Some Cactus League and MLB Draft Scouting Notes

I wanted to pass along scouting notes from spring training games, especially ones that will shape the coming org lists and concern players who are outside the scope of my work but are relevant to the public interest. I’m going to start with observations from big league games and then move into notes from my amateur looks. One important caveat, especially where the big league looks are concerned, is the possibility of players still being rusty.

Post-prospect pitchers I’ve seen include Brewers righty Shelby Miller (92-94, a slider/cutter at 88-90, and one curveball, which was quite good), Corbin Burnes (four and two seamers at 94-97, a plus changeup, plus curveball, and cutter/slider in the 90-94 range), and Dylan Cease (95-98, above-average upper-80s sliders, and just one curveball before I moved down the line) who has a little more head-whack than he did last year:

One of Cease’s upper-90s fastballs was turned around by new Reds outfielder Shogo Akiyama. His swing is geared like a lot of the swings you’ve seen from Japanese players: his front side opens way up and enables him to pull balls on the inner half, and it limits the type of contact he can make on pitches away from him to the slap/slash/poke realm. But that’s fine if you’re making lots of contact, and in my look Akiyama tracked pitches well and spoiled a few tough offerings on the outer edge, and the fact that he turned on huge Cease velocity is a great sign. He only made one defensive play in my look, on a well-hit, sinking rope that he didn’t have to go very far to catch, but that I thought was a tough read off the bat.

Pro and international scouts billed Akiyama as an instinctive defender, not one with blazing straight-line speed, which makes sense for a player this age. His swing is jailbreak-y, which renders his home-to-first times pretty useless as a means of assessing his speed:

On the amateur side, I’ve made some changes to The Board based on early-season college activity. A lot of those changes have come in the college pitching population, with some due to injuries (J.T. Ginn, Garrett Crochet) and others due to a rebound or uptick in stuff. North Carolina State lefty Nick Swiney, Ohio State lefty Seth Longsway, Ball State righty Kyle Nicolas, and Oregon State lefty Christian Chamberlain have all risen on The Board.

I’ve seen four Arizona State games so far this year and Spencer Torkelson has looked great, as usual. I still prefer Austin Martin as a prospect right now because of the overall profile, but Tork is the best bat in the draft. He’s being intentionally walked a lot, largely because some of the Sun Devil bats behind him have been slow out of the gate. This plagued Andrew Vaughn a bit last year but didn’t impact his stock.

I’ll get at least five looks at New Mexico State middle infielder Nick Gonzalez this spring, and had my first on Tuesday against ASU. He was beaten by upper-80s fastballs at the top of the zone, which is something I’ll be looking for throughout my next several looks. The raw bat speed, the ferocity in Gonzales’ hands, is second only to Tork among the college bats in this year’s class, but you’ve got to get on top of fastballs at the top of the zone in today’s game.

Defensively, Gonzales booted two routine plays in on the grass but also made a couple very nice plays to his backhand side. The consistency of his hands is what will drive where teams think he can play in the field.

I’ve also moved Jack Leiter to the top of the 2021 Board (he was No. 2) because I think the quality and consistency of his secondary stuff is better than Kumar Rocker’s, though if you prefer Rocker because you think the changeup has more helium (it’s better this year than it was last season) or just because of his Zion Williamson-level physicality relative to his peers, that’s also fine.

I also added some high school power bats to the very back of the list (Cole Fontenelle, Jack Moss, A.J. Vukovich, Roberto Moya) as well as Oklahoma State second baseman Kaden Polcovich. Polcovich transferred to Oklahoma State after two strong years at Northwest Florida Junior College. He runs well and swings hard, and he performed well on Cape Cod. I don’t think he stays on the dirt but a pro ball center field trial would be interesting.

We hoped you liked reading Some Cactus League and MLB Draft Scouting Notes by Eric Longenhagen!

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Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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