There are a limited amount of days left on an amateur scout's schedule before the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, so any way to see multiple players at once in a competitive setting is a bonus.
This, of course, goes beyond the top tier of Draft talent. Scouting directors might choose to head to the first couple of games of a weekend college series to get a look at more than one potential early-round prospect. That was the hope when some headed to Mississippi State to watch Texas A&M come to town. Because of some weather and some subpar performances, it didn't really work out that way.
There were two pitchers in particular generating greater interest in this series. One is Texas A&M starter Daniel Mengden, a former two-way player who is focusing on pitching for the first time. He took the mound on Friday, after the completion of a rain-suspended game from Thursday. The 6-foot-2 right-hander was, according to one scouting director, just so-so, going six innings and allowing two runs while walking only one. Mengden gave up nine hits and struck out just two.
"I've seen him better than that," said the scouting director, who thought Mengden would go in the top two rounds, maybe as high as the sandwich round. "I think it's more quantity than quality for him. He has average pitches all across the board. But his pitchability is what makes him a little bit higher.
"He was in the middle of the plate with everything. I know that's not him. But he doesn't have that one pitch that can get him out of trouble."
The other top arm of interest was Mississippi State lefty reliever Jacob Lindgren. Lindgren started in 2013, but he moved to the bullpen this year and could reach the big leagues quickly, potentially as a closer at the next level. Unfortunately, evaluating relievers can be a tricky business.
Lindgren actually "started" the resumption of the suspended game on Friday, but he got only one out and was removed after giving up a hit and two walks. He pitched again on Saturday and was dominant, striking out seven in 2 2/3 hitless innings. Unfortunately, much of the scouting "heat" that was in on Friday had already gone on to other matchups.
"Lindgren was the guy I really wanted to see, but I couldn't write him up," the scouting director said. "He's 90-94 mph, some guys see a plus curve, some see a plus slider. I didn't get a chance to see anything except a fastball that was out of the zone.
"I throw that out. Otherwise, why do have the other guys out there scouting? I know some will say, 'I didn't see it, we can't take him.' We've seen him five times, I just happened to catch him bad. I'm trying to give the kid the benefit of the doubt."
Finnegan on path back from injury
Pitching prospects in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft class have caught the injury bug this spring. One of the better high school arms, Dylan Cease (Milton, Ga.), has been out since March with an elbow injury he's hoping won't need surgery. East Carolina ace Jeff Hoffman, in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick, is shut down for at least two starts with arm soreness. Rice reliever-turned-starter Zech Lemond is on the shelf with elbow inflammation.
So when Texas Christian ace Brandon Finnegan left in the third inning of his Friday start against Cal State Northridge, there was a definite "Here we go again" buzz around the scouting industry.
It was initially called shoulder soreness or tightness, and that always makes everyone a little nervous. While Finnegan hasn't been cleared to return to the mound just yet, there are signs that this will be a temporary setback.
"He's better, for sure," TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said shortly after watching Finnegan long-toss from about 120 feet at about 75 percent on Monday. "He's passed every possible test there is in terms of his shoulder. There's no structural damage in any way. If anything, it's a little bursitis, so he's just on normal anti-inflammatories."
Finnegan has been outstanding in his junior season, going 7-2 with a 1.50 ERA in his 11 starts. Over 72 innings, he's allowed just 48 hits (.191 batting average against) and 18 walks while striking out 96. Finnegan has raised his Draft stock to the point where one scout thought it possible for the lefty to go somewhere in the top 10 picks of the first round on June 5.
To do that, Finnegan will have to show he's healthy and have no ill effects from this shoulder issue. The next step will be to throw his normal Wednesday bullpen session. If Finnegan clears that hurdle, as he did following his long toss on Monday, then there's a chance he could be allowed to take the mound on Friday against Kansas State.
"We're not there yet," Schlossnagle said. "But the fact he went out [on Monday] and did his normal, for the most part, routine and didn't have any issues, we're cautiously optimistic. He's a part of our future, and he has a very big future ahead of him."
Finnegan will either take the mound Friday or another day this weekend, or his turn in the rotation will be skipped to give him extra time. It seems very unlikely that he'd be used in a relief role against Kansas State, though that might be of some interest to scouts who think Finnegan will be a reliever at the next level, one who could draw some comparisons to Billy Wagner.
"He will not pitch this weekend unless he feels like he did against Texas two weeks ago," Schlossnagle said, referring to Finnegan's eight-inning shutout performance with 11 strikeouts. "He's either going to be cleared to start or not pitch. We're not going to try and win a game in one weekend with him in the bullpen if he doesn't feel great."
Gatto highlights weekend of Northeast coverage
For the first chunk of the amateur season, scouts hit the warm-weather areas where baseball is going full-tilt early. Often, players from the Northeast or other cold-weather climates will head south or west as well, playing in tournaments and giving scouts a chance to see them before the season at home gets going.
Seasons in places like upstate New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey are underway now, and with the calendar quickly turning toward the 2014 First-Year Player Draft in early June, scouts are migrating north to get looks at some players on their follow lists. Many performed well in showcases over the summer. Perhaps they've been seen in some of those warm-weather tournaments, but this might be the first time scouting directors and national crosscheckers have been in to see them on their home turf.
This past weekend was a busy one for such visits. Many started on Friday with a trip to the Syracuse area to see right-hander Scott Blewett. Saturday may have brought a trip to Hartford to see college lefty Sean Newcomb (six shutout innings) or perhaps to Massachusetts to see Austin DeCarr pitch (16 Ks in six innings).
It seems that wherever people went for Friday and Saturday, they all descended on New Jersey to see St. Augustine Prep right-hander Joe Gatto take the mound. The 6-foot-5 right-hander had a busy summer, making a name for himself at the East Coast Showcase, Area Code Games, Perfect Game All-American Classic and the Under Armour All-America Game. This spring, Gatto had pitched in Myrtle Beach, S.C., but this was only about his fourth outing of the spring. As a result, an estimated 80-plus scouts were on hand at the Millville Coaches vs. Cancer Weekend Tournament.
They didn't necessarily like what they saw. Yes, Gatto was 92-94 mph on the radar gun, touching 95 mph. And he showed some ability to spin a breaking ball. But the North Carolina commit had absolutely no command, walking six and throwing 83 pitches in three innings.
"He's not a finished product by any means, but he has a good arm and a good delivery," one scouting director said of Gatto, who could go as high as the second round come June. "I'm going to have to go back and see him again."
There will likely be several return visits to see Gatto and the others, especially the prep arms, in this part of the country. They get their year started later, with most not even being able to move outside until recently. So giving them a chance to hit full stride is necessary, even with the Draft clock ticking.
"The guys in the Northeast, the high school arms, they might be the best in the country," the scouting director said. "You have to give these guys time up here. It's hard to call on a guy right out of the gym at the start of the spring. But I also understand the window of opportunity. Every day is huge."