The World Wood Bat Association World Championship

Who goes to the World Wood Bat Association World Championship tournament in Jupiter, Fla.?

Well, the list of those who don’t is probably shorter. Eighty-five teams from all corners of the country, and even Puerto Rico (which had, I believe, three teams) and Canada were represented. Scouts attended by the golf-cart-full. One NL Central club had 17 in attendance. I talked to scouts from seven to eight teams, and nobody had less than a dozen scouts representing the club at the event. Oh, and the college recruiters. Don’t forget them; they’re everywhere too.

The players are the absolute cream of the crop from the amateur ranks (high school seniors and younger). They are essentially high school AAU teams. The teams are at times set up by associate scouts of MLB clubs who focus on a specific geographic region, or simply a prominent high school coach (or coaches) with deep roots in the region, or some sponsor throws together a roster (Perfect Game had a few teams, Mizuno, Rawlings, etc), or at times even a former major leaguer (John Cangelosi had a team, Chet Lemon has had one for years, others). Typically (though not always), they are mostly from one general region. I say ‘mostly’ because usually a team from New Jersey will have 12 players from NJ, two to three from NY/Conn/PA and sometimes one or two who are way out of place, like Texas or Georgia. Don’t ask me how that happens. Hell, even Wagner Mateo, the top Dominican prospect embroiled in controversy of the Cardinals reneging on his $3.1 million signing, was there playing for the ‘Texas Scout Team Yankees.’

I drove across the state early Sunday morning to catch the last two days of the tournament (which is spread out over eight fields and a stadium that is the Florida State League/Spring Training home of the Cardinals and Marlins).

Before I go into reports on the prospects I saw, I need to throw up a disclaimer. I was one pair of eyes trying to watch 85 teams, so this is by no means a comprehensive list. If I say one hitter had ‘the quickest hands I saw,’ that does not mean he necessarily had the quickest hands at the tournament. But, it probably means he’s close; for an analogy, if you went to the beach all day and strolled around, the prettiest girl you saw may not have been the prettiest girl at the beach. But she might have been, and she’s probably at least pretty close to it. That said, I had two things that helped: A) Some teams are more stacked than others. I’m going to see a hell of a lot more prospects watching the Orlando Scorpions for an hour than I will in the same time with the Colorado Slammers. B) The scouts. Generally, they are assigned a handful of teams to scout for the weekend. So kindly ask a guy who the most stacked team in his pool is, and if you do so politely, he’ll tell you. And if you’re too shy to ask, they’ll tell you with their feet.

Here we go, in no particular order:
(Name, Position, Graduation Year, Home City, Tournament Team)

DeAndre Smelter, RHP, 2010, Macon Ga., Canes
Smelter is an amazing physical presence; his listing of 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds does not do him justice—he looks more like a University of Georgia linebacker than a Georgia high school pitching prospect. So no big surprise that he’s also a bigtime football recruit, which may make him a difficult sign.

Smelter had the best fastball velocity I saw. Nothing came in lower than 91, and he was consistently sitting 93-94, touching 95 twice. I was told he hit 97 in an earlier outing. The fastball isn’t so movement-heavy, though, and while he wasn’t erratic, he was so-so hitting spots. All he has right now to complement it is a low 80s slider. It’s tight, but low movement (in other words, not the loopy version you see often at this level, but there isn’t enough horizontal or vertical break to it). He got the slider over consistently, however.

I’m not so thrilled with Smelter mechanically. He doesn’t strike me as a big injury-risk, because he’s not so jerky or max-effort. He flies open a bit, which he compensates for with adept glove-hand work, but sometimes his hips open early and the arm gets behind. His arm action is a bit long as well, which can contribute to the problems. The concerns here are that the momentum is going to the wrong places at times in his delivery, which can make command a big issue. Also, his arm slot and action had one observer questioning if he’ll ever be able to develop above-average offspeed offerings.

With a body built more for sprints than marathons and not much after a fastball, Smelter may be a guy who winds up in the pen. Right now, his main weapon is his fastball velocity, but A) That’s a damn important weapon, and B) That velocity is near the top of the charts for his class. In an average year, he probably falls between late first and early second rounds. His spring performance and his signability have the potential to push that in either direction.

Luke Crumley, RHP, 2011, Cleveland, Ga., Royals Baseball Club

Crumley has the ideal projectable pitchers body; 6-foot-4, 180. His fastball right now sits 88-90 mph, with the potential for a lot more as he fills out. He also showed a pretty nasty curveball that definitely looks like a future plus pitch. Just a high school junior, Crumley is already committed to Georgia (according to Mom).

Mechanically, there is a bit more effort in the delivery than you’d like to see, and his arm jerks a bit on the finish.

His draft day is 19 months away, and anything can happen between now and then (and let that be known for any 2011 player discussed here). But if he’s already hitting 90 with room to grow and a good looking second pitch, he’s a guy you want to follow.

Austin Sovay, RHP, 2012, Ft. Lauderdal, Fla., Marucci Elite

That’s right, a 2012 player already well on the radar. And he’s not alone.

I only saw Sovay pitch one inning, but it was impressive. Fastball 85-88, hit 90, and showed a good curve at 73.
He’s listed as 6-foot-5 190, which may be a bit low on the weight side. Not that he’s chubby, he just has big, muscular legs.

Mechanically, things are pretty simple for such a big guy. However, he has one of those Tim Hudson-esque floating front feet (it strides towards the plate, then stops and starts heading toward the 1B line as his hips open up).

Josh Tobias, 2B/3B, 2011, Greensbor, N.C., Canes

Scouts talk about the sound a ball makes coming off a bat. That was the first thing that got my attention with Tobias. “CRACK!”, and a line drive screams off into left field. I made a note to not go too far anytime soon, so I could see his next at-bat. Then again, “CRACK!!”, even louder than the first, a line-drive to right-center on a breaking ball. I couldn’t get enough; I saw Tobias more than any other player at the tournament, getting to see him in 10 or 11 PAs. One ended in a walk, and I’ll be damned if fewer than seven of them resulted either in line drives or ground-liners that made it out of the infield in one hop. (I was also told I missed a long homer the day before.)

His swing is a bit unorthodox. It’s semi-long and he finishes with his hands flying high, sort of like a mini-right-handed Fred McGriff. But he has great bat speed and covers the plate completely with hands that thrash through the zone lightning quick.

It’s a point I’ve made before, but one ‘tool’ that I feel gets overlooked at times is just plain old hitability. Scouts like to look at the components; are the hands quick, is the swing short, does he have a good swing path, does he recognize pitches well, does he keep himself balanced, etc. Those are all important pieces in projecting a player’s future success, and by no means would I advocate disregarding them. But the bottom line is this: Some guys plain old find the barrel with consistency, and others (even the ones with quick hands and short strokes) do not. Those components are intended to project those who can and will find the barrel, but it’s a very complicated view of things. Simply put, the difference between a routine groundball to the SS and a liner that goes over his head is a few millimeters of difference on the bat. Despite the hands, the shortness of the swing, the balance, etc etc… some guys are extremely coordinated with that bat in their hands, and others are just so-so. And Josh Tobias is great.

Now, I don’t want to create the impression that Tobias has some Hunchback of Notre Dame swing; that’s not the case at all, it just may not be what Walt Hriniak would use as his model.

As comps, I see shades of both Gary Sheffield and Dmitri Young here. An ultra-fast bat and swing to hit for average, a guy who handles both breaking pitches and good heat, and some serious raw power.

Going forward, I have two question marks; one is future power. Tobias is 5-foot-9. Sure, he’s just 16 and may have some growth left, but Dad is only about 5-foot-10. Then again, he’s 16 and hitting homers with a wood bat. The size may limit his ceiling with regard to power, but don’t get caught up in that; this one might be a mold-breaker. The main concern for me is finding him a position. His arm is sub-par and comes with a screwy, flailing sidearm motion. His actions and hands are also quite questionable. Veteran scouts will swear they’ve seen future gold-glovers who couldn’t field a lick in their teens, but I’m pretty discouraged with Tobias’ D (especially since the arm means in you move him to OF, it’s got to be left).

Still, he’s the best all-around bat I saw this weekend. As if I didn’t already love him enough, I’m told he’s committed to the Gators for college (though, as always, the draft may change that). Again, he’s a 2011 guy, so this is very early hype. But I’m keeping a very close on him going forward.

Austin Anderson, SS/2B, 2010, Sorrento, Fla., Orlando Scorpions

Anderson bats left-handed with a beautiful line-drive stroke who uses all fields. Plus bat speed, very short, quick stroke and consistently made hard contact. Saw him pull a left-hander for a long single to right-center, and later scream a liner into the left center gap off a righty. He’s an above-average runner; I had him at 4.08 to first base. The swing really made an impression on me, though, and he looked great playing second. Heard he has committed to Mississippi.

Tyler Green, RHP, 2010, Lake Jackson, Texas, Texas Scout Team Yankees

There were like two more Tyler Green’s (or Tyler Greene’s) at this tournament. Popular baseball name, I guess (don’t forget the Cardinals shortstop).

Green threw 88-91 from his tall frame, and the pitch had some great third-base run on it. He’s got some filling out left to do, which means he could add more velocity as well. He showed a slurve that he needs to mold into a slower, straight overhand curve. But the fastball velocity and movement are worth getting excited about.

Ladson Montgomery, C, 2010, Jacksonville, Fla., Orlando Scorpions

The most impressive live-game pop time I got from a catcher at 1.93. That’s near the top of the charts for a high school catcher to begin with, but consider this: It was Montgomery’s fourth or fifth game behind the dish in the last 65 hours. (Being a catching prospect at some of these showcases is just unreal).

But Montgomery isn’t all catch and throw. He’s got a legit left-handed bat, with moderate loft and a smooth plane. He’s a small guy, standing just 5-foot-9 (which can actually be a good thing for catchers), so he’ll probably be more of a doubles guy instead of over-the-fence power. But he has monster legs for someone his age and really gets his lower half and trunk into his swing.

Jake Cave, LHP/OF, 2011, Hampton, Va., Canes

Now here’s a really interesting guy. Look at Cave, and he’s very unassuming physically; 6-foot-1 quite skinny, slim hips, does not look so athletic.

Then you put him on a mound and watch him throw an easy 88-91 with plus command and a curve that makes you think Zito.

Then, you can take him off the mound, put a bat in his hand, and watch him take simply vicious hacks and display some pretty incredible raw power. For icing on the cake, he’s a plus runner straightaway (4.09 through first) and cuts bags quite well.

He’s a little more advanced on the mound right now than at the plate, in my opinion. He was a bit hack-heavy, and swung and missed more than you’d like to see (mostly on bad balls). It’s hard to tell if that’s a real trait or just a guy at a showcase trying to get his money’s worth.

Either way, this is an incredibly talented kid for the ’11 class. Shades of Nick Markakis at the plate, and something like a more powerful Zito on the mound. If the draft were tomorrow, he might be a supplemental-round pick. But he’s got another year to grow. Look out.

Chevez Clarke, OF, 2010, Marietta, Ga., East Cobb Baseball

Every tool in the shed. Clarke is just an electric player, simply put. He may well be a first-round talent this June.

He’s got an incredibly athletic body, with plus speed. He’s well polished with the bat (I only saw three ABs, they were all from the left side; he switch hits). The stroke is lightning-quick through the zone and has a mild uppercut, and he recognized pitches well. He’s a well above average runner, and aggressive on the basepaths.

He reminds me a bit of Denard Span, with the potential to develop a bit more in the power department (he’s got longer limbs). Defensively, he showed a cannon, and he certainly has the speed for center fielder. No read on his routes or judgment, however. Not sure if he can play the infield, but he sure does have the athleticism, body type and arm.

Parks Jordan, 2B, 2010, Winston-Salem, N.C., Canes

Beautiful left-handed line-drive swing (reminded me of Seth Smith), though I didn’t see much over the fence power potential.

He struck out on a questionable call, and threw a pretty mild tantrum. Sort of slammed his helmet in the dugout and was pretty verbal (though not toward the umpire). A lot of scouts look down on stuff like this, but I see two sides to the coin; on one hand, maybe he does not deal with failure so well. But to me, it at least shows he gives a damn, and I like guys with a competitive streak.

He’s not a high-round guy to me right now (I’d say more fourth-sixth), but he’s worth keeping an eye on. He’s committed to the University of North Carolina, which is a hitters hell. But if he’s able to prove me wrong and develop some more power during his college years, he could climb.

Wagner Mateo, OF, Free Agent, Texas Scout Team Yankees

Ah, the legend is here.

I don’t want to be guilty of making judgments based on the two ABs and about 12 pitches I saw Wagner, but I was underwhelmed. Of course, it would be hard not to be when a kid signed the biggest bonus ever for a Dominican position player just a few months back. He struck out on four pitches his first at-bat, including missing a curveball by 18 inches. I don’t think that was an aberration; he’s got a pretty noisy front leg load that appears likely to screw with his timing.

You could see the power in the swing, however. This is a strong, physical kid with room left to grow.

And really, if the guy had a sloppy tournament, can you blame him? Growing up in poverty, then having $3.1 million essentially handed to you then taken away… I remember being 16 and having a crappy week on the field when I was fighting with my girlfriend. The pressure on all these kids shoulders is pretty remarkable, but Wagner’s situation almost defies words.

Dwight Smith, OF, 2011, Peachtree City, Ga., Canes

Wowee. Fastest bat I saw in the tournament, and if his swing needs any tuning, that’s for someone far smarter than me. Power to spare (despite being 5-foot-11), good plate coverage, quiet hands and load… he’s dialed in.

It stands to reason; this is the son of the former big leaguer of the same name.

He’s a great athlete and an above-average baserunner. However, it looked like things were a bit of an adventure in the outfield.

I think he’ll be a top-round draft pick in 2011.

Manny Machado, SS, 2010, Hialeah, Fla., Royals Baseball Club

I bet he doesn’t get past the first round come June.

Machado has a big (6-foot-3), athletic frame with plenty of filling out left. His actions at shortstop were graceful and smooth, and he seemed to have plenty of arm.

The exciting thing about Machado is his power potential. His swing was a little long, and he did hack a bit. But he was right on 90-plus mph fastballs, and generates a lot of loft with his long arms and aggressive cuts. If there’s one thing that will get teams excited, it’s a combination of power potential and athleticism at a key position. Check all three boxes for Machado.

I am a little concerned, however, about his ability to hit for average. He seems to be a fastball-only hitter right now (a great fastball hitter, but still…), and while his long arms generate power, they also generate a long swing.

Keep an eye on:

Jared Lakind, Texas Scout Team Yankees—Serious potential power in LHH 1B.
Shane Kennedy and Sean O’Brien, Orlando Scorpions—I lump them together because they’re both much like Machado; big, athletic, wiry SS with good actions and power potential.
Curt Britt, Canes—Chris Parmalee part II, I swear. 2012 draft-eligible. Remember him.
Landon Lassiter, Canes—Steady SS with good body and potential plus bat, another 2012 guy.
Ryan Keller, Braves Scout Team—CA RHP who resembles Curt Schilling, sat 87-89 but CB was subpar. 2011.
Chris Triplett, Royals Baseball Club—Athletic, plus defensive 2010 SS with plus speed. Limited power for now.
Lance McCullers, Midland Redskins—Only saw him in passing, but looked beautiful around the bag at SS. College scout mentioned he has FB to 94 on the mound, confirmed by several others, which is just crazy for a 2012 guy.
Dominic Jose, Royals Baseball Club—Athletic, lanky body, sweet LH swing, cannon arm. 2011.

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Comments

  1. MoZer Bats said...

    Great article, these are all great young players. The World Wood Bat Association World Championship is an amazing event!

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