LOS ANGELES—On a sunny and windy Tuesday afternoon in Riverside, 60 scouts watched intently as top prospects Matt Hobgood of Norco High faced Jake Marisnick of Riverside Poly High.
A 6-foot-4, 245-pound righthanded pitcher, Hobgood resembles a young Rich Gossage, sans the walrus moustache. Hobgood is BA's No. 22 high school prospect. Ranked just above him at No. 21, Marisnick is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound outfielder that bats and throws righthanded. Many scouts have compared Marisnick's tools to those of Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur.
With his first delivery of the game, Hobgood attempted to invent a new pitch. An 85 mph something or other flew out of his hand, befuddling all scouts in attendance. After an awkward pause, several scouts were heard to ask, "What was that?" In most of the queries, a familiar colloquial two-word phrase was placed between "what" and "was". One scout was kinder and more charitable: "It looked a little funny coming out of his hand."
The remainder of Hobgood's pitches were easier to decipher but difficult to hit. He efficiently brushed aside a strong Poly lineup by tossing a complete game shutout as Norco won, 7-0. Hobgood allowed three hits, walked one, and struck out seven.
Hobgood has electric raw stuff. His fastball exhibits plus velocity, ranging from 90-94 mph. His 78-81 curveball displays sharp and hard break. Despite being rarely used, his 80 mph changeup and 83 mph slider are also promising.
Showing the potential to be a starter at the professional level, Hobgood comfortably fired 92-94 mph aspirin tablets in the fifth inning.
Strong on the basics, Hobgood will need to improve on the details. His fastball is easy for a hitter to see coming out of his hand and it is straight with little movement. No one would deny that Hobgood's curve has sharp break; however, it rarely finds the strike zone. Savvy pro hitters will simply refuse to chase the curve, let it go by, and then get ahead in the count and look for the heater.
Hobgood's mechanics are significantly better than the usual horror show scouts are forced to observe in high school pitchers. However, he may benefit from fuller extension in his arm action and more flex in his back drive leg and front landing leg. That should assist Hobgood in keeping the ball down in the zone more consistently.
The general consensus is that Hobgood fits in the second or third round of the June draft.
Marisnick is an ideal high school corner outfield prospect. Tall, lanky and eminently projectable, his tools are already well above average. Marisnick's powerful throwing arm is augmented by his excellent speed (6.70 seconds in the 60-yard dash) and kangaroo-like jumping ability (35.8-inch vertical leap). However, no one dunks in baseball. Instead, corner outfielders like Marisnick must hit, and hit with power. Marisnick struggled facing Hobgood, registering two groundouts and a strikeout.
Marisnick took wood-bat BP after the game, which illustrated why he is struggling. While his short and closed stride keeps him well balanced throughout his swing, weak hand position sabotages his swing. Marisnick begins with his hands held slightly away from his body. He then moves his hands back as he strides forward, nearly pinning his back elbow to his right ribcage . . . a big no-no. All this adds length and an unnecessary extra move to his backswing, and forces Marisnick to flick the bat downward at the ball. Typically, this produces topspin line drives, topped grounders, or lazy fly balls.
Starting from a "launch" position (bat angled, back elbow pointed), combined with a looser top-hand grip, would permit Marisnick to both shorten his backswing and accelerate the bat head at contact. Trading his downward swing path for a modified uppercut will keep Marisnick's swing "on plane" longer. This leads to better timing and will allow his hands to clear, resulting in more power. (It sounds simpler than it is.)
In evaluating young hitters, scouts act as a kind of singular jury. A scout observing Marisnick has to look seven years into the future and ask himself: "Will he hit?" Everyone knows that some ballplayers simply can't hit; others are gifted hitters but struggle for varying reasons. My own verdict is that Marisnick will become an outstanding hitter—should he implement the necessary mechanical adjustments.
All of which underscores the core dilemma in scouting high school players. A scout's report mandates current and OFP grades. Virtually every scout, however, concedes it is exceptionally unfair to compare even the most talented high school youngsters with grown 25- to 30-year-old men playing in the big leagues.
On the other hand, any organization preparing to hand over a six- or seven-figure bonus to an athlete days after his senior prom has to be as certain as possible that their investment is a sound one.
The key to this is trusting its evaluations and instincts.