Scouting Gerrit Cole, UCLA

March 6, 2009 • Scouting

In the 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Gerrit Cole was drafted 28th overall by the New York Yankees but ultimately chose to go the college route at UCLA.

According the the Major League Scouting Bureau's pre-draft report, Cole has the ability to throw three pitches for strikes: a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, a firm change up, and a slider with future plus potential. The report also warned about Cole's poise and his tendency to throw across his body.

The 6' 4", 215 lb Cole pitched against Baylor University at the Houston College Classic on February 28, 2009. Here's what I saw.

Game: February 28, 2009 vs. Baylor University

Pitcher IP H R ER BB K
Cole, Gerrit 6.0 2 1 0 5 8

Fastball. Cole's most effective pitch was 95-97 mph through the first couple of innings and hit 99 more than once. The pitch had strong arm-side run, but the "plus sink" mentioned in the Scouting Bureau report was non-existent, replaced by more of a rising action. As evidenced by the 5 walks, Cole's command was not as sharp as advertised, but with 8 strikeouts and only 2 hits allowed, he was effectively wild.

Slider. Cole was throwing a very hard slider in the mid to upper 80s. The potential of this pitch is obvious, though he has a long way to go before it can be called a plus pitch. Too often, the pitch was flat with a lazy break, but the pitch did reveal its promise on occasion with a sharp, late break when he kept it in the 84-85 mph range. He needs to improve both his command of the pitch and its consistency.

Change up. The Scouting Bureau reported this pitch as "too firm at 79-80 mph," which is a funny statement since that represents a 15 mph separation from his fastball. I was actually shocked by his feel for this pitch and by the confidence with which he threw it. In this game, it had good fade and sink, and he clearly commanded it better than his other two pitches. His slider has better potential, but this day, his change up was the better pitch.

Mechanics. According to the Scouting Bureau, Cole has "some mechanical issues" and frequently throws across his body. Let's have a look.

Starting at his legs, you can see a little bit of why he throws so hard. After gathering himself, Cole has a powerful forward stride. He drives through his landing and then pulls his back hip and leg forward, allowing him to continue rotating his hips. This is great action from his back leg.

He lands on a slightly flexed front leg, from which he gets a strong push back to help rotate his hips. This is good for generating a high rate of hip rotation, but it halts the forward movement of his center of mass.

He stands far to the glove side of the rubber and strides slightly toward the third base line, landing slightly closed. Landing closed tends to cut off hip rotation and shoulder rotation, generally forcing the pitcher to throw across his body to get the ball to the plate. In Cole's delivery, it doesn't really cut off his hips or shoulders, but he still throws across his body.

Cole breaks his hands near his belly button but has a pretty healthy pick up. It isn't quite a pendulum swing, but his elbow and hand reach shoulder height at approximately the same time. After his front foot lands, he really begins to accelerate the baseball.

Thanks to his pick up, Cole does not have an active external rotation component to his late forearm turnover. This allows his forearm to turn over with less violence and results in a rather mild-looking reverse forearm bounce.

Cole's shoulders have only a small reverse rotation, but when coupled with his slightly off-line stride, it results in a long arc-shaped path for his elbow. Acceleration through this arc causes forearm flyout which precludes a kinetic contribution from the triceps brachii muscle.

He pronates after release as most pitchers do, but only on his change up does he actively pronate through his release. He turns his change up over very well as a result.

After primary deceleration, Cole's arm coils back up by his side. This indicates that his arm is powerfully braking itself during deceleration. More than anything, this is a reaction to the violence with which he throws across his body. In the video, you can see Cole's arm finish across his body and immediately bounce back up. The violence in the follow-through could lead to injuries to the infraspinatus and/or supraspinatus muscles of the rotator cuff.

Overall. Prior to the 2008 draft, Cole's makeup and poise were my biggest concerns with him as a prospect. After breezing through the first batter of the game, Cole had some command issues. A walk, a double, an error, a walk, and a wild pitch followed in close succession, but Cole held it together much better than his high school scouting reports suggested. He got through the inning, and threw 5 more very solid innings.

There are still some mechanical issues for him to work on, namely the way he throws across his body and his violent follow-through, but even if he were draft eligible this season, these issues wouldn't likely affect his draft position.

Gerrit Cole has an elite fastball, a solid change up, and a slider with plus potential. His command was off in this outing, but it is typically very good. He's already on the short list of potential #1 overall picks for the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Over the next two years, he'll stay on everyone's watch list.

Scouting Shawn Tolleson, Baylor University

March 4, 2009 • Scouting

In his second year back from Tommy John surgery, Shawn Tolleson is expected to be among the top draft-eligible sophomores taken in the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Baseball America even pegged him as the #29 overall draft-eligible college prospect.

After hitting a groove out of the bullpen last season, Tolleson has returned to the starting rotation for 2009. Through 2 starts, though, Tolleson has yet to find his rhythm. I was on-hand at the Houston College Classic when Tolleson and Baylor squared off against the University of Houston.

Game: February 27, 2009 vs. University of Houston

Pitcher IP H R ER BB K
Tolleson, Shawn 6.2 6 2 2 3 5

Fastball. Tolleson's fastball started out in the upper 80s and might have scraped 90 on a few radar guns but dipped into the mid 80s before he was pulled. The pitch didn't appear to have much sink, but his 10 ground outs and 2 fly outs suggest it was there. His command of the pitch was no better than college-average.

Slider. His slider was all over the place but had good movement when he was able to keep it down. Its break was unpredictable as well, sometimes sharp, sometimes lazy, and sometimes just spinning.

Change up. Despite his limited fastball velocity, Tolleson was able to get decent separation with his change up but without much tumble or fade. The change up was rarely thrown, and right now, it's clearly his third pitch.

Mechanics. Take a look at the video below. A couple of things jump out right away. The most obvious for me is his inverted W.

In Tolleson's delivery, his inverted W leads to a really late forearm turnover and significant reverse forearm bounce. These arm actions put the ulnar collateral ligament at great risk. I am not surprised that he needed Tommy John surgery coming out of high school, and I believe that these mechanics are likely to lead to more elbow trouble down the road.

In the video, it is also quite clear that Tolleson strides toward the third base side. This establishes a drive line that is not directed at the target and requires the trunk and throwing shoulder to compensate by throwing across his body just to get the ball heading toward the catcher instead of the on-deck circle.

This compensation also leads to a violent follow-through where his humerus nearly collides with his face before flying down across his torso.

When his humerus nearly slams into his face, it is likely compressing the long head of the biceps brachii against the bony structures of the shoulder girdle. During deceleration, the biceps flexes and creates tension in its long head which attaches to the glenoid labrum. The tension is magnified by the compression, and when this tension is violent enough, it pulls on the labrum and can lead to fraying and tearing (SLAP lesions). This is not necessarily a problem in Tolleson's case; the 210 frames-per-second video doesn't slow down this part of his delivery well enough to draw a conclusion.

When Tolleson drives his arm across his body, his humerus is next to his right ear one moment and down across his torso the next. This is like whiplash for the supraspinatus muscle, the most frequently torn rotator cuff muscle in overhead-throwing athletes.

Overall. Tolleson is likely still trying to get all the way back from Tommy John surgery, but in this game, he looked less like an early round pick and more like a guy who could go undrafted. Based on his late season success last year, I think it's unlikely that he will continue to struggle, but if his struggles do continue, he could return to Baylor for his junior season.

He has several risk factors for future injury: inverted W, late forearm turnover, reverse forearm bounce, and throwing across his body. As a pitcher who has a significant injury in his past, his mechanics are definitely a concern going forward.

For me, Shawn Tolleson is a wait-and-see player. He has shown great potential in the past, and despite his struggles on this night, he was able to put together a quality start. If his stuff can return to its previous level, he could be worth taking a chance on.

Video scouting first look

February 24, 2009 • Scouting

Here's a first look at some scouting video shot over the weekend. Shown here is a pitch thrown in the 3rd inning of Game 1 of Saturday's double header between UT Dallas and Texas Lutheran University. UT Dallas came back from being down 13-3 to win the game 14-13 with an 11-run 5th inning.

The pitcher in this video is UT Dallas starting pitcher Jonathan Reeder, a left-handed junior transfer from Eastfield College. UT Dallas is a 4-year Division III school, and Eastfield is a Division III junior college. Back in the winter of 2007-2008, I worked with Reeder on his delivery for a few bullpens - not enough time to officially consider him a student of mine, though.

You can clearly see his pronation, and for this pitch at least, his arm doesn't fly across his body during the follow through. Though he shows some late forearm turnover, the rest of his arm action is very healthy. I also think his back side could add a bit more energy and help drive his throwing shoulder with more power.

Since recording this video, I have found a couple of tweaks that will improve future video quality including a YouTube optimizer setting. The video here was recorded at 420 frames per second, so the motion detail is outstanding.

They won't be the sharpest videos you've seen, but they should get the job done.