It was like going to the Louvre in Paris and discovering crayon drawings by your kids on the wall.
Or taking your wife to a fancy 4 Star restaurant and finding peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and beanie weenies on the menu.
Or maybe it really wasn’t like anything, because certainly no one could have predicted what happened Wednesday night at the College Park vs. The Woodlands game featuring right-handed pitchers Jamison Taillon and John Simms.
“I’m sure glad I didn’t bet on the Over-Under,” said one parent.
Taillon, of course, is the top-ranked high school prospect in the country, a 6-7, 230 hard- throwing pitcher who has a realistic chance of becoming the first high school right hander ever selected with the first pick in the draft.
Simms, a Rice signee and ranked #60 on the PG Crosschecker list of 2010 high school prospects, was the District MVP over Taillon in 2009, going 9-2 on the mound, including two victories over the pitcher everyone calls “Jamo”.
FINAL SCORE: College Park 14, The Woodlands 11
One thing to understand, and which in retrospect played into the incredible 25 runs on the scoreboard, is that College Park and The Woodlands are neighboring high schools. In fact, College Park wasn’t even opened until 2006 and that was because The Woodlands was getting too big. So most of the players on the two teams have gone to school together, played on the same summer teams since Little League and generally know each other as well as they know their own teammates.
That’s also why there were already a couple hundred people at the field (which is actually located at the old The Woodlands High School, now a junior high) a full hour before the game and essentially standing-room-only during the 2-hour, 40 minute contest.
Another sub-plot to the game is that Highlander Field, while being one of the most picturesque high school fields in the country (framed by towering trees just outside the outfield fence), is also one of the smallest. It can’t be more than 300 feet down the lines and maybe 360 to centerfield, although the fences are abnormally high.
There were about 25 scouts at the game, with a healthy mix of cross checkers and area scouts but no scouting directors that I could identify. A national cross checker for a team with a top-5 pick told me that you really won’t see much cross-check action on Taillon, as he’s about as sure a thing for the top-5 as you can find. He said any cross checkers, aside from himself, were probably there to see Simms pitch.
Taillon allowed four College Park runs in the top of the first inning to set the tone for the rest of the game. “Allowed” is a deceiving term, as The Woodlands committed three errors and missed an easy tag, and the hits were primarilyof the dink-and-drop variety. His raw stuff was outstanding, as it would be for all four-plus innings he was on the mound. Taillon’s fastball was always between 94 and 98 mph and his 81-84 mph curveball was a plus pitch at times. But Taillon consistently pitched up and in the middle of the plate with his fastball and rarely showed signs that he was trying to “pitch” with it. It looks like this is more a mental approach issue than anything having to do with mechanics or release point. I just don’t think Taillon has ever had to “pitch” with his fastball and has just overwhelmed the vast majority of hitters.
The College Park hitters, however, looked like they knew when every mid-90’s fastball was coming and they were taking some serious hacks. Two College Park hitters went back-to-back over the centerfield fence in a period of three pitches in the third inning and they chased Taillon in the fifth inning. It wouldn’t be too strong a guess to say that Jamo has never allowed 11 runs in a ballgame before and probably never will again, either.
Simms was no slouch in the raw stuff department, either. He pitched between 89-92 mph for the entire game (more on that below) and threw a 76-81 mph slider that varied between outstanding and batting-practice quality. He flashed a few changeups and should have thrown about 20 more. To say his pitch selection (undoubtedly called from the bench) was ill-advised probably would be generous.
Just as with Taillon, his friends and former teammates in the other dugout seemed to know exactly what pitch was coming from Simms in every situation, especially with men on base, and were swinging aggressively. It didn’t help when Simms tripled up on sliders, the last of the severe hanging variety, to 3B Nicholas Frey and Frey launched a three-run home run (one of his two in the game) deep into the trees in left field.
The score was 11-11 going into the seventh inning, with Simms still on the mound. Facing top-ranked 2011 RHP Bryan Brickhouse (89-91, 81 mph SL, 72 mph CB), College Park OF Michael Aquino blasted an opposite field three-run home run, also his second of the game, to give College Park its 14-11 final margin.
Simms ended up throwing a 7 inning complete game, sitting at an impressive 90-91 in the bottom of the seventh. He faced 41 hitters and according to my calculations threw approximately 170 pitches (one College Park scorekeeper/parent had him with significantly less, which is highly improbable).
There is a formula you can use for any pitcher at the high school or college level to figure out pitch counts. If the pitcher has a high ratio of walks and strikeouts (say 35 to 40% or higher), he will average around 4.2-4.4 pitches per hitter. If he doesn’t strike out or walk that many, the ratio is closer to 3.8-4.0 pitches per hitter.
All in all, it was an incredible game with an incredible outcome and enough sub plots to write a full length feature story. Despite allowing 11 runs, Taillon did nothing to hurt his prospect status. While I’ve seen Simms much better and I’m worried – really worried about his pitch count, he was impressive in his own right.
Kray Bratsen (Bryan High School)
Before the College Park/Woodlands matchup, I had a chance to see Aflac All-American outfielder Kray Bratsen play about 90 minutes away in a rare 2 p.m. game made possible by the fact that most Texas schools are on spring break this week.
The 6-0, 160-pound Bratsen is one of the most athletic players in the country and certainly among the fastest. He was twice under 4.00 to first base on ground balls in the Metrodome last June and scouts have clocked him many times in the 4.00 to 4.05 range this spring on soft high school fields. He was 4.19 and 4.43 on two turns on Wednesday.
Bratsen also has a clear plus arm in centerfield based on last summer, and his combination of speed and arm strength, along with very good outfield instincts, enable most scouts to give him three plus tools, a rarity in a high school player.
That being said, there seem to be serious questions among scouts about whether Bratsen, who has signed with hometown Texas A&M, will be a draft (i.e. in a signable round) in June. He has quick wrists at the plate and the ball comes off the barrel pretty hard, but his swing mechanics and balance are neither fundamentally sound nor consistent. Facing a pitcher throwing in the low to mid 70’s, Bratsen did hit a double and triple but also popped up or swung and missed at a number pitches and did not show any consistency in his swing or approach.
The consensus among the scouts I’ve talked to is that Bratsen might be better served by going to A&M and getting stronger and progressing as a hitter before coming out. It would be hard to argue with that based on what I’ve observed over the last year.
Of course, this game (which had five area scouts in attendance) is also an example of why scouting high school hitters in the spring is often so difficult compared to during the summer at high-level Perfect Game events. The level of competition was weak, the bats metal and the intensity level in a five-inning run rule game on a Wednesday afternoon during spring break less than ideal. Bratsen did make a nice running catch but didn’t need to make any throws and any judgment on his bat, without lots of background, was pretty shallow due to the level of the opposing pitchers.
Thursday Schedule: Aflac All-American 1B/OF Jared Lakind (Cypress Woods HS) at 7 pm.