VIERA, Fla.–An update on a pair of low minors games between the Tigers and Nationals and a major league game between the Braves and Nationals, in consultation with other talent evaluators:
The Tigers went well over slot to sign fifth-round lefthander Casey Crosby out of an Illinois high school in 2007, only to have him succumb to Tommy John surgery and miss all but 4 2/3 innings of the 2008 season. The good news for Crosby is that his stuff appears to have returned, as he threw a fastball that sat at 90-95 mph and touched 96 on Wednesday. Crosby showed a promising 77-80 mph curveball, an occasional swing-and-miss pitch that helped him catch several hitters off balance. He was able to locate his curveball for strikes, mixing the pitch against both lefties and righties.
Crosby got hit around though, as his fastball didn’t appear to have much movement. He didn’t use his 82-85 mph changeup much until his final inning of work, and when he did throw it he struggled to locate the pitch.
For the Nationals, right fielder Michael Burgess is only 5-foot-11, but the 20-year-old has excellent strength and makes loud contact every time he hits the ball. The problem is the frequency with which he does make contact. Burgess struck out in 30 percent of his plate appearances–136 strikeouts in 460 PAs–last year with low Class A Hagerstown. Players who strike out 30 percent of the time in low Class A historically tend not to make good big leaguers. He has good bat speed and power, but his swing gets long and leads to a high number of strikeouts.
Anything I write here about outfielder Destin Hood would only be copying Aaron Fitt’s scouting report on the Nationals’ No. 7 prospect. Hood showed everything in the scouting report: he’s an excellent athlete with good bat speed who is still relatively raw. He has tools and let the ball travel deep in the zone for a line-drive single to center field, but he also got too aggressive chasing high fastballs out of the strike zone.
The Nationals signed left fielder J.P. Ramirez last year for $1 million as a 15th-rounder. Ramirez has a beautiful, balanced swing from the left side, which he showed with a home run over the right-center field fence. He also swung over the top of a pair of offspeed pitches in one at-bat for the strikeout, though scouts praise Ramirez for his pure hitting ability.
After taking in the minor league games on the back fields at the Nationals’ minor league complex during the afternoon, I headed into Space Coast Stadium for the major league game between Atlanta and Washington.
Nationals righthander Collin Balester, the organization’s former No. 1 prospect and blogger extraordinaire, gave up two runs in five innings. Balester didn’t issue any walks, but he also didn’t strike anyone out. Balester has never had a high strikeout rate–his minor league rate is 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings–even though he has a fastball up to 94 mph and a good curveball.
On Wednesday Balester’s fastball sat at 92-93 mph in the first inning before settling in at 90-92 mph the rest of the way, at which point he became more hittable. Balester flashed a good 75-76 mph curveball, and the only time I saw him use his changeup the pitch bounced off of Chipper Jones’ bat and landed for a home run.
Atlanta’s Kenshin Kawakami technically fits Baseball America’s definition of a prospect–he has yet to exceed 50 major league innings–but the 33-year-old Japanese righthander was already a well-established pitcher in Japan before signing with the Braves in January. Kawakami allowed one hit and one run in five innings, walking two and striking out three. Kawakami’s stuff is solid, but he stands out more with his feel for pitching. His fastball parked at 88-89 mph, touching 91. He didn’t appear to throw (or need) much of a changeup, as he was able to throw a slow but sharp-breaking curveball to both righties and lefties for strikes.
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman didn’t play, but he put on an impressive display in batting practice. Freeman is a top 100 prospect (No. 87 overall), but I still think he might be underrated after hitting .316/.378/.521 as an 18-year-old last year with low Class A Rome.
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