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Coaches erred in Rodon decision

4/14/2014
AP Photo/Nati Harnik

Those of you who follow me on Twitter saw me voice my displeasure over NC State's usage of left-hander Carlos Rodon, the best college player in this year's draft class, on Friday night. Rodon, who has pitched with a 50- or 55-rated fastball all year, was going on short rest on Friday, but showed up (paradoxically) with more velocity, sitting at 92-94 mph and touching 96.

NC State then decided to push Rodon to 134 pitches, sending him back out to start his final inning after he'd already thrown 118 pitches, an acceptable, if upper-bound, number for a 21-year-old pitcher. This was a clear example of a coaching staff putting their own interests over those of a pitcher, a perfect example of moral hazard at work in amateur baseball, one that calls for regulation by the NCAA.

The Wolfpack, despite having two of the best college players in the country this year, are 5-11 in the ACC so far (19-14 overall) and in danger of missing the NCAA tournament, a result that would be devastating given their talent level. The potential cost of missing the tournament is so high that the coaching staff has the incentive to try to win at all costs, including asking players to do things that may not be in their own best interests, such as throwing 134 pitches in one outing. Only one MLB pitcher did that in all of 2013: Tim Lincecum, in his July 13 no-hitter. (In fact, since the start of the 2010 season, only four MLB pitchers have thrown 134 or more pitches. Three were no-hitters, one was Brandon Morrow's 17-strikeout one-hitter in 2010, and all four spread those pitches over nine innings rather than Rodon's 7 2/3 innings.)

Rodon has a potential $6-7 million payday in front of him, and putting him at any risk like this, real or perceived, is wrong. The reaction within the industry, among sources with whom I've spoken, was unanimously negative. Rodon shouldn't have been sent back out for the eighth inning, period.

I hope there are no ill effects from this kind of outing, but it is inevitable that we will eventually see a pitcher used too heavily in his draft year and then blow out shortly thereafter, costing him a large payday. Causality is irrelevant at that point; the mere perception of misuse will lead to serious consequences -- from recruiting to a potential lawsuit -- for the coaching staff in question. That may be what it takes to get the NCAA involved to put a stop to this kind of nonsense.

Scouting notes on Weaver, Chavis, others

• My run through Georgia centered on the Friday night game at Georgia Tech, where Florida State's Luke Weaver, a potential mid-to-late first-rounder, threw against the Yellow Jackets, giving up five runs in the first inning before settling down and competing well to battle through seven innings.

Weaver received no help from his defense in the first inning, as his infield gave away three extra outs, but his inability to finish off hitters also hurt him, as he doesn't have a bona fide out pitch right now. His best offering is a plus changeup, 82-84 mph, which improved as the game went on, with good fading action and better command than he showed on his fastball. The four-seamer was mostly 90-93, and Weaver left a lot of them up, something he will not be able to get away with in pro ball. His slider is below average, at 81-84, backing up on him frequently; even when he throws it well, it's short and has no bite or dive to it.

His delivery is a mixed bag, more positive than negative. He's lean, but extremely flexible, like Lincecum was when he was younger, and so he gets well out over his front side at release, which is good for long-term health and also can help his average fastball play up. He's on line to the plate, and he gets on top of the ball most of the time from a three-quarters slot, so he should be better than what I saw in terms of working down in the zone. Weaver pronates his forearm late, though, after his front foot has already landed.

Weaver has such a quick arm it beggars belief that he can't throw at least an average slider; I would imagine any team that drafts Weaver would make developing that pitch their first priority with him, and while I hate projecting a pitcher, especially a college guy, to develop a pitch he currently doesn't have, Weaver at least has the proper elements to be an exception. I might have ranked him five spots too high in late March, but I think he's a good pick late in the first round for a team that wants a quicker-moving college starter in a year where the greatest depth is in high school pitchers.

• And since I know some of you will ask, Jameis Winston didn't pitch; he played a little in left field, had one at-bat, and popped up.

• Sprayberry High School shortstop Michael Chavis has had some first-round buzz after a very strong spring season at the plate, showing strong hit and power tools after a modest showing last summer. Chavis is maxed out physically, 5-foot-10 or 5-11 and already very strong, so there's less projection than there is on your typical high school prospect. He has a quiet approach with strong hands and wrists, so the contact he makes tends to be hard, with plenty of loft in his finish. He showed better running speed than I expected, above average to plus down the line, although I think he'll settle in as a 55-rated runner in a year or two.

He has the arm to play anywhere on the field, but his footwork isn't right for shortstop; he could move to third, or even right field, but he has a catcher's build and the intensity for that position, assuming he has the interest. I know a few teams have discussed having him catch at their pre-draft workouts; his bat might be too advanced to take that risk, but you've got a potential superstar if he takes to the position quickly.

• Kennesaw State catcher Max Pentecost didn't catch on Saturday, although given his strong catch-and-throw skills seeing him defend was a little less important than seeing him hit. (He should still be catching every Friday and Saturday, at least, if only to create more chances for scouts to evaluate him fully.) Pentecost will show power in batting practice, but it's rarely shown up in games; he's more of a contact hitter with surprising athleticism and running speed, getting down the line in 4.08 seconds on one ground ball.

Pentecost has good bat speed, but is late to get his bat loaded, holding the handle so that the barrel is still pointing slightly behind him before he shifts his weight forward; you don't see many big leaguers hit like that because it's hard to get the bat head through the zone in time to drive the ball. He has a solid approach, and once he gets the barrel turned around the path is fine for line-drive contact. He did throw in infield/outfield practice on Saturday, and showed a clean, short arm stroke so his releases are quick. As a no-doubt catcher with at least some history of offensive production, including a great summer on Cape Cod in 2013, he'll go in the top 20 picks; I'm just concerned about the swing translating to pro ball without significant changes.

• Pace Academy outfielder Raphael Ramirez is, according to scouts I've talked to in the area, a likely “tweener” -- a good prospect, not a great one right now, who might prefer going to college than taking the kind of bonus he might get in the third or fourth rounds. He has some bat speed, and is a plus runner, but bars his lead arm, and has an exaggerated leg kick that interferes with his timing.

I caught four at-bats before I drove over to Georgia Tech to see Weaver -- with dinner in between, which I'm sure surprises exactly none of you -- and Ramirez squared three balls up, one of which was well out of the zone. He wasn't challenged in center field, but I would guess just based on his build that he'll face questions about staying there for a few years in college or pro ball. With a quieter setup and an emphasis on contact without power, he could be very interesting -- first/second round interesting, that is -- in three years.