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Game Report: Sandy Creek v. Starr's Mill, 3/8/10

Going to high school games can always be a bit of an adventure. You never know what you’re going to see, and you definitely don’t know whether the player you’re going to see will actually show up with any sort of consistency. On the flip side, though, you could see something you never imagined. That was more the case on Monday night at Starr’s Mill High School in Fayetteville, Georgia.

Just to kick it off, I reached the field about an hour and 45 minutes before game time, with Starr’s Mill taking batting practice. I didn’t necessarily want to key in on any batting practice performances, and the only player that really stood out in the few rounds I saw was Miles Jaye, who was the starting pitcher on the day for Starr’s Mill. Jaye’s a tall, lanky switch-hitter that is a shortstop when he’s not pitching, and he should be a solid two-way player at Kennesaw State. I’ll get more into what I saw from Jaye later, but he was obviously the key player on the team. As the team went to warm up and stretch, Jaye was also the obvious leader of the team, and it seemed that all the players answered to him. I wouldn’t get too much out of that, but it’s just worth noting.

Sandy Creek didn’t get to the field until about a half hour before game time, causing a little delay in the start time of the game. Starr’s Mill got out to take infield only about 10-12 minutes before the scheduled start time, and the player I noticed then was shortstop Eli Sanchez, who shows solid infield actions. He flashed an average to slightly below-average arm for a shortstop, but his actions tell me he could be a very good second baseman at the college level, though his hitting left something to be desired. Sandy Creek’s infield was much sloppier, and though Chris Triplett stood out, he also stood out for his sloppiness, too, and his release is just so long and slow that his average arm isn’t good enough for shortstop, convincing me even more that he’s a second baseman at Georgia Tech next year.

On to the game action, Jaye was facing a fairly formidable lineup from Sandy Creek in the first. Andrew Toles, the man every scout was there to see, was the leadoff hitter for the opposing squad. About 15-20 scouts showed up in anticipation of what they might see from Toles on the night against a quality opposing pitcher. He stepped in to start the game, and then he promptly punched the ball down the left field line for a hit that he stretched into a double. There wasn’t an opportunity to really clock him down the line to first base, but on that double, with a wide turn, he clocked in at 4.24 seconds to first, an average number even with the turn, showing what kind of speed he has. Toles eventually came around to score in the inning, and Triplett and company didn’t seem that impressive against Jaye. That run turned out to be the only run scored until the top of the sixth inning, so Toles’ ability to stretch his hit into a double turned out to be pretty critical for the makeup of the game.

On the mound for Sandy Creek was 6’7’’ righty Aaron Warren, who is committed to UAB. Despite being 6’7’’, Warren throws from a low three-quarters release point, leading to more movement, but he doesn’t take advantage of his size. If I coached him, I’d take him as close to over the top as I could, though a high three-quarters might suffice to keep that movement going. Despite some command problems, Warren was highly effective on the night against solid hitters. In the first, he was continually pumping in 87 mph fastballs with good arm-side run, though you could tell the movement was fairly new to him, as he was struggling to locate that pitch with the movement he was getting. Out of the stretch, he was more in the 84-86 range, though he could power it up to 87 or 88 for a crucial pitch. Instead of taking you inning-by-inning, I’ll just give you the quick writeup on Warren’s game. Though he struggled to locate his fastball, he showed some promising offspeed stuff. His primary offspeed pitch was a low-70s curveball with 10 to 4 movement, the result of his release point. It stayed mostly in the 69-71 mph range, but was best at 72, with a little more late action and bite. With his arm slot, I’d be more willing to show him a slider, as his curve is slurvy enough now, but if I took him over the top, he already shows enough promise with the curve to make it into an above-average offering. His third pitch was a changeup that he threw at just the right time. It didn’t have much fade, but it did have good depth, and it came in consistently at 76, a solid 10 mph difference from his fastball. He got a few strikeouts with that change, and I think it could be an average pitch with time. When he was in trouble, he went almost exclusively to his curveball, which got nastier as the game went on. He got a few good hitters out on that pitch, including striking out a pair of hitters with a runner on third and one out. It was pretty impressive, and I’m interested to see if he fills out to become a low-90s pitcher in college, which would make him a solid top ten rounds prospect. I’d keep him as a starter, change his motion a little, and then run with it, as he has very good promise.

A quick report on Jaye has to include some impressive velocity, especially considering I only had reports of him up to 87 mph in the past. In the third inning, as he got loose and more amped up, he started pumping in 89 and 90 mph fastballs, though they were straight as an arrow. He showed a good ability to elevate his fastball in counts where it was to his advantage and also against hitters he knew couldn’t handle it. He didn’t try to go high with his fastball against Toles and Triplett, a good sign from a young pitcher. His mound presence left something to be desired, as he was too emotional and got too frazzled when things went against him, but it was a solid overall performance. His mid-70s curve/slurve didn’t show a lot of shape, though he firmed it up in later innings. After throwing in the 89-90 range, he got tired more quickly, and he ended up in the 85-86 range in his last inning of work in the fifth. He has a projectable frame, though he’s also built more for the bullpen than the rotation, as he’s a little too slight to hold up, and his velocity numbers prove that. He was fast to the plate, which was the opposite of Warren, but it cost him a few ticks of velocity, which is normal on a slide step delivery. However, it did shut down Toles and Triplett on the basepaths for the most part, so it was worth it.

Now on to the fun part. Though Chris Triplett didn’t really show much of anything except some defensive shakiness on the night, Andrew Toles stole the show in the sixth inning. With Eli Sanchez on to pitch, the Sandy Creek offense awoke against 79-80 mph fastballs. Toles was intentionally walked, one of two walks on the night, after there were runners at second and third, loading up the bases for number two hitter Joey Munson, the team’s second baseman and a good contact hitter. Munson proceeded to hit a medium velocity ground ball up the middle, just beyond the dive of Starr’s Mill’s second baseman. The two runners in front of Toles scored easily, and that seemed to be the end of the play if you weren’t watching closely. However, as I tracked Toles around the bases, I was treated to something incredibly special, something you don’t see very often, even in high school games. Toles had the benefit of a good lead at first, being the trailing runner, and he got an incredible jump on the ground ball, and he might have even been safe at second if the second baseman had come up with the ball. I saw Toles rounding second with his plus-plus speed already under way, and I knew he’d be a third easily, which was a solid baserunning move, and an aggressive baserunning move, which I knew was like Toles, having seen him take third earlier in the game on a wild pitch only a few feet from the catcher. However, as Toles was nearing third this time, I was amazed to see that he wasn’t slowing down, but he was speeding up. Starr’s Mill’s center fielder had fielded the ball without any noticeable bobble, and he was in the middle of delivering it to the cutoff man, the first baseman, on the other side of the pitcher’s mound from home plate. Toles took a big turn and just kept running. With some of the best speed I have ever seen in person, he made it down the third base line in almost no time, and he was about three-quarters of the way down the line when the first baseman received the ball. He couldn’t get the ball out of his glove cleanly, and Toles slid in to home safely without a throw. A bases-clearing single. I was one of a few scouts behind home plate watching this, and we all just looked at each other like "What did we just see?" We all had this little grin on our faces, and then most went crazy on their notepads.

Needless to say, Toles is gaining steam fast in the scouting community, and I didn’t meet a single scout who was really there for Chris Triplett, who was considered at least close behind Toles entering this season. Triplett’s play is just a little too loose, and he’s not as physically gifted as Toles, and it was fun to see Toles show patience at the plate, along with good production when he got a pitch in the zone. Triplett didn’t see the ball well on the night, and though he had a decent game, he didn’t really stand out, which was disappointing. He couldn’t read Jaye’s curveball to save his life, and that sort of pitch recognition, when combined with his fringy shortstop skills will lead to him dropping off boards. Toles, on the other hand, looked like a third or fourth rounder with upside as a top of the order burner, as well as having an above-average arm in center field with good range. That’s an excellent combination.

Here are a couple of tidbits of info in addition to the writeup:

-Eli Sanchez, while not possessing physical strength or much promise as a hitter, got down the line in 4.04 seconds out of the left-handed batter’s box on a bunt single, which is plus speed by any metric. Combined with his solid infield actions, he could be a good utility player. I expect him to end up in college, though.
-Ricky Harris, Sandy Creek’s number four hitter and third baseman put big rides on high curveballs from Jaye, though all landed foul. He flashes above-average raw power, but he pulls off of pitchers, resulting in such foul balls and strikeouts against soft stuff low and away. He wasn’t on my list to follow on the day, and I wasn’t a big fan when I left, either.