So we're well into March now, and the weather here in the heartland is beginning to feel like it. Even better, when I click on MLB Network these days more often than not there's a baseball game being replayed from some other point in the broadcast schedule, which is just fine by me. It's still baseball, and very nearly live baseball at this point.
It's also getting to the point where spring performances for college players are becoming relevant to their draft stocks; most notably to my eye among this class we have D.J. Stewart, who I covered back in the third installment of this year's previews, absolutely tearing the cover off the ball in the early going and, well, the other big point I was going to bring up here actually feeds into one of the scouting reports I'm going to do here today, so maybe I'll just wait and mention the thing that is going on when I get to the pitcher to whom it is going.
We're also about a week into the games down in Florida, which puts us squarely in position to at least take an early glance at players who might qualify for Spring Surprise (patent pending) status in 2015. My positional pick of Peter Bourjos isn't looking so hot right now; he came into spring healthy and sporting what was described by scribes as a new swing that took advantage of the improved mobility of his now surgically-repaired hip, but in the first handful of games he's done nothing of note, coming up empty in the batting line with distressing regularity. Of course, judging a player on less than five spring training games is the absolute height of stupidity, but seeing as how once Jon Jay starts getting into games Bourjos is certain to see his playing time evaporate again, time is running out in a hurry for ol' Pete to make me look smart. I'm not holding my breath at this point for anything encouraging.
The player who has jumped up and made the biggest impression so far, however, has to be Tommy Pham. There's an opportunity for Pham this spring, particularly if the club makes what I believe would be a very prudent decision and starts Randal Grichuk (who, it should be said, is having a very nice spring of his own so far), in Triple A to try and continue developing a better eye at the plate. Even if that eventuality doesn't come to pass, though, this is a big camp for Pham, and so far he's grabbing hold of the opportunity and running with it. I won't quote batting line numbers at you; numbers in this context are pretty damned useless. However, for the moment, Pham has the buzz. We'll see if he can keep it.
On the pitching side of things, I'm feeling much better about my pick of Carlos Martinez as my surprise-slash-big-story-of-camp guy. It helps he's the only starter to have yet made two starts, but what Carlos has shown so far has been mighty impressive. The changeup is getting rave reviews, and he's gone to the sinker heavily so far with excellent results. Is it early? Of course it is. But Carlos has impressed right out of the gate, which is all you can ask of a player in his situation.
The other pitcher who jumps off the page at you immediately so far is Pac-Man himself, Michael Wacha. He went out in his first start of the spring and blew (you forgot to say away again), four Red Sox hitters in two perfect innings, which was much better than what we saw the last time Wacha faced the Red Sox. (Or the last time Wacha faced anyone, for that matter, although it's probably best if we all just pretend that never happened.)
As I said, it's so early even in spring training terms that we can't really draw too many conclusions from anything that's happened so far. But to this point, those are the players who have grabbed the most attention, it would seem. Of course, things will almost certainly look completely different in another week or ten days; I just wanted to take a moment to look at the early clubhouse leaders in our little surprise competition.
Moving on, what we have today is a group of three players who come not only from one of the biggest draft demographics in general, but one which the Cardinals have proven extremely likely to plumb with their high picks in the past: right-handed college pitching. The Redbirds went for a college righty last year with their first pick, taking Luke Weaver out of Florida State with their first selection before going for a pair of high school arms with their next two. They went lefty heavy early on in 2013, but 2012 saw Michael Wacha taken nineteenth overall, though they actually went oddly position-heavy after that, with so far wildly unimpressive results.
Actually, as I'm looking at the draft lists going back, the Cardinals may not be as likely to go heavy on college righties as I thought. They went heavy on college righthanders last year, and spent a couple high picks in 2010 on Seth Blair and Jordan Swagerty (yikes on how those picks have worked out so far, and I actually liked them at the time), but overall they aren't as biased toward college righties as maybe my mind was claiming. I'm a little embarrassed now to realise my own opinion was a little skewed and not entirely reflective of reality. Perhaps I'm still putting a little too much weight on things like the Adam Ottavino pick of nearly a decade ago, or the Chris Lambert (no, I won't do the ghost thing out of respect for our own former sheriff 'round these parts), pick of over a decade ago. The Cards do still seem to lean a bit toward this particular demographic with their early picks, but not to a huge degree. So now I'll just tuck my tail between my legs and slink away, leaving you with a batch of scouting reports on the carpet to clean up.
(Note: this is the second batch of college righthanders I've written up; if you want to see the first here's the link. I've decided to make a concerted effort to be more referential in these posts, to try and give everyone an opportunity to look at other reports, compare and contrast, and simply have the information presented more than once for readers to perhaps familiarise themselves with the players without having to go digging through the archives themselves throughout the spring.)
James Kaprielian, RHP, UCLA
6'4", 200 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
James Kaprielian is all about the polish, and there's plenty of it to like when you watch him. He lacks one overwhelming offering, but sports a four-pitch mix that is more than advanced enough to make him both extremely effective at the major college level and highly thought-of as a future pro prospect.
The fastball isn't overpowering, at 88-92 mph most days, but Kaprielian (I really hope the Cardinals don't draft him, just so I don't have to type that name over and over again), does a nice job of putting it where he wants and specifically keeping it down. He's very much a pitcher who excels at avoiding mistakes with his fastball, using it to set up his offspeed offerings and getting ahead of hitters consistently. Think of how Adam Wainwright uses his fastball, which is similarly underwhelming, as a foundation for his full repertoire, rather than a weapon in and of itself most of the time.
Kaprielian's best offspeed pitch is his changeup, which tumbles nicely but doesn't always fade; even so, the pitch has enough downward action hitters struggle to get much in the way of solid contact off the pitch. His curve is nearly as good as the changeup, and Kaprielian likes to experiment with the pitch. He'll vary the speed and angle of the break pretty significantly throughout an outing; if he was fifteen percent funkier someone would probably slap a Bronson Arroyo comp on him. As it is, he'll have to work on the leg kick if he wants to reach that level.
There's a slider in his repertoire, as well, and it generally gets pretty good marks, but I've seen him pitch a fair amount and it tends to just sort of blend in with his various curveball shapes. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you; the difference between a curve thrown hard and with a little tilt and an actual slider is fairly academic, all things considered. Most likely the team drafting Kaprielian will either try to get him to scrap the slider entirely and just vary the curve, or clearly delineate the two and cut the curveball experimentation.
I'm not a fan of Kaprielian overall. The arm is very late coming through, somewhat reminiscent of Andrew Morales, the Cards' late second round pick from last year's draft. Where Morales has one dominant pitch, though (a hard slurve that overmatched the best college hitters in the nation last year in the postseason), Kaprielian relies more on feel and a wide base of pitches, making him less suited for relief work than I feel Morales is. Morales was also, frankly speaking, a budget-conscious move for the Redbirds, part of the price they paid for signing Jack Flaherty. Kaprielian will probably not come with such a reasonable price tag.
The bottom line is this: I don't feel like Kaprielian's ceiling is all that high, and the riskiness of his delivery means he doesn't come with a very high floor to compensate. While the stuff is all pretty decent, he lacks any one dominant offering, and while the control/command is above-average for a college pitcher, it isn't to the level of a guy like, say, Marco Gonzales, who came out of college a near-finished product with the feel to jump right into the upper minors. Kaprielian doesn't have the ceiling I'm willing to take a risk on, but isn't safe enough to shoot for the surety. I'll pass.
via Baseball America:
Dillon Tate, RHP, UC Santa Barbara
6'2", 180 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
A while back, in that first batch of righthanded pitchers I linked to earlier, I covered Riley Ferrell, the closer for TCU, and called him the Nick Burdi of this year's draft. (Burdi, you may recall, was the flamethrowing closer for the Louisville Cardinals who was drafted by the Twins last year.) Well, upon further thought, Dillon Tate might be more deserving of that title, as while Ferrell is the more well-known and to this point successful relief arm, Tate may be the guy with the most overwhelming stuff out of the back of a bullpen in the 2015 class.
Tate's fastball runs anywhere from 92-98 mph, and it's of the sailing, riding variety as he works from a low arm slot that gives the pitch tremendous life. His slider can be devastating at times, coming in with mid- to high-80s velocity and frisbee movement across the plate and away from righthanded hitters. The combination of arm slot, velocity, and the movement of his slider reminds me a bit of Joey Devine, the former NC State closer and 2005 first-round pick of the Atlanta Braves who, sadly, had an extremely truncated career due to arm troubles but did manage one stellar season pitching in the Athletics' bullpen back in '08.
The other comp that probably has to be made is to Marcus Stroman, the former Duke swingman who was drafted and developed as a starter by the Blue Jays and is now one of the most dynamic, exciting young starters in the game. Tate and Stroman have similar deliveries, similar repertoires, and even similar builds, although Stroman is, by far, the smaller of the two pitchers. Still, if you're looking for a blue-sky dream scenario for Tate, Stroman is probably the guy you're looking to for a comparison point.
Tate isn't big; that 6'2" listed height is at least two inches too tall, and he's of the sort best described as 'wiry' in scouting lingo. He's shown an occasional changeup, but at the moment doesn't really have a pitch to combat lefthanded hitters effectively. It hasn't hurt him all that much to this point in college ball, but the professional ranks are likely to be much less forgiving. There's some speculation he could potentially start in pro ball, but I would be hesitant to make that move. It's not a terrible arm action, but there's plenty of effort and the timing is iffy. For me, he's best right where he's pitched most of his college games: throwing big pitches in the late innings of big games. He'll need to sharpen his command significantly if he's going to reach that closer-level ceiling, particularly with his slider, which he will need to learn to use more effectively against lefties. Alternatively, he could try to develop the change to combat portsiders, but I'm not sure he'll get there with it.
At the moment, Tate is indeed starting for UC Santa Barbara, and has been outstanding so far. His draft stock has risen accordingly, though of course that could all change if it begins to look like the workload is too much for him as the spring wears on. Then again, if he really can be a starter, then the sky could quite possibly be the limit for him, the talent is that loud.
For me, I like Tate quite a lot, though probably not enough to pop him in the first round. I have my doubts about moving him to starting duty, and I'm hesitant to spend a top 30 pick on a reliever. Some team will likely select him before the point I would be happy taking him, either with the thought of moving him to a rotation or because they overvalue relief arms. For what he is, though, Dillon Tate might be the best version you're going to find.
Michael Matuella, RHP, Duke University
6'7", 220 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Mike Matuella has pretty much everything you could ask for in a pitching prospect:
- He throws hard. (His fastball has been clocked as high as 98.)
- He's big. (The numbers are right there under his name.)
- He has at least one, and possibly two, 60 or better offspeed pitches.
- He can fill up the strike zone when he's on.
Another one, as they say, bites the dust. And I'll be back next week to entertain you all again with my personal brand of nonsense. Farewell until then, VEBers one and all.