It's a trip many a scouting director will make this spring, a journey down the West Coast to see some of the best high school talent this Draft class has to offer.
Last week was a perfect example, when over the course of a few days, a scout could hustle to see Brady Aiken in Southern California on Tuesday, run up north to see Jacob Gatewood in Fresno on Wednesday, then scoot back down south to watch Alex Jackson in action on Thursday.
Aiken, No. 9 on the MLB.com Draft Top 50, has already created some early buzz by coming out of the chute throwing well, especially in terms of velocity. He's yet to get completely stretched out, starting with a short relief outing, but on Tuesday, he did get through four innings. Aiken struck out eight and allowed just one hit and one walk in the outing.
"He hasn't pitched a full game yet," a scouting director said. "But he has a plus fastball and a plus curveball. Those are two good things to start with, especially coming from a 6-foot-5 left-hander."
Aiken has been cranking it up to 96-97 mph at times in these shorter outings, though the scouting director noted that having him sit 91-93 mph with better fastball command and that plus curve over a full game might be something teams would rather see.
Many scouts went north to watch Gatewood, the prep shortstop ranked No. 7. While Gatewood has considerable raw tools, most notably his power, there have been some concerns raised about his ability to hit enough to tap into that power, which has gotten a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. There's also the question -- largely because of his size -- of whether he'll be able to play shortstop, but that's something one scouting director said you can get lost worrying about at this juncture.
"You could go in there and focus on whether he's a shortstop and lose perspective of what he could be at the next level," the director said. "He has big-time raw power; his BP is pretty electric. There have been guys like that in the past, and they went out and became stars. We need to see him play more."
After Gatewood's game, it was time for the trek back south to see Jackson. The No. 3 prospect on the Top 50, Jackson went 3-for-5 on Thursday with a double, triple and home run for Rancho Bernardo High School. It's no surprise that he's off to a good start with the bat. Few question Jackson's ability to be an offensive player at the next level. The question that some will want to try to answer before the Draft: Can he stay behind the plate?
"He's a good hitter," the scouting director said. "Is he a catcher? I'm still unsure."
Injuries can change Draft landscape in a snap
It's an unavoidable occurrence, both among potential draftees and across baseball: Best laid plans change because of injury.
This early spring is no different, with several potential Draft prospects having already landed on the shelf. There have been maladies of all different shapes and sizes. Here are updates on four intriguing Draft prospects.
Mac Marshall, ranked No. 34 on MLB.com's Top 50 Draft Prospects list put out last fall, is considered one of the better high school left-handers in the class. The Georgia high schooler was dealing with an ankle sprain early on, but even though he was pitching with a brace, that seemed to have no ill effects, as he struck out 12 two Fridays ago and 10 this past Friday with a fastball that touched 93 mph and a solid-average breaking ball.
Derek Fisher came in at No. 15 on that Top 50, the third-highest-ranked college hitter on the list. The University of Virginia outfielder is out four to six weeks after breaking the hamate bone in his right hand against Duke the weekend of March 8. Keep in mind, once Fisher is back, it often takes those with this injury a while to get their power stroke back.
"There probably have been a lot of guys who've seen him already," one cross-checker said about how this will impact Fisher, Draft-wise. "The clubs that feel really comfortable with him could see it as a bonus. Those that haven't might be chasing their tails."
Colorado high school lefty David Peterson is hoping to be back on the mound at some point pre-Draft. The nearly 6-foot-7 southpaw from Regis High School suffered a broken fibula in his right leg and had surgery to put in a stainless-steel plate and nine screws two weeks ago. Peterson is currently in a boot and is only restricted by what he can tolerate, pain-wise. He's hoping to possibly pitch in the postseason at the end of the spring, though getting healthy will be his first order of business.
Chad Sobotka, from the University of South Carolina-Upstate, will not pitch this season thanks to a fractured vertebra in his back. He'll make a full recovery, but not in time to pitch collegiate ball this spring. Upstate head coach Matt Fincher didn't sound like a guy who expected to have his ace back for another year.
"He's a professional-quality pitcher who's going to be ready to go, in my opinion, though that'll be a discussion he and his family will have," Fincher said. "Obviously, we'd love to have him back. But I'm appreciative with the way he's handled himself in this program. I want whatever he wants. He's thrown in our tightest situations the last two years, so he has good collegiate experience at this level. It might be time for him to go out and see what he can do."
Big Draft names face off, draw big crowds
A large majority of scouts, especially directors and cross-checkers, were in one of two locations on Friday. If they weren't in Nashville, Tenn., they were in Tallahassee, Fla., thanks to two marquee pitching matchups.
Vanderbilt hosted LSU this past weekend, which for college baseball fans was more than enough. For the scouting industry, seeing Tyler Beede face Aaron Nola on Friday night was huge, and it lived up to advanced billing.
While Nola finally gave up a run, in the second inning, to end his streak of consecutive innings of not allowing an earned run at 54, he struck out 12 in 6 2/3 innings. Beede, ranked No. 6 compared to Nola's No. 10 ranking on the MLB.com Draft Top 50, wasn't exactly shaky, either. The Vandy ace went 7 1/3 innings, allowing just three hits and a walk while striking out seven. The two unearned runs he allowed, though, saddled him with the loss.
The N.C. State and Florida State series allowed for a contrast in styles, with hard-throwing No. 1 prospect Carlos Rodon taking the ball against command specialist Luke Weaver. It was Weaver, FSU's ace, who got the win, allowing a run on seven hits over 6 1/3 innings. Rodon struck out 12 in 6 2/3, but he gave up a pair of runs on five hits and four walks.
"Rodon wasn't sharp, but overpowered FSU hitters," one cross-checker said. "Weaver was the normal Weaver. His stuff was good, but his guts and pitchability were better."
Weaver, ranked No. 23, was at 90-94 mph with his fastball, and sat at 92, while mixing in his slider and changeup well, as usual. Rodon was also in the 90-94 range, though clearly struggled commanding it. As the front-runner to be the top pick in the Draft, the lefty is going to be picked apart, but while there is some quiet concern about his so-so start to the year, there haven't been alarms going off.
"I don't see panic yet, but it would be nice to see him step up some," the cross-checker said, admitting that Rodon started slowly last year and turned it on in the second half of the season, "It looks like he goes through the motions at times."
Often, scouts don't get to see pitchers in this kind of setting until later in the year, perhaps not even until conference tournament or postseason play. Getting looks at some of the top college arms in matchups like these in mid-March gives the industry an early indication of what these pitchers can bring to the table when the bright lights are on.
"I think they're great," the cross-checker said. "It shows the competitiveness they have."