Gone Scouting – Impressions from the Potomac Nationals and Frederick Keys

Thursday afternoon I took advantage of the lovely weather and drove up to Frederick to scout the Keys against the Potomac Nationals, the High-A affiliates of the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals.  It was “getaway” day for both teams but due to there being several busloads of kids enjoying a day away from school, the stands were fairly crowded for a late morning midweek game.  Fortunately a friend and I were still able to buy front row seats behind home plate and were treated to a solid day of baseball.

Wednesday night’s rainout proved fortunate as I was able to watch one of the Nationals top pitching prospects, right-handed starter A.J. Cole, the prize of the offseason Mike Morse trade to Seattle, start for Potomac.  Here are my scouting notes from a game featuring a check-swing appeal of a left-handed hitter to the first base umpire, a first for me and the result of a 2-man umpiring crew, and a stadium radar gun more inconsistent than a minor league hot dog.

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A.J. Cole SP Potomac Nationals

AJ Cole 5/23/13

7-Word Scouting Report: Still Raw Prospect with Mid-Rotation Starter Ceiling

One of the top pitching prospects in the Nationals farm system, A.J. Cole physically looks like the ideal starting pitcher with a tall, lean, athletic body frame and room to add another 15-30 pounds in the future.  His repertoire Thursday possessed a lively but occasionally flat 86-92mph fastball which topped out at 111mph (remember shady radar gun), an 80-84mph breaking ball with both curveball and slider characteristics, and the very occasional 77-79mph changeup.  Cole flashed his enormous potential at times striking out 5 hitters and dominating the Frederick lineup, yet also showed why he is still in A-ball allowing 7 hits, 5 runs, and 3 walks in his 5 innings pitched.

Cole has a pretty solid, clean delivery from the windup, though his arm seems to lag behind his body, which highlights his impressive arm speed but often also makes it difficult to repeat his arm slot.  This weakness makes it difficult to control the strike zone, and at times, flattens his fastball.  At times he also struggled from the stretch, as his slow delivery allowed an easy stolen base in the 4th inning, and I noticed his stuff suffered as well.  He also needs to work on his conditioning, as he tired quickly in the 6th inning, allowing a leadoff walk and two consecutive doubles before exiting the game.  Cole needs to improve these weaknesses as he continues up the organizational ladder.

Before thinking this will be completely negative critique of his performance, Cole struck out five hitters, induced plenty of swings-and-misses on his fastball and slurve, and dominated the opposition through the first 3 innings.  Weaknesses aside, Cole is only 21-years-old and holding his own at High-A with a K/9 ratio of 9.43 and a WHIP of 1.33, so if given time to physically mature and gain experience on the mound, there is no reason he cannot develop into a mid-rotation starter in a couple years. 

Tim Berry SP Frederick Keys

Tim Berry

7-Word Scouting Report:  An Overlooked Lefty, More Than A Guy  

A former 50th round pick for the Orioles in 2009, Berry has slowly moved up the organizational ladder while making a name for himself as a prospect, ranking as Baltimore’s #11 prospect in 2012 according to Baseball America.  A left-handed pitcher with three solid offerings, Berry featured a lively 86-89mph fastball that he located well in the strike zone, a good but inconsistent 74-76mph curveball, and a 80-83mph changeup with good arm side movement and sink. 

Berry has a clean, quiet, and relatively compact delivery along with a tall, slender frame especially in his legs, leading me to believe he could pick up a bit more velocity as he matures physically.  Only 22-years-old and showing success in High-A this season, Berry has future major league potential as a #5 starter or quality left-handed relief pitcher.  Berry should be a popular name in trade talks this summer if the Orioles try to bolster their team at the trade deadline. 

Others of Note…

Michael Taylor earns my vote for “Most Frustrating Nats Prospect”, as his athleticism and speed give him the skills necessary to play center field defensively in the big leagues, but his difficulties with the bat continue to stifle his development.  He had a hard hit double in the 4th inning in which he flashed his quick bat speed, yet struggled in other at-bats and was thrown out twice running the bases.  His talent is obvious, but he still needs plenty of polish and at 22-years-old, needs to start moving up the organizational ladder.

Christian Walker did not have his best day at the plate Thursday, going 0-5 with 4 strikeouts and 5 men left on base, and showed a weakness for high fastballs like I do blondes, chasing them three separate times for strikeouts.  That said he seemed to have a mature approach at the plate, tough to believe after four punch outs, and his right-handed swing looked compact and reasonably quick.  Limited to first base defensively, Walker will have to be a monster offensively to eventually reach the majors, but he might just have enough thunder in the bat to eventually reach Baltimore.

Brenden Webb is one of the many reasons I love watching and scouting minor league baseball; I entered the park today barely more aware of him than his name, but I left Harry Grove stadium thinking I may have spotted an overlooked prospect in the Baltimore system.  A solidly built right fielder with some room to fill out, Webb showed a quick, compact left-handed swing and flashed some excellent power to the opposite field on a wind-hindered home run in the 4th inning off an A.J. Cole fastball. 

Later in the game, he showed a strong and accurate throwing arm, gunning Michael Taylor out trying to go to third base on a potential sacrifice fly.  I am excited to watch him more this summer and think he deserves more attention than he might be currently receiving around baseball.  Sleeper Alert

Rob Wort made a relief appearance in the bottom of the 8th and caught my eye with his quick pitching arm, and lively fastball that was clocked at 88-91 on the stadium radar gun.  Recently off the disabled list, I only saw him throw 2 sliders in his one inning, in which he allowed a walk, a hit, and a run along with two strikeouts.  His delivery looks like a better fit for a reliever, but Wort is a name to remember as a relief prospect for the Nationals in the future.

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