Radar Love

SEBRING, Fla.–Somewhere in a smoky bar tonight someone will shout out “Golden Earring” and win a trivia contest. That’s the band that performed a popular song in the ’70s called “Radar Love”, and while the song was written about a man pressing on through a long road trip anticipating being reunited with his girl, it’s a perfect metaphor for scouting . . .

“I’ve been drivin’ all night, my hand’s wet on the wheel
There’s a voice in my head that drives my heel . . .
“When she’s lonely and the longing gets too much
She sends a cable comin’ in from above
We don’t need no phone at all
We’ve got a thing that’s called radar love
We’ve got a wave in the air, radar love” . . .

I hit the road for the Florida Athletic Coaches Association All-Star Baseball Classic hoping my own radar, albeit of the Stalker variety, would see some digits it hasn’t seen too often.

But instead, one thing became obvious: Florida’s high school class is marginal.

This was my first trip to Sebring. All I had heard about in years past was how electric many of the pitchers are and how important the weekend can be for the guys who step up, in terms of their draft stock. But while the event is run with class and professionalism (the FACA and Sebring Firemen’s Association do it just right), I picked the wrong year to be wowed.

“Every year, I’m telling you, you come in here and the guys who are throwing 88-91 all spring come in and get on that big mound and know they’ve got one or two innings to blow it out, and they will show you some (9)6s and 7s,” said a veteran area scout based in Florida. “We didn’t see any of that here this year. In fact, I think we saw guys throw slower than they had this spring.”

Now just because certain pitchers throw harder than usual doesn’t mean they instantly become first rounders, but it sure makes covering the event fun. And I know velocity is far from the most important factor among variables that go into evaluating a pitcher’s performance. But radar-gun readings are an easy way for a player to boost his stock.

What’s worse than the 88s my gun kept flashing is that the arm actions, breaking balls and deliveries weren’t very good either. Just three pitchers touched 93 or better: Michael Main of Deltona threw 96 last night, Tampa’s Nevin Griffith touched 94 but pitched at 91, and Orlando’s Jon Bachanov touched 93 once.

Other than the usual prospects like Main and Griffith, who came in as the top two pitchers in attendance and left the same way, two guys I liked, even though they didn’t come out blazing with their fastballs, were Port St. Lucie High righty Mike McGee and Merritt Island’s Taylor Jordan.
McGee is undersized, listed generously at 6 feet, 185 pounds, but he’s athletic, his arm works, and he’s got great mound presence. Too bad the number he apparently has floated for a signing bonus is $500,000. That could change, but as promising as he is, I don’t get the impression there are any teams that are ready to pour that into a 5-foot-11 righthander throwing 88-90 with limited projection. He’s signed at Florida State.
Jordan is bigger and has more projection, though his arm action isn’t as clean. There’s nothing there that is alarming, and with a 92 mph fastball and the makings of a usable breaking ball, I’d be willing to bet he pitched his way into the top six rounds with two easy, efficient innings of work this weekend.
Whether he signs for slot money there is a whole different story, of course. As one scouting director put it today, “Signabilities are at their all-time worst this year.”
The dollar amounts some of the players are floating as bonus demands are laughable, according to area scouts I talked to. I don’t have a dog in the fight. I love watching amateur baseball and am all for good players getting paid good money to sign. And from spending time on the road last summer and this spring, as well as logging hours interviewing scouts and college coaches, I think I have a pretty good idea of how good a lot of these players are. And I have a pretty good idea how optimistic some of their requests are.
I bring it up only because it’s a topic of conversation among every scout here, and when Baseball
America writes something positive about a player or ranks him on a list, and he winds up being drafted in the 47th round, or not at all, it’s usually because of signability or his college commitment, or both.

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