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Game Report: Georgia v. Stetson, 2/26/10

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If you didn’t notice already, I abandoned using Twitter for today’s game, as the weather turned too bitter cold to have my hands out of my gloves, which is what an iPhone requires. This weekend features plenty of draft prospects in action, but today’s game of the night for me was in Athens, Georgia for the matchup between the Georgia Bulldogs and Stetson Hatters. Not a great name for the Stetson club, but it works for them. I purposely didn’t show up in time for batting practice tonight, because I wanted to see the Georgia hitters at work in games without the influence of what I saw earlier. I already knew that the likes of Zach Cone and Chase Davidson could put on batting practice shows, but I was there to see what kind of adjustments they make and whether they could hit live pitching as well as their tools indicate they can. I’ll have plenty of chances to catch them for the rest of this season and next before their draft year, so my goal tonight was simply to get acquainted with the hitters and how they handle live stuff.

The pitching side of the game, however, was different. While I was less excited about Stetson’s starter, Lindsey Caughel, I went into the game thinking about him as a solid second day prospect for next year’s draft. I paid plenty of attention to what he could do, as it might be the last time I see him live between now and June 2011. The main event for tonight’s game, though, was Georgia’s Justin Grimm, a borderline first round prospect for this year’s draft. A lot of you that know my stuff know that I’m not a big fan of ranking players, but I always have a fairly updated personal top 50 on my site, and Grimm came in ranked at #31 overall. I saw players ranked #5 (Deck McGuire) and #28 (Kevin Jacob) last weekend, so I was looking forward to seeing another top arm for this class.

Since I already established that I showed up after batting practice, let’s get straight to the game action and the things I observed. Game time temperature was somewhere in the mid- to low-40s, so I knew I might not be getting a realistic view of some players’ talents in the frigid conditions. I went over to check out Grimm’s pre-game bullpen session, of which I got some video which I’ll share with you. I immediately noticed the kind of high-maintenance delivery he has, and it’s very timing-intensive. Getting a consistent release point looked like a struggle for him, and while I didn’t see any glaring red flags for injury concerns, I immediately knew that I’d be treated to a game in which command might be fading in and out.

Grimm’s first two fastballs were solid pitches at 91 and 92 mph respectively, and they were located well to get things going. Then Grimm started getting really amped up and threw his hardest pitches of the day, with fastball velocities of 96, 96, 97, 94, 93, 93, 96. It was impressive to watch, but at the same time, you could easily tell that he was absolutely speeding up his arm to get these readings, and the pitches were definitely flattened out compared to his first two offerings. That string of 7 fastballs were located in about 7 different areas of the zone and outside of it, making him effectively wild, but as I said in a tweet, Stetson hitters are a little easier to get out than pro hitters, or even SEC hitters that will see Grimm later this spring. He only threw a single offspeed pitch in the first, a borderline plus curveball with excellent shape at 81 mph, and he used it to get Stetson’s leadoff hitter, Spencer Theisen, fishing for a swinging strikeout. Grimm got through the first inning easily, but I was wondering how long he could keep up the hard-throwing antics.

Caughel came out in the first, and it didn’t take long to tell that he didn’t feel like he belonged with Georgia’s hitters. He was incredibly timid on the mound, much more so than I’ve seen from anyone so far this year, and that immediately turned me off from a scouting perspective. After leadoff hitter Johnathan Taylor singled to center to lead off the inning, Caughel’s pace slowed to a halt, and there was one span during the second hitter’s at-bat that Caughel threw over three times and stepped off the mound twice between pitches. It seemed like an eternity. His stuff was fringe-average, but passable if located well, but his demeanor was of a scared pitcher on the mound, and he nibbled around the outside corner, to little effect. His fastball in the first was an 88-90 mph pitch with average life, and he added a fringe-average curveball in the low-70s, his best pitch being a 73 mph curve. It doesn’t have good shape, and it doesn’t project to improve in the future, so even in the span of a single inning, I felt like I was watching a future middle reliever or organizational arm. The strangest part was how the two-hole hitter, Chase Davidson, essentially bailed Caughel out. After all the throws to first and the stepping off of the rubber, Davidson seemingly got impatient, getting out on his front foot on a fringy fastball, rolling over it to the third baseman for an easy double play. I clocked Davidson at 4.50 seconds to first from the left side, which is bad news, getting an easy 20 or 30 grade, well below-average speed. Caughel got Georgia’s three-hole hitter, Peter Verdin, an early-rounds 2011 prospect, to ground out to short to end the inning, with Verdin getting down the line in 4.29 seconds from the right side, which comes in right about average for speed.

As you can tell by now, I was really working to pick up the technical details in this game, having had my warm-up weekend last week. It felt good to really be working the stopwatch and getting readings and writing reports at the same time, as well as getting video. It felt more normal than simply sitting there last week trying to take it all in with just a pen and my phone up for Twitter. To start the second inning, Grimm’s first pitch was a solid 95 mph fastball, but despite bringing that seemingly plus pitch, Stetson’s Nick Rickles turned it around for a solid shot to center field, which held up for Cone to catch for out number one. I didn’t a good feel for how well Cone covered ground in center, as he didn’t have to go far for anything all night. Grimm started settling down into his more normal range for the night to the next hitter, Sean Emory, sitting in the 92-94 range with an 80 mph curveball. Emory also put a decent charge into a 92 mph fastball, which was caught by Taylor in left field. Grimm was simply leaving his fastball up and over the plate, and he was lucky that it was Stetson hitters, and not a Hunter Morris or other big power hitter at the plate. Those balls would still be traveling. He started dipping down to some 90s and 91s to the next hitter, Robert Crews, as well as hitting a 94 and 95, and Crews slapped a blazing ground ball right to the left of freshman shortstop Kyle Farmer, who got eaten up by the ball, kicking it off the heel of his glove and into center field. Grimm flashed a decent, perhaps a future average, changeup to the next hitter and wriggled out of the slight inconvenience of the error with a line shot caught in center by Cone. Grimm was throwing it all over the zone in the second, and he was lucky not to allow a single official hit.

Caughel started out the second by allowing a base hit the opposite way to Georgia third baseman Colby May, who simply turned away a 90 mph fastball with an inside-out stroke to right field. Zach Cone came to the plate, and I grabbed some film of him at work. He didn’t have his best at-bat, or his best night, but he beat out of little chopper in the infield with a 4.12 second time to first base, plus-plus speed. I’ll get to his swing more in other at-bats, where he showed me a little more. After another single, Farmer showed me something interesting with a solid swing with good bat speed, hitting a blazing line drive to right center field, scoring Cone. After seeing a few more of his at-bats I rate his hit tool as a true above-average tool, with room for some growth as his presence at the plate grows with time. He’s only a freshman, and I see good things to come. Caughel induced a double play ball and strikeout on a 74 mph curveball in the dirt to finish out the inning, but allowed another run on a wild pitch in-between, leading to a 3-0 Georgia lead after two innings.

Grimm’s third inning confirmed my worries about his busy windup and delivery. After showing good stuff to the leadoff hitter, including an above-average 79 mph curveball for the strikeout, he then proceeded to walk Stetson hitter Jeff Simpson on four straight pitches, all fastballs in the low-90s. For those of you who don’t know, Simpson isn’t exactly the type that someone pitches around. Grimm simply lost his release point and started getting out of whack mechanically. It did give me an extended opportunity to see how fast Grimm was to the plate, and the vast majority of my times were in the 1.2 to 1.4 second range, which is slightly above-average to average. He walked another batter after Simpson, putting him in his first real jam of the night. He worked on the next hitter with a 94 mph fastball, followed by 88 and 89 mph fastballs, then a solid curveball that induced an inning-ending double play.

Caughel started working in his more normal fastball range in the third inning, sitting 86-88 from then on out. He was very slow in terms of his pace, and he paired that with a very slow delivery to the plate, all with times of 1.5 seconds or higher. Johnathan Taylor stole second and Peter Verdin stole third in the inning, all a function of his slow delivery. Taylor had been placed on first by a walk, and then scored when Verdin chopped a ground ball over the third baseman’s head for a double. However, Verdin was stranded at third after the steal, as May chased a low and outside 73 mph curve in the dirt and Cone followed that up with a real inability to put the bat on the breaking stuff. He struck out on another slow curve, waiving at a pitch that was actually hung out over the plate. Georgia’s lead was 4-0 after three.

Grimm came out firing with fastballs in the fourth inning, all of which were in his more normal 90-92 mph range. The Stetson lineup was absolutely bailing him out with early swings, despite his proven inability to command the strike zone, and they were simply pounding the ball into the ground, as Grimm adjusted his mechanics to be able to keep the ball down in the inning. That didn’t last, mind you, but it was a nice glimpse into his ability to adjust. Crews hit a hard ground ball into right field with two outs, but Grimm worked around it by inducing another weak ground ball to first base to end the inning. It was a very quick inning and helped stretch Grimm’s life in the game out.

Caughel’s fourth inning was one to forget. He did manage to flash a fringe-average changeup in the inning that was slightly encouraging at 81 mph, but in general his nibbling came back to bite him, as the Georgia hitters could sit on what they knew was coming. He didn’t allow many truly hard-hit balls, but the hitters were going with them and finding holes around the infield. That only caused him to nibble more, and he started to give up the big hit. He was also a very nervous fielder, as he fielded a chopped ball with runners on the corners, and proceeded to hastily throw a ball home that was luckily caught on a bounce or two by the catcher for the tag that got Farmer at home. He was very lucky that the ball didn’t go bounding to the backstop, as he completely rushed a play that didn’t need as much effort as he thought it did. It was clearly the sign of a nervous pitcher making a nervous play. He then essentially fell apart, allowing a solid line drive hit to left field by Taylor, and the left fielder, Simpson, booted it while attempting to catch it on a slide, allowing the ball to go all the way to the wall. The third base coach waved Taylor around to score, but he was thrown out on a good relay. Davidson stepped up with two outs and put an absolute charge into the ball the other way with easy raw power, and he was robbed of an extra-base hit by Simpson who caught the ball leaping into the air while hitting the hard, wooden-like wall at the same time, holding on for the out. Davidson’s easy opposite field raw power was impressive, and he still has that plus raw power in his bat somewhere. All in all, the damage added up to 3 runs in the inning and a 7-0 Georgia lead.

Grimm had a tough time coming back out after a longer inning sitting in the cold, and after a quick ground out that was once again handed on a platter to him by Stetson, he walked Simpson on four pitches, three fastballs and a 1-0 curve. The umpire helped him out, though, with the next batter, as he threw an 81 curve, 86 changeup, and 80 curve for a called strike three on three consecutive pitches, making me wonder if he felt like he had lost his fastball command, so he had temporarily ditched it in favor of his offspeed pitches. He continued to be about average for speed to the plate, clocking in at 1.35 seconds multiple times. He walked another hitter to make things even worse for him, using multiple curveballs again, and I did not like his pitch sequences, especially with a runner on first. He did pop a pair of 94 mph fastballs in that at-bat, but the overuse of his curves, which weren’t commanded any better than his fastballs, was concerning. He started throwing more changes again to end the inning, and he finished off the inning with an 89 mph fastball for a swinging strikeout. Overall, it was obvious that Grimm was tiring quickly, and even though it was only the fifth inning, Georgia was going to need some bullpen help to finish off the blowout.

Caughel’s fifth inning was even worse than his fourth, and he ended up getting pulled after he allowed a leadoff home run to Verdin on a hanging high-80s fastball. He was allowed to stay in to face a few more batters as the reliever warmed in the bullpen, getting two outs, but his day ended with a walk and single. All in all, he didn’t get hit extremely hard until the last few batters of the night, but his nibbling was so excruciating to watch that I’m not sure he’ll last in the Friday starter role for Stetson this season if he continues with such a lack of confidence. His replacement, Robbie Powell, was a fringy arm that doesn’t look draftable, and he was equally slow to the plate, and the inning ended up with 4 more Georgia runs, for a grand total of 11 in the game through five innings.

Grimm had been throwing in foul territory on the right field line during the Stetson pitching change, and I could tell it would probably be his last inning. In actuality, he didn’t finish off the inning. He got the leadoff hitter to strike out swing to start the sixth, but catcher Christian Glisson failed to keep it in front of him for the wild pitch, as the 81 mph curveball bounded into the Georgia dugout on the first base side. Grimm was popping fastballs in the 92-94 range in the inning, and he was speeding up his arm to do so, knowing that it would be his last inning. He allowed a weak single to left field after the wild pitch, but then induced a double play to May at third base, who stepped on the bag and threw to first to complete the play. That ended up being Grimm’s last pitch, and he was relieved by 2010 draft prospect Justin Earls, a potential LOOGY arm in the top ten rounds. He finished off the inning with 87-88 mph fastballs, and the lead stayed at 11-0. Grimm’s final line consisted of 5.2 innings of shutout ball, allowing two hits and four walks, striking out seven. A solid, if shaky, outing that brought up questions about his command. I’ll get to see him a few more times this year, and he’ll need to answer those questions to be a true first-round arm.

Here’s a quick rundown on the rest of the game, which featured bench players entering on both sides:

-Earls was bringing 84-88 mph fastballs and 73-75 mph curveballs that were both fringe-average in nature. He looks like a decent LOOGY candidate to me, as he handled lefties well with his deception. There’s not much more in there, though.
-Davidson connected to start Georgia’s part of the 6th inning, hitting an absolute monster home run to right center field, easily going 400+ feet. If he can do that more consistently, he’s a first day draft prospect again next year after not signing with the Astros as a third-round pick in 2008.
-Zach Taylor came off the bench to hit in the 6th, showing borderline plus speed from the left-handed batter’s box, clocking in at 4.16 seconds to first base.
-May features a very mature approach at the plate at times, and he has a very simple load in his swing. He’s very calm with his hands, and he projects to be a solid pro hitter, though he’s more of a second-day prospect for the 2011 draft.
-Zach Cone didn’t impress me too much on the time, as he proved very susceptible to soft stuff low and away. He struck out again in the 6th. I have a good bit of film on him, and I’ll let you decide what you see.

I’ll get up video for tomorrow, and I’ll also be covering what I see from Northside High School (GA) prospect Kevin Jordan tomorrow starting at noon. Hope you enjoyed the second Friday of college action.