Entering the New York Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game last summer, Robert Winemiller was unknown to the scouting community. For two years, he had primarily been a catcher at Case Western Reserve, a Division III school in Cleveland better known for its academics than its athletic prowess.
Though Winemiller didn't pitch at all in high school and threw just four innings in his first two college seasons, his strong arm led some of his coaches to believe he could be a successful pitcher. Winemiller went to the NYCBL seeking the answer to two key questions: Could he play baseball professionally? And if so, what position?
It took just five pitches in the All-Star Game to definitely answer both questions. Winemiller lit up radar guns with a low-90s fastball, and he mixed in a slider to quickly dispatch three hitters and leave scouts wondering where he had come from.
"That's probably one of the biggest life-changing moments I've had in my life," Winemiller said. "That one game, those five pitches really did change my life. I went from a kid at a small D-III school in Cleveland who no one's ever heard of to a pitcher who scouts have been talking to for a while now."
Now exclusively a pitcher, Winemiller may be the best prospect at a Division III school in the country. Both his inexperience and arm strength have been evident this season. Winemiller's fastball has been clocked up to 96 mph, and he also throws a slider and a changeup, but his control has limited his effectiveness. In 15 1/3 innings, he has struck out 14 batters and walked 12. All five runs Winemiller allowed came in one appearance.
Scouts are divided about Winemiller's prospect standing. His raw tools are enough to excite, but some find it difficult to look past his control and nascent secondary pitches. Winemiller will also have to overcome the dual stigmas of being a college reliever and playing for a small school. The only player drafted from Case Western was Eric Macha, who was selected in the 33rd round in 2003 by the A's. He is the son of then-A's manager Ken Macha.
Winemiller knows he has work to do to improve as a pitcher. With plenty of baseball to be played this spring, he said he will do all he can to prepare himself for Draft day.
"Keep working, keep getting on the mound, keep working on the offspeed pitches, keep working on locations, get reps in games, work hard in the field house, put myself in a good position in June to see what happens," Winemiller said. "What's unique about it is my goals and the team's goals intersect. I want to make myself a better pitcher, and I think the team's going to benefit the more consistent, the better I get. That's my biggest motivation."
Boras Classic tourney a Draft prospect showcase
A little more than a week after Temecula Valley won the Southern California portion of the Boras Baseball Classic, play began Monday for schools in the northern half of the state. Because California doesn't have a state playoff system, the Boras Classic functions as a de facto state tournament.
Several well-regarded prospects are vying for that chance this week. Among the many players scouts will be keeping a close eye on are catcher Tim Susnara (St. Francis), outfielders Derek Hill (Elk Grove) and Trenton Kemp (Buchanan), right-handers Mitch Hart (Granite Bay) and Matt Trask (Davis), and left-handers Cameron Avila (Grant) and John Gavin (St. Francis).
Hill and Kemp are toolsy outfielders, and both are likely to be selected in the top three rounds of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft in June. Hill, an Oregon recruit, is one of the fastest players in the Draft class, and he won the Rawlings Defensive Player of the Year Award last summer. Kemp excites scouts with his power-speed combination, and he is committed to Fresno State.
The winner of the North portion of the tournament will play Temecula Valley in the championship game on May 3 at Pacific University.
Righty Marsh takes lesson from last year's injury
Right-hander Kyle Marsh broke out as a sophomore at Spruce Creek (Port Orange, Fla.) High School when he helped lead the Hawks to the state championship. He threw a perfect game, a no-hitter and struck out 106 batters in 72 2/3 innings.
But Marsh was sidelined last March, when he broke his right patella playing basketball in gym class. The injury ended his season and required surgery to insert three screws in his knee. Marsh missed all of the summer and fall while he recovered.
Marsh has gotten back on the field this spring. He said he learned from the experience.
"I don't take stuff for granted anymore," Marsh said. "I'm more careful in what I do. It made me look through life a lot more and understand what it takes."
Marsh is committed to Central Florida, where he would be a two-way player. But professional scouts are most interested in him as a pitcher. Marsh throws in the low-90s, with a good feel for his changeup. Though there is some effort to his delivery, the projection in his 6-foot-2, 177-pound frame helps offset it.
After missing so much time, Marsh said it took some time to get comfortable on the field again.
"I'm beginning to try to work my way back," he said. "Just playing in general again has been good. Now that it's later in the season, I'm starting to find everything."
Marsh made his most recent start Saturday against Venice, Fla. Facing a team that has been highly ranked in national polls all season, he took his first loss of the season.
Venice is led by shortstop Dalton Guthrie and catcher Michael Rivera. Guthrie, a Florida signee, is the son of Mark Guthrie, who pitched for 15 years in the Major Leagues and now serves as Venice's pitching coach. Scouts can tell he has grown up around the game, and they think he is likely to be drafted in the top 10 rounds.
"He's not real physical, but he has really good instincts," one area scout said.