Pitch counts an issue for top arms

We're just one month away from the 2013 MLB Draft, and now is when things start to get really interesting as teams start to narrow in on their prospective targets. This week we saw a likely top-two pick have arguably his worst start of the year, a mid-major right-hander continue to dominate his competition, and a Pacific Northwest backstop continues to impress scouts from behind the plate.

• While Keith Law was watching Mark Appel dominate Arizona State, Jonathan Gray was having arguably his worst start of the year against West Virginia on Friday.

Gray went eight innings but gave up three earned runs on nine hits and one walk while striking out six. It wasn't a poor effort from the Oklahoma right-hander, but certainly pedestrian by his standards.

"[West Virginia] were really aggressive today, and Oklahoma's infield defense is pretty bad," an AL scout said. "The stuff looked OK; he didn't finish hitters as well as I've seen him do most of the year, but I wouldn't be too concerned."

Sean Manaea missed his start last week because of a nagging hip injury but returned to the mound on Saturday. Unfortunately, it looked like he might have come back too soon. The Indiana State left-hander went just four innings, giving up only one run and struck out five, but he also walked four. Manaea's fastball sat in the mid 80s, and once again his slider didn't look like an above-average offering.

"If this was a good class, I'm not sure [Manaea] goes in the first round," an NL executive told me. "But because he was so good [last] summer and because the depth is not there, he'll likely be a top-10 guy. I don't see it, but I guess some team will be hoping he can rediscover his Cape stuff. It won't be us."

• One of the more pleasant surprises of the year has been Oral Roberts right-hander Alex Gonzalez. He was very good again on Friday, striking out seven over eight shutout innings. For the year, the right-hander has compiled a 1.89 ERA, and struck out 101 batters in his 90.1 innings of work.

"The slider has been really good this year," an AL Central scout said. "He's got the type of build you love, and he holds his velocity well. [Oral Roberts] doesn't face the best of competition, but a low 90s fastball and a plus slider will play anywhere. I see a No. 3 starter who should give you plenty of innings at the big-league level."

• It was not necessarily a great weekend for some of the better pitchers in the class, but it was a terrible week for pitch counts. Nevada right-hander Braden Shipley threw 130 pitches for the second time in three weeks, Texas Tech right-hander and potential second- or third-round pick Trey Masek threw 132 pitches against Oklahoma State, and Notre Dame right-hander Dan Slania threw 140 pitches in relief against South Florida.

Slania's coach is Mik Aoki, the former Boston College coach who allowed Mike Belfiore to throw 129 pitches in relief in a 25-inning game versus Texas in 2009. The Irish right-hander has had some Day 1 talk, but high pitch counts have concerned at least one team.

"It bothers me," an AL executive said. "It bothers me because it's unnecessary. These are 18 to 21-year-old kids who are being forced into these situations because their coach wants to win a game against so-and-so state more than he wants to develop a kid's arm.

"This idea that you can have a kid throw 125 pitches in a game because he gets a week off is insane, he's feeling the same amount of stress whether he's pitching on a week's rest or a year. I would love to see some accountability, but you won't find it anytime soon."


• Another weekend, another big performance from San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant. The Toreros slugger hit his 23rd home run of the season on Saturday, and now leads all of college baseball in homers, walks, OPS and ranks behind only New Mexico first baseman D.J. Peterson in wOBA. A source told me that there's zero chance that he slips out of the top 5, and that Colorado would be "crazy" to not select him with pick No. 3.

• Samford's Phil Ervin had a bit of mixed weekend against UNC-Greensboro, but did hit his 11th homer of the season on Friday, and is one of only a handful of players who have double-digit homers and stolen bases (14) this year. Despite the success, scouts do have questions about the outfielder.

"There's a lot of things going against [Ervin]," an NL scout said. "He's small, he's probably not going to be able to play center field, he plays in a bandbox, and he doesn't face quality competition. And yet, I think he's going to go in the first round. There's something to be said about his production over the last year or so, and he does square the ball up really well. He's flawed, but I'll take the flawed prospect who's hitting over the toolsy guy who's not."

• Loganville (Ga.) High School outfielder Clint Frazier's season is winding down, but his bat has stayed hot. Frazier went 2-for-6 in a district doubleheader Friday, picking up a triple and three walks. Frazier looks like a top half of the first-round lock, and could go as early as No. 6 to Miami.

• One player who hasn't had his draft stock solidified, though, is Kentwood (Wash.) High School catcher Reese McGuire. McGuire went 1-for-3 on Thursday against Puyallup, picking up an RBI double in the first inning. McGuire hasn't put up huge numbers offensively, but his offense isn't what has put him into top-10 consideration.

"He's the best defensive catcher in the class and it isn't close," an AL East scout said. "He's so quick behind the plate, he's got plenty of arm strength and he's smart. There's some risk offensively, but I think he's going to be a kid who walks quite a bit and hit for enough power to play every day. Is that a top-10 pick? I'm not sure, but I definitely understand the consideration."