A Collection of Weekend Scouting Notes (3/9/2021)

Prospect writers Kevin Goldstein and Eric Longenhagen will sometimes have enough player notes to compile a scouting post. This is one of those dispatches, a collection of college baseball and spring training thoughts from this past weekend. Remember, prospect rankings can be found on The Board.

Kevin’s Notes

Will The College Hitters Please Come Forward?

Eric and I have talked about this subject in this space and elsewhere, but the college hitter group for the 2021 draft is developing into an especially challenging one for scouting departments. Much of that is because with both an exceptionally short 2020 season and no Cape Cod League, it was hard to line up boards heading into the year. Some of the best freshmen from 2019 became the best draft-eligible bats heading into the year almost by default, and many have disappointed. Take a look at this quartet, all of whom entered the season as potential top-half of the first round picks.

  • Alex Binelas, 3B, Louisville: Seen as a third baseman who can hit and hit for power, Binelas finally got the bat going a bit over the weekend, with knocks in each of his three games, but his 11-game season line is still a shockingly miserable .130/.226/.217 without a home run. One is forced to wonder if last spring’s hamate injury is bothering him, but he’s dropped both in the Cardinals’ lineup and on draft boards.
  • Adrian Del Castillo, C, Miami: Castillo entered the year as the top catcher on the board for some teams despite an offense-first profile, but that offense has yet to really manifest itself this spring. He finally notched his first home run on Sunday, but is hitting just .270/.349/.405 overall and scouts are frustrated by his lack of growth behind the dish.
  • Jud Fabian, OF, Florida: A toolsy outfielder with big time pop, Fabian has been hitting balls over the fence for the Gators, with five home runs in 51 at-bats, but it has come with a disturbing amount of swing-and-miss, as evidenced by his 17 strikeouts. His .275/.373/.588 overall line is certainly solid, but other than the team’s season-opening series with Miami, it has come against far inferior competition, and plenty of crosschecks are being planned once conference play begins in a couple of weeks.
  • Matt McLain, SS, UCLA: After a sterling opening weekend, McLain’s bat cooled down considerably, but a couple of hits Sunday brought him back to a .300 average and an overall line of .300/.442/.450 in 11 games. Questions about both his ability to consistently impact the baseball and his future defensive home are starting to pop up.

Given the challenges presented by projecting the hitters heading into this season, we should expect numerous pop-up players throughout the spring. There’s a solid chance that a player who did not enter the year on anyone’s Top 100 ends up going in the first round in one of the most fluid drafts in recent memory.

Enrique Bradfield, CF, Vanderbilt: 4-for-10, 3 BB, 4 SB

It’s perfectly fine to just like a guy, and I just like Enrique Bradfield. Maybe I’m aging myself as someone whose formative years came watching leadoff hitters in the 1980s, as Bradfield fits that mold. The first time I saw him in person was in 2018, when Bradfield was a sophomore at American Heritage High School in south Florida, a national powerhouse that at the time featured first-rounder and current Red Sox prospect Triston Casas. Bradfield led off, ran like the wind, made spectacular plays in center field and despite being three years away, was already committed to Vanderbilt. Now a true freshman for the Commodores, Bradfield hasn’t missed a beat in translating his skills to college baseball’s top conference, hitting .367/.513/.400 in his first 10 games while going a perfect 8-for-8 in stolen bases. Like the exceptionally fun leadoff men of the 1980s, Bradfield doesn’t have a power aspect to his game, but he’s a joy to watch play and one to watch for how he sets himself up for the 2023 draft.

Wes Clarke, 1B, South Carolina: 2-for-9, 2 BB, 3 K

Wes Clarke is a very large man who hits baseballs extremely hard. Listen at 6-foot-2 and 236 pounds on the Gamecocks roster sheet, Clarke arguably has the gaudiest stat line in college baseball right now. The junior has gone 16-for-34 with eight home runs and 14 walks for video game-esque totals of .471/.625/1.235 in 10 games despite a sub-standard weekend against Mercer.

The bat is where the value is for Clarke, and it’s arguably the only value in his game. He caught one game over the weekend, but that’s a rarity, and his lack of mobility and poor throwing gives him no chance there as a pro. When not catching, he served as a designated hitter, which might be his more natural position. He’s a pure pull crusher who loves the ball inside but is beatable on the outer half, but he knows where his happy zone is and maintains his approach well. Seth Beer had a similar profile and much longer track record of killer performances and he barely squeaked into the first round in his draft year, leaving Clarke to hope that continuing to destroy baseballs once he sees real velocity during conference play could get him into the comp round.

Sal Frelick, CF, Boston College: 5-for-10, 2 HR, 3 BB

For teams looking for a college bat, is Sal Frelick becoming the guy? He’s not the kind of player who catches your eye when he steps off the bus, but he packs plenty of tools into his 5-foot-9 frame. And if you are looking for performance to go with tools, this is your dude, as Frelick is hitting .476/.531/857 in his first 10 games for the Eagles, with much of that damage coming against conference foes. Frelick’s swing is exceptionally simple and compact, employing a no-step trigger with quick rotation, plus bat speed, excellent contact ability and some sneaky pop, and while he’s played all over the diamond as an amateur, he’s seemingly found a home this spring in center field, where his above-average wheels serve him well. When the only bad thing to say about a player is that he’s 5-foot-9, you really doesn’t have anything bad to say about the player.

Seth Lonsway, LHP, Ohio State: 2.2 IP, 2 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 6 K

Make no mistake, Lonsway has first round stuff. His low-to-mid 90s fastball has the kind of rising life teams look for thanks to a nearly over-hand release point, and in terms of spin rate and break, his curveball is among the best in the class. He generates strikeouts about as well as anyone, whiffing 42 in just 18 innings last spring, and punching out six more over 2.2 innings in his 2021 debut against Illinois on Saturday. That’s a staggering 20.9 K/9. There’s only one problem, but it’s a big one. He has absolutely no idea where it’s going, as in the 20.2 innings since 2020 began, Lonsway has walked 22; on Saturday, when he needed 82 pitches to get through those eight recorded outs, he added a couple of wild pitches and hit two batters. For a potential pro team, it would be a project just to get Lonsway to project status, but the stuff could land him somewhere in Day Two for a team just looking for cheap but exceptionally risky upside.

Extra Notes:

Jaden Hill, RHP, LSU: Concerns about command and consistency reared their ugly heads on Friday as Hill tossed a real clunker against Oral Roberts, retiring just one of the nine hitters he faced in a first inning that including five hits, a couple of walks, and a hit batter.

Ty Madden, RHP, Texas: After earning a blurb in last week’s notebook, Madden was even better this past Friday, striking out 14 in a two-hit shutout over Houston. His fastball averaged 96 mph while touching 99. He’s put himself firmly among the top arms in the class.

Eric’s Notes

MacKenzie Gore, LHP, San Diego Padres: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 2 K

I was on hand for Gore’s first spring start last Thursday. His fastball ranged from 92-96 and was mostly 94-96. His feel for locating was not great, and his secondary stuff flashed but was inconsistent, but it was his first spring outing and that’s pretty common. Did he look like the slam dunk No. 2 prospect in baseball? No. For now, I think that’s okay. His entire outing can be seen here:

Jake Brentz, LHP, Kansas City Royals: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 K

Brentz has an incredibly fast, explosive arm action and is a great on-mound athlete. His fastball velocity has crept up from the 91-94 range to 95-99 in his most recent spring outing. His fastball’s spin axis is not conducive to creating bat-missing life, though, and righties have a nice long look at his pitches. There’s exciting raw material for the Royals to work with here but I wouldn’t expect Brentz to make an immediate big league impact even though he has elite lefty velo.

Carter Young, SS, Vanderbilt (2022 eligible): 6-for-12, 2 HR, 2B

Young was a notable prospect even as an underclassman in remote Selah, Washington, which is a scenic three-hour drive along the Columbia River from Portland to Yakima. Young stood out because of his defense and in-game power, which is created by consistent lift in his swing. He also struck out a ton, and that issue continued throughout his high school career. Sources who cover the Northwest tell me it would have taken seven figures to sign Young away from Vanderbilt, if he could have been signed at all. His true freshman year was cut short by the COVID shutdown, but now Young is off to a pretty hot start and tied for the team lead in homers. He’s still striking out a lot (in 25% of his PA so far) and doesn’t have typical big league physicality, but the glove and in-game power combination remains notable, especially now that it’s manifesting on a D-I field. Conference play will lay an important foundation for his 2022 assessment.

Jack Perkins, RHP, Louisville: 3 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 2 K, 4 R

Perkins was into the mid-90s in high school but has struggled with walks since arriving at Louisville, and he missed the short 2020 season with injury. His arm strength is all the way back after the injury, as he’s been sitting 96 and touching 98 in relief outings, and consistently working with a tight, late-biting mid-80s slider. But he’s accumulated six walks in six innings so far this spring. Even as a relief-only prospect Perkins has third round stuff and his season-long progress should be monitored for gradual improvement the way teams wish they’d stayed on Tarik Skubal a few years ago.

Changes to the Top 100

As is typical for Spring Training, there have unfortunately been a handful of injuries that have impacted prospects sufficiently to move them down our overall list. In each case the injury is either very severe or one of several injuries the prospect has now sustained.

Twins prospect Royce Lewis tore his ACL and will miss the entire season. The lost season means one more year of not knowing exactly where he fits defensively, how his swing plays at the upper levels, or how it might change if it doesn’t. He slides to the bottom of the 55 FV tier near other high-ceiling/high-risk types like Jazz Chisholm.

Several pitching prospects have also dealt with injury. Astros righty Forrest Whitley (who was 106th overall) moves out of the 50 FV tier due to an elbow strain that will likely lead to Tommy John surgery. Edward Cabrera moves from the 55 FV tier into the 50 FV tier due to right biceps nerve inflammation. His 2020 ended due to a strange infection in his right arm.

Yankees righty Clarke Schmidt has an “extensor strain,” the group of muscles in the outer elbow responsible for extending the arm and pronating the hand. He will not throw for three to four weeks. He’s a prospect with an injury history and violent delivery, so this is somewhat more concerning for him than it would be for someone who has a cleaner track record of health. He slides from the 50 FV tier into the 45+ tier. We still think Schmidt will play an integral role on the pitching staff when healthy, but remember that FV cares about contributions across all of a player’s pre-free agency years. This slide anticipates Schmidt and Cabrera dealing with intermittent injuries throughout that time because, well, they dealt with intermittent injuries to this point.

Prospect Velo Report

The below tweet leads to thread with prospect fastball velos:

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1 year ago

Tyler Phillips is up to 95? Wow, that’s impressive – he could barely crack 90 a year or two ago. Is he still in the 40+ range?