Every once in a while, my job takes me to Fountain, Colorado (hey, did you know Chase Headley is from there?!) and I get to stay the night. I stay about 15 miles from Security Service Field, so I searched my work truck for quarters, bought a box seat behind home plate for two dollars and attended my first ever AAA game.
At least five MLB scouts were in attendance within view of my seat, six rows behind home plate; in fact, two sat directly behind me, complete with stopwatches, radar guns, blackberries and endless notepads full of details on players we may never hear the name of even once.
One of the scouts was from the Red Sox, though I never conversed with him. The other was a 12-year veteran scout from the Reds who also had worked for the Braves and Brewers. He was a very pleasant man who even took the time to explain the options system in depth for a high school girl. I overheard him tell his Boston counterpart that he had been to five games now just to see one certain guy pitch, and he finally got his chance. The comment came as Matt Wilhite took the mound, so I assume that was who it was directed to. Wilhite is due to be a minor league free agent after the season.
I'll run down thoughts I drew from the game, as well as anything the scouts had to add.
The Sky Sox lost 8-7 to the Reno Aces (Diamondbacks affiliate) on this day.
Alan Johnson: It doesn't matter what this guy's stats are - he isn't a prospect. He walked two and allowed 11 hits and 6 runs in 5.1 IP, but that stat line was generous. I believe all 11 hits were well struck line drives, not too surprising with the flat 88mph fastball he threw. Every once in a while, he would snap off a pretty good looking curve to freeze a hitter, but his control with it was too sparse to be effective. Picture CarGo taking batting practice. That's essentially what it looked like.
Edgmer Escalona: He is a big, strong, imposing man, but he appeared awkward and gangly on the mound before pitches. It reminded me of Dontrelle Willis. His pitching motion was much more controlled, though his pitches weren't. He seemed to be throwing the ball without regard to actually pitching. I was not the least bit surprised that he walked two and hit a batter after seeing him throw a few pitches. I would rather see Juan Rincon with the big club than Escalona at this point, unless his approach/performance tonight was an anomaly.
Matt Reynolds: I only saw Reynolds pitch from an outfield seat in Spring Training, so I didn't get a very good look of the lefty. What I do remember noting in Tucson was that Reynolds seemed to "pitch small," utilizing a compact, tight pitching motion. This is particularly counter-intuitive, since he is a very large man at 6'5" 240 pounds. It made no sense to me why such a large man would try to pitch as if he were Scott Kazmir, but after sitting behind home plate tonight, it is alarmingly clear. He is a master at hiding the ball, keeping his arm and the pitch hidden until the very last moment, when he whips his arm through. It was very difficult to pick up the pitches, and his high eighties fastball really snuck up on the hitters. Additionally, the Reds scout gushed consistently over Reynolds' control, saying it was an easy grade of 80 (the highest on the scale). He doesn't have stuff that is particularly devastating, but if he can continue to shield his pitches and exhibit impeccable control, he will carve himself a decent MLB career.
Dexter Fowler: Fowler doubled off the left field wall in the first off Bryan Augenstein (who has been in the majors with Arizona), impressive in that it was so well struck the opposite way, especially from the left side. He was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple, but I think he may have been safe. Who would you believe - a fan behind the plate, or the first base umpire who slipped and fell at the moment the throw arrived at third? He walked twice to extend his streak to nine flawless PA to start his AAA career. He would strike out right-handed against Jordan Norberto and ground out to first to finish the game. Defensively, Fowler had problems. I'm not sure whether he is unfamiliar with the field or what, but he seemed overly lackadaisical in running down liners off Johnson's pitches. It appeared that he should have caught a ball at the wall and somehow missed it, leading to two runs. He also probably could have run down another double at the wall, but a slow gallop after the flyball left no chance.
Chris Nelson: I am surprised again by how small he is. He's built more like Mike McKenry (though a slimmer version) than anyone else. I didn't realize how strong of an arm he has, but he made a fantastic play and throw on a chopper over the pitchers' mound. Before striking out in the ninth, he had a long battle with Blaine Boyer, fouling several borderline pitches off. RedsScout had this to say after a Nelson at-bat:
"He really swings hard, but he can hit. Has been doing it since A-ball. One day, he'll get called up to the big leagues, and I think he'll hit."
Mike McKenry: Actually, that quote might have been about McKenry, who was walking to the plate at the time of the comment. I didn't ask for him to clarify. McKenry certainly isn't fleet-a-foot, though he does a masterful job at blocking balls (I'm aware these observations are nothing new).
Paul Phillips: Paulie is a character. They had a contest in between innings for two fans to "build a Butterburger" by picking four foot diameter pieces and stacking them. A larger guy was having trouble keeping up with teenager, so on his way to warmup the pitcher, Phillips took the top bun from the teenaged kid and dragged it most of the way toward home plate.
Cole Garner: Garner was the beneficiary of the loudest boos of the night. Down one with two out in the eighth, Garner hit a high chopper toward third. The third baseman lost the ball on its way down, and it deflected off his glove. Garner would have been the tying runner, but he was still in the batters box as the third baseman picked up the ball. I did not see it, but I am told Garner slipped and fell in the batters box; the crowd still booed loudly as he was thrown out. He did have a well struck double to the right-center gap to score the first two runs.