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January 30, 2014

Scouting the Draft

Positional Preview: High School Corner Infielders

by Nick J. Faleris

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Previous Positional Previews:

Position at a Glance
This cross-section of a draft class tends to stand in stark contrast to the middle infielders we examined in the most recent entry of this series. When prospects are slotted into a corner profile before beginning their pro careers, there is a significant increase in pressure on the bat, requiring projection to not just adequacy, but impact at the major-league level in order for that draft-eligible player to carve out a prominent spot on draft boards. A typical class at the corners will usually provide one or two potential impact talents to go with a few more solid all-around hit/power bats and a wide collection of power upside with utility questions. This year’s crop fits that description, though it’s arguably a little thin on second tier, more well-rounded offensive profiles.

Player Spotlight

Michael Chavis | 3B/2B/OF | Sprayberry (Marietta, GA) | Commit: Clemson
Height/Weight: 5-foot-10/195 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 10m

Chavis hits. That’s the simplest description of the Clemson commit's profile. He utilizes a short and explosive swing that produces regular loud contact and allows him to both turn on velocity and let pitches travel on the outer half. The lack of load can lead to an abrupt entry into the swing and inconsistent barrel delivery—something that could potentially be exposed by more advanced pitching, even if it leads to more soft contact than empty swings. Those issues have yet to surface, however, and the core of the profile remains Chavis’ ability to put barrel to ball on a consistent basis.

Outside of the batter’s box Chavis is a better athlete than you might expect from the frame and build, and he profiles well as a solid, and potentially above-average, defender at the hot corner with a left side arm and good first step to the ball. In addition to lower half quickness on the defensive side, he can move on the bases and has consistently showed a willingness and capability to take the extra base when the opportunity presents itself. He will enter the spring as a first round candidate with a chance to emerge as the top overall prep bat in the class when the dust settles come June.

Riding High

Shane Benes | 3B/RHP | Westminster Christian (Town and Country, MO) | Commit: Missouri
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3/200 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 4m
Scouting Video

Benes is a true two-way talent, with an interesting profile at third base that includes solid defensive actions and hands, above-average arm strength, and an easy swing that produces some pop and lift to pull. He can struggle with velocity on the inner half, and early weight transfer can lead him to frequently get caught out front. But when everything is clicking, the bat looks like it could profile as average or better in both hit and power. Scouts will dig in this spring to determine whether the ceiling on the bat is lofty enough to warrant early round consideration, or if his future is more promising on the mound.

Sean Bouchard | 3B/1B | Cathedral Catholic (San Diego, CA) | Commit: UCLA
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2/205 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 1m
Scouting Video

Bouchard displays good raw pop through a powerful and leveraged swing, but periodically struggled with contact and in-game utility throughout the scouting circuit. When things are clicking, he shows balance at the plate, a strong front side, and solid barrel acceleration and extension through contact. Defensively he fits comfortably into a third base profile, with enough arm for the hot corner and lower-half agility. There is projection in Bouchard’s game, and he could fit comfortably into the first few rounds with a strong spring.

Michael Cantu | 1B/C | Moody (Corpus Christi, TX) | Commit: Texas
Height/Weight: 6-foot-4/220 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 9m
Scouting Video

Cantu is a classic example of power potential versus power realization. The batting practice displays can be impressive, and in-game he has shown an ability to put a charge into fastballs out over the plate where he can get extended. But you can tie him up on the inner half, as well as with quality off-speed offerings, in each case largely due to the high-effort hacks geared to lift and drive, and evaluators will question whether or not he will make enough contact against advanced arms to reach his plus raw. If he is to succeed, Cantu will need to simplify things some at the plate and find a way to get better coverage across the quadrants without sacrificing too much in the power department. The power is real, and can play across the outfield when he squares one up. A first base profile means added pressure on the bat, as well as on evaluators attempting to handicap the future power utility.

Jack Flaherty | SS/3B/RHP | Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, CA) | Commit: North Carolina
Height/Weight: 6-foot-4/200 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 7m
Scouting Video

Flaherty could have been grouped with the middle-infielders, as his athleticism plays and will give him a chance to stick at the six-spot for at least the first part of his pro career. Most evaluators, however, view him as a top tier defensive third baseman with a quick release, ability to charge, and an impressive transfer to the glove side. At the plate the UNC commit brings some length in the swing path, but shows enough bat speed and feel for the barrel to give him a shot to hit for both average and power as he continues to refine his approach. He has a cerebral approach already, and goes about his business in a professional fashion, which wins him points with scouts and gives comfort that he will adjust to the minor-league lifestyle in short order. The upside here is a plus defender who will hit for solid average and above-average pop, which fits comfortably in the first couple rounds.

Kel Johnson | 1B/OF | Homeschool (Palmetto, GA) | Commit: Georgia Tech
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3/195 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 11m
Scouting Video

Johnson routinely put on loud and lovely BP sessions, but struggled regularly in game action through the summer and fall. There is lots of raw power in the bat, but the upper and lower half can get out of sync, and some hitchiness from load to barrel delivery can cause timing problems. With power a particularly coveted commodity in today’s amateur acquisition game, the Georgia Tech commit will undoubtedly get plenty of attention leading up to the draft. He may benefit from some time on campus to continue to smooth the rough edges while establishing a performance track record. If he goes that route, he’ll be draft-eligible as sophomore in 2016.

Montrell Marshall | 3B/SS/OF | South Gwinnett (Snellville, GA) | Commit: Auburn
Height/Weight: 6-foot-5/205 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 2m
Scouting Video

Marshall is a projectable talent that spends time at short but profiles best at the five spot. There’s power upside in the bat, but at present he has trouble finding in-game fluidity in his stroke, which is a not-uncommon issue with big, long-limbed high schoolers undergoing daily physical changes as the body matures. His ability to retain his flexibility and athletic actions as he has begun to hang weight on his frame is a good sign, and should give evaluators some comfort. Right now the ceiling outdistances the present package by a sizeable amount, but if the Auburn commit can close the gap some this spring he could quickly jump up draft boards.

Zack Shannon | 1B/RHP/OF | Anderson (Cincinnati, OH) | Commit: Ohio State
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3/220 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 17y 11m
Scouting Video

Like Benes, Shannon is a legit two-way prospect with a chance to provide impact both on the mound and at the plate. There is length in the swing, but more than enough bat speed to overcome it, and he showed on multiple stops along the circuit that he had no difficulty catching up to velocity and driving the ball both oppo and to pull. At times he can get overly aggressive, but his barrel control allows for that aggression to play. After suffering an ankle injury in Jupiter, Shannon will look to show scouts he’s healthy this spring, and could fit comfortably in the early rounds if he is successful.

Pavin Smith | 1B/LHP | Palm Beach Gardens (Palm Beach Gardens, FL) | Commit: Virginia
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3/210 pounds
B/T: L/L
Draft Day Age: 18y 4m
Scouting Video

Smith shows the potential for pop in his bat, but his current offensive game is centered on the hit tool. Despite a rock-in weight transfer, Pavin keeps a stable head and does a good job of maintaining a consistent swing path that he can pretty solidly match to pitch plane. There is physical projection remaining, and if he elects to forgo pro ball for the time being, he could emerge from UVA as a top tier offensive candidate. He shows good hands and a decent lower-half, defensively, but will be limited to first base as a lefty with well below-average foot speed.

Chase Vallot | C/1B | St. Thomas More (Lafayette, LA) | Commit: Mississippi St.
Height/Weight: 6-foot/210 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 17y 10m
Scouting Video

Vallot has perhaps the most impressive power tool in the class when taking into consideration present ability future utility. It’s a torquey cut with excellent balance, whip in the barrel, and natural loft. In addition to putting on massive power displays in batting practice, Vallot has the rare ability as a high schooler to regularly bring that BP pop to the game, including against the advanced arms he faced throughout the summer’s showcases and tournaments. His catch-and-throw game behind the plate is actually quite impressive, but the body is almost certain to force him to first base. As with others mentioned above, the first base profile will add pressure to the bat, and could cause him to drop further down draft boards than the offensive profile might otherwise suggest. He is also one of the youngest draft-eligibles in the class.

Others to Watch
The corner infielder profiles begin to bleed outside of the handful of talents up top, with a fairly large collection of players that come with risk or limited projected impact. Players like Justin Bellinger (St. Sebastian’s School (Needham, MA)) (Scouting Video) and Brian Gonzalez (Archbishop McCarthy (Southwest Ranch, FL)) (Scouting Video) fit into the “big raw; lots of swing-and-miss” category, while Joseph Dunand (Gulliver Prep (Miami, FL)) (Scouting Video), Joe Gillette (Scotts Valley (Scotts Valley, CA)) (Scouting Video), and Jake Jarvis (Klein Collins (Spring, Texas) (Scouting Video) each show a balanced skill set lacking a true impact tool.

Bobby Bradley (Harrison Central (Gulf Port, MS)) (Scouting Video) and JJ Matijevic (Norwin (North Huntingdon, PA)) (Scouting Video) have made strides offensively over the course of the scouting circuit, while David Hensley (Patrick Henry (San Diego, CA)) boast some projection in his game, both physically and in his tool utility. Jeremy Vasquez (Martin County (Stuart, FL)) (Scouting Video) is an interesting bat with limited projectable power.

Final Thoughts
As in most years it is a thin collection of draft talent at the corner infield spot. There is some room for growth in draft stock for a handful of players, but the likelihood is that we see a similar small collection of true early-round targets come June.

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,  2014 Draft

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