Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Swing Mechanics: Joey Votto vs. Eric Hosmer

Joey Votto is one of the best hitters in baseball. Eric Hosmer was reputed to be the next Joey Votto. It hasn't worked out quite that way. One of the main reasons for Hosmer's struggles is his inability to pull the ball with authority.

You can't be a complete hitter without the ability to hit the ball to all fields. On the other hand, you can't be an impact hitter without the ability to pull the ball with authority. A hitter like Tony Gwynn probably comes the closest, but when he used to talk hitting with Ted Williams one of the things Williams encouraged him to do was turn on inside pitches with power rather than keeping his hands inside the ball to flip it to leftfield. For Hosmer to reach his max projection he simply must pull the ball with power.

One theory for Hosmer's struggles with pulling the ball is that he loads his hands too high and too far back. By loading his hands in that way, he increases the distance his hands have to travel to get the bat to the point of contact. In essence, he can get tied up on the inner half because he has increased the length of his swing.

Personally, however, I think the problem has more to do with what happens after the point of contact. To me, the problem with Hosmer is that he has a tendency to not roll his wrists. I simply don't know how you can consistently hook or pull the ball without a strong wrist-roll.

To illustrate Hosmer's problem, here's a look at his swing in comparison with that of former NL MVP Joey Votto.

In this first set of photos below, both Hosmer and Votto are in good position. They have firm front sides, strong hip rotation driving them up onto the toe of the back foot, their back elbows are in close to the back hip to effectively sync up their hip rotation with their arms, and they have their heads down and on the pitch.

Courtesy: Unknown
Courtesy: Unknown

In the second set of photos, they both remain in good position. They have extended out through the point of contact and are now at the point where they need to roll the wrists. After this point, the swings begin to diverge.

Courtesy: Unknown
Courtesy: Unknown

In the third set of photos, differences become readily apparent. Votto begins to roll his wrists, Hosmer does not. Compare the position of Votto's top hand on the bat with that of Hosmer. The back of Votto's hand is clearly visible, while the back of Hosmer's hand is facing the ground. Put differently, Votto's palm is facing the first base dugout, while Hosmer's palm is facing the sky.

Votto has started rolling his wrists, Hosmer has not. Votto's position is incredibly strong, Hosmer's is not.

Courtesy: Unknown
Courtesy: Unknown

In this fourth set of photos, you can further see the difference between the two hitters. Again, compare the positions of the top hand on the bat. Hosmer still has his palm facing the sky, while Votto's palm is facing the ground. Votto has rolled his wrists, Hosmer has not.

In order to accommodate his lack of a wrist-roll, Hosmer has to use a different follow-through. Because Hosmer hasn't rolled his wrists, he has to use a chicken-wing follow-through with his right elbow. Votto's right elbow is pointed to the ground and is in close to his body, while Hosmer's right elbow is pointed at the first base dugout and is at a right angle to his body.

You can also see the obvious difference in the position and angle of their bats. Votto's bat comes around and over, finishing naturally, while Hosmer's bat does not come around and over, rather points towards the sky before finishing somewhat unnaturally. Hosmer's bat simply can't come around his body naturally because his chicken-wing is blocking the way, forcing his bat over-the-top into a more vertical swing path.

Courtesy: Unknown
Courtesy: Unknown

And, in this fifth set of photos, you can see the problem from a different angle. Again, the palm of Hosmer's left hand is facing the sky, while the palm of Votto's left hand is facing the ground. And, again, Hosmer is using the chicken-wing follow-through with his right elbow, whereas Votto's right elbow is pointed to the ground and in close to his body.

Votto has rolled his wrists, while Hosmer has not. Given his hand position in the below photo, it's difficult to imagine Hosmer being able to effectively pull the ball.

Courtesy: Unknown
Courtesy: Unknown

And, in this sixth set of photos, you can again see the difference between the swings, especially in the angle of the bats. Hosmer's points to the sky because he hasn't rolled the wrists, while Votto's bat is more level with the ground. Hosmer's up-and-over swing path simply doesn't lend itself to pulling the ball.

Courtesy: Unknown
Courtesy: Unknown

And, here's one more sequential look at Eric Hosmer's occasionally strange follow-through:

Again, he's not using an effective wrist-roll, instead he's pulling the swing through with a chicken-wing right elbow and letting the top hand come off the bat as the bat points skyward during the swing path. I mean, just focusing purely on his hands, the positions in which he puts them during his follow-through look really uncomfortable. You can also see, based on the flight path of the ball, that's he shooting this ball to the opposite field.

Now, on the plus side, Hosmer doesn't always use this follow-through. I haven't figured out exactly when and why he uses it, though I suspect it happens on inside pitches. It's likely his way of pulling his hands in on inside pitches, but it's certainly not conducive to pulling the ball and is likely the reason why he has stopped hitting home runs.

Curiously, on May 30th, the Royals replaced their hitting coaches, Jack Maloof and Andre David, with Hall of Famer George Brett. Now, I'm not sure if Brett has made an immediate, tangible impact (correlation or causation? I don't know), but it can't be denied that Hosmer has once again begun to pull the ball with power. In fact, he pulled two home runs to right field over the last week. Notably, those two home runs were hit with swings that more effectively utilized a wrist-roll.

Here's a screen shot of his homer to right field against the White Sox on June 21st:

If you look at the top hand, then you can see the palm is facing the ground. In addition, the bat angle is flatter, rather than pointing directly towards the sky, and the chicken-wing is gone, as the right elbow is pointed down and is in close to the body. It seems like a swing that ensures better rotation and release, enabling him to pull the ball with power.

And, to further drive home the point, here's a screen shot of a homer he hit to right field on June 25th, this time against the Braves:

Even more encouraging, his bat angle is even flatter and the palm of the top hand is facing the ground to an even greater degree. His wrist-roll has also eliminated the chicken-wing right elbow follow-through. In fact, the above finishing position looks a great deal like that of Joey Votto in the sixth set of photos. If Hosmer continues to use this wrist action and follow-through, then his offensive production should improve going forward.

Hosmer has the ability and the bat speed to hit the ball with substantial power. Fortunately, it looks like he, possibly with George Brett's help, is getting back to using proper swing mechanics, which should unlock that power, especially to the pull-side, and move him closer to the impact hitter he was projected to be.

The moral of the story, kids, is to always roll your wrists in your follow-through.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Quick Thoughts on RHP Zack Weiss

Reds 6th round draft pick Zack Weiss, a righthanded reliever out of UCLA, made an appearance in the 8th inning of Game 1 of the College World Series Finals tonight. He only worked to two hitters before being pulled for the closer. There's no margin for error and it's all hands on deck in the CWS.

Weiss induced a flyout from the first batter, but hit the second hitter to bring the tying run to the plate before getting the hook. I haven't seen Weiss before and it's probably unfair to draw any real conclusions based on an appearance in such an anxiety ridden situation. Even so, here are my initial impressions:

Weiss stands 6-3 and weighs 210 with long legs. He uses a fastball heavy repertoire but mixes in fringy curveballs and changeups. His fastball sits in the 92-94 range and seems fairly straight. In the CWS, he struggled with fastball command and only threw one offspeed pitch, a rolling curveball. The batter he hit was Hunter Renfroe, first round pick of the Padres. On a 3-0 count, Weiss overthrew a fastball that ran up-and-in on Renfroe, hitting him in the lead shoulder but coming very, very close to hitting him in the face.

As for mechanics, Weiss' are fairly clean. He has a slightly unusual arm-swing that may include a bit of wrist wrap, but he gets the arm up into proper position and maintains it in good position relative to the shoulder. The arm action itself is clean and he generates solid velocity, but he'll need to do a better job repeating his delivery to improve his fastball command.

Overall, Weiss looks like a fairly typical/decent 6th round pick. A few issues to resolve (fringy offspeed pitches, fastball command questions, lack of a put-away offspeed pitch, etc), but a few positives as well (good velocity, solid mechanics, good physical build, possibly improved velocity as he fills out, etc).

Like all draft prospects, especially mid-to-later round picks, he's a long-shot to reach the majors and carve out a career, but he's got an interesting arm and a few other interesting attributes. The player development team will have to knock off the rough edges and elevate his performance level, but that's why the minors exist.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Final 2013 Reds Draft List

Here's the final list of the Reds' 2013 draft picks, courtesy of ESPN:

27. Cincinnati, Phil Ervin, OF, Samford

38. Cincinnati, Michael Lorenzen, RHP, Cal-State Fullerton

67. Cincinnati, Kevin Franklin, 3B, Gahr HS (Cerritos, Calif.)

104. Cincinnati, Mark Armstrong, RHP, Clarence HS, Clarence Center, N.Y.

135. Cincinnati, Ben Lively, RHP, Central Florida.

165. Cincinnati, Cory Thompson, SS, Mauldin (S.C.) HS.

195. Cincinnati, Zack Weiss, RHP, UCLA.

225. Cincinnati, Tyler Mahle, RHP, Westminster (Calif.) HS.

255. Cincinnati, Scott Brattvet, RHP, Cal St.-Bakersfield.

285. Cincinnati, Chad Jones, LHP, no school, New Orleans.

315. Cincinnati, Daniel Wright, RHP, Arkansas St.

345. Cincinnati, Ty Boyles, LHP, Quartz Hill (Calif.) HS.

375. Cincinnati, Shedric Long, C, Jacksonville HS, Oxford, Ala.

405. Cincinnati, Evan Mitchell, RHP, Mississippi St.

435. Cincinnati, Willie Abreu, RF, Mater Academy Charter School, Hialeah, Fla.

465. Cincinnati, Jarrett Freeland, C, Parkview HS, Lilburn, Ga.

495. Cincinnati, Fabian Roman, RHP, Lubbock Christian.

525. Cincinnati, Michael Carter, CF, Winder Barrow HS, Winder, Ga.

555. Cincinnati, Joe Mantoni, RHP, Merrimack.

585. Cincinnati, Alex Krupa, CF, Greenwood (Ind.) Community HS.

615. Cincinnati, Morgan Lofstrom, C, Mount Boucherie SS, West Kelowna, Canada.

645. Cincinnati, Eric Dorsch, RHP, Kent St.

675. Cincinnati, Layne Somsen, RHP, South Dakota St.

705. Cincinnati, Narciso Crook, RF, Gloucester County College.

735. Cincinnati, Brett Morales, RHP, King HS, Tampa, Fla.

765. Cincinnati, Eduardo Garcia, RHP, Alexander HS, Laredo, Texas.

795. Cincinnati, Eli White, SS, Wren HS, Easley, S.C.

825. Cincinnati, Zack Collins, C, American Heritage School, Pembroke Pines, Fla.

855. Cincinnati, Carter Austin, 1B, Maine-Endwell HS, Endicott, N.Y.

885. Cincinnati, Alex Greer, CF, Iowa Western CC.

915. Cincinnati, Taylor Terrasas, 3B, Louisiana Tech.

945. Cincinnati, Andrew Benintendi, CF, Madeira HS, Cincinnati.

975. Cincinnati, Logan Uxa, 1B, Arkansas St.

1005. Cincinnati, Matt Blandino, RHP, Briston (Conn.) Central HS.

1035. Cincinnati, Luke Bolka, LHP, Atlee HS, Mechanicsville, Va.

1065. Cincinnati, Conner Simonetti, LF, Fairport (N.Y.) HS.

1095. Cincinnati, Taylor Hearn, LHP, San Jacinto College.

1125. Cincinnati, Alec Byrd, LHP, St. Thomas Aquinas HS, Miami Shores, Fla.

1155. Cincinnati, Dan Grauer, RHP, Liberty.

1185. Cincinnati, Manny Cruz, SS, Wolcott HS, Waterbury, Conn.

1215. Cincinnati, P.J. Cerreto, RHS, Ramapo.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Draft: Day 1 Haul for the Reds

Well, day 1 of the draft is in the books. The Reds selected the following:

27th: Phillip Ervin, of, Samford University
38th: Michael Lorenzen, rhp/of, Cal State Fullerton
67th: Kevin Franklin, 3b, Gahr HS (CA)

On first glance, I'm not blown away by the haul, but Chris Buckley and company have certainly earned the benefit of the doubt. 

I wonder about Ervin's swing and ability to stick in centerfield.

Ervin at the plate:

Lorenzen is interesting, but early word is that the organization is going to let him both pitch and play the field. Given how high the pick we used on him was, I would have thought we could get more of a sure thing. It seems clear that we ultimately want him to pitch, but the question is whether he can start or will be relegated to the bullpen. The mechanics are clean, the fastball is fast, and the curveball has good bite, but there's risk there.

Lorenzen on the mound:

Lorenzen at the plate:

As for Franklin, he has good power potential, but seems unlikely to stick at third. Maybe he's a modern day Kevin Mitchell, unable to stick at third but big time power hitter.

Kevin Franklin at the plate: 

"With the 27th overall pick, the Reds (*should*) select..."

...Chris Anderson, rhp from Jacksonville University." 

For me, Anderson has the best bundle of attributes outside of the top tier of pitchers in the draft class. He has very clean mechanics, the makings of two plus pitches, a reasonably high floor, and enough projection to make him a legitimate top of the rotation starter if his development breaks right. If the medicals check out, then I'm willing to chalk up his rough stretch to fatigue and overuse. The only problem I see is the decent likelihood that he'll be off the board by the time the Reds select, but there is so much uncertainty, even at the top, in this draft that it's difficult to know who will slide down to the Reds pick. For that reason, the impressive Anderson sits atop my board, but Billy McKinney, who sits second on my board, might be the more realistic option.

McKinney is more than just a mere fallback option. I love the swing, which is pure and powerful. He should hit for both average and power in the professional ranks. His defense is a work in progress, but the bat is worth the gamble. He'd be a very good addition to the farm system and might be able to hit the ground running like another high school bat, Jesse Winker, did before him.

Here is what my draft board, based on who is reasonably likely to be available, looks like:

1. Chris Anderson, RHP, Jacksonville University
2. Billy McKinney, OF, Plano West H.S. (TEX)
3. Aaron Judge, OF, Fresno State
4. Eric Jagielo, 3b/of, Notre Dame
5. Austin Wilson, OF, Stanford University

Given that the Reds have overall picks #27, #38, and #67, the best case scenario would be to land two players off the above list of five with their first two picks. Admittedly, I'm hoping that one of the top two is available, but I also have a good feeling about Aaron Judge. He's a very tall player, which can be problematic, but his athleticism may ultimately turn his size into asset instead of a liability. If that happens, he could be a true impact player. As for the remaining two, Jagielo and Wilson, both have some swing issues that concern me. To me, Jagielo has the higher floor, but Wilson the higher ceiling. It's just difficult to know what you have in Wilson and his swing needs more refinement than Jagielo's. Still, Wilson is the best lottery ticket in this draft. He's a boom-or-bust type pick, bringing the highest ceiling and lowest floor of any of the 5 guys on my board. If you draft him and get him right, then you could have a legitimate middle order of the bat who creates defensive value as well. That would be massive value.

Outside of those five, there are a couple of others players I'd like to see the Reds snatch up if they have the chance.

I like the swing mechanics and hit tool that 2b/3b Cavan Biggio brings to the table. He's a likely tweener, so you'd have to gamble that the hit tool and/or defensive ability will develop enough to warrant making room for him in the lineup somewhere, but the bat may be strong enough for that to happen. Ideally, the Reds could snap him up in the 3rd or 4th round, but early rumors suggest the Astros could be giving him serious consideration with the 40th overall pick at the top of the 2nd round. Is he worth a roll of the dice with the 38th overall pick or is that an overdraft that would undercut his value? For me, it depends somewhat on whether any of the previous 5 are still on the board at 38. I'd be more comfortable with Biggio in 2nd round or later, but the Reds could use more pure hitters in the system. And, doubling up on pure hitters with McKinney in round 1 and Biggio with a later pick would be an intriguing option for the Reds.

Finally, I'm really intrigued by Stanford rhp A.J. Vanegas. The Reds have had very good success developing pitchers lately and A.J. could be another college reliever worth developing as a starter. He has very good velocity and developing secondary stuff. He needs to improve his command, which may require smoothing out his arm swing, but he could be an intriguing option in the 3rd or 4th round, especially if the Reds go position player heavy with the first few picks. If Vanegas can improve his command and stay healthy, then he could be a very good value and an impact pitcher for the Reds.

Well, the draft gets under way tonight, so it'll be fun to see how it shakes out. There seems to be far less certainty to this draft, even at the very top (though I think Mark Appel is the clear top player), than in years passed, so I have no idea how it'll all shake out. Still, there is some intriguing talent there for the Reds, though, generally speaking, I like the bats likely to be available more than the arms, and that competitive balance pick could be a huge boost to the farm system. A clear reason for the Reds recent success is competent work in the draft. They need to continue that trend tonight.

Anyway, that's all the news that's fit to print. Go Reds Go!!!!!

2013 Draft: Other Players of Interest

Here are a few quick thoughts on other players who caught my eye:

Kyle Serrano RHP -- Farragut H.S. (TENN)

Serrano is an intriguing arm. His best pitch is a plus curveball, but he also has a solid fastball that sits in the 90-94 range. He only stands 6-0 and weighs 185 lbs, so he's a bit on the short side for a starting pitcher and would likely benefit from adding more muscle to his frame.

Mechanically, Serrano is fairly solid. He has a clean arm action and fundamentally sound mechanics. He uses a closed off stride and, consequently, a cross-fire delivery. His slightly closed off landing position and spine angle during hip rotation reminds me somewhat of Tim Lincecum. Though, unfortunately, he doesn't have the type of electric stuff that Lincecum possessed entering the draft.

The downside to Serrano is that his physical build and level of velocity may limit his ultimate upside. I'm just not sure how much projection is left to his game. Further, Serrano may be one of the tougher signs in the draft class, as he has committed to the University of Tennessee, where he would pitch for his father, the Volunteer head coach.

Given the possible signability concerns and lesser projection to his game, there are other options in the draft that I'd rather have. So, Serrano falls just short of making my draft board, though his mechanics are clean and his curveball impressive.

A.J. Vanegas RHP -- Stanford University

Vanegas is a very intriguing arm. He stands 6-3 and tips the scales at 215 lbs. He pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen for the Cardinal during his college career, though his stuff has always been impressive enough to start.

Vanegas features a mid to upper 90s fastball, a slider, and a cutter. He needs to develop his arsenal and polish his control in the professional ranks, but he generates easy velocity and has good projection to his game.

As a junior, Vanegas, due to a back injury, worked only 8.2 innings in which he posted a 3.12 ERA with a 12/4 K/BB ratio. For his career, Vanegas has posted a solid 2.92 ERA to go with underwhelming ratios, including marks of 4.8 BB/9 and 7.5 K/9.

Here's a look at Vanegas in action, courtesy of rkyosh007 on YouTube:

Overall, the mechanics are smooth and fundamentally sound. He does a nice job driving his delivery straight back and straight through to the plate. I'd like to see a bigger differential between the rotation of the hips and the rotation of the shoulders. A longer delay in the rotation of the shoulders would maximize the force generated by the body and increase the efficiency of the transfer of force to the baseball. Another possible issue I see is that he elevates his pitching elbow a tick too high relative to the pitching shoulder and, as a result, is slightly late in getting his pitching arm up into proper throwing position. It remains to be seen whether it would be detrimental to his performance going forward, but if necessary the arm action in the back could be smoothed out in the minors.

The Reds have had success in recent years with drafting relievers, or pitchers projected to be relievers, and developing them as starting pitchers. Vanegas could be the next in line. He's projected to go around the 3rd round in the draft, which could make him a steal if his future organization can unleash the raw potential that he brings to the table.

I'm really intrigued by A.J. Vanegas. His mechanics aren't as clean as I like, but given that he's only  projected to go in rounds 2/3/4 in the draft you have to expect, and be willing to incur, a bit more risk. His upside is intriguing and a possible conversion to the rotation could make a very valuable prospect.

Cavan Biggio 2b/3b -- St. Thomas H.S. (TEX)

Cavan is the son of Craig Biggio. There's no questioning his bloodlines. He also has an impressive hit tool. The problem with Cavan is that he may be a "tweener". Not enough bat for a corner position, not enough glove for an up-the-middle position. Biggio also isn't a great runner. So, the intrigue here is really the bat.

At the plate, Biggio has a very smooth lefthanded swing, a good feel for hitting, and the ability to control the strikezone. He makes consistent, hard contact and can get the barrel on the ball. He doesn't have plus power, but he's a pure hitter. He stands 6-2 and weighs 180 lbs, so there is some power projection in his game and filling out physically could make him an impact hitter.

Here's a look at Cavan Biggio in action, courtesy of Steve Fiorindo on YouTube:

Overall, Biggio has a sweet, fundamentally sound swing. He uses very strong hip rotation and has good hands. After loading his hands, he has a short path to the ball, getting to the point of impact quickly. He also effectively utilizes some "bat lag", a positive component of the swing that refers to the barrel of the bat lagging behind the hands in the swing. The longer the hitter can maintain that lag, the more power will be generated by the swing. When the bat emerges from the lag position, the barrel comes around and into the point of contact. Biggio maintains a slightly smaller "lag angle" than the average hitter, giving his swing a slightly steeper, more direct, angle of attack, due in part to a more straight line, rather than rounded, hand arc.

I'm impressed by Biggio's swing mechanics and hit tool. He seems to have a good feel for hitting. The question is how much power projection is there in his game? And, how much defensive value will he have?

There's a reason not many amateur 2bs are drafted. Most of time shortstop prospects are drafted instead, with those short on arm shifted to 2b and those short on range shifted to 3b. Biggio is currently a 2b. There's a real risk that, as he climbs the ladder, Biggio won't hit enough given his likely landing point on the defensive spectrum.

Cavan Biggio is the type of prospect with which the St.Louis Cardinals have had good success. Identifying and developing pure hitters despite questions about their defensive ability. I'm not sure if they are better at identifying these types of prospects or better at developing them. It could be either, but Biggio is one on whom I would support the Reds taking a chance. He lacks his father's athleticism, but I believe in the bat.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

2013 Draft, Player of Interest: Eric Jagielo, 3b

Eric Jagielo
Notre Dame, Junior
6-3, 215 lbs, B/T: L/R
Courtesy: Unknown

Eric Jagielo combines a reasonably high floor with a reasonably high ceiling. He combines the ability to hit for average with above average power potential. He also has some defensive versatility, playing both outfield and first base early in his collegiate career before switching to third base full-time later in his career. His diversified value-drivers land him on my short list of players for the Reds to draft.

For the Fighting Irish, Jagielo hit a robust .388/.500/.633 with 9 homers and a 33/35 K/BB ratio over 196 ABs and 56 games as a junior. His K/BB ratio, more walks than whiffs, supports the notion that he uses an advanced approach at the plate. He has the ability to effectively control the strikezone, which could make him a triple threat in the slash line categories at the professional level.

In the field, there is some question as to whether Jagielo can stick at third, but his bat projects to play at any of the corner positions. Jagielo did make strides defensively as a junior, so he may be able to stick at the hot corner. However, his arm isn't strong, as he uses a short arm action, seeming to flip the ball around the infield without using much body in the throws.

Jagielo's value is driven much more by his bat. Here's a look at Jagielo in action courtesy of Steve Fiorindo on YouTube:

Jagielo generates good force despite using a compact and balanced swing. His two-handed follow-through ensures that he will have good bat control and balance in his swing. He drives his back elbow into his back hip, ensuring that his upper body is powered by the rotation of his hips. His hip rotation is strong enough to drive him up onto his toe of his back foot. Overall, he has a very smooth, fluid swing that should play in the professional ranks.

Jagielo starts his hands in a high pre-pitch position. To load his hands, he draws his hands back and down, though the hands remain fairly high. However, he uses his hands well in the swing and generates good bat speed. He effectively "throws" the barrel of the bat in the swing and makes consistent, hard contact. His combination of strong hands and good hip rotation generates plus-power.

If there is a concern with Jagielo's swing, it's in the front side. He doesn't always firm up his front side. Hitters need to have a firm front side to anchor the swing and allow the force to rotate around the body to power the swing. Occasionally, Jagielo hits with a flexed front knee, which restricts the rotation of the hips. That's the problem currently plaguing Mariner Dustin Ackley. If the front knee is flexed, then the hips frequently slide forward, bleeding force out of the swing, instead of effectively rotating to power the swing. The flexed front knee also gives his swing the appearance of dipping or scooping at the point of contact. To be an impact hitter, he'll have to consistently firm up the front side to avoid sliding his hips forward in the swing.

There's a lot to like about Eric Jagielo. His combination of batting average, on-base ability, and power potential could make him an above average MLB hitter. Mechanically, his swing is fundamentally sound and without obvious flaw. His defensive value is questionable, but the bat may be enough to carry him up the ladder.

Jagielo has enough hitting ability to land on my draft board.  

2013 Draft, Player of Interest: Austin Wilson, of

Austin Wilson
Stanford University, Junior
6-5, 245 lbs, B/T: R/R
Courtesy: Unknown

It's like deja vu all over again.

Austin Wilson was one of the players on my short list for the 2010 draft. I liked him then. I like him now.

However, back then, based solely on his ability, Wilson would likely have been a top 10 selection. However, he slipped because of signability concerns. He wanted to attend Stanford. He did. Education is important to Wilson and his family, as his mother went to Stanford, while his father went to MIT.

Now, Wilson is looking more like a mid to late first round pick. Adding in the recently implemented draft spending limitations and Wilson probably cost himself some money in taking the college path. Still, he valued his education and undoubtedly has no regrets.

Back to the present, Wilson's value is being driven down by an injury he suffered early in this college baseball season. He suffered a stress reaction above his right elbow on opening day and, while he returned to action, never quite looked the same. So, not only did he miss time, but the time he did log was difficult to evaluate.

On the season, Wilson hit .288/.387/.475 with 5 homers, 5 steals in 7 attempts, and a 18/13 K/BB ratio over 118 ABs and 31 games. For someone with his size and ability, the average and slugging are underwhelming, but again it was an injury plagued season. Still, in his three seasons at Stanford, Wilson never slugged over .500 (2011: .423, 2012: .493, 2013: .475).

When Wilson faced Arizona State University, he squared off against draft prospect Trevor Williams, a righthander likely to be taken in the top 75 picks. So, it was a good test for Wilson. Unfortunately, it didn't go as well as expected. Williams had good success with the elevated fastball. On three separate occasions, including two for strikeouts, Williams threw 91/92 mph fastballs past Wilson up in the zone. Those three pitches also had a bit of run in on Wilson's hands, so up and in may be particularly problematic. But, later in the game, Wilson also swung through an elevated 87 mph fastball over the middle of the plate from reliever Darin Gillies. Wilson just couldn't catch up to the elevated fastball, which is problematic because those pitches were only average velocity, at best, at the MLB level. All of which begs the question, could he not catch up because of flawed swing mechanics and long levers? Or, could he not catch up because of lingering injury issues?

Wilson did collect two hits in that game, a double to right center and a chopper up the middle for a single. On both swings, Wilson was reaching with his arms and had minimal lower body rotation. On the double, he was strong enough with his upper body to hit it into the gap, but he didn't drive either ball with much authority.

Here's a look at Wilson in action, courtesy of Steve Fiorindo on YouTube:

There is a lot to like with Austin Wilson. He's a physical specimen with massive potential power and the athleticism to be an above average defender in a corner slot. He has a lot of potential value-drivers. But, his swing is still a work in progress. He has yet to really lock into a set of swing mechanics that capitalize on his potential.

At the plate, he struggles with the high fastball, which exposes a hole in his swing. He also seems to reach for pitches on the outer half too much, restricting his lower body rotation and extending his arms too far from his body. Instead of stepping into those pitches to drive them to the opposite field, he reaches for the pitch with his arms and relies largely on his hand/arm strength to power the swing. He also doesn't turn on the inside pitch as effectively as you'd like to see, especially since he should have tremendous pull power. That may be part of the Stanford's hitting philosophy or it could be a problem specific to Wilson's swing. Wilson has a lot of potential, but whichever organization drafts him will have to work to polish up his swing mechanics.

I'm still intrigued by Austin Wilson's upside, but the downside is more substantial than I'd like. His athleticism will make him an above average defensive player, so the bat alone won't have to carry him up the ladder. Still, the player development department of his future organization will need to know what they're doing to get the most out of Wilson.

If Wilson's swing can be straightened out, then he could be the steal of the draft. An impact middle-of-the-order hitter who provides above average defense. However, the downside is a taller hitter with holes in his swing and an inability to tap into his power potential during game action. Still, his upside is intriguing enough to land him on my draft board.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

2013 Draft, Player of Interest: OF Billy McKinney

Billy McKinney
Plano West (TX) H.S.
6-1, 195 lbs, B/T: L/L
Courtesy: Unknown

Billy McKinney is a bat-first prospect with a sweet lefthanded swing. In fact, he may be a bat-only prospect. He's very likely to be limited to the bottom of the defensive spectrum (1b/LF), so his hitting will need to carry him to the majors. And, that's a lot of developmental pressure to place solely on the bat. Fortunately, he has just the type of swing that can handle the pressure.

McKinney has been called this year's Jesse Winker (which, based on the latter's professional debut is quite a compliment), and they have similar player profiles, but I actually prefer McKinney's swing. McKinney's swing doesn't have the arm-bar or unusual hand-action that Winker utilizes.

McKinney's swing should allow him to hit for both average and power. In addition to his hitting ability, he also has a disciplined approach and should be able to effectively control the strike zone, which could make him a complete hitter with the ability to generate value in all three components of the slash-line.

Here's a look at McKinney in action, courtesy of Steve Fiorindo on YouTube:

And, another courtesy of baseballfactoryTV on YouTube:

Frankly, I can't find a single flaw in his swing mechanics. It's a beautiful beautiful swing, fluid and balanced. It's a swing driven by both the hands and the rotation of the hips, generating very good bat speed. He quickly buries the left elbow in close to the left hip, syncing the arms with the rotation of the hips. His lower body rotation is powerful and drives him up on toe of his back foot. He has good hand-eye coordination and consistently gets the barrel of the bat on the ball.

The balance in the swing is also a beautiful thing, especially considering how much force he has to control in order to maintain it. The more force a swing generates, the more difficult it is to control that force to keep the swing in balance.

Another thing working in McKinney's favor is his makeup, which is reported to be off the charts. And, while makeup is frequently overlooked, it IS important to a player's development, a point driven home only recently by Rays' OF prospect Josh Sale.

There's a lot to like with McKinney. There's also some risk due solely to the fact that he won't generate appreciable value with his defense or speed. So, you're basically putting all your chips on the bat, which really increases the development risk. But, it's one helluva bat. Good enough to land him on my draft board. Maybe good enough to make him the right pick at #27.

2013 Draft, Player of Interest: Aaron Judge, of

Aaron Judge
Fresno State University
6-7, 255 lbs, B/T: R/R

Aaron Judge is tall. Aaron Judge is intriguing. Aaron Judge is tall and intriguing.

Courtesy: John Walker/Fresno Bee
Whenever you see a tall hitter, the immediate question that leaps to mind is "how absurd is the strikeout rate going to be?" Tall hitters have two disadvantages working against them in the strikeout department: (1) their height gives them a much larger strike-zone to control, and (2) they have longer arms that can make consistent contact that much more difficult.

On the plus side, the longer arms can help generate leverage and power. On the negative side, they also make it easier to get tied up on inside pitches. So, taller hitters usually excel in the power department, struggle in the contact department. What's interesting about Judge is that he seems to be (somewhat) the opposite.

Most of the current scouting reports are more concerned with whether Judge will unlock his power potential in the professional rank rather than whether he'll make enough consistent contact to reach that power. Instead of needing to cut down on his swing to improve his contact rate, Judge almost needs to lengthen his swing to bring his power from batting practice into live game action.

As a junior for Fresno State, Judge hit to the tune of .369/.461/.655 with 12 homers and a 53/35 K/BB ratio in 206 ABs. The power was much improved over his freshman (2 HRs and .465 SLG%) and sophomore (4 HRs and .458 SLG%) campaigns. He also managed to steal 11 bases in 13 attempts, though that won't likely be a big part of his game in the professional ranks.

Another reason to be optimistic on Judge, despite his height, is his plus athleticism. He was a three sport star in high school and had multiple offers to play tight end at the collegiate level, but his love of baseball took him in a different direction. (Personally, I give bonus points to a player who is smart enough and passionate enough about the sport to choose baseball over football.) Judge runs well for a such a tall player and has a very good arm, which will play well in rightfield. His game just isn't the typical plodding game you see in most taller players, he's much more than that. But, quite obviously, his bat will be his calling card.

Here's a nice look at Judge in action, courtesy of rkyosh007 on YouTube:

Judge stands tall and holds his hands even higher in his pre-pitch stance. To load his hands, he draws them down and back, but they remain fairly high. Even so, his swing is fairly compact, as he has a short path to the pitch, which is uncommon for a taller hitter. He does a nice job of immediately driving his right elbow in close to his back hip, syncing his arms with his hip rotation and ensuring good power generation. His hip rotation is strong, generating enough force to drive up onto the toe of his back foot. Overall, it's a solid and surprisingly compact set of swing mechanics. Will his combination of height and compact swing allow him to cover the entire the zone? Will he struggle on pitches either up or down in the zone? Those are questions he'll need to answer, but I like where he's at with his swing.

Judge doesn't have elite bat speed, but does have legitimately massive power. His power will obviously be a big value-driver for Judge, but it's the compact swing and good athleticism that really catch my eye. I don't doubt that the power will be there and the fact that he's starting from compact with an eye towards maybe lengthening his swing rather than trying to shorten up his swing is reassuring. He's not a guy who has to cut down on his swing in order to "reach" his power. So, he's somewhat the reverse of what I would expect and there's something comforting in that.

Judge's athleticism and compact swing land him on the short list of players I'd like to see the Reds draft. There's some risk there, but he may have the type of diversified tools and skills that effectively minimize that risk.

Judge is definitely on my draft board.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

2013 Draft, Player of Interest: rhp Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson
RHP Jacksonville University
6-4, 225 lbs

Courtesy: Jacksonville University

Chris Anderson is a righthanded pitcher in his junior year at Jacksonville University. He's on the short list of players I'd like to see the Reds draft.

On the season, Anderson posted a 2.49 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, .231 batting average against, and 101/27 K/BB ratio for the Dolphins. The numbers are impressive, but would be even more so if not for a rough patch he hit in the month of April. He scuffled a bit in that month, seemingly the result of fatigue from a heavy workload rather than any type of injury concern. Ideally, he'll build up his arm strength and stamina when he joins a professional organization, eliminating the chance that fatigue will drag down his performance level.

On the season, he made seven starts wherein he struck out at least 9 batters. And, he struck out 13 batters in a game on two separate occasions. Jacksonville University doesn't play against an elite level of competition, but his repertoire supports his performance level. He also flashes good command and control.

Anderson's fastball touched 95-96 early in the spring, but was more in the 90-92 range when working through fatigue later in the year. He also has a hard biting slider with tilt and plus potential. He rounds out his repertoire with a solid change-up and a functional curveball. The fastball and slider are already impressive pitches, though I think his curveball is also a touch underrated.

And, as an added benefit, Anderson possesses some of my favorite pitching mechanics in the entire draft class. He stands 6-4 and tips the scales at 225 lbs, giving him a near ideal pitcher's build, which he utilizes well in his mechanics. His height enables him to work on a downward plane, improving the effectiveness of his fastball.

Anderson's windup has a smooth tempo and good balance, due in part to good body control. He uses a strong leg kick with body coil to create tension. From apex, he drives to the plate. He uses a long stride, enabling him to fully and completely rotate his hips. He also drives directly to the plate, ensuring that he doesn't bleed force from the delivery. He would undoubtedly benefit from a greater differential between his hip rotation and shoulder rotation, but what he has is solid and helps him effectively throw with his entire body.

As for his arm action, he has a clean motion and keeps his pitching arm in good position relative to the rest of his body throughout the delivery. Overall, Anderson does just about everything right and does a nice job generating force with the kinetic chain, which should boost his performance level and reduce his injury risk.

Here's a look at Anderson in action, courtesy of alskor on YouTube:

If Anderson has a flaw, it's that he occasionally struggles to finish out over his stride leg. At times, he comes up a bit short, forcing his momentum to rotate around his stride foot and fall off to the first base side. That may mean that he needs to shorten up his lengthy stride just a tick or get more aggressive with his upper body when finishing up his delivery. Still, that's a correctable flaw.

Based on the majority of mock drafts currently out there, Anderson may well be off the board before the Reds even get to pick. If not, then he should get heavy consideration. I have a good feeling about Anderson. The only real question I have relates to the rough patch he went through in April. Was that merely fatigue from an overly burdensome workload? Or, evidence of something more concerning? Can improved conditioning and added strength allow him to handle a professional workload and maintain a high performance level?

If he can sustain his early season performance level, then he could develop into a true impact pitcher at the MLB level. He already flashes two plus-pitches, good command, strong mechanics, and a strong pitcher's build, all of which earns him a prominent spot on my draft board.