First-round talent on display in Tallahassee
N.C. State-Florida State clash features several projected top Draft picks
From a scout's perspective, games don't get much better than North Carolina State against Florida State on Friday night in Tallahassee, Fla.
The Wolfpack, ranked No. 5 in the nation by Baseball America, boast the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft -- left-hander Carlos Rodon -- and likely the first college position player who will be selected -- shortstop Trea Turner. The No. 2 Seminoles will start right-hander Luke Weaver, who projects to go in the second half of the first round.
Rodon vs. Weaver may actually take a backseat to Friday night's Vanderbilt-LSU matchup, with Tyler Beede facing Aaron Nola, but plenty of evaluators plan on flocking to Florida State. Rodon is in the mix for few teams because the Astros are expected to grab him with their third straight No. 1 overall choice, but most clubs will be in position to consider Turner and/or Weaver.
The fastest runner in the Draft, Turner has fully recovered from a high ankle sprain that bothered him last spring and summer. But while he's doing a great job of making contact, batting .350 with just two strikeouts in 73 plate appearances, he's not hitting the ball with authority. Though he has gap power and top-of-the-line speed, Turner has just one extra-base hit (a double) and is slugging .367.
"I'm actually going there to see Turner face a couple of good pitchers," one scouting director said. "I haven't seen Turner yet. We have mixed reports so far, especially on his bat. I didn't love his bat during the summer, but he also was hurt a little bit. Power isn't going to be part of his game, but he's got to hit enough to bat at the top of the order.
"He's running better than he was last summer. I've heard mixed reports on his defense, with some guys saying he'll stay at shortstop and others saying he's just average. Like a lot of guys at the top of the Draft, there are a lot of questions with Turner. But to me, the only two shortstops who could go in the first round are Turner and [Florida high schooler] Nick Gordon."
The early reports on Weaver are similar to those from his sophomore season. He has gone 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 24 strikeouts in as many innings, showing a 92-93-mph fastball, a quality changeup and fine command. Scouts still wish he was bigger than 6-foot-2, 170 pounds and had a sharper breaking ball.
"Luke has been pretty much the same guy," an area scout said. "He has a live arm with a good fastball, but it's straight. You want a better breaking ball but he has a nasty cutter at 86-88 that's going to be his pitch. Some guys worry about his size and strength, but he's going to be a big boy. His best years as far as weight and durability are down the road.
"This year, he's kind of paced himself. For me, he's been treating the early season like it's Spring Training. He's been getting ready for Rodon and for everyone else he's got to face in the conference."
Likewise, Rodon's stock hasn't changed as he has gone 2-2 with a 2.40 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 30 innings through four starts. His command and consistency have wavered at times, but he's still sitting around 94 mph with his fastball and snapping off some nearly unhittable sliders.
"Everybody's talking like he's Stephen Strasburg and David Price, and he's not that for me," the scouting director said. "He's good, he's probably the No. 1 pick in the Draft, but he's just a notch below those guys. He's not burying his competition yet.
"I'm interested in seeing him this week. I imagine both these guys will step it up because they're facing each other."
Beede-Nola matchup weekend's main event
Friday is the most important day of the week for amateur scouts. That's when colleges trot out their No. 1 starting pitchers, and any game featuring two first-round arms will be a magnet for scouting directors and crosscheckers.
Two of college baseball's best and hottest pitchers will square off when No. 8 Louisiana State visits No. 7 Vanderbilt. Commodores right-hander Tyler Beede has allowed a total of just four runs (three earned) while winning each of his first four starts, but that pales in comparison to what Tigers righty Aaron Nola has done. Nola also has won all four of his starts and hasn't been scored on in 27 innings, extending his two-year streak to 53 2/3 frames without an earned run.
"Everybody that picks in the top 15 picks is going to be there," a national crosschecker said. "You could just do the Winter Meetings March 14 in Nashville. I think every single scout in the top 15 is going to be there. If Nola goes out and does that again, if he comes out of that better than Beede, you're looking at a guy who'll get top-five buzz."
Nola entered the year as a borderline top-10-overall pick and with the reputation of having maybe the best changeup and the best polish of any college pitcher available. Scouts could quibble with his lack of premium velocity, his mechanics and his 6-foot-1 frame, but he's putting those concerns to rest.
"His stuff has been a little better this year," a scouting director said. "I saw him really, really good for two innings against Yale, but LSU put up a 10-spot early and he sort of coasted through seven innings. That's why I want to see him in a more competitive game.
"I had seen 90-93 mph in the past, but for the first two innings, he was pitching more at 93-94 and touching 95. His breaking ball was a little sharper. If he carries that same stuff deeper into games, he's going to go very high. It's not a real pretty, clean delivery but it presents deception to the batter and I'm sure he'll be fast to the big leagues."
Beede started the year with top-five buzz, and he already has been selected in the first round, turning down the Blue Jays as the No. 21 overall pick out of a Massachusetts high school in 2011. He set a Vanderbilt record with 14 victories as a sophomore, displaying a fastball that hit 97 mph and a pair of quality secondary pitches but not the consistent ability to command his arsenal. He has addressed that flaw this season, cutting his walk rate to 1.8 per nine innings after averaging 5.2 a year ago.
"This will be the first time I've seen Beede this year, but our guys have been at three of his starts," the director said. "He's throwing more strikes and commanding his stuff a lot better. He's a big guy with good stuff who just needed to be more consistent. I didn't think he'd elevate himself to the top of the Draft, but he might.
"Every scouting director has to see this game. Beede and Nola could go anywhere from No. 4 to 24. I don't expect that they'll go that deep, but you still have to see them just in case. With Rodon, a lot of scouting directors don't really have to see him."
Chavis' bat has high school shortstop on rise
Shortstop Michael Chavis, out of Sprayberry High in Marietta, Ga., made a name for himself by winning the home run derby at the Perfect Game All-American Classic last August. He beat out an impressive field that included likely 2014 first-rounders Braxton Davidson, Michael Gettys and Alex Jackson.
Though scouts weren't ready to put Chavis in their class as a prospect then, that's changing now. Three different scouting directors cited him as a high schooler who has significantly improved his Draft status this year, with one saying the Clemson recruit could go as high as the early teens in the first round.
Chavis has gotten stronger, now carrying 205 pounds on his 6-foot frame, and he's off to a blazing start. Though high school stats carry little weight, it's hard not to admire his .682/.774/1.136 line through eight games, with as many homers as strikeouts (two) in 22 at-bats.
"He puts on a power display in batting practice," an area scout said. "Sprayberry is about 350 feet into the gap, and then there's a six-lane highway snug up against left field. He hits balls up and over the highway! You think you're watching a pro guy by the way he takes BP.
"When the game's on, any pitch mid-plate in, he hurts the ball. I saw one night where he hit two home runs, and it was eight or nine hundred feet of home runs. Like most high school power hitters, he has a hole away, and that's what people wondered about coming into this year. It's still there some, but last year he missed those pitches, and this year he drives them to the opposite field. If they're up, he'll hit them out."
Chavis has solid all-around tools. He's an average runner out of the batter's box but has an extra gear once he gets going. His strong arm allows him to play anywhere on the diamond, and the only real question now is where he'll wind up.
He'll definitely move from shortstop at the next level, and scouts are split on whether he can play second base or will have to move to third. The area scout compared him to Jedd Gyorko, offensively and defensively, though Chavis has more athleticism.
"You could put Michael at second base, and he'll give you 200 percent," the scout said. "I think he's a little too stiff in his hips and back to play second base, turn the double play. I think you move him to third base. He can throw, his hands are good, he has a live body. He just doesn't have the actions for shortstop or second base around the bag."
While Chavis would have more defensive value at second base, he still should provide more than enough offense if he winds up at the hot corner.
"He has very fast hands and wrists, and a strong lower body," the scout said. "He has good hitter's makeup. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he goes in the first round. Coming in, I thought we'd have a shot at him in the second or third round, but he's not going to get there."