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January 29, 2014

Scouting the Draft

Positional Preview: High School Middle Infielders

by Nick J. Faleris

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Previous Positional Previews: High School Catchers

Position at a Glance
This is one of the most important cross-sections of talent in any draft class. The top players, and certainly the top athletes, in high school programs tend to gravitate towards shortstop, where they can more regularly impact the game. Because of the difficulty associated with the position at the Major League level, it is not uncommon for these high school standouts to shift to a less demanding defensive home at some point during their pro development, making the high school middle infield group the incubator for a wide variety of Major League talent types. It is no wonder pro teams have gotten more aggressive in signing up-the-middle defenders out of high school over the last decade, and this year appears to offer MLB organizations a wide and varied collection through which to shop.

Player Spotlight

Nick Gordon | SS/RHP | Olympia (Orlando, FL) | Commit: Florida State
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1/170 pounds
B/T: L/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 7m

Gordon climbed onto the scouting radar as an underclassman, in large part thanks to major-league bloodlines through his father Tom and brother Dee. A potential four-tool player at a premium position, he figures to continue to draw heavy evaluative attention throughout the spring. At the plate, Gordon struggled through a prolonged slump last summer. The diagnosis from afar was too much focus on power, extending early, heaving the barrel, and continually pounding the ball into the dirt in front of home plate. Between Jupiter and the Perfect Game World Showcase this past month, Gordon appears to have added strength and, perhaps as a result, showed a firmer and more compact delivery of the barrel, resulting in more regular hard contact.

Defensively, Gordon shows solid range, good hands and plenty of arm to make all of the throws from the six spot. He is a fluid defender with the physical tools to convert the plays many struggle to even get to. There is little doubt he’s a shortstop at the next level, and similar to Manny Machado might struggle with keeping crisp through the monotony of minor league ball en route to the bigs. While increased physicality is a positive, there are still questions as to whether the FSU commit will possess enough power to keep pitchers honest at the highest level. With merely adequate pop he could be an impact player on both sides of the ball.

Riding High

Chandler Avant | 2B/OF | Pike Liberal Arts (Troy, AL) | Commit: Alabama
Height/Weight: 5-foot-9/165 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 11m
Scouting Video

Avant showed very well at August’s East Coast Pro Showcase in Syracuse, and followed it up with a solid weekend in Jupiter with the East Cobb upper-class squad. There isn’t a standout tool that screams “potential star,” but if you sit on him he has a way of winning you over with his proclivity for contact in the box, quick first step, and solid athleticism. He will need to continue to clean up the footwork at the keystone, but has enough straight-line speed and a good enough nose for the ball that an org can shift him out to center field if they so desire. He is not likely to hit for much over-the-fence pop, but there’s enough force in the swing that there aren’t significant concerns he’ll be overpowered at the upper levels. It’s not often second basemen are popped early in the draft, but Avant’s profile with a potential above-average hit tool and plus speed at an up-the-middle position could find him off the board early in June.

Greg Deichmann | 2B/3B | Brother Martin (New Orleans, LA) | Commit: Louisiana State
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2/185 pounds
B/T: L/R
Draft Day Age: 19y 0m
Scouting Video

Deichmann had some of the loudest struck balls of the summer, starting in the Metrodome where he put one in the right field upper deck about 15 feet foul, with a missile off the 408 foot sign in center field serving as an encore later in the event. After showing signs of fatigue in August, Deichmann bounced back in Jupiter with a barrage of line drives and very little difficulty squaring up velocity. Deichmann will lapse into phases where his bat is too quick in and out of the zone, particularly when he tries to lift and yank and gets too far uphill. When balanced and efficient, he’s capable of driving the ball to the oppo gap and, as the body matures, projects to over-the-fence power from pole to pole. He’s on the older side, but the areas of improvement skew more toward a need for reps than physical maturity. Most view him as a future second baseman, where the power (if it translates) could be impactful.

Luke Dykstra | 2B/3B | Westlake (Westlake Village, CA) | Commit: Fresno State
Height/Weight: 6-foot/205 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 7m
Scouting Video

Dykstra is a prime example of how difficult it can be to wrap your head around, and then project out, a high school hit tool. There’s solid natural bat speed when his upper- and lower-halves are working together, but he has a tendency to get out of sync, losing torque in the process. You’ll also see different swings from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., with BP showings often headlined by length and leverage, and in-game swings (when he’s right) coming more compact. There’s a chance Dykstra fits in at second base, third, or an outfield corner, and the upside in the bat plays across those designations. But a drafting team will have to buy into his loose mechanics as fixable for him to retain early-round value come June. The profile could be an average hit tool with pop and average defense at the four-spot.

Ti’Quan Forbes | SS/3B/RHP | Columbia (Columbia, MS) | Commit: Mississippi
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3/180 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 17y 9m
Scouting Video

One of the youngest, and most projectable, talents in the class, Forbes won over evaluators early on this summer, and maintained his stock in spite of some inconsistent performances along the way. The Ole Miss recruit will show loose and limbsy actions in the field, and enough arm strength to make the throws. Some evaluators argue that the projectable frame is going to ultimately fill into a third base body, with the opposing view holding there should be plenty of athleticism and lower-half quickness for Forbes to shift over the second base, or center field, and thrive at either spot if forced off of short. At the plate he is quick and free with the stick, showing an ability to square velocity across the quadrants, and is comfortable utilizing the whole field. He can get caught heaving, with the effects magnified due to an inconsistent load, but that issue should subside as he continues to add strength and gain reps. Mississippi high school baseball isn’t the easiest to scout, but you can be sure evaluators will be all over Columbia throughout the spring, monitoring Forbes’ progress.

Jacob Gatewood | SS/3B/OF | Clovis (Clovis, CA) | Commit: Southern California
Height/Weight: 6-foot-5/190 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 8m
Scouting Video

One of the most visible high school players in the draft, Gatewood entered the summer as a potential 1:1 candidate, and wowed the fans at Citi Field as a non-televised participant in the All-Star Home Run Derby. Outside of that July evening, however, Gatewood struggled to tap into his talent, as evaluators were largely disappointed with showcase and tournament performances. There is a lot to like, including plus-plus raw power, athletic actions, and some physical projection, but the on-field showings left much to be desired. Too often the USC commit got heavily uphill in his swing in an effort to lift and drive, leading to lots of empty swings and soft contact in-game when faced with even adequate secondary stuff. While a solid athlete, his actions in the field were inconsistent at best, and disinterested at worst. The sky-high ceiling means he will have plenty of attention throughout his senior year at Clovis, but Gatewood will need to hit the reset button and try to get back to where he was last spring, when his game actualized on the field, and the tools seemed more than mere promise. He could rocket to top five status or fall far enough that he winds up at Southern Cal or perhaps at a JuCo for a one-year stint.

Josh Morgan | SS/2B/OF | Orange Lutheran (Orange, CA) | Commit: UCLA
Height/Weight: 6-foot/185 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 7m
Scouting Video

Morgan doesn’t “wow” in the field, but he is capable of making the outstanding play, and his game is underscored by crisp and refined actions. The UCLA commit is well put together, particularly in the trunk, and there are some concerns he will ultimately land at third base if he loses any first-step quickness. Others view him in the same mold as Addison Russell, with enough feel and athleticism to stick at the six for at least the early portion of his pro career. At the plate Morgan rocks into his swing, which led to early weight transfer and some trouble with off-speed early on in the summer. While he hasn’t completely figured it out, he made strides as he progressed through the scouting circuit, and showed well at the Area Code Games in August and again in Jupiter as part of a talented GBG Marucci squad. A lot of Morgan’s draft day value, which has Day 1 upside, will be tied to how an org views his defensive landing spot and how well he can stay in rhythm at the plate throughout his senior spring.

Alexis Pantojas | SS | Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (Gurabo, PR) | Commit: Alabama State
Height/Weight: 6-foot/155 pounds
B/T: L/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 5m
Scouting Video

There’s no Carlos Correa in this crop of Puerto Rican draft-eligibles, but Pantojas has emerged as a solid glove-first talent with the chance to grow his offensive game enough to be an everyday contributor at the major-league level. He will show a good first step and solid range, as well as an ability to finish at the margins. The arm is there for the left side, and a quick transfer and release help the total package to play up. At the plate the bat speed is currently adequate, but he’s not yet quick enough to overcome his slight wrap. He handles the barrel well, however, and advocates insist the hard contact is going to come as he matures. He’s not likely to develop into an over-the-fence threat, but above-average speed underway and a gap-to-gap approach could make him an everyday big leaguer when paired with defensive chops at a premium spot.

Milton Ramos | SS/2B/OF | American Heritage (Plantation, FL) | Commit: Florida Atlantic
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2/165 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 7m
Scouting Video

As with Pantojas, Ramos’ game skews to the defensive side at this point in time, with solid actions, a quick lower-half, and good body control providing a foundation for defensive success up-the-middle. The arm strength is questionable at the fringes, but a quick release and good footwork help Ramos to make the plays he needs to at this point, and if his physical maturity adds a few ticks to the arm, it could be a shortstop profile long term. At the plate Ramos’ biggest shortcoming is his lack of physicality. The swing works, as the FAU commit keeps compact to contact and does a decent job keeping the barrel through the hit zone. With some physical maturity, Ramos has a chance to provide daily value at the highest level. Without more strength, however, he’s in danger of having the bat knocked out of his hand once forced to tackle high-level arms with wood.

Forrest Wall | 2B/SS | Orangewood Christian (Maitland, FL) | Commit: North Carolina
Height/Weight: 6-foot/175 pounds
B/T: L/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 7m
Scouting Video

A second base profile isn’t usually exciting at the amateur ranks, but Wall’s feel for hitting, contact-friendly swing, and plus speed help form an interesting baseline for projection. His game, including his approach at the plate and his swing, is reminiscent of another Tar Heel—Dustin Ackley—and like Ackley it could take some further development at the collegiate level before he breaks through as an early-round candidate. Still, Wall’s performance through the end of the summer, in Jupiter with the Cardinals Scout/FTB Chandler Squad, and most recently at the Perfect Game World Showcase earlier this month, showed he can hold his own in the box already. An org that buys the bat could pop him early on and feel confident the glove will play at second base or center field, depending on how he takes to pro instruction. The upside is an above-average hit with low double-digit pop and positive value on the bases, all with average defensive production.

Others to Watch
There is a deep list of helium candidates with middle infield designations, led by a handful of impressive bats. Isan Diaz (Springfield (Springfield, Mass.)) (Scouting Video), Trace Loehr (Rex Putnam (Milwaukie, Ore.)) (Scouting Video), Shane Mardirosian (Martin Luther King (Riverside, Calif.)) (Scouting Video), and Payton Squier (Greenway (Phoenix, Ariz.)) each show impressive promise with the bat, but carry likely second base or outfield profiles. Diaz and Loehr, in particular, showed growth throughout the summer and have a chance to take a step forward on draft lists with strong springs.

Jonathan Ducoff. (Kingwood Park (Kingwood, Texas)) (Scouting Video) and Dalton Guthrie (Venice (Venice, Fla.)) (Scouting Video) could be standout collegiate shortstops, but may need further seasoning before seeing their draft status blossom. Tate Blackman (Lake Brantley (Altamonte Springs, Florida)) (Scouting Video) lacks a current standout tool, but shows solid tools and skills across the board. He could emerge as an early-round candidate as a draft-eligible sophomore at Ole Miss if he isn’t inked to a pro deal this summer.

Cole Tucker (Mountain Pointe (Phoenix, Ariz.)) (Scouting Video) and Taylor Lane (Great Bridge (Chesapeake, Va.)) (Scouting Video) are highly athletic shortstops with projectability who have flashed exciting upside periodically throughout the scouting circuit. Justin Twine (Falls City (Falls City, Texas)) (Scouting Video) lacks the projectability of the aforementioned duo, but likewise stands out for his athleticism and potential to impact the game in multiple facets with further refinement.

Final Thoughts
This is a deep collection of middle infielders with a wide range of potential outcomes. As impressive as the current top tier of talents are, the line of draft-eligible talents poised to take the next developmental step this spring is what could make this such a fun group to follow.

Nick J. Faleris is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Nick's other articles. You can contact Nick by clicking here

Related Content:  Draft,  Prospects,  Scouting

2 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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blue911

Is Luke Dykstra related to Lenny and Cutter?

Jan 29, 2014 14:53 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Nick Faleris
BP staff

Lenny's son

Jan 30, 2014 04:08 AM
 
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