LAGRANGE, GA- There’s a recurring lesson for me about grading out arms.
Just because someone throws 95 MPH off the mound doesn’t mean he’ll have a plus arm anywhere on the field. And just because a high school catcher has the best arm-strength you’ve ever seen doesn’t mean he’ll overpower off the mound.
So it was with Austin Maddox (Eagle’s View HS in Jacksonville, FL) when he took the mound on Saturday afternoon against East Paulding (Ga.) HS in LaGrange. A handful of scouts showed up out of curiosity and also to see Maddox swing the bat.
The first pitch was 89 MPH and most of his fastballs would be in the 88-91 area. Maddox understandably had a stiff delivery (since he’s a primary catcher) with excessive head movement that made it difficult to repeat his checkpoints. Maddox threw a roundhouse curveball (75-77 MPH) and a straight change (76-79 MPH), both of which are uncertain to become average major league pitches.
If Maddox were to focus on pitching, he’d be a prospect and it’s likely he’d throw harder once he learned to leverage the strength out of his 6-3, 225 frame. He surely would have thrown harder than 88-91 had he not caught two games the day before. Nevertheless, neither his upside nor his safety as a pitcher is nearly as exciting to me as what he could do as a catcher. If he ends up at the University of Florida, where he’s signed, it’ll be interesting to see if the Gators use him both ways.
It’s not at all unusual for a strong arm at one position to be unequal at another. I once worked for a team that had a standard “arm-strength grade” for every player and determined what position he would play in the minors based on that. But outfield throws are different from catchers who are different from shortstops and third basemen and pitchers.
In a nutshell, outfielders need carry on their ball, over 200 feet at times. For infielders, especially third basemen, it’s important to throw on a line, have a quick release, and be able to throw from different angles. A catcher needs a short release as well, but he also has to be able to launch out of his crouch effectively enough to create momentum. Pitching off a mound is completely different from all of the above.
So it’s possible for Maddox to have an 80 arm behind the plate and a 50 arm on the mound.
At the plate, I watched three at-bats and Maddox struggled, getting under every ball for a pop-up. His trigger looked slower on Saturday; it could very well be due to fatigue and the fact he was pitching.
DAY TWO FOR CARTERSVILLE HS CENTERFIELDER DONAVAN TATE
I watched Cartersville’s morning game against LaGrange High School. There were still a good number of scouts, though the indoor batting cage wasn’t nearly as crowded as the day before.
Tate grounded out to second base in the first inning, running a 4.26 down the line and then beating a pickoff attempt with a 3.13 second steal time. Tate proceeded to walk after that. So I didn’t get to see him hit the way I did on Friday.
There were more balls hit his way and Tate took the correct route on every one, particularly one that was hit over his head towards right-center.
He also made several throws including one to home that nearly nailed the runner. He clearly has a plus arm and I’ve put it at a 65.
CATCHER LUKE BAILEY AT NEARBY TROUP COUNTY HS
It was a shame that Troup County HS wasn’t invited to the LaGrange Tournament. Troup is only 6-7 miles away from LaGrange HS and this year they have one of the best catchers in the draft in Luke Bailey. Bailey comes into the year as a projected sandwich/2nd-round pick. Along with Tate and East Paulding righty Zack Wheeler, I was able to see our three highest-rated Georgia high school products over two days.
Bailey looks to be much stronger physically than he was last August at the East Coast Professional Baseball Showcase in Lakeland, Florida. The Major League Scouting Bureau measured him at 6-0, 198 at that time and I’d venture to say he’s 210 now. Bailey has broad but sloped shoulders with a strong torso. His legs are very well-built. Despite the weightroom-enhanced body, Bailey is fairly loose and flexible, showing good agility behind the plate.
By comparison, his hands and his feet are livelier than Austin Maddox’s. I graded Bailey’s arm-strength at 55 but believe he’ll be a 60-65 thrower because of a short release and quick feet. Bailey threw out a would-be basestealer on a difficult pitch with a 2.07 pop-time. His warm-ups were generally under 2.0, his best at 1.83.
Bailey struggled with the bat, more than the line shows. He went 0-1 with a strikeout and two hits-by-pitches. Bailey was taking a big swing every time and he swung and missed three times on his strikeout (middle at-bat) and once in his last at-bat before he was drilled.
Bailey has a good, strong swing. I grade his present bat-speed at 45 and his raw power at 40/55. But he was chasing and not making any adjustments. The tools are there to become a solid-average big league hitter (ie. 275-15HR) but his approach was far from that today.
He has the athleticism to play all over the diamond. I can see him at third base, second base, and the outfield, but his abilities as a receiver give him a niche behind the plate. (He also shows the personality and aggressiveness of a catcher, incurring and creating contact on two controversial plays at the plate.) Though I didn’t get a running time on Saturday, Bailey is a present 40 runner who ran a 7.21 60 yard-dash in Lakeland last August.
I don’t see him as a 1st-round pick largely because he lacks physical projection. The only way he goes that early is if someone is convinced on his bat; convinced that he’ll be a run producer and that he’ll move quick. I would project him at the moment as a 2nd/3rd rounder, but of course, there’s much more baseball to be played!
MORE NOTES FROM LAGRANGE: I was intrigued by a hardnosed third baseman for Niceville High School named Danny Collins. The 6-0, 170 R/R infielder is committed to Alabama and I can see him helping them quickly. Collins has a mature approach at the plate with a good eye. Collins uses his hands well, can hit a curveball, and can really hit a low fastball. I can see him as an average defensive third baseman who plays better because gets dirty. When he fills out physically and gets stronger, Collins should become a draft standout coming out of college. We’ll see how much play he gets from pro scouts in 2009, but I don’t sense much right now in the early rounds…. Donavan Tate’s teammate Pat Boling is an impressive lefthanded bat headed for the University of Georgia. The 6-0, 190 first baseman is built like a fire hydrant and can generate average major league bat-speed and raw power already. Boling’s swing has good extension so I think his power will improve. He impressed me by also hitting a ball hard to the opposite field. Boling struggled defensively at first and will have to work hard to become adequate. He was also carved up in later at-bats by good changes of speed. As he works on these, he has a chance to become a very good bat prospect out of UGA in 2012…. I saw three lefties whom I don’t anticipate as early drafts out of high school, but are sleepers in college. Eagle’s View HS junior Zack Houck batted leadoff in front of Austin Maddox and showed to be a two-way prospect as a lefthanded pitcher and outfielder. On the mound, the small-framed 6-0, 165 lefty threw in the mid-80s and had major league command of both his curve and change-up. Houck’s pitchability was impressive in his 4.2 innings of work against Niceville. Houck is just a junior, so it’s possible his arm-speed picks up considerably by the 2010 draft. Columbus HS (Ga.) lefty Taylor Wolfe is committed to Alabama. He’s a finesse mid-80s lefty with an excellent delivery and an athletic 5-11, 170 frame. Wolfe showed an average curveball at times and it projects to 55-60. His fading change-up should become average as well. Wolfe doesn’t have a quick arm, his velocity comes out of his delivery so I don’t know if he’ll ever be a consistent 90 MPH guy. He does have a chance to far as a lefthanded finesse pitcher. Niceville HS lefty Robert Price is a lanky 6-2, 160 kid who’s in the low-80s. His arm works okay, though, and he shows me potential with his delivery. Price is a projection guy who stands out from the legions of other low-80s pitchers because of his immature body and the makings of a solid-average major league curveball… At Troup County High School, Luke Bailey wasn’t the only one who showed prospect-level defensive ability. Shortstop Blake Barber is committed to Northwest Florida State and is very slick on the infield. Though he’s only a 45 runner, his feet work well, his hands are soft, and his transfers are quick. Barber has 50 arm-strength that I upgrade to a 55 arm because of his quick release. I think the 5-8, 160 Barber has a chance to become a major league shortstop defensively. A switch-hitter, he doesn’t generate much juice from either side but his hitting actions and compact strokes give him a chance to become a solid contact hitter.
I headed to Tallahassee to watch Florida State host Boston College on Sunday. BC catcher Tony Sanchez has early-round possibilities and FSU has a very interesting outfielder with a high ceiling. Please check back Monday for my next blog.