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Category: John Klima

Scouting Notebook: Scout around and read this book on Alex Pompez

Alex1 A few weeks ago, I was sitting at Dodger Stadium doing research for another book, when Dodger coach Manny Mota came over to say hello to my interview subject. I told Mota I had just finished reading a new book about Alex Pompez. Mota's jutted his chest forward, he pointed his thumb at himself and proudly said, "Alex Pompez signed me."

A generation of Latin ballplayers could say the same thing about the man whose fingerprints remain on the major leagues today, his life story told for the first time in flourishing detail in Adrian Burgos Jr.'s "Cuban Star: How One Negro League Owner Changed the Face of Baseball."

Pompez is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, but his name isn't as famous as his contributions. Burgos details Pompez's fascinating life, one influenced by social, economic, race and class factors -– the awareness of which helped him win over many young players like Mota when, in the last third of his life, he fed the San Francisco Giants a stream of Latin American talent. His efforts influenced every other team to scout aggressively in Latin America. The result is the game we see today.

Pompez lived an unusual American dream -– the son of a Cuban revolutionary, he rose to prominence as a Harlem numbers king and survived a lengthy entanglement with gangster Dutch Schultz, all while procuring talent for his Negro League team, the New York Cubans. When the Negro Leagues began to fold, Pompez built relationships with the New York Giants (he rented the Polo Grounds for his ballclub) by helping them identify and sign Negro Leaguers Monte Irvin and Hank Thompson. In 1950 came his masterpiece, when he helped the Giants find a way to sign Willie Mays out of Birmingham.

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Scouting Notebook: Giants catcher Buster Posey's injury has long-term ramifications



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It will be hard to get anybody in baseball to say this for the record, but the worst part of Giants catcher Buster Posey’s injury is that he set his feet incorrectly before the throw arrived prior to the horrendous collision that ended his season. He did not properly plant his leg into position to achieve stability before blocking off the plate. He was hit by a freight train before he had his shoes on and he paid the price, suffering a broken bone and torn ligaments.
 
As quickly as Posey developed as a solid major league defender, his catching inexperience showed up on a quickly developing and complicated play, where he instinctively handled home plate like an infielder holding a base more than a catcher covering the plate.
 
Posey was caught up in a complex play -- ball coming from one direction, runner coming from the other -- and he simply hadn't caught enough to instinctively know how to set his feet quickly enough to block the plate and then shift his weight to take the throw from one side and the hit from the other. The guy is a gamer and nobody takes that from him and it's a sad commentary to have to make. It’s one of the risks of bringing up players so quickly through the draft and development process.

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Scouting Notebook: Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder hit like they're 80

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There is nothing sweeter in baseball scouting than the phrase "80 raw." It means the highest grade for raw power, the pure ability to hit a ball a country mile. It is also the most elusive tool in baseball, and finding players with the natural hand strength, quickness, bat speed and hip torque to make launching batting-practice balls into the overpriced cheap seats look easy is no easy feat. Back in the good old days, when the Angels actually had power, early comers to Angel Stadium could watch Vladimir Guerrero’s "80-raw" demonstrations, when he liked to hit balls off the rock pile in left center somewhere between 400 or 500 feet.

Fielder_250 You have to wait for other teams to come into Anaheim or Los Angeles these days to get a real idea of what consistent 80 raw looks like. Because of the very nature and scarcity of 80 raw, a lot of people mistake good (that’s 60 raw for those scouting at home) with 80. You might get yourself a 70. You want to be careful with the 80. If you scout amateurs, that one high school boy might flash it, or that one college boy might tempt you. But more often than not, it’s not 80 raw. You have to watch big league hitters to properly judge it, and you need to see it in person, not believe secondhand information that distorts player performance. If you don’t see it, don’t believe it.
 
Last week, with the Milwaukee Brewers in Los Angeles and the Atlanta Braves visiting Anaheim, it was enough to remind one of the Milwaukee Braves and their 80-raw tandem, Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews. There are two 80-raw kind of guys just like Aaron and Mathews were. There is the guy who hits the ball on a hard line drive that keeps rising. Then there is the guy who hits the majestic towering shots that hang in the sky like a summer moon. Each is an 80-raw guy, but the fun part is deciphering how each can create a different trajectory. Enter Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, Milwaukee baseball descendants of a different time, when 80 raw was legit, the only drug was a bottle of Miller High Life, and Aaron and Mathews routinely did at 5 p.m. when Braun and Fielder do today.

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Scouting Notebook: Steep learning curve for Tyler Chatwood

Chatwood_250 Tyler Chatwood would be a junior in college baseball right now had he not signed with the Angels as a second-round pick out of Redlands High School in 2008. Right now, he’s clearly more advanced than he would be if he were in college, where he would be a flavor of the month in mock drafts. Instead, he’s learning at the most advanced level there is, and based on this look, the best way to describe it is that Manager Mike Scioscia is training Chatwood to pitch, especially with his fastball, multiple times through a major league order.

The first thing you’d notice is the arm speed and the arm action. The arms works, and the short motion allows for enough power and torque to compete, with a compact, max-effort delivery.  These are the reasons nobody cares that Chatwood is generously listed at 6-0 and not 6-foot-5. Chatwood doesn’t necessarily have a problem other than inexperience -- a guy with a good arm whose velocity got him there in front of every high school pitcher in his draft class and is now learning how to pitch where it counts.

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Scouting Notebook: Vinnie Pestano, a sidewinder for success

Vinnie_250 One secret behind the surprising success of the Cleveland Indians this season can be found in the bullpen, where rookie right-hander Vinnie Pestano, a product of Cal State Fullerton and Anaheim Canyon High, has become a key contributor.

Pestano, 26, was a lowly 20th round draft choice out of Cal State Fullerton in 2006. He made it to the big leagues with a funky delivery that was easily classified as sidearm but was a little more complicated than that. Pestano is finding success not only because his arm angle is deceptive and unorthodox, but also because his arm works well enough for him to be able to generate above-average stuff.

In his one-inning look at Anaheim on Saturday night, his fastball was 90-94, which is typical, but for Pestano, it’s not the looks but the moves. His fastball at different times flashes late and jumps high in the strike zone and also has defined tail and sink against right-handed hitters. His secondary pitch, a change-up he throws at 80, has late sink to it, making Pestano, in effect, a power sinkerballer. Classifying him as “power” might be a matter of semantics for some, but it’s enough for him to be an eighth-inning set-up arm in the American League with 15 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.

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Scouting Notebook: Time for Jonathan Broxton to lose some weight

Lkdzj3nc If he were my pitcher, I would tell Jonathan Broxton that it is time to make changes if he wants to be the guy he used to be, the type of dominant major league closer who had 114 strikeouts in 76 innings in 2009. The arm strength is still here, but the mechanical flaws that have caused his fastball velocity to slip a grade and his once put-away slider to become downright slurvy at times can be regained only if he accepts that it is time to lose weight, improve conditioning and dietary habits and accept that what he is now isn’t enough to dominate anymore.

There are more forceful ways to say this, but that’s the job of the instructors, not the scouts. In a Friday night look against the Padres in which Broxton huffed and puffed his way to a save, he showed us all we need to know about why he is now a max-effort and average major league closer rather than one of the best in the game. The question now becomes if he knows it.

Broxton threw 20 pitches –- 18 fastballs, sitting 92-94 mph, mostly all straight with no life, not the 94-95 electricity we used to see. None of Broxton’s stuff is as consistently good as it was. Gone is the forceful and late giddy-up high in the strike zone. Broxton’s fastball no longer explodes with late movement. It’s much less hostile and much more ordinary. It’s just fast and decently located, but big league hitters will line up to face 92-94 any day of the year.

Broxton is drifting off to the first base side away from the target, causing him to aim his fastball, reducing its natural life, which was one of his greatest weapons. We also don’t see the same hard tail against right-handed hitters. He’s trying to compensate for a lack of power with finesse. This won’t work for whom he is. 

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Scouting Notebook: Angels fire Brandon Wood

Wood_250 The Angels were beyond patient with Brandon Wood, but patience is a virtue only when it results in production. They were sympathetic toward a player who couldn't prove he could do anything well at the major-league level except be a nice guy and try hard to be something he isn't.

Unfortunately, that and a pat on the back will get you nowhere in the big leagues. (Well, it will get you claimed on waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates.) Wood never showed adaptability, but neither did the Angels, who did a poor job profiling his talents and placing him in the proper role at the major-league level. The book on Wood never changed -– you get him out with fastballs on his hands and then breaking balls away. He never changed, but neither did the Angels. Wood fits best as a bench player who can play third, short, first, left and right and provide a late-inning right-handed power threat, not as a player who can be an everyday offensive contributor.

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Scouting Notebook: Matt Kemp is on the right track

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If we were privy to the notebooks of National League advance scouts, we would find an ordered list for player acquisition from each team. When the page turns to the Dodgers, here’s why we would find the 2011 version of Matt Kemp at the top of the preference list, where a pro scouting summary right now would probably read something like this:

Making it look easy. Plus, plus right-handed power, loose and easy explosiveness, quiet body, finally trusts hands. Loose and easy athletic actions, body looks better than it has in years, premium CF defender, better reads and routes, closing gaps, arm works easy, throws with carry and accuracy. Good first step, even better underway, gazelle-like runner, base-stealing threat at any time. Playing with a chip on his shoulder -– playing with something to prove.

Kemp’s hot start continued Sunday with his two-run, game-winning home run in the ninth inning against Cardinals reliever Ryan Franklin. His numbers speak for themselves, but the signs that Kemp was on the verge of reestablishing himself were evident on opening day, when Kemp looked lean, loose, athletic and explosive.

Everything about Kemp looks easier right now –- scouts call this a “whippy” body –- and it’s the difference between a muscle-bound slugger, a bad-body behemoth, and what Kemp looks like right now –- a five-tool dominant major leaguer.

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A scout's view of Vernon Wells

Wells_275 Angels left fielder Vernon Wells is hitting at a level that is a shadow of his former self, and his performance over the weekend against his former team was indicative.

Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Brett Cecil on Saturday offered a good opportunity for Wells to regain his confidence. Cecil is a garden variety strike-thrower with pedestrian velocity -- exactly the kind of pitcher the Angels are paying Wells to pulverize.

Wells drew a walk in his first at-bat, Cecil pitching around him. In Wells' second at-bat, Cecil -– a nibbler who by then had thrown 47 pitches and whose 86 mph to 90 mph fastball cuts and sinks but is hardly imposing -- threw an 87 mph fastball that Wells fouled straight back.

Near-misses of such pitches are signs of one of two things: bad timing or diminished bat speed. Sometimes both. An honest scout must conclude that Wells presently lacks the loose explosiveness that characterizes the swing of a top hitter.

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