A Thursday Scouting Notebook – 4/29/2021

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 thoughts after another week of college baseball, minor league spring training, and big league action. Remember, prospect rankings can be found on The Board.

Kevin’s Notes

John Baker, RHP, Ball State: 9 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8K

When I saw John Baker’s line from Friday’s game against North Illinois, my first reaction was, “Wait a second, that John Baker?” It feels like he’s been part of the Redbirds’ weekend rotation since the Clinton administration, but in reality he’s a fifth-year senior with 60 games and over 300 innings on his college resume. He’s always been good, earning All-Conference awards and a couple of pre-season All-American mentions while compiling a 3.17 career ERA and more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings. In 2019, he was a 29th round pick of the Marlins; he was overshadowed on that year’s Ball State team by eventual Arizona first-round pick Drey Jameson, who was taken 34th overall.

Two years later, here he is, continuing to shove against MAC opponents, but he’s done little to improve his draft prospects. Baker has plus command and a nifty changeup, but as a player who is going to be more the 23 years old on draft day and has a fastball in the mid-to-upper 80s, he’ll be eyeing a NDFA signing at best now that teams are limited to 20 rounds. This is the kind of player most adversely affected by the draft being cut in half. Baker deserves even the slightest of opportunities to prove that his command and off-speed stuff can somehow work at the higher levels, as slim as those chances may be, and there’s no guarantee he’ll get it.

Alex Kirilloff, OF, Twins: 0-for-11, 2 Ks

The Twins called up Alex Kirilloff. Cool! He’s started by going 2-for-22. Not so cool. Is he over-matched? Does he need more seasoning? The answer to those questions is probably not. Kirilloff is just fine. He’s doing a lot of things very well, and it’s just not working out yet. His .067 BABIP speaks volumes and more advanced metrics support the argument. On MLB Network Radio Tuesday morning, manager Rocco Baldelli noted that Kirilloff is hitting balls on the screws and his .674 xSLG shows just how much that is true. Kirilloff has already hit seven balls with an exit velocity over 100 mph and a launch angle greater than zero, and gone a mere 1-for-7 on those batted balls.

If there’s anything to actually be concerned about, it’s not the bat, but the approach, as he’s yet to walk and his chase rate is the kind to inspire advance scouts to recommend a constant diet of breakers out of the zone. Always an aggressive hitter in the minors, Kirilloff will need to make an adjustment to what he chooses to swing at, but in terms of the pure hit tool? Calm down folks, he’s just fine.

Luis Patiño, RHP, Rays: 2.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K

Patiño was Tampa Bay’s big get in the Blake Snell blockbuster, and ranked 13th on our Top 100 Prospect list entering the season. He made his highly anticipated Rays debut on Sunday. The results were clearly good, and on a scouting level, it was a step in the right direction as well. Mechanical consistency (and thus command and pitch efficiency) has never been Patiño’s strong suit, but he was in control of his delivery on Sunday, throwing 30 of his 42 pitches for strikes and generally locating both his fastball and his off-speed offerings with equal aplomb. While his fastball velocity was down compared to what we saw last year with the Padres, he averaged nearly 95 mph, touched 97 and did it in a starter’s role, albeit while only pitching into the third inning. The Rays seems to have him emphasizing his slider more, which is a good decision considering the high quality of the power breaker, and Patiño did an excellent job of working the outer edge and just beyond with the pitch. Questions about his ability to pitch deep into games will hover around him until he gets the chance to actually do it, and given how the Rays handle game-to-game workloads, who knows if that will ever happen.

Russell Smith, LHP TCU: DNP

In the midst of a dominant season for the Horned Frogs, Smith allowed seven runs in his last start against Oklahoma State, then suddenly missed last weekend’s start to “work on mechanical issues.” That would be a concerning turn of events for any pitcher, let alone for a potential draftee who already has a 2018 Tommy John surgery in his rear view mirror.

One hopes for a return to form for Smith, as the healthy version is a fascinating prospect. He’s enormous, some would say Brobdingnagian even, while others might just start their scouting report with “XXL frame.” At 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds, Smith has presence on the mound, and while the stuff isn’t seven-figure worthy, it’s certainly not weak sauce, either. He can reach back for 95 mph but generally sits at 90-93 with a fastball that plays off due to Smith’s extremely long levers. And while his curveball is of the fringy/slurve variety, his changeup is clearly plus and among the better ones in the draft.

The weirdest thing about Smith is his control and command. Being as tall as he is tends to create problems with location, and Smith’s delivery is far from pretty, with a closed landing/cross-fire release that wouldn’t be described as athletic. Yet he pounds the zone and works all four quadrants to great effect, recording 69 strikeouts against just seven walks in 53 innings this spring. A healthy version of Smith will hear his name called on Day Two of the draft, but it appears there will be a long talk about his medical in team war rooms come July.

Trey Sweeney, SS, Eastern Illinois: 6-for-9, 2 2B, 4 BB, 2 K

Last week I discussed Wright State second baseman Tyler Black, but he’s not the only infielder from a small Midwestern college gaining helium this spring. After another big weekend, Sweeney is now sitting on a .415/.539/.756 line in 38 games for the Panthers, with 11 home runs in 135 at-bats and 33 walks to 20 strikeouts. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Sweeney has a big-league look, but while the production is hard to argue with, there are some concerns with his swing mechanics, as some very noisy hands pre-launch and a big bucket step have the potential to create timing issues against the bigger velocities he’ll see away from the Ohio Valley Conference. He’s not super toolsy beyond the bat, and most project a slide over to second base as a pro, but the amount of contact coming off his bat, especially the hard kind, has begun generating some whispers of him going as high as the third round come July.

Eric’s Notes

Max Bain, RHP, Chicago Cubs

There are several pitchers in Cubs camp throwing much, much harder than before. I saw Richard Gallardo, Eury Ramos, Yovanny Cruz, Cayne Ueckert, Bryan Hudson, and Ben Leeper all touch at least 96 mph over the last couple of days. Among them is Max Bain, a 23-year-old Indy Ball signee who lost 50 pounds and found 10 mph during four months of intense training at Cressey Sports Performance. His fastball ranged from 94-98 during my look, mostly 96-98, and Bain held that deep into his start, likely the last bit of his minor league spring training run before heading to an affiliate. He’s not especially good at spinning the fastball but it does have angle that works at the top of the strike zone, and pairs well with Bain’s above-average, low-80s power curveball.

I also saw some plus, upper-80s slider/cutters that had versatile utility, either as a chase pitch off the plate or as a back-door offering. I think he’ll have to throw his breaking stuff for strikes to continue developing as a starter since the fastball command isn’t especially good, but there’s a starter’s build, repertoire depth, and in-game stamina here. The Cubs are finally developing pitching after their failure to do so probably curtailed their core’s window for contention.

Michael Guldberg, CF, Oakland Athletics

Guldberg wasn’t on last year’s draft board largely due to a lack of power, but having watched him for most of the last week, he belonged toward the back of the list. Guldberg is a solid, well-rounded player with premium speed. He’s been running in the 4.1s for me, as low as 4.00 on a bunt attempt, and he’s squaring up good velocity. He covers the plate well, has taken good at-bats, and sprayed liners all over the field. The lack of power and power projection (he’s a narrow-framed guy) caps his ceiling, and I’d be surprised if he became more than a part-time outfielder, but he’s definitely a prospect worth following and will be on the upcoming A’s list.

Tommy Henry, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

Drey Jameson was throwing on an adjacent field at the same, so scouts were fixated on that, but while Henry doesn’t throw nearly as hard (Jameson sat 96-98 as I peeked over there) he has command of three viable offerings that should enable him to move quickly through the minors and pitch toward the back of a rotation. He sat 92-94, commanded a plus, mid-80s changeup and average low-80s slider to his arm- and glove-sides, respectively.

Eduarqui Fernandez, RF, Milwaukee Brewers

I get a lot of chat questions about Hedbert Perez, another teenage Brewers outfielder, but Eduarqui Fernandez has more obvious power projection, as he’s a strapping 6-foot-2 with impressive raw power for a 19-year-old, and more is likely coming as he continues to fill out. The really exciting thing about Fernandez is that his swing is pretty short, which makes me feel better about his ability to make contact and hit for power as opposed to the longer-swinging guys who tend to bust, especially as they see upper-level velocity. There’s everyday upside here because of the hit/power combination, and Eduarqui’s at-bat quality has been pretty strong in my three looks at the Brewers’ kids this spring.

MacKenzie Gore, LHP, San Diego Padres

I’ve spoken with a couple of scouts who have seen some of Gore’s starts at the alternate site in Arizona and they’ve seen what I saw during his first two spring outings: Gore’s heater remains in the 93-96 range and is capable of missing bats in the strike zone because of its combination of velocity and ride, but his command is still not good. Because of its action, the fastball has margin for error in this regard but Gore’s two breaking balls do not, and he needs to find more consistent feel for locating those to his glove side to be the kind of pitcher it looked like he’d become as an amateur and throughout his remarkable 2019 season. He could probably scrap his way through a big league start right now but hasn’t looked dominant yet this year.

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2 years ago

“North” Illinois…and you’re a townie! smh