Jupiter - I was finally able to figure out how the JO Schedule is set and how it rotates, so I've become a lot more efficient in my scouting of the JO East. After spending all day at the "blue" portion of the Jupiter 4-plex on day 1, I was able to sit on 16-20 teams and get some good reports on that grouping. After a long day at the field, I checked the schedule last night and decided to spend the majority of my day Sunday at the Santaluces Complex to see a different group of 16-20 teams. I spent the majority of my day at the Santaluces complex today, and after I felt comfortable with the players that I saw over there, I decided to head back over to Roger Dean and see a new grouping of 16-20 in the late afternoon. I arrived just in time.
The Lance McCullers Show
As I walked up to the fields, I passed by the bullpen on my way to my typical spot behind home plate and a couple of pitchers were warming up to start their respective games. One pitcher was warming up alone, while the other pitcher in the bullpen was being watched by 4 of his teammates, and 3 parents. Top end prospects usually have the magnetic ability to have others flock to see them, so I figured the kid was either really talented, or really popular. I noticed it was Lance McCullers, who I had just saw at the week before at the Jr. National. McCullers was mostly 93-95mph at that event, and his stuff was even better today.
McCullers drew a small crowd behind home plate as he warmed up in the low 90s. McCuller sat 93-96mph once the game started, and bumped a 97 - a rude awakening for a Texas Stix team that had put up 17 runs in a game earlier in the tournament. McCuller's was on a 40-pitch pitch count and he got that done efficiently in 3 innings of work. He seemed a little animated and fired up today, perhaps feeding off of his coaching staff. His stuff is always very good, but it was particularly good today because he was all around the edges of the strike zone, he was aggressive, and he was just feeling it today. I live in Tampa, and McCullers attends Jesuit High in Tampa, so I've seen him throw a few times and I felt comfortable saying that this was the best I've seen him.
After mowing down hitters in inning 1 while pitching off of his low to mid 90s fastball, McCullers came up to bat in the bottom of the 1st with the table set for him. I was standing near the Texas Stix side so I could get some video footage of his at-bat, and I heard a few parents whispering if this was the kid that was pitching at the plate now. Parents usually don't recognize players from the other team until the end of the game, if at all. It was the bottom of the first, and McCullers already had the opposing fans knowing who he was. McCullers smoked a few pitches foul, and proceeded to launch a 3-run homerun to RF. At that moment, everyone at the field knew that they were witnessing something pretty special - even the opposing teams parents. I was able to get that homerun on video and I will try to post it when I can.
For those of us who are scouting the event, 14 hour days at the field usually yield players of all shapes and sizes. Pitching at 16U events (even the JO's) can have a lot of 78-80mph types. You'll also see a handful of mid to upper 80s guys. But seeing a guy live at 93-97mph, and then be a force on the offensive end is pretty special.
McCullers returned to the mound during inning number 2 and warmed up again in the low 90s. The batters due up next stood in the on deck circle realized that the guy on the mound was bringing it, and they took aggressive swings in an attempt to time him up. But McCullers had a new strategy this inning. McCullers, who pitched off of his fastball in inning one, spun his plus breaking ball 6 or 7 times over the next 11 pitches and just mowed them down again. His curveball was in the 80-83mph range, it was obviously very sharp, it was down in the zone, and it was just not fair. He added a filthy 82mph changeup that had one kid finish his swing before the ball even hit the catcher's glove.
There were a few players from other teams that trickled over to watch - two in particular were standing right behind me as they watched in awe of McCullers. One said to the other, "It's just really discouraging that this kid throws his curveball harder than I throw my fastball."
Ladies and gentlemen, the Lance McCullers Show.
I will be back tomorrow with a report from day 3.