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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Pitcher/Catcher Showcase Draws More than Local Talent

David Rawnsley        

Perfect Game has been holding its annual Pitcher/Catcher Indoor Showcase in mid-February since 2001 and I think I’ve been to all but one or two of them.  The venue at the PG headquarters has hardly changed in that time, at least as far as the cages are concerned (the office space has expanded 10-fold).  Neither has the amount of talent that continues to flock to the event.

This year’s event will be held this weekend, February 12-13.

For the scouts and college coaches it’s a nice respite from the cold routines of winter in the upper Midwest, although real (i.e. outside) baseball is often a month away, at least.  Most importantly, it’s an early opportunity to see who has been working hard during the winter and is ready to make an impact in the spring and who still has some work to do.

The event runs full-time from 8 a.m. to past 6 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday and has a very pleasant rhythm to it, as one cage is used to warm up the pitchers while the main cage is used for live throwing/hitting and another cage is used for extra BP and loosening up the hitters.  Scouts/coaches are packed around close and it’s always a priority to claim your spot early each morning.

The most impressive part of the event over the years has been the quality of talent from outside of Iowa that has made the drive every year in sometimes less than ideal conditions.  Three years ago, for instance, the wind chill outside was in the -50 degree range and jackets were worn inside the building as well.

The obvious top Iowa players have attended over the years:  Ryan and Kellen Sweeney, Matt Macri, Jeff Clement, Jeremy Hellickson, Jon Gilmore, Zach Hammes, B.J. Hermsen, etc. 

But the list of players from other states is awfully impressive:  RHP Chad Billingsley (Ohio), LHP Brad Hand (Minnesota), RHP’s Mike Foltynewicz, Seth Blair and Jake Odorizzi, plus 3B Jake Smolinski (Illinois), RHP Jacob Turner (Missouri) and RHP Eric Cordier (Wisconsin).  All were future top 2 round draft picks.  And you can add to that list RHP Tony Zych, an Illinois native who projects as top 2 round pick in the 2011 draft out of Louisville.

Some of the more memorable performances I’ve seen over the years at the Pitcher/Catcher Indoor include (alpha order):

LHP Buddy Baumann:  Baumann went on to an All-American career at Missouri State and was the Royals 7th round pick in 2009 despite being a 5-10 lefty.  This was his only PG event but he absolutely carved up hitters and it was obvious despite his size he had a bright future.  In retrospect his was very similar, minus 2-3 mph on his fastball, to 2010 draft LHP Jordan Shipers.    Here are my notes on him from the 2006 event:

Very athletic look.  Swung the bat like an athlete, too.  Well conditioned.  Very quick arm from an extended mid 3/4's release point.  Ron Guidry look and arm action.  Fast paced delivery with some effort and some deception.  Live 85-88 mph fastball.  Will cut it to RHH's.  CB 71-74, some very sharp.  Big breaker.  Deep with downer action.  Very good arm speed on Chg, gets some sink and cut.  Perfect slot/arm action for a hard slider. 

RHP Mike Foltynewicz:  Sometimes you watch a pitcher throw, one you’ve seen in the past, and it’s just different.  When “Folty” threw  last winter a number of people, myself included, just shook our heads and said “That’s a first round pick in June.”  We were right, he ended up going with the 19th overall pick.

Michael Foltynewicz is a 2010 RHP with a 6'5'', 200 lb. frame from Minooka, IL who attends Minooka HS.  Pro profile build, good overall strength, some physical maturity.  Outstanding power arm, comes through fast and clean, hip turn delivery, gets plenty of power from lower half, does tend to occ drift to the plate and leave FB up.  FB to 94 mph, lots of 93/94's, gets late hard running action even at 94, flashed power CB with sharpness, big 11/5 shape, inconsistent release this date, change also had good deception and running action.  Potential first round pick, keeps improving.  Signed with Texas.

LHP Brad Hand:  There are always stories of players performing while playing another sport in season.  None may have been impressive as Hand, who was making his first appearance in front of PG scouts after staring in a hockey game in Minnesota Friday night, catching a few hours sleep, then pitching and hitting in Cedar Rapids on Saturday.  These are my notes.

Good build, looks taller than list, athletic, present strength.  Upper body rotational delivery, pulls front side thru hard.  Long arm, big arm circle, good arm speed.  Some effort on release.  Maintains balance/direction well.  86-88 FB straight.  CB very good spin at times, hard/big break, 73 mph good pitch.  Very good arm speed on change.  Really repeats delivery well, shows athleticism.  Could be better than he showed and he showed well.  Also top level hitting prospect.

RHP Jeremy Hellickson:  Hellickson was another 2-sport star who excelled in basketball and only threw at the Indoor as a senior.   The report is a mix of what PG President Jerry Ford and I wrote.

Jeremy Hellickson is a 2005 RHP from Des Moines, Iowa, with a 6'0", 170 lb. frame.  Hellickson took an afternoon off from his "off season" basketball pursuits (he’s a top notch point guard) to throw for the assembled scouts.  He looks like he’s in excellent shape and appeared especially strong in his hips and thighs.  Hellickson threw easily and effortlessly and was steadily 88-90 mph on his fastball with hard boring life inside to right handed hitters.  His curveball was big and very sharp and mostly 74-75 mph. His change had serious sinking action at 73-74 mph.  Despite being in the middle of basketball, he showed his usual outstanding command of everything. This kid is a natural talent and it's real hard to compare him to other high school star pitchers. This was just a winter workout for this AFLAC All-American to show the scouts that he was healthy and in great shape, and he did that with no problem.  Hellickson looks like he’s ready for an excellent spring.

RHP Jake Odorizzi:  Odorizzi was the lead element in a trade for former Cy Young Award winner Zach Greinke, which shows you how well he’s regarded as a prospect right now.  One thing the report I wrote doesn’t say is the ideal separation of velocity he had:  Fastball 90-93 mph, Slider 84, Curveball  77, Change Up 82.

Jake Odorizzi is a 2008 RHP with a 6'2'', 175 lb. frame from Highland, IL who attends Highland HS.  Athletic build, some strength.  Fluid low effort delivery, stays closed, some drift, 3/4 release.  Steady low 90's FB, SL is nasty at times, short and late with power, CB shows same quality.  Change flashes plus action/plus sink.  Shows command/idea.  Top Level prospect.  Excellent student, signed with Louisville. Going to get a ton of scouting attention this spring, potential early pick.

RHP Cody Scarpetta:  Scarpetta is now one of the Brewers top pitching prospects and is a good example of how a young man can change his body and athleticism with hard work.  He showed up in February, 2007, with a different body that scouts had seen previously, along with different raw stuff.  My notes:

In much better shape, lost baby fat in face, mid section.  Strong power pitcher's body, especially lower 1/2.  Arm works easily,  93 mph warming up.  Quick arm circle, ball comes out easily.  Throws downhill, FB pretty straight, occ bore, heavy when low.  Under control delivery, on line, repeats well.  Good mechanics, lets arm work.  Hard downer CB/ 11/5 break, good spin.  Good arm speed on change.  Hides ball well.  Tight 3/4's release point.  All FB's 90 or above.

IF Kellen Sweeney:  All the scouts at the 2010 Indoor were very well acquainted with Sweeney.  But if you remember, Sweeney underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in early August, 2009 and hadn’t been “seen” since.  When he showed up to hit last February, he was packing on 15 lbs of very positive core strength and it was obvious that he’d been working his tail off during his rehab.  Whether he hit the ball well or not in his first look at live pitching in 6 months (he did) was secondary to the impression he left regarding his work ethic and determination.

RHP Jacob Turner:  No one at Perfect Game had ever seen Turner, the Tigers 2009 1st round draft pick, when he threw in Cedar Rapids as a junior in 2008.  He went from being a guy you could say “I’ve heard he’s pretty good” to one of the highest ranked pitchers in the country in about 20 minutes.  Here are my notes on him:

Big kid, thick lower half, can add upper 1/2 strength.  Slow paced delivery, fast arm, plus arm strength.  Stays balanced/back in delivery ++ well.  Mid 3/4's extended release, + FB life, 90-92 mph, hides ball, good deception, pitches inside, drilled a few hitters hard, very uncomfortable AB's for hitters.  CB has good power spin, 76 mph, nice shape.  Slows arm on chg.  Intimidating approach, can be nasty at times.

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