OCALA, FL- Ocala Forest High School righty Keyvius Sampson came into the spring ranked #30 overall for the 2009 draft by PGCrosschecker.com. Committed to Florida State University, scouts have also been hot on his trail.
I drove up to northern Florida to watch Sampson pitch on Friday night. Forest High School is tucked away in a forested area of Ocala, about nine miles off of I-75. A beautiful high school with a stunning baseball/softball complex, it provided an ideal setting to watch one of the nation’s top pitchers.
I’d seen Sampson before at various showcase and summer tournaments like our annual WWBA event in Jupiter. But this was my first look at him with his high school team.
In the bullpen, it was obvious Sampson has a very quick arm. He’s loose and long in the back with a mild amount of shoulder strain. He doesn’t rock back to generate momentum; his shoulders are level to the ground throughout his delivery and he lands slightly across his body throwing from a high three-quarter slot.
Sampson’s body is very athletic looking, but it is not a typical pitcher’s body. The closest major league comparison that I could come up with (and that other scouts agreed on) was Houston Astros ace Roy Oswalt. Aside from being African-American and probably two inches taller (Sampson appears a little over 6-0, 180, while Oswalt is most likely 5-10 despite being listed 6-0), they fill out a uniform much the same. Sampson has a small waist but is well-built in the hips and has sturdy but slender legs. His upper-half is lanky.
Sampson threw hard, particularly in the early innings where he was consistently 90-92 MPH. But what makes him intriguing to scouts is more the movement than velocity. Sampson throws both a four-seamer with rise and a two-seamer (86-90 MPH) with sink. I project both for plus movement in the future. By the sixth inning, Sampson was down a few miles and his command was way off.
There is concern with his off-speed stuff; Sampson’s curveball is a slippery pitch. It has a lot of movement, but it is not sharp and moves more lateral more than vertical. With good command, it can become a useful big league pitch but not a knockout punch. Sampson didn’t show a lot of feel for his change (which he didn’t need during the game). It was straight and his arm-action wasn’t convincing.
I suspect he might pick up a slider in pro ball and find a different grip and approach to his change-up. His hands don’t appear big enough to throw a splitter.
Forest played Gainesville Eastside HS, whose lineup was overmatched. That made it difficult to scout his pitchability and his competitiveness because he could get by on mere ability. Still the body language was good. His command was off in the sense that a good High-A ball team would have hit him, but okay by high school standards.
Sampson no-hit the Eastside HS lineup for six innings, striking out 13 before yielding a bloop single in the seventh. He was pulled after, but still combined on a shutout. For the day, Sampson walked three hitters and didn’t give up a run.
There were about twelve scouts in attendance. On a Friday night, most crosscheckers are at college ballparks, somewhere.
All in all, Sampson looked like a 2nd-3rd round prospect. I haven’t talked to any scouts this spring who think of him in terms of the first round at this time, but there’s a lot of baseball still to be played all over the country.
Check back for my next blog about Tampa Plant HS RHP/SS Mychal Givens, whom we ranked #13 overall for the 2009 draft. He didn’t pitch, but played shortstop on Saturday. One of the best two-way players available, which way should he go?