Armchair Evaluation – THE 2015 Under Armour High School All-America Game

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Saturday August 15th Under Armour hosted some of the best prospects in the 2016 draft class to play an exhibition contest at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Each summer Under Armour and The Baseball Factory collaborate to bring 36 of the best prep players together to showcase their talents against one another.

Although it is difficult to evaluate prospects in one single viewing, this contest gives scouts the opportunity to see many projected top major league draft picks prior to the beginning of their senior year in high school. This year’s event was surprisingly dominated by offense, as the National Team defeated the American team 11-6. These are my notes on several of the top prospects from the game.

Riley Pint RHP Overland Park, Kansas

Possessing a projectable but dreamy 6-4 192lbs body, Riley Pint looks the part when he toes the rubber. He was obviously excited to be selected as the starter for the game, as Pint was overthrowing his pitches and watching the ball sail high and arm-side much of the inning. Pint flashed a 95-98mph fastball with life and arm-side running movement along with one mid-80s curveball with sharp breaking action. Pint is committed to LSU but there is little chance he reaches Baton Rouge as he projects as a top-10 selection next June.

Alex Speas RHP Powder Springs, Georgia

Starting the game for the American team was Georgia right-handed pitcher Alex Speas, a long, lean, projectable 6-4 180lbs pitcher. Similarly to Pint, Speas looked anxious on the mound performing in a major league stadium and struggled to throw strikes. That said this Mississippi State commit has a lightning-quick arm and a fastball sitting 92-96mph with extreme life and some arm-side run. Speas has a relatively simple motion, which when coupled with his blazing velocity and excellent athleticism, gives him a strong chance of being a 1st round pick next summer.

Mitchell Miller LHP Loganville, Georgia

An extremely projectable 6-5 175lbs left-handed pitcher, Miller entered the game in the bottom of the 3rd and immediately impresses with his lean prototypical pitchers’ frame. Miller showed good command of a 90-91mph fastball, along with a 77mph changeup with arm-side fade and a big breaking low-70s curveball. Miller is raw and needs to grow into his lengthy body, but he has the potential that makes pitching coaches’ drool. Also a Mississippi State commit, it is unlikely he makes it to Starkville in 2016 as he should be a Day 1 selection.

Bo Bichette 2B St. Petersburg, Florida

Son of former Colorado Rockies slugger Dante Bichette, Bo Bichette served as the cleanup hitter for the National team. This Bichette is built much like his father, with a thick chest and well-defined legs, but while he lacks much physical projection, he still has reasonable foot speed. Listed at 6-0 200lbs with a babyface but little physical maturation remaining, I question Bichette’s long-term defensive position.

That said, Bichette is being drafted for his impressive raw power and the potential for an above-average hit tool, which should play most anywhere on the diamond. He has a unique swing with a slight arm-bar but he more than compensates with obvious plus bat speed. Due to his pedigree as the son of the major leaguer and his physical maturity, I would be surprised if he did not sign out of the draft next year.

Carter Kieboom SS/3B Marietta, Georgia

Brother of Washington Nationals catching prospect Spencer Kieboom, Carter Kieboom as one of the top infield prospects in the 2016 draft class. Kieboom’s first at-bat in the top of the 1st was quite noteworthy, taking a 98mph fastball from Riley Pint and driving it toward right field for a well-struck single. Then in his second at-bat Kieboom worked a full count before ripping a 94mph sinker to right-center field, showing impressive bat speed low in the strike zone. Kieboom profiles as a potential above-average power and average hitter, with a chance to play a quality third base as well. He projects as a Day 1 pick in the 2016 draft.

SaberSeminar 2015

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For the third consecutive year I ventured to Boston, Massachusetts to attend the two day weekend conference Sabermetrics, Scouting and the Science of Baseball, more famously known as SaberSeminar. In fact, NatsGM.com was honored to be one of the sponsors of this year’s event.

SaberSeminar is now in its 5th year bringing together dozens of the top baseball minds, with 100% of the proceeds go to benefit the Jimmy Fund, an organization that raises funds for cancer care and research. Past speakers have included such impressive names as Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell and Dr. Glenn Fleisig.

This year’s event was headlined by former Boston general manager Ben Cherington and future Hall of Fame pitcher Curt Schilling, among the many fascinating presentations. While each of the 30+ presenters over the two days was outstanding, for the sake of brevity I will highlight a few of my favorite presentations.

Tom Tippett

Tom Tippett

Early Saturday morning Boston Red Sox Senior Baseball Analyst Tom Tippett took to the stage to give a short presentation about the projection the front office had for the Red Sox 2016 season and several pivotal moments of the season. Surprisingly he made a specific point to show when catcher Ryan Hanigan injured his knuckle in May, stating “I think that had a pretty significant impact on the team”. He also highlighted the 8-game losing streak around the All-Star break, mentioning numerous examples of bad luck the team endured during this time. He was not trying to dismiss the losses strictly by luck but did say “it was a really bizarre period where it just seemed like every few days something would happen that would leave you shaking your head”.

After humorously analyzing the team’s struggles this month, Tippett opened the floor to questions and received two obvious questions about Hanley Ramirez’s left field defense and Rick Porcello’s contract extension. Tippett quickly stated that he was not in the room but that the team was surprised Hanley’s defense was not better moving from the middle infield to a corner outfield spot. For Porcello, Tippett again said he was not directly involved in the decision, but speculated that having him signed for his age 27-30 seasons were highly coveted by the organization.

Curt Schilling, SaberSeminar 2015

Unfortunately due to some recent health news Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell was unable to speak at the conference this year. We at NatsGM wish him a speedy recovery and the best of luck. Fortunately for the audience, pinch-hitting for Farrell was legendary major league pitcher Curt Schilling.

Schilling’s presentation was entirely a Question-and-Answer session with the audience and his first answer stuck with me the rest of the weekend: “My number 1 goal was to figure out how to throw a ball when the hitter was swinging and a strike when the hitter was taking.” This entire philosophy perfectly summarizes pitching in one sentence. Later in the same answer Schilling did mention that he was always looking for data on umpires and the human element involved in the strike zone. He wanted to know which umpires would call strikes in certain areas of the zone, as this would factor into his game plan and how he wanted to set up hitters. He said he thinks this information is really just starting to come out.

Another great question from the audience was which hitter from his era did he least like to face – Schilling quickly said while he did not fear him, that player was Todd Helton and thinks he had a Hall of Fame career in obscurity. He joked that it felt like Helton “was 10-2 in his career off of him”. He also made another terrific point within his answer stating that there was a common thread on hitters that did well off him: “Marquis Grissom, Mark Lemke, Julio Lugo, no one 6-foot or taller, all the little guys… I was a fastball power pitcher. If you are 5-8 the one thing you better be able to do is hit a fastball. So they all came up through the minor leagues and for all these little guys, everything is a high fastball.”

Ben Cherington

Ben Cherington

Following Schilling on Saturday afternoon was former general manager of the Boston Red Sox Ben Cherington: First the simple fact that Cherington made his scheduled appearance after a difficult week professionally speaks to the tremendous character of the man and he should be commended for participating. In fact, he opened his talk with a joke saying “this forum is such a progressive event it even invited the unemployed”.

Cherington received the inevitable question about Hanley Ramirez and his defense, stating that “nobody knew, we didn’t know what he would be defensively in left field… we made a bet based on history of what players look like when they move from a middle infield position to another position and there is data that can always try to make educated guesses on that… and obviously we have seen what’s happened, it hasn’t gone well.”

Interestingly Cherington later mentioned that Boston tried to pry 3B Josh Donaldson away from Oakland early last offseason but was told that they were not going to move him. He also said to give Toronto credit for being persistent and for being able to get a deal done.

Finally he discussed the Pablo Sandoval signing, stating that the decision was not made with the idea that Fenway Park would bolster his offensive production but filling a “black hole” at the position with someone still in his prime. This move has not worked out thus far though Cherington left an impression he thought he would improve in the future.

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Diamond Kinetics Demonstration

This year’s event easily surpassed the previous two conferences I have attended. I want to personally congratulate and thank SaberSeminar host Dr. Dan Brooks and SaberSeminar Founder Chuck Korb, who work tirelessly year-round to put on this spectacular event. In addition Master of Ceremonies Mike Ferrin from Sirius XM was his typical gregarious self and did a fantastic job keeping the presenters on schedule throughout the two days.

SaberSeminar is easily the best baseball event outside of a baseball stadium each year and I cannot wait to make my return next summer.

THE NatsGM Show Live From SaberSeminar with David Laurila and Chuck Korb

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THE NatsGM Show was LIVE from SaberSeminar 2015 this past weekend and I was fortunate to interview conference founder Chuck Korb and Fangraphs.com’s David Laurila.

Part-1 has me talking with Chuck Korb, who discusses the beginnings of SaberSeminar, the future of the conference and how people can become involved in this wonderful event.

Then in Part-2, I am honored to be joined by one of my favorite baseball writers, David Laurila.  David and I chat about the transition from Ben Cherington to Dave Dombrowski and the progress of Red Sox youngsters Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts this year.  Finally David briefly theorizes what the offseason will look like for Boston and how they attempt to rebuild for 2016.

Thanks to both Chuck and David for graciously sharing a few minutes with me and thanks to you for downloading!

THE NatsGM Show – Live From SaberSeminar with Dave Cameron

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THE NatsGM Show is LIVE this week from SaberSeminar 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts and we are proud to welcome back to the show Fangraph’s Dave Cameron.

Dave and I discuss his recent article discussing the struggles of the Washington Nationals, his thoughts on Matt Williams, and Boston’s hire of Dave Dombrowski to be their new general manager.  Then I briefly get Dave’s thoughts on the Seattle Mariners and his advice for aspiring writers.

Thanks to Dave Cameron for joining the show and to you for downloading!