My car was covered in ice this morning, shocking me all to hell and back. I almost never pay attention to the weather (unless my father, who has taken up Weather Channel marathons as a hobby, is telling me something about it), so I had no idea it was supposed to bring us this bit of midwinter nastiness. It is slick, it is rather nasty, and I know for a fact both the JB and Poplar Street bridges were shut down completely for a period of time this morning. In short, if you're out and about be careful, and take a moment to enjoy this last gasp of winter weather. It's only going to get warmer. (Translation: worse, at least in Aaron's world.)
As I promised a couple weeks back in my roundup of the Cardinals' system needs, I present to you on this fine, fine day my very first batch of proper amateur scouting reports (amateur players and amateur quality on the reports, sadly), for the 2011 draft. We're going to kick this thing off with a bang, jumping right into the deep end with one of the real weaknesses of the Cards' system: left-handed pitching.
In a rather interesting happenstance, there just so happens to be a bumper crop of lefties this year, both high school and collegiate. The right-handers are still more plentiful, of course, but it's been a while since such a strong crop of wrong-side hurlers has come along. With that in mind, I'm going to start with a trio of high-schoolers this week. Come join me, won't you?
Henry Owens, LHP, Edison High School (California)
6'6", 190 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
First off, let me say this: Henry Owens is a tall drink of water. A tall, lanky, pitcher-y looking drink of water. He looks even taller than the listed 6'5" or 6'6" you see for him due to a rather obvious lack of meat on his bones. Of course, in scouting parlance that makes him projectable rather than rail thin, so the fact he's built a bit like a young Mark Mulder (though, and no offense meant to Mr. Owens, he ain't pretty like Muldoo), is a definite selling point.
More importantly, Owens has the makings of a very good repertoire. His curveball is his best pitch at the moment, and it's a good one. He'll throw both the hard version in the dirt and a slower variety in the zone, and it's a plus pitch either way. His curve is probably the best breaking ball of any high schooler in the draft this year, and to this point it's really the defining characteristic for Owens.
That's not to sell the rest of his arsenal short, though. He works in the 88-90 range with his fastball now, and he certainly has that frame that makes scouts dream of bigger velocity down the road. Even if he doesn't add much in the way of velocity (and personally I kind of think the notion of projection tends to be overstated, at least in terms of mph's on the fastball), he can already bump 92, and that's plenty of arm for a lefty with a breaking ball of the quality Owens has. He also works in a straight changeup at times, and it's shown definite promise. He uses it intermittently, as do most high school pitchers, simply because it just isn't necessary most of the time.
The real downside with Owens is his delivery. There are plenty who don't much like it, though I don't have much of an opinion yet one way or the other on it. His mechanics are very awkward looking, sort of what you would expect from an eighteen year old who's all arms and legs at this point physically. It almost looks like he short-arms the ball, but he has a huge leg kick with a little bit of Trevor Hoffman in it. He also has a reputation for working very slowly, but some of that could come from trying to maintain the rhythm in his delivery, which he does tend to rush.
There have been a few hyperbolic scouts who have compared Owens to Clayton Kershaw, but I don't see that. While the curveball is close to Kershaw's hammer, I don't see Owens ever throwing the same sort of fire the Dodger ace does. Who he does remind me of is Christian Friedrich, the lefty prospect currently working his way through the Colorado system. Like Friedrich, Owens has the nasty curveball, just enough velocity to be dangerous, and a chance for a second plus complementary pitch.
In this video clip I have to say Owens' delivery reminds me a little of Barry Zito's as well, but this is probably the only time I've seen him use the over-the-head windup.
Daniel Norris, LHP, Science Hill High School (Tennessee)
6'2", 170 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Last year, Baseball America ranked Norris the top high school junior in the nation, and ranked only Jameson Taillon ahead of him among all high schoolers. I have to say, I think BA is right on the money with this one.
Norris has the potential for a dominating repertoire. He throws easily in the low 90s with his fastball, bumping 94 in showcases, and there might be a bit more velocity in there as he matures. (Or at least more consistent velocity; see my note above about my opinions on projectability.) Just as impressive as the velocity is the heavy sink and running action on his fastball which make it a serious weapon for Norris. His changeup gives him a second plus pitch with solid deception and decent movement already. That fastball/change combo has allowed Norris to overwhelm hitters at his own level and made him one of the more sought after commodities in the upcoming draft.
Spinning the ball, on the other hand, has not come nearly so easily for Norris. He throws both a curveball and a slider, but neither one anywhere near a finished product at this point. The curveball in particular is very weak, and it's likely he'll simply scrap the curve down the road. Norris's slider, on the other hand, has plenty of potential, but the pitch isn't refined. He'll throw a good one occasionally, with nasty bite and good depth, but the sharp ones are more of a vocal minority at this point than the norm. His command comes and goes, not surprising from a high-schooler, but still worth noting. Learning to repeat his delivery more consistently would likely smooth out some of the rough edges in terms of control.
I think I like Norris's mechanics pretty well, though it's tough to tell much in full speed and I have yet to see any slow-motion footage. They certainly look less awkward than those of Owens, but that doesn't mean much.
The real downside with Norris is that, at least from a Cardinal perspective, he's likely going to be selected much too early. He's been rated as highly as a top 5-7 overall pick by some, though as with any high school pitcher that number contains untold amounts of volatility. Regardless, it would be a serious slide indeed that brought Norris within the Cards' grasp in June. Then again, no one believed the Cardinals would have a shot at drafting Zack Cox last year, or Shelby Miller the year before that, so strange things can and do happen in the draft.
Daniel Camarena, LHP/1B/OF, Cathedral Catholic High School (California)
6'1", 200 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
One of the better two-way prospects in the nation this year (though he won't get a whole lot of attention with the likes of Bubba Starling also going the two-way route to star prospectdom), Camarena is an interesting case. To this point in his life he's been a more productive position player than pitcher (though he's certainly been no slouch in either area), but there's something about him I just like as a pitcher. I don't know why; I just have a hunch.
Camarena is cut in the classic crafty lefty mold; a pitcher who works the plate's edges like a painter and gets the most out of his brain on the mound. He works in the mid- to upper-80s with his fastball now, topping out at 90 or so, and spots it very well. He isn't afraid to work inside, particularly against right-handed hitters. He complements the heater with a very good curveball and a solid changeup that already has surprisingly good fade. Camarena commands his entire arsenal exceptionally well for a high school pitcher, though there's still plenty of room for tightening before he gets anywhere near a big league clubhouse.
He has a bit of an odd delivery, with a complete back turn and a bit of a slingy arm action. He tends to land closed and throw across his body, which could add deception but also presents an injury concern. Long-term he fits well into that Mark Buerhle/Jeremy Sowers/John Tudor tradition of lefties who work from a lower arm slot and have success when they mix their pitches and keep hitters off balance. The delivery might scare some off, but I actually like it. I'd like to see him land more on line toward the plate, but I have a soft spot for pitchers who turn almost completely away from home plate during their deliveries, as well as slingers of all varieties.
One of the biggest questions with Camarena, of course, will be what position he plays. His value could vary wildly from team to team, depending on whether they prefer him as a hitter or pitcher. He isn't a first-round talent in all likelihood, but should certainly hear his name called fairly early come June.
Any of these three players would make excellent additions to the Cardinals' farm system, I believe. It's never all that smart to draft for need in the MLB draft (the players are just too far away, for the most part), but if you've got a group of talented player you're considering, the player with the more premium position or skillset should get a little extra credit, at least in my ever so humble opinion. Given the dearth of left-handed pitching prospects in the Cards' minor leagues right now I don't think we could blame them at all if they added a bit of priority to the lefties.
Well, that's it, folks. One batch of scouting reports in the can, and probably about ten or eleven more to go.
Also, a word about the playlist: Chitown asked last week if I could make up a playlist on 8tracks.com. I'm willing to do so, but unfortunately I'm often running low on time when I get to the end of one of these posts. (As I am this week, as a matter of fact.) So I'll try to do that when I have time, but there will be plenty of weeks I just don't have a chance to.
The Baron's Playlist for the 23rd of February, 2011
"The Zoo" - Scorpions
"End of The Night" - Smith Westerns
"Anthophobia" - Love Language
"January Hymn" - the Decemberists
"Dream Lover" - Bobby Darin
"Daybreak" - Chet Baker
The Baron's Secondary Playlist for the 23rd of February, 2011: the Wainwright Depression
"Une Annee Sans Lumiere" - Arcade Fire
"Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" - the Smiths
"We Are Nowhere And It's Now" - Bright Eyes
"Hurt" - Johnny Cash
"To Wish Impossible Things" - the Cure
"Whiskey Bottle" - Uncle Tupelo