A Dispatch From Day Five of the WBSC U-18 World Cup

Here are a few more prospects I saw at the WBSC U-18 World Cup taking place in Busan, South Korea. You can check out my previous dispatches here and here.

Mick Abel (United States), RHP

If you’ve followed 2020 prospects for a while, you’ve probably have heard of Mick Abel, a right handed pitcher out of Jesuit High School in Oregon. The righty is currently ranked fourth on THE BOARD and is one of the consensus top pitchers for next year’s draft. In their report, Kiley and Eric noted that Abel is an “excellent high school projection arm” and by looking at him, it was an apt label. Abel currently has a fairly slim frame but long limbs. When he adds some weight, I can see him having an A.J. Burnett-esque build. Abel pitched on September 3 against Spain during the group stage play of the U-18 World Cup. His delivery indicated how he’s able to throw into mid-90s. Abel has a relaxed yet up-tempo delivery with a long stride. When his body parts sync correctly, he features an excellent hip/shoulder separation into landing, which unleashes his torso and arm forward furiously, resulting in elite arm speed. Abel also gets over the front leg well during the release, which should help him command-wise in long-term.

Throughout his outing, Abel showed a two-pitch fastball and slider mix. His best stuff showed in the first inning, when he sat 92-94 mph and touched 95. His slider also showed some tight spin with a 10-4 tilt. At the time, both pitches showed flashes of being plus. However, as the outing progressed, Abel became inconsistent in his delivery – particularly, syncing his body parts and finding the release point – and his fastball velocity dipped to 90-92 mph range. His slider, while garnering a few whiffs here and there, did not flash the sharpness it had in the first inning and became loopier.

Abel became susceptible to opening his front shoulder a tad early and had trouble locating his fastball towards his glove side. When his fastball wasn’t working against Spain’s hitters, he turned to throwing his slider more in the fourth inning to generate weak contact or swings-and-misses. That probably would not work in the pros, as he is currently a two-pitch pitcher and hitters can sit on his breaking ball. His outing was over by the fifth, when his fastball velocity dipped as low as 88.5 mph and missed wildly to his glove side.

But a high school pitcher, even an elite one, struggling with consistency and velocity is not a huge concern. In the first inning, Abel showed why he is talked about as the top right-handed pitching prospect of the draft and for the rest of the game, he showed that he’s an 18-year old pitcher who needs some polish to develop himself to the next level. As Eric and Kiley noted, “Abel hasn’t filled out a whole lot and remains physically projectable, so more heat may be on the way.”

Pete Crow-Armstrong (United States), OF

Crow-Armstrong is another highly touted prep prospect who, for now, is considered to be a favorite for a first-round selection in 2020. We currently have him ranked seventh on THE BOARD. Eric and Kiley’s evaluation says it all: “Crow-Armstrong is a plus runner with good baseball instincts and contact skills to go with sneaky power and a strong record of hitting.” As the United States’ leadoff hitter and center fielder, Crow-Armstrong has demonstrated multiple facets of his skillsets in the U-18 World Cup, both with his bat and glove.

Crow-Armstrong’s does not have incredible bat speed but he shows a very compact bat path from the set to contact. His stroke is contact-oriented and he was able to produce line drives to different parts of the field while showing flashes of gap power. He is an aggressive hitter with a pretty good approach at the plate. Throughout the tournament, he showed that he is willing to fight the count until he gets a pitch to hit. His swing can be a bit inside out and has a slightly upper stroke. While power is not known to be his strongest tool, the projection may change depending on how his body fills out and if he makes any modifications to swing mechanics. At this moment, I’m not concerned about his ability to make contact against professional pitching – his quick hands and wrist signal to me that he can develop as a good contact hitter in the pros.

Crow-Armstrong is wiry and there is a lot of room to add more weight. He is already an exceptional athlete and even if he doesn’t develop as expected, I can see him becoming a useful fourth outfielder. As a fielder, Crow-Armstrong was one of the best outfielders – if not the best – of the entire tournament. He shows a good jump and instincts to track down fly balls and made a few web gem-worthy plays. He may need some seasoning to become a more complete center fielder but seems likely to stick at the position.

Alejandro Rosario (United States), RHP

Rosario is ranked 64th on THE BOARD for the 2020 class. He’s a Florida arm who’s committed to Miami and while he was initially a 2021 draft prospect, he re-classified for 2020, making him one of the youngest in the class. Rosario pitched on September 3 in relief for Mick Abel versus Spain and immediately showed what he was known for – explosive arm strength.

Rosario has a very aggressive tempo and violent, rotational finish towards third. He delivers explosive momentum from his lower half to his pitching arm to throw into mid-to-late-90s. Throughout the outing, Rosario sat in 95-96 mph range while hitting 97.9 mph. It’s a high-effort delivery and doesn’t look easy, but it works. Kiley and Eric noted that Rosario has a “solid arm action.” He picks up his arm during the stride with his elbow and lets it fire. His fastball has a natural tail, but did not really miss a lot of bats. A lot of hitters sat on his fastball and often swung on first pitch to make hard contact. He started to garner whiffs in his third inning of work when he elevated his fastball up the zone. Rosario also had a sweeping slider that sat in the 84-85 mph range. When it was on, it generated some silly looks and whiffs but I can’t say it was consistent. There were times the pitch looked too loopy for hitters to be fooled, which made Rosario rely on his fastball more and become one-dimensional.

He is not a big guy (listed at 6-foot-0) and he could fill out, but whether he will be durable enough to be a starting pitcher is a question. He has a high-effort delivery and has only showcased two pitches. All these traits make it tricky to envision what he could become. I would say reliever is a likely role, but the team that drafts him will likely try to develop him as a starter. As is the case for many prep prospects, Rosario is wiry and has a lot of room to fill out. He has the physical gifts and mechanics to throw some smoke, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he comes with a can’t-miss potential.

Jang Jae-Young (Korea), RHP

Jang is one of the rare members in the Korean squad who has not been drafted by a KBO team yet, as he will be eligible next season. Jang garnered attention from Korean media since his first year in high school by throwing into the 90s and hitting as high as 95 mph in his second year. In this tournament, however, he’s been mostly limited to playing first base and hitting cleanup in the lineup. He suffered a lower body injury earlier this season, which is why they’ve taken special precautions with him.

Against China, however, Jang pitched for 2.1 frames, showing a bit of promise but also some rust. His fastball, with some late life and fade, sat at 89-91 mph while touching 92. He flashed a solid average curveball around 80 mph, but it has a ways to go before becoming a quality breaking ball with depth. His command suffered at times because his body parts got out of sync, which resulted in Jang leaving pitches up or missing the zone frequently. A lot of it can be attributed to his rawness, rust, and youth. He is quite projectable – he has a smooth delivery where his legs drive his momentum straight towards home plate and his high three-quarter arm slot allows his pitches to travel in a nice downward angle. He also features a thick lower half and wide shoulders. It is unclear whether Jang will opt to pitch in the KBO or sign with a major league club, but whoever signs him will likely have development work to do. It may be also worth noting that Jang is the son of the Kiwoom Heroes manager Jang Jeong-Seok, and they will have the first pick from the Seoul farm in next year’s draft.

Sung-Min Kim writes for River Ave. Blues, and has written for MLB.com, The Washington Post, Baseball America and VICE Sports. Besides baseball writing, he is also passionate about photojournalism and radio broadcasting. Follow him on Twitter @sung_minkim.

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3 years ago

These are awesome! The U18 WC has been really fun so far and good to hear more in-depth analysis on these prospects.