Entry 1 – February 23rd, 2019
First baseball game of the year! The weather wasn’t ideal, low-50’s and misty but baseball is perfect in any weather. It was a bit impromptu as I just happened to look at Georgia Tech’s baseball schedule to see #4 UCLA (by Baseball America) coming to town, so I decided to take the short ride down I-75 for a little Saturday baseball. I must be honest I was a little nervous going to this game. In my short time as a prospect evaluator, I’ve stayed in the realm of “Couch Scouting”, as some of the eloquent twitter scouts like to call it. Basically, looking at every bit of tape I could find and watching MiLB.TV to see the prospects I want to see and supplementing with statistical analysis. This year though, my plan is to expand my horizons and do some more in-person scouting when I have the time. This way I can become a more rounded evaluator. So, this is the first game where I’m no longer just the casual baseball fan, but a someone looking to see what the future has in store for some of these young ballplayers.
Initial thoughts on how my first scouting experience went, it was more difficult than I anticipated. I simply went into the game with a list of players from each team I had found interesting in a short research stint and my cellphone to take notes and record video with. First off, I need to find a more efficient way to keep notes and take video. My phone was basically dead by the 5th inning since I was using it to both take video and put my thoughts down in some form of writing. Next time out I need to improve my process to make it easier on myself. Second, I felt a bit of sensory overload. I went into the game with a list of about 10 players between the two squads to keep an eye out for. I felt like I was trying to do a million things at once. Taking video, keeping track of every player on the field in some fashion, and keeping everything straight in my mind. It was a lot to handle and I felt like I wasn’t placing my attention in the places where it should be. I’m hoping my feel for how to do this improves as I go to more games. I’m expecting it to be like a player learning a new skill, you keep practicing until it starts to slow down and get easier.
Well, now that I’ve fleshed out how my first scouting experience went, I guess now is a good time to put my thoughts on the players I saw to paper.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
First off, I want to say that I loved Georgia Tech’s home stadium and it’s a wonderful venue for college baseball and can’t wait to return for future games. Georgia Tech is coming off a lackluster 2018 season where they finished with a 31-27 record and that was with number 2 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, Joey Bart. This year, they still have NCAA tournament aspirations despite being picked to finish the season 5th in the Coastal division of the ACC. They came into this tough match-up vs. UCLA with a 2-1 record including wins over Illinois-Chicago and West Virginia.
Georgia Tech Players of Note:
Chase Murray LF Junior
Murray was one of the players I was most interested to see from the Tech side during my visit. The decorated Junior batted leadoff Saturday afternoon and was quiet during my in-person look, going hitless. Athletic build that looks comfortable in LF, I think from a short look he could play all three OF positions if needed but would need more in-game looks to be sure. Starts his hands high with a wiggle that quiets as the pitcher is about to deliver the ball. Starts in a wide stance with a small stride but utilizes a toe tap in 2-strike counts. The hands lower from his initial position to the load position and the hands come through the zone with an upward plane to it. He has a good feel at the plate as he’s not overly aggressive but he’s possibly too passive as he got himself into some hard 2-strike counts in this game. Would’ve liked to see more success at the plate out of Murray but I see good bat speed and athletic player that looks comfortable at the defensive side of the game. Hopefully, in future looks, I see a bit more out of him.
Kyle McCann C Junior
Joey Bart’s replacement at Catcher in 2019. McCann was no slouch himself in 2018 hitting .300 with 15 home runs, only one less than Bart hit in 2018 before being drafted 2nd overall in the 2018 MLB draft. Admittingly I’m not the most experienced at evaluating catcher’s defensive capabilities but I will try my best here. Defensively he looked okay. Didn’t struggle receiving and made a few nice blocks on pitches in the dirt. I would’ve liked to see a better feel for framing. While re-watching some of the tape I had from the game, he rarely tried to frame pitches that were close to the strike zone and just didn’t seem to have a feel for that part of the game. I usually like to see a natural feel for framing because I feel like that’s a hard part of a catcher’s arsenal to learn if they don’t already have a feel for it. He wasn’t tested in the running game while I watched but on throwdowns, his footwork seemed solid, but the arm strength looked average. I think there are a fair amount of defensive questions regarding McCann and whether he can stick at the position. Offensively, I was impressed by McCann. He hit a walk-off home run the night before giving Tech their only victory of the series. The power is real with McCann as he hit probably the most impressive ball of the game. It was just a single, but the ball was smoked. I’d be willing to bet that if there were exit velocity data that would be the hardest hit ball of the game, which included a couple of home runs. McCann seems like a possible power over hit player that might not be able to stick at catcher and might have to be a 1B/DH type which isn’t ideal for his value long term.
Oscar Serratos 3B Sophomore
Serratos was a player I didn’t know much about coming into the game, but he immediately caught my attention while surveying the field in the top of the first. He just had the look of an MLB player with a super athletic and strong frame that still had some physical projection to it. He’s listed at 6-3 188lb which looked about right from what I saw. He looked really smooth at 3B and he was recruited as a SS, so I see no reason why he couldn’t play short as well. Flashed above-average arm strength, a quick twitch motor, and good bat speed at the plate. He didn’t have much success at the plate while I was watching but from an upside standpoint, I see a lot here to dream on. I’m excited to see this kid develop and he will be 2020 eligible. Small side note, he was also recruited as a pitcher for Tech and pitched some as a freshman but with low success. It remains to be seen if he will be used in that capacity this season.
Connor Thomas LHP Junior
Thomas was the starting pitcher for the yellow jackets Saturday afternoon. Thomas was first-team All-ACC in 2018 so Tech was hoping he could continue the momentum from Friday night. Thomas is listed at 5-11 and 173lb and he looked closer to 5-9 or 5-10 and overall wasn’t super impressed with him. He got off to a great start keeping the hitters off balance with good off-speed stuff and a quick tempo but once the order flipped for the second time around he struggled against a potent UCLA offense. His delivery comes from a nearly side-arm arm slot with a lot of rotation. He just has the look of a reliever if he has a future at the next level, where his nearly side-arm delivery could be very effective against left-handed hitters.
A national championship contender. The Bruins have a long history of developing pitchers that go on to pitch at the next level, Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole should quickly come to mind, but this year it looks like it’ll be their offense leading them. Almost everyone in their starting 9 shows up on an MLB prospect list in some form or fashion, and with their track record with pitchers, it’s only a matter of time before they get their pitching into form. I was overall impressed by the number 4 team in the country (by Baseball America) going into this non-conference series on the road in my hometown of Atlanta.
UCLA Players of Note:
Matt McLain CF Freshman
I’m going to start the rundown of UCLA players with the player who impressed me most Saturday afternoon. Matt McLain was drafted in the 1st round of the 2018 MLB draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks but turned down the 1st round money to play for UCLA, which has been his dream school. In his first at-bat, he laced a double into LCF with a short compact swing that has some good bat speed (I have a beautiful video of this hit). Later, he showed off his pop even more with a laser of a home run in his 2nd AB. McLain doesn’t have a big stature, officially he’s 5-9 and 163lb, but this kid can play. He was a SS in High School but with the positions up the middle filled by upperclassmen, McLain had to learn a new position. He looked okay in CF, his jumps could use some work but had good routes on the balls I saw him take. Didn’t get a good feel for his arm during my watch but McLain will probably play up the middle in some capacity throughout his career (SS/2B/CF). Late 1st round pick in 2018 out of High School, and I have no doubt he could go higher when he’s eligible in 2021.
Chase Strumpf 2B Junior
UCLA’s top 2019 MLB draft prospect according to many publications, wasn’t the sharpest when I was watching him Saturday afternoon. My colleague Alex “Juicy” Jensen informed me to keep a close eye on Strumpf and I was a tad disappointed in his performance. I like the swing, and he has impressive bat speed and an upward plane to it that should give him nice loft. In the 3 AB’s I saw of him, he was over aggressive at the plate and hit 3 weak groundballs and only saw a total of 5 pitches. Of course, after I had to leave the game early he blasted a home run so maybe he was feeling timid with my presence. I’m not going to hold his weak performance against him too much as I think Tech’s pitcher did a good job of taking advantage of Strumpf’s aggressive nature and started him off with off-speed stuff that caused him to roll over. I typically stray away from a lot of overly aggressive hitters as I think more advanced pitchers can take advantage of him (not too unlike what happened in his first 3 AB’s) but I haven’t seen enough of Strumpf to know for sure if that is a typical tendency for him or not. Defensively, he was pretty stiff and is stuck at 2B where the hope is he can be at least average defensively.
Michael Toglia 1B Junior
The switch-hitting power hitter is another of UCLA’s 2019 MLB draft prospects that expects to go in the first couple rounds. He’s a big kid at 6-5 and probably about 200lb, with some room to add more strength. He’s a good athlete for his size and could probably play some OF in the corners if need be and has played in the corners at times for UCLA in his career. I only got to see him from the right side on Saturday with the lefty starter on the mound for Tech but he still creates easy power with his large frame. He looked uncomfortable in his first two AB’s though. His first AB, he was too passive got himself into a 2-strike count relatively quickly then struck out looking on a good pitch by the pitcher. His 2nd AB was looking like an identical result until he did a nice job dropping the bat head on a ball down and in and roped a hard ground ball past the 3B down the line for a double. His 3rd AB, he looked much more comfortable and drove the ball down the LF line for another double for his 2nd of the day. It was nice to see him gain some confidence and look to drive the ball after being passive in his first two AB’s, would like to see him be a little more aggressive in the future. There is some swing and miss in his game and Toglia looks like a future 3 outcome hitter down the line with his ability to take pitches and drive the ball.
Ryan Kredler SS Junior
Kredler got to play SS Saturday afternoon. To my understanding, he splits time at 3B and SS depending on pitching matchups but with the lefty on the mound he gets the start at short. Kredler fits the newer mold of SS at 6-2 and just below 200lb. He plays a good shortstop with a strong arm but I’m unsure of his range at the position and think he could be a 3B long term where I don’t think his bat profiles particularly well. Wasn’t overly impressed by the bat speed and the swing has a level plane to it which generates a lot more groundballs than loft. I think there’s more power there in his frame, but his swing isn’t doing him any favors unlocking it.
Jack Ralston RHP Junior
Ralston was the pitcher on the bump for UCLA Saturday afternoon. He’s a long-limbed kid at 6-6 and uses his levers well in his delivery. I was looking over my video of his delivery and was pleasantly surprised by the arm speed he showed in it so there is some potential there. He was pretty wild early with and with the effort in his delivery, it’s easy to imagine that he has issues with control. Even with his rocky start, he settled in a bit and did a good job shutting down a scuffling Georgia Tech offense. Ralston has had a tough career so far at UCLA. Not pitching until last year as a redshirt sophomore and totaling a ERA over 6, though he did have some nice scoreless outings towards the end of the season out of the pen. I think there is some raw ability here to tap into and I’ll keep my eye on Ralston to see what he can become with the talent UCLA has been able to produce in the past off the mound.