January 7, 2014
Perfect Game Presents
Before They Were Pros: AL East
As part of Perfect Game's partnership with Baseball Prospectus, David Rawnsley, Todd Gold and Patrick Ebert will be conducting a “Before They Were Pros” series, providing scouting reports on some of the top prospects in baseball from when they were in high school attending PG events. This six-part series (one for each division in MLB) will appear once Baseball Prospectus has provided their own detailed scouting reports of the top prospects, team-by-team, as part of their “Prospects Will Break Your Heart” series.
With the AL West and AL Central behind us, we continue by looking at select top prospects from American League East teams. Be sure to read Baseball Prospectus' features on each of these five teams:
Blue Jays | Orioles | Yankees | Rays | Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
Marcus Stroman – RHP
The discussion about whether Stroman’s long-term future as a big leaguer is as a starter or reliever has been a constant ever since the Blue Jays drafted him in the first round out of Duke in 2012. There just aren’t many 5-foot-9 right-handers who have long-term success as starters at the highest level in baseball, so Stroman will have to prove himself every step of the way.
The fact that Stroman has been dominant in his few short stints as a closer, including in the Cape Cod League in 2010 and for the Collegiate National Team in 2011 have helped feed the starter/reliever discussion as well.
But well before the Long Island native turned professional, the topic was very different. Stroman was considered a primary middle infielder in high school, although everyone realized he had a special arm. When the Washington Nationals took a flyer on him with their 18th round pick as a high school senior in 2009, he was drafted as a shortstop.
Stroman was a do-everything type of athlete in high school. He lettered for four years as a point guard in basketball and was All-County as a senior, which resonates in that sport playing so close to New York City and attests to his overall athleticism. During the spring he excelled both at shortstop and on the mound, but gained more recognition for his pitching, as he was named the Paul Gibson Pitcher of the Year on Long Island after his senior year when he went 9-1, 0.25 with 126 strikeouts. And of course, Stroman was getting the types of grades in the classroom that enabled him to go to Duke.
But during the summers Stroman was primarily a shortstop and didn’t even take the mound at a number of events, including the 2007 Northeast Top Prospect Showcase, the 2008 PG Aflac Showcase and the 2008 Area Code Games. He did throw an inning at the 2008 PG National Showcase, topping out at 91 mph with an 81-mph breaking ball that was sharp and deep. That breaking ball, of course, has become his signature pitch and is now an 85-87-mph slider. Stroman did also pitch at a couple of WWBA events for the South Florida Bandits.
The notes on Stroman as a shortstop prospect are consistent across the board:
Good feet, bounce in step, easy arm, little erratic, hands work quickly, good body control; Small kid, open stance, easy loose swing, + extension out front, good bat speed, some gap pop, squares well, nice looking swing, + BP, open, fast bat, decent pop, quiet pro swing, good baseball player, steps in bucket some, short glide, good rhythm, short to ball, slight loft, solid LDs, hands work easy, simple, gap pop; ++ Balance/flow at plate, good bat speed, quick twitch, will reach outside, looks like RH'd Ray Durham w/o the speed, very slick in IF, hands were inconsistent in games, looked tentative on D at times.
Stroman was a still a primary shortstop at Duke as a freshman, or at least he was for the first half of the season, when he hit .265-2-20 in 166 at-bats. Stroman also worked as a long reliever out of the bullpen, a somewhat unusual combination, but was moved into the starting rotation in late April and threw well in that role, including a complete game against Wake Forest with 10 strikeouts. Stroman then went to the Cape Cod League as a reliever, notching 11 saves without allowing a run in 27 innings.
He continued in much the same pattern as a sophomore, starting 33 games at shortstop, eight games as a pitcher and appearing nine times as a reliever. It wasn’t until his junior season that Stroman became a full-time starting pitcher and saw his stuff and prospect status explode, going 6-5, 2.39 with 136 strikeouts in 98 innings. —David Rawnsley
Aaron Sanchez – RHP
Sanchez grew up in a baseball family in Barstow, California as his father, Mike Shipley, was drafted twice by the California Angels as a right-handed pitcher out of Barstow Community College in 1976, first in the 10th round of the regular phase and again in the fourth round of the now defunct secondary phase.
While Barstow is in the baseball hotbed of Southern California, it's well off the beaten path, and Sanchez was little known nationally before he participated in his first Perfect Game event, the 2009 National Showcase. Part of the reason that Sanchez was a late rising prospect was also due to the fact that he was a primary middle infielder his first two years in high school and didn’t start pitching full-time until his junior year.
Once Sanchez took the mound in Minneapolis it was obvious that he was an All-American and a potential first round draft choice. He had a slender and very projectable 6-foot-3, 170-pound build and a lightning quick right arm. Sanchez fastball sat in the 91-94 mph range and he had present quality to both his 75-mph curveball and his 80-mph changeup. Here are the notes from PG database on his performance:
Slender long legs, arm is smooth/fast, stays over rubber well, arm accelerates, looks athletic, projects, CB flashes quality spin, gets on side for sweeping break mostly, blows FB by hitters upstairs, should throw Chg more, big velocity arm … Long legs, put together well, easy velo and can repeat, inconsistent with CB but is there, ok feel … Very lanky, small-framed, shallow-chested righty w/chance to be 1st-round pick as pitcher. Loose arm and excellent athleticism in delivery, excellent balance, clean finish. Some loop in arm-action. Threw easy 91-94 MPH w/two-seam running action that projects to ave MLB movement. mid-70s CB was at times very sharp, downward bite, chance to become plus MLB pitch but needs much better command. Lots of projection, but needs to go slow at first because he's not very physical. One of the best arms this week
Sanchez later went on to pitch at the Area Code Games as well as the PG All-American Classic in August, and he threw for the San Gabriel Valley (SGV) Arsenal at the 2009 WWBA World Championship in late October. It’s interesting to note in the context of Sanchez’ occasional command problems as a professional (134 walks in 256 innings) and his cautious workload by the Blue Jays is that there were consistent scouting notes from those events in high school referring to him struggling with his command at times and that he appeared to tire quickly.
The impression that Sanchez left at the PG All-American Classic was a bit different than most players. A large and very boisterous crowd of Sanchez' family and friends made the 180-mile trip from Barstow to San Diego and stood out among the 8,000-plus fans at the game, literally taking over a whole section in the stands.
Sanchez went on to go 7-0, 0.73 with 104 strikeouts in 57 innings his senior year while also hitting .403-5-20 at the plate. The Blue Jays selected him with the 34th-overall pick, just before they grabbed another tall, slender righthander, Noah Syndergaard, with the 38th pick. The Mariners then choose Taijuan Walker with the 43rd overall selection, completing a great run of young, projectable high school right-handers that all look like future big league stars. —David Rawnsley
Daniel Norris – LHP
Norris offered one of the fastest arms and most explosive fastballs of any lefthanded pitcher that has attended a Perfect Game event. His status as one of the top prospects available for the 2011 draft was established for several years, as he sat at no. 1 in the Perfect Game rankings for his class for the two years leading up to his senior year. Prior to the draft, Dylan Bundy leap-frogged Norris after his own impressive high school career (detailed below), but Norris still entered the 2011 draft as one of the most exciting and still-projectable pitchers of those eligible.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pounder peaked at 96 mph while in high school, doing so at the 2010 18u WWBA National Championship pitching for the East Cobb Yankees. It was the third year in a row he pitched at the 18u for the EC Yankees, touching 94 the summer before and 87 in 2008, doing so a couple of months after his 15th birthday.
Norris made that velocity look easy, with a smooth, repeatable and athletic delivery, leading many to believe his radar gun readings could continue to climb at the next level, whether that be in college—he committed to play for Clemson—or as a pro.
His performance at the 2010 PG National, where he peaked at 94 mph and mixed in a sharp mid-70s curveball and promising low-to-mid-80s changeup, cemented his selection to participate in the PG All-American Classic later that summer. It was noted at the time, and the following spring leading up to the draft, that Norris' secondary offerings still need to be tightened up and thrown with greater consistency, but all of the pieces were there for him to succeed at a high level. Here's his report from the National:
Long armed athletic build. Hands over head delivery, good pace, hard front side on landing, quick and athletic off the mound, 3/4's release point. Easy velocity, sat 92-94 mph, lots of 94s, fastball runs, good angle to the plate, threw strikes to spots with fastball. CB lacks ideal velocity but has big hard break, consistent spin and location, some change ups have big fade, good feel for off speed, throws strikes with all pitches, minimum effort to everything. Outstanding prospect.
Norris' prospective status led to equally lofty expectations leading up to draft day in June of 2011. Word spread that his price tag to sign was $3.9 million, and he was identified as a player that could potentially fall in the draft due to those aspirations. Norris did indeed fall further than where his talents warranted, but the Blue Jays stopped that slide in the second round, taking him with the 74th overall pick. That year the Blue Jays owned seven picks in the top two rounds, and took a very aggressive approach with those selections.
Their first-round pick was Tyler Beede, who had lofty bonus aspirations of his own, as well as another Vanderbilt commit, Kevin Comer, who they took in the sandwich round. When Beede opted not to sign it opened an opportunity for the Blue Jays to get Norris (and Comer) in the fold, which they did so for a $2 million bonus. That number fell short of Norris' original hope, but was a significant amount of money given to a second round selection, even before the new draft pools were introduced. —Patrick Ebert
Chase DeJong – RHP
Typically, miles per hour translate to dollar signs in the draft. The hardest-throwing pitchers tend to come off the board earliest and thus command the highest bonuses. But there are exceptions, and Chase DeJong is a good example. The Southern California native wasn’t exactly a soft-tosser, frequently working in the 88-90 mph range as a member of the San Gabriel Valley (SGV) Arsenal at numerous national level tournaments. DeJong was one of the better pitching prospects in the 2012 high school class, but not simply on the merit of his raw stuff. It was his command, pitchabillity, and quality of off-speed pitches that allowed DeJong to dominate his competition on a consistent basis as an amateur.
DeJong sparked a lot of debate amongst scouts prior to his senior spring, as on the one hand he was a right-hander who lacked an explosive high velocity fastball, yet at the same time commanded three quality pitches and already had polish beyond his years. When his senior season at Wilson High School in Long Beach got underway he saw an uptick in velocity, with reports of him settling in around 90 and climbing up to 93 at times. That changed the equation entirely, even though 93 isn’t the kind of velocity that pitcher’s can get away with mistakes at, it was firm enough that organizations had to begin taking him seriously as an early round draft prospect. In PG’s draft preview article highlighting California’s top prospects for 2012 David Rawnsley wrote the following of DeJong:
DeJong throws from a simple turn-and-throw delivery with a long, deep arm action and comes straight over-the-top which provides some deception. His 88-91-mph fastball comes in at a hard downhill angle and gets both sinking and cutting life at the plate. DeJong’s best pitch is a nasty 82 mph changeup that is one of the best in the 2012 draft class, and is his separator when throwing to elite hitters. His 75 mph curve comes from a similar release point as his fastball and changeup, and gets big downer shape and bite to change the hitter’s eye level.
The arsenal suggested a ceiling of a middle of the rotation starting pitcher, though his body had plenty of room to fill and his clean arm action suggested that he may have another uptick in velocity in his future. This allowed him to firmly establish himself as a top-tw-round prospect in the eyes of some organizations. Even if he isn’t able to develop his raw stuff another grade, DeJong has the ability to be an asset to the Blue Jays given his command and pitchabillity. —Todd Gold
Kevin Gausman – RHP
With a perfectly projectable 6-foot-4, 180-pound build coming out of high school, with broad shoulders, long, wiry-strong limbs and a high waist, while throwing on a pronounced downhill plane, Gausman was arguably the most projectable pitcher eligible for the 2010 draft. He peaked at 94 mph at all three of the Perfect Game events he attended in high school—the National Showcase, the PG All-American Classic and the WWBA World Championship—all of which he attended in the summer and fall of 2009 prior to his final spring tune-up as a senior leading up to the draft.
In addition to his fastball, he also flashed promising secondary offerings, although none showed the consistent break, or command, needed for him to be ranked higher on draft boards. He was ranked 17th in the 2010 class by Perfect Game prior to him being drafted, a testament to just how easy it was to dream on his future.
Here's his report from the 2009 PG National:
Athletic lean pitcher's build, excellent physical projection. Very polished delivery, very good balance, arm works extremely well, hides ball in delivery, repeats. Velo comes easy, first warm up at 91, sits between 91-94 mph, good heaviness down in zone, can spot FB glove side with maturity. CB has hard spin/sharp bite at 72 mph, could add more velo, will shorten up CB break for soft SL, has feel for change. Very high ceiling talent. Early draft prospect.
Gausman made no secret of his willingness to honor his commitment to play for Louisiana State, although the Dodgers did draft him in the sixth round in 2010. At the time that seemed to be more as a back-up plan if they were unable to sign their first-round pick, fellow right-hander and LSU commit Zach Lee, although Lee also had a promising football career to contend with, which was reflected by the $5.25 million bonus it took to sign him away from both LSU and football.
The summer after his senior year Gausman headed to the California Collegiate League where he reportedly flirted with triple digits prior to ever stepping on LSU's campus as a student. When he did, the initial results were promising, posting a 5-6, 3.51 record in an aggressive appointment as a weekend starter in the SEC as a freshman. For as obvious as his talent continued to be, it was also clear that his secondary pitches still needed refinement as his fastball velocity continued to climb.
Gausman pitched on both the Cape and for Team USA during the summer of 2011 where his game continued to evolve, and while he entered the following spring as a likely first-round pick as a draft-eligible sophomore, his draft status really exploded when he suddenly mastered a wipeout breaking pitch, a newly developed slider that he had tinkered with before but had yet to fully grasp. That pitch complemented his fastball, now thrown consistently at 93-95 while peaking 97/98 early in games, a softer yet big-breaking low- to mid-70s curveball and a nice fading low-80s change. All of which led to an impressive 12-2, 2.77 season serving as the Tigers' Friday ace.
That complete package and overall development allowed him to be considered a realistic candidate to go no. 1 overall in 2012, and ended up being the Baltimore Orioles selection with the fourth overall pick. —Patrick Ebert
Dylan Bundy – RHP
The Bundy name was fresh in the minds of scouts before Dylan took the mound at the 2008 17u WWBA National Championship following his freshman year of high school. His older brother Bobby had been considered a potential early-round pick heading into his senior year, but a knee injury and signing bonus demands caused him to slip to the eighth round of the 2008 draft.
Dylan quickly began to establish his own reputation, topping out at 88 mph at the WWBA National Championship before running his fastball up to 92 at the Area Code Games late that summer. His work ethic and training regiment would later become the stuff of legend, and the youtube video of his boxing workout with his older brother would pile up views as the younger brother began to make a name for himself on the travel ball circuit (YouTube boxing workout link).
Dylan followed up his brother’s Gatorade Oklahoma Player of the Year award winning season by winning the award for himself as a sophomore in 2008. He continued to establish himself as a top prospect in the 2011 class as he followed up that sophomore season with a standout performance at the 2009 Junior National Showcase and then running his fastball up to 96 mph at the 2009 17u WWBA National Championship. Here's his scouting report from the Junior National Showcase:
Bundy has a strong athletic build, three-quarters arm slot, fast arm, ball explodes out of hand, fastball has good life, clean effortless delivery, excellent change, good feel for change, hard slider, excellent off-speed, very good pitchability, commands all of his pitches, Highest level pitching prospect, shows pop with the bat, good power potential, has bat speed, strength in swing, quick hands, can hit, also high level hitting prospect.
Bundy would transfer to local powerhouse Owasso High School for his junior and senior seasons, and would help the Rams reach the state championship in each of his two seasons there. It also gave him a slightly larger stage upon which to showcase his elite ability. He would go on to have the kind of dominant career at Owasso that would be expected of a pitcher with his combination of raw stuff, command, and pitchabillity. He would run his streak of Gatorade State Player of the Year awards to three straight, being named the Gatorade National Athlete of the Year (all sports) as a senior in 2011. That year he struck out 158, compared to just four walks over 78 innings. Bundy threw a complete game and won each of the 11 starts he made that spring. Not only did he issue very few walks, he rarely even found himself in a three ball count.
Bundy’s draft stock was very strong despite belonging to the riskiest group of prospects – high school pitchers. His 6-foot-1 frame was the biggest flaw that scouts could find in a nearly flawless prospect. His fastball would sit comfortably in the mid-90s, touching the upper-90s while showing plus command from a mechanically sound, low effort delivery. He backed his present big league fastball with an even better cutter that sat in the 88-92-mph range with depth and advanced feel. His curveball lagged a bit behind but featured hard bite and looked to be another future plus pitch, and he had already begun working on developing his changeup. Here's part of Bundy's pre-draft writeup from David Rawnsley:
That combination of command and raw stuff is key to why Bundy’s relatively short and mature build doesn’t seem to be even a passing concern to scouts, who often prefer their top high-school pitching prospects to be more physically projectable. The bottom line is that Bundy simply doesn’t need to get any better in the ways that classic projectability would impact a normal pitcher’s future.
There was little question during the spring of 2011 that Bundy was the top prospect from the high school ranks, regardless of position. Rather, the questions about his draft stock centered around how he compared to the cadre of college power arms projected for the top of the first round. Given the dominance of UCLA’s Gerrit Cole, there wasn’t much buzz about Bundy potentially becoming the first high-school righty to be selected first overall despite his rare and obvious talent. But it was clear that he would come off the board very early and scouts would often debate how well Bundy would have fared if he were sent directly to the major leagues that season. To this day, one of the most popular responses amateur scouts give to the question ‘who is the best prospect you’ve ever scouted?’ is Dylan Bundy. —Todd Gold
New York Yankees
J.R. Murphy – C
John Ryan Murphy was one of the most dominant hitters in the 2009 class. However, until he made a full-time position switch from the outfield to behind the plate during his senior year in high school he wasn’t considered a serious draft prospect. Six-foot, 180-pound right-handed hitters (Murphy is now listed at 5-foot-11, 195-pounds) with big league average running speed at best are not a popular draft demographic.
Murphy played during the summers for the Florida Bombers team that featured many future big leaguers—including Eric Hosmer, J.P. Arencibia, and Yonder Alonso—and the Bombers won an incredible six WWBA 18u National Championships in an eight year period. He hit .439-10-66 for the Bombers the summer before his senior season at IMG Academy, then hit .627-11-66 during the spring for IMG.
While Murphy didn’t stand out physically for his size, he was very strong and athletic. But almost every scouting comment in the Perfect Game database mentions the same thing—how quick his hands were at the plate. Here are the notes from multiple scouts from the 2008 WWBA 18u National Championship:
Good power the other way, takes his hacks, quick hands, loads well, Top Prospect, possible draft, lower half can be more explosive, 4.25 H-1B, lets ball travel, very good approach, short but built well, looks like a big leaguer in the box approach-wise.
Murphy attended only one Perfect Game showcase, the 2006 National Underclass after his freshman year, where he received a PG Grade of 8.5. Interestingly, he’s listed as a primary outfielder at the event but he did catch, throwing 78 mph with a best pop time of 1.97 during drills, both outstanding for his age. However, the scout notes do reflect that his receiving skills were very raw, and again, it was Murphy’s bat that stood out:
Athletic build, wide rock back load, open stance, mid-field contact, strong hands, good bat speed, consistent hard contact, showed LCF pop, good BP, gap 2B RF, uses all fields, med build, open stance, quick compact stroke ... + balance, leverage, strength in swing, nice swing mechs, nice hands to ball (8+), ball jumps off bat, nice hitter.
The 2009 high school catching class was one of the best in recent memory and Perfect Game made the unprecedented decision to put six catchers on the 2008 PG All-American rosters: Luke Bailey, Austin Maddux, Max Stassi, Andrew Susac, Jonathan Walsh, and Mike Zunino. Murphy, of course, wasn’t a primary catcher at that point and was not considered. But it became obvious as the draft drew closer that Murphy had impressed enough scouts with his work defensively behind the plate that he would be among the first high school catchers selected.
The Yankees made him their second-round pick and the fourth high-school catcher chosen overall. Not a scenario that many could have imagined a year before. —David Rawnsley
Tyler Austin – OF
Tyler Austin played in twelve Perfect Game events as a high school player from Conyers, Ga., including the 2009 National Showcase and the 2009 PG All-American Classic. But despite being one of the most prolific home run hitters in Georgia high school history, Austin wasn’t a particularly well known player in the scouting community until the National. He played at WWBA and BCS tournaments for a small local team named the Rockdale Rhinos and hadn’t been to any previous showcases prior to that June.
With that background he was on no one’s short list to make the All-American roster prior to the event. But he blew away the Perfect Game scouting staff in Minneapolis with his tools and was immediately considered the second best catcher in the 2009 class behind Bryce Harper. And as Harper really wasn’t in the 2009 class, just leaving high school early after getting his GED, it was easy to tout Austin as the top receiver in his peer group of seniors.
Austin had been only catching a year at that point and his defense was still unpolished, as shown in the notes below. But his athletic tools stood out, including running a 6.8 60-yard dash, throwing 84 mph from behind the plate and popping 1.78 in drills. He also topped out at 89 mph on the mound.
High set, falls off, good arm, not directional, can improve mech's, quick but very raw. No block fundamentals, throws body forward at balls in dirt. Plus arm-strength that will make him a plus thrower when he gets the footwork figured out. Struggles w/ crouch, has good athleticism and can shift his feet, but hasn't found a comfortable sitting position. Hands are okay. Athletic enough to play OF/1B/3B.
The Yankees obviously had different ideas about Austin defensively, as he has never caught a game in professional baseball and actually was considered at first base before moving briefly to third and eventually to his present position, right field. The final line of the defensive notes from the National Showcase certainly seems prophetic.
It was offensively, though, that Austin really stood out. He had outstanding raw bat speed and big power potential and attacked the ball as if he was looking to hurt it. Here are his hitting notes from the National Showcase:
+ build, strong, good swing, shows power, short to ball, pulls, good simple swing, ball jumps hard … amazing power … RHH w/outstanding hitting tools. 6-2, 215, and strong. Generates above-average MLB bat-speed right now w/ strong hitting actions and solid-ave raw power that projects to plus-plus … Compact stroke with small load. Tools to become middle-order big league hitter, but is carved up by good curveballs right now. Just needs to refine approach. Potential 1st-round pick. Average runner.
Austin’s life changed shortly after the National Showcase, however, when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He underwent surgery in early August to remove the tumor but was able to resume baseball activities almost immediately.
Perfect Game President Jerry Ford summarized Austin’s PG All-American experience as part of his notes published on the PG website shortly after the game, including being the recipient of the first-ever Nick Adenhart Award in 2009:
Tyler Austin is an outstanding big strong athlete from Conyers Georgia. He is a very good student and always conducts himself in a first class manner. About a month before this year’s Aflac Classic, Tyler got some bad news. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Shortly before report day to San Diego, Tyler had a tumor removed. He still awaits treatment and hopes for the best, remission. Most would have stayed home worrying about their condition. Most in his position would have a hard time going to an event that is geared towards cancer charity, let alone visit sick young kids at the Children’s Hospital. But most people are not Tyler Austin. Tyler not only wanted to attend, he actually wanted to try and play. The stitches from surgery presented a problem and the pain was obvious. The doctor had said if he can stand the pain, he could try to play. We really didn’t expect Tyler to play, especially when his primary position is catcher. We hoped we could get a plate appearance for him. However, Tyler had other thoughts. He did visit the kids at the hospital. He never missed a day of the activities or practices and he did want to play, even catch, in the game. Tyler Austin did play in the game and he did win the inaugural Nick Adenhart Award. After all, he did exemplify the overall spirit and character of a true Aflac All American. —David Rawnsley
Greg Bird – 1B
Scouts first noticed Bird at Grandview High School in Colorado when he was a young catcher handling his year older teammate, right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman.
Of course, Bird wasn’t hard to notice on his own. First, he was a 6-foot-3, 205-pound left-handed-hitting catcher and those stand out on any field. But more obviously, Bird was in the middle of putting together three of the best high school seasons one can imagine.
As a sophomore, Bird hit .500-14-32. He followed that up with a .660-13-42 junior season and hit .553-12-38 when he was named the Colorado state player of the year as a senior. During his junior and senior seasons Bird also combined to draw 56 walks while striking out only eight times. His extremely high walk totals in professional baseball (125 walks in 162 games) had some precedent in his high school days.
Bird attended the 2010 Perfect Game National Showcase and received a PG Grade of 9.5. His strength and raw power were obvious and he crushed a couple of balls that stayed in the Metrodome air for a long, long time. There were two questions that resonated with Perfect Game scouts, however, that kept Bird from getting a 10 grade.
The first was whether Bird would be able to hit high level pitching. His swing was long and lacked the versatility and explosiveness to really project as a 'hit' tool. The second was whether Bird would be able to stay behind the plate due to his size and relative athleticism. Here is his report from the event:
Comfortable catching set up, shifts well, soft hands, some arm strength, tends to stand up when throwing, 1.99 best pop time. Left handed hitter, open stance, long extended swing, gets to his front side well, lots of lift in swing, big power on his pitch, mistake hitter but can really put a charge into the ball.
Those were also questions that much of the scouting world shared going into the 2011 draft. When Bird, who was a very good student in high school and had a scholarship to Arkansas, was open about his need to get first round money to forgo that scholarship, that seemed to seal his short term baseball plans. When the Yankees picked Bird in the fifth round anyway there were plenty of raised eye brows.
Bird then did something that strongly contributed to his eventually signing a $1.1 million contract at the signing deadline. He traveled out to California to play in the California Collegiate League and proceeded to hit .273-3-17 with 24 walks in 23 games while being first-team All CCL. The swing and approach that worked so well against Colorado high school pitching, but that many scouts doubted (including this one), worked pretty well against older college-level pitching as well.
His 2013 season (.288-20-84, 102 walks, .938 OPS) shows that it works pretty well against South Atlantic League pitching, too. —David Rawnsley
Tampa Bay Rays
Jake Odorizzi – RHP
Checking in at 6-foot-2, 175-pounds at the 2007 PG Pitcher/Catcher Indoor Showcase, Jake Odorizzi very well have made his the last case needed to prompt the Milwaukee Brewers to draft him in the first round just four months later. On that day he peaked at 93 mph, sitting at 90-91 mph while mixing in three other pitches that all flashed plus potential. Those pitches included a slider that was nasty at times in the mid-80s, a hard, sharp downer curveball that was thrown in the mid-to-upper-70s and a fading, low-80s changeup.
The fastball velocity was particularly impressive, thrown indoors in the month of February prior to Odorizzi's high school season even starting. However, the velocity wasn't surprising, as the looseness in his arm action and easy to his overall delivery were quite apparent for some time. Odorizzi, a talented overall athlete, also made the middle infield look pretty easy with gliding, graceful actions. Odorizzi took part of the 2007 PG National where he showcased his two-way abilities. Here is his report from that event:
He has a young, loose and very projectable build. Odorizzi is one of the top 2-way prospects in the 2008 class. He's a primary pitcher but some scouts have told us that they like him more as a shortstop. On the mound, Odorizzi has a low effort delivery with a long and loose arm action. He showed good command of a 88-92 mph fastball and a big breaking 75 mph slurve type breaking ball. Odorizzi really projects with his velocity and we've heard reports of him being up to 95 mph in the weeks after the PG National. As a shortstop, Odorizzi has smooth middle infield actions and shows his athletic ability. His arm strength obviously isn't an issue and he's a 6.78 runner. Odorizzi has a short, whippy swing the mirrors his arm action on the mound in its easiness and fluidness. He hits calm and balanced and knows how to hit. It will be interesting to watch him develop on both sides of the ball.
The University of Louisville, where Odorizzi had committed, had hoped that his two-way abilities may prove to be troublesome enough to allow their prized recruit, who also excelled in the classroom, to make it to campus. His showing at the Indoor Showcase the following February, and his subsequent performances that spring, cemented his case as a legitimate first-round arm.
For as projectable as Odorizzi was coming out of high school, he hit the ground running upon making his professional debut. As a result his prospective status has already allowed the now 23-year-old to be involved in two major trades that included one past (Zack Greinke, 2009 AL Cy Young) and one current (Wil Myers, 2013 AL Rookie of the Year) major postseason award winner. —Patrick Ebert
Andrew Toles – OF
Toles was one of the highest drafted players from the 2010 draft that didn't sign, as he opted to honor his commitment to Tennessee after failing to come to an agreement with the Marlins as their fourth-round pick. An extremely athletic player thanks to his bloodlines—his father Alvin was drafted in the first round of the 1985 NFL Draft and played four years with the New Orleans Saints—Toles' game has always been fueled by his speed. However, he was far from one-dimensional, and he routinely proved the part playing with and against the top players in the nation at notable showcase and tournament events.
At the 2009 National Showcase he ran a 6.44 second 60-yard dash, and also threw 91 mph from the outfield. Three months later he ran a 6.40 60-yard dash at the Southeast Top Prospect Showcase. A smaller 5-foot-9, 180-pound athlete, Toles even took the mound at previous PG Showcase events with a personal best fastball velocity of 89 mph. Here's his report from the PG National:
Not tall, but athletic build, good strength, quick twitch actions. 6.44 runner, aggressive on the bases, good jumps, will steal bases. Short swing, stays inside the ball, very balanced, quick hands, flashes gap power, good approach for tool set. Very good defensive OF'er, good jumps/routes, very strong arm, accurate throws, easy actions to the ball, projects as high level CF'er. Could create lots of draft interest, he can really play.
When the Volunteers hired Dave Serrano to become their new Head Coach in 2011, Toles' departure from the program was one of many changes the program endured as part of the house cleaning. He transferred to Chipola (Fla.) College in Florida, where he emerged as one of the top junior college prospects eligible for the 2012 draft. He sustained that status throughout the spring as he continued to show off his dynamic toolset highlighted by his game-changing speed, but also proved their was some developing pop in his swing as well.
With a package similar to that of big-league burner Michael Bourn, here's part of his Draft Focus report leading up to the 2012 MLB Draft:
Toles is far from just a burner, however, as he began to drive balls more consistently this spring. He finished the 2012 season by leading Chipola with a .367 average and 29 stolen bases, and also tied for second on the team with five home runs as his power began to evolve … Toles is an excellent defensive center fielder, capable of running down balls in all directions with his impressive speed and making highlight-reel catches. He also has a strong accurate arm. His speed is a significant asset on the bases, as well, and combined with his aggressiveness and instincts, projects to be an impact base stealer.
That package led to him being drafted by the Rays in the third round of the 2012 draft, and so far in 172 games as a pro, he has continued to prove that he “is far from just a burner” with just as many extra-base hits as stolen bases (76). —Patrick Ebert
Boston Red Sox
Jackie Bradley – OF
Bradley was a fixture in center field and in the leadoff spot for the Richmond Braves at WWBA tournaments from 2006 to 2008, playing in each of three 18u and 17u National Championships and twice at the WWBA World Championship. Although the Braves were always very competitive and usually made the playoffs at those events, Bradley was never in position to take home an MVP trophy despite almost always posting offensive performances worthy of attention.
While Bradley’s ability to drive the ball despite his slender, greyhound build and his plus speed and instincts on the bases were impact tools, it was his defense in center field that stood out the most when one looks back at the notes in the Perfect Game database. The same notes and impressions are repeated again and again over a two-and-a-half year period:
Great range in CF. Defensively cover ground well in CF. Quick hands, strong arm, good range, good speed. Athletic 2008. solid arm … Great jumps on balls to center field … Good range OF, makes things happen, hose, glides to fly balls.
For some reason, despite having three legitimate plus tools in his speed, throwing arm and defense at a premium position, and for being a left-handed hitter, Bradley was never considered a top draft prospect while in high school. Perfect Game had him ranked 222nd in the 2008 high school class prior to the draft and he went undrafted, although it should be noted that Bradley was a top level student in high school with a South Carolina scholarship in hand.
Bradley never attended a national level showcase until he came out to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for the 2008 PG Pre-Draft Showcase. The highlight of that performance was when Bradley threw a PG record 101 mph from the outfield during drills. However, he only ran a 7.06 in the 60. He had consistently shown impact speed both defensively and on the bases throughout his high school career in games but it didn’t translate to that distance. One would have guessed he would run in the 6.5 to 6.65 range based on his game speed.
Here is Bradley’s full report from the event:
He has an athletic build and is an excellent baseball player. Bradley stole the show in the outfield workout tying the Perfect Game record with a throw of 101 from the outfield. He has an incredibly fast arm and no one will want to run on him at the next level. He has a good smooth stroke at the plate and sprays line drives all over the field. He looked very good in the games with multiple hits and really projects with added strength at the next level. He also pitched an inning and touched 90. Expect big things from Jackie in the future.
And here's a snippet of Bradley's Draft Focus profile prior to the 2011 draft:
Bradley was undrafted and largely overlooked by colleges out of a Virginia high school three years ago, but had become a no-brainer first-round talent by his junior year at South Carolina before a nagging wrist injury led to a subpar 2011 season. Bradley was the centerpiece of South Carolina’s 2010 national-championship team. He earned Most Outstanding Player honors at the College World Series, and hit .368-13-60 on the season overall. He then excelled last summer with Team USA’s college-national team (.318-1-12), all but solidifying himself as a top selection in the 2011 draft. He generates good bat speed from the left side, and projects to be an above-average hitter with average power. It’s on defense that Bradley truly excels, and he has become an elite-level center field with a strong, accurate arm. —David Rawnsley
Henry Owens – LHP
It was impossible not to appreciate Owens' ability and skill pitching the first time I laid eyes on him as an underclassman at the Area Code Games in 2009. But while there was lots of buzz about him in the SoCal scouting community, it was obvious from my notes that I wasn’t buying in yet:
Profile build, long and loose, projects physically. Directional delivery, big leg raise, arm works well, effort at release, double head jerk, poor balance at release, H 3/4's release, 87-89/T90 FB, weak CB spin, limited Chg use, primary FB pitcher, thrower now. Lots to like, plenty to dislike.
A couple of months later, Owens came back at the 2009 WWBA World Championship and pitched the ABD Bulldogs junior team to the championship while being named the Most Valuable Pitcher.
Fast forward eight months to the 2010 Perfect Game National Showcase. Owens pitched at 88-90 and touched 91 while throwing a curveball that topped out at 73 mph and a 76-mph changeup. His performance led to him being named to the PG All-American Classic team. Here are my notes from that event:
Looks taller than 6-5/185 list, long lean build, busy hand drop delivery, hands overhead first, extended 3/4's release, FB straight, shows ball, some cross body, pitches up with FB, hitters swing through 88 for some reason, occ cuts FB, + SL release point but throws soft CB, fair change, off speed better the harder it's thrown, limited feel, 4.65 from windup, WAY TOO SLOW to plate. Obvious physical projection.
Later in the summer at the 2010 Area Code Games it was more of the same. Owens threw exactly the same velocity ranges with the same dominance.
K'd 6 in 2 innings pitched, hitters don't see ball, pitched up with FB and little contact, threw 2 types of CB, one at 73, the other at 67, softer more a show me type, good feel for changeup, hits spots, + downhill.
It should be noted that at the same time, Owens was having his way with the Southern California high school hitters, going 29-3 over three years with a 1.14 ERA in one of the most competitive leagues in the country. So his dominance at WWBA events and in small sample size showcase environments was very consistent with his overall performance.
But these simply are not the notes one would realistically be expecting to take on a 6-foot-7 lefthander who was touching 91 mph and dominating hitters at every turn. As a scout I wasn’t buying into Owens as a potential first rounder, or certainly someone who should be considered a potential first rounder. Everyone used the word “projectable” with Owens like it was his first name, but I saw a pitcher who threw the same velocity every outing. His curveball was not close to an average big league pitch and rarely even flashed the potential to be. His delivery was complicated and cumbersome and slow. His best pitch was an 88-mph fastball up in the zone. He looked like a long haired 6-foot-7 Jim Deshaies to me and that’s the epitome of damning by faint praise.
That winter I had long conversations with Red Sox Southern California area scout Tom Battista, a former Perfect Game staff member, and the late Mike Spiers, who coached Owens with the ABD Bulldogs program. Both said basically the same thing about Owens in answer to my concerns, which can be paraphrased as follows:
“You’re missing all the best things about Owens and focusing on the lesser parts. He has the absolute perfect demeanor for a big league starting pitcher. He’s competitive and relaxed at the same time. He’s highly intelligent about pitching but doesn’t overthink it at all. He’s deceptive as hell on the mound without it being an issue mechanically. He’s going to get hitters out at every level and that’s all that matters.”
At that point I started thinking about Owens differently. Both experienced baseball men were very convincing and they both knew Owens much better than I did. Of course, Battista was Owens signing scout when the Red Sox went on to select him with the 36th-overall pick in the 2011 draft. My thinking had shifted enough that I’m sure that, along with being happy for Tom, I thought the Red Sox had made a very astute pick.
Move forward one more step. When Jason Parks did an Eyewitness Account on Owens after seeing him pitch for the Carolina League Salem Red Sox on July 11, he saw basically the same thing I’d been seeing for years on Owens and his report was hardly glowing.
I looked up the box score from that game to see how Owens actually performed. Six 2/3 innings, three hits, zero earned runs, four walks and four strikeouts. The strikeouts clearly show he didn’t have his best stuff that night, as he struck out 169 hitters in 135 innings in 2013. But he still threw 6 2/3 innings and didn’t allow an earned run (two unearned) and his team ended up winning the game in extra innings.
I wasn’t surprised at all by the performance. It’s what Owens has always done. —David Rawnsley
Garin Cecchini – 3B
Garin Cecchini is a coach’s son—twice over. Glenn Cecchini is one of the more decorated high school baseball coaches in the nation, having won seven state championships in his 27 years as the head coach at Barbe High School in Lake Charles, La. Raissa Cecchini, Garin’s mother, served as an assistant on Glenn’s coaching staff at Barbe for two decades. Garin is the eldest son of the Cecchini family, with a younger brother Gavin, who was a first-round pick of the Mets in 2012.
Given his upbringing, it should come as no surprise that Garin was one of the more polished high school players in the country during his high school career. While he showed quality athleticism and tools all around, his hit tool was the carrying tool that put him within striking distance of the first round of the 2010 draft heading into his senior season. He showed advanced instincts on the bases and in the field and performed at a high level across numerous national level tournaments.
Cecchini was a good enough athlete that scouts were reluctant to write off his ability to stay at shortstop at a young age, even though his defensive profile was always a tighter fit for third base. Once he tore his ACL in the spring of 2010, it essentially sealed the deal on the anticipated transition. With that positional adjustment, injury question mark and commitment to LSU, Cecchini slipped beyond the second round and appeared to be headed to college before the Red Sox finally acquiesced to a well-over-slot bonus of $1.3 million.
It was a bit of a risky proposition, as Gavin’s polished lefthanded swing was a safe bet to produce enough contact to be a quality offensive shortstop, but his power projection was a topic of debate. While he was a strong fit for third base defensively, some questioned whether he’d hit for enough power to make an impact at a corner position. In PG’s 2010 Draft Preview, David Rawnsley wrote the following of Garin:
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Cecchini is a very good all-around athlete, but his best tools are his smooth lefthanded swing and promising power potential … Understandably, Cecchini is one of the more advanced players in this year’s prep class. He plays shortstop at the high school level, but projects to move to third base immediately at the next level, though could also end up at second base or in the outfield. He was a 6.8 to 7.0-second runner in the 60 before his knee surgery, so his move to third base was anticipated as speed wasn’t a primary part of his game. His base-stealing exploits are a factor of his superior technique and instincts. Cecchini’s arm strength is solid big-league average if not a tick above, and he’s thrown in the upper-80s off the mound.
The ingredients for that power development were present; bat speed, contact skills, athleticism and strength projection to his late maturing body. It was more a matter of him not showing that power on a consistent basis that led some to question how much development could realistically be expected and whether it was worth risking a seven figure bonus on a healthy recovery from the then-recent ACL tear, power developing and a successful transition to a relatively new position. The Red Sox were willing to take their chances on Cecchini, given that he possessed all of the physical tools to become a high -evel third baseman at the professional level and had advanced instincts and feel for the game to go with the physical tools. —Todd Gold
Blake Swihart – C
Blake Swihart first appeared on the Perfect Game radar at as early an age as any player ever. That single statement is because in late 2005 and in 2006 PG ran a series of events around the country called “Pre-High School” showcases. This short running series wasn’t big in overall numbers but attracted some very notable future prospects, including Swihart, Bryce Harper, Albert Almora, Travis Harrison, Stefan Sebol, Dominic Jose, Robert Ray, Vincent Velazquez, and Stephen Gonzalves.
At the time of the 2010 PG National, Swihart's next PG event, he had recently converted to catcher from shortstop and first base. Although a native of Texas, Swihart was from New Mexico and became the first PG All-American from that state, beating out current LSU shortstop Alex Bregman by one year. Swihart’s father, Arlan, was a 6-foot-8 former college basketball player who worked at the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, giving the youngster a pretty interesting overall genetic base.
But the most notable things that Swihart did at the National Showcase were on the field. He took an outstanding batting practice from the right side of the plate, hitting a couple of lasers into the left field seats that got out right away and showing a strong, although different, swing from the left side. He then stepped up in the games left-handed and got multiple hits, including one hard single up the middle against Lance McCullers' mid-90s fastball that was especially impressive. Swihart was a legitimate switch-hitter, with bat speed and bat control left-handed and big power potential right-handed.
Swihart ran a 6.95 in the sixty, threw 85 mph from behind home plate, and had a best pop time of 1.86 in drills. It was obvious that he was inexperienced behind the plate, although not as inexperienced as has been reported since in the Boston media, with an especially long release, but it was equally obvious that Swihart’s athleticism and quickness would make him a top level defensive catcher in the future. He looked like the type of athlete who you could put at any position on the field and he would be a top prospect.
Most of the rest of Swihart’s summer was spent being the dominant player on the 2010 USA National 18u team that went 19-2 and won the IBAF World Championship. Swihart nearly won the team's triple crown, hitting .448-5-17, losing out to Marcus Littlewood by one RBI. Among his teammates were McCullers, Albert Almora, Francisco Lindor, Bubba Starling, and current Red Sox hurler Henry Owens.
During his senior year, Swihart added one more small item to his scouting resume, throwing in relief for his high school team and reaching 96 mph from the mound.
The fact that Swihart was a 4.0-plus student with a father who was a nuclear physicist and who had a close connection to his future college, Texas, made his signability more uncertain than most. That led to him falling to the deep-pocketed Red Sox with the 26th-overall pick, and he eventually signed just before the deadline for $2.5 million. —David Rawnsley
Mookie Betts – 2B
Betts, whose given name is Markus, was a three-sport star at Overton High School in Tennessee and played very little baseball on the national stage prior to signing with the Red Sox as their fifth-round pick in 2011. In fact, the only Perfect Game event he appeared at was after he was drafted and graduated, when he played for Dulin's Dodgers at the 2011 WWBA 18u National Championship. He left quite an impression on the PG scouts in Marietta that week:
Stays inside ball well, short compact swing, Balanced swing, Excellent bat speed, Loose strong wrists, Line drive swing plane, Good eye, Sound hitting approach, Lead-off type hitter, Confident approach … Ball jumps off bat, Makes very hard contact. Easy, fluid defensive actions, Can throw from all arm angles, Makes all plays, Soft, sure hands, Good fielding actions, Has lateral agility, Reads hops well, Gets in good position to throw, Quick feet, Quick, smooth transfer Makes game look easy, Great athlete, Good instincts, Scrappy player, Good makeup, Gamer.
The only national level showcase that Betts participated was the 2010 East Coast Professional Showcase, held that year in Lakeland, Fla. He played both middle infield and center field, and switch-hit, and was one of the stars of the event, especially with his speed. The PG notes from the event were:
Plays way faster than 60 speed (6.75), impact guy on the bases, always on base, steals, takes extra base. Free swinger, fast bat, slashes and runs, contact guy, 4.19. Played both OF and IF, looked most comfortable at 2B, good footwork, accurate throws, playable arm strength, quick release.
It is usually assumed that any mention of a three-sport star includes baseball, football, and basketball, but that wasn’t the case with Betts.
Betts of course excelled at baseball, where he hit .549-6-37 with 24 steals as a senior. He was also his district's Most Valuable Player and third team All-State as a point guard in basketball, where he averaged 14 points, nine assists, and four rebounds as a senior.
The third sport was bowling. Betts was named the Tennessee Boys Bowler of the Year in 2010 and boasts a high game of 290 according to published reports. —David Rawnsley
Patrick Ebert is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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Todd Gold is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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David Rawnsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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You can contact David by clicking here