A Dispatch From Days Three and Four of the WBSC U-18 World Cup

I attended more games here in Busan, South Korea for Days Three and Four of the WBSC U-18 World Cup. These are my thoughts on some of the prospects I saw.

Theo Millas (Canada), RHP

Millas is an LSU commit. Listed at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, he has a very good pitcher’s frame and he looks every inch of an intriguing projectable high school guy. He also recently participated in the 2019 Under Armour All-America game, along with some of the other top high school prospects who will enter the draft next year. Millas has an easy delivery with a fluid arm action. It’s not necessarily the best tempo I’ve seen, but he isn’t overly slow either. I would be interested to see if he’s willing to increase his stride length to take advantage of his height. There’s a little stiffness in his front leg when he lands, but it’s not a huge concern for me. Against Korea on September 1, however, Millas was not his best self. While his fastball was advertised to be in the low-90s, he sat mostly in the 86-88 mph range. The pitch showed some late life, but Korean hitters were able to square it up for hard line drives all over the field. His curveball also seemed loopy, and Korean IF Jang Jae-Young squared it up pretty well for a hard, 2-RBI single. Based on all the accounts I’ve read of Millas, it felt like an off day for the righty, as he allowed six runs without recording an out before exiting the game. Millas looks like an arm who could benefit a lot from few years more worth of development.

Austin Hendrick (United States), OF

Hendrick is already known as one of the top prep draft prospects for 2020. He is currently rated eighth on THE BOARD. As expected, Hendrick flashed some serious tools during practice before the United States’ night match versus Japan. During batting practice, he displayed a smooth yet powerful swing that produced strong line drives all over the field. He has a short stroke and he times it with a little hitch and bat tip during his load. Such traits might be a concern for many hitting coaches, but Hendrick seemed to time it well enough to make it work. His hands were impressively quick, as he showed a plus ability to turn the barrel into the zone. As an outfielder, Hendrick displayed an easily above-average arm, if not plus.

As Eric and Kiley have noted in their report on Hendrick, “Hendrick is old for the class but evokes Cody Bellinger in frame and swing. As you can imagine, with the ultra-athletic swing comes with some swing-and-miss to go with the power.” That swing-and-miss tendency showed during the game. In his first at-bat against Japanese LHP Yuki Hayashi, Hendrick struck out swinging on three offspeed pitches. He seemed to favor driving the ball hard instead of making square contact. Hendrick ended up going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. Despite a poor game performance, his tools displayed in batting practice and his physical talents seem to justify his high draft stock status. It will be interesting to see how his hit tool progresses coming into next year’s draft and how teams may evaluate his ability to handle pro pitching.

Ben Hernandez (United States), RHP

Hernandez is an Illinois-Chicago commit who’s ranked 189th on THE BOARD. Hernandez is listed at 6-foot-2, 204 pounds and has an athletic build with more room to grow. He was the starting pitcher on September 1 in the United States’ game versus Japan. There were two things that jumped out to me regarding his delivery. First, he has a very upright upper body posture, which he maintained stably throughout the motion, and he stays in line to the plate very well. He has a short, elbow-y arm action that allows him to whip his arm quickly and the ball seems to come out of his hand easily.

He also has a quick tempo from leg lift to ball release, which is a trait I like. Scouts had his fastball sitting 90-92 mph, hitting 93 mph a few times, consistent with Eric and Kiley’s quick report on him, which had him “Up to 92 with an easy, but inconsistent, delivery.” However, his front leg lands quite stiff, which may impact his overall command. At times, he also rushed his delivery a bit and struggled to find a consistent release point. As for his pitches, his fastball has the velocity, but it seemed to lack the late life that would overpower hitters. When his command was on, however, he also used an above-average changeup (Eric and Kiley noted that he flashes a 55 change) to get hitters’ timing off and induce weak contact or whiffs. Because of the rainy game conditions and general inconsistency, Hernandez’s command came and went throughout his outing. He showed he was not afraid to pitch hitters inside, which resulted in two hit-by-pitches in the bottom of the third.

Lee Min-Ho (Korea), RHP

Lee was the first pick of this year’s Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) draft for the LG Twins. He started for Korea on September 2 versus Nicaragua. Standing at 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, Lee has a thick build. He is wide-shouldered and has thick lower half, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll add significantly more. He has a very straight upper body posture and maintained it on the line to the plate throughout the delivery. At times he can over-rotate to the third base side, but it mostly happens after release, so I’m not all that concerned. He has an aggressive arm action and there seems to be a bit more effort to his release, which may worry some regarding his longevity. His shoulders and torso stayed closed most of the time, which helped him find a consistent release point.

Throughout the outing, Lee showed flashes of a strong, two pitch mix. From a scout’s gun, Lee’s fastball sat 88-90 mph while touching 92 mph. It also had some late life and tailing action. He attacked the low outside corner against right-handed hitters and, when tailed just right, it was an effective weapon that caught hitters looking. His slider was his primary secondary weapon, clocking around 82-84 mph, and featured a sharp downward break at both 12-6 and 11-5 tilt. It has a potential to be one of the best sliders in the KBO. Lee also flashed a 12-6 curve in the low-70s. He didn’t shy away from going after hitters and showed decent tempo between pitches. In the KBO, Lee has a chance to be at least an above-average starter and a potential front-line guy.

Quick Hits:

Lee Kang-Joon (Korea), RHP:
Lee, a KT Wiz draft pick, has unique mechanics, featuring a low-sidearming, crossfire delivery. Facing Canada on September 1, Lee’s deception got the best of many hitters during their first look of him. Lee’s fastball sat in the 80-83 mph range and his breaking ball, which had a slight rising movement thanks to his arm slot, was around 69-72 mph. Hitters had a better look at Lee on their second and third times facing him, as he induced some hard contact later in his outing.

Dasan Brown (Canada), OF:
Brown was selected with the 88th overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft by the Blue Jays. In their report, Eric and Kiley noted that Brown “was one of the youngest players in the 2019 draft. He is an insane athlete with 80 speed and above average bat speed, but is still very raw.” He has a muscular stature and the look of an elite athlete. In the game against Korea, Brown went 3-for-4; two of his base hits were jammed but because of his strength, the balls traveled farther than they normally would. Brown has a simple load and displayed very quick hands to the ball. He’s currently ranked 20th in the organization on THE BOARD, with a 40 FV.

Wang Yan-Cheng (Taiwan), LHP:
18-year-old Wang recently signed with the Nippon Professional Baseball’s (NPB) Rakuten Golden Eagles. He pitched against Japan on September 2. Due to rainy conditions, it was not the best showcase for Wang’s stuff, who sat around 84-87 mph with his fastball. He’s known to have topped out at 90.7 mph in the past. He showed some clever pitch-mixing, featuring his forkball (around 75 mph) and slider (around 72~76 mph), to keep Japanese hitters off-balance in Taiwan’s rain-shortened 3-1 win.

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

Having a “stiff front leg” is a very big part of producing elite velocity. Just about every big leaguer with at least an average fastball has a “stiff front leg”