Scouting Kendal Volz, Baylor University

Trip Somers • March 18, 2009 • Scouting

Kendal Volz is a 6' 5", 225 lb right-handed pitcher with some monster stuff. Out of Smithson Valley HS (TX), Volz was among the top college juniors available for the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Baseball America pegged him as the #6 prospect on both the juniors list and the overall college list.

Volz spent the summer working as Team USA's closer allowing only 1 unearned run in 14 innings and going 8-for-8 in save chances. He works off a low-to-mid 90s fastball, a hard slider, and an improving change up.

At the Houston College Classic, Volz took the mound for Baylor University against UCLA.

Game: February 28, 2009 vs. UCLA

Pitcher IP H R ER BB K
Volz, Kendal 7.0 4 0 0 3 6

Fastball. Volz sat in the 87-90 mph range throughout the afternoon, a sizable drop from his 2008 velocity. Though Volz told Aaron Fitt that he thinks his velocity will return, I think there is reason for concern simply because the drop is so large. That said, it was a pretty cool day in Houston, and I won't be shocked if his velocity does return. The pitch still had great sink and some arm-side action. He showed only college-average command.

Slider. Volz's slider looks like a tight curveball with more downward action than sliding action, but not quite an 11-to-5 break. The pitch is definitely a plus. He was throwing it in the upper 70s and touching 80 with it. The break is big and sharp. He throws it with confidence and with very good command. According to Fitt, he threw more sliders (47) than fastballs (41).

Change up. The change up didn't see much action, but again, Volz threw it with confidence and command. There was good sinking action to it, but I didn't note any arm-side fade. In the low 80s, it only had a 6-8 mph separation from his fastball. To be Major League average, the pitch needs either more movement or a greater drop in velocity.

Mechanics. The video shows a classic tall-and-fall pitcher whose forearm never fully lays back.

Volz's delivery starts with a prototypical balance point after he picks up his front leg. His back leg remains stiff as he steps into his stride. When he lands, he lands slightly closed and so abruptly that he actually kicks dirt toward the plate. Volz uses this to drive his hip turn and kick start his shoulder rotation which are both good. He drags his back foot off the rubber, so his hip turn could be even better.

To pick up the ball, Volz starts with a reach back by flexing his wrist but manages to avoid bringing the ball behind his back. His elbow reaches shoulder height before the baseball but not by much, and at foot plant, he is still picking up the ball with his forearm 180° from the laid back position.

Kendal Volz, wrist flexion during laybackThis leads to a late forearm turnover, though Volz's forearm never fully turns over. At 210 frames per second, it's hard to see clearly, but it appears that his arm only rotates about 50° to 60° behind vertical. This fairly short lay back is accompanied by some wrist extension (see photo).

By flexing the muscles on the posterior of the forearm (extensor muscles), Volz increases the valgus stress in his ulnar collateral ligament, putting it at risk. To protect the UCL from damage, valgus stress must be reduced; increasing this stress is never a good idea.

As he finishes picking up the ball, Volz brings his elbow behind his back creating a lateral "whip" in his arm action. When his shoulders start to rotate toward the plate, his pectoralis major flexes and drives his elbow toward third base. His hand follows, and this results in forearm flyout.

Volz shows good pronation after release, but only pronates into his release when he throws his change up.

He drives his pitching shoulder all the way through his release, and this creates a very controlled follow through. His arm wraps slightly across his body, but this occurs after primary deceleration and with almost no recoil.

Overall. Expected to be selected in the first half of the first round, Volz has probably slipped into the back end of the supplemental round and possibly further than that. His 2008 fastball is not there, and his command has been unpredictable - 12 walks, 8 hit batters, and 22 strikeouts through 26.1 innings pitched. Still, he has been tough to hit - limiting opponents to a .157 average - and his ERA is a very respectable 2.73.

Volz's current struggles - drop in velocity, lower strikeout rate, and bouts of wildness - are typical of a pitcher dealing with an elbow injury, and having looked at his mechanics in slow motion, I believe this could be the case. His command and velocity will be under the microscope until the draft rolls around.

If Volz falls too far on draft day, he has the option of returning to Baylor for his senior season; however, if he can iron out his command issues over the next couple of months and show scouts what he showed them last summer, he will re-establish himself as one of the best pitchers available.

Scouting Alex Wilson, Texas A&M

Trip Somers • March 16, 2009 • Scouting

After missing the 2008 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Alex Wilson has been busy re-establishing himself as a top prospect. As a freshman at Winthrop University, before his injury, most reports said Wilson featured a 91-94 mph fastball and a plus slider.

Fully recovered and at Texas A&M University, Wilson ran his fastball up to 98 mph this fall according to Baseball America. The publication pegged Wilson as the #24 ranked junior and the #26 ranked overall college prospect for the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

The 6' 1", 205 lb right-hander pitched against Rice University on February 28, 2009 at the Houston College Classic.

Game: February 28, 2009 vs. Rice University

Pitcher IP H R ER BB K
Wilson, Alex 6.0 3 2 2 3 7

Fastball. Wilson worked pretty comfortably in the 92-94 mph range with his fastball and occasionally a tick higher. His command came and went throughout the outing. In my notes, I wrote "command" early, only to scratch it out an inning later. In the 4th, he gave up a triple, walked two batters, and hit another. Outside of that, he was quite spectacular.

Slider. This is definitely a plus pitch. Combined with his fastball, Wilson recorded 15 of his 18 outs either on ground balls or by strikeout. The pitch has a solid, late break, and Wilson spotted it very well in this outing.

Other pitches. Wilson threw something that looked like a slow, lazy curve a few times. I haven't read any reports about a curveball from Wilson, so it's possible that this was a mistake slider or a horrible change up.

Wilson also threw his change up several times, and he admitted to Aaron Fitt that it was "probably [his] least effective pitch." It was basically a "show me" pitch, but it served its purpose.

Mechanics. Again, it looks like we have a guy who lands closed. He has a clean pick up and what is typically a very good follow through.

Wilson stays tall as he gathers himself at the top. Wilson starts to drift forward then bends his leg and gets a great forward push onto the ball of his landing foot. He drags his back foot off the rubber instead of pulling it, but his bent front leg doesn't completely stop his center of mass from moving forward.

Wilson's landing limits his hip rotation; you can see that his hips aren't square to the plate until well after pitch release. This does not cut off his shoulders, however, since he uses his trunk to drive his throwing shoulder almost directly over his front hip. Tim Lincecum has a very similar trunk flexion in his delivery.

To pick up the ball, Wilson swings his arm down, back, and up, like a pendulum swing, but he does not supinate or turn his forearm over. Wilson's elbow and hand reach shoulder height at about the same time, but he flexes his elbow as he horizontally abducts his humerus. His forearm is nearly vertical at foot plant, and that leads him to a late forearm turnover.

Because he drives his shoulder straight forward over his front hip, he does a good job of limiting the lateral component of his delivery and of minimizing forearm flyout. Wilson picks his elbow up a little, limiting the reverse forearm bounce, and really drives the ball with his triceps.

On some of his pitches, Wilson throws with a low 3/4 arm slot and has a large lateral component in his delivery. His forearm flyout on these pitches limits the contribution from his triceps. On these pitches, he has a more significant reverse forearm bounce. I captured two of these pitches in the clip above, but it's hard to tell which pitch is being thrown.

Wilson seems to pronate very well and very consistently. This is especially true when he turns over his change up.

His follow-through varies with his arm slot. Wilson's higher arm slots result in a cleaner follow-through, and most of Wilson's pitches seem to be thrown from this slot. When his arm drops into the low 3/4 slot, his arm has a tendency to move across his body during follow-through; however, his strong shoulder drive helps take a lot the lateral deceleration stress off his rotator cuff by limiting the degree of horizontal shoulder flexion during deceleration.

Overall. This particular outing, which featured a very wild inning, was sandwiched by two starts in which Wilson utterly dominated the competition - 14 strikeouts in each game. Through his first 3 starts, Wilson has allowed only 9 hits and 5 walks in 18.2 innings while striking out an amazing 35 batters.

He has two average-to-plus Major League pitches in his slider and fastball, and at times, each is a solid plus pitch. Both have the potential to be even better down the road as he further distances himself from Tommy John (ulnar collateral ligament replacement) surgery.

Wilson's mechanics are not perfect, though they may be better now than they were prior to his injury. He has some of the common flaws of the traditional delivery, but it's hard to say if those will cause him trouble down the road. As a pitcher with a significant injury in his past, Wilson will always carry injury questions with him.

Alex Wilson has only improved his draft stock so far this season. Right now, he looks like a very solid 1st round pick. If he keeps doing what he's done so far, he could be a top 10 pick before June rolls around.

Scouting Craig Fritsch, Baylor University

Trip Somers • March 13, 2009 • Scouting

Another draft-eligible sophomore out of Baylor University, Craig Fritsch (Round Rock HS, TX) is listed at 6' 4", 180 lbs. According to Baseball America, Fritsch is the #6 draft-eligible sophomore prospect for the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft and the #38 overall college prospect.

This past summer, Fritsch was among the top prospects in the Cap Cod League, checking in at #18 on the Baseball America list (subscription required). The brief report on Fritsch, mentions a low 90s fastball, "a good slider and a usable change up."

Fritsch pitched against Rice University on Sunday, March 1, 2009 at Minute Maid Park during the Houston College Classic.

Game: March 1, 2009 vs. Rice University

Pitcher IP H R ER BB K
Fritsch, Craig 5.0 7 6 4 2 7

Fastball. True to the report from the Cape, Fritsch's fastball sat at 90-92 and hit as high as 94. His stride and low 3/4 release give him a wide angle to the plate, so all of his pitches have "hidden" movement to his glove side. Fritsch gets good sink and arm-side run on his fastball that counters this "hidden" movement and augments the pitch's life. He had good control, but was a little bit wild in the zone as evidenced by the 7 hits he allowed.

Slider. His slider really looks like a side-arm or sweeping curveball to me. Fritsch's low arm angle reinforces my belief that this pitch is really a curveball. That said, the pitch has strong arm-side-to-glove-side movement as well as some downward plane. This is a great college breaking pitch, and it should play very well against wood bats. It should become at least a Major League average offering.

Change up. Fritsch's change up is quite an interesting pitch. He gets good sink on the pitch, but it doesn't fade to the arm side. This pitch actually cuts to the glove side, almost like a slow slider. Fritsch's wide-angle release point could be the sole cause. In this game, he kept it down but mostly out of the zone. To me, it looks like it can be Major League average, though it needs some work.

Mechanics. Have a look at the video.

His stride is a decent combination of tall-and-fall and drop-and-drive. Fritsch stays tall early, and then bends his leg to get a strong forward push. He starts to pull off the rubber, but drags his toe, preventing his hips from continuing forward through the pitch and stopping his shoulders from fully rotating until after primary deceleration.

You can also see that Fritsch starts his stride in the middle of the rubber and lands outside the third-base edge of the rubber. He lands very closed, but this is part of why his pitches have such a unique angle to the plate. Landing closed can lead a pitcher to throw across his body, but Fritsch gets enough of a hip turn to avoid it.

Fritsch starts to pick the ball up with something like a pendulum swing, but he cuts it off very early to hyperabduct his humerus. He has a pretty strong scapular load, but he gets his forearm vertical before foot plant.

He has a pretty late forearm turnover. You can see that it doesn't fully lay back until just before release. While his forearm is laying back, Fritsch moves his elbow up. This limits the amount of reverse forearm bounce that takes place by reducing the rotational inertia of the lay back. In the side views, the ball doesn't appear to change height at all, but in the front views, you can see the ball dip a little right before Fritsch releases it.

Fritsch shows good pronation on his pitches, but his follow-through is a little rough. The strong lateral components introduced by his stride and his scapular load cause his arm to fly across his chest after release. This can put a lot of stress on the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles of the rotator cuff, particularly when a pitcher's shoulders stop rotating before the follow-through like Fritsch. This is a small concern going forward, but may never become an issue.

Overall. Fritsch's fastball is probably already Major League average, and his slider isn't far behind. He needs to work on command of his change up, and it could become fringe-average. His control is a plus, but he lacks true command of his arsenal.

He throws a lot of strikes, probably too many, and doesn't fool college hitters as often as someone with his stuff should.

Fristch has some pretty good college stuff, and he has some projection left in his slim frame. In time, he stands a decent chance of having three pitches that are at least Major League average. He's not there yet, but if his command comes around over the next couple of months, he could see his draft stock shoot up significantly.

Scouting Gerrit Cole, UCLA

Trip Somers • 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

Trip Somers • 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.