ATLANTA, GA- I just watched an outstanding ACC matchup between Georgia Tech and North Carolina. UNC has two likely 1st-round picks in first baseman Dustin Ackley and righthanded pitcher Alex White; we have them ranked fifth and third overall for the 2009 draft.
Twelve scouting directors were in attendance at Russ Chandler Stadium and it’s not very often that 40% of major league scouting directors are at the same park at the same time.
There was plenty of other talent in this game as well. I’ll blog about the others later on, but I wanted to pass on White and Ackley notes as quickly as I could.
ALEX WHITE OWNS THE CORNER
Alex White was nails tonight, very sharp in his eight innings of work (4H, 2ER, 8K, 5BB). As far as stuff and pitchability, only San Diego State’s Stephen Strasburg surpasses him for 2009.
He threw his first pitch at 93 MPH and was still hitting 93s and 94s in the 7th inning. White’s fastest fastballs had average four-seam movement. He also threw a two-seamer with plus movement (90-92 MPH) and a plus cutter (87-88 MPH that could break both ways). White’s slider (83 MPH) is a two-plane biter that also projects as a plus pitch (60) and he threw an average (low-80s MPH) change.
What made him shine brighter was his command, particularly on the arm-side corner. White spotted pitches there like Brandon Webb and for that reason he was tougher against lefthanded hitters than righthanded. White actually struggled to go away on righthanded hitters and I think a lot of that had to do with his delivery.
White throws slightly across his body. It’s not exaggerated like Jamie Walker’s (big league lefty reliever) finish, but his lead foot lands to the right of the rubber and it cuts off his follow-through. It makes sense that his arm would not release balls late enough to hit the glove-side corner consistently.
And if you’re asking me to punch holes and find fault in White, that’s where it is; his delivery and his body. White is 6-3, 200, and looks athletic in a uniform. But it’s not for me the prototypical pitcher’s build because he’s slender in the hips and legs and not particularly strong in the core mid-section. People make jokes about pear-shaped pitchers like David Wells and Bartolo Colon, to name a few, but those hurlers are exceptionally strong and athletic where it counts the most for their position. If you have strong leg drive and hip rotation (created by your core muscles), the strain on your elbow and shoulder are minimized. Also, you tend to repeat your slots better and have more command from one outing to the next.
None of this will keep him out of the first round or even the first ten picks, but it’s something I noticed. A pitcher with the potential for three plus and one average pitch with an idea on how to use it is going to get to the big leagues quick. I project him as a strong #3 starter for a major league contender with the upside of ace-hood.
Two of his strikeouts came against Georgia Tech sophomore sensation Derek Dietrich, who went 0-3 against him. Dietrich is a big name for next year. Though I don’t see the 6-1, 180 lefthanded hitter playing shortstop in pro ball, his bat will get him drafted high on its own. Dietrich was an unsigned 3rd-round pick by the Houston Astros out of an Ohio high school in 2007.
Dustin Ackley is considered by many to be the best pure hitter in the draft. I would agree he’s the most polished, if not the one with the most upside.
The 6’0”, 184 (eye-balled) lefthanded hitter has a medium-sized frame with sloped shoulders. He’s not as physically imposing as the typical major league first baseman, but don’t let that fool you. He’s a big hitter with a chance to hit big league homeruns.
There wasn’t much to see today, however. Ackley walked in his first two plate appearances, then fouled out to left, grounded out to second, and flew out to center.
He did show his usual good eye and discipline. Those kinds of things are evident to an experienced scout who watches his reaction to every pitch, whether or not he even swings.
I watched Ackley take batting practice and he launched several balls over the right field fence towards the fraternity houses. He doesn’t have the prettiest swing, but he starts his bat at a perfect angle and takes a short path to the ball in most parts of the zone. There’s a slight uppercut that effectively lofts the ball for power. With his open stance and loose hands, he can adjust and go the other way though he prefers to pull. I graded his bat-speed out as average in the present and his raw power as plus major league.
One thing that flagged me was that he bailed out swinging against lefthanded curveballs. In his last at-bat against freshman Jake Davies, Ackley stepped in the bucket but still hit it solidly to center field. I don’t know if he always does that, I don’t recall from last year. If he always has, then there’s no concern. It works for him and I’ve seen video of Willie Mays stepping in the bucket and hitting lasers, so I don’t know that anyone will try to change it.
Defensively, Ackley should become average at first base despite being a righthanded thrower. His hands and first step work well. Ackley made a nice play ranging to the hole in the ninth inning. He has played some outfield and I think he can become okay in left at the big league level if needed. Ackley appears to be an average runner (I actually timed him at 4.0 home-to-first on a jailbreak) and his routes while shagging during batting practice were okay. His arm, however, would be below-average as an outfielder.
Though Ackley didn’t get any hits today, he’s clearly a high first-round bat. Ackley has the upside of a middle-order big league hitter. I can see him hitting .310+ with 25HR though I don’t project him so much as a 40HR guy.
Ackely is off to a blazing start to his junior season, hitting .409-8-23 with a .526 OBP and .709 SLG in 110 ABs.
Check back later when I blog on Georgia Tech’s prospects and the other Tar Heels. Also, I’ll be in Athens, Georgia on Saturday watching Georgia host Louisiana State. 6-7 lefty Alex McRee (#72) is pitching for the Bulldogs. The LSU Tigers have two projected first-round sandwich picks in shortstop D.J. Lemahieu (#47) and outfielder Jared Mitchell (#45).