Scouting: Notes and Observations from the First Week of College Baseball
The college baseball season started over the weekend and it provided an opportunity to watch players for the first time in about 11 months. The University of Miami took the series against the number one ranked Florida Gators and the University of San Francisco took the series as well two games to one against number two ranked UCLA. Snow and COVID caused some game cancellations and the Wright State and Vanderbilt series got cancelled with a double header player on Monday.
Here are some notes, videos, and observations from the games played on some interesting draft prospects from the first weekend. The post will have three sections:
- Potential top five overall selections: This class doesn’t have a clear cut first overall pick such as years past, especially given the lack of scouting that could be done because of COVID and missing out on some players. High school options to go number one overall and inside the top five include Jordan Lawler (SS, Jesuit Prep), Marcello Mayer (SS, Eastlake), and Brady House (SS, Winder-Barrow)
- Other notable first round, competitive balance round a, and early second round picks: This list is up the middle players from Louisville, as they have three interesting players to watch.
- Other notable round two, competitive balance round b, and round three levels of pitchers: Starting pitcher with more questionable stuff or command.
All video comes from games streamed on ESPN+, where I tracked pitches and plate appearances. In total, there were 9 games to watch with at most three games worth of watching the following batters: Adrian Del Castillo (Miami), Jud Fabian (Florida), Alex Binelas (Louisville), Henry Davis (Louisville), and Levi User (Louisville). The players are not ranked and are in order of game watched and for batters, where they were in the batting order.
Given my limited track with prospects and the limited resources, I used Baseball America and FanGraphs lists to narrow down potential top draft prospects before watching their games to make my own observations about these buckets of players. Their rankings on the respective sites will be included in the player description.
Top Draft Picks
This bucket is the top college prospects who have the potential to go top five, and if not in that range, are likely top 10 picks.
Adrian Del Castillo (Catcher, Miami)
The Miami catcher swings from the left-side and is noted for his offensive game. In game one of the series (Friday night), Del Castillo tried to back pick a runner from second and missed up and to the glove side. It was a rather non competitive attempt to get the runner out. The setup is simple with a slightly opened stance and the hands held up high. There’s a medium leg-kick and he circles the hands some to load. The swing generates some loft and over the course of the series, he seemed to show good feel for the zone and adjustability with the bat to get to pitches throughout the spectrum.
The catcher hit .331/.418/.576 as a freshman and followed with .261/.311/.420 with a 22 percent strikeout rate on the Cape. The catcher hit .358/.478/.547 to start last season. FanGraphs has Del Castillo ranked 17th and Baseball America ranked third on their respective boards.
In game one, Del Castillo showed some good takes but wasn’t able to hold up on a slider from Tommy Mace for a swinging strike three. The pitch was never really competitive but Del Castillo seemed to recognize the pitch, just was too late. He had some good takes in the game and seemed to understand the zone, and was able to go down and get a slurve and grounded out to first. He was also hit by a pitch in the game:
In game two, the left-hander hit a ball to center in which Fabian read with the wind and came on to make the play. Ideally you want a higher finish but he does generate some loft on this swing. Second plate appearance, he was out in front on a changeup that he fouled off but was retired looking on a back door slider that looked to be away that is framed by the catcher. I chalk that up as a good take but one maybe Del Castillo should’ve fouled off.
In his third plate appearance, Del Castillo got down 0-2 and had three easy takes to get back to full where he fouled off roughly the same pitch he went down looking on in the previous plate appearance (this pitch caught more of the zone, however). He doubled to end the plate appearance, dropping down to get this pitch at the bottom of the zone.
You like to see that adjustability with Del Castillo being able to recognize the umpire’s zone the pitch prior and being able to adjust the swing path to get the pitch at the bottom of the zone. In game three, against left-hander Hunter Barco, Del Castillo batted fourth but in his first at bat of the game, he took a fastball up and in off the wall in right-center.
Del Castillo was the best prospect on the field this series and I liked the approach and swing. To get more power, I think lowering the hands would work some. He was able to read the strike zone, take some close pitches and was able to adjust the swing path. Del Castillo seemed like a better pro prospect than Fabian, who his next on this list.
Jud Fabian (Center Fielder, Florida)
The Gators starting center fielder is young for the class, in what should be his sophomore year of college, Fabian is in year three. After hitting .290/.350/.500 on the Cape in 2019 after his freshman season, he got off to a .294/.407/.603 start before the pandemic started. He fits the mold of model inclined draft rooms given the SEC performance, Cape performance, age, and position. When I watched Fabian this weekend, I wasn’t too impressed. There are swing and miss concerns, especially with the breaking and offspeed stuff. Nonetheless, he ranks eighth on FanGraphs and 11th on Baseball America.
The set up for Fabian is relatively simple. He’s a right-handed hitter (throws left-handed) who has his weight back. At times the bat was a bit more vertical and the hands could be lowered a bit, but the bat speed is legit. Here’s his only hit of the weekend, getting through the zone quickly and hitting a hard single:
The lightning hands and bat give you enough to project on, but I also liked the approach. There were some questionable swings (like this one below) where the count was in his favor and the pitch wasn’t competitive that Fabian swung at, but there were also some good takes (second video):
I liked the takes, even the called strikes given they were questionable calls and pitches that Fabian couldn’t do damage on. The center fielder walked three times and struck out seven, but takes like the above don’t show up in the box score. It seemed like good zone awareness, even when he did cheat and got caught with the slider. The biggest issue is hitting spin, with the first video from opening night and the second from Sunday’s game.
The inability to hit the non fastball and have a lot of swings and miss is a red flag, especially for picking a player early. The quick hands and the eye on those takes is a good sign, but the swing and miss in the game gives me pause. The right-handed hitter also swung through some fastballs Saturday afternoon:
The power potential and easy plus glove in center give you hope, so does the age and Cape performance. Fabian performed well at Florida in which should have been his senior year of high school and lit the Cape on fire. There’s skill in there and a good ceiling and floor combo, but the swing and miss is a real concern. I wasn’t all that impressed this weekend. He did, however, make this diving catch:
Fabian is a good athlete with quick hands who hits the ball hard. He’s a name to watch this spring and to see if he adjusts to the offspeed and breaking stuff that he had struggled with in the opening weekend.
Jaden Hill (Right-Handed Pitcher, LSU)
The Tigers right-handed pitcher started against Air Force after the series against Notre Dame was cancelled. After starting as a freshman in 2019, a UCL injury stemming from a collarbone injury in football got Hill shutdown. He pitched out of the LSU bullpen a season ago, where he struck out six Texas Longhorns over three innings. Hill ranks number six on FanGraphs and Baseball America.
In his start against the Air Force, Hill struck out five with two on the fastball and three on the slider. He got five swing and miss (one on the CH, three the FB, and one the SL) while getting 15 looking all on 62 pitches. That equates to 8.1 percent and 24 percent respectively. The fastball played and Hill seemed to target the glove side.
He threw the fastball in the zone 67 percent of the time and while he did miss, the pitch was mostly well executed. Hill was also able to throw a two-seam into a right-handed batter getting some arm side run to it.
The changeup and slider are Hill’s main two pitches. Hill got a single swinging strike on seven changeups, three of which were balls. He executes this changeup well to the arm side with a good separation from the fastball and some arm side fade. The batter from Air Force swings over the top.
From the windup, Hill dropped this changeup in on a 1-1 count to get ahead with a looking strike. Seeing the right-right change was a good sight, as same side changeups are one of the more under utilized pitch types.
The slider for Hill also got a single swing and miss on 12 pitches with five looking and six balls. The pitch at times caught too much of the plate or were missed and not close to the zone. This pitch got three of the five strikeouts for the right-hander, and this was the swing and miss:
Hill’s arm action is short and efficient, and he repeated the delivery well in both the windup and stretch. He commanded the ball pretty well and tried to attack glove side with the fastball. You’d like to see some more swing and miss, but Hill was efficient with his pitches (15.5 per inning) and was sitting in the mid 90s. The changeup showed good arm side fade and the slider good power break. Going forward in the season, you’d like to see more control of the non-fastball and more competitive pitches to induce the swing and miss. Getting more command will allow Hill to start, and I do like delivery and arm action. I think Hill will be a starter at the next level with the fastball, slider, changeup mix. It was a good first start for Hill and this season, especially in SEC play, will help determine how high he will rise. But count me in as a believer Hill will start at the next level.
Kumar Rocker (Right-Handed Pitcher, Vanderbilt)
One of the favorites to go 1.1 with his teammate Jack Leiter, Kumar Rocker started off his 2021 campaign really well against Wright State. Rocker ranks number one on Baseball America and second on FanGraphs. He has a good frame at 6’5″ and 255 pounds to hold up over the course of 200 innings. There’s little projectability but he sits in the mid 90s with a good changeup and performed well as a freshman in the College World Series.
The fastball played and the slider flashed, and Rocker added a little cut fastball to the arsenal. On the day, he threw 67 pitches over four plus innings (he was on a pitch count) while striking out eight and walking three. His fastball showed plus up in the zone
The fastball generated a ton of swing and miss, as I counted eight, but he did have some struggling putting away the three batter in the first. Rocker showed some good sliders, including this one:
However, there were some that backed up such as the below
I like the downward plane of the pitch but it did backup and Rocker missed spots and had shaky command throughout the day. The most encouraging sign of the game was the little cut fastball he added:
The addition of the cutter gives a change of pace especially with the need to further develop the change. The cutter runs away from righties and can get in against lefties. The stuff looked good, particularly the fastball, and Rocker apparently topped 98 and sat 95.
As the game continued on, Rocker’s command worsened and he ended his day with eight straight fastballs that missed high. Overall, the fastball showed the firmness you want to see and the ability to play it up in the zone. The new cutter had some good action to it and he got some swing and miss. The slider is a power slider and it did back up some. The command was the thing to watch coming in and there are still questions that need to be answered but overall Rocker had a good first start showing plus stuff.
Jack Leiter (Right-Handed Pitcher, Vanderbilt)
The Saturday starter in the Vanderbilt rotation, Leiter is another candidate to go 1.1 and win the Golden Spokes. He stands at just at just 6’1″ and 205 pounds. He struck out 22 of 60 batters a season ago but did walk eight (13 percent). He ranks first on FanGraphs and fifth on Baseball America.
In the second game on Monday against Wright State, Leiter came out strong in five innings of work. While the TV gun had him hitting 100, it’s been noted by many that it was running hot but he topped 98 and was sitting 95. The Vandy righty struck out eight of 16 batters (seven on the fastball) and got three groundouts and flyouts. Overall, Leiter got 13 swinging strikes (18.1 percent) and 20 looking (27.8 percent). The fastball was playing up in the zone and had 12 swings and missed (25 percent) and was a strike 77 percent of the time.
What stood out was just how well the pitch played up in the zone:
The pitch had hitters late and underneath the pitch, which remains flat and able to work up in the zone with the modern pitching philosophy (think how the Astros have attacked hitters). The pitch was easily the best of his offerings and he commanded it well.
The interesting pitch to me is the curveball. It has nice shape to it and is a traditional 12-6 pitch He got a knee-buckler for a called strike three but often the pitch it seemed was easily picked up out of the hand and didn’t obtain swings and misses, as the left-handed batter in the second video fouls it off.
The hard fastball up and loopy curve low are part of the current pitching style but the way the Wright State batters reacted to the curve, it seemed like it was tracked well That 2-2 pitch for the strikeout was beautiful, however, so tighter spin could make it a bit better, but it will play low in the zone. The son of Al also dropped some sliders in, getting a swing and miss like the one below. This pitch comes with firmer velocity and more glove sweep and sharp depth.
In terms of mechanics, Leiter has that short and quick arm action that we’ve seen grow in the Major Leagues over the last few years. While the tempo is quick, he repeated the delivery and was able to consistently hit his spots. The ability to live up in the zone in the mid-to-upper 90s, throw two breaking balls and have that level of command make him the best starter in college baseball. There’s more concern over Rocker’s command, thus giving Leiter the edge.
I really liked the fastball he threw today, as it gained swings and misses at the top of the zone and was commanded well. The curveball has good 12-6 shape to pair but I do think that it might be a bit easier to pick up based on the reactions of some hitters today. He was able to toss in some get me overs with the pitch, so with the depth and potential command, the curve should play at the next level and is a good secondary offering. The slider is a new pitch and he showed some good depth and form velo with it. Given the reaction of Wright State hitters on the curve, the fastball might pair better with the slider with the curve as a third offering. No less the matter, Leiter was on top of his game yesterday and showed really promising stuff.
Other First Round Picks
This includes a group of Louisville hitters that play up the middle.
Alex Binelas (Third Baseman, Louisville)
The Louisville Cardinal third baseman hit .291/.383/.612 as a freshman in the ACC, though there was a 19.8 percent strike out rate. He essentially didn’t play in 2020 with an injury and the pandemic. The 6’3″ and 210 pound lefty ranks ninth on Baseball America and 18th on FanGraphs. It was a rough weekend, as Binelas had six strikeouts in 11 at-bats and only one hit. The swing and miss issues were a problem against Bellarmine, a small D1 in Louisville.
At the plate, Binelas has some crouch with his hands lowered and some vertical bat to it. The hands are close to the body and he brings the hands up and down a bit in the load with a medium leg kick. It’s a slightly open stance with no toe tap.
In his first at bat on Saturday, Binelas couldn’t hold up and struck out on a slider that wasn’t really a competitive pitch low and in the dirt. In his second trip, on a pitch up in the zone, a routine double play was hit:
The bat path is pretty flat and that can also be seen in some of the swing and miss, where his third at bat was another strike zone. After holding the swing on a similar pitch he struck out on in the first inning, Binelas swung over the top and foul ticked a second strikeout. In his last at bat, the third baseman was a little late and a little underneath some hittable pitches before striking out on a fastball below the zone. In his first at bat of the second game, he was late and underneath a fastball for another strikeout.
There was more swing and miss throughout on some hittable fastballs and a groundball fielders choice. Swinging and being aggressive early also put Binelas into some bad spots, as he was over aggressive and swung and missed on pitches not close to the zone. On a sac fly, the best hit ball of the day from the lefty was struck:
The hands go up and load as the front foot comes up. However, he stays with that front foot closed off and doesn’t get the back foot much off the ground. While he squares up the ball, there’s some power left on the table given the restrictions of athletic ability keeping that front foot closed creates. He looked better against the left-hander late in the game, drawing a walk. He grounded out in his final at bat of the day.
In the third game, Binelas struck out on a breaking ball in the dirt. After falling behind 1-2 on another swing and miss, Binelas hits an infield single. He struck out, swinging over the top of another breaking ball in his final at bat.
In this single, his front foot remains closed off at the point of contact. The power limitations this causes is concerning for a corner bat. His swing isn’t all that athletic and the setup doesn’t really project as a power hitter. The swing and miss early is concerning and unlike with Fabian, it seems as if Binelas is more aggressive and prone to swing. The hit tool will really have to play as I don’t think there’s much power with the setup and swing. Being left-handed gives a strong side of a platoon advantage and I see a Colin Moran level of outcome.
Henry Davis (Catcher, Louisville)
Davis, a right-handed hitting catcher, hit .280/.345/.386 as a freshman and started off hot last year hitting .372/.481/.698. While he did struggle on the Cape, it was only just a five game period. The Cardinal catcher ranks 19th on Baseball America and 11th on FanGraphs, with the latter writing “Davis’ 2020 exit velocities are pretty ridiculous, as nearly half the balls he put in play were 95 mph or above.” What both sites point out is the defensive ability and the arm, where so far on the season he is 1-1 in throwing runners out:
The left-handed pitcher and high fastball helps, but Davis easily throws out the runner. While the ball short hops the second baseman, it was on the correct side of the bag and an accurate throw to easily catch the runner stealing.
Unlike Binelas, Davis started the season off hot, picking up four hits and two walks while not striking out. The 6’2″ catcher is crouched in the box with the bat on his shoulder and hands lower. It’s a very open stance where he loads the hands further back and squares up with the front foot as he strides forward. He got on top of a ball in his first at bat for a groundball. There was another flat swing for an infield single in the fifth. He squares a ball up in the seventh for a flyout:
I think he could do a better job turning over that front foot and getting to more of that power, but he does a good job going up to the top of the zone and barreling up a ball to center.
In the first at bat Sunday, Davis fouled off some pitches and was able to work a walk. He seems to have a good feel for the zone and he also stole two bags on the day (one in each game of the double header). He singles up the middle and does a good job turning over that front foot to remain athletic and to not limit any velocity generated in the swing. The bat head goes down and Davis picks up a knock:
In game two of the double header, Davis hit a homerun pullside by going down and getting a fastball on the lower and outside half. Here’s a sideview of the homer:
Davis turns over the front foot keeping the amount of velocity he generates through the swing without closing off. He loads his hands as he brings the front foot back and really gets through the zone. I was impressed with Davis this series and he really hits the ball hard. While his teammate had struggles with swing and miss, Davis seemed to have a good understanding of the zone and consistently was able to make contact with little chase out of the zone. Throw in the two stolen bases and the caught stealing and it was an impressive series. The level of competition should be noted but it was a really good series. Davis is a player to watch with Del Castillo as the best college catcher in the country.
Levi Usher (Center Fielder, Louisville)
Usher is the Cardinals center fielder that bats from the left-side. He started off hitting .411/.484/.571 in 16 games last year before the shutdown. In two years on the Northwoods, Usher has hit .261/.337/.373. There’s some swing and miss, striking out 25 percent of the time in those three seasons. He appears to have plus speed, siping 11 bags at Louisville last year and 17 overall. He ranks 28th on FanGraphs and 31st on Baseball America. Usher has started the year 4-12 with a home run and a strikeout.
The lefty stands tall and lowers the hands to load, there’s not much of a leg kick. In his first at bat, Usher grounded out and he did the same in his second. He seems stiff in the upper body and doesn’t really utilize the lower half. In this fly out to center, like Binelas, the front foot stays locked and closed limiting the hip mobility.
He got out in front a bit on a pitch in his last at bat on Saturday before flying out to center. He did a much better job of being able to get the hips through with that swing as the front foot doesn’t stay fully closed. In his first plate appearance on Sunday, Usher had some good takes showing some feel for the zone and seeing the fastball well but did watch strike three on a very hittable pitch. A single in his second at bat he again keeps his front foot closed off but is able to go down and flick the ball to left field.
Usher swiped second and picked up another single in the seventh after grounding out in the fourth. His first at bat in game two, he was a bit out in front on a changeup and swung over the top. He did take the 1-2 pitch to right-center for a home run.
I like the back foot turning over and getting through quickly but that front foot is still closed off. Getting more open and allowing the hips to get through and there’s more power. He triples to left and used his speed to get there standing up. From the side, we see the flatter bat path and the front foot staying closed off. Some adjustments here would be ideal to tap into power but he did square the ball up the other way.
There was some swing and miss on breaking able within the zone and a few chases, but in this series it seemed that Usher was able to recognize pitches and the zone. His swing is stiff and I would like to see more from the lower half with his front foot not staying so closed off. Everything about the swing screams Brad Miller and Usher plays up the middle. Getting more athletic and allowing force generated to come through should allow the tools to play more. I think Usher could be a player development find who improves in pro ball. In the series against Bellarmine, the feel for the zone seemed to be fine. Some times the font side opened up a bit on the swing as well, but these are adjustable things.
Usher can trend up to secure a first round pick with a loud spring or remain with the early second round. A few tweaks and the bat plays better but a Brad Miller type that can stay up the middle with plus speed is valuable.
Notable Second Round Types
This bucket is Tommy Mace, as he started in the Miami vs Florida series and represented an easy opportunity to watch another prospect within the same game.
Tommy Mace (Right-Handed Pitcher, Florida):
Mace got the ball as the Gators Friday night starter and the honor of opening the new ballpark in Gainsville. The 6’6″ and 200 pound right-hander ranked 52nd on the Big Board a season ago and currently ranks 62nd on FanGraphs and 38th on Baseball America. Mace has a big frame and pitched to a 1.67 ERA to start off 2020 before the shutdown, this comes after a down 2019 season (5.32 ERA) and a bad Cape performance (5.87 ERA) in 2018 after his freshman season. As a freshman, mostly out of the bullpen, Mace only walked 4.4 percent and last year got off to a 4.6 percent rate. While the strikeout totals weren’t there, the strike throwing was.
The start time for Florida kept getting pushed back because of rain and Mace’s control and command wavered early on in the second and third innings. His stuff didn’t jump out and he was missing his spots. One thing he did show was an easy repeatable delivery. In a big situation, Mace dotted a fastball to the arm side and low to get a strikeout looking. It was a good pitch that allowed Mace to escape the jam, with perfect location:
I only counted 11 swings and missed, 10 off the slider and fastball, but there were a good chunk of pitches that were well executed to get a called strike (22). The stuff continued to play better as the game went on, and while he was able to get Del Castillo swinging in the first inning on a slider low and in, Mace executed this one as well, showing some late glove side break.
Mace also showed some fastballs that were more flat and would be pitches that play more up in the strike zone, where he was able to get a swinging strike and a third strike looking:
I like how easy the mechanics are and he repeats everything from both the stretch and the windup. It gets a bit long on the downswing but the arm action looks like a traditional one and Mace has the build of a traditional starter as well. As the game moved along, the right-hander was able to also drop in some breaking balls as get me over strikes:
Overall in the outing, the command wasn’t as crisp as you’d like (he walked two, hit one, and there were some plate appearances where Mace missed wide with his pitchers) but it seemed to get better as the game went on. In other plate appearances, the Gators ace wasn’t able to finish off hitters with balls being fouled away. I think the slider was his best breaking ball and the fastball could play up in the zone. The command needs to be better in the long run than it was Friday, but the combination of an 11 month layoff and the game time being pushed back because of weather, there were some underlying factors. The frame, repeatable mechanics and the command that played much better later in the game (innings four and five) give you hope. You’d like to see more swing and miss as well, and a result this is why Mace is looking at that second round pick projection.
This was the first weekend of college baseball after an 11 month layoff and there is plenty of time before the Major league Draft. To me, Jaden Hill was able to answer some questions with how easy the ball was coming out of his hand and the short arm action. You would like to see more hit and miss in his next start. Jack Leiter came out and showed he’s the best pitcher in the draft, utilizing a power fastball up in the zone. Kumar Rocker’s stuff played but there were times the slider backed up and the command wasn’t always there and betrayed him in the fifth. Tommy Mace showed a repeatable delivery but didn’t generate much swing and miss. His command played better in the last few innings.
Del Castillo showed a good feel for the zone and was able to barrel some balls up. Jud Fabian had swing and miss issues, especially with breaking stuff. The hands and bat are quick and the setup is simple, and he did make some good reads and plays in center, but the swing and miss is an issue and is something to watch the rest of the year to see if it was layoff struggles or a clear problem. He did show a good feel for the zone laying off some close pitches. The same thing about swing and miss goes for Alex Binelas, who has a fair share of swing and miss this weekend for Louisville while being ultra aggressive. I don’t think he’s set up to hit for power, closing off that front foot, and looks to be a strong side of a platoon similar to Colin Moran. Henry Davis stood out while making consistent contact and understanding for the zone. He stole two based and threw out a runner while hitting the ball hard. I like that he turns the front foot over and it ends pointed towards the pitcher to not stop the force in the swing. Levi Usher had a good series, but the swing is stiff and looks Brad Miller like. I would like there to be some more fluidity and athleticism along with that front foot getting open to allow the power to play more.
There will be plenty of college baseball to be played and Gunnar Hoglund (right-handed pitcher from Ole Miss) looked to have a good game. He’s in that mix to go late first//early second being a command style of pitcher. Kevin Abel from Oregon State came off Tommy-John and pitched 4.1 striking out seven, walking and hitting four. The right-hander is likely a second or third round pick. This coming weekend should have some good games and chances to continue to watch more prospects.