In a draft where Stephen Strasburg is a clear No. 1 but no one is established as the surefire No. 2 prospect, righthanders Aaron Crow and Tanner Scheppers got their first opportunities to convince scouts that they should be part of the conversation.
Both were premium prospects in last year’s draft who didn’t sign, and now they’re trying to boost their stock for this year’s draft by pitching for independent minor league teams. They saw their first action in exhibition games on Monday.
Scheppers made the stronger opening statement in the independent American Association, where he’s pitching for the St. Paul Saints. He struck out the side in the first and worked four hitless innings, striking out six and walking four, against the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks. He sat at 94-95 mph for much of the outing, touched 97 and 98 and broke off several hard-biting curveballs, getting a couple of called third strikes with the curve. He flashed his changeup, but mainly stuck with the breaking ball/fastball combo.
"Last night when you watched him, it was this nice and easy delivery, and then it comes out at 95 mph," St. Paul manager George Tsamis said.
Scheppers was throwing on the one-year anniversary of his last live game action. As a junior at Fresno State, he was shut down last May with a shoulder injury. He showed little signs of rust, as he generally located his pitches, although he nibbled a little in the second inning which led to some of the walks.
The goal for Scheppers was simply to get four innings of work. He was efficient, thanks in part to a pair of double plays, and needed just 54 pitches to get his four innings in. He’s scheduled to return to the mound on May 10 against Winnipeg, with a plan of getting five innings of work. He’ll make his first official outing of the season on May 16 against Sioux Falls.
Crow, who is pitching for the Fort Worth Cats, was on a tighter leash (40 pitches) and did less with his pitches, going into several deep counts that kept him from getting out of the second inning. Crow lasted 1 2/3 innings, giving up three hits and three runs (only one of which was earned) with three strikeouts.
The Cats did not have a radar gun on Crow, but Fort Worth manager Chad Tredaway said he was told Crow sat at 92 mph and touched 97. He also showed his plus slider at times.
"He was working his slider pretty good," Tredaway said."He left the ball up every now and then because he was rusty."
Crow may have relied on the slider a little too and struggled to locate it, which led to lots of deep counts. According to Cats pitching coach James Frisbie, Crow also may have been too pumped up last night.
"He’d get ahead on his fastball, go offspeed, and he wasn’t as good with his command of it. He’d then overthrow his fastball at times," Frisbie said. "He had to work full counts a lot, which got his pitch count up. He can pitch. He competes really well."
This isn’t the first time Frisbie has worked with an independent leaguer who was drawing a lot of notice from scouts. Two years ago as manager of the Bradenton Juice in the independent South Coast League (which has since folded), he coached righthander Tim Bascom, who became a fourth-round pick of the Orioles.
Crow will go again on May 9, followed by the start of the regular season on May 15 against Grand Prairie. He’ll be back on a 40-45 pitch count for his next outing and is expected to stretch out to 50-60 pitches for the season opener.
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