We're still a few weeks away from the start of Division I college and high-school baseball (in warm-weather areas), but junior-college teams flocked to various prominent locales this weekend to begin their seasons, and like starving sharks tailing a fishing boat, scouts followed. I was in Henderson, Nevada, where several prominent JCs, mostly from the four-corner states, gathered to shake off their collective rust. The weekend was a grind; 16 games between eight teams (all of their players are draft-eligible) in three days.
The weekend's star was Southern Nevada right-handed pitcher Gabe Gonzalez. A 36th-round selection by the Phillies last year, Gonzalez sat 90-93 mph with some late sinking action, flashed an above-average breaking ball and showed some feel for a forkball/changeup that was flashed fringe-average but was consistently below that. Gonzalez threw 5 1/3 innings, struck out seven, broke a bat (they use wood bats in juco ball) and allowed just two hits, with two walks and two hit batsmen. His command was well below average, but we have to take into account, as we must with every aspect of the weekend's evaluations, that it's January and these kids need to thaw out.
Flashing two above-average pitches on opening night is a good start, though, and if, as winter turns to spring, Gonzalez can show growth in all -- I emphasize all -- of his deficiencies, we could be talking about a third-round, or even late-second-round, prospect. That would mean a display of consistently average control, something that would provide evaluators with more confidence in his ability to start. It also means showing at least some progression with the changeup to give scouts some pitch-grade checkpoints from which to extrapolate. Because Gonzalez has shown some feel for getting lefties out with a back-foot breaking ball, we can be patient with his changeup for now.
While Gonzalez's unremarkable athleticism and somewhat clunky and long delivery don't allow me to go bonkers with future projections on his command and changeup, I do think it's reasonable to expect some improvement as this season goes on and beyond. If, by June, we see even grade-40 control (on the 20-80 scouting scale), a change that flashes average and maybe a bit more velocity, then I'd be comfortable selecting Gonzalez from Rounds 4-7 in hopes that my developmental staff could coax a swingman or fifth starter out of him.
The marquee name of the weekend was San Jacinto middle infielder Nick Shumpert, son of former major leaguer Terry Shumpert. The Tigers' unsigned sixth-round pick from 2015 is twitchy, strong and has rare power for a middle infielder.