From a scouting perspective knowing less can be an advantage. It shields you from preconceived notions. Working in the media space, I felt it important to at least have cursory understanding of dudes on each team, but there is undeniable value to otherwise knowing as little as possible. Your evaluation should be a blank canvas to paint on. Truly original opinions can only be developed through untainted first-hand accounts and observations. That was what I tried to do at the MLB4 Tournament and again last weekend when Oregon State came into town to face Nebraska.
What I knew: Oregon State C Adley Rutschman has serious 1-1 hype. Oregon State RHP Kevin Abel is a big name in the 2020 class. Kyler said to watch out for Nebraska 3B Spencer Schwellenbach. That’s about it.
Let’s start with Rutschman. It is easy to pile onto the hype train, but when the player you’re watching is prolific what can you do? He homered in both games of last Friday’s double-header from both sides of the plate. The lower half is very well-incorporated. Mechanically his back leg and hips are exceptionally strong. There is big hip rotation, and it is well-timed in a way that he is not behind on his swing. The swing is fairly short for the amount of power he generates. Rutschman was patient at the plate; he looked comfortable waiting for his pitch and taking what the pitcher gave him. He also understood how to opportunistically dip his back shoulder to generate an uppercut swing plane; he swung with authority but never so much that I felt he was selling out for power over contact. The swing mechanics looked pull-dominant, but he also looked capable of going oppo if necessary. The righty swing was almost as smooth as the lefty swing, and I do not have reason to believe platoon splits will be an issue for him. In fact, I see little difference between the two swings. The bat speed is 60 grade, good but not elite. Adley is incredibly strong, and the quality of power on contact should result in high BABIPs. I envision him as a guy who will tap into most of his raw power in games. The raw power is probably a 60 or 70. I did not catch a BP but shoot to do so when when Oregon State plays ASU later this season.
His offensive game alone does not make Rutschaman a potential 1-1; he is incredibly well-rounded showing defensive prowess as well. In fact, you may be hard pressed to identify a glaring weakness in his game. This is something I will be thinking about intently the next time I see him this spring. He is a very easy, quiet receiver and looks adept at moving low to the ground, pivoting between his knees and crouch position. The best defensive catchers have great hips, and that quality stands out for Rutschman. He reminded me a bit of MJ Melendez in terms of his lateral movements and agility behind home (although not quite to the same level). His overall movements were polished and smooth behind the dish. The feet were quiet for a catcher; he was quick out of the crouch on a 1.9 pop CS Saturday. It is around a 70 arm. While it was only one throw this was an impressive dart on a line. The second baseman barely had to move his glove. Pitch framing was also quite good (to the chagrin of Nebraska fans in my vicinity). FULL VIDEO
Rutschman was a damn pleasure to watch live, but he was not the only one in the series that evoked this feeling. Right-handed pitcher Kevin Abel put on a show Friday striking out 10 in 5 1/3. Abel is a very advanced pitchability type of guy with plus FB command and two plus secondaries. That may be selling his changeup short, which projects to 70. It is the best changeup I have seen since Forrest Whitley in the AFL last fall. Needless to say it is a devastating pitch. The secondaries are the Abel’s primary swing and miss weapons, and they allow him to attack both-sided hitters. The FB, however, is not toothless. It sat 88-92 and touched 93-95 a few times over the course of the outing. More impressive than the velocity was Abel’s ability to spot the FB on the corners. The mechanics were smooth, easy and repeatable. Abel uses his lower half well, transferring energy into his arm efficiently. If there is any knock on Abel it would be his size. He was listed at 6’2” 195 on Oregon State’s roster, but he looked smaller to me. The extension also looked just average. The stuff and his advanced pitchability made me not care much about his size. His feel for pitching and ability to sequence stood out; Abel would work his FB and CHG seamlessly to both sides of the plate leaving hitters guessing. Are you ready for a cross-racial comp? As I watched Abel on the mound, the pitcher he most reminded me of was Yankees Deivi Garcia. Both have plus FB command, clean arm actions and great feel to pitch. It’s not a perfect comp but truthfully so few are. There are a lot of similarities. Unrealistic expectations commence, but honestly this guy is going to be f****** good.
This may not be rare for SPs the day they start, but Abel was the first player onto the field roughly two hours before game time on Friday afternoon. During stretching and warmups in the bullpen, I overheard him talking to the groundskeepers and apologizing to them for “ruining their work” on the bullpen mounds. How much can we read into this? I don’t know, but Abel strikes me as a laid back but also humble SoCal kid. He is the type of player you find it easy to root for. FULL VIDEO
Aside from Rutschman and Abel the only other player on my radar was Nebraska 3B Spencer Schwellenbach. The Michigan native was a two-way player in high school and reportedly touched 95 from the mound. His defense looked raw at third including a low throw to second on a would-be double play ball. His athleticism, however, stood out. There was a play in Friday night’s game when he timed a jump and was able to get a glove on a ball destined for LF; he’s got ups. Schwellenbach is also a plus runner from the right, registering a 4.25 on a ground ball to second. The first step is quicker than his max speed, which in theory should play well at third. At the plate Schwellenbach has plus bat speed. Mechanically he had a big stride forward but kept his hands back to the last second, allowing another split second of reaction time. The swing plane was pretty linear. Most of his contact was solid but also on the ground or low line drives. Oregon State gave him a heavy dose of pitches away. The approach is pretty good. He tracked spin and was willing to work deep in counts but would also pounce on fastballs early in the count if he thought he could handle them. Schwellenbach showed the most promise of anyone on Nebraska.
Here are some short blurbs on a few other players that stood out in the series:
Beau Philip (SS) Oregon State - Defensively made all the routine plays but was not flashy. OK infield actions, average range and arm. Fringe average runner. Aggressive on base paths with good read on passed ball, was able to score. Above average bat speed. Hands lower and back to slot below shoulders, creating short path to ball. Size of leg kick varied. Stayed strong on back leg. Big torque through hips. Aggressive hitter: thinking he can hit most pitches, expanded zone vs spin down and away and also up on fastball. FULL VIDEO
Christian Chamberlain (LHP) Oregon State - Short lefty with plus arm speed and good athleticism. Below average balance with some head movement at foot strike. Short arm action and ball hard to see out of hand. Worked the corners with his fastball which was 89-91 with life. Chamberlain was able to paint both sides or use up as chase pitch with two strikes. The CB was 74-76 with big depth and 12-6 shape, easily plus. Despite his height he worked aggressively and attacked hitters; exuded confidence and was often waiting for hitters, I love that sh**.
Alex McGarry (LF/DH) Oregon State - Aesthetically pleasing swing. Found barrels with consistency throughout series. Short load and approach, but still good use of lower half: rotational with well-timed hips. Hands direct to ball. Hole in his swing down and away was exploited a few times. Would expand the plate away. Pull-heavy approach and swing mechanics. Did damage on contact. DH’d two of three games I attended and I did not get a good feel for his defense in LF. Considering he spent two games as the DH one would be lead to believe it is not a strength. Average runner: 4.19 from the left. Bat needs to carry the profile.
Chad Luensmann (RHP) Nebraska - Strong, thick frame. Looks like a pitcher. Low three quarters slot with cross body arm action and follow through. Not much effort in the delivery. Works bottom third of the zone. Uses two FB variants: 89-91 with sink and run and 90-92 T94 four seam. The slider was low 80s and was not used much. The 2sm/sinker bore in on right-handed hitters and the overall pitch mix was FB heavy. Oregon state hitters did not see the ball well out of his hand. His extension was double-plus. Worked from low vertical release point and arm slot, in essence exchanging plane for added extension. Unheralded player to watch with keen interest. Could be a mid-round sleeper. FULL VIDEO
Angelo Altavilla (SS) Nebraska - Defensively good hands and reactions; made a great stop on difficult hop on ground ball from Zak Taylor’s bat. 40 arm strength. Good defensive actions and footwork around second. Wide base stance at the plate with little lower half involvement. Plus bat speed. Last-second bat wrap puts him behind the eight ball and subsequent swing plane in turn produces too many ground balls. Average runner: 4.20 from left side.