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If you ever wonder what scouts mean when they say things like “raw” and “projection,” all you have to do is go watch Jacob Gatewood hit a baseball. I finally got a chance to see the 6’-5”, 195-pound right-hander from Clovis High School in California in person, and all of the hyperbole is warranted. When you think about a 20-year-old version of Gatewood — with about 20 pounds of added fillers — you can’t help but shake your head.
The 2013 Under Armour All-American Game was held at Wrigley Field for the sixth consecutive year on Saturday, August 24. It is always one of the top summer events, and it showcases some of the best players in the country. It gives us Midwest draft junkies a rare chance to watch some of the top prospects in the draft right in our own backyard. Also, the crowd is tiny in comparison to a Cubs home game and it is a perfect chance to say hi or pick the brains of guys like Jim Callis from Baseball America, Chris Crawford from ESPN and even unofficial Cubs mascot Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers, because, well, where else would he be?
Gatewood was number-one on my list of players I wanted to see. He may have the highest upside in the 2014 MLB draft but is still raw in some areas, and his future position is still up in the air as many believe he won’t stick at shortstop due to his size. He has the arm for third as he has been clocked in the upper 80s from the infield, but he may end up in a corner outfield spot where his arm would play well and the future power would justify it. He isn’t a speed burner (7.11/60) but he is wiry and athletic and shows good instincts and range in the field.
His bat, however, is what I wanted to see. His MLB All-Star performance, in which he hit 13 home runs at Citi Field, including three into the third deck, was something I wanted to witness in person. I got to the game early for the home run derby, and Gatewood started things off. When you see him stand in the box, you are immediately impressed with his height, but I wondered where all of the power was going to come from. He stands in the box very loose and seems to hold the bat with just his fingertips. In comparison, fellow top-prospect Chase Vallot — who sent several balls out of Wrigley himself — grips the bat hard and leans back a little in the box, already loaded up waiting for the pitch to come.
The plus bat speed Gatewood possesses allows him to do this. He can wait back, load up and deliver the same amount of force later than others. I tried to take this approach at the batting cages once and the result was me hearing the first pitch hit the mat behind me before I could load up. The gap between me and Gatewood is pretty big. The gap between me and the 12-year-olds who were there was also pretty big.
Gatewood finished the first round with six home runs, a couple leaving Wrigley Field, a couple more putting dents into the seats in the left-field bleachers. Impressive would be the easy adjective to describe his display. Jaw-dropping would be another. As I alluded to in the first paragraph, you’re left imagining what two years of maturing, as well as an added 20 pounds of a minor-league, fast-food diet would create.
After the souvenir show ended, I wanted to see the in-game power. He definitely was selling out and extending his swing for the contest — which is the point — but I wanted to see how he handled himself against some elite pitching. He grounded out to second in his first at-bat against righty Touki Toussaint, then grounded out to short against righty Joe Gatto in his second at-bat. His swing was shorter and he was taking what they were giving him. In his third at-bat against southpaw David Peterson, he smoked a liner to left field for a double. Maybe it was the wind, but I swear I saw the ivy move out of the way as the ball crushed against the wall. He doesn’t have a lot of loft to his swing right now, rather opting to hit laser beams all over the field.
My summation of Gatewood: He is going to be a top-10 pick in the 2014 MLB draft. His combination of size, bat speed and future plus power make him one of the most desirable players available. If teams believe he can stick in the infield, he could go top five. He still has some things to work on, but his “projection” and “raw” skills separate him from most.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @DanMKirby for 2014 MLB draft updates, prospect news and Cubs rambling.