Tournaments : : Story
Sunday, July 20, 2014

Russell highlights Day 1 at PGWS

Todd Gold        
Pound for pound, there is no more heavily condensed collection of talent to be found on the summer showcase circuit. With a matchup against a highly talented opponent in every game on the schedule, the prospects that have gathered in Arizona are getting a taste of what professional baseball will be like when their time comes. To stand out in an environment like this speaks volumes about the ability level that these young players have already achieved, and suggests that they are well on their way to successful careers. 

The first time slot of the day featured one of the elite power arms in the country in righthander Beau Burrows (2015, Weatherford, Texas). Burrows was filthy in the first inning, painting the glove side corner at 92-93 with sink and got through it with a quick 1-2-3 inning. His fastball command wasn't as sharp on the glove side, but he worked ahead with the fastball and his changeup proved unhittable. He used it to strike out all-american Brandt Stallings twice, which is not only a significant accomplishment because Stallings is one of the elite hitters in the 2015 class, but also because he's a right handed hitter. Burrows throws his changeup from the same compact release window from an over the top delivery with the same arm speed, and gets plus darting life down and to the arm side anywhere from 81-85 mph. His fastball sat 89-93, which is a bit down from the 94-96 he showed off at the PG National Showcase, but he proved he can pitch and go through a lineup multiple times in his start today. Perhaps just as importantly, his breaking ball wasn't working nearly as well today as it was at the National, yet he still managed to mow through a talented Georgia Roadrunners lineup anyway.

It looked as though Burrows would be the story of day one, but somehow the EvoShield Canes ran out another high level power arm in their second game of the day, one who was equally as impressive, if not moreso.  

Ashe Russell (2015, Indianapolis, Ind.) stole the show and was the highlight of day one, in spite of strong competition from several other highly impressive prospects. The performance couldn't have been much better, as Russell retired all 12 San Diego Show hitters he faced, including seven via strikeout. He sat 91-94 in the first, 90-93 in the second and third and 89-92 in the fourth inning and showed very good command of not only his fastball, but also his hard biting curveball at 77-78. The knock on the power armed right hander has been that with the violence to his delivery and head movement that he would be hard pressed to show the kind of command necessary to succeed at the highest levels of the professional ladder. But the temptation to overthink what a pitching prospect is "supposed to look like" diminishes with performances like the one Russell put up today. At the end of the day, if a pitcher can consistently hit his spots with quality pitches and his delivery makes hitters uncomfortable, what else do you need? That is exactly what Russell did today, and his team won as a result. 

The top velocity of the day came from right hander Matthew McGarry (2015, Menlo-Atherton, Calif.), who topped out at 95 mph. That is one mph shy of the PG World Series record, set by right hander Grant Holmes a year ago. Holmes was selected 22nd overall in the 2014 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. McGarry is a Vanderbilt commit with plenty of physical projection remaining, and while he's still learning to harness his power arsenal, he has a live arm and threw five shutout innings tonight. His curveball shows potential and at it's best flashes major league average quality already. Though his control still has a way to go to become one of the top prospects in the country, he has the raw ingredients to get there eventually. 

One "lesser known" prospect who made an impression today was right hander Parker McFaden (2015, Yelm, Wash.) of the West Coast Mariners. Less known is in quotations because he was selected to the PG National Showcase and is well known among northwest scouts, but on the national scene he's not a big name. He came on in relief and worked 91-94. While he didn't have plus command or a plus breaking ball, he has a fast arm and is one of the most highly sought after uncommitted players at the event and drew a large crowd of college coaches. 

In such a pitching dominated first day there weren't as many offensive highlights as there will be in a couple of days when teams start running low on elite arms, but the hitter who stood out the most to this scout/author was left handed hitting infielder LT Tolbert (2015, Piedmont, S.C.). In his first at-bat of the tournament he stepped in against a finesse lefty who featured a sharp angle on his pitches coming from the first base side, behind left handed hitters, and with good command. He went away, away, away to Tolbert. Tolbert recognized this early in the sequence and when he got an elevated fastball on the outside corner he took a low effort stroke and dumped the ball into left field to drive in the first run of the game. It was an impressive adjustment for a young hitter with the kind of bat speed and power that Tolbert possesses and is the type of cognitive presence in the batter's box that allows talented players like him to live up to their potential. It is also the type of moment that condensing this caliber of talent into one place allows scouts the opportunity to see, and tells them more about a prospect than watching him unload on a center cut fastball from an average pitcher.

There were two candidates for webgems of the day, both by athletic shortstops. Lucius Fox (2015, Delray Beach, Fla.) was the leader in the clubhouse after snaring a ball that had center field written all over it and then getting rid of it almost instantaneously. Then Nick Shumpert (2015, Lone Tree, Colo.) took the field later in the day and had an inning where he ranged to his right and nearly robbed a single out of the 5-6 hole with a strong throw off his back foot, and then robbed a line drive up the middle by ranging to his left. Centerfielder Seth Beer (2016, Suwanee, Ga.) gets an honorable mention for his diving catch followed by a strong throw back to first to double off a runner in the Georgia Roadrunners' first game. 

These observations and opinions are those of one member of the PG scouting staff. With games being played on up to eight fields simultaneously, it is impossible for the preceding recap to be fully comprehensive. Rather these are the players and moments that stood out the most while watching some of the top players in the country compete in an intensely competitive atmosphere. 
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