It's late on a recent Monday night, and I'm in the middle of some last-minute preparation for a scouting trip I am about to embark on the next morning when the phone rings.
On the other end is a scout that I regularly share some information with, and who is not prone to hyperbole. "I just saw the best minor leaguer I've seen this year," he said, a good way to start off a conversation and get the other person's attention.
He then starts to tell me about left-hander Christian Friedrich, whom the Rockies selected out of Eastern Kentucky with the 25th pick in last year's draft. The 6-foot-3 22-year-old with a lanky, prototypical pitcher's frame will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Jeff Francis (the healthy version) given his organization, but this scout was quick to point out "he's better than Francis."
Friedrich generally works at 90-91 mph, but can reach back for 93-94 mph when he needs it, and it's sneaky fast and plays up, as hitters don't get a good look at the ball. He throws a little across his body, but it's a clean delivery. "His delivery is so smooth, so easy, that he can have great command eventually," the scout said. "As easy as he throws, that ball gets on you, and he can make that fastball sink, run, or cut."
The southpaw also has a mid-70s curveball that's a true 12-to-6 hammer, and a legitimate out pitch with great two-plane break, although I've also heard that sometimes he relies on it a bit too much. "Just a wonderful hook with good location," the scout said, "and he has a useable slider." Friedrich's slider is in the mid-80s and acts more like a cutter. There's also a fourth pitch, a circle change that the scout said is a 45 on the 20-80 scouting scale right now, but projects as a plus pitch. There's good arm speed, and good separation in terms of velocity.
"He threw a couple of good [changeups] for me," the scout said. "It's Erik Bedard's arsenal, but with a better changeup."
Surely it can't all be good, can it?
"The only flaw I've seen is that he pitches away from contact too much," the scout said. "He doesn't get it yet." That echoes what another scout told me, that sometimes Friedrich will let guys off the hook when ahead in the count. It was an interesting observation for a pitcher in an organization that preaches the value of quick outs to their minor league hurlers. The team likes to have them focus on getting hitters out in four pitches or less and learn to be efficient. Still, if that's your major complaint, that's pretty good.
Friedrich posted a 2.18 ERA in eight starts in low Class A, striking out 66 in 45 1/3 innings before being promoted to high Class A recently, where he has struck out seven and allowed two runs in each of his first two starts. Overall, he has fanned 80 in 58 1/3 innings against just 19 walks.
He has been seen as a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter by a lot of scouts, but this one sees Friedrich as a true ace at the top of a big league rotation. "Just outstanding. He's so good."
Coincidentally, on that scouting trip I took, one of the players I saw was
Brian Bogusevic, OF, Astros
The 25-year-old Bogusevic was drafted 24th overall in the 2005 draft out of Tulane, but as a pitcher. After three and a half seasons with limited success in that role, the former two-way player in college was converted to the outfield for the last 50 games of last season, and wound up hitting .371 in 124 at-bats in Double-A and bringing up inevitable comparisons to Rick Ankiel. He followed that up by playing in the Arizona Fall League to get more at-bats.
A 6-3 left-handed batter, Bogusevic was pushed aggressively right to Triple-A to start this season and entered Tuesday hitting .288 with three homers and a .367 on-base percentage. It doesn't seem like much statistically, but again we're talking about a player with less than 400 at-bats as a pro, so we have to consider his numbers in that context. "I'm just trying to get as many at-bats as possible to make up for lost time," Bogusevic said.
Bogusevic has a good, quiet, controlled approach at the plate, and though there's some sweep in his bat path, there's good bat speed through the strike zone and he keeps his hands inside the ball. There's also some stiffness in his swing, and he's prone to being a bit overanxious, jumping early and getting beaten by offspeed stuff. It appears to be an issue of pitch recognition at times, but that can improve with more hitting experience, and Bogusevic has a quick enough bat that he can let the ball travel a bit more before committing. He'll still chase a bit too much down and away, but he's still learning, and that can be reduced with more reps in the box.
"It's about timing, and getting in sync with the rhythm of the pitcher," Bogusevic said. "It's getting your foot down and being on time. You can't afford to be late or early, because that might be your pitch to hit. I'm just trying to stay consistent with my swing. I'll have days where I feel good, and days where I feel like I can't even hit. It's being able to bring that good swing into the game each day. It comes and goes."
Bogusevic is a good athlete with raw power in batting practice that hasn't translated into game production yet. The ball jumps off his bat when he squares up, but he's been more of a gap hitter. Part of the problem is that he doesn't get a good load, and his front side will fly open too soon. Speed-wise, he's an average base runner that is better underway, which isn't bad given his size. He's 15-for-17 stealing since making the conversion.
He drew some attention this spring after his good AFL campaign playing center field given the fact that Michael Bourn was very much a question mark entering the year. Bourn has developed into exactly what Houston was expecting, though, which gives Bogusevic more time to continue to refine his game at Triple-A. I just don't see him as an every-day player, but rather a backup outfielder with the ability to play all three outfield positions. He's got to find a way to get some more power into his arsenal to be anything more than that, though it's reasonable to expect a little more development given his time off from hitting.
"I never really set any goals of what I thought I could do right away [after making the switch]," Bogusevic said, "but I know what I have to work on, and there's a long way to go."
For now, Bogusevic is not a fantasy consideration. The Ankiel comparisons aren't that apt because the Cardinals outfielder showed power right away and handled balls on the inner half of the plate better, so we'll wait and see if there's further progress offensively as he gets more settled in his new position.
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