GAINESVILLE, FL- The University of Tennessee Volunteers stormed into the swamp with two sophomore-eligibles high on the draft radar. Kentrail Davis played center field and lefty Bryan Morgado took the hill against Florida on Sunday.
MORGADO THE TOOLSY LEFTY
Morgado was actually a redshirt, suffering an elbow injury after graduating high school that required Tommy John surgery in 2006. Morgado made his UT debut as a redshirt freshman last year, with only moderate success as a starter (4.59 ERA, 5-5 in 13 starts). But what he’s shown since high school is a loose left arm with a lot of upside.
Morgado pitched in several Perfect Game events, topping out at 89 MPH in the prestigious Jupiter WWBA tournament in October of 2005. The Florida Christian graduate was never considered signable after committing to Tennessee, but the Red Sox took a 34th-round stab anyway in 2006.
My only prior look at Morgado was in his sole relief appearance in Knoxville last year, and I was plenty intrigued.
In a nutshell, the stuff, the body, and the delivery looks good, but he isn’t getting hitters out. Morgado’s pitchability and his focus on the mound are way behind his physical tools. He would be a first-round pick if they were at the same level, but more realistically my impression is that teams will hedge him at the end of the second or the third round.
What’s to like is that the 6-2, 200 (eye-balled, listed at 6-3, 203) lefty does everything smooth. He has an athletic medium-sized frame with a sturdy lower-half that projects another 10-15 lbs. Morgado’s delivery is smooth. He stays back and gets good hip rotation. Despite a late low kick with his lead foot, Morgado’s finish is online to the plate with an efficient follow-through. He has a quick arm with a long stroke, coming over with a high three-quarter release.
Morgado threw a lot of 93s in the first inning and was living 91-93 with solid-average (MLB) movement on his running/downward plane fastball. By the fourth, Morgado was down to 88-90 and he would get knocked out in the fifth with a four-inning line of 6H, 4ER, 5BB, and 3K. This despite good velocity, an already average late-breaking two-plane slider (80 MPH), and the makings of an average change-up.
Morgado looked poised the first inning and got out of a bases loaded jam in the second, but after that it seemed that the Gators had gotten under his skin. Morgado’s body language changed and he became a painfully slow worker. He was repeatedly delaying the game with weak pickoff attempts to first, once throwing over when the baserunner was still standing on the bag. He simply didn’t have any rhythm on his side.
But nobody will walk away from his arm. There’s quite a bit of potential here. We’re looking at a 6-2 lefty with the upside of a plus fastball, solid-average slider, and average change. Sounds like a solid #3 starter to me. Despite his history of arm problems, I think he has a chance to become a 200-inning guy in the future. Part of his lack-of-rhythm has to do with the college philosophy of calling games from the dugout, which forces the pitcher to slow down. Perhaps in pro ball, he’ll respond better to the pace.
KENTRAIL DAVIS, THE THICK-NECKED BASEBALL PLAYER
Davis has a physical appearance you rarely see on a pro baseball field. A very thick and muscular 5-9, 210, with a huge neck, anyone who sees Davis on the street in Knoxville might assume he’s Tennessee’s star running back. Despite the fitting neck, Davis played only one year of football in high school devoting his time and passion to the diamond. Davis is very strong in his lower-half and has broad sloped shoulders a la Reggie Jackson, but his frame is not quite as big and I don’t suspect a whole lot of strength increases in the future. He will have to condition himself to keep from getting too heavy around the hips and legs, which would reduce his 60 speed.
Davis got a lot of interest out of high school. After playing in the AFLAC All-American game in San Diego, scouts were on his trail at Theodore High School, which is located near Mobile in southern Alabama. But in the end, Davis and his advisor Scott Boras had priced himself beyond what teams were willing to pay and he was a longshot-to-sign 14th-round pick of the Colorado Rockies.
The appeal of Davis is power and speed. Despite only standing 5-9, the lefthanded hitter generates plus raw power because of his physical strength and a natural lift in his swing (.330-13-44 in 206 AB as a freshman). From a wide-open stance, Davis is short to the ball with present average bat-speed. He can hit a fastball middle-in a long ways.
But the holes in his approach were quite apparent against Florida on Sunday. Davis ended up going 0-5 with two strikeouts. His first two at-bats were weak roll-over groundouts and then he got under a ball for a lazy flyout to center. Throughout the afternoon, Davis chased pitches high and away out of the zone. He struggled noticeably to wait on a couple of curveballs. He’s off to a comparatively slow start in 2009 (.267-3-9 in 75 AB) and I think I caught him in the midst of a funk.
The good news is that it’s correctable. Davis can discipline himself against chasing those pitches. And he has the type of balance and compact stroke where I believe he’s capable of hitting good curveballs in the future. Davis struck out a whopping 56 times last year and 16 already as a sophomore; he’s an aggressive hitter who’ll swing and miss his share, but I think he’ll cut them down considerably when his ball-strike eye gets better.
Defensively, I did not see a single fly ball hit to Davis all day. I did see a few hit his way last year and he really struggled with his routes. Davis has enough agility to out-run some balls, but he couldn’t handle a big league center field the way he looked. It will take more work, but whomever selects him will put him in center for as long as they can. Davis’s arm (righthanded thrower) is well below-average (35) and doesn’t figure to improve a whole lot, so left field is the only other destination.
Davis was reportedly looking for first-round money out of high school. At this point, I don’t see him being offered that unless he’s showing considerably better by June (which is a possibility). Being a sophomore-eligible, he has two more years of leverage on his side as well.
FLORIDA GATOR CLOSER BILLY BULLOCK SHOWS UP WITH BIG STUFF
When I saw Bullock a month before, he was not particularly impressive. But he brought his “A” game to the swamp against Tennessee on Sunday.
While he proceeded to give up a two-run blast to the first hitter he faced (slugging UT sophomore catcher Blake Forsythe), Bullock got a flyout and a strikeout to close out Florida’s 7-5 victory in the ninth.
The large-framed 6-6, 230 righty came out throwing 92-94 MPH on his riding fastball. He also showed a hard 84-86 MPH slider with a short break that will work much better against wood bats. I’d grade his fastball as 60(present)/65(future) and his slider as 50/60 based on this day.
Bullock is a closer all the way with his mentality. His arm-action is okay; long, over-the-top, no major effort. Bullock seems a good enough athlete, but there’s effort with his delivery. He doesn’t stay back long, then lands across his body. The Gators did use him for 26 starts during the two previous seasons, but I believe his future is in short relief.
In high school, Bullock was a big “projection guy” for the most part. He threw at numerous Perfect Game events and usually lived in the high-80s. The strength gains since have made him a low-mid-90s guy for an inning.
Bullock is coming into his own as a closer and I think teams are looking at him in the first five rounds already.
OTHER UF NOTES: Rightfielder Riley Cooper (redshirt sophomore-eligible) really struggled at the plate. The 6-3, 215 defensive stalwart went 0-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. He just hasn’t learned to recognize pitches and work a count. And the stiff trigger mechanism in his swing makes him slow to catch up on good fastballs. Cooper is an enigma because he’s a 70 runner with a great body and a guy whom I think will make for a plus defensive centerfielder. The question scouts are asking is if his bat would come around after he quits football. At this point, I don’t see him in the first two rounds, but wouldn’t be shocked first five. Stay tuned…. Junior centerfielder Matt Den Dekker struggled against UT as well, going 1-5 though scoring two runs out of the leadoff spot. He struck out twice, showing a hole for a high fastball, and rolled over on a couple other pitches. At his best, the 6-1, 205 L/L Den Dekker is a steady all-around player and I can see him going in the 3rd-4th rounds. His tools project to 50-55 across the board, but nothing stands out to make him a future big league all-star. He is a relatively safe pick because he’s polished. The only way I see him in the first two rounds is if a particular team thinks his bat is better than that…. UF leftfielder Avery Barnes is reportedly getting interest as a potential first-ten round senior draft. He’s an undersized (eyeballed 5-9, 170, listed at 5-11) lefthanded hitter with plus speed and instincts for the outfield. In fact, all three of UF’s outfielders are capable of playing center in pro ball. Barnes lacks upside because he’s essentially a singles hitter and has a well below-average arm. But he’d have value if he could hit .280+, steal bases, and play a good CF/LF all the way up.