Perhaps the single best thing about scouting is that it never stops. It forces one into a state of perpetual progressiveness. The Rule IV Draft, which we look forward to year-round, embodies that spirit as well as any MLB event.
August, shmogust. Who's ready for a quick, way-to-early look at what the 2012 draft class has to offer?
There has been one prospect who stands head-and-shoulders above the competition heading into his draft year frequently in recent years. Anthony Rendon was that guy last year. Bryce Harper in 2010, Stephen Strasburg in 2009 and David Price in 2007. 2012 doesn't have that guy.
Deven Marrero, SS, Arizona State
The current top college position player is likely Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero. Chris Marrero's cousin and a high school teammate of Eric Hosmer, Deven Marrero grades out as one of the better college infield prospects to come along in recent years.
Marrero isn't a true burner but he is an above-average runner -- he ran a 6.8 60-yard-dash in high school. His range plays up due to strong defensive instincts. An excellent all-around defender, he has a smooth, soft hands and a legit plus arm.
Marrero projects to hit for average in the pros. He's posted strong contact numbers for the Sun Devils (13.4% strikeout rate to date with ASU). Like many college players adjusting to the new bats, he struggled offensively last year, hitting just .319/.354/.444 after posting a .397/.442/.628 line as a true freshman. Marrero also doesn't walk much -- just 6.5% over the past two years.
His set up and lower body actions might need some work once he starts swinging wood bats. Beginning out almost knock-kneed with his weight in the middle of his body, Marrero toe-taps back but never quite fully loads his back leg. Since he never gets fully 'back', he can't help but transfer his weight to his front leg at stride, instead of letting the swing take care of that. He certainly has the hands to make this move work, but he's no Dustin Ackley. In the interest of consistent balance, he'll need to learn to how to stay behind his front leg longer.
Marrero doesn't have big time raw power, so balance and leverage are very important for him to become more than a guy who leaves a bunch of seam burns in the gaps. Standing 6-foot-1, 170 pounds Marrero doesn't offer a ton of physical projection but he shouldn't outgrow shortstop. He could top double digit home run totals if it all comes together, but of course, it has to come together first. A slight rise out of his crouch once he swings causes some head movement, and leaks most of what little leverage he has. Marrero aggressively engages his hands forward, which is what you want in a guy who's not up there to make people forget Mike Stanton's name – although he does have more power than Mike Stanton the lefty reliever. Sprinkle in some better leverage and more consistent balance, and Marrero could be a .300 hitter with solid pop for the position.
Lack of secondary offensive skills may keep him from being a superstar, but Marrero could be a well-above-average every day player and a borderline all star if everything breaks right. Given his positional value, and the fact that Jiovanni Mier has apparently been placed in the witness relocation program -- seriously, if you see him call the local authorities, we're all very worried -- Marrero could give Houston fans something to look forward to other than how well Mario Williams transitions to a nine technique outside linebacker in Wade Phillips' 3-4.
Lance McCullers Jr., RHP, Tampa Jesuit HS, FL
While projecting Deven Marrero as a top pick requires belief in his offensive progression next season, high school pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. will be a high pick as long as his right arm stays attached to his body. Guys with McCullers' arm strength are rare. Guys with McCullers' arm strength at his age are like finding a bad moment in Breaking Bad rare. McCullers was already flirting with high-90's velocity before he could legally drive by himself. His fastball sits 95-97 MPH, having touched 99-100 MPH with movement -- oh, the movement. McCullers gets ridiculous action on his fastballs and has shown the ability to cut the ball inside and outside. As great as McCullers' fastball is, his breaking ball isn't far behind. Coming in at slider speed (81-85 MPH) it has late 12-6 curveball type break. It's unfair against high school hitters, and would likely retire it's fair share of big leaguers right now. As if that weren't enough, McCullers has also shown excellent feel for a changeup.
McCullers' arm action has some length thanks to a huge degree of scapular loading present in the pick-up phase of his delivery. It is a little atypical, think Daniel Hudson except from a 3/4 arm angle, but not necessarily a bad thing. He appears to have pretty good timing, strong hip rotation, and keeps his front side closed pretty well. He throws with some effort, which again isn't always a bad thing. There will be some who want to knock McCullers' mechanics but, unless we see something different in the future, we won't be among them.
His command isn't great, but that's often the last thing to develop with young arms who throw hard and have movement. McCullers' has a special, special arm and as long as we keep him away from hiking trips with James Franco he should be selected very high next June.
Nick Williams, OF, Galveston Ball HS, TX
The summer showcase circuit is a great way to get your name out there, and Nick Williams is one player that benefited greatly from the 2011 version. It seemed that all anyone could talk about was Nick Williams this, Nick Williams that...he looks like he's just swinging a wiffle ball bat. From finishing second to the almighty Daniel Vogelbach in the 5th annual Power Showcase home run derby to putting on a hitting display at the Tournament of Stars that would make Willie Mays Hayes blush, all Williams did was impress.
Williams features a compact swing with a plane conducive to covering the outer half well but has quick enough hands to still burn on the inner-half. Williams has plus power and a good amount of loft in his swing. You could make a good argument as to what is more projectable, Williams' body or his swing. Currently, he keeps his front side closed longer than needed, and doesn't open up into contact as much as he could, though he can occasionally get caught in between and pull off with his front side. In time, he could learn how to clear his front side to let his back side fully drive through, which, not coincidentally, is when things would get really entertaining. Clearing his hands from 'hiding' behind his front shoulder might help him get even quicker on the inner half as well. Oh, did we mention he's 6-foot-3' 190 pounds and has room to add 20 pounds without forcing himself to re-learn how to run with the additional weight? Williams is a plus runner with at least an average arm. He has current strength and figures to add plenty more. If you see anyone laying any Griffey comps on this kid, go ahead and laugh them out of the room. However, calling Williams a 'tool shed' certainly won't get you laughed at. Factual statements have a tendency to get treated with respect.
Kenny Diekroeger, SS, Stanford
Stanford shortstop Kenny Diekroeger can be a frustrating player to evaluate. The good is that he has a compact and hand-oriented swing that's very short to the ball. He has a smooth trigger and has the hand strength required to make a hands dominant swing work. However, Diekroeger doesn't get anywhere near the bat speed he could out of his swing, nor does he maintain optimum angles through the zone. Diekroeger has similar hand rhythm actions to Jason Bay, but also has a pull side dominant plane like Bay. Diekroeger's hand rhythm helps pull his front shoulder back to an angle that usually is conducive to hammering the pitch away, but he doesn't maintain that plane when he launches. His strong hands should allow him to still be quick inside yet still cover away with the angle of hip-shoulder separation he achieves, but due to a heavy rolling top hand, Diekroger pulls his barrel off the pitch away and consistently into a pull dominant plane.
Clearing his hands from his body and developing a more timing based hand rhythm could help Diekroeger maintain better angles through the zone. An added benefit could be more bat speed, since a good timing based hand load does a much better job of stretching the core during the separation phase of the swing.
*Quick biomechanics lesson - a stretched core produces elastic energy, and elastic energy is key for easy power to come out of the swing sequence*
Diekroeger has a decent chance to stick up the middle, so power wouldn't be a requirement. At the same time, when a player seems to be leaving a good chunk of his offensive potential on the table, it makes you wonder what adjustments will come, if ever. At 6-foot-2' 200 pounds, Diekroeger has the frame to have solid-average or better pop for the position, but he didn't adjust to the new BBCOR bats in 2011, posting only two home runs.
While his swing is a somewhat unorthodox, Diekroeger has gotten away with it due to his best attribute: athleticism. Diekroeger is a sterling all-around athlete with quick-twitch ability for days. He lead the pack at the 2008 Area Code Games in the SPARQ test, an objective measure of athletic ability featuring tests that remind you of the NFL combine. Some guy named Mike Trout finished second, and from what we/ve seen he's a pretty good athlete. Diekroeger has the athleticism to play anywhere on the diamond. His actions at short have gotten smoother over the past year. He isn't as natural as Marrero, but has a higher ceiling defensively.
Diekroger is smart (4.0 GPA at Stanford), athletic and has a world of potential. But much like eating a small panini, you seem to be left wanting more when watching him.
Kevin Gausman, RHP, Louisiana State University
Righthander Kevin Gausman slipped to the Dodgers in the sixth round of the 2010 MLB Draft yet went unsigned after demanding first-round money -- the Dodgers with unable to sign someone you say? Gausman matriculated to LSU where he was quickly ensconced in the Tigers weekend rotation, striking out nearly a batter an inning (86 K in 89 IP). The lanky freshman impressed with stuff as much, or more than, results. While his velocity dipped as a senior in high school, Gausman's fastball works in the mid-90's and has touched 99 MPH in short bursts with excellent movement at its best. He also showed solid improvement in his breaking ball and changeup during his first year on the Bayou. His curveball has shown enough to now project as a potential above-average offering, a bit more if you're feeling generous, and his change could develop into a solid-average offering. While his off-speed stuff still needs some work, Gausman is far from a one-pitch wonder and ought to have enough weapons to start.
The epitome of a 'live-loose-arm', the first thing that jumped out about Gausman was arm strength generated from a very sound motion. That motion has been tweaked over the past year. Gausman's arm action is a bit different. His first movement after he takes the ball out of his glove is down to his hip then straight up to a very high arm angle. Gasuman keeps his weight back very late into his stride and hS excellent hip rotation, but this new arm action has resulted in what looks like slightly worse timing than in the past.
Gausman has been a pet cat of mine (Lincoln) ever since I first saw him on the summer showcase tour. He's a different pitcher now than when I first saw, but most of the difference is improvement. I'm taking personal credit whenever Gausman makes his first all star team. I called it. You all saw.
Lucas Giolito, RHP, Harvard Westlake HS, CA
If Lance McCullers isn't your cup of tea, not sure why he wouldn't be, the high school pitching class also boasts Lucas Giolito whose scouting report is every so tasty. A righthander from California power house Harvard Westlake High School, Giolito is built like NBA shooting guard at 6-foot-7, 215 pounds with arms seldom found outside of Jay Bilas' dreams. Those arms aren't just long, they're powerful. Giolito's best asset is his tremendous arm strength, leading the 2010 Area Code Games with a 95.8 MPH average on his top 10 fastballs. That's right, the 2010 Area Code Games, when Giolito had just finished his sophomore year and was younger than most of his competitors. He complements his fastball with a 75-79 MPH curve that will flash plus.
Giolito has an uncommonly smooth motion for a pitcher with his youth, size, and arm strength. There aren’t many high school pitchers we look at and see teaching points in, but Lucas Giolito has virtually ideal timing in his delivery – a huge, huge deal. You think of pitchers with big arm circles pulling their elbows up high, bending and contorting their bodies in all sorts of silly directions. Everything a pitcher does with his mechanics, good or bad, is for naught if ball isn’t in the driveline as the shoulders start to rotate. There’s only one place a pitcher needs to bring the ball to, which is in a position to be accelerated towards home-plate. A bullet doesn’t do any good until it’s in the barrel. Giolito does this very, very well. He makes throwing hard look easy.
Going off the crazy notion that our readers don't want a 35,000 word column, we can't cover everyone who deserves attention in this one article. But that's what the future's for boys! Would you like to read about Trey Williams? A big kid, strong body, with swaggerific actions. Of course you would! Could we interest you in a small bit on Stryker Trahan and his awesomeness? You bet the first-place prize you're gonna win in your dynasty league if you keep reading! Well stay tuned my friend, this is just the tip of the iceberg. An iceberg filled with baseballs and sandwiches frozen solid by our wit.