For the first chunk of the amateur season, scouts hit the warm-weather areas where baseball is going full-tilt early. Often, players from the Northeast or other cold-weather climates will head south or west as well, playing in tournaments and giving scouts a chance to see them before the season at home gets going.
Seasons in places like upstate New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey are underway now, and with the calendar quickly turning toward the 2014 First-Year Player Draft in early June, scouts are migrating north to get looks at some players on their follow lists. Many performed well in showcases over the summer. Perhaps they've been seen in some of those warm-weather tournaments, but this might be the first time scouting directors and national crosscheckers have been in to see them on their home turf.
This past weekend was a busy one for such visits. Many started on Friday with a trip to the Syracuse area to see right-hander Scott Blewett. Saturday may have brought a trip to Hartford to see college lefty Sean Newcomb (six shutout innings) or perhaps to Massachusetts to see Austin DeCarr pitch (16 Ks in six innings).
It seems that wherever people went for Friday and Saturday, they all descended on New Jersey to see St. Augustine Prep right-hander Joe Gatto take the mound. The 6-foot-5 right-hander had a busy summer, making a name for himself at the East Coast Showcase, Area Code Games, Perfect Game All-American Classic and the Under Armour All-America Game. This spring, Gatto had pitched in Myrtle Beach, S.C., but this was only about his fourth outing of the spring. As a result, an estimated 80-plus scouts were on hand at the Millville Coaches vs. Cancer Weekend Tournament.
They didn't necessarily like what they saw. Yes, Gatto was 92-94 mph on the radar gun, touching 95 mph. And he showed some ability to spin a breaking ball. But the North Carolina commit had absolutely no command, walking six and throwing 83 pitches in three innings.
"He's not a finished product by any means, but he has a good arm and a good delivery," one scouting director said of Gatto, who could go as high as the second round come June. "I'm going to have to go back and see him again."
There will likely be several return visits to see Gatto and the others, especially the prep arms, in this part of the country. They get their year started later, with most not even being able to move outside until recently. So giving them a chance to hit full stride is necessary, even with the Draft clock ticking.
"The guys in the Northeast, the high school arms, they might be the best in the country," the scouting director said. "You have to give these guys time up here. It's hard to call on a guy right out of the gym at the start of the spring. But I also understand the window of opportunity. Every day is huge."