CORAL GABLES, FL- As it often happens with an ACC matchup, there ends up being more prospects than the ones you went to see.
Miami shortstop Ryan Jackson was the headliner coming in and I was also looking out for Miami closer Kyle Bellamy, Duke senior first baseman Nate Freiman and lefty Chris Manno. But after watching Duke-Miami at Mark Light Stadium on Friday and Saturday, I’d like to add a few more names as potential top-ten rounders for June. From Miami, second baseman Scott Lawson, third baseman Chris Herrman, and righthanded pitcher Taylor Wulf. From Duke, I’ll add RHP/OF Alex Hassan with senior righthanded starter Andrew Wolcott being a sleeper.
It was a hotly contested series with all three games coming down to the last at-bat. Miami would take two of the games (5-4, 0-2, 7-6).
I’ll highlight the Miami prospects here and follow with the Duke Blue Devils in the next blog.
IS MIAMI SS RYAN JACKSON A FUTURE 3B? CLOSER BELLAMY A SETUP MAN?
Get used to this. There is no such thing as a shortstop whom scouts project as a shortstop.
Nothing seems to be held in more esteem by scouts than the most athletically dependent position on the field. Don’t kid yourself, Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken may be in the hall-of-fame, but even they had plenty of scouts who didn’t think they could play shortstop in the big leagues.
Having said that, Ryan Jackson brings the same question marks and it is as legitimate as any other. He’s an excellent defensive shortstop in college and a stabilizer for the Hurricane infield. But there are scouts, including myself, who don’t believe his feet are quick enough to have average range in the big leagues.
He has a 60 arm, very good athletic ability and balance, plus hands, and is quick on the double play. At 6-1, 180, he’s wiry built and lean, not susceptible to excess weight gain. Jackson can make throws from the hole and from a charge and make them accurately. With an unheard of .974 fielding percentage as a sophomore, Jackson is a good bet to make all the routine plays moving up the pro chain.
So I think he can be a solid shortstop, but I don’t think he’ll have average range compared to the thirty MLB starters right now. His first step is only fair, not quick. Jackson’s footwork is smooth, but again not quick.
He has a chance to be a very good hitter, though he struggled this weekend with a faulty approach. Jackson opened the series by taking three strikes in his first at-bat, then struck out on two average (MLB) curveballs on Saturday. Jackson got under a couple of balls for pop-ups, as well. The two times I saw him hit the ball hard on Friday (a flyout to center and a double down the left field line), Jackson showed his bat-speed and his ability to use his hands.
He has a good swing, no doubt. Jackson is fairly short to the ball and generates average bat-speed with good balance right now. The ball jumps off his bat okay, I’d grade him out with 50 line-drive power and 45 raw loft power.
He only hit four homeruns last year (.360-4-50 in 242 AB). It’s not a guarantee he’ll hit for power, I see him more of a gap-hitter. But I think Jackson has it in him to hit for average when he learns to recognize curves better.
There’s been some buzz about closer Kyle Bellamy as well. About a half-dozen scouts appeared in the ninth inning, sneaking behind the plate to get radar gun readings when he came in on Saturday.
Bellamy is a side-armer who throws in the upper-80s with plus movement. His second pitch is a Frisbee slider in the high-70s. Bellamy had a big sophomore year as an occasional closer and primary setup man to Minnesota Twins first-round pick Carlos Gutierrez (6-0, 1.75 ERA, 75K in 63 IP). He was truly a rubber-arm who’d often go two or more innings a pop.
At times, he’ll show low-90s, but I think his comfort zone will be in the high-80s. It’s hard to project him as a big league closer; the movement is good, but it’s not like B.K. Kim’s or Dan Quisenberry’s, to go back a ways. He has a chance as a setup man and would probably move quickly, but I don’t think scouts see a big ceiling for him. Still, he could go in the 3rd-4th round, especially if he continues to show he can pitch big in big games.
THREE BIG TRANSFERS FROM TEXAS: LAWSON, HERRMAN, AND WULF
Miami lost more talent than anybody from last year. Eight players were signed in the draft, six of them position player starters who made up the nation’s best lineup in 2008. Not willing to rebuild, Coach Jim Morris and staff were hot on the junior college trail and picked up three pro prospects from Texas, of all places.
Second baseman Scott Lawson (from Grayson County JC) is the most intriguing to me. He’s a little guy at a slope-shouldered 5-9, 180, with a strong lefthanded bat, 60 speed, and the potential to become a solid-plus defender.
Lawson has a compact stroke and turns hard on the ball. He generates average bat-speed right now, hits hard line-drives to the gaps, and can stay on an average curveball over the plate. Lawson hit the game-winning double in the bottom of the ninth to win Friday’s game. He’s hitting .343-1-11 in his first 67 at-bats.
I really think he has early-round potential (3rd?). He’s a new name for scouts, especially in Florida, but I’d keep an eye on him. For me, he’s better than some lefthanded hitting second basemen who’ve gone early in recent years. The Houston Astros took him in the 40th round last June.
Third baseman Chris Herrmann (who also plays catcher) is another lefthanded hitter with average bat-speed who can turn hard on a fastball. At 5-11, 182, He generates a little bit more power than Lawson and is a solid-average runner. He’s strongly built in his torso with moderate thickness in his lower half.
Herrman struggled immensely on defense on Friday, making three errors and being pushed to DH on Saturday. He has good actions and soft hands (despite the boots). He just did a poor job reading the hops on one error and rushed his throw on another. The ability is there to become an average fielder, but he needs a lot of work. The Baltimore Orioles took him in the 10th round out of Alvin JC last year and he can do at least that well in 2009.
I’m told some clubs have him listed as a catcher and I’d be curious to see how he is behind the plate, but Miami’s starting catcher is a likely high pick in 2010. (More on him later.)
Righthanded pitcher Taylor Wulf is a pear-shaped 6-0, 235. He’s actually very strong in his legs and his core, and I think his body-type can be an asset if he can keep it fifteen pounds lighter. Wulf came in relief on both Friday and Saturday and he stood out for two things; pitchability and athleticism.
Wulf located his fastball, slider, and curveball like a big leaguer. He knew how to pitch out of the zone and get hitters to chase his fastball away or pop it up inside. His overall command grade is better than any pitcher I’ve seen thus far in the spring.
For raw stuff, he projects to average. Wulf threw 88-90 MPH on the first night with average two-seam sink. His slider (80-82 MPH) is a two-plane breaker and his curveball (70-72 MPH) is a downer, both of which project to 50 on movement put 60+ on command.
I would actually like to see him as a starter because his delivery is powerful. Wulf uses his strength advantages very well and there’s little strain on his arm. His arm-action is also very good, and he repeats his slots. With a change-up (or perhaps using his curve as a change), I think he’ll be able to fool hitters three times through a lineup and go 200+ innings a year.
It’s early, but I’d really give him a hard look in the 3rd-4th rounds. The pitchability is going to move him quickly, even if he lacks premium starter stuff. I think he can become a good #4 starter.
Wulf is off to a great start out of the Hurricane bullpen. He has a 0.77 ERA in 11.2 IP, with 16K and 4BB.
2010 FIRST-ROUND CATCHER?
Sophomore backstop Yasmani Grandal is an exciting one for next year. The 6-2, 210 switch-hitter has big tools for the position. Grandal would have been a high-draft out of high school, but poor signability dropped him to the Boston Red Sox in the 27th round. Look for him to go high in 2010.
Grandal is a plus-plus thrower who projects for me as a solid-average receiver. He’s improved greatly in two years, catching high-level pitchers with the Hurricanes. Grandal will also have plus raw power from both sides of the plate. His swing is a little more balanced and compact from the left side. It’s all a matter of developing his approach and recognizing pitches to move up. Grandal is off to a good start this year, hitting .333-4-12 in 51 AB.
Physically, he’s lanky in the upper-half with projection and sturdy in the legs. He has enough width to his hips to look the part behind the plate and I think he’ll handle the grind of crouching.
Check back for my next blog on the Duke University prospects from this weekend. Senior first baseman Nate Freiman took a batting practice for the ages, but another Blue Devil has more upside (as a pitcher) and a third looks to be one of the more intriguing senior drafts.