Tonight’s game between Georgia Tech and Rutgers at Russ Chandler Stadium in Atlanta was rough to sit through. I arrived at the ballpark about two and a half hours before game time, and I caught batting practice for both teams. It was a nice day at that point, in the mid-50s without a cloud in the sky, and it was pleasant to sit in the sun and soak up the sights and sounds. However, for the most part, both teams put on bad batting practices. Rutgers’ hitters were almost all of the metal bat variety, meaning they simply sliced balls the other way, using the metal bat to get leverage instead of a fundamental load in their setups. I was on the lookout for Jaren Matthews, Rutgers’ first baseman. I watched intently as he took BP, and I came away with the idea that Matthews needs to get stronger. As I mentioned in a tweet, his load and swing look similar to David Ortiz’s, though Matthews is more vertical, and he lacks the raw strength to really drive the ball in the way that Ortiz can. But he does drop his front shoulder and try to lift the ball, but without the same effect. His batting practice session didn’t look that great, and I generally wasn’t impressed with him today.
The person that stood out to me, and to other scouts, on the Rutgers squad was freshman Steve Nyisztor, their second baseman. Pronounced "Nice-ter", he has the highest ceiling on this Rutgers team. He has projectable size, excellent bat speed, and good defensive tools. Keep his name in mind for the 2012 draft, as I have him well above Matthews for the moment, though Matthews is still an interesting 2010 prospect. None of the other Rutgers names stood out, and I was generally disappointed, though I understand that they still can’t really get outside to hit at home, so this is still very early for them.
Georgia Tech’s batting practice was uneventful, and I was underwhelmed with their performance. They looked flat, and that was the case in the game, too. The hitters just looked either tired or uninspired, and I think they were taking Rutgers a little too lightly. They weren’t concentrating during BP, and it was evident. I felt like I had wasted my time coming out to see them hit, and that was too bad, because they have a number of hitters with decent raw hitting tools.
During infield, the big thing that struck me was how strange it seemed that Matthews was stuck at first base. He flashed an average arm in warm-ups, and he’s plenty mobile to handle left field, and I wonder if the only reason he’s playing first base is that they don’t want to put someone else there. He’s a plus defender there now as it is, so it’s not a dumb move by any means, but I just don’t see teams jumping on Matthews early as a first baseman, as he doesn’t have that bat. He’d be better as a solid-average fielder in left with a solid bat. Like I said before, he’s not going to hit for much power, but he’ll spray some balls around the diamond.
About 15-18 scouts were on hand to see the game action, though, as Deck McGuire was the main attraction. Let’s jump into the game action, as much of everything else before the game was not worth mentioning. McGuire started out the first inning with a bit of a bump, as he hung a 90 mph fastball to Rutgers center fielder and leadoff hitter Mike Lang. I was interested in how Lang was going to look, and outside of a smoked double on that hanging fastball, he was downright horrible. You would hope that any top ten round possibilities can hit a hanging 90 mph fastball, so that was nothing special, but the rest of the day told me that Lang is going to struggle against quality pitching. For the rest of the inning, McGuire sat 90-91 with average movement on his fastball, and his command of it was bad. He snapped off a 73 mph curve, which was decent in shape, but in general he looked uncomfortable in getting his arm going. He was saved by the plus range and speed of Georgia Tech center fielder Jeff Rowland on tracking down a liner in left center field. After some unluckiness on a Jaren Matthews infield single off the very end of his bat, McGuire finally finished off the inning by inducing a line out to right fielder Chase Burnette. McGuire didn’t look too good in the first inning, and I was wondering if I was going to get to see how he handled things when his stuff wasn’t great.
Rutgers’ starter was right-handed senior Casey Gaynor, a solidly-built pitcher that lacks any sort of projectability. Gaynor immediately fell into bad luck in the first inning, when Tech put 3 runs on the board with only a pair of hits. He was sitting in the 84-86 range for most of the day, sometimes dipping down to 83, and that is well below-average velocity for someone without excellent secondary stuff. Rowland jumped on one mid-80s fastball for a line drive single to right field, and that was only the beginning. Gaynor then hit Derek Dietrich with a soft fastball, and I started clocking how fast Gaynor was to the plate. He was consistently recording 1.55-1.65 second times to home plate, which are very slow. The Major League average is somewhere in the 1.3-1.4 second range. This made Gaynor vulnerable to running, but Tech didn’t take advantage of that. Tech’s first baseman Tony Plagman followed up the Dietrich hit by pitch with another line drive single to right, and Rowland scored from second to open up the scoring. Gaynor started nibbling with his offspeed stuff at that point, and I think he lost almost all confidence in his fastball. He walked Burnette in a tough pitch sequence, but came back to strike out Tech catcher Cole Leonida on three pitches, all soft away, the last being a soft curve outside that Leonida pulled his head off and missed by a mile. It’s becoming more apparent that Leonida’s slow bat speed and approach will limit him to being an organizational catcher at best. After the strikeout, Gaynor looked like he was getting more under control, but then balked, scoring Dietrich from third and moving runners to second and third. Matt Skole, who was down in the six-hole today, looked incredibly uncomfortable at the plate, and you can tell that he’s afraid of striking out now, whereas a couple weeks ago he was swinging for the fences. He did get the third run in, but it was painful to watch. Gaynor induced a flyout to end the inning, but Tech put 3 runs on the board, taking a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
McGuire came out to more 90s and 91s in the second inning, though he left up another fastball to Rutgers right fielder Ryan Kapp, who lined a single to left field. McGuire can’t get away with that kind of pitching against more experienced hitters. With Kapp on first, McGuire was usually in the 1.25-1.35 second range to home plate, which is great for a pitcher his size. He lost the next hitter, left fielder Jarred Jimenez on a walk, and that was when he started mixing in multiple pitches, including an 83-84 mph slider and 72-75 mph curve. His best pitch of the inning, however, was an 83 mph changeup that was hit hard into the ground for a 6-4-3 double play, making it two outs and a runner at third. He started relying more and more on a sharp, biting slider that was his best pitch throughout the afternoon. He ended out the second with a plus 82 mph slider with late diving action, getting a swinging strikeout, his first of nine strikeouts. His stuff was obviously not at its sharpest, but he was working well without it.
Gaynor’s second was pretty uneventful, and it was the first of five straight scoreless frames that he put together with a below-average 85-86 mph fastball. He got Tech hitters to consistently chase his 72-74 mph curveball that featured some good late break early, though it flattened out fairly quickly as the innings went on. His best pitch of the game was probably a 73 mph curve in the second that was absolutely wicked, though it wasn’t commanded to a spot. He seemed like an organizational arm throughout, and I’m surprised that Tech couldn’t put up more runs on him.
McGuire started working off of his slider in the third, realizing that his fastball was just not working today. He was consistently 90-91 throughout this inning, too, but since it wasn’t used predominantly, Rutgers hitters were made off-balance by an average pitch. Working off his plus 83 mph slider, he ended up freezing Lang with a 91 mph fastball on the inside corner for a called strike three, and I liked what I saw from McGuire, as he started becoming more efficient, hitting his spots with the pitches that were working, and he was still incorporating his fastball some, and he used it more and more as the innings went on.
After I watched Gaynor go through another scoreless frame, I moved up to the open side of McGuire in order to get some video and to get a better view of his mechanics. If I had to sit through another frame of Gaynor’s in the same seat, I probably would have fallen asleep, as his lazy fastball was just being hacked at by impatient Tech hitters. I still like what I see from McGuire in terms of his mechanics, and he’s simply free and easy with his delivery. He still separates his hands lower than is optimal, but I don’t see any red flags for injuries in the future. I watched him mow down Rutgers hitters over and over, and it was a pitcher’s duel while I stood for a pair of innings.
I returned to my seat behind home plate for the start of the sixth inning. McGuire had been commanding his fastball much better over the middle innings, and he continued to do so as I sat back down. He was down to throwing 89 mph fastballs, but they were much better in terms of command and movement. He was still firing in 84 mph sliders, and it still had that excellent break. In the sixth, I had a chance to clock Rutgers freshman Steve Nyisztor to first on a ground ball, and he clocked in at 4.31 seconds from the right side, getting an average grade for speed. He didn’t have the best day today, but he was far from overmatched, especially compared to the other Rutgers hitters. He didn’t strike out on the day, and despite a 0-4 line, I was impressed with how he handled his at-bats against McGuire. He should be a star pretty soon.
Gaynor had tired by the sixth inning, and though he got out of it unscathed, his stuff just wasn’t the same. He was dipping down to the 83 mph range for his fastball, and his curveball lacked the bite it had early on. His frame isn’t conducive to large inning totals, and I see him as a reliever if he gets drafted. He got plenty of help from Nyisztor, who flashed plus range up the middle with his backhand, using an average to above-average arm to make a great throw to record an out. I’m telling you, this kid looks great. Gaynor did show a changeup in the sixth, though I don’t think it’s usable at the next level. The inning went by rather boringly again, and the score stayed 3-0 Tech going into the seventh.
I knew McGuire hadn’t thrown a lot of pitches heading into the seventh, but I was pleasantly surprised when he started added velocity in the inning. He was up to 91-93 mph, though he lost some command again. He flashed an average changeup at 80 mph with late movement, and he was starting to pitch aggressively off his fastball and change. He worked through the inning rather quickly, working around a leadoff single, but his best pitch was still his plus slider, which came in at 82 in the inning. He finished off the inning with an impressive 93 mph fastball on the inside corner that was called strike three, and I wondered if he would be out for the eighth.
Gaynor came out for the seventh, but he was noticeably gassed. He left a fastball up to Jeff Rowland, who barely squeaked the ball over the right field fence for a solo home run to lead off the inning. Gaynor then walked Dietrich and was pulled. He was followed by Dan O’Neill, who induced a line drive double play and a weak ground ball, ending the inning with a 4-0 Tech lead.
Observers were treated to an eighth inning from McGuire that was gone as quickly as it came. He was sitting 90-92 with his fastball, and he was aggressive and hitting his spots. He mixed in a couple more plus sliders, this time at 83 mph, and the inning was over on a swinging strikeout on the slider. I was amazed with how McGuire fought through not having his best stuff, and he ended up throwing 8 shutout innings before I could blink, needing only 96 pitches to strike out 9 and walk only 1. It was impressive. I think that he would have come out for the 9th inning if this were a month from now, but his day was over after 8, and he has to feel good about how he competed in front of some high-level scouts, despite lacking zip and command on his fastball.
Skipping over the bottom of the eighth, in which Tech added another run, let’s jump to the ninth, when first-round hopeful Kevin Jacob came in. Jacob, just like a couple weeks ago, was not even near the reported 99 mph sightings from last summer. He sat 91-93 in the ninth, along with his 82 mph slurve that lacked much of anything on the evening. He allowed a hard-hit groundball single to Matthews with his hardest ball of the night, a 93 mph pitch up and away, and Matthews went with the ball through the normal shortstop hole, as Dietrich was shifted towards the middle. Despite lacking in the elite velocity expected, Jacob did get excellent downward plane due to his windmill delivery that has him releasing the ball as over the top as they come. Whenever he hits the bottom of the strike zone, it’s impossible to put any lift on the ball, as it has gone from a high point above his body to a low point in the zone. Jacob induced a 5-4-3 double play to end the game, and despite not having great stuff, Jacob came in and did his job, too.
In general, both teams were extremely flat and disappointing today. They were sloppy, throwing wild pitches, having passed balls, balking, and committing errors, and the pitchers were far from having top-tier stuff. It was just one of those days.
I’ll be back at Russ Chandler Stadium again tomorrow for the matchup between Georgia Tech and Rutgers, with Brandon Cumpton getting the start for Tech. After that 1 pm game, I’ll be heading to Blessed Trinity High School to see first-day hopeful Jake Skole, Matt Skole’s brother. Another Tech signee, Alex Cruz, also plays for Blessed Trinity, though I saw Cruz in the fall at the PG Southeast Top Prospect Showcase. Stay tuned for more Twitter updates tomorrow, as it will be a warmer part of the day.