SoCal Trio Dominates Hitters

By Dave Perkin

In the past week, three Southern California area high school pitchers, each of whom has the ability to be selected in the first two rounds of this year’s draft, took the hill: Gerrit Cole, Anthony Gose and Michael Montgomery.

These three combined to pitch 19 innings, yielding only five hits, three walks and one run. They struck out a total of 33 hitters.

Everyone who has ever been foolish enough to attempt to pitch will read these stats and ask the same question:

“Where in the heck were these hitters when I was pitching?”

Perhaps the answer lies in a quote by Casey Stengel: “Good pitching will always stop good hitting—and vice versa.”

Saturday, March 8, 2008—Gerrit Cole, rhp, Lutheran HS, Orange, Calif.:

Cole was brilliant in the final of the Newport Elks tournament. Facing Tesoro High, Cole pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only one hit and two walks. He struck out 14, including a stretch of eight in a row.

Blessed with two well-above-average pitches, Cole’s fastball sits in the 93 to 96 mph range, peaking at 97. His vicious, late breaking curve registers between 82 and 84. Cole will need to develop his 79 change, which he uses sparingly.

Many scouts feel that Cole is the finest Southern California prep pitching prospect since Phil Hughes in 2004. However, there are some notable problems with Cole’s mechanics. He lands on a stiff front leg and delivers the ball with distinct arm recoil. This habit not only affects his command but also raises injury concerns.

Cole is unquestionably a first round candidate, but two factors may work against him. First, he is represented by Scott Boras. Second, with the glut of quality college pitching available this year (Brian Matusz, Brett Hunter, Tanner Scheppers, Aaron Crow, et al) clubs picking early in the first round usually opt for a pitcher who is closer to the major leagues than Cole.

Monday, March 10: Anthony Gose, lhp, Bellflower (Calif.) HS:

Gose, who physically resembles Mickey Rivers, is a delightfully quirky and enormously talented player.

He takes only three of four warm-up pitches between innings and works so quickly he often appears to be winding up for a pitch before he’s received the ball back from the catcher from the previous pitch. After one foul ball, Gose caught the new ball from the umpire with his bare pitching hand.

Gose has electric, raw stuff. Early in this game against Millikan High, his fastball sat between 94 and 96, and he added a 77 mph curve and a 75 mph change. As a professional pitcher, Gose profiles as a left handed relief specialist or closer, since he loses 5-7 mph on his four seamer as a game progresses. In this game, Gose allowed one run on three hits with no walks and fanned nine.

Of course, when he is not pitching, Gose plays the outfield. He flashes a 70 arm and 70 speed (6.56 in the 60) but his bat is a major concern for scouts. Gose struggles to make contact even against mediocre high school pitching, and while he has shown flashes of hitting ability in showcase events, making consistent hard contact has proven difficult for him. Any organization drafting him as an outfielder will have to be patient. Altering Gose’s unusual bat grip—he severely cups his top wrist as he holds the bat—may lead to improved performance at the plate.

Attempting to determine where Gose will be drafted is difficult. His remarkably quick arm elicits comparisons to Scott Kazmir; however, most clubs figure to be reluctant to use a high draft pick on a high school lefty who projects as a short reliever. Conversely, despite his great arm and great speed, many clubs will shy away from drafting Gose in the first two rounds as an outfielder, due to his non-projectable frame and questionable bat.

Friday, March 14: Mike Montgomery, lhp, Hart HS, Newhall, Calif.:

Montgomery flirted with a perfect game against West Ranch High, retiring the first 17 hitters before yielding a walk and a single. He allowed one hit and one walk in 6 innings of work, striking out 10.

Montgomery has an ideal, tall and projectable pitchers frame. His fastball sits between 89 and 92 mph, and he adds a sharp 71 to 72 mph curve and a 79 to 81 mph change with sudden late drop. Montgomery tips his change by decelerating his arm at release.

In the fifth inning, Montgomery reached back for some extra velocity and blew a fastball past a West Ranch hitter for a strikeout. A scout sitting nearby pointed his radar gun readout toward me, and I pointed my readout toward him. We both clocked a 94. We asked each other simultaneously, “Where did that come from?”

Montgomery will need to refine several mechanical problems. He is perfectly closed and compact at his balance position, but as he separates his hands he will wrap his left arm behind his back leg. Montgomery’s motion is cramped at delivery and truncated on his follow through, and, like Cole, he lands on a stiff front leg, which leads to significant arm recoil. On a positive note, Montgomery’s front shoulder is nicely closed when his front foot lands, and he lands on the arch of his front foot, not the heel as do so many amateur pitchers.

The best Southern California High School lefty in 2007 was Danny Duffy from Cabrillo HS in Lompoc, drafted in the third round by the Royals. Duffy’s four-seam velocity sat and peaked higher than Montgomery’s. However, Montgomery’s frame is far more projectable, he maintains velocity deeper into games than Duffy did and his secondary stuff is more advanced at a similar stage of development. In the 2008 draft, Montgomery fits in the first supplemental to third round range; the second round is his most likely destination.

The quickest way to go bankrupt is to try to handicap a draft. This year, Southern California high schools contain several premium hurlers, but it is a safe bet to say that Cole is the premier pitcher in an exceptionally talented class.