03 June 2008

Looking for a Deal: Bill Hall

Bill Hall is a sad Brewer. He is not fond of being a super utility guy and certainly not fond of losing playing time to Russell Branyan, who must be one of the most successful unwanted players. Russell can rake (righties at least), but annoys coaches with his many strikeouts and rumored poor behavior. Anyway, the Brewers signed him out of obscurity to boost their 3B play. Bill Hall feels left out.

Bill Hall was selected out of Nettleton High School in Mississippi as a raw almost five tool player in 1998. He'd show traces of power (i.e., 15 hrs in 89 games as a 21 year old in HiA), but always showing that he was overmatched at the plate (4-6 K:BB ratio through the minors). The Brewers kept promoting him though because of the athletic ability. Honestly, looking at his minor league career . . . he really only deserved a call up once when he graduated from Rookie league Ogden with a 289/329/421 clip. He did well enough to be at the A club at that point. Bill Hall was rushed. His batting ability just did not develop, but the Brewers were sick and tired of playing Jose Hernandez at short. At least, that is what it looks like. Either they wanted to replace Jose with cheap talent or they were just overwhelmed by Bill's physical ability enough to overlook his 264/305/387 minor league split.

Bill's first full season was at 24 in 2004. He contributed to a 238/276/374 line over 415 plate appearances. He fared significantly better his second season with an OPS+ of 116. He displayed plus power in addition to achieving a higher solid contact rate. He still struck out a lot and he was not much of a baserunner despite his above average speed. 2006 was his breakout season as he hit 35 homeruns, increased his walk rate by 40%, and OPS'd 125. It was after this season that the Brewers signed him to 4 year, 24 MM extension with a 9.25 (0.5bo) MM team option. It has not gone well. To accomodate phenom J.J. Hardy, Hall was moved off shortstop to centerfield in 2007. He responded with Freddie Bynum-like numbers. This year he has been move more toward 3B and the same result has occurred.

Is Hall an option for the Orioles?
The first thing to realize is Hall has a contract that will go on for two and a half years. 2008 carries a prorated portion of 4.8MM, 2009 is at 6.8MM, 2010 at 8.4MM, and a 0.5MM buyout for 2011. The amount remaining on Hall's deal is close to what remains on Huff's deal. Huff may also provide better defense and a more well-rounded bat for the Brewers at third base. This would be an even monetary transaction, so Hall would essentially be free during these next three years as Huff's cost is already sunk. To make the deal go through, it may be necessary to add a prospect on our end. Maybe we could deal Chris Roberson or Luis Terrero. If it has to be someone with upside, maybe Paco Figueroa. Truth be told, both Huff and Hall have little value except the Brewers need a 3B and we need a SS. It might be a useful deal between the ball clubs and being on the hook for one year of Huff may appeal to the Brewers. Though, they may just want prospects. In that case, maybe Paco Figueroa and Luis Lebron. Of course, then Hall costs about 15-17 MM. If his production will be similar to Freddie Bynum, it will not be worth it.

Is Hall an improvement over Bynum, Cintron, or Furcal?
The graph is slightly different from what I produced when I did the Nick Markakis worth projection. This one includes defense. I thought Nick's worth as a hitter completely outshone his relative worth as a RF in comparison to other RFs. As short, I think we need to consider this as offensive output is far narrower and defense can play a large role in worth. Bill Hall is projected to have somewhat poor defense at short over the next two and a half years. He will cost his team about 15-20 runs a year playing shortstop. I adjusted his bat to be in line with his performance so far this year and the projections are still somewhat optimistic. He should be worth about 15.2MM in terms of production and cost the Orioles 15.2MM, so they should roughly get out of him what they put in. If they deal Huff, that may actually be a plus value. I haven't run his numbers.

We also have residing options in Alex Cintron and Freddie Bynum. The projection approach I used did not view either optimistically. Bynum is considered to be worth a win or two above replacement level. His value would be about 5MM and I imagine we would pay him something closer to 3-3.5MM. Cintron is a negative on this. If he hits his 75th percentiles, he will be useful to the team. That seems unlikely.

Finally, acquiring Bill Hall to play short may preclude the team from signing Rafael Furcal in the offseason. It seems like Furcal could be had for 3 years at 36MM or 4 years at 44MM. He is old for a shortstop, but still exhibits above average defense and an above average bat for the position. The projection system says he will be worth 4 wins above replacement level and be worth about 20MM. That seems about right. Good shortstops typically get paid slightly more than their performance would seem to dictate.

Bill Hall, bad defense and all, may be a decent pick up for the Orioles if he is available from the Brewers. If a Huff for Hall deal could be made, it should go down as quickly as possible from the Orioles end. If it is for some odds and ends buried in the Orioles system, then it probably is a worthwhile risk. Hall is at a low point and the only thing that could happen is his value rise. If he really is as horrendous as he has been this year, it will probably be a bad deal. It most likely would be better than acquiring Furcal though. Furcal will require a greater commitment in terms of years and money. This greater commitment to a player in the downswing of his career may be reasonable if the team were ready to compete in 2009, but that seems unlikely. A greater probability would be that as this team becomes competitive in 2011 or 2012, it will have to deal with an aging and somewhat unproductive ex-short stop.

Draft Preview -- Beyond 1:4 (Rounds 2-3)

Beyond 1:4 (Unofficial Team USA Edition)

Now that we've taken a look at the seven most likely options for Baltimore at 1:4 and created our Round 1 draft board, let's take a look at some possible targets for the next four rounds. Remember, on Thursday we will be running a Shadow Draft, selecting a player in each of the first five rounds based on players available for each of Baltimore's first five picks. We'll keep track of the Camden Depot Farm System, periodically comparing it to Baltimore's actual system.

We'll quickly run through five potential targets for each round, keeping in mind that there will likely be unexpected players available in each round, and seemingly safe picks selected before Baltimore has a shot at them. While each of these players could be valuable additions to the Orioles's organization, this exercise is really to give us all an idea as to the types of players that should be available at various points in the draft.

Round 2

Anthony Hewitt (OF/SS) Salisbury School (Conn.)
6'1" / 195lbs / B-T (R/R)
Not Scouted
.536 AVG, 1.200 SLG, 56 AB, 9 2B, 3 3B, 8 HR, 19 RBI, 30 R, 10 SB

Hewitt represents the type of player that Boston has landed in recent drafts -- massive upside talent with high signing bonus demands. Hewitt is very much projection at this point, with his arm strength, speed and raw power coming in above-average. Unrefined in the field, he is unlikely to stay at SS, with his speed and arm strength making him a prime candidate for RF/CF. His approach at the plate still leaves much to be desired, as he has struggled with pitch identification and patience against more advanced competition, though scouts seem to be willing to look past this every time they watch him launch a 450 foot homerun into the bleachers. Whichever team is willing to invest the money and developmental time into Hewitt could be rewarded with a future All-Star.

Jordy Mercer (SS) Oklahoma State University
6'3" / 200lbs / B-T (R/R)
Scouted: July 20, 2007 -- USA vs. Cuba (Film)
.323/.369/.498, 263 AB, 12 2B, 2 3B, 10 HR
At 6'3" and 200 pounds Mercer is on the big side for a shortstop, though Baltimore fans should have no trouble wrapping their minds around the idea of big body at the six. Mercer is smooth in the field, ranging well to both sides, and possesses an above-average arm. He has a solid tool set at the plate, showing the ability to hit for average and potential for average power for a shortstop. Mercer should be a fairly safe bet to stay at shortstop throughout his pro career, and should hit enough to be a solid contributor for a Major League club. After the Beckhams, he's the best all-around shortstop in the draft -- he may be a safer bet than Gordon to stay at the six and a safer bet than Tim to become an above-average hitter at the ML-level.

James Darnell (3B) University of South Carolina
6'2" / 210lbs / B-T (R/R)
Scouted: May 23, 2008 vs. Vanderbilt (Film)
.306/.395/.580, 255 AB, 13 2B, 0 3B, 19 HR
Back in February Darnell was almost an after-thought in the South Carolina lineup, with Reese Havens and Justin Smoak garnering most of the pre-season attention. 63 games and 19 homeruns later everyone has been forced to take notice. The 'Cocks thirdbaseman is an elite athlete, and at 6'2" and 210 pounds he already possesses the body of a Major Leaguer. His hands leave something to be desired and there are questions as to whether he can hold down 3b as a pro; like Hewitt his speed and arm strength could land him in RF/CF. Darnell is still raw, but his upside is that of a legit five-tool player at the ML-level. His raw power should play well once he improves his plate discipline.

Roger Kieschnick (OF) Texas Tech
6'3" / 215lbs / B-T (L/R)
Scouted: July 20, 2007 -- USA vs. Cuba (Film)
.305/.407/.632, 220 AB, 15 2B, 3 3B, 17 HR

Though a hot-and-cold 2008 has dropped the Red Raider outfielder out of the first round, the skills are all there for Kieschnick to emerge as a middle-of-the-order bat at the ML-level. He has fringe above-average speed and an above-average arm, making him a good fit for right field. Though he's already a pretty big body (6'3" 215 pounds), there is room in his frame to add some muscle without sacrificing mobility. He has shown plus-power potential to all fields and could move quickly once he learns to tame his aggressiveness at the plate. Kieschnick is a talent that could slip into the early supplemental round or late into Round 2 depending on whether or not teams feel he'll be able to improve on his 42/35 SO/BB ratio once he begins his professional development.

Tim Murphy (SP) UCLA
6'2" / 205lbs / B-T (L/L)
Scouted: March 1, 2008 vs. Bethune-Cookman (Film)
3.34/1.26, 102.1 IP, 111 SO, 46 BB, .227 BAA

Murphy boasts an impressive 1-2 punch of a high-80's / low-90s fastball and a high-70s 11-5 two-plane curveball. He spots his fastball well to both sides of the plate, though he'll have to build up his arm strength as a pro, as his velocity dipped a bit as the season wore on. His curve is a fringe-plus pitch that he can either throw for a strike or bury as a chase pitch. His motion is easy and repeatable, though he can sometimes get a little long and lose his release point. Murphy has a lot of projection in him, and should be a safe bet as a back-end ML starter. If he's able to improve the command on his curve and further develop his changeup, there may be #3 upside in there, though it will take some developmental time to reach it.

Round 3

Ryan Flaherty (SS) Vanderbilt University
6'3" / 210lbs / B-T (L/R)
Scouted: July 20, 2007 USA vs. Cuba; May 24, 2008 vs. Ole Miss
.324/.411/.543, 256 AB, 10 2B, 2 3B, 14 HR

Son of ABCA Hall of Fame Coach Edward Flaherty, Ryan is the consummate professional in going about his preparation for and performance in his games. Though he likely does not have the range to stay at shortstop at the next level, he should have no trouble sliding over to second base, as he did this past summer with Team USA. He is smooth and confident in field and his lanky frame is not expected to fill in a great deal, though more strength should come. The benefit is he should have no trouble sticking at the four spot. The drawback is there probably isn’t much power coming down the line. He profiles anywhere from a #1 or #2 hitter to a hitter in the bottom third of the order, depending on his development. He should hit for average and play a fringe-above-average second base as a pro. His make-up is hailed as top-notch.

Cody Satterwhite (SP) University of Mississippi
6'4" / 210lbs / B-T (R/R)
Scouted: July 20, 2007 USA vs. Cuba; May 24, 2008 vs. Vanderbilt
5.40/1.62, 71.2 IP, 53 SO, 36 BB, .297 BAA

Satterwhite will be an interesting selection this year. He has been dominant out of the pen in past seasons, but struggled a bit in the Ole Miss rotation in 2008. He has electric stuff, with a fastball sitting in the low-90s as a starter and mid- to upper-90s out of the pen. He can flash a curveball, slider and changeup as well, though his command will need improvement at the next level. He is an excellent example of mild-risk/high reward. He could be an effective reliever by simply focusing on his fastball and one of his breaking pitches, but the potential is there for him to be an impact pitcher at the ML-level. His has the size and strength to hold up as a starter – it will be up to his new organization to tap into his immense potential.

Scott Bittle (CP) University of Mississippi
6'1" / 212lbs / B-T (R/R)
Not Scouted
1.63/0.89, 66.1 IP, 118 SO, 27 BB, .142 BAA

Bittle leads all of college baseball with a staggering average of 16.02 strikeouts per nine innings. In fact, despite pitching out of the pen, Bittle currently ranks fifth overall in strikeouts. Though he doesn't blow away scouts with his velocity (his fastball sits in the 88-91 mph range), his cutter is a legit 2-plane pitch clocking in the mid-80s. He also mixes in a solid changeup that plays up because of the effectiveness of his cutter. He commands his arsenal to both sides of the plate and is especially effective with his cutter down in the zone, starting it at the knees and dropping it out of the zone. He should move quickly through the minors, as he has a firm grasp on his pitches as shows above-average command.

Adrian Nieto (C) American Heritage High School (Florida)
6'0" / 200lbs / B-T (R/R)
Not Scouted
.372 AVG, 1.200 SLG, 86 AB, 16 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 38 RBI, 31 R, 6 SB
Nieto is the complete package behind the plate. Soft hands, clean exchange from glove to hand and excellent footwork. He has experienced arm troubles over the past two seasons, but when healthy he displays plus-arm strength and fringe-above average accuracy. He has above-average power from pole-to-pole, but will have to improve his pitch identification and his ability to make consistent solid contact in order to fully realize that power. He benefited a great deal from hitting behind fellow 2008 future-draftee Eric Hosmer, often hitting with runners on and seeing a lot of fastballs. The two helped American Heritage to a Florida State Title and likely Baseball America’s top high school ranking for 2008. He will likely take at least four years to bring along, making him a solid candidate to step in eventually if Wieters has to move out from behind the plate.

Video Posted from Adrian's Gallery on Takkle.com

Jordan Danks (OF) University of Texas
6'5" / 210lbs / B-T (L/R)
Scouted: July 20, 2007 USA vs. Cuba; March 29, 2008 vs. Nebraska; May 25, 2008 vs. Kansas State
.321/.444/.564, 234 AB, 22 2B, 7 3B, 7 HR

Perhaps the best collegiate athlete in the draft, Danks has a Major League tool set and a wealth of untapped potential. Despite being one of the best prep power bats in the 2005 draft (a class that included Jay Bruce, Cameron Maybin and Justin Upton) Danks has only managed 12 HR in three college seasons. While scouts are at a loss as to his power-shortage, there is little doubt that a middle-of-the-order bat buried in this athletic centerfielder. The question is whether or not the risk is worth a second or third round pick (which is likely where Danks will go). Danks is effective and shows good baseball instincts in the outfield. He tracks the ball well in centerfield and has an adequate arm to stay there. As an aside, his brother John is enjoying some success in his sophomore Major League season as a part of the starting rotation for the first place Chicago White Sox.

6/4 am Potential Targets for Rounds 4-5
6/4 Noon Mail Bag
6/4 pm Final War-Room Review
6/5 Camden Depot Shadow Draft and Live Draft Coverage
Don't forget to keep the great questions coming for this Wednesday's Mailbag.

02 June 2008

Chad Bradford's Release Point

Here is a short break from the rule 4 draft. We have been getting so many hits lately, I thought a reintroduction to my perspective might be in order. Many think I am a sabermetrician, but if that is the case . . . I guess we all are.

Baseball is a counting sport. It is one of those things that is so special. We know what 56 means. We know what 2632 means. We know 4256. Someday, we’ll have to suck it up and remember 762. Baseball is special because so much of it is quantitative and we try to find standard ways of measuring everything we observe in baseball. It is why arguing about Babe Ruth and Willie Mays is far easier than arguing about Johnny Unitas and Dan Marino. This process began with Henry Chadwick’s cricket-inspired box scores as he tried to find a succinct way to describe the game in a newspaper column with limited space. Quickly, one imagines, statistics were not only used to describe what happened, but also try to predict what will happen. From our own respective fields, it is easy to see how useful it is to know what went right or wrong. It is far more useful if we can use past experience to encourage good things or prevent bad things. This need to be able to predict probable outcomes spurned advances in statistical analysis to this day. Baseball is less of a black box and more like a poor english translation. It kind of makes sense and you know what went into it, but the words are just a little off.

A little off is more valuable than having no clue, so predictive analysis garnered some steam. Branch Rickey and Al Roth dreamed up two quite useful statistics in the 1950s to fill a need. They wanted to better characterize power and the ability to get on base. The prevailing methods, slugging percentage and batting average, were considered by them to be somewhat misleading. In turn, they created isolated power and on base percentage. For those who do not know why these statistics are important, I’ll quickly explain. If you do, skip to the next paragraph. Isolated power is basically slugging percentage except you do not give credit for first base. This is a tool that attempts to measure power more accurately than slugging percentage does. Singles are typically not as effective scoring runs or creating run scoring opportunities than multi-base hits. Additionally, a player with an absurdly high number of balls that fall in for hits is often in a large sample of at bats is often benefiting from an unsustainable singles rate. The tradeoff is that you do lose a lot of information by ignoring the singles. On base percentage was also an improvement on the existing statistics because it corrected this commonly held fallacy: walks are given, not earned. Walks were, and still are by some, considered to be a failing of the pitcher, but the batter deserves some credit here. Rickey and Roth were smart enough to challenge the status quo and determine new ways to view the game.

In the past thirty years, we have seen the statistics side of the game develop more and more. We’ve fallen down foolish paths (i.e., saves, holds, game winning RBIs) and have developed some truly astonishing tools (i.e., wins shares, VORP, WARP, DIPS, fielding metrics). The way in which we can observe the game is also changing with the spread of Pitch f/x and the eventual availability of similar systems for hitting and fielding. It is within this exciting time that we are beginning to understand just how things work in baseball. Of course, the more and more we learn, the more and more we realize how little we actually know. The first step in citing any statistic is knowing the framework in which that number was generated. Numbers can be deceiving, but they also hold a lot of promise in predicting future performance if you know what they mean. From this perspective, I watch and have great passion for the game. It is a perspective that I have used throughout my, there are things that we know and things that we don’t. Using the best knowledge I have on hand, I make a prediction. This brings us to Chad Bradford and his release point.

The first game of the year that I attended was on May 31. I had seats 26 rows behind home plate and off centered toward third base. Very good seats for an Orioles-Red Sox game that could potentially feature Manny Ramirez becoming the 24th player to reach 500 home runs and the second one to do it in Camden Yards. In a bittersweet way, I brought my camera hoping to see Manny launch one. His first two at bats were against Garrett Olson. Garrett Olson is a prime guy to hit a homerun off of. His groundball rate is 43.1%, which is on the lower end for the Orioles. He does seem to keep batters off guard a bit as he achieves a rather low HR per fly ball rate (7.1%) for how many fly balls he actually gives up. Those two at bats resulted in a shot to left that was caught and a groundball to Melvin Mora for an out.

As the night wore on, number 500 was looking to be more and more elusive. Manny’s chances of hitting a homerun decreased in his third at bat as Lance Cormier came in. Lance induces grounders almost 60% of the time and his mistake pitches are hit for homeruns at an average clip (9.5% HR / fly ball). Manny hit another ball hard, but it was for an out into left field. The top of the seventh saw a 3-3 gridlocked game go 4-3 as a David Ortiz sky high popup to left field and, arguably, a poor handle by Ramon Hernandez led to a 4-3 score in the Red Sox favor. To try to keep the score from hemorrhaging, Trembley called in Chad Bradford. At this point, I turned my camera off and put it in my pocket. I commented to my friend that no one was going to see Manny hit a homerun tonight. Chad produces groundballs two-thirds of the time. He gives up about one or two homeruns a year. Now, it should be known that when he does give up a flyball, it has a 1 in 5 chance of being a homerun. When he makes mistakes, they are awful mistakes. I figured with a guy like Manny at the plate, there is no way he would leave a ball up in the zone. Well . . . to the right is the Pitch f/x data from the Bradford-Ramirez at bat. A single fast ball out of his hand at 81.5mph about 2.5 inches away from his normal release point and wound up across the center of the plate, at a height of 2.8 feet, and a final speed of 73.7mph. Manny redirected the pitched 425 feet into the center-right center stands. Shortly before that outcome, I took my camera out of my pocket just to be safe and captured this:

No matter what the data may suggest, there is always uncertainty. I don't know how to predict when a pitcher will have a poor release point. The ability to predict performance is the dragon we all chase. In baseball, the manager tries to determine which player in which situation results in the best chance to win. In life, when we buy a house or sign a contract for a job . . . we are using known information and try to project how a community will change or how our property will change in value. Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you lean too heavily on a single statistic to make a decision, whether it is a ground ball percentage or a growth index.

Baseball is not a black box. Though, it is a complex series of events affected by many variables, of which we only know a few. Knowing just a few variables can greatly increase accuracy. A translator knows this. A realtor knows this. A guy who watches baseball knows this. So, sit back and enjoy. My next post will be much less in terms of narrative and more in terms of: Have we reaped what Andy MacPhail has sewn?

Draft Preview -- Finding 1:4 (Brian Matusz)

Introducing Brian Matusz

Prior to the 2005 MLB Rule 4 Amateur draft, Matusz notified each Major League team that he would not sign for less than $1.475 million dollars. The Angels selected him in the fourth round hoping to sign the talented lefty for less -- Scouting Director Eddie Bane and the Angels front office stood firm that he was not worth first round money at the time. Matusz proved himself to be a man of his word, turning down the opportunity to begin his professional career and opting to join the Toreros. Three years later he has put himself in position to go in the top 5 and is rumored to be among three players Tampa will be choosing between this Thursday at 1:1. Statistically, Matusz has been among the best for the past two seasons, though his mechanics leave some room for improvement. Provided he's still on the board, should Baltimore select this year's top lefty?

The Numbers

Statistics (National Ranking out of 500 Ranked)
Innings Pitched – 96 (Not Available)
Strikeouts – 131 (2)
Strikeouts Per 9 Innings – 12.28 (5)
Walks – 21 (Not Available)
Walks Per 9 Innings – 1.93 (88)
Hits Per 9 Innings – 7.50 (59)
Earned Run Average – 2.56 (38)
Wins – 11 (5)

For the second straight season Matusz will finish in the top 2 in strikeouts and in the top 10 in SO/9 IP. This weekend Matusz passed San Diego State's sophomore phenom Stephen Strasburg as the nations strikeout leader, and with Strasburg's season over Matusz is a good bet to finish at #1 (he finished behind only Vanderbilt's David Price last season -- Price went 1:1 in the '07 Draft). Matusz combines high strikeout numbers with solid peripherals, averaging fewer than 2 BB/9 IP and fewer than 8 H/9 IP. Statistically he is one of the top five pitchers in college baseball, and the best arm available for this year's Draft.

The Frame

At 6'4" and 200 pounds, Matusz is a textbook example of a lanky lefty. He has a large frame, leaving plenty of room to thicken throughout his pro career. Durability should not be an issue, and he should settle in nicely as a workhorse in a Major League rotation.

Scouting: Film

Weight Transfer – Matusz's motion is compact and efficient, wasting little energy and focusing his momentum towards his target. He keeps his hips and lead glove closed as he leaves his knee raise and transfers into his stride. The stride is where Matusz can get into trouble. He doesn't utilize his legs to their full extent, usually taking an undersized step towards the plate.

This is detrimental in three ways: 1) he is not fully utilizing his strength in his legs to drive towards home, meaning he's losing some velocity, 2) by not extending outwards, he's throwing from an elevated position, making it more difficult to pitch on a downward plane, and 3) he is lengthening the distance between his release point and home plate, meaning his fastball is less likely to have the appearance of "late life" (when the pitch appears to explode towards the hitter around 2/3rds of the way to the plate). From time-to-time he'll land on a stiff front leg, which some have flagged as potential concern for future injury. While the conclusion of his weight transfer could use some tinkering, the shortcomings are more likely to be the difference between Matusz being a #1 starter or a #3 starter than they are to be the difference between success or total failure at the ML-level.

Arm Action – Because his weight transfer isn't ideal, Matusz relies on his size and his arm strength to get his fastball into the low-90s. As he plants, his arm is loaded at shoulder height and is in prime position to follow his lead glove, hips and torso efficiently and effectively. At times he can get a little stiff in the arm, though generally his motion is fairly clean and easy. He comes in slightly above a 3/4 release and uses an almost identical arm slot for all of his pitches.

Follow-Through – Like Crow, Matusz has a very free and easy follow-through. His balance is centered, keeping his momentum forward and preventing and fall-off. This also assists in maintaining his above-average command. His arm is loose and free coming across his body, with little to no recoil. His head stays quiet and his body, in general remains well under control.

Pace – Matusz is clean throughout his delivery. He keeps a good pace through his motion, not allowing energy to escape through unnecessary movement. As discussed above, a longer stride would help unleash more of the energy that he has built up through his knee raise, but all-in-all he is deliberate and direct to the plate. His momentum builds well and continues through his release.

Motion Grade – B+ – If Matusz can lengthen his stride, he could add 2-3 mph on his fastball. This could be the difference between success and dominance at the Major League level. His motion is effortless and repeatable, making it highly likely that Matusz will be able to successfully make adjustments once he starts his professional career.

The variance in stride leads to some inconsistencies in fastball velocity. Some days Matusz sits 88-90 mph, and others he sits 90-93 mph. He commands it well and is able to both throw strikes and place his fastball in the four corners of the strike zone. Since he works primarily off of his offspeed stuff, his fastball has a tendency to "sneak up" on hitters who are looking for his plus changeup or plus curveball. His changeup is among the best in college baseball, and his curve serves as his primary offering. He has above-average command with both. His slider is a fringe average pitch that he commands reasonably well, though it is his fourth best offering behind the fastball. His above-average arsenal combined with superior command is probably good enough to get out ML hitters right now, though he'll need to get his fastball consistently in the 92-94 range if he wants to establish himself as a legit frontline starter.

Arsenal Grade – B+
Command Grade – A

Is Matusz Worthy of 1:4?

Matusz profiles as a #2 starter capable of pitching up to a #1 provided he's able to tweak some of his mechanics. Usually, command is the last tool to come for a young pitcher. Matusz has command to spare, making him a prime candidate to move quickly through the Minors. He hasn't necessarily been the best overall arm over the last two seasons (Price and Strasburg probably taking those honors for '07 and '08, respectively) but he has been consistent and consistently near the top of any SP list. While no pitcher should be considered "safe", he is the best bet of the college arms to reach his potential and should be in heavy demand come Thursday.

Prospect Grade – A-
Suggested Draft Slot – 1-4
1:4 Recommendation – Strongly Consider drafting

Current Draft Board

1. Pedro Alvarez (3B) Vanderbilt University
2. Tim Beckham (SS) Griffin High School (Georgia)
3. Brian Matusz (SP) University of San Diego
4. Buster Posey (C) Florida State University
5. Justin Smoak (1B) University of South Carolina
6. Aaron Crow (SP) University of Missouri
7. Gordon Beckham (SS) University of Georgia Draft Preview

6/3 am Potential Targets for Rounds 2-3
6/3 pm Potential Targets for Rounds 4-5
6/4 Mail Bag and Final War-Room Review
6/5 Camden Depot Shadow Draft and Live Draft Coverage

Don't forget to keep the great questions coming for this Wednesday's Mailbag.

Draft Preview -- Finding 1:4 (Aaron Crow)

Introducing Aaron Crow

The University of Missouri right-hander forced himself into top 10 consideration last summer, leading the Cape Cod League with a 0.67 ERA while striking out 36 and walking 9. His fastball velocity jumped up to the 93-96 mph range (up from 84-86 when he arrived at Missouri) and occasionally touched 98, and at the season's conclusion he was awarded the Robert A. McNeese award given to the top prospect as selected by the scouts. Riding high into 2008, questions remained as to whether his new-found velocity, and dominance, would hold up over the course of an entire season. So how did his season shake out, and should Baltimore consider him at 1:4 if available?

The Numbers

Statistics (National Ranking out of 500 Ranked)
Innings Pitched – 78 (Not Available)
Strikeouts – 117 (6)
Strikeouts Per 9 Innings – 10.71 (20)
Walks – 38 (Not Available)
Walks Per 9 Innings – 3.02 (371)
Hits Per 9 Innings – 7.51 (60)
Earned Run Average – 2.56 (38)
Wins – 12 (1)

Crow met expectations as the nation's wins leader and ranking in the top 10 in strikeouts. Not only did he finish with an ERA just over 2.50, but his season included a scoreless streak of 43 innings, as well as 4 complete game shut-outs. While he faded a bit after the streak, he came on strong in the final week of the season and through the Big 12 Tournament and Regionals this past weekend. The red flag here is walks. Given his strong showing in H/9 and SO/9, it's a bit troubling to see Crow average over 3 BB/9 IP (370 pitchers ranking ahead of him).

The Frame

Crow is not a big body, sizing in at 6'2 and 195 pounds. There are concerns that his body will not hold up over the course of a Major League season, making him better suited for relief work. He primarily generates his velocity through arm speed.

Scouting: Film

Weight Transfer – Crow is very clean in his weight transfer. His motion is compact, with a still head and upper-body. His lower half does the bulk of the lifting in getting him from knee raise to plant, as it should. He drives well off his back leg and hips and glove hand stay closed through the motion, beginning to open as he plants his left foot. The hips and glove lead the upper half of his body, and finally his arm with all the momentum directed towards the plate. He keeps his upper-body at a 90 degree angle, allowing him to throw on a hard downward plane.

Arm Action – Crow's red flag is a cocking of the throwing arm as he begins towards home plate. You can see from the video that his wrist curls up towards the elbow as he raises his arm behind his body. The issue here is two-fold. First, he is expending energy during this muscle flex which in turn cannot be used towards his delivery. Second, he is flexing his wrist and placing stress on the tendons in his elbow. While this may not be a fatal flaw, it dramatically increases the likelihood that he will eventually run into elbow problems and, perhaps, Tommy John surgery. This also plays a part in a slight drag in his delivery. He comes with a 3/4 delivery.

Follow-Through – Perhaps the best aspect of his motion is the follow-through. His balance is centered, finishing directly towards home. His arm motion is free and clean, coming across his body with almost no recoil at all. This will minimize potential stress on the arm, as well as loss in velocity.

Pace – From both the windup and the stretch, Crow drags ever so slightly during his arm cock, which slows his delivery a bit. His arm speed and follow-through are solid enough to mitigate the ill effects of this drag, and he does not seem to lose velocity. Most importantly, aside from his arm cock, he isn't expending extra energy, and is therefor maximizing his momentum towards the plate.

Motion Grade – B+ – Crow has solid mechanics, an above-average weight transfer and a clean follow-through. Though his arm drags a bit, and his arm cock is potentially problematic, neither has had a demonstrable negative effect as of yet. If he can stay healthy, there should be very little tinkering required in order to get him Major League ready from a mechanics standpoint.

Crow's calling card is his low- to mid-90s plus-fastball that touches 98 mph and comes in with good boring (sink) action. He brings it from a 3/4 arm slot and throws it effectively to both sides of the plate. His command in the zone is hit and miss, but at this point in his career he is simply throwing it by everyone. His slider is a second plus-pitch that he throws out of an almost identical arm slot. This makes the pitch deceptive by making pitch ID difficult for the hitter. His command is somewhat lacking with the slider, but he has enough feel for it to make it an effective second offering right now. His changeup has the potential to be a solid third pitch, but he has not needed it enough as of yet to develop it. For now, it is a good "show me" pitch that he struggles to command.

Arsenal Grade – A
Command Grade – B

Is Crow Worthy of 1:4?

A strong finish to the season has re-established Crow as the top right-hander in the draft. While there are concerns as to his durability and future elbow problems, it is impossible to ignore his electric stuff. Like former teammate Max Scherzer, he could move quickly to the Majors and pitch out of a big league bullpen by his second year. To be an effective starter, however, he will need to hone his command and commit to establishing his changeup as a legitimate third pitch. Whichever team drafts him would be wise to bring him along slowly, given his size and the potential for arm troubles. His upside may top Scherzer if he can stay healthy -- a big "if".

Prospect Grade – B+
Suggested Draft Slot – 5-8
1:4 Recommendation – Consider drafting

Current Draft Board

1. Pedro Alvarez (3B) Vanderbilt University
2. Tim Beckham (SS) Griffin High School (Georgia)
3. Buster Posey (C) Florida State University
4. Justin Smoak (1B) University of South Carolina
5. Aaron Crow (SP) University of Missouri
6. Gordon Beckham (SS) University of Georgia

Draft Preview Schedule

6/2 pm Brian Matusz (SP) University of San Diego
6/3 am Potential Targets for Rounds 2-3
6/3 pm Potential Targets for Rounds 4-5
6/4 Mail Bag and Final War-Room Review
6/5 Camden Depot Shadow Draft and Live Draft Coverage

Don't forget to keep the great questions coming for this Wednesday's Mailbag.

01 June 2008

Draft Preview -- Finding 1:4 (Tim Beckham)

Introducing Tim Beckham

Baseball America's 2007 Youth Player of the Year has set himself apart as the top high school talent in the 2008 MLB Rule 4 Amateur Draft. After posting an impressive line his junior season as the Griffin High School shortstop (.512, 9 2B, 6 3B, 6 HR, 39 RBI, 20 SB), Beckham solidified his place in the minds of scouts last summer, consistently showing himself to be the top talent in each event of the showcase circuit. While his draft stock dipped a bit during a relatively slow start to his senior year, he finished strong over the final weeks and has reestablished himself as a legit potential 1:1 and a shoo-in to go in the top 5.

As our first HS player examined, we should point out two things. First, high school stats don't tell a huge story. It's enough to see that they are impressive, but they shouldn't be used as a measuring stick against college players or other high school players -- the discrepancies in talent faced from draftee-to-draftee are too great. Second, Beckham is not an Upton (Alex Eisenberg does a good job breaking down the differences in their swings in an article for Baseball Digest Daily). Comparisons are made because he is an African American high school middle infielder being discussed as a number one overall pick, but his game is very different. No team should draft him expecting to get Justin or BJ (Beckham does not have the power or advanced offensive approach of either Upton and his is far superior in the field). With that Said, let's see if he would fit at 1:4.
The Numbers

Senior Year:
At Bats – 78
Hits – 39
Doubles – 9
Triples – 3
Homeruns – 5
Runs Batted In – 31
Batting Average – .500
Slugging – .885
Total Bases – 69
Stolen Bases – 16

Summer Circuit:
At Bats – 132
Hits – 54
Doubles – 15
Triples – 8
Homeruns – 9
Runs Batted In – 38
Batting Average – .409
Slugging – .848
Total Bases – 112
Stolen Bases – 32

The summer circuit stats are particularly impressive, given that Beckham was consistently playing against the best talent in the country. He was able to hit for average, as well as power, and he was at the top of his running game. It would be fun to see what he could do in three seasons at Southern Cal, but it doesn't look like that will be in the cards.

The Frame

Beckham stands at a wiry 6'2" and 190 pounds. He has the frame of middle infielder. There is little chance that his body grows out of shortstop, making him the best bet of the top middle infield talents to stay at the six-spot.

Scouting: Film

Load – Beckham's hands are in good position and his elbow is at a solid 45 degree angle, paving the way for a very quick path to the ball. He is a little too heavy on his back foot, but is close enough to a 60/40 weight distribution that it doesn't cause any big issues in his swing, other than a slight tendency to hit off of his front foot.

Stride – The stride is moderate in length and smooth. His hands stay in a power-load position, locked to his body as he moves forward. Because he was a little heavy on his back foot in the load, there is more weight moving forward in the stride, which causes his front hip to occasionally open a little early. Again, this should be easily correctable and will be key in Beckham making the transition from a line-drive hitter to potentially an above-average power bat.

Swing – His swing is very quick, utilizing mostly the upper-half of his body. His wrists and upper body whip the bat through on a clean plane, and because his hand and arm position were each solid through the load and stride he has a short path to the pitch. He is a little early with his weight-transfer, losing a bit of power before he actually gets to contact. Against more advanced pitching, this might be a problem. Again, it should be an easily correctable flaw.

Contact – Despite an imperfect weight-transfer, Beckham squares-up on the ball consistently and sprays the ball to all fields. His superior hand-eye-coordination and short path to the ball make hitting come natural.

Follow-Through – Beckham's follow-through is clean, though he spins-off a bit. This is likely because his upper body has too much momentum in comparison to his lower body at this point in the swing. Rather than flowing from hips to elbow to knob to barrel, his upper body is playing catch-up. Also, he sometimes is too strong with his top hand, limiting his extension a bit and causing him to finish up.

Swing Grade – B+ – There is a lot of room for improvement in Beckham's swing, which is pretty scary given his high level of success already. With some seasoning and professional development, Beckham has a tool set that could make him a well above-average hitter.

Beckham is smooth and confident in the field. He is a plus-defender with great hands, above-average arm strength and good range to both sides. The tool-set is ideal for shortstop, and Beckham has a world of potential at that position.

Fielding Grade – A

Is Beckham Worthy of 1:4?

At this point, compared to the rest of the candidates to go in the top 3, Beckham is primarily a set of tools -- and what a set his is. He profiles as an above-average hitter, an above-average fielder at a valuable position and anywhere from an average to above-hitter hitter for power, depending on how his swing is crafted at the pro-level. If Baltimore is fortunate enough to have the opportunity to draft Beckham at 1:4, they would be wise to jump at it. Beckham will take a few extra years to develop, but the wait should be well worth it.

Prospect Grade – A
Suggested Draft Slot – 1-3
1:4 Recommendation – Draft

Current Draft Board

1. Pedro Alvarez (3B) Vanderbilt University
2. Tim Beckham (SS) Griffin High School (Georgia)
3. Buster Posey (C) Florida State University
4. Justin Smoak (1B) University of South Carolina
5. Gordon Beckham (SS) University of Georgia

Draft Preview Schedule

6/1pm Brian Matusz (SP) University of San Diego
6/1pm Aaron Crow (SP) University of Missouri
6/2 Potential Targets for Rounds 2-3
6/3 Potential Targets for Rounds 4-5
6/4 Mail Bag and Final War-Room Review
6/5 Camden Depot Shadow Draft and Live Draft Coverage

Don't forget to keep the great questions coming for this Thursday's Mailbag.

31 May 2008

Draft Preview -- Update 5/31

Regionals kicked off yesterday for the College Baseball Field of 64. Potential draft targets Gordon Beckham (1-5, 1 RBI), Pedro Alvarez (0-3) and Buster Posey (1-3) had uneventful days in losing efforts. Justin Smoak fared much better, going 4-4 with 3 RBI and 3 R as South Carolina won their opening match-up against Charlotte, 16-8.

Two pitchers being watched closely by Orioles scouts, Brian Matusz (University of San Diego) and Aaron Crow (University of Missouri) each helped their cause with dominant starts. Matusz lead the Toreros to a 5-0 win over the Cal Bears, allowing 3 hits, 1 walk and striking out 10 in nine scoreless innings. Crow struggled a bit with control, but was equally unhittable, allowing 5 walks and 3 hits while striking out 10 in nine scoreless innings. Both would be available Sunday if necessary.

30 May 2008

Draft Preview -- Finding 1:4 (Pedro Alvarez)

Introducing Pedro Alvarez

2008 was to be the pinnacle of an incredible college career for the Vanderbilt standout. Unfortunately, a broken hamate bone suffered in the 'Dores opening series did its best to de-rail the pre-season player-of-the-year's junior campaign. Alvarez was among the top hitters in college baseball in each of the last two seasons, and has been impressive in two stints with Team USA. It's been odd, to say the least, to see him struggle (relative to his previous level of performance). With the likes of Justin Smoak, Gordon Beckham and Buster Posey enjoying elite offensive seasons, and Alvarez reportedly sticking to his pre-season signing bonus demands, teams will have a difficult decision between the top performers of this collegiate season and arguably the top offensive talent over the last two years. Should the Orioles be fortunate enough to be in such a position, what should they choose? Should Baltimore once again grab the Boras "bonus baby" if the opportunity presents itself?

The Numbers

Statistic (National Rank out of 500 Ranked)
Games/Games Started – 37/37
At Bats – 154
Hits – 48 (NR)
Doubles – 14 (480)
Triples – 1 (NR)
Homeruns – 9 (315)
Runs Batted In – 28 (NR)
Batting Average – .312 (Not Eligible)
On-Base Percentage – .429 (Not Eligible)
Slugging – .591 (Not Eligible)
Total Bases – 91 (NR)
Walks – 27 (482)
Strikeouts – 26 (NR)

Given his limited action, and the tendency for hamate injuries to sap power by weakening the wrist, Alvarez's numbers are not as far off from the likes of Smoak, Posey and Beckham as they appear. Averaged out over the course of a full season (and understanding this is not exact), Alvarez was on pace for around 22 2B, 15 HR, 2 3B, 45 RBI and 147 TB -- a more than respectable performance. When compared to his previous outputs, however, this line falls well short. To get an idea of how good Alvarez has been, let's look as his lines through his freshman and sophomore years, as well as his two stints with team USA (keeping in mind his age):

'06 (Vandy) .329/.454/.675, 240 AB, 15 2B, 22 HR, 64 RBI, 57 BB, 64 SO

'06 (USA) .379/.467/.647, 116 AB, 12 2B, 5 HR, 43 RBI, 19 BB, 21 SO

'07 (Vandy) .386/.468/.684, 272 AB, 21 2B, 18 HR, 68 RBI, 40 BB, 65 SO

'07 (USA) .315/.399/.551, 127 AB, 9 BB, 7 HR, 30 RBI, 18 BB, 29 SO

It's a shame we were deprived of what could have been an inspired offensive display in 2008. However, Baltimore may be the lucky beneficiary should teams determine that this year's questionable output is enough to deter them from throwing $7 million or so at Pedro.

The Frame

At 6’2” and 225 pounds Alvarez has a Major League body that sits comfortably on a solid and bottom-heavy frame. His thick trunk and torso are the source of his lightening-quick bat speed and immense power, though it is also a concern for those scouts that think he will eventually have to move off of third base. On any given collegiate field, Alvarez appears as a man playing among children -- he should have no trouble adjusting quickly to the physical rigours of professional ball or holding his own against players two or three years his senior.

Scouting: May 23, 2008 vs. South Carolina (Film)

Load – Alvarez's stance starts with high hands and a raised elbow. He utilizes his load to drop and lock his hands into position while turning his front hip in, building up an enormous amount of potential force. His elbow remains elevated, pointing the barrel towards the pitcher and potential making for a lengthy swing. He is right around a 60/40 weight distribution.

Stride – Beginning with a wide stance, Alvarez's stride itself is little more than a lifting and dropping of his lead leg (similar to Albert Pujols). This is all he needs to start his weight transfer and begin to release the energy he built in his load. His hips remain closed, helping to project the force of his swing to and through the ball.

Swing – The above video illustrates how much torque Pedro's trunk and torso can generate, resulting in incredible bat speed. Even with this huge release of force, Alvarez stays under control, driving to the ball on a consistent plane. He is clean and smooth from hips to elbow to knob to barrel. A slight uppercut makes elevating and driving the ball natural.

Contact – Alvarez makes consistent hard contact, demonstrating good balance and control. Like Posey, his bat speed allows him to let the ball get deeper before beginning his swing, making pitch identification a little easier and helping him to routinely square up on the ball. His hip rotation is close to perfect, and at contact you can draw a straight line from his helmet down through his knee. Every bit of force in his lower half is efficiently pushed to and through the ball, and his bat speed generates good backspin and loft.

Follow-Through – Alvarez remains under control, releasing up and easy with two hands. He doesn't fall-off, which is again impressive given the torque generated through his hips.

Swing Grade – A – The Vandy thirdbaseman has a Major League-ready swing right now. He can drive the ball from pole-to-pole and has the work-ethic to continue tweaking and perfecting his approach. After struggling through the first two games of the SEC tournament, rather than returning to the hotel with the team, Pedro headed out to a batting cage in Hoover for a 2-hour BP session with some local high school players. He will hit in the middle of a Major League lineup for many years.

Alvarez is a good athlete and profiles to be an adequate 3b/1b/RF/LF. Provided he doesn't add more thickness to his lower body, he should have no trouble sticking at the more valuable position -- 3B -- but his potential versatility should be a nice bonus for whichever team selects him. He has an adequate arm for 3B and charges the ball well.

Fielding Grade – B+

Is Alvarez Worthy of 1:4?
The idea of Alvarez and Wieters hitting in the middle of an Orioles lineup in the not-to-distant future is almost too good to be true. He has demonstrated leadership through words and example both with Vandy and Team USA, and already possesses a professional approach to his game. He should be the quickest to the Major Leagues out of any 2008 draftees and will be a force in short order. His price tag is not for the faint of heart, but whoever ponies up will be well rewarded.

Prospect Grade – A
Suggested Draft Slot – 1 to 3
1:4 Recommendation – Draft

Current Draft Board

1. Pedro Alvarez (3B) Vanderbilt University
2. Buster Posey (C) Florida State University
3. Justin Smoak (1B) University of South Carolina
4. Gordon Beckham (SS) University of Georgia

Draft Preview Schedule

6/1am Tim Beckham (SS) Griffin High School (Georgia)
6/1pm Brian Matusz (SP) University of San Diego
6/1pm Aaron Crow (SP) University of Missouri
6/2 Potential Targets for Rounds 2-3
6/3 Potential Targets for Rounds 4-5
6/4 Mail Bag and Final War-Room Review
6/5 Camden Depot Shadow Draft and Live Draft Coverage

Please feel free to contact us with any thoughts our questions -- we'd love to hear from you.

Draft Preview -- Finding 1:4 (Buster Posey)

Introducing Buster Posey

The third draftee examined in our preview – Buster Posey – has had a busy ten days. In addition to concluding play in the ACC Tournament and preparing for today’s start to the Tallahassee Regional, Posey has begun to stock his 2008 trophy case. Last week brought First Team All-ACC and ACC Player of the Year honors. Yesterday, Posey was named a Louisville Slugger NCAA Division I First Team All-American as well as the National Player of the Year. Further, earlier this week Posey was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-American Baseball Team while also being named Academic All-American of the Year (finance major, 3.8+ GPA). It’s possible Posey will have to make still more room in his trophy case, as he is a semi-finalist for the Golden Spikes Award (USA Baseball), the Johnny Bench Award and the Dick Howser Trophy. Let’s take a closer look at the player behind all of these accolades and determine whether he’s a fit for Baltimore at 1:4.

The Numbers

Statistic (National Rank)
Games/Games Started – 58/57
At Bats – 214
Hits – 100 (3)
Doubles – 20 (138)
Triples – 4 (144)
Homeruns – 19 (23)
Batting Average – .467 (1)
On-Base Percentage – .567 (1)
Slugging – .864 (1)
Total Bases – 185 (3)
Walks – 46 (9)
Strikeouts – 20 (160th toughest to strikeout)

The numbers pretty much speak for themselves. Posey was this year’s batting, on-base and slugging leader, while ranking in the top 10 in bases-on-balls, hits, runs and total bases and the top 25 in homeruns. Among ACC players, he leads in seven categories while ranking in the top 10 in four others.

While most agree Posey will hit for average, there are varying views as to his potential power development. Despite his collegiate power numbers holding in the neighborhood of G. Beckham or Smoak, even his strongest supporters concede he will likely max out at 20 HR a year at the ML-level (Dick Howser Stadium, his home field at FSU, is a notorious hitters park). Regardless of whether Posey ends up a 16-20 HR bat or a 8-12 HR bat, his offensive game is well-rounded, advanced and should certainly play in pro ball.

The Frame

Posey measures in at 6’2” and 200 pounds. He is a solid size for a catcher and has essentially filled out his frame, which should project well as a #2 hitter with a floor of gap-to-gap power. He has a solid build and should hold up well behind he plate, especially since he did not switch to catcher until late in his baseball career at FSU. Posey is athletic enough to play any position at the collegiate level, but would be just an adequate IF at the ML-level. In a publicity stunt earlier this season, FSU played Posey at every position over the course of a 9-inning game.

Interview With Fox Sports Prior to the Miami Series ('Tek Behind the Plate, Jeter with the Bat Comparison)

Scouting: March 23, 2008 at Virginia Tech (Film)

Load – Posey has a very sound load. He maintains a solid 60/40 weight distribution and his hands are locked close to the shoulder, creating good power potential (you may notice some consistencies among the top collegiate bats?). His elbow is angled slightly below his shoulder line, bringing his bat closer to parallel with his body. This will quicken his bat’s path to the ball provided he is able to keep his hands tight to his body and to drive the bat knob directly at the ball as his swing progresses. Prior to his load, Posey has a bat waggle that I have not seen interfere with the consistency of his hand placement.

Stride – Posey has very still hands through is stride and does a good job of keeping them with his torso -- better than either of Smoak or G. Beckham. His stride is controlled and sets him up well as he begins his weight transfer. The waggle is completely gone by the time his stride has started, and as he gets ready to start the swing, his hips remain closed.

Swing – Posey has the shortest swing out of the three draftees we've examined thus far. He is incredibly direct to the ball, with his hands in great position to strike at any portion of the strike zone. One possible concern is whether or not his compact stroke will limit his HR power as a pro. There is little doubt he'll continue to hit the ball with force, but may not have enough raw size for the short swing to naturally translate to homeruns. This is a minor concern, with the down-side being gap-to-gap doubles power. He also comes in a little flat at times, which is fine for centering on the ball, but again could be the difference between a line drive double in the gap and elevating the ball enough to get it out of the park (a lot of times the difference between a double and a homerun is simply a question of elevation, as it takes about the same amount of force to get it by the outfielders in the gap as it does to get it over the fence). Posey is clean from hips to arm to knob to barrel.

Contact – Posey squares up well on the ball, his compact swing and bat speed permitting him to wait until the ball is a little deeper before beginning his swing. This leads to more consistent hard contact and more time for pitch recognition. He is balanced at contact and does a good job of keeping his swing momentum running to and through the ball, with little if any energy/momentum escaping (this would usually come if the batter starts to fall-off or pull his hips out).

Follow-Through – In the Virginia Tech game, Posey bounced back and forth between two follow-throughs. Depending on the at bat, he may use a free one-handed release (on balls out over the plate) and a tighter two-handed release (from the middle in). The two-handed release is a little cleaner, and more under control. It could be he was a little over-extended on the ABs in which he went to a one-handed release -- in any event, he was not falling-off at all.

Swing Grade – A- – Posey is very sound and compact in his swing. He is quick to the ball and his ability to square up throughout the strikezone allows him to spray linedrives to all fields.

Posey is an elite-level defensive talent at arguably the most valuable defensive position. He possesses plus-arm strengh with above-average accuracy (throwing out 41.5% of would-be base stealers and picking off 6 runners). He is a plus-fielder with strong receiving skills to go along with incredible poise and strong leadership. He is the total package.

Fielding Grade – A

Is Posey Worthy of 1:4?

Almost any argument against drafting Posey begins and ends with the words “Matt Wieters”. This is exactly the wrong reason to avoid the Florida State catcher. Disregarding Wieters’s size and the potential future problems with him staying behind the plate, Baltimore is not in a position to pass on talent – Buster has a lot of it. He does not possess the middle-of-the-order bat you would get with Justin Smoak, but he has the potential to be among the best #2 hitters in the game and his defense and make-up are incredible pieces of a complete package. The chances are Posey will be off the board by the time Baltimore picks. If not, he should be seriously considered at 1:4. For the purposes of our draft board, he grades a hair above Smoak going into this weekend. However, they are close enough that either would be a valid selection.

Prospect Grade – A-
Suggested Draft Slot – 1 to 5
1:4 Recommendation – Strongly Consider Drafting

Current Draft Board
1. Buster Posey (c) Florida State University
2. Justin Smoak (1b) University of South Carolina
3. Gordon Beckham (ss) University of Georgia

Draft Preview Schedule
5/31am Pedro Alvarez (3b) Vanderbilt University
5/31pm Tim Beckham (SS) Griffin High School (Georgia)
6/1am Brian Matusz (SP) University of San Diego
6/1pm Aaron Crow (SP) University of Missouri
6/2 Potential Targets for Rounds 2-3
6/3 Potential Targets for Rounds 4-5
6/4 Mail Bag and Final War-Room Review
6/5 Camden Depot Shadow Draft and Live Draft Coverage

29 May 2008

Draft Preview -- Finding 1:4 (Justin Smoak)

Introducing Justin Smoak

If you ask most Baltimore Orioles fans whether they’d like to add a certain middle-of-the-order, switch-hitting, solid-defensive first baseman this offseason, more often than not your inquiry will be met with a resounding “Yes!” Interestingly enough, Baltimore may be able to add two of them in a six-month span, the second of whom should cost less than 4% of what Teixeira will likely be demanding. Justin Smoak (1b, University of South Carolina) entered the season as one of the top collegiate bats in this years class and a likely top 10 pick. After a slow start, which compounded some fears that arose after a rough summer with Team USA, Smoak broke out in a big way, finishing the season with a line of .389/.509/.758, and 20 HR (including 6 HR and 19 RBI in a nine-day span between 4/15 and 4/23). The switch-hitting slugger is more than capable in the field and has established himself as the best all-around 1b in the draft. He’s a semi-finalist for both the Golden Spikes Award (USA Baseball) and the Dick Howser trophy, and earned first-team All-SEC honors in his junior year. Let’s take a closer look and try to figure out if the Orioles should target Smoak at 1:4.

The Numbers

Statistic (National Rank out of 500 Ranked)
Games/Games Started – 59/59
At Bats – 220
Hits – 83 (75)
Doubles – 18 (111)
Triples – 0 (not ranked)
Homeruns – 21 (9)
Runs Batted In – 66 (55)
Batting Average – .377 (89)
On-Base Percentage – .502 (26)
Slugging – .745 (17) Total Bases – 164 (11)
Walks – 55 (7)
Strikeouts – 27 (464th toughest to strikeout -- 1 SO/8.1 AB)

Like Gordon Beckham, Smoak’s calling card is his power, with almost half of his hits going for extra bases. He has shown an impressive and discriminate eye at the plate, posting a 27/55 strikeout-to-walk ratio and finishing in the top 10 nationally in bases on balls. While the overall statistical package looks impressive, some have shown concerns with Smoak’s streaky-tendencies.

As mentioned above, Smoak struggled mightily with Team USA this past summer, posting an uninspired line of .223/.291/.380 while appearing in all 35 games and starting in 32 of them. As with the start of this college season, consistency was the issue rather than the level of competition, as in his 10 best games Smoak raked to the tune of .436 AVG / .872 SLG. Coupled with the fact that he impressed in the Cape after his freshman year (11 home runs in 39 games), any worries about his ability to hit with wood seem unwarranted. Over the course of any given season Smoak should be a safe bet to perform at the plate.

The Frame

Smoak measures in at 6’4” and 215 pounds and has used every bit of the size and power along the way to capturing South Carolina’s career HR and RBI record (60 and 200, respectively). While there isn’t a ton of room for growth, he shouldn’t need much. Smoak has a ML body right now and will likely add a couple pounds of muscle as his professional career progresses. His size profiles as a middle-of-the-order bat.

Scouting: Film

We will evaluate Smoak’s left-handed swing and right-handed swing simultaneously. Full slow-motion videos of Smoak's left-handed and right-handed swings can be found at Baseball-Intellect -- snap shots are below:

Load – From the both sides, Smoak’s back elbow is elevated a bit, pointing the top of the bat towards the pitcher. From the left, this turns out to be less problematic than it is for Beckham because of Smoak’s terrific stride (as we will see shortly). From the right, it is corrected by a hitch in his stride (which may or may not prove problematic). He maintains a solid 60/40 weight distribution and his hands are locked close to the shoulder, creating good power potential. His stance varies, with a tight stance from the right and a wider stance from the left, giving him a more up-and-down swing from the right and a slightly more compact swing from the left.

Stride – From the left side, Smoak utilizes a smooth weight transfer and locks his hands in prime position just at the height and slightly behind his back shoulder. He stays closed in the hips through a stride of moderate length and little elevation allowing for maximum power by the time he starts his swing. Little energy is lost and his swing is shortened by locking his hands into position relative to his shoulder (if you remember, Gordon Beckham locked his hands into a position in space, which lead to his body getting ahead of the hands and therefore lengthening his swing). Smoak also keeps his elbow locked in position. While this is not ideal, he is not lengthening his swing by raising it during the stride. Since his stay locked to the body, his swing should be nice and quick to the ball.

From the right side, Smoak’s stride is a little shorter, but the weight transfer, closed hips and hands locked to the shoulder are all replicated. There is a red flag, however, in the form of a hitch. As he starts his stride, Smoak dips his hands a couple of inches and elevates his knee slightly as he steps forward. His hands return to slot by the time his swing starts (with his elbow lowered as the swing starts). This may not be a huge problem in the future, depending on how consistently he returns his hands to the proper position in which they start. Any inconsistencies in the location of his hands will likely lead to periodic inconsistencies in his swing. I do not see enough of Smoak to know whether this is an issue, but it would be interesting to look as his tape from Team USA and take note of this potential issue.

Swing – From the left, Smoak has a smooth swing with a slight uppercut. He leads well with his hips, elbow and the knob of the bat, generating good bat speed and driving the barrel on a fairly short line to the ball. From the right, his hands drag ever-so-slightly, lengthening his swing. This is likely a result of the hands still returning from the hitch. The swing is equally fluid from the right, though a little longer. There is still a great amount of power generated as his swing flows from hips to elbow to knob of the bat to the barrel.

Contact – He squares up on the ball very well from both sides. From the right he tenses a bit in the lower half through his core at contact, but loosens almost immediately so as not to affect his follow-through. Balance from both sides is very good, allowing Smoak to use his size and clean swing to drive the ball effectively to all fields.

Follow-Through – From both sides, Smoak is free and easy with his follow-through. Despite his size and the force in his swing, he maintains excellent balance as he concludes. This is a positive sign in that 1) his swing is not likely to get away from him, and 2) he is generating great power without sacrificing control over his swing.

Swing Grade – A- (left side); B+ (right side) – The hitch on the right is a little worrisome, but all-in-all there is a lot to be excited about with Smoak’s swing. He looks clean and efficient from load to follow-through, and there are few causes for concern.

Smoak is a fine athlete – sure-handed in the field and comfortable defensively. He has the footwork and hands to excel as a Major League first baseman, and should have no trouble slotting in as one of the better defensive 3’s around in any given league. He probably doesn’t have the mobility to man an OF corner, which limits his “tool” grade a bit. He has an adequate arm.

Fielding Grade – B+

Is Smoak Worthy of 1:4?

Smoak is the total package when it comes to draftee first basemen. A switch hitter that generates power to all fields and both sides of the plate, he profiles as a middle-of-the-order bat and is a clean and confident player in the field. While the inconsistencies of the summer and, to an extent, his junior year at South Carolina caused his stock to drop a bit early on, there is no doubt he is a top 10 talent with a major league tool set. Baltimore should give Smoak serious consideration at 1:4.

Prospect Grade – B+
Suggested Draft Slot – 4 to 8
1:4 Recommendation – Strongly Consider Drafting
Current Draft Board – 1. Smoak / 2. G. Beckham

Draft Preview Schedule

5/30pm Buster Posey (C) Florida State University

5/31am Pedro Alvarez (3b) Vanderbilt University

5/31pm Tim Beckham (SS) Griffin High School (Georgia)

6/1am Brian Matusz (SP) University of San Diego

6/1pm Aaron Crow (SP) University of Missouri

6/2 Potential Targets for Rounds 2-3

6/3 Potential Targets for Rounds 4-5

6/4 Draft Primer and Final War-Room Review

6/5 Camden Depot Shadow Draft and Live Draft Coverage

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