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'Pop-up' guys add another dimension to Draft

Late to ping scouts' radar, Maese and Guardado examples of surprise talent
MLB.com @JonathanMayo

These days, it's rare for there to be an unknown quantity on the Draft landscape, but every once in a while, a player comes seemingly out of nowhere to make some noise.

This year, Justin Maese and Anthony Guardado, high school pitchers from El Paso, Texas, and east of Los Angeles, respectively, are making the scouting industry scramble to evaluate them ahead of June 8. That's the first night of the Draft, with live coverage coming at 7 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.com (preview show at 6 p.m. ET) of the first two rounds. Day 2 coverage starts at 1 p.m., with live pick-by-pick coverage of rounds 3-10. Day 3 starts at noon on June 10.

These days, it's rare for there to be an unknown quantity on the Draft landscape, but every once in a while, a player comes seemingly out of nowhere to make some noise.

This year, Justin Maese and Anthony Guardado, high school pitchers from El Paso, Texas, and east of Los Angeles, respectively, are making the scouting industry scramble to evaluate them ahead of June 8. That's the first night of the Draft, with live coverage coming at 7 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.com (preview show at 6 p.m. ET) of the first two rounds. Day 2 coverage starts at 1 p.m., with live pick-by-pick coverage of rounds 3-10. Day 3 starts at noon on June 10.

Maese and Guardado are the best 2015 examples for what is generally known as "pop-up" guys, amateurs previously not on the radar who have forced their way into the conversation with their performances this spring.

Maese was the first to arrive on the scene, sending scouts running to get to El Paso, which is tucked into the western-most part of Texas. It's an area typically covered by area scouts who cover the Four Corners states (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado) and not Texas, but word spread pretty quickly about a 6-foot-3 right-hander at Ysleta High School who came out of the gate hitting 96 mph with a mid-80s slider.

Cross-checkers were flying in and out of El Paso to get a look at Maese, who was also his high school's quarterback in the fall. His stuff did back up a little bit, losing a little velocity and with less sharpness to his breaking ball. But in Maese's last start of the season, he was between 89-93 mph and showed glimpses of that better slider.

"You have to have people on your staff you trust," one scouting director said about how to handle a situation like this. "You have to be able to say, 'Can you go in there, there's a fire spreading? Can you fly in and see this guy?'

"You can't hold it against a guy for being a pop-up guy. The word sleeper? They're out there. I've been told there's no such thing as sleepers anymore, but every year there are pop-up guys who are good."

Guardado popped up about as late as possible. Also a QB at Nogales High School in La Puente, Calif., Guardado did play on a scout team this fall, but didn't make an impression, likely because of his football commitments. A shoulder injury kept him off the mound until April 23, but it happened to be in a matchup against Peter Lambert, currently No. 53 on the Draft Top 100 list, so there were a lot of scouts on hand when the 6-foot-1 right-hander came out touching 94 mph.

"It was a surprise to everyone," said an area scout who was at Guardado's 2015 debut. "It was like 'Who is this guy?' Up to 94, pitching at 90-92, consistently, with an out-pitch hard slider, show-me change and a curveball, distinct different pitches. He was a little bit of a thrower, but getting after it."

Like Maese, Guardado hasn't been quite as consistently impressive, hitting a dead-arm period in his third start. But reports of him bouncing back to 89-93 mph in start No. 4 had evaluators who had perhaps moved on trying to figure out how to get back to see him again.

Video: Callis talks mock draft and who will go No. 1

On the positive side, Guardado does live in Southern California, so higher-ups can come in and see more than one player in a couple of days -- something that can't be said for Maese in El Paso. But there are only so many days left until June 8 and time is of the essence, and Guardado's shoulder issues of the past are sure to raise some red flags.

"This situation is really late," a second Southern California area scout said. "It's one of the later guys who've been around. You have to see a guy like that. It's more on the scheduling piece where it does cause a problem. It's never a fun situation when you get a pop-up guy this late."

Scouts will get at least one more shot at seeing Guardado in game action. He will start on Thursday in Nogales' playoff opener at Arroyo Grande High School. Maese's season is done, but he will be throwing to junior college hitters at a Big 12 pre-Draft workout on Friday in Tulsa, Okla., as well as some private workouts.

From there, it will be up to the decision-makers to figure out what to do given the limited amount of looks given to these pitchers. Maese's name has been mentioned as high as the second round. Teams are still trying to get a sense of who Guardado is, using a skeptical eye for both.

"I would have concerns, especially pitchers, especially if they are in remote areas," a second scouting director said. "Where have they been? Why the new-found velocity?"

"What is the success rate of the pop-up guys?" the first scouting director asked. "I don't know how good it is."

That director did see one positive for both of these previously unheralded high school arms.

"These guys are football players," he said. "I like football players. They're not going to complain about Minor League Baseball in the dog days. They're used to double sessions."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.