Helium, for those not in the know, is the term used for guys on the rise (get it?). While overall there hasn't been a lot of separation among the top talent, there are several guys who have helped themselves quite a bit with their performances this season. This week, we'll head down to Texas.
It's an unusually weak year for talent in the Lone Star state and there was a chance that not a single player for the normally well-stocked state would get taken in the first round. Then Andrew Cashner started lighting up radar guns and ringing up hitters for Texas Christian.
A transfer from Angelina Junior College, TCU's closer has been drafted three times before (20th round by the Braves out of high school; 18th round by the Rockies after his first JC season and 29th round last year by the Cubs). It's pretty clear that the fourth time will likely be the charm for the 6-foot-6 right-hander.
Throwing consistently at 95-96 mph and armed with a slider, Cashner has gone 7-3 with seven saves and a 2.06 ERA in 24 relief appearances. He's been virtually unhittable, allowing only 13 base hits over 39 1/3 IP for a .106 batting average against. He has walked 24, but he's also struck out 61. College closers have become more popular in recent years as early picks who can help a big-league club out in a hurry. With his electric stuff bringing scouts down in droves, he's moved himself up into first-round contention and could be the first closer taken on June 5.
Lead balloon update
Not exactly a term common in scouting circles, "lead balloon" seemed to be a good phrase to use to imply the opposite of helium. It happens every year, without fail: A player with first-round buzz doesn't live up to expectations. Sometimes it's because of signability concerns. Whatever the label, he falls from pre-Draft grace.
It doesn't necessarily mean the prospect won't be a player. Remember, at this time of year, scouts are picking players apart, looking for any possible weaknesses. As the spring winds towards June, any of those questions that pop up can cause a player to slide.
At the start of the spring, Anthony Gose was one of several really intriguing outfielders hailing from Southern California. His Draft Report from February spoke highly of his raw skills. While that report mentioned his abilities as a pitcher, it focused on his talents as a center fielder, where everyone agrees he's a Gold Glove-caliber defender.
This is where some of the trouble is. He hasn't progressed with his offensive game and with plenty of scouts watching his every move and despite decent numbers, he's not performed particularly well this spring at the plate. At the same time, he's teased with some electric stuff on the mound to the point where many would be interested in taking him as a pitcher, though it's thought his productivity on the mound will never equal the potential.
But, according to reports, Gose isn't interested in pitching at the next level. He also hasn't been able to pitch in a while, with some shoulder trouble limiting him to DH duty. While he's certainly entitled to want to be an outfielder, his unwillingness -- whether he'd be amenable in the moment of truth may remain to be seen -- to consider other options has left scouts scratching their heads. That, along with some character concerns and an inability to convince scouts his raw tools will ever be smoothed out, has the SoCal prospect slipping on many Draft boards.
Something to prove
It's hard to claim that a guy who is not far removed from tossing 43 consecutive scoreless innings has to worry about his Draft status, but there are some who feel that the start Aaron Crow is slated to make on Friday for Missouri is a big one.
Sure, he's 10-0 with a 3.08 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 76 innings, and he's still likely to get picked early in the first round. But, beginning with the start that saw that streak come to an end, things have unraveled a bit for the right-hander. In that outing against Texas, Crow yielded five first-inning runs and nine overall in five innings. But he got the win in a crazy 31-12 game. A week later at Oklahoma, he got another victory, though he gave up three more first-inning runs before settling down a bit to yield four runs in 7 2/3 innings. He got a no-decision in his next start after giving up five runs in six innings against Texas A&M.
Then came the most concerning start. Last Friday, he gave up six runs (four earned) in 5 1/3 innings, sticking around just long enough to get win No. 10 before being lifted due to back spasms. He's expected to make his start on Friday as scheduled at Kansas and there's sure to be plenty of eyes on how he bounces back.
Even with the rough stretch, don't expect Crow to slip too far. As one scout pointed out, while there is some concern with mechanics and his recent "slump," there's too much of a positive track record to get too turned off.
"After last year and last summer (in the Cape), do you go off of all of that or a few starts now?" the scout said.
On the Shelf
It's never a good thing when a key player in a big college program goes down with injury. When it's a month before the Draft and the player has first-round aspirations, it's even worse.
Arizona State's Ike Davis finds himself in that exact situation. A prospect since his high school days, the son of former big-league reliever Ron Davis had been helping his Draft status considerably with his junior season. The outfielder/first baseman (and even occasional pitcher) was hitting .401 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs in 40 games, posting a 1.295 OPS for the Sun Devils. Then he strained a rib muscle in the series against Cal and has been out of the lineup since.
The lefty-swinging Davis has missed ASU's past seven games and is not expected to see any action this weekend against Loyola Marymount. The hope is he'll be back in the lineup next weekend when the Sun Devils return to conference competition against Washington. That will give Davis six more regular-season games followed by wherever ASU plays in regional action to make a final impression in front of scouts.
Where to be
Nashville, Tenn.: Georgia at Vanderbilt.
Any Vandy game these days is well-attended, thanks to a certain third baseman by the name of Pedro Alvarez. Especially after missing a large chunk of the season, people are flocking to get as many looks as possible at the player many feel is the best all-around hitter in the Draft class.
The Georgia Bulldogs coming to town gives even more incentive for cross-checkers and scouting directors to head to the Volunteer State. Georgia has its own top 10 pick in shortstop Gordon Beckham, who may have helped his status more than any other college player with his outstanding performance this season. The Bulldogs also have senior closer Josh Fields, a second-round pick last year despite a subpar season, who has moved himself back into first-round contention and could battle Cashner to be the top closer taken in the Draft. Normally, it can be frustrating waiting for a short reliever to come into a game -- scouts can never guarantee when or if they'll pitch -- but this weekend, they'll have Alvarez and Beckham to keep them busy until that happens.