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Game Report: Georgia Tech v. Missouri State, 2-19-10

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While it's still fresh on my mind, let me share with you some of my thoughts about today's game between Georgia Tech and Missouri State at Russ Chandler Stadium in Atlanta.

The day promised to be a great one, as potential top ten pick Deck McGuire faced off against potential 4th-7th round lefty Aaron Meade from Missouri State. I also anticipated that potential first-rounder Kevin Jacob, a reliever from Georgia Tech would also make an appearance because of it being Opening Day, and it turns out my assumption was correct. The lineups featured a few names of interest, particularly Georgia Tech shortstop Derek Dietrich, who comes in with a 2nd-4th round potential draft slot. Other names included Georgia Tech's Tony Plagman, Jeff Rowland, Chase Burnette and Cole Leonida, all names that could go in the top ten rounds with good seasons. Missouri State’s top offensive name for the 2010 draft is Aaron Conway, who hit second and played center field for the Bears. With the weather reasonably warm in the low-50s, the day was a true scouting success.

I started the day early by checking in a couple hours before game time in order to catch batting practice for both teams. Georgia Tech’s SID, Mike Huff, provided me with excellent tickets in the third row up from home plate, and after setting my stuff down at my seat, I walked around and enjoyed the sights and sounds of another year of baseball. I could hear the pinging of metal bats a couple blocks away, and I was glad to be able to settle in and enjoy a long afternoon of competition. Missouri State’s batting practice came first, and it didn’t really turn me on to any particular player. They weren’t wearing numbers on the jackets they were warming up in, so I had to go by swing, position, and body type to be able to match those bodies to names later on. After doing so, probably the most impressive overall name in the Missouri State batting practice display was 2012 draft prospect Beau Stoker, who was the Bears’ starting third baseman and seven-hole hitter. Nothing necessarily stood out to me, but it was just the mechanics and strength that stood out compared to the other players on the team.

However, Stoker doesn’t hold a candle to Georgia Tech’s lineup. The first person that absolutely stood out to me on their team was 2011 draft prospect Matt Skole, the Yellow Jackets’ starting third baseman and fourth hitter. Skole has above-average to plus raw power from the left side, and if it weren’t for a head tug that pulls him off slower breaking balls, then he’d be a definite first-round candidate for the 2011 draft. However, the head tug is very real, and he’ll have to prove he can stay in against quality pitching, not striking out as much as he currently does. He has time to correct it, but it’s obvious that it’s already an ingrained habit. Dietrich also put on a solid batting practice display, and he simply has some sort of thunder in his bat. He can swing with average bat speed, and the backspin he gets on a ball is tremendous. He had a few balls carry out to right field (he’s a left-handed hitter) that looked like regular line drives off the bat. He just gets good carry. If he can lock into that consistently, he’s a good sixth hitter at the Major League level.

However, I think I got more out of watching warm-ups in the infield than batting practice when Georgia Tech took the field. As soon as I saw Dietrich taking ground balls, I understood why scouts want to move him to third. He’s what I like to call all elbows. You know those players on your high school team that had good athletic ability, but were so stiff in the field that fielding a ground ball had to be done with their elbows forming a right angle between the upper and lower parts of the arm? That’s Derek Dietrich. Even in warm-ups he’s the stiffest guy on the field. I don’t know if it’s possible at this point, but he just needs to loosen up. The guy taking ground balls behind him was a better fielder than he was, and he doesn’t make any of my follow lists for any draft year. Dietrich’s range is below par for a pro shortstop, and even though he made a few good plays in game action, he still looked uncomfortable. It could have been just me feeling uncomfortable watching him, because I don’t know who came up with the idea that he’s a shortstop. His hands aren’t great, and the range isn’t great, and he looks much more like an average third baseman to me, one that will make a fair share of errors, but will make the routine play most of the time, along with the occasional "Where did that come from?"

Let me take you through where I’m sitting at this point. When you scout, especially for batting practice, you don’t sit behind home plate. You sit up the third base line. This is to see the mechanics of the hitters, and also to get a good vantage point for viewing what the infielders are doing. I wouldn’t have been able to see Matt Skole’s head tug or Derek Dietrich’s infield actions behind home plate, what with the net, the batting cage, and the pure angles. These are the subtle things you pick up after spending time with scouts, so the next time you go to an amateur game, try this out.

This is when I started looking around to see some familiar faces in the scouting community. I figured there would be some pretty big names attending, but with all the other four-year colleges starting off today, too, I wasn’t sure exactly who this matchup would draw. The main entourage that stood out to me was that of the San Diego Padres. First, let me say that scouts tend to congregate in groups. That’s just how it is. Scouts are friends with scouts, and it’s easy to tell who gets along the best by who is sitting together. However, when there’s a group of scouts all wearing some sort of identification that links them to the same team, you need to look harder at that group and start identifying who they are. For the Padres, in addition to having Georgia area scout Shane Monahan (yes, the former Major Leaguer) present, I also immediately noticed the Padres’ Assistant General Manager Jason McLeod, formerly the Scouting Director for the Red Sox before joining former Boston colleague Jed Hoyer in San Diego when Hoyer became the Padres’ new General Manager. I’ve written at length about McLeod in the last few weeks, and I think of him as one of the best scouting minds in the industry. I find this particularly interesting, especially because I just posted my Padres Draft Preview on Tuesday. They pick number nine overall in the coming draft, and I think it’s quite easy to say now that they’re interested in McGuire at that pick.

Getting to the game itself, I positioned myself to get some readings from the scouts around me, and then settled in for nine innings of baseball. Deck McGuire got off to a quick start in the first, ringing up a pair of strikeouts and getting a normal ground ball in the first. He was sitting in the low-90s throughout the first, mainly 92s. His second strikeout, against the Bears’ Aaron Conway, was on a questionable call on a curveball in the low-70s that was essentially in the right-handed batter’s box. It was a pretty inning to start it off, and the 30 or so radar guns around me were fun to watch.

Aaron Meade took the mound in the bottom of the inning, but things didn’t turn out so well for him to start his 2010 season. Jeff Rowland stepped in as the leadoff hitter, and after Meade got ahead 0-2 on a pair of well-commanded upper-80s fastballs with good arm side run, he hung a low-70s curveball that Rowland promptly deposited beyond the right field wall. It was mistake hitting, so it was hard to grade Rowland’s power off of it, but it was a good job of taking advantage of a pitch to hit. Meade nibbled around the edges for the next few batters, but he took advantage of Matt Skole’s head tug with a curveball on the inside part of the plate to set him down on strikes, and he ended up getting out of the inning. He was in the upper-80s for the first inning, with his curve in the low- to mid-70s. I rated his curve as a potential 45 (below-average) Major League pitch then, though I didn’t want to grade it on just a few of them. He did noticeably change his arm action for the curve early on, though he flashed one or two with good deception.

In the second inning, McGuire returned to the hill for another good inning, and he started incorporating his slider and changeup. The slider sat in the low- to mid-80s during the outing, and it’s a usable pitch at the next level, probably getting a 50 grade, though I didn’t ask any of the scouts around me for their opinion, and they have much more experience than me. His changeup flashed good depth and fade, and though it was inconsistent, it rates as a fourth average or higher pitch that McGuire has in his arsenal. It was normally in the 83-84 range, and he got a swinging strikeout when Missouri State designated hitter Trevor Rogers was sitting on a fastball. The only gaffe of the inning involved a badly misread, but fairly hard hit line drive off the bat of Missouri State freshman left fielder Keenen Maddox, which Jeff Rowland either lost in the sun or just overran, allowing it to fall in front of him about 370 feet from home plate. Maddox ended up at second, but he never came around to score. McGuire’s curveball also got more comfortable in the second, as he flashed one absolutely nasty pitch at 74 mph.

Meade came out to match McGuire in the second, and he did so with good mixing of his fastball on the corners. He started sitting at his normal velocity for the game, 87, in the second, and he was moving it in and out of both corners, and Georgia Tech’s hitters didn’t do much with it. As I said before, it was getting good arm side run, and it was being nailed into the ground all day. I had a good chance to see Cole Leonida’s run tool on a ground ball that he tried to leg out, and I can firmly say that it’s well below-average, but it shouldn’t be an issue with Leonida’s positioning as a catcher. Meade threw his first changeup in the second, too, and the only reason I could tell it was a change was because it was slower and straighter than his fastball. It had no sort of depth or fade to it, and I quickly gave it a 35/40 grade after seeing it a few times. All in all, though, Meade had a productive second inning, and the game went to the third with Georgia Tech still up 1-0.

McGuire’s third inning allowed me to see a few things about him that the average fan doesn’t necessarily catch on to in one outing. To begin, he began settling down into his normal velocity range for the outing, which was in the 90-91 range. He had trouble commanding it at times, and he would occasionally fly open in his release, causing the ball to sail high and away to left-handed hitters. After allowing a hit, I also got to see McGuire do some fielding. On a bunt by Missouri State catcher Brett Marshall, McGuire got off the mound very quickly, and, following the advice of his catcher Leonida, he delivered a sound, steady throw to first, not rushing too much, and not overthrowing it, either. He showed good composure, and I was impressed that he didn’t try to do too much with the ball, which young pitchers tend to do with bunts. After throwing a 59 foot fastball, a wild pitch that allowed the runner to advance to third with only one out, McGuire also dug down and showed me his competitiveness, which is outstanding. Using mainly his fastball, he shook off Leonida to deliver two swinging strikeouts with 91 mph fastballs. I did notice a bit of a tell in McGuire’s curve, as he alters his delivery in the slightest way, but it didn’t do any damage in the inning, and he got off the mound with the lead intact.

Aaron Meade’s third inning was fairly uneventful, and he continued to work his fastball to both sides of the plate in the 87 mph range. His curve was firmed up a little bit, up to 75 mph, but it still didn’t look like it could develop into a Major League starter’s pitch. He delivered another shutout inning, and the game was through three innings very quickly.

Starting in the fourth inning, the scouts started to generally dissipate from behind home plate in order to get side views of McGuire’s mechanics. I’m not an expert in the field of pitching mechanics, but I can tell you the basics of how well McGuire handles the pieces of the windup. To begin, he separates his hands well below the best, showing the ball behind his back for an extended period of time. The ideal separation point is somewhere around the belly button, but McGuire’s is extremely low. He has a loose and easy arm from the 3/4 arm angle, and I don’t see any major mechanical issues in his arm action itself. He tucks his glove well, and he maintains his balance well through his motion. He doesn’t pull his body across too early, and he keeps his left shoulder in line just fine. I didn’t notice any form of recoil, and he finishes his motion with good deceleration. Notice that I was only really concentrating on it for a single inning, though, so don’t take my word for it. It was also in the fourth inning that I started noticing how slow McGuire is to the plate with a runner on base. I didn’t bring a stop watch with me, since I’ll plenty of chances to scout him later, but it was noticeably below-average. He continued to attack the strike zone with his fastball in the fourth, but he threw one beautiful changeup on the outside corner to a right-handed hitter, and it’s a pitch I could give a 55 grade to, possibly even a 60. It was a thing of beauty.

Meade started nibbling in the fourth inning. He was starting to noticeably wear down, and his fastballs were all in the 86-87 range. He walked Derek Dietrich in the inning, and I was generally impressed with how patient Dietrich was over the course of the game. He was waiting for specific pitches, and he was fine with taking walks, which was the big criticism of his game last year and over the summer. Meade got out of the inning unscathed, but it was obvious that he might be running out of gas sooner than McGuire.

McGuire started to show some signs of wear in the fifth inning, as his fastball slowed a tick, even to the naked eye. After allowing another runner on, I did get to see McGuire’s pickoff move, which was fairly good. He almost caught the runner leaning once, but alas, he couldn’t get the throw there in time. At that time, Missouri State thought they had found McGuire’s pattern for looking back the runner, and they tried to send the runner, Beau Stoker, as soon as McGuire checked him for the last time. Stoker got about half way to second before the yelling of the infield to step off spurred McGuire to action, and he delivered a strike to the second baseman, who then dropped it, picked it up, and threw it to Tony Plagman, who tagged Stoker for the out. McGuire had indeed developed a set pattern for looking back the runner, and he was saved by his catcher and infield. Inducing weak pop-ups, McGuire got out of the fifth, and the game was still 1-0.

Meade’s fifth inning was definitely not his best, yet he continued to get enough outs to get out of the inning. His fastball command started going, and his velocity started dipping down to 86. However, he reared back for his best fastball of the night, a 89 mph offering that he threw on a 3-2 count past Jeff Rowland, though the pitch was straight as an arrow. He followed that up with another strikeout, with an 86 mph moving fastball catching the black on the outside corner for a called strike three.

The last few innings of the game were less interesting, and I’ll contain them in this paragraph. McGuire continued to sail along, starting to sit in the 89-91 mph range, and he pitched well through 7 innings. He rang up his tenth and final strikeout on a pretty curveball at the knees, leaving behind a deflated Missouri State offense. Meade tried to match the effort, but after facing two batters in the sixth, and retiring none, he was pulled looking physically fatigued. Tony Plagman took a Meade fastball that was left over the middle of the plate out to right-center field, probably 400 feet away. It wasn’t necessarily a pretty swing, but he got the better part of the bat on the ball. Matt Skole followed that up with a roaring double to deep right-center, and Meade was pulled. True freshman Grant Gordon entered, and after walking Derek Dietrich, he promptly struck out Cole Leonida on three pitches, the last being a downer curveball with true 12-6 movement. Gordon also featured a slightly below-average fastball that he couldn’t command, as well as a promising changeup that could be useful against lefties in the future. His overall command was lacking, but it was his first college performance. Andrew Robinson got through an uneventful eighth inning, and things were set up for Kevin Jacob.

The Yellow Jackets had managed to push across two runs while Gordon was in the game, pushing their lead to 4-0 before Jacob entered in the ninth inning. Jacob proceeded to have a battle with Kevin Medrano, Missouri State’s second baseman a three-hole hitter. Fastball after fastball was fouled off, but Jacob eventually sat him down looking with an 82 mph slider, or so I classified it. Some were calling it a hard curve, while others were calling it a slider, and it had more slider movement than true downer curveball movement, so I call it a slider. Jacob struck out the final two batters, one with another slider, and the other to end the game with a fastball. He threw almost all 93s and 94s in the inning, along with the 82-84 mph slider.

That’s your game report for game number one of the season. Expect more of the same to come.