College Diamonds in the Rough
With the draft less than three months away, here are scouting notes on some college players who may fly under the radar come June. Baseball scouts are nothing if not dogmatic, and these guys have flaws that might make them bargains in later rounds.
Austin Stone, Baylor
– The first time I saw Austin Stone pitch I laughed out loud. This is the guy who is considered a prospect? Stone is listed at 6’ 2’’, 175 pounds but by today’s pitching standards, he looks like a frail waif who could get blown off the mound by a stiff breeze off the Brazos River. It took me a few innings to set aside my prejudices and notice that this guy is hitting 92-93 really easy, with movement. His best pitch is an old fashioned 12-6 curve which he uses as his out pitch, particularly against right-handed hitters. He also has a plus change with good arm side sink that is a very effective weapon against left-handed batters. Stone is an old fashioned drop and drive pitcher, and as such he works up in the zone much more than the typical college pitcher you encounter these days. He lives up there without trepidation; his four seam fastball is deceptive and gets on hitters quicker than it appears at first. This guy is a bulldog; he gave up two quick runs to Cal State – Fullerton Sunday only to shut them down for the next six innings, allowing Baylor to hang on and take the series.
Mark Payton, Texas -
Payton decided to forego the Cleveland Indians, who drafted him in the sixteenth round last year, in order to return for his senior season at Texas. Payton was the Longhorns best player last season, hitting a robust.393 with a .483 OBP. That won’t take him very far with scouts unwilling to look beyond his 5’8’’, 180 pound frame. Payton has thick legs but good speed; Augie Garrido moved him to centerfield this season, depending on his player’s superior instincts and ability, and Payton has looked capable of handling the position, running down balls with relative ease. Payton hits out of a pronounced crouch, making it even harder to get a strike called on him, and he is a line drive hitter who may even show some more power once he gets away from UFCU Disch-Falk. Is Payton an outfield version of Dustin Pedroia? It only takes one believer to give him the chance.
Boo Vazquez, Pittsburgh –
While Vazquez has more appeal to scouts than the others on our list, going back to his days at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, the skepticism regarding Vazquez has to do with his inability to generate the power you would want to see from a 6’4’’, 250 pound corner outfielder. That, and his left-handed stance. Vazquez stands upright and holds his bat extremely high, giving him a long path to the ball. He generates the bat speed necessary to overcome that idiosyncrasy, but a level swing has thus far kept the power from showing up in games. It will be interesting to see what level of interest the Pirates have in Vazquez, as he has been under their nose for years now. He hit .313 with wood on the Cape for Brewster last year, as well as .337/.429/.442 as a sophomore at Pitt, but has only four home runs in his college career.
Garrett Mattlage, Texas State -
Mattlage is just a ballplayer, in all the positive connotations of that word. The switch-hitting shortstop for the Bobcats draws some skepticism for his size and his defense, but he improved dramatically with the bat as a sophomore, hitting .320/.409/.450. He has a confident, patient approach, can work himself back into counts, and has a smooth swing from both sides of the plate. There are solid tools all around here, including good speed, but nothing particularly flashy. This is a guy who will outplay his scouting report.
Austin Coley, Belmont
– I have seen them play a few times, and I’m not sure I even know where Belmont is (ok, they’re from Nashville). But Austin Coley is their 6’5’’ Friday night starter, and scouts are paying attention to him. He was drafted by the Mets last year but did not sign. Coley throws a 91-93 mph fastball downhill, and has an average curve. His best pitch is a straight change that is an effective weapon for him. Command wavers for Coley; that, his lack of premier velocity, and his mid-major school may see him fall in the draft again.