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Game Report: Georgia Tech v. Missouri State, 2-20-10

Since I took you through most of the pregame routine for scouts yesterday, I’m going to jump right into the game action today.

Today’s matchup between Georgia Tech and Missouri State at Russ Chandler Stadium in Atlanta featured another intriguing pitching matchup between a pair of 2010 draft-eligible arms. Brandon Cumpton, a 6’2’’ right-hander took the hill for Georgia Tech, and he was opposed by lefty Mike Kickham, a draft-eligible sophomore that transferred into Missouri State from Crowder Junior College in Missouri. Both were expected to put on a good show, but it was Georgia Tech and Cumpton that prevailed in the end.

Cumpton took the mound in the first, and he immediately showed why he’s getting draft interest. Using a free and easy delivery, Cumpton started pumping in what were mostly high-80s to low-90s fastballs. His fastballs were straight, with very little movement or late life, but he showed good command of the pitch, as he lived on the corners all afternoon. He flashed his first curveball in the first inning, too, and it showed relatively good shape and profiles as a future average pitch. It was a mid-70s offering that complemented the fastball well, especially with his good command of the fastball. He had a solid first inning, and it was over without Missouri State scoring a run.

Mike Kickham took the mound, and I immediately thought of Arthur Rhodes. Kickham doesn’t necessarily bring the ball down low out of his glove like Rhodes does in the back end, but the motion and delivery are practically the same. He came out throwing fairly hard for a lefty, in the upper-80s, touching 91, and it had average life. However, he simply couldn’t command it. He wasn’t only missing his spots, he was missing badly all over the place. If you gave his actual control a below-average grade, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you. It could have been a case of the jitters, pitching against a top ten team on the road in his first Division I college start, but it was just painful to watch. He did manage to flash an average slider, which is his best offspeed pitch, and it’s a high-70s to low-80s pitch with good shape, though he also struggles to command it, and he’s also inconsistent with his release point of the pitch. The curveball he showed in the first inning was a low-70s pitch that was below-average to well below-average, and I don’t think it’s a usable pitch at the next level unless he can command it on the corners, which he can’t at this moment. Tony Plagman turned around a Kickham slider that was hung out over the plate and in the upper half of the strike zone, hitting a 375 foot shot to right field for his first homer of the day. I had just written that Plagman dropped his hands in his swing, making him vulnerable to high hard stuff when Kickham hung the softer pitch out over the plate. That just made me shake my head, as it was almost like Missouri State had no game plan for Plagman, who homered yesterday, too. A bad baserunning decision by Matt Skole got Kickham out of the inning, as Derek Dietrich lined a shot to the second baseman, who caught it and had plenty of time to throw back to first to double off Skole. I’m starting to figure out why Skole isn’t seen as the first-rounder that he has the potential to be.

Cumpton took the mound in the second, and he started settling into the fastball range where he sat for most of his outing, which was 91-92. He was commanding the outside corner well, but I started getting worried that he wasn’t throwing any pitches inside, and he was also reluctant to use his curveball. However, his fastball was routinely catching the black, and when he was missing, he was missing down, so he was keeping things manageable with just a single pitch. His command came back to bite him, though, as hitters started simply sticking their metal bats out and poking balls over the infield the other way, and Missouri State got across a run in the inning. That won’t work with wood bats in the future, and Cumpton’s command should come in handy. He did shake off a few curveball calls by the catcher, but all in all, he was having a fairly good first outing.

Kickham wasn’t commanding his fastball nearly his well, and he was paying dearly for it compared to Cumpton. He’s going to give up his fair share of home runs at the next level, as his lack of precise command leaves him prone to hanging curveballs, sliders, and fastballs right over the plate. I started concentrating on Kickham’s motion, knowing that he might not be in long if he continued his outing in the way he started it. There’s a little bit of effort in his delivery, and he might be destined for relief in the long run, which would allow him to dump the curveball, which continued to be a well below-average pitch, looking more like a soft slider with less break. He slows his arm down noticeably when he’s delivery the curve, and more experienced hitters will take him to lunch since the curve itself isn’t a plus pitch. He also delivered his first game changeup, which was another below-average pitch, and I don’t hold out a lot of hope for it. He held runners well throughout, with an above-average time to the plate, but he had major trouble getting hitters out. Jeff Rowland stood out to me at that point, as he showed a good two-strike approach, as well as above-average speed on the basepaths. Later in the game, I got a better view of Rowland’s real skills at the plate, and it was apparent that he isn’t as much of a prospect as some believe he should be because he has slider bat speed. He couldn’t catch up to high-80s heat, and he’ll struggle at the next level, making him a nine-hole hitter at best, though he’s fairly adept at getting the bat on the ball with two strikes.

Cumpton continued his use of fastballs in the third inning after Georgia Tech had taken a 5-1 lead after two innings. After allowing runners on, I quickly noticed a major tell for Cumpton’s curveball in the stretch. His whole windup slows down, from start to finish. He was right around average for holding runners, and the only time Missouri State ran was on hit-and-runs, but the curveball delivery was extremely slow, and it would tip off a pro hitter every time. It just seemed that he was uncomfortable with the curve out of the stretch, and he started going to his fastball exclusively, getting out of the inning after allowing just a run. The secondary thing I noticed in the third was Cole Leonida’s slowness at getting down blocking balls in the dirt. He basically only put his glove between his legs one time, only dropping his knees to the ground after the ball had hit the mitt. That would be unacceptable at the next level, and combined with his occasional dropping of his arm angle on throws, he hasn’t shown me enough to be an adequate Major League starting catcher defensively.

Kickham was allowed to return for the third inning, down 5-2 heading in. Unfortunately, Kickham left another pitch right over the middle, a fastball that Tony Plagman crushed over the right field wall again. Plagman’s legitimately dangerous when he can extend his hands up and away, but I still can see how pro pitchers will pick him apart. Kickham got out of the inning allowing only the one run, getting Chase Burnette to chase a slider way out of the strike zone away. That ended up being Kickham’s last batter, and his debut performance, which featured 86-91 mph fastballs, went pretty badly.

Cumpton’s fourth inning featured an encouraging willingness to come back inside with his fastball. It was starting to fade a little bit in terms of velocity, but it was still in the 89-90 range, hitting 91 enough to keep hitters honest. It was a fairly quick inning devoid of curveballs, and I was really wondering what Cumpton had to offer as a starter at the next level. He only went one more inning, flashing some of his best and worst fastballs of the day, and he was hit pretty hard, though his weakening command was still able to limit it to hard-hit groundballs instead of liners or flyballs. All in all, the best success against Cumpton came from hitters that drove the ball the other way, such as shortstop Travis McComack, a 2010 draft prospect that is, in all reality, an organizational soldier at best.

Since the rest of the game featured Missouri State’s pitching unraveling, and the blowout ended with a 20-3 Georgia Tech win, I’ll just post a few notes here on the things I noticed:

-Chase Burnette strikes me as someone that would make a decent fourth or fifth outfielder for a Major League team or two. He showed a good approach at the plate, a willingness to take the ball with authority the other way, as well as solid-average speed and range in right field. He had a good day, including a home run on a hard line drive over the right field wall.
-Cole Leonida lets balls get really deep on him when he’s hitting. He then turns them around with average bat speed, the usual result being line drives and fly balls from center to right field, a true catcher’s opposite field approach. It won’t result in much, if any, power at the next level with wood bats, but if he improves his approach and fielding, he might be a backup catcher in the big leagues.
-Missouri State freshman Pierce Johnson, the Tampa Bay Rays’ unsigned 2009 15th-round pick, debuted today and had mixed results. He flashed a solid-average fastball without much movement, but his best pitch was a pretty curveball that flashed a true 60, or plus, grade. Not every curve showed that kind of tight spin and late action, but a few caught my eye. He also threw a slider that might get a future average grade with development over the next two years. He doesn’t have a prototypical starter’s body, but he might develop into a solid late first-day draft option for 2012.
-The more I see Derek Dietrich play defense, the more I’m convinced he might not play a single pro game there. He has adequate range to his left as a result of his athleticism, but he showed well below-average range to his right today. Combined with his unusual release and average to above-average arm, I think he’s a third baseman, though he still needs to work on his hands, which are below-average.
-Matt Skole’s head tug is a big problem. I had known about it coming in, but after seeing him in batting practice, it’s easy to ignore the flaws. However, when a true freshman like Johnson can come in and treat you like Ryan Howard against curveballs, it’s not good. Johnson got Skole to strike out on a steady mix of curveballs low and in, the same treatment that Howard gets. I was impressed with Johnson’s command during that at-bat, though it wavered for the rest of his outing.
-Another notable true freshman, Luke Bard, debuted for Georgia Tech today. Bard was Boston’s 16th-round pick last June, and he easily had the liveliest fastball of the day, not in terms of velocity, but in terms of deceptiveness and explosive life. Without a radar gun, the average observer might have thought Bard was throwing in the low- to mid-90s, not the 89-91 he was really showing. It explodes onto the hitter with good late life, and it was hard to hit, though he also had big trouble commanding it, though he had obvious jitters. His curveball isn’t a very effective pitch, as it rates as a 45 or 50 future pitch at best. It doesn’t have much shape. All in all, though, he did just fine.
-Zach Brewster, a 2010 name to follow, made his 2010 debut, and his herky-jerky motion is a little deceptive. He won’t ever really command anything with that motion, but it’s deceptive for the hitter. His fastball is fringe-average, though it’s fine when he paints the corners. He has a ceiling as a LOOGY.
-Skole moved to catcher when the starters were being pulled late in the game by Georgia Tech, and that experiment is going to take a lot of work. He’s a minus receiver right now, and I didn’t have a chance to see him in action throwing. However, it’s an interesting idea, and Skole might actually be their starting catcher next year if Leonida is drafted and signed.
-My final note is on Missouri State reliever J.C. Casey, who I knew I wanted to see this weekend, as he’s on the cusp between organizational arm and real middle relief candidate for me. However, he didn’t really show me good stuff today, featuring a fringy fastball and slurvy curveball, and the best thing he has going for him is a fearlessness that worked today. He got football-turned-baseball player Roddy Jones to strike out on a high fastball, and he also jammed freshman Brandon Thomas on his fastball, too. Matt Skole placed a 400 foot monster just to the right of the right field foul pole, however, so Casey’s stuff doesn’t really play against more talented hitters.

I hope you’ve enjoyed another game report, and expect another on tomorrow’s matchup between Georgia Tech and Missouri State to finish out the series.