. He’s missed a ton of bats and the Nationals have stretched him out to five innings, so it’s been a huge developmental year for Ex Lax.

Stuff

Giolito’s four-seam fastball features plus-plus velocity and exceptional downhill plane. He gets on top of it and pounds it to both sides of the plate. It sat 94-96 when I saw him, and there was a phantom 98 on my gun in one inning, which may have been real. I’ve spoken to people who have seen him dial it up to 100 this season, so the 98 I saw may have been real. Giolito has plus fastball command, knowing which spots to hit and how to hit them. This is a legitimate 70-grade pitch.

His power curveball has 70-grade potential as well. He will elevate his arm slot and pronate the forearm on it, and the pitch will flash plus-plus depth. Giolito’s curve is consistently tight, and will show legitimate 7 bite. This is another pitch that he commands extremely well, and he is never afraid to throw it. In the above video, he backdoors a left-handed hitter with a deep curveball. Sitting in the low-to-mid-80s, it’s at least a Major League average pitch right now.

The changeup is Giolito’s worst pitch, and it has plus potential. He knows how to throw it, allowing his grip and the drag of his back side to do most of the work for him. His arm is a little slower when he throws it, but not blatantly slow. He showed one filthy, drop-off-the-table changeup that began belt high then clipped the bottom third of the zone against a left-handed hitter. It has some fade to it, but it’s really a deceptive pitch that moves late, and works extremely well with his other weapons. The pitch worked in the 83-84 range.

Giolito established the changeup earlier in counts the second time through the order, knowing that hitters were looking for a 96-mph heater. Down the line, he should be able to get creative with his mix of the curveball and changeup following his fastball. The package of stuff is absolutely filthy, and the command of every offering is what really impressed me.

Mechanics

Giolito’s mechanics are a legitimate concern. He does a lot of things well, mostly using his lower half, getting his back side through most of the time. Giolito keeps his stride closed and leans heavily onto his front foot after strike. This screws up his posture, but does allow him to get a higher release point and more plane on the ball.

Unless he makes drastic changes, he’s going to need a much stronger pair of legs underneath him. He’s got very poor balance with his front side, and this often leads to him falling off to his left after his back side comes through.

There’s not a ton of momentum into foot strike, but he does generate some positive hip torque as he lifts his front leg. There’s some momentum there, but room for much more.

His arm action is incredible fast, but also very long, with a lot of strain put on his shoulder. He pulls his arm back all the way then flings it through with insane arm speed. As he does this he jerks his torso and head down pretty violently.

His issues are fixable, but may not be worth fixing. The pure stuff is exceptional, as is his command and his control. “Fixing” Giolito could mean ruining Giolito.

Grades: Present/Future

Fastball: 60/70

Curveball: 55/70

Changeup: 40/60

Command: 60/70

OFP: 65

Role: Very good no. 2 starter for a first division team. Consistent All-Star.

Notes on Corey Black

Corey Black is headed to the Chicago Cubs as the lone prospect in the deal that brings Alfonso Soriano back to the New York Yankees. I saw Black in what might have been his worst outing of the season on July 18 against the Jupiter Hammerheads. The soon-to-be 22-year-old allowed seven hits and walked four in just two innings of work.

I usually wait until a pitcher settles in before capturing video, and that never happened for Black. Unfortunately, he didn’t come out for the third inning, and I didn’t get any video of him. I also usually spend the first couple innings watching a pitcher’s stuff, focusing on the movement of the pitches. That usually lays a solid foundation for me to recognize mechanical differences from one pitch type to another.

So I don’t have a lot to say about Black’s mechanics, and I saw only two innings of his work. It’d be unfair of me to judge him based solely on those two innings, but I can offer up some notes on the stuff.

Black used two fastballs. His four-seamer worked in the 92-94 range and topped out at 95. His two-seamer was a plus pitch, sitting 91-92 with excellent late sink and cut. He seemed to rely on the four-seamer a little bit too much for my taste, but that could be part of his developmental plan. Over the long haul, he could work off of the two-seamer, and bust out the four-seamer after one of his secondary offerings.

Black threw a curveball, a changeup, and a slider. The curveball showed good shape, but got a little loopy as it came in in the 77-79 range. Black’s slider was also promising, working in the 85-88 range. The slider didn’t have a ton of movement, but it moved very late, and it was tough to pick up out of the hand. The cambio sat 87-88, but he only used the pitch a handful of times in my limited look.

It’s tough to grade out a guy based on a look like this, but Black has a chance for an excellent arsenal. He should have two plus fastballs as he establishes more command of the offerings, and the curveball has plus potential. The slider could also become an above-average pitch.

Scouting Report: Hunter Renfroe

Player: Hunter Renfroe

DOB: 1/28/1992 (21 years old)

Position: RF

HT: 6’1″ WT: 216

Bats/Throws: R/R

Acquired: 1st round 2013 (13th overall) by Arizona Diamondbacks

Twitter Scouting Report:

Country strong with great at bats. Will stick in OF.  Tools are loud and feel for the game exceeds expectation. Future big leaguer.

Overview

I was not a fan of the Renfroe pick at the time, but I am firmly in Renfroe’s corner now. On draft day, I felt that the Padres had gone with a college corner outfielder without exceptional size who could hit well, albeit with an unrefined swing. Now I see Renfroe in a much brighter light. This young man is a tool shed who belongs on a baseball field. All the physical gifts play very well. I’m not the biggest fan of the swing, but he puts together exceptional at bats and you can always iron out the swing. He won’t be forced to move to first base and could probably handle CF in pinch. At worst he’s a first division starter. At best he’s the 2008-2010 Jayson Werth.

The Body

Renfroe didn’t fall out of the build of a prospect hobby kit. He’s a bit shorter than an average outfielder and looks even shorter because of his thick torso. He doesn’t have long arms or legs. The frame could carry a tad more weight, but I suspect he will add only minimal weight. He’s sitting at 215 now and may end up at 220. Those five pounds will likely come from trimming off 10 or so pounds of fat followed by adding some more muscle to the frame. As strange as this sounds I love Renfroe’s hands. I haven’t had the chance to get up close and shake his hand or talk with him, but from some combination of huge hands or long fingers the bat looks like a tooth pick in Renfroe’s hands.

In the batter’s box: Renfroe hits from a wide, open stance and uses a toe tap approach for his stride. The mechanics of the swing aren’t great yet. They are very good, but there is still room for improvement. What’s most impressive is how everything fires at the right time. His timing within his swing is something that you need to see multiple times in game settings to appreciate. When he fouls off a pitch I am yet to catch myself thinking, “he was fooled there”. More often than not I end up thinking something along the lines of “dang he just missed that”. I’ll get to this more when I go over his hit tool.

His lower half works very well. The way his hips and backside fire allow him to be a versatile hitter. He creates enough rotation to cover the inner third. This rotation is created without getting stuck on his back leg, so reaching the outside corner proves to be no problem either. The utility of his lower half is apparent in game situations. He starts the process of his swing very early, which gives him ample time to read and react to pitches. Even though he starts early he is strong enough not to let his hips leak or slide out from under him.

His upper body is more of a give-and-take scenario. It’s not that the upper half is bad, it’s just not as good as it could be. The two issues I see are both fixable and they won’t necessarily doom Renfroe’s swing if uncorrected.

The first is that he can get steep with his swing plane. He will swing down then up instead of keeping the bat mostly flat through the zone. If you want to try and visualize these movements take a parenthesis “(” and in your mind lay it on the ground so that the middle touches and the end points are in the air.  That’s a good approximation for how a bat path should look. Now imagine a swing that follows the path of a U. At times Renfroe’s bat will follow that trajectory and it harms his swing by giving him a very narrow range in which solid contact can occur.

The other issue goes hand-in-hand with a steep swing plane. Renfroe’s back elbow can collapse too early and lead to his bat dragging through the zone or the barrel staying behind his hands for a split second too long, resulting in line drives that slice off his bat.

What’s good about his upper half is how he stays very short to the ball while managing to keep his bat through the zone for a long time (when the swing lines up correctly, that is). His head stays pretty still and his shoulders don’t fly open, even on balls inside. He has very loose hands and wrists that help him both shoot balls to right field and accelerate the bat head through the zone. Raw strength and loose quick hands is always a killer combination, and Renfroe possesses that very combo.

Snapshot of Tools

Present/Future

Hit: 35/55

Power: 40/60

Field: 50/55

Run: 60/55

Throw: 60/60

Hit Tool

While the gap between his present and future grades for hitting is pretty wide, some simple swing adjustments and more exposure to high level pitching should be able to bridge that gap. Let’s start with the drawbacks to his hit tool. He doesn’t cover the outer third of the plate exceptionally well. His physical gifts are covering deficiency for now, as he can get around an outside pitch and leg out an infield single or use his strength to hit a ball off the end of the bat in front of the right fielder.

I’m not overly concerned about this problem at the moment. In BP Renfroe has no problem scorching line drives to the right side. In games if an outside pitch catches too much of the white of the plate he will put the barrel on the ball for hard contact. Mechanically, he’s not pulling off the ball or letting his front side leak out. If he irons out the mechanical issues explained earlier (steep bat plane, collapsing back elbow) those will go a long way to extending the amount of time his bat stays in the zone which will ultimately help him with plate coverage.

Renfroe will have a fair amount of strikeouts on his stat sheet. He’s not a free swinger, but he doesn’t flip the switch to “choke up and make contact” mode when behind in the count. How he finds himself behind in counts is nearly more frustrating than the end result. He loves to hit fastballs and has no problem doing so against high velocity. Where he digs himself is a hole is chasing pitches a like a 1-0 fastball at 87 mph off the outside corner. If it’s 94 off the plate he lays off but that slower fastball seems too appealing to let it pass on by. Another frustrating way he gets behind in counts is taking breaking balls over the white of the plate for strikes. The pitcher doesn’t have to snap off a wicked breaking ball. He simply has to not hang it and Renfroe is likely to take the pitch, even if its over the heart of the plate.

The positive aspects of the hit tool are what left me the most impressed with Renfroe. Yes, he is a country strong young man so he generates many hard line drives. The bat speed is easily above average and his ability to put bat to ball solidly is impressive. He can adjust his swing to the location of the ball to allow for hard contact in multiple zones over the plate. He stays up the middle in both games and BP.

I can live with his approach. It’s not outstanding but he will continue to refine it. He’s very aggressive with fastballs and expands his zone when behind in the count, particularly off the outside corner. I mentioned that if the pitcher doesn’t hang the breaking ball it might give Renfroe some trouble. If the pitcher does hang it, he’s not getting it back.

He will rack up some walks as he tracks the speed of the ball better than almost any prospect I’ve seen. This ability also allows him to make hard contact as he can keep his balance and let his physical tools do the rest. That’s kind of a strange phrase “tracks the speed of the ball” but if you are lucky enough to see him in action you will know what I mean. Pitchers can beat hitters in three distinct ways. They can beat them with the movement they get on the pitch. They can beat hitters with precise location. Finally they can beat hitters by upsetting their timing. Renfroe is not going to be beat by timing.

He is able to pick up the speed of the ball quickly out of the pitcher’s hand. In his time in the NWL, Renfroe has seen back-to-back fastballs exactly once. Even with facing a litany of pitches, he keeps his balance on both swings and takes. He doesn’t get caught way out in front of breaking balls and doesn’t get blown away by good fastballs. Let’s assume this ability is not infallible as he moves up the ranks of the minor leagues. Even if a pitcher is able to throw off his timing just a bit, Hunter still has the elite physical tools with great bat speed and balance to be able to put hard contact on the ball.

Power

Here is a kid who will easily hit 20 in the show even playing half his games at PETCO Park. As the frame adds strength and his approach improves, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his career sprinkled with a few 30+ home run years. I wasn’t wowed watching BP. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very good, but it’s not crazy good. He’s a line drive hitter. At this point his swing isn’t creating a ton of loft or leverage. He gets solid extension and keeps his lower half involved in the swing.  He makes hard contact on nearly every swing in BP without selling out or ramping up his swing to do so. He stays up the middle until he decides he wants to knock a few out in later rounds. He’ll then casually put some over the fence in left and call it a day.  It’s almost like he’s being a tease with his power. Toward the end of the series I was sitting on I got to see him let loose in BP. That was impressive. Off the scoreboard impressive. If he wants to really gear up for home runs, he has the ability to do so, but that’s not where he is right now.

The power is going to play well in games. He doesn’t sell out for power. He just lets it flow. He hammers fastballs with MLB velocity. The single most impressive swing I saw of his came on an 0-2, 94-mph fastball off the inside corner. An 81-mph slider and then a 67-mph curveball preceded it. The 0-2 fastball probably seemed like 104 rather than 94. Renfroe simply pulled his hands in and smoked a 300-foot missile just foul that likely left a dent it the bleachers it clanged off of. The 430-foot rocket to center on a hanging breaking ball was also impressive in terms of pure strength. It was a cool glimpse into the power that will be coming from Renfroe in the future.

Run

Renfroe runs very well now but I don’t see him holding onto this great speed as his body fills out. He’s 4.1-4.2 to first base out of the box. Once he gets going he runs like a linebacker. I’m not saying he’s slow. He lowers his shoulders and runs with such dirt-kicking-up-behind-him intensity that there’s probably going to be an unfortunate catcher who will get blown up somewhere in his future. He’s not a great base runner but can pass for average. He will get some steals based solely on his speed but he has a chance to be a 20-20 or 25-25 guy if he becomes a more aware runner. He’s going to end up being an average runner with good top end speed. The speed is enough to keep him in the outfield in a corner spot even in a large park like PETCO.

Field

Renfroe plays a decent right field at the moment. He has moved around positionally in his amateur career. Now as a professional he should be able to hone in on the finer details of being a better defender. He doesn’t get the best of reads on balls particularly when they are hit over his head. Even once he picks up the ball he is tentative and loses a step on the ball by taking time to swivel his head. He comes in on the ball much better. Once he gets a read on it he tears after the ball. His routes are just okay at this point. His speed allows him to take very shallow angles on balls in the gaps but as he fills out and slows down he needs to make sure he is not setting himself up to get burned by balls hit on either side of him. I still think he’ll pick up half a grade on fielding simply from focusing on one position and receiving some professional instruction.

Throw

Love the arm. He was throwing 94 mph off the mound and it shows in the outfield. As an outfielder he makes sure to get on top of the ball and doesn’t throw balls that tail or run away from him. His footwork is solid in right field, which just adds velocity to his already very strong arm. His arm will always be a weapon for him. He’s smart with his arm too. Some prospects with big arms love to show them off for the sake of showing them off. Renfroe hits cut-off men when needed and doesn’t airmail ill conceived throws to bases. I said it before, but I really do love his arm and how he uses it in RF.

Wrap up

Tools

Present/Future

Hit: 35/55

Power: 40/60

Field: 50/55

Run: 60/55

Throw: 60/60

Player comp: Jayson Werth pre-Nationals.

MLB ETA: Likely to get a look in 2015, should open 2016 with Padres.

Scouting Report: Keynan Middleton

Player: Keynan Middleton

DOB: 9/12/1993 (19 years old)

Position: RHP

Acquired: 3rd round 2013 (95th overall) by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

HT: 6’2″ WT: 185

Twitter Scouting Report:

Very low mileage pitcher. Will take time. Two quality breaking balls and big fastball. Impact potential.

Overview

Keynan throws a 94 mph fastball, can snap off a hammer curve, and has the makings of a swing and miss slider. He can do all of this now. He has never played a full season of baseball. 2013 was his first year of exclusively pitching. It’s going to take time but the end product may be something special. The big debate will be whether Keynan ends up as a bullpen arm or a rotation piece. With three—and possibly four—quality pitches, he has the arsenal to handle a starting role. While the low mileage on his arm is generally a good thing, it also means his body has never had to adapt to anything close to a starter’s workload. I see him as a starter but it may take a full season of bad stat lines before that role becomes clear.

While most prospects are on the radar of scouts and front offices long before draft day, Middleton made a name for himself in a three-month span. Exactly 90 days went by between his first appearance out of the bullpen in college and the day the Angels popped him with 95th overall pick. Scouts couldn’t get a look at Keynan before then due to his basketball schedule. His offseason training for baseball consisted of one side session in the bullpen five days before the season was set to begin. I was at nearly every one of Keynan’s appearances, each of which saw his performance improve and the number of scouts increase from just myself in March to 24 front office personnel from 16 different teams in May.

The Body

Middleton fits the classic pitcher mold. He’s got height and carries his weight very well. He’ll likely add some weight, simply due to cutting basketball and saving all those calories he would otherwise run off on the court. His time spent playing basketball has produced a strong set of legs.

The Mechanics

For a player who has never spent a ton of time working on his craft or had the benefit of an expert pitching coach, Keynan actually has some pretty solid mechanics. He generates above-average momentum and torque, particularly out of the windup. His lack of professional coaching shows up more when he is working out of the stretch. With runners on, the delivery becomes very upper half driven.

Keynan has a very quick and short arm action. He throws from a 3/4 arm slot. From the front it is very hard to pick up the ball out of his hand as his body shields it through the delivery until release. I’m usually not a fan of pitchers who throw with this short of arm path but he avoids several red flags I am always on the look out for. After he releases the ball his arm continues to extend and doesn’t recoil or bounce on the follow throw. From the side you can really see how quickly the arm works. While the arm action is short and quick he does not “short arm” the ball. Once his arm gets going his hand never comes inside his elbow. What I mean by this is the angle created by following an imaginary line from his wrist, to his elbow, to his shoulder never is less than 90 degrees.

His core and midsection work well in his delivery, but they are limited by his lower half. He strides across his body, cutting into his release distance and creating a bad angle to home plate. Given these factors, it’s impressive that Keynan is able to spot pitches to his glove side at all. His striding pattern should be fairly easy to fix and will give him much more consistency on all his pitches. Late in games, his stride really becomes an issue as his body tires. He will miss to his arm side and throw a good number of weak breaking balls as he struggles to really “get through” his front side.

There is some spine tilt late in his delivery but even this is driven by his closed stride angle. If you look at Keynan at max leg lift, his posture is great. This posture continues to be awesome through foot strike. Once his hips start to fire he is forced to tilt or else his release point would be somewhere in the middle of the right handed batters box. On breaking balls this angle is exaggerated. It will be interesting to see if/how the Angles adjust this aspect of Keynan’s delivery as all the other components of his delivery are impacted by his stride.

All of that being said, Middleton’s lower half is not a total train wreck. He is able to maintain good balance through his delivery and creates enough momentum to propel his back foot off the mound. Fixing that stride angle is the main issue. A smaller issue will be maintaining the same delivery on his pitches. Some pitchers give away pitches at release point. Keynan does this a bit too, but his lower half changes on a breaking ball compared to a fastball. On breaking balls he sinks into his backside and then “humps” through his delivery leading to a higher arm slot.

Out of the stretch, Keynan’s stuff flattens out. This makes sense, as it would be very hard to achieve that same pattern of sinking into his backside and then “humping” over when Keynan is throwing with a slide step. With his arm action already being so quick I would not be surprised to see Keynan scrap the slide step and find some sort of smaller leg lift. He’s in the 1-1.1 second range to home plate so he can afford to add a little bit to his delivery.

The Stuff

Fastball: He mostly throws a four-seam fastball but discovered a two-seam fastball late in his college season. The four-seamer sits anywhere from 88 to 92 and has peaked at 94. The fastball really jumps on hitters as they cannot see it until his release point. It will flash some life with late run to his arm side. When it is properly elevated it is very tough to hit, especially for righties. The issue is that Keynan doesn’t really throw downhill and if he misses his location vertically the pitch can appear very flat and hittable. With a new focus on baseball and receiving professional instruction his fastball should tick up here in the coming years.

The two-seam sits at the same velocity but has much more life to his arm side and some late sink. I really like this pitch as it gives him more room for error than his four-seam. If Keynan misses vertically with his four-seamer he is asking for trouble, while the two-seamer has enough lateral movement to miss the meat of the barrel. At this point he is only throwing this pitch to his arm side.

Curveball: When its right, this breaking ball is nasty. 70-74 mph with very aggressive 11-to-5 vertical drop. At times he really sells out for this pitch and it ends up popping out of his hand. Professional hitters will recognize this mistake and adjust. The movement of the pitch is good enough to where Keynan can throw it in nearly any count. He gets strikes both swinging and looking on this pitch. He can even miss a spot and leave the pitch catching too much of the zone and still generate swinging strikes. When batters are swinging and missing at pitches in the zone, you know you have a special offering. Keynan throws this pitch fairly equally to righties and lefties with a slight preference to righties as he can bury it in the dirt to his glove side to getting righties chasing.

He has some problems throwing this pitch late in games and out of the stretch. This all ties back to his mechanics. Late in games it will pop out of his hand and just spin on its trip to home plate. On a pure movement level this pitch is better than his slider but has less utility due to his own inconsistency.

Slider: Thrown at 78-80 mph with decent movement. It moves enough with a late vertical drop to be a useful pitch, but what makes this pitch most effective is how Keynan is able to throw it. The ball doesn’t have the distinctive dot that many sliders have and this allows hitters to key in on it. Honestly the pitch is more of a power curve that Keynan calls a slider. Righties see this pitch much more often than lefties will. To lefties, he has a problem throwing the pitch as a backdoor strike. When it gets thrown the ball ends up in the dirt on the inner third of the plate.

He is much more consistent with his slider.  When both breaking pitches are good, the curveball is better. If he is having trouble with both then he will fall back on the slider. Talking with, Keynan he feels he has better control of the slider than any of his other offerings. Moving forward I would like to see Keynan throw this pitch harder and find a way to make it useful against left-handed hitters.

Cambio: I have seen him throw a changeup exactly once in a game and let’s just say the pitch is a project. He does work on this pitch in the pen but it’s still a long ways away. His whole mechanics stiffen up for this pitch and it gives the hitter an obvious new look that something that isn’t a fastball is coming. On the positive side, he likes working on the pitch and has an idea of how his hand should be coming off the ball. Staying positive, he keeps arm speed for the pitch and drags his back foot in an attempt to take off some velocity. There are the makings of a changeup in his future but for now it will be a bullpen project and make a rare appearance or two in games.

Command and Control

This is going to be the last developmental hurdle that Keynan will have to conquer. He lacks both command and control. (Command = ability to throw strikes. Control = ability to throw the ball to a specific location) Usually this is a major red flag for me, but two factors lessen my worry. The first is just how raw Keynan is. Even though the stuff is filthy, this is a young man who has called himself strictly a pitcher for not even a year. The second factor is that Keynan is aware of these deficiencies and actively trying to fix them. Two starts back in April illustrate this point.

In the first start Keynan went six innings, giving up two hits and only 1 walk. Successful start right? He was upset with himself following the game because he knew he was catching too much of the plate and only looked good due to the level of his competition. He told me his next start he would try to work the corners more. In his next start he walked six in five innings but gave up no hits. The walks weren’t a product of extreme wildness. Keynan simply wouldn’t concede the middle of the plate even to batters lower in the batting order. All of this goes to show that he already has an idea of how he needs to pitch to succeed at a high level. Hopefully getting into a professional system will give him the tools he needs to actualize on the crazy potential he possesses.

Let’s recap. Here are the grades for Keynan

Mechanics:

(Check out these two articles for an explanation of grading mechanics.)

Balance – 50

Torque – 55

Posture-35 – 40

Release Distance – 35

Repetition – 40

The Pitches

Present grade / Future grade

Four-seam FB: 50/65

Two-seam FB: 40/50

Curveball: 45/60

Slider: 45/55

Change: 30/40

These grades consider both the movement and command and control of the pitch.

Future Role: No. 3 starter who will have some rough early years in the minors as he transfers from an athlete who can pitch to an athletic pitcher.

Scouting Reports: Maikel Franco and Jesse Biddle

I spent four days watching the Trenton Thunder play the Reading Phillies last weekend, and I’ve been too busy/lazy to report my thoughts. I’m starting to fall behind, and so I’ve decided to publish only some of my thoughts from the series. The rest of the reports will be made available later, perhaps when it comes time to do a top prospect ranking for both Yankees and Phillies prospects.

Today, I offer up my thoughts on two of the Phillies’ top prospects.

Maikel Franco is going to be an above-average player in the major leagues. I’ve felt this way for quite some time, and my most recent look re-affirms my feelings. He’s got plus-plus bat speed and tremendous plate coverage. His set is relatively quiet, although there is some subtle load in the hands. Franco’s path to the ball is fluid and he shows the ability to crush mistakes. I do worry a little about how he’s going to handle movement low in the strike zone, but I’ve also seen him make adjustments in the past.

Defensively, national writers have raised concern about Franco’s ability to stay at third base. I can see the concerns, but I also see a player with natural instincts at the position. His body suggests that he could end up on the opposite side of the infield, but I don’t believe that the body will force him off the position immediately. He’s mobile enough to make plays to both sides and I’ve seen him come in on the bunt down the line scenario without issues. In fact, he shows excellent control of bulky frame. Franco’s arm is an easy plus, if not plus-plus, weapon. The body is likely to change, but until then I have no problem giving him a fringe grade at the hot corner.

Grades: Present/Future

Hit: 40/55

Power: 50/60

Run: 30/30

Arm: 65/65

Glove: 40/45

I’ve spoken to a lot of people about Jesse Biddle over the past 12 months, and recently I’ve heard more “this is a serious dude” comments. When I researched him last offseason, the reviews were mixed; some thought of him as more of a back-end piece, while others saw a middle-of-the-rotation innings eater. It’s taken me a few days to digest, but I now find myself comfortably believing that Biddle’s future is as a no. 3 starter.

This is a serious dude. From the left side, Biddle gets strong downhill plane on a fastball that sits 91-93. His changeup looks identical to his fastball out of his hand, but checks in in the 79-81 window. The curveball is tight and sits in the low 70s with plus depth. He commands every pitch exceptionally well, and mixes very well. Biddle has very good feel for his changeup, and isn’t afraid to throw it in fastball counts. He makes hitters uncomfortable in the box. In the video above you’ll see him gets swings and misses with every pitch.

There are things to work on. The fastball doesn’t often have much run to it, and the changeup could have more dip to it. The curveball isn’t always as tight as you’d like. Still, he’s 21 years young and his stuff is very refined.

Mechanically speaking, Biddle’s delivery is a thing of beauty. He throws from a 3/4 arm slot and repeats his delivery very well. His leg kick is high and quick and he creates excellent momentum into foot strike. Biddle keeps his hips closed and gets his back side over the top without looking uncomfortable. He’s perfectly balanced and has excellent posture.

Behind home plate charting one day, Biddle not only signed an autograph for a young child, but asked the family how they were doing and made sure they were enjoying their time at the game. I’ve heard things about him getting to the field extremely early to work on his hitting. He just gets it.

Grades: Present/Future

Fastball: 55/60

Changeup: 60/60

Curveball: 55/60

Mechanics: 65/65

Pitchability: 60/60

OFP: 60

Future Role: No. 3 starter who logs 200+ innings per season.