Courtesy Kent State

At the park: Scouting Kent State and Western Carolina

For his final scouting trip of the draft season, Jeff Ellis headed back to Kent State and got a look at four MLB Draft prospects.

This past weekend, I was trying to figure out where to make my final scouting stop of the year. Outside of one weekend with a family commitment, I have been on the road every weekend since April. This week, almost every series began on a Thursday; since I have a day job, I can often only hit Friday or Saturday games. This limited my ability to see draft talent this weekend, as most team's best pitchers went on Thursday. 

I had wanted to go to see the Pittsburgh Panthers, as their season was likely ending and T.J. Zeuch has elevated himself to the first round discussion. He had been the number two starter for most of the year for Pitt, once he returned for injury issues that caused him to miss a large chunk of the first part of the year. Unfortunately for me, over the past few weeks he has taken over the top spot, so I missed his stellar Thursday performance.

Instead, I decided it was best to go to Kent State for the fourth time this year. I knew by going out that I would miss Eric Lauer and, after seeing him twice this year, I was fine with that. Instead, I would get my first look at Andy Ravel.

If you were to go back to 2014, you would hear Ravel and Lauer being talked about as the same level as incoming freshman for Kent State. As a matter of fact, Ravel was rated higher in several places. He was even drafted higher, taken in the 21st round by the Diamondbacks in 2013. 

I am not setting this up to knock Ravel. I just wanted to point out how highly he was thought of, and how it's a little strange just how much he has become an afterthought to many. I think Ravel would be the Friday night starter for at least a half, to possibly three quarters, of other schools in the MAC. He just, unfortunately, got stuck behind a first round pick.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way for Ravel. He is going to be considered undersized, as he is listed at 6’2” or 6”1”; either is still below the height teams want in a right-hander. The other is that he is more of a low 90’s thrower. He doesn't bring the gas and has never posted big strikeout totals in college. I know to some these would be bigger issues, but for me it's more of a shrug and move on deal, because Ravel is a capital ‘P’ pitcher. It might limit his upside, but he has shown some back-end potential over the last three years.

Ravel has four pitches he uses in a game and can command them all for strikes. He might not throw hard, but he rarely hurts himself with a walk either. He is an above-average athlete, with an easy, loose delivery that he repeats with no trouble. The stuff might not be overpowering, but he can mix his pitches, keep the ball down, and be effective. I wish he had gotten more innings in the Cape Cod League, but, in a very small sample size, he continued to do exactly what one expects from Ravel. 

On Friday night, he went 6.1 innings and did not give up a run. He allowed just three hits and did not walk anyone, although he did hit two batters. He worked quickly and efficiently the whole game. He was pitching to contact against a team that has put up some gaudy numbers in the Southern Conference, but they could not seem to put anything on the board against him. There were a lot of fly ball outs and nothing was hit hard.

Ravel will go in the top-10 rounds of this year’s draft, depending on bonus demands. He is not going in the top five or so rounds, because of size and velocity, but as a pitcher there is value, thanks to his ability to command his pitches and control the strike zone. I know there is some disappointment that he didn’t add a ton of velocity since high school, but what he has done is become a polished pitcher. He could return to Kent State next year, but I expect him to hear his name called on day 2.

Western Carolina

At first, I lamented that, of all the Southern Conference school teams to come to Kent State, why could it not be Mercer or Samford, who have some top prospects? Then, I did some research, and quickly became excited to see a trio of bats for the Catamounts. While these three hitters might not be household names, the numbers alone are enough to intrigue me. At the same time, I had to balance this with the fact that the Southern Conference is where pitching goes to die, and can lead to very inflated stats. 

Danny Bermudez, C 

Bermudez actually played outfield in the game I watched, and has split time there this year. He has been known as an average catcher defensively, who could hit some. The fact that he played outfield this weekend showed he is a solid athlete with some flexibility. He didn’t have a lot to do there, so it is hard to judge how he played.

A solid hitter over his four years, last year he showed some doubles/gap power. This year, most of his numbers are down, except his walk and strikeout rates, which are both improved. 

As a senior, he has been a consistent performer who, with his ability to play catcher, might make him enticing to some team after the tenth round.

Matt Smith, OF 

Smith had a big breakout last year for the Catamounts, and this year, as a junior, he has improved in every way. His ISO, AVG, SLG, and OBP are all up. He walks more than he strikes out. As a matter of fact, from last year, his strikeout percentage has dropped from 20% to 14%, while his walk rate has stayed pretty static, just a one percent point increase.

When I see power go up and strike outs go down, that is always something that makes me perk up. He plays in a conference that is all offense, but has been one of the better hitters in that conference, so there is still value in that. 

As for the negatives, he is 5’10” and 200 pounds, which means he is undersized and likely will have a bad body label. On top of that, the small conference with a history of big numbers means his numbers won’t be taken as seriously as they would elsewhere.

Smith has done as much as he can statistically to get himself drafted, but will likely return to Western Carolina for his senior year.

Bryson Bowman, OF 

Players like Bryson Bowman are always fun for me. It allows me to become a baseball detective, to try and figure out where the heck he came from. For those who don’t know Bowman, he is in the top 10 in homeruns for the entire NCAA. He is currently in the same conference as future top-10 pick, Kyle Lewis, and has more home runs than him. He has come out of nowhere to be one of the best power hitters in the country this year. Yet, I had heard nothing about him all year anywhere, not even in stat rundown pieces.

So when I saw the numbers, I went to look up what he did in the past for Western Carolina, only to realize that he was 22, and this was his first season at the NCAA level. Then, with no other college seasons listed in his stat line, the hunt began. I also want to mention that I had some added confusion on game day, as his jersey number did not match what was listed on the Western Carolina website, so even more intrigue.

I found out that he went to Catawba Valley CC to start. Catawba is a pretty successful program, which has had at least one player drafted directly from its program every year since 2008, with the exception of 2011. The most famous player who came directly from the program is current White Sox outfielder Jerry Sands.

Bowman spent three years at the program. He played well as a freshman and sophomore, but did nothing to make anyone think that he was going to hit 18 home runs down the line. He was a solid centerfielder, with speed, a .300 average, some walks, and little power. He looked like a leadoff hitter with some on base skills. 

Now, this is where it gets weird. The reason given for him sitting out last year was that he transferred to Western Carolina. As I always understood it, players can transfer from JUCO’s and play the next year without issue. I am not sure what happened here, but it is the first time I have seen this issue with a player going from a community college to a Division I program.

The numbers this year speak for themselves with Bowman. He has an ISO of .373 and a walk to strikeout rate of 1.68, along with a strikeout rate of 9%. He is putting up huge power numbers, with a good walk rate and low strikeout totals.

On Friday, I didn’t get to see the big power, but what I did see was a Kent State team very afraid of Bowman’s speed. At one point, when he reached first, they threw over five times in an at bat. I think my total count was eight times they threw over, combined, for the two times he reached base.

He played a solid centerfield, took good routes and tracked down a few hard hit balls. I didn’t see anything that would make me think he was anything more than average there right now.

He is a kid I am going to be watching for on draft day. I’m intrigued by the fact that he has been someone that has had zero talk, but the numbers he has would have been enough to make him an interesting player. So, when you mix in the power he has shown with his speed and limited track record, he becomes a very intriguing senior sign player.

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