TAMPA, FL- Lake Sumter JC righty John Michael Blake threw against Hillsborough JC on Saturday at the New York Yankees minor league complex. We had ranked the sophomore 45th among the nation’s Top-250 JUCO prospects during the preseason.
The first game of a doubleheader drew a handful of scouts who were intrigued by the sophomore during the fall, but he was not sharp this time out.
Two other ranked JUCO prospects played in the doubleheader, both from Hillsborough JC: sophomore outfielder Evan Chambers (#95), who transferred from the University of Florida, and freshman slugger first baseman Jamie Mallard (#130) who was drafted by the Angels in the 17th round last June.
As I’d written in the previous blog, it was really the bats that stood out. Blake was not sharp on Saturday, but Mallard and Lake Sumter’s Bryan Hill showed why they may be the best JUCO hitting prospects in the country. Sophomore catcher Ryan Collins of Hillsborough made his case. He had a big doubleheader both offensively and defensively though his being three years older than the other sophomores makes him much less projectable.
JOHN MICHAEL BLAKE’S “CHARACTER” START
I first watched Blake pitch during the fall at Lake Sumter’s scout day and at the time, I was sure I was looking at the best junior college arm in the state. Blake, an athletic 6-0, 190, showed a quick arm and threw consistently in the low-90s with the makings of a plus curve. There were some thirty-plus scouts in attendance that rainy afternoon who surely noted on what they saw.
I’d only seen Blake one more time, at the JUCO All-Star game in Winter Haven back in October. He wasn’t nearly as sharp, but you could see what he had. And he showed his athleticism by also hitting a homerun at the event.
On Saturday, Blake really struggled. He gave up seven runs in 3.1 IP and didn’t have nearly the stuff he showed in the fall. Blake threw mostly 86-88 MPH with a straight four-seam fastball and 84-86 on a two-seamer. He snapped off a few downer curveballs, but most of them hung (high-70s) and his change was not convincing.
Most scouts left early in the first game of the doubleheader (it was also Valentine’s Day). But there was one thing that did impress about Blake; he competed. Even after giving up three runs in the first inning, Blake’s body language didn’t change and he tried to work with what he had on the given day. Being successful in the big leagues requires just that. The good stuff doesn’t come out with you every time, perhaps it comes only half the time.
To me it’s just as valuable to watch a pitcher on a bad start because that’s where you see what he’s made of inside. Of course, he has to show the good stuff at least once in a while, but if you’re confident he has it and a pro pitching coach can bring it out, then you can go on to scouting the intangibles.
The only thing I noticed mechanically (as a non-pitching coach myself) is that I thought Blake was drifting more in his delivery. When I went off to the side, his arm appeared late coming over and he was blowing some of the torque his body was generating. Sometimes that can mean a few miles less or a lazier curveball.
EVAN CHAMBERS AND OTHER FOLLOWS:
Chambers played center field for Hillsborough in both games. Thickly built at 5-9, 220, there aren’t many baseball players who look like him. He’s an above-average (60 on 20-80 scale) runner with good instincts in center field and an adequate arm. Chambers also showed some juice in his bat; I project him for average bat-speed and power, and he’s short enough to the ball to hang in against big league pitching one day.
His issue here and also during his very brief playing time as a freshman at Florida is that he struggles with curveballs. It’s just a matter of waiting longer and keeping his hands back.
From a pro perspective, the body is a concern only because it’s already matured and one doesn’t know if it will get out of hand one day. Chambers is very thick around his hips and legs. From the height/weight numbers, one might think of Kirby Puckett, but remembering the Twins star as a young player, he was a bit looser in his upper half and had more of a barrel shape to his chest. Nevertheless, Chambers is very strong and it should translate to more power than the typical 5-9 guy.
For Chambers to be a first-ten round draft, he’ll have to show a more polished bat and also convince scouts that he’ll stay strong and in shape as he gets older. Chambers was drafted in the 17th round by the Colorado Rockies out of nearby Lakeland High School in 2007.
Jacob Davis, a lefthanded pitcher from Lake Sumter, is another arm who impressed me at their fall scout day in addition to John Michael Blake. At the time, the 6-2, 240 freshman showed a groundball-inducing mid- to high-80s fastball and workable off-speed. He came in relief during the second game Saturday and was 83-85 MPH without nearly the same movement. The arm-action and delivery are sound, plus he has the strong body to withstand punishment. There is excess weight around his hips and mid-section, but as we know there are a lot of big league pitchers who look like that. Davis will have to show more stuff and pitchability to be a good draft this year but I still keep him as a pocket follow.
An undersized freshman who hit big for Lake Sumter was catcher Chase Okey. Okey was almost playing pepper with the right field line the entire doubleheader. Though listed as a switch-hitter, I only saw him lefthanded. At 5-8, 165, and with a 35 arm from behind the plate, his potential is limited as a catcher. Still, he showed he has a chance to hit and I couldn’t help but wonder how he was at his secondary position (third base) or if he could play second. Okey jumped on some good pitches and could really handle the low ball. He’s at least an intriguing D1 college recruit if his lack of projectability and plus peripheral tools make him less draftable.
The best runner between the two teams was Hillsborough freshman leftfielder Jarryd Reid, who showed me legitimate 65 speed. He is strictly a one-tool talent at this time, though, Reid struggled greatly with his routes missing several balls that would have been caught by an average major leaguer. His arm grades only a 35 though to his credit he was accurate every throw.
Reid also had a baserunning blunder where he over-slid third base after aggressively taking it in the first place. Still, there’s something to work with and that aggression can become an asset. The 5-10, 185 Reid is solidly built with strong legs and a good torso. And though he didn’t get in many good righthanded swings, when he did, he showed some fast twitch bat-speed.
There is upside for the Tampa Middleton HS product, but he’s very crude at the moment and a pocket follow for me.