Lakeland, FL - Whenever you hear East Coast Professional Baseball Showcase veterans reminisce of great batting practice sessions, there’s one year and one team that always comes up.
Back in the summer of 2001, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays sponsored the ECPBS team that represented prospects from South and Central Florida and they took a BP for the ages. Future big leaguers Prince Fielder, Elijah Dukes, and even speedy leadoff hitter Denard Span hit a series of bombs at UNC-Wilmington and first-round sandwich pick Brian Dopirak might have hit them the farthest of them all. I remember someone telling me they counted 18 or 19 home runs among the quartet that day.
There was nothing to that extent in 2010, but after watching all six ECPBS teams take BP on Sunday, I believe I saw collectively more raw power and big league swings than I have in any of the other nine ECPBS events I’ve attended dating back to 1999.
The event has improved every year. Even after attending the Perfect Game National and the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars, I always find a number of top prospects at the East Coast Pro that I’d never heard of and who end up going high in the draft. Though there are a handful of political picks, the bulk of the players are draftable talents and high Division I recruits. The scouts have done a great job digging up the top players from their regions and it was never more evident than from watching BP on Sunday.
A couple of catchers who jump out quickly for their bats are Orlando Hagerty High’s Tyler Marlette and Cam Gallagher from Manheim Township (PA) HS. Both have big league average bat-speed and raw power right now. While Gallagher is a big, strong, physically developed 6’2”, 220, Marlette is only about 5’10” which makes his power almost mysterious. Marlette has a legitimate plus arm and plus athleticism behind the plate as well, and the only thing that might keep him from an early pick is the fact there’s not much projection on his body. Gallagher’s game and infield workout was rained out on Sunday, but I’ve seen a solid-average major league arm on him and his bat shows up against good live competition.
Perhaps the most “fun to watch” batting practice was that taken by Nicholas “Boo” Vazquez from the Midwest-based Athletics. Hailing from Cardinal Mooney HS in Youngstown, Ohio, Vazquez is a big, rangy (6’4”, 210 lb) lefthanded hitter who absolutely murders the ball. There’s nothing but aggression in his swing and in his hip rotation. Though he has all kinds of uncoiling movement with his hands, all the power went straight into the ball. Few hit the ball as hard as Vazquez and his bat-speed grades out above-average on a big league scale already. He’ll be interesting to watch in his next three games, I saw him square one ball hard in game one.
On the Georgia/North Florida-based Astros team, infielder Javier Baez (Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville, FL) showed the quickest hands of any hitter and solid-average big league bat-speed. He looks like he’ll be able to hit any fastball thrown into his kitchen, though the upper-plane on Baez’s swing leads him to get under a lot of balls. He’s an athletically proportioned 6’0”, 180 lbs, and I think he’ll grow into over-the-fence power.
On the same team, from McIntosh HS in suburban Atlanta, is outfielder Dwight Smith who is the son of the former big leaguer by the same name. Smith is “only” 5’11”, but very strong, especially in his torso and forearms, and can really bring the bat around from the left side. I like the way he loads his swing and he has the juice to become a good big league hitter one day. Smith’s father was a notorious low-ball hitter and I think the younger Dwight will have better plate coverage.
There are many more strong swings and hitters with “big league run producer” potential, but I’ll just mention one more because he’s quite the curiosity. First baseman Dan Vogelbach (Bishop Verot HS in Fort Myers, FL) hits scalding line drives and is one of the nation’s most disciplined hitters. I’ve seen him turn around mid-90s fastballs and I’ve seen him handle average breaking balls as well. Vogelbach’s other tools and his body-type (5’11”, 270 lbs) are certainly concerns for scouts. He’s worked hard to keep his weight down, but Vogelbach will always be a big man. The Prince Fielder comparisons are inevitable for the scouts who like him, but those who don’t will call him a future softball star.
They did get in three games on Sunday and I’ll report more on game action as the event goes on. Of most notoriety Sunday, lefty Daniel Norris (Science Hill HS, TN) threw three innings to start the first game for the Athletics. Though he wasn’t particularly effective, the lively 90-94 MPH fastball and hard-breaking 73-76 MPH curve were there again. Norris might have been throwing to the radar gun because he was particularly wild on the arm-side corner of the plate. Norris is very athletic with a quick, easy arm, and I suspect the 6’1”, 180 pounder to be a strong candidate for the early first round next June.
There were a number of other pitchers who struggled with control, seemingly throwing for the radar gun, as you often see at events like these.
The Diamondbacks, representing the Carolinas and Virginia, had two lefties who looked like high picks. Jake Cave (Kecoughtan HS, VA) is 6’1”, 180, and threw 90-93 MPH consistently on a downward plane. His arm works well and he’s fairly athletic, but Cave collapses his back leg during his delivery and that makes it hard to get on top of a curve.
I’ve spoken in previous articles of the banner year North Carolina is going to have at the high school level and you can add another name to their list. Lefty Carlos Rodon from Holly Springs HS threw a running and tailing 89-92 MPH fastball and a high-70s curve that was at times big league average. He’s a sturdy 6’2”, 212 lbs, and an average athlete for a big league pitcher. Rodon’s delivery and arm-action will work okay though they’re not particularly loose or easy.
Check back for daily reports the next three days for what should be an exciting event with loads of future draft picks and hopefully future major league stars.