RIVERVIEW, FL- The Tony and Bertha Saladino Tournament began on Friday, pitting together 28 schools from the Tampa area. This prestigious and well-run tournament is in its 29th year and as one could imagine, many a future big leaguer has come through.
There are again plenty of good players coming out of Tampa in 2009, with shortstop/righthanded pitcher Mychal Givens (ranked #13 overall in the draft) at the top of the list. I blogged on Givens after watching him play shortstop on February 28th. On Monday (April 6th), I finally got to see him at his “other” position. Givens pitched against Plant City High School in a 4:00 match-up at Riverview High School.
Givens threw hard from the beginning. With his unique low three-quarter delivery, there were a lot of 93s and 94s in the first and he sat 90-94 MPH the rest of the way in his seven inning start. (In past PG events, he’s sat 93-95 MPH for shorter appearances and actually topped out at 98 MPH at the AFLAC All-American Game.)
In the end, it was a one-hit shutout with 7K, 1BB, and one hit batter.
Strangely, however, quite a few balls were hit hard off of Givens by a fair Florida high school team. And considering his velocity, seven strikeouts are not much.
A lot of it has to do with Givens’s arm-action, which lacks deception because it’s long in back and he shows the ball the whole way. Coming at such a low angle makes it difficult to hide. And unlike a lot of low-slot pitchers, Givens doesn’t get plus movement. I graded it average “running” action, but it’s not like a Kent Tekulve or Dan Quisenberry fastball as far as movement is concerned.
Givens was also up in the zone a lot with his heater. His slider is a tight biter at 82 MPH that has a rising Frisbee action similar to B.K. Kim’s. It can become an average to solid-average pitch, but he has to locate it better down in the zone. When it flattens out, it’s very hittable by low-level pro hitters.
Givens showed an 87-88 MPH two-seam fastball which he could throw low in the zone and worked almost like a change-up. His change-up is in the low-80s and he has some feel for it; Givens keeps his arm-speed and gets fastball-like movement on his change. So he has the potential for several average offerings in addition to his fastball.
He’s obviously an outstanding athlete, given his abilities at shortstop. But Givens’s delivery has some effort, even though it looks smooth. He doesn’t rock back and incorporate his lower-half or core muscles a whole lot. Givens has a lightning quick arm and that’s where the velocity comes from. But in the long term, you’d like to have the body absorb more of the punishment especially for a starter.
Givens showed an exceptional pickoff move which partially made up for his very slow times to the plate (1.8 seconds compared to MLB average of 1.3). Still, he’ll have to speed up the delivery considerably to keep from getting run out of the park at the next level.
I would actually lean to Givens as a shortstop, if it were my call. He obviously has something to work with on the mound and those velocity numbers get your attention. But there is so much more to pitching and I don’t think he’s nearly as safe a venture as he would be at shortstop, where he’s shown me he can play very well at the highest level. At about 6-0, 190 (my estimation from the stands), he has the athletic build that will work at both positions. Givens is strong in his lower-half with broad shoulders and a good taper. I suspect he’d get to 210 as a position player.
Givens went 2-3 with a homerun and two walks on Monday. He actually looked tentative on the curveball and he made a baserunning blunder, getting picked off at first base. But he showed his ability to handle the bat and use the field, going the other way on a single where he did nicely to stay inside the ball. I don’t see Givens as a middle-order hitter in the big leagues, but believe he could be a #2 in the lineup guy who hits for average and steals 20+ bases. That combined with plus defense at short makes him a very good major league player if he reaches his ceiling.
Most every scout I’ve talked to has him dead even between shortstop and pitching, or has him higher as a shortstop. Either way, he has a good shot at going in the first round to somebody.
OTHER SALADINO TOURNAMENT NOTES: I drove over to nearby Brandon High School where Sickles HS was playing. They have three players who’ve gotten some attention from scouts. Third baseman Josh Dunn (committed to Florida Gulf Coast) is a 6-2, 215 righthanded hitter with raw power and some actions for the hot corner. He doesn’t handle the bat real well now and has some holes to fill, but there is upside and a chance someone pops him in the first ten rounds. Shortstop Chris Velez is a live-bodied 6-3, 180 player who has some actions, but is crude at the plate and on the infield. He’s a likely college or juco player who scouts will follow at that level. RIghthanded pitcher Gregg Cooke is a 6-7, 180 stringbean with good over-the-top arm-action and a fairly smooth delivery. He only throws in the mid-80s now, but is plenty projectable and has the makings of an average curveball in the long run. He seems likely to end up at Central Florida, where he has signed.