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Scouting the Cal-Carolina League All-Star Pitchers

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June 24, 2009

A funny thing happened Tuesday night: I went to an A-ball game and actually saw some guys who might pitch in the big leagues one day.

When one of these games goes 10 innings and features 25 strikeouts, it’s safe to say that either the wind was blowing in or the pitchers were throwing somewhat controlled smoke — or perhaps a combination of both.

Baseball Beginnings scouted the California-Carolina League All-Star game Tuesday night at Lake Elsinore. We were in the house at 2 p.m., we believe before any pro scouts were in the joint. We collected several interviews, most notably with Giants prospect Buster Posey, Royals prospect Mike Moustakas and Braves prospect Cody Johnson.

We’ll get to those stories in the coming days, but before they kick me out of the press box and make me hop the barbed-wire fence, I have to report what mattered most Tuesday night, the pitching. Read the story after the jump, and I hope that wearing shorts today wasn’t a bad idea. (Ah, the joys of online digital journalism as opposed to print. Personality plays!)

The best arms were seen on the Carolina League roster, where left-hander Daniel Duffy (Wilmington/Royals) had the best complete prospect package on either team’s mound. Duffy, a third-round pick in 2007 from Cabrillo High in Lompoc, is listed at 6-2 but looks taller on the mound with long legs and arms combined with a straight and clean over-the-top delivery. His body type and delivery combine to make him look larger on the mound than he really is, and the downhill plane he generates is going to be a legitimate weapon for him as he advances.

Duffy threw the sixth inning and gave a fastball that started at 88-91 and then quickly gained steam. He bumped up to 91-92 and topped at 96 on the fastest gun. His best fastballs worked with late life and glove-side movement. His slider at 88 is a tangible breaking ball for him at the faster levels, but his curveball will need work based on this look. He touched 71 with his curveball, which had some bite but will need more as he advances.

Left-hander Eric Berger (Kinston/Indians) from the University of Arizona, pitched at 88-92 in his one inning, averaging at 90 with natural arm-side sink, his best weapon. His primary off-speed pitch in this look was a 76 slider, with a look at a 76 change-up. He has a long way to go, but he showed how he could be the kind of pitcher to perform above what his physical grades would allow and could develop into a crafty middle of the rotation starter. He has too many things going for him to shove him in the bullpen as a pure lefty-lefty arm, but his lack of physicality (Berger is listed at 6-2, 205) will have to be overcome. He has some stuff to work with and the question is if it will be enough. His command and control may allow him to achieve this, with both skills warranting at least a 50 future grade. At the very worst this pitcher has organizational value and is worth holding for depth.

One interesting arm is right-hander Ryne Miller (Salem/Red Sox), who was signed as a non-drafted free agent in July, 2007. Miller has the frame (6-4, 230) and Texas pedigree (Odessa is listed as his hometown), but he won’t destroy a radar gun. However, that doesn’t automatically knock him out of a potential big league glimpse. He showed some pitch-ability with his fastball at 88-91 with a bump to 92. His change-up at 79 is what will get him to Boston if it’s going to happen. He struck out five in his two-inning look, pitching with command and control that might project to about the 55 range if you really like him. If nothing else, Miller will have very good organizational value for the Red Sox and provide depth. He won’t be an impact arm, but he is talented enough to one day find a way to contribute modestly at the big league level. He’s an older pitcher for his level, at 24, which doesn’t bode well.

Alexander Torres (Rancho Cucumonga/Angels) is the little guy with the big arm and was the best left-handed prospect the California League had to offer. A slight Venezuelan listed at just 5-10 and 185, he has a limber body with above-average arm speed. He pitched at 91-93, with the left-hander hitting 95 with sink and life. He was effective at a maximum velocity of 93, with glove-side tail. Throwing from a ¾ arm slot, he has the makings of the curveball he’ll need at the major league level, but the pitch needs work. His curveball in his inning wasn’t major league quality. It was too slushy for the big leagues and not as sharp as it needs to be. Regardless, Torres, 22, will need to prove that his slight frame is durable enough to withstand the rigors of 180 innings. More likely, with his raw stuff and makings of a second pitch but not a third, he profiles best as a Scioscia-preferred power set-up bullpen arm in Anaheim in the coming years and should be regarded as a definite prospect. He was the best pure power arm I wrote up tonight.

Lake Elsinore right-hander Jeremy McBryde (Padres), signed as a non-drafted junior college pitcher from Rose State in Oklahoma, is another Cal League starter who profiles as bullpen help. Pitching at 91 with a bump to 94, his slight stature (6-2) but husky body type (220 pounds) gives him the look of a power arm out of the pen. He dropped in a change-up as his primary off-speed pitch at 77-84. His aggressive, fast repeat, ¾ arm slot delivery make him better suited for a bullpen role. He might be the best right-handed closer candidate from this game. His average body will scare some teams away, but his stuff could play at the major league level at some point if he can master some consistency.

Starter Cory Luebke of Lake Elsinore (Padres) is a former Ohio State pitcher who was a first-round supplemental pick in 2007. He showed the raw makings of a No. 2 or No. 3 left-handed starter, but will need to improve upon both command and control. He would have been hit had he been pitching for the Padres in Dodger Stadium Tuesday night. Instead he snuck by with below-average command and control against the Carolina League kids.

Luebke worked his fastball into an 88-90 range with a bump to 92, but don’t expect a power arm immediately. Listed at 6-4 and 200 pounds, he’s a definite prospect because he can hit the low 90s from the left side and he has a durable frame. But at age 24 and in his third year of pro ball, he should be more consistent than this.

From the right side, Lake Elsinore’s Wynn Pelzer won’t turn on every organization because of his modest 6-1, 205, frame and funky arm action. But Pelzer, who played at the University of South Carolina, is an above-average athlete with athletic actions on the mound. He showed the ability to be a fifth infielder by cutting off a slow roller to his right to throw a jammed batter out. On a JUGS gun, Pelzer hit 96 with a fastball located on the outside corner.

This begs the question: if Pelzer really can put 96 exactly where he wants it, what the hell is he doing in the Cal League?

Pelzer’s second pitch is a possible put-away slider, which has the makings of a hard 88 mph offering. One knock Pelzer will have to deal with is that he is a max effort pitcher. His body type doesn’t remind one of Tom Gordon, but the Padres’ prospect does remind one of Gordon in the sense that he’s little, throws hard, and is a better athlete than a lot of pitchers. Pelzer will have to basically shove the ball up front office types to prove he belongs. He’s not a definite, but he is an average prospect to be sure.

Left-hander Pat McAnaney, an Arizona Diamondbacks’ 8th round-pick in 2008 from the University of Virginia, was in the right place at the right time to find a win. A starter clearly slated as long man for this game, McAnaney won’t destroy you with velocity, but his command and control skills both project to 60 grades at the major league level if you really like him.

The problem with these crafty, durable, reliable and hard-working left-handers is that is the command and control is slightly off on any given night, it will hard to compensate at the big league level, much less the Cal League level. That single in Elsinore is a 400-foot folly in the big leagues.

McAnaney pitched with his fastball at 86-88 and his best pitch stuff wise is his 77-81 slider with major league bite. McAnaney will live and die with that slider for now, but he’s going to need a third pitch to survive in the big leagues. He takes a little off that slider to throw a slushy little 77 mph slurve for strikes, but it needs to be better for him to succeed at the higher levels. In the best case scenario, he’s got the makings of a reliable back-of-the-rotation big league starter and has the durable frame (6-3, 185) to make it work. He has a very easy and loose arm action and he gets downhill plane, but it’s his precision that will make a mark.

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