HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. -- There's a questionable narrative that growing up in Colorado can pose an disadvantageous hurdle for baseball players hoping to continue their careers beyond high school. Talent tends to be richer in nearby California and the Southeast, and spinning a curveball against the thin air is impractical,
HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. -- There's a questionable narrative that growing up in Colorado can pose an disadvantageous hurdle for baseball players hoping to continue their careers beyond high school. Talent tends to be richer in nearby California and the Southeast, and spinning a curveball against the thin air is impractical, skeptics say.
But assembling an all-time Rocky Mountain roster paints a contrasting picture. The Front Range draped behind Goose Gossage and John Stearns as they burgeoned in the late '60s. Two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay learned to throw his deceptive curveball from local icon Bus Campbell. Mark Melancon has pitched in the postseason each of the last four seasons and last winter signed one of the richest contracts for a closer in history. And, albeit behind a small sample size, Rockies rookie Kyle Freeland is among the next crop of pitchers defying Mile High irony.
:: Complete Prospect Development Pipeline coverage ::
Across the high school landscape, the breadth of baseball knowledge is widening in Colorado. On Tuesday, 31 of the region's top players assembled at ThunderRidge High School in the Denver suburbs as part of Major League Baseball's Prospect Development Pipeline. A joint venture between MLB and USA Baseball created to identify and develop teenage prospects leading up to the 2018 and '19 Drafts, Tuesday's event was one of 30 PDP events across the nation this year.
After a brief introduction and a greeting with Rockies reliever Jake McGee, prospects underwent athletic assessments using sophisticated tracking technology to better discern their strengths and weaknesses.
"I think it's big for a lot of the kids who aren't really seen a lot, and then they come here and do all these tests and it puts them a lot higher," McGee said. "Instead of getting drafted later in the rounds, they come here and do really well and some scout sees them and then they can go up toward the top-10 rounds, even higher. ... Some kids get overlooked I guess, but programs like this, a lot more kids are going to get seen."
One of the more complex evaluations tested visual performance, particularly cognitive and speed of processing more than acuity. The "Hawk Eye" exam presents four symbols quickly displayed on separate visuals, with one outlier image, which the player is to identify in mere milliseconds. PDP cites Statcast™ in its explanation, aggregating average MLB fastball velocities, release point extensions and the swing itself, to determine batters have roughly .218 seconds to make a decision. From there, they have a number for players to strive for.
"The eye and vision test were definitely interesting, something I've never done before," said right-handed pitcher Cody Winn (Silver Creek, Longmont, Colo.), considered by some scouts in attendance to be Colorado's best high school player. "I would say from a pitching standpoint, just like recognizing spots and locations and seeing it a little bit better I guess. It was all very new to me."
A 30-yard dash was conducted between LED lights that track each players' steps to help decipher whether he is symmetrical at game speed, specifically diagnosing any imbalances in their stride. A 2D tracking technology was used in a broad jump and vertical leap to determine power and height generated, and how much contact was made with the ground. More height and less ground correlates to more power and better dynamic control.
At its essence, the PDP spins a layer of sophistication to simple drills by spitting out specialized data that helps players and coaches tailor their development.
"It's a lot different now. You can see how strong the kids are," McGee said. "If you really want to get drafted and go to college and make it to the big leagues, it's a lot of dedication, a lot of hard work."
At the end of Tuesday's session, position players took BP while pitchers threw individual bullpens in front of roughly a dozen scouts, including representatives from the Nationals, Orioles and Phillies among other clubs.
Winn went first and touched 90 mph while mixing a breaking pitch he calls a slider, though it has curveball tendencies. Scouts liked Winn's ability to keep the ball low, but most believe he'll need to polish his changeup at the next level to keep his repertoire diversified if he hopes to go pro.
"He's so smooth. There's no hitch in his delivery," one scout said of the righty. "He certainly has the raw talent to pitch in the big leagues, maybe five years from now."
At the plate, top prospect Tanner O'Tremba (Cherry Creek, Parker, Colo.) smacked four homers and hit another two off the wall -- this after he played roughly 10 games in various tournaments last week. The Texas Tech commit hit .515 with 31 RBIs as a junior last year for one of the more respected high schools in the state.
Local catcher Luke Leisenring (Ralston Valley, Golden, Colo.) showed off the switch-hitting ability he'll take to Arizona State, pulling the ball both ways. At 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, he doesn't fit the catcher frame, but behind the plate, he had a pop time tracked as low as 1.90 seconds, according to one scout, in the range of elite.
Another prospect who caught attention was right-hander Riley Egloff, particularly due to his lineage. Egloff's father, Bruce Egloff, spent parts of six seasons in the Indians and Angels organizations, reaching the Majors for six appearances in 1991, and his uncle, Ron Egloff, played seven seasons at tight end for the Denver Broncos. Riley Egloff is one of the young Colorado arms who throws his curve with confidence, and in a lower arm slot that generates more slider tendencies.
"I feel like that'll help me a lot because then I'll be able to go into that game with confidence knowing my curveball breaks this much and will be a strike," Egloff said. "Other than not throwing it that much my whole life and having to learn that pitch in college.
"I think that's probably the second pitch that every pitcher uses," Egloff continued. "There's like a rare case where you'll have a kid who loves his changeup, but I think in Colorado, you're going to see more curveballs than you are changeups or any other pitch."
Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.