Highway to Hagerstown – Scouting Future Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals

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Wednesday morning I took advantage of the beautiful weather, along with a generous offer from my sister-in-law to watch the dogs, to drive to Hagerstown to watch the Suns, Washington’s Low-A affiliate, do battle with the Delmarva Shorebirds, Baltimore’s farm team.

Overall I was impressed by the quality of play of each team, especially considering it was a “get away” game, and the number of  prospects on both teams.  These are my scouting notes on a few of the many impressive players from this contest, a game Delmarva rallied to win 5-4.

Luis Reyes  RHP  Hagerstown Suns

Luis Reyes RHP Hagerstown Suns

Starting for Hagerstown Wednesday morning was 20-year-old pitcher Luis Reyes, making his third career start at the Low-A level. Immediately I was impressed with Reyes long legs, high waist, and the amount of projection remaining in his “listed” 6-2 175lbs frame. With a baby-face like Justin Bieber, Reyes should fill out with additional muscle as he matures.

Reyes was sitting 87-91mph with his fastball, touching 92mph three times, with life on it and he command it well both arm-side and toward the bottom of the strike zone. Toward the lower velocity readings, his fastball would also show some sinking action. Furthermore Reyes flashed a 73-74mph curveball which needs development, as he slows his arm to help the torque on the pitch. Finally he also showed a few 82-84mph changeups with some natural sinking action toward his arm-side.

Signed as a 17-year-old from the Dominican Republic, Reyes is another product of Washington’s recent improved efforts signing players internationally. While he is extremely raw and needs significant development to his off-speed offerings, Reyes is an intriguing, projectable young arm. I would expect the Nationals to have Reyes focus on fastball command this summer, along with becoming more comfortable throwing his changeup and curveball. This is a nice sleeper prospect in Washington’s system and I am curious to observe his development this season in Hagerstown.

Jomar Reyes  3B  Hagerstown Suns

Jomar Reyes

Maybe he began the 2015 season somewhat unknown in prospect circles, but Reyes’ stock is about to skyrocket like an underpriced IPO on Wall Street. Reyes is already a physically built man, looking much larger than his listed 6-3 220lbs. Reyes flashes a strong arm both pregame and during game action but his sheer mass makes me question if he will have the agility or speed to remain at third base as he continues to mature physically. He has below-average current speed, meaning a position shift is most likely across the diamond rather than the outfield.

However, regardless of his eventual defensive position, Reyes is a hitter and his bat will always be his calling card. Reyes shows above-average bat speed, good mechanics and balance throughout his simple right-handed swing. He generates loft and back spin off the bat, and the ball sounds different off the bat than others at this level, as if he is swinging a sledgehammer on a “Strength-Tester” carnival game. Like most young power hitters, his swing can get a touch long and he will need to shorten it as he moves through the minors, but he has quick wrists and the raw bat speed to hit professional velocity.

Although he is still raw and there are legitimate questions about his eventual position, it is rare to find a right-handed hitter with a good approach, mechanics, and swing at such a young age. Orioles’ fans should remain patient with Reyes, as he should move level to level in his journey towards Baltimore and will need 3+ years in the minors to be big-league ready. That said, aside from Dylan Bundy, Hunter Harvey, and Chance Sisco, no player in the Baltimore system has a bigger “upside” than Reyes and one could argue he is currently a top-5 prospect in their farm system.

Jonah Heim  Catcher  Hagerstown Suns

Orioles Catcher Jonah Heim

This winter while most people may have caught the flu, I contracted a case of “I’ve fallen in love with great defensive catching prospects” – My latest strain of this wonderful virus is Orioles prospect Jonah Heim.

Heim is much taller than average catchers, but he does a masterful job of framing his body to give the pitcher a large target and the umpire an excellent view of the pitch. His squat does leave him slightly vulnerable to wild pitches low and inside, but he is agile enough to adequately block these pitches in the dirt. I was amazed at how square and quiet he kept his body as he received the pitch and his hands are exceptionally soft and gentle as he catches the ball. In addition, Heim showed quick feet and a strong arm, flashing a 1.94 second pop time to second base in throwing out an opposing baserunner. He still needs polish behind the dish and to improve his blocking abilities, but Heim projects as a plus defensive catcher at the big league level.

Heim’s offensive skills currently lag behind his defense, but the 19-year-old switch hitting catcher showed some good bat speed from the left side Wednesday, crushing a double and hitting a fly ball to the wall in straight away center field for a loud out. He still struggles with strikeouts and recognizing breaking pitches, but he has made noticeable strides to shorten his lefty swing.

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Like every teenager he needs at-bats to gain experience and refine his approach and swing, but a switch-hitting catcher with plus defensive potential is an outstanding starter kit for a prospect. If one believes Chance Sisco is destined for another defensive position, Jonah Heim is clearly the best catching prospect currently in the Orioles’ system. I do not expect him to move quickly but I would be stunned if he did not develop into a major leaguer in the future.

Scouting the MLB Draft – Cal State Fullerton RHP Justin Garza

Justin Garza

Cal State Fullerton RHP Justin Garza

Date Scouted: 4.18.15 In-Person

7-Word Scouting Report:   Projectable Collegiate Righty, Flashes Three Average Pitches

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On a spectacular spring afternoon, Saturday I took advantage of the flawless weather to scout national powerhouse Cal State Fullerton visit the University of Maryland. In particular I was eager to watch how Fullerton’s starting pitcher and intriguing 2015 MLB Draft prospect, Justin Garza, would fare against the Terps’ prodigious lineup.

Saturday Garza flashed a strong 3-pitch mix, featuring a 91-93mph fastball, touching 94mph, with late life. He maintained his velocity throughout the appearance, though his control wavered throughout the start. In addition, Garza flashed an 80-82mph slider with sweeping 10-to-4 action that he could locate for a strike or bury in the dirt. Finally, later in the start Garza started showing a decent 78-82mph changeup with some natural fading action and showed good arm speed with the pitch. Frankly, I am surprised he did not throw his change more often, as it induced both weak contact and whiffs.

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Physically Garza is listed at 5-11 170lbs, in which I would take the over on height and the under on weight, as he has long, lean legs, a high waist, and a rather thin upper body. Although he should not grow taller, he does have some projection for further muscularity as he matures. His delivery involves plenty of effort and he has a mild arm stab during the motion, but I was impressed and surprised how well he maintained his arm slot throughout this appearance, until he visibly wore down around 90 pitches.  He is a very good athlete and fields his position extremely well.

Although the raw numbers were underwhelming in this viewing (5.2 innings pitched, 6 runs, 3 earned, 7 hits, 1 walk against 7 strikeouts), I came away impressed by Garza and his future potential. He shows good velocity on his fastball, has two off-speed pitches that can show average, and he can maintain his velocity and mechanics multiple times through the lineup. Certainly scouts will quickly project him long-term as a reliever due to his lean frame and infrequent use of his changeup, but I think with some additional weight and mechanical refinement he could remain a starter as a professional.

As a college junior Garza is eligible for this June’s draft, although this will not be his first experience with the draft process as he was selected by Cleveland in the 26th round in 2012. However, Garza should be selected significantly earlier this time around, as his 3-pitch arsenal and extensive college accomplishments will obviously be appealing. While his lack of top-end velocity or a dominant off-speed pitch will likely keep him from a 1st day selection, I expect Garza to fit well as a Day 2 pick to a team favoring college pitchers and a track record of success.

Projected Draft Status -> Mid 3rd Round – 6th Round

An Inside Look at Baseball Scouting with CJ Wittmann Jr from Baseball Prospectus

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One of the many great things about the development of the internet for baseball fans is the extreme rise in the coverage of minor league prospects. Fifteen years ago it was Baseball America and perhaps one or two other places providing analysis of the minors. Today dozens of websites specialize in reporting on young players, in addition to the proliferation of blogs providing additional information on these individuals.

Unfortunately a negative consequence to this additional exposure is the rise of people calling themselves baseball scouts and stating they are “scouting”rather than in actuality “observing” games. I feel like this can be disrespectful to the individuals who earn a paycheck working in baseball.

Therefore, in the interest of offering some insight into the hard work baseball scouts go through each day, I reached out to rising superstar and Baseball Prospectus Prospect Team member C.J. Wittmann Jr. to explain what a scout does and the process of scouting prospects. Below is the transcript of our interview.

1) CJ, first place I want to start with you is pregame – Ideally when do you get to the park (do you go for BP, etc) and what are you looking for and to accomplish in the time before 1st pitch?

“Pregame is the most important time to take in everything. Showing up to the park early is something I routinely do. I always try to get there even before batting practice starts. Sometimes teams will take infield and outfield and there players show off arm strength and accuracy. It’s most important for differentiating arm strength between outfielders and “left side of the infield” infielders. Also during pregame, pitchers throw flat grounds, bullpens and long toss. There, you can see whether a pitching has ideal arm strength, control (flat ground) and command when throwing a bullpen session.

Batting practice is the most important time to dissect a hitter. In BP, a hitter shows whether they have bat speed, raw power/strength and how much feel they have for squaring balls up. If a player has true natural feel for the barrel, they will show ideal contact skills and can usually consistently find the sweet part of the barrel on mostly every pitch.”

2) Now the game has started… What are you looking for when scouting pitching prospects?

“When scouting pitching prospects, I like to watch every single warm up pitch they throw before the inning starts. During this time, I like to take as many notes I can, as quickly as I can, on a pitchers mechanics. I do this so I don’t miss any velocity readings during the inning. Although pitchers may not throw 100% in warm ups, they still use the same mechanics. Things of note would be: arm slot, hips/shoulders in sync, landing point, arm action, angle, deception, and effort. During the inning, dissecting a pitchers’ control/command is ideal. Control is showing the ability to throw strikes in a certain vicinity while command is showing they can consistently hit their spots. Usually, I mark fastball velocity readings in the 1st, 3rd and 5th innings to see how well a pitcher holds his velocity.

When grading secondaries, it it ideal to recognize whether a pitcher uses the same arm speed and arm slot. This is especially important when grading change-ups because usually they are most effective with the same arm speed. A good change-up will come from the same arm speed and slot and have a fading action to a pitchers’ arm side. Although, I have seen pitchers be successful with cutting change-ups. I think the hardest secondary to grade is a good curveball because not many pitchers have them. A lot of pitchers “throw” curveballs but not many grade to plus or better. The ability to spin a breaking ball is a true art and when grading I look at: spin, break, sharpness, depth and velocity. A slider is a little different because it is a horizontal breaking pitch. For a slider, I look for spin, break (tilt), sharpness and velocity as well.”

 

3) Conversely, what characteristics or skills are you looking for when scouting a hitter? What flaws can be corrected and which are “in-correctable”?

“Scouting hitters is a bit different. Like I said, the most telling time to scout a hitter is in batting practice. First thing I look for in a hitter is bat speed. If a hitter has premium bat speed, then it allows them to make “more” mistakes in game (when guessing a pitch or two strike approach) because they have the bat speed to make up for it. In game, the easiest thing to scout is a hitters’ approach. During at-bats, you can tell if a player has a real plan at the plate or whether they are just a hacker. Although, it is easy to identify, a bad approach is one of the easier things to correct/teach.

Next, I look at pitch recognition for a hitter. Can they read spin? I’m a firm believer in recognizing and reading spin is a neurological skill. You can tell this but how a player reacts to spin. Does player x flinch? Does he bail out? Or does he recognize it and stay in and barrel the ball. Which leads to make next skill: barrel control. When a player has true feel for the barrel, they can usually barrel and square all types of pitches in every location. Lastly, I think the most correctable aspect of hitting is approach. You cannot teach bat speed and you cannot teach the neurological aspect of recognizing spin.”

4) Now the game is over… What work do you do post-game?

“Post-game, I collect all of my notes and all of my thoughts. If I am at a game with another BP member or scout, I like to pick their brain on what they saw/thought as well. I write down all of initial reactions and thoughts about each individual player and gather them into a report once I get home to my computer. I usually write out an elaborate report on players and how I feel they grow and progress as they make their way through the minors. AND my favorite post-game activity is to watch the post-game fireworks through the rear view mirror as I’m driving away.”

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Thanks C.J! Furthermore, C.J. has agreed to return for a Part-2 of this article in the near future, so if you have follow-up questions or other questions for a baseball scout, please leave them in the Comment’s Section or Tweet me @NatsGMdotcom. Thanks for reading!

THE NatsGM Show Episode 32 – Guest Grant Paulsen

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Episode #32 of THE NatsGM Show finds me fortunate enough to interview Washington DC media icon and 106.7 The Fan midday host Grant Paulsen.

Grant discussed how he got his start working in sports journalism and his legendary appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman. Furthermore, we chatted about the 2015 Washington Nationals and played a Tabasco Sauce hot game of “Rapid Fire”.

Thanks to Grant for joining me on the show – Download and Enjoy sports fans!