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A Wednesday Scouting Notebook – 4/21/2021

Prospect writers Kevin Goldstein and Eric Longenhagen will sometimes have enough player notes to compile a scouting post. This is one of those dispatches, a collection of thoughts after another weekend of college baseball, minor league spring training, and big league action. Remember, prospect rankings can be found on The Board.

Editor’s Note: This piece originally incorrectly stated Cole Winn had had a Tommy John surgery. It has been removed. FanGraphs regrets the error.

Eric’s Notes

Chase Walter, RHP, San Diego Padres

Most of the teams that ended up signing several non-drafted free agents for $ 20,000 bonuses last year were the ones with thinner farm systems, like the Reds or Nationals. But the Padres inked several as well, and the first one to pop up and look like a real steal, at least for me, is Western Carolina signee Chase Walter. Walter sat 96-98 out of the bullpen in a minor league spring training game late last week. His breaking ball shape varied pretty significantly, looking like a lateral slider sometimes and a power overhand curveball at others. Regardless of its shape, Walter’s breaking ball bent in at 84-87, and the ones that had more of a curveball look to them were plus. He looks like a potential quick-moving relief piece.

Asa Lacy, LHP, Kansas City Royals

Lacy’s first career pro outing against hitters from another org lasted two innings (the second of which was rolled), and was more of a check-in to see where he’s at rather than a look that should alter anyone’s opinion of him. I went into this look knowing that some scouts had seen him throw a live BP about a week and a half earlier and that Lacy was pretty wild during that outing, which is totally fine considering he’s just getting going for the year. He was a little wild in my look, too, and to my eye seemed to have a noticeably lower arm slot while throwing some of his sliders, even during warm-ups.

Lacy came out sitting 94-96 in his first inning of work and then was 95-98 in the second. He doesn’t need to have precise fastball command because his is the sort of fastball that has huge carry and can compete for swings and misses in the zone. Maybe it’s because of the arm slot variation stuff, or because it’s a developmental focus for him, or just because Lacy faced so many right-handed batters, but he ended up throwing many more changeups than anything else during this outing. They were often in the 85-88 mph range and some of them were quite good, while others were not. He broke off a single plus curveball (his curves were about 80-81) that froze a righty hitter and landed in the zone for a strike, while Lacy’s sliders (86-ish) often missed well below the zone but still garnered some awkward swings.

So long as you’re willing to chalk the command issues up to it simply being early (I am), Lacy looked every bit like the No. 2 overall pick in a draft. He has elite left-handed velocity, two plus breaking balls, and a viable changeup that he has feel for locating competitively. If his command issues persist, he may merely be similar to Blake Snell.

Cole Winn, RHP, Texas Rangers

Winn looked fantastic on Monday when he sat 93-95 while locating all four of his pitches. Most of his sliders were below average but they play when located. Aside from that, all of Winn’s pitches were above-average. He threw several right-on-right changeups, his fastball sat 94-95, and the heater plays really well with his 12-to-6 snapdragon curveball, which flashed plus. Based on how Winn looked this week he’s still someone who has talent on par with a draft pick in the 10-to-15 range. For instance, I think I’d take him over Ole Miss righty Gunnar Hoglund, who’ll probably be drafted in the middle of the first round later this year.

Brendan Beck, RHP, Stanford: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 8 K

The younger brother of Giants prospect Tristan Beck, Brendan is a fourth-year junior (because of his extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic) at Stanford who has amassed a 3.22 career ERA against mostly Pac-12 hitters. This year, he’s struck out 61 and walked just 13 hitters in 48.2 innings as of publication, and I think it’s instructive to readers to map his college performance to his stuff so they can get a feel for what a sort of stuff produces numbers like that in a big conference. In my look at Beck on Friday night against Arizona State, he sat mostly 91-92, touched 94 a handful of times, and commanded both his two- and four-seamers.

Beck has a four-pitch mix headlined by his curveball. It only sits about 74-77 mph but has good depth and bite, commensurate with an average big league curveball. It operates best as a first-pitch strike. The pitch Beck uses most often, though, is his low-80s slider. Purely on stuff I put a 30 on Beck’s slid piece, but he has such fantastic glove-side command of it that it will play better than that. His plus command of the slider and his below-average, mid-80s changeup to his glove- and arm-side respectively are the reason he’s performed so well as a collegiate player. He’s a late Day Two prospect who projects as rotation depth.

Max Ferguson, 2B, Tennessee Volunteers: 1-for-11, HR, 0 BB, 5 K

Ferguson entered the year as a 45+ FV on The Board, ranked in the top 15. After his raucous start to the shortened 2020 season and the way he looked during Tennessee’s fall practices, teams had him in that range. He has flopped this year, hitting .238 overall and worse than that against SEC competition. He looks passive at the plate and physically weaker than he did a year ago. There’s still a lot I like about Ferguson: he’s an athletic lefty stick and plus defender at second base. I think he’s become an interesting draft day buy-low if teams think they can actually get him in a weight room and make him stronger, but it isn’t as if Tennessee lacks for a world class athletics facility for him to use already. His face plant has been frustrating but I still think I’d take him over some of the flawed big conference corner bats who are performing on paper, guys whose triple slash lines look good but whose K/BB rates are kind of scary.

Kevin’s Notes

Akil Baddoo, OF, Tigers: 0-for-7, 5 Ks

Baddoo was a wonderful story for the first 10 days of the season, as the Rule 5 pick flirted with a 1.500 OPS, playing with a real joie de vivre and hitting a home run in front of his family. It was one of the best highlights of the early going. Now the league has figured him out a bit, and in his last four games, he’s gone 1-for-15 with 10 strikeouts. A 40% strikeout rate and a 159 wRC+ are not a sustainable combination. Pitchers can be stubborn with rookies, wanting to just throw them fastballs, but Baddoo can hit fastballs. Offspeed stuff, though? That’s another story and that’s what Baddoo is suddenly getting served a steady diet of. He remains an intriguing player with plus power, plus speed, and a good approach all wrapped around a highly questionable hit tool. Entering the season, Baddoo was a career .249 hitter in the minors without having reached the upper levels yet. It was right there in front of us. Players sometimes do change, sometimes spectacularly so, but for the most part they spend years telling us what they are. Usually the best advice is to listen.

Tyler Black, 2B, Wright State: 5-for-11, 2B, 4 BB, K

Here’s your small school helium guy for 2021. A product of Canada who also excelled in hockey as a youth, Black was the Horizon Conference Freshman of the Year in 2019 while hitting .353/.495/.600, but a lowly .710 OPS in a greatly abbreviated 2020 sophomore campaign left him a question mark entering the spring. He’s answered in resounding fashion, with a .365/.495/.694 line for the Raiders, quickly establishing himself as one of the more interesting college bats in the 2021 class. He’s not a big tools guy, with average defense at second base and an average run tool, but he has a phenomenal approach at the plate, decent contact skills and flashes sneaky power. There are some early whispers that he could go as high as the comp round come July, but that feels aggressive as the total package reminds some of a more physical version of Tyler Frank, the Florida Atlantic product who was selected in the second round of the 2018 draft by the Rays, and ranked No. 38 in a very deep Rays system entering the year.

Jazz Chisholm, SS, Marlins: 5-for-9, HR, 2 BB, 2 K

I had my concerns about Chisholm entering the year. Yes, the tools were massive, but boy was the swing-and-miss alarming. His last full season was at Double-A and featured a .220 batting average with a 32% strikeout rate, which spoke to real potential troubles with the hit tool. On the positive side of things were 21 home runs, 16 stolen bases in 20 attempts, a solid walk rate and plus defense. Fast forward to 2021, and he’s been one of the most electrifying players in the game this year, with much of it revolving around an approach that has gone from good to very good; his chase rate is down nearly 25% from his 2020 debut. There are still concerns here, primarily an in-zone contact rate under the 80% mark (75.4%), but tools and walks sure can make up for a lot. I’m not ready to admit I’m wrong about Chisholm, but that day might be fast approaching.

Colton Cowser, OF, Sam Houston State: 5-for-14, 2B, 5 BB, K, 3 SB

Cowser was one of the few hitters in the 2021 draft who was seen as a known quantity entering the season. He hit during his two college years, he hit for Team USA, and if there’s some kind of untracked beer league he played in during the pandemic, you can bet he hit there as well. And hitting is exactly what he’s done this year, as with another strong weekend, his season line sits at .351/.486/.730 in 31 games for the Bearkats. While Cowser’s power took the weekend off, scouts where encouraged by the consistent hard contact he made after he’d scuffled with some early-season swing-and-miss caused by what looked like a bit of rustiness.

Cowser’s primary appeal comes from what he does from the left side of the plate. He understands the strike zone well, has a downright pretty swing, and has seen his raw power grow from average to plus during his college career. Cowser’s other tools aren’t exceptionally loud, but there’s nothing below-average to his game either. He has a solid arm and decent wheels, and while he’s playing center field as an amateur and will likely be sent out there to begin his pro career, most see an eventual home in right field. This is a safe first-round pick, a rare quantity in 2021, who should land somewhere in the teens, and could be the perfect candidate for a team looking to save money with an earlier selection as well.

Jack Leiter, RHP, Vanderbilt: 6.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 10 K

It might sound a little strange, but this is the kind of outing scouts want to see to help them in their evaluation of Leiter. It’s hard to walk away from a no-hitter with anything other than, “Yeah, he’s awesome.” Scouts want to see what happens when a pitcher struggles. How he adjusts when he’s missing part of his game. A mere quality start is probably the worst we are going to get this spring from Leiter, and scouts liked what they saw. After dealing with some traffic in the each of the first three innings as he struggled with his command against Tennessee on Saturday, Leiter gave up back-to-back home runs in the fourth. Then he followed that up by retiring the last seven hitters he faced, five by strikeout. Scouts finally got the chance to see Leiter need to respond to something, and he passed the test with flying colors. The statistics on the year remain nothing short of astonishing, with just 17 hits allowed over 55.1 innings and 94 strikeouts, but it’s an outing like this one, below-average by Leiter’s standards, that in a weird way helps to cement his standing as the top prospect in the draft.


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