May 22, 2013
Scouting the Draft
Center Fielders to Know
One of the areas of strength in this draft class is high school center fielders; there’s a strong case for as many as seven or eight being selected in the first two rounds. The collegiate ranks are drastically thinner; the only two potential first-rounders are likely to end up elsewhere on the diamond. Because the prep ranks are so deep, there is excellent potential for a strong scouting department to identify good value in the third or fourth round.
Cream of the Crop
Clint Frazier | OF | Loganville HS (Loganville, GA)
Frazier began last summer’s scouting circuit as a potential first-rounder. He quickly established himself as a candidate for top-10 overall selection after piling up impressive performances at his various showcase stops. After a monster spring, Frazier has solidified his place as the top prep player on many, if not most, of MLB pref lists, possessing the tools and drive to emerge as the most impactful talent in the draft class. His loud and lively game begins with the best bat speed in the class, which helps him to produce easy plus-plus raw power that should play plus at the next level due to an occasionally overly-aggressive approach.
Earlier this spring, prior to his much-hyped faceoff with cross-town talent and travel teammate Austin Meadows, Frazier launched over 20 home runs during batting practice before showcasing a plus arm in the outfield with good accuracy, and a high-energy demeanor on the field. He followed up his eye-popping pregrame with a two-homer effort, the first of which traveled past the left-field fence, over a grass patch split by a road, and into the tree line some 60 feet beyond the field of play. (The at-bat is included in the scouting video link above, and the full home run from swing to dugout can be seen here.) With 70-plus evaluators in attendance, it was an assertive display by the Georgia commit, staking his claim to legit 1-1 consideration.
The biggest knock on Frazier is his lack of projection—a hurdle faced two years ago by Rice third baseman, and current top prospect in the Nationals system, Anthony Rendon. Like Rendon, Frazier has quick-twitch athleticism and incredibly strong wrists, helping to produce power well above what you’d expect out of a player of his stature. While he regularly expanded the zone through his spring high school at-bats, he showed well against advanced pitching throughout the summer and has the bat speed to allow pitches to travel deep, giving him a shot for an above-average hit tool.
He has the speed for center and has made great strides there since shifting to the outfield last summer, and his arm strength is an easy plus (though he has struggled with tendonitis in his elbow, there is not currently reason to believe the effects will be long-lasting). In any event, his offensive profile will play in center or a corner alike, and there is little doubt Frazier will put in the work necessary to reach his lofty ceiling. Traditionalists may shy away from him due to do his size and aggressive approach to the game, but the payoff for a team willing to take on some risk could be an up-the-middle talent with five impact tools.
Austin Meadows | OF | Grayson HS (Loganville, GA)
Throughout last summer’s scouting circuit, Meadows was routinely viewed as one of the top prep talents in the 2013 draft class—a designation that brings with it the benefits of early attention from decision-makers, but also additional scrutiny throughout the 12 months leading up to the draft. Meadows looks the part of an elite outfield talent, boasting a strong, athletic build hung on a high-waisted and broad frame. His on-field performance, however, has lagged behind his raw grades, pushing him down some draft boards and casting doubt as to his future overall profile. Once thought to be a safe bet to stick in center field, Meadows now looks to be a slightly better fit in an outfield corner. Over the past six months, the Clemson commit has packed on almost 15 pounds of muscle, primarily in his lower half, and has seen his plus to plus-plus straight-line speed decrease as a result. His reads off the bat also lag behind the better defenders in the class and force his speed to play down some. If he is relegated to a corner, it will have to be left field, as his arm strength grades as merely fringe average (45 or 50 on the 20/80 scouting scale).
At the plate, Meadows showcases a compact stroke from the left side and good bat speed generated through a very strong core. He regularly puts on strong batting practice displays, wearing out the right-center gap and showing over-the-fence pop, which some scouts expect to grow into a true plus tool. Meadows projects to a plus or better hit tool due to his simple swing and bat speed, but detractors point to the stark contrast in batting practice displays with wood (over the past summer and fall) and metal (this spring), with a relatively flat plane and limited leverage cutting down on his carry. Additionally, outside of East Coast Pro, Meadows did not show particularly well in-game through the scouting circuit and has put together a good, but shy of great, spring.
The upside for Meadows is that of a 30/30 center fielder capable of hitting for average and getting on base. The risk, however, is that he has to shift over to left field while failing to make the necessary adjustments in his swing to reach his plus power potential, leaving you with an average offensive profile for the position. Meadows grades out well enough, so it’s unlikely he’ll drop out of the top half of the first round, but he could be anywhere from top five overall to the teens.
Boldt has a true center field profile, complete with the requisite foot speed to easily cover large swaths of grass and above-average to plus arm strength that comes complete with solid accuracy. He is a decisive defender that takes a good foot step and may close on the ball as well as anyone in the draft class, taking his speed up a notch as he gets underway. On the bases, he uses his speed well by blending it with good reads and jumps, as evidenced by his showing this past summer with USA Baseball’s 18U squad, during which time Boldt was a perfect 13-for-13 in stolen-base attempts and served as a catalyst at the top of the gold medal winner’s lineup.
At the plate, the Nebraska commit utilizes a short swing with good extension to drive the gaps, and produces enough backspin to project fringe-average power (particularly with the additional muscle he added between the fall and spring). He has an advanced approach and seems well-suited to tackle pro arms right now, potentially capable of tackling the challenge of full-season ball next summer. Boldt saw his spring delayed due to weather, and then ended after his first weekend of play, with a torn meniscus leading him to season-ending surgery. He has signed on to play in the Northwoods League (a collegiate wood bat league) but is unlikely to be ready to log significant time on the field prior to the July signing deadline. That means teams will be making their ultimate decision based on his summer/fall performance and winter workouts. Boldt is talented enough to warrant seven figures, even with the injury under his belt, and could be a prime candidate for teams with a little extra money to spend in the supplemental first or early second round.
Trey Ball | OF | New Castle HS (New Castle, IN)
The top left-handed arm in the draft, Ball also boasts a first-round skill set as a position player, combining plus speed, defense, and arm strength with an offensive profile that could grade as a plus in both power and hit utility. The flip side of this coin is that, as impressive as his showings were at East Coast Pro, the Area Code Games, and each of the national all-star games last August (Perfect Game and Under Armour), Ball has been unable to replicate those performances this spring. Advocates of the lefty will point to poor weather and a propensity for opposing pitchers to throw around him, while detractors simply point to the axiom “hitters hit, and he hasn’t hit.” When clicking, Ball creates good leverage with a smooth and relatively compact swing (considering his long limbs). This spring, his at-bats have more frequently included empty swings and an expanded strike zone. An evaluator’s ultimate opinion of the Texas commit’s offensive upside is likely predicated on which Ball he believes to be the Ball likely to show up at the pro complex come July.
In the outfield, Ball tracks well and uses his long legs to easily glide to the gaps. He breaks back well and has enough feel to be a good bet to stick in center field. Should a team opt to shift him to a corner—most likely due to additional weight he could strap on to his highly-projectable frame—he fits easily in right, with more than enough arm strength and accuracy to prove an above-average overall defender at the nine-spot. He is a top-shelf athlete that scores well in the makeup department and has indicated a willingness to begin his pro career in whatever role his drafting org prefers—pitcher or outfielder. He should be selected high enough to buy him out of his commitment to the Longhorns, where he would have the opportunity to both pitch and play the field.
McPhearson will make his money on the bases and in the field, where his 70/75 speed makes him a true game-changer. He steadily improved his defensive showings throughout the summer and put on a highly impressive display in horrible field conditions last October down in Jupiter during the WWBA World Championship, hosted by Perfect Game USA. Amidst a soggy field and 25-plus mile per hour wind, McPhearson easily covered the gaps and turned in the single best defensive play of the tournament when, shaded slightly to left, he ranged far to the right-center gap on what appeared to be a sure double, showing impressive closing speed and then body control through a sliding catch.
Offensively, McPhearson projects to a below-average hit tool on swing and approach, as he doesn’t keep the bat in the zone particularly long and struggles some with high-end velocity. That said, his speed will earn him some infield hits and extra bases on balls to the outfield, which should help to offset these current shortcomings. He could be a very strong defender in center with a plus glove and average arm strength, and will provide additional value on the bases. He’s unlikely to hit for much power, in spite of wiry strength, but could run into double-digit home-run totals and scores of doubles so long as his contact ability allows. He is a Miami commit who fits best in the third or fourth round, but he could go as early as the second to a team valuing up-the-middle defense and a speed-based offensive profile.
Josh Hart | OF | Parkview HS (Liburn, GA)
Hart was a key member of the East Cobb Baseball team that took home the WWBA World Championship title last October, showcasing a varied skill set throughout the weekend and capping a successful scouting circuit. The Georgia Tech commit projects to an average hit tool and below-average power, though his short left-handed stroke enables him to work the gaps effectively and could lead to solid doubles production. He clocked home-to-first times in the 4.0 to 4.14 range down in Jupiter, which grades out as plus to plus-plus speed out of the box, and has put up comparable times in the 60-yard dash at his various showcase stops.
Hart has a solid feel for the game but could stand to improve his off-the-bat reads—something he should be able to accomplish through the added reps of pro ball—and otherwise grades out as a future average or better defender in center. His arm is average but should play up the middle. Further, he could see greater carry as he learns to consistently get out over his lead foot on his throws, extending and lowering his release and improving his trajectory. This spring, Hart has largely replicated his summer performances, setting himself up for second- or third-round selection, and potentially some Day 1 attention from teams valuing athleticism and defense.
Cord Sandberg | OF | Manatee HS (Bradenton, FL)
Sandberg is a two-sport star who could play both baseball and football (as a quarterback) should he opt to honor his commitment to Mississippi State. While he shows solid arm strength and athletic actions in the field, Sandberg’s off-the-bat reads and overall feel lag behind the better outfield defenders in the draft class, in large part due to the fact his time has been split between multiple sports. Additionally, like Meadows, Sandberg’s broad, athletic frame is filling in and could portend a shift to left field.
Sandberg boasts solid raw pop in his stick, though his barrel delivery comes with slight backside collapse and an inconsistent load that can throw off his timing and swing path. Perhaps more importantly, Sandberg simply lacks the on-field reps many other highly-talented draft prospects have collected—particularly considering many Florida prep talents devote ten-plus months of the year to baseball, between showcases, scholastic ball, and travel teams. Evaluators riding high on Sandberg see a top-tier athlete with the foundation to develop into a 25-plus home-run threat with solid defense, be it in center or a corner. Based on profile alone, his athleticism could get him off the board in the first 100 picks or so, though his football commitment and underwhelming spring performance could muddy the signability waters should he drop too far come June.
Terry McClure | OF | Riverwood HS (Sandy Springs, GA)
McClure saw his stock climb throughout the summer and fall, culminating in a loud four days down in Jupiter last October as part of the Team Elite squad that featured fellow 2013 draft standouts Austin Meadows and Rowdy Tellez. An above-average runner with a high waist and gliding strides, evaluators have always been sold on McClure’s ability to impact the game on the bases and in the field, but it was his increasing ability to manifest in-game power that truly fueled his ascension up pre-season pref lists.
Inconsistent showings this spring have dampened McClure’s heat in some circles, though the physical ability is still readily visible. As one of the younger members of the draft class, McClure offers projection both in physicality and across his tool set, and could be an early-round selection despite being overshadowed this spring by some of his contemporaries in the Peach State. He’s a potential top-two-rounds talent on tools alone, but could drop as low as the fourth to sixth round if teams place more weight on his spring struggles than his circuit successes.
Thomas Milone | OF | Masuk HS (Monroe, CT)
Despite a load that can get a little deep (leading to an arm bar), some uphill tilt in his broad shoulders, and an at times too-stiff upper body, Milone finds a way to make it all work—largely as a result of his above-average bat speed. The result is highly impressive batting practice displays, and less exciting in-game production. Milone has split his time between baseball and football, with the impact of those lost reps somewhat magnified due to his northeast locale, which offers a shorter season than the rest of the prep players jockeying for attention as center fielders.
Defensively, Milone moves well in the outfield and plays with intensity, showing decisive and aggressive actions and enough arm for center field. His overall feel for the game lags behind the top talents in the class, but he held his own at the Area Code Games and East Coast Pro last summer, and figures to get early-round consideration due to his potential to provide above-average power and solid defense up the middle. While Milone has a broad upper body, the frame is tapered, and he doesn’t appear likely to bulk up significantly in his lower half, which should help his chances to stick in the middle of the field. He is a Connecticut commit that could develop along the lines of former Huskies speed/power first rounder George Springer—if he makes it to campus.
J.B. Woodman | OF | Edgewater HS (Orlando, FL)
While fellow Floridian Cord Sandberg weighs his opportunity to pursue both baseball and football at Mississippi St., Woodman is being similarly courted by the other Magnolia State university—Ole Miss. Woodman has a high waist and more tapered frame than Sandberg, projecting to hang less bulk as he matures and giving him a better chance to stick in center long-term. The tradeoff comes in the power department, where Woodman projects out to merely fringe-average pop to go with the potential for a 55 or 60 hit tool. He generates some bat speed and does a solid job matching swing plane to pitch plane, keeping the barrel in this hit zone for an extended period of time.
Defensively, Woodman is a work in progress, showing good foot speed to track but a still-developing nose for the ball. His arm grades out as a tick above average and should have no difficulty playing in center field. A team valuing him highly enough to pop him in the top three rounds will likely view him as a future top-of-the-order bat with an on-base skill set and a chance to provide value both on the bases and in the field.
Stephen Wrenn | OF | Walton HS (Marietta, GA)
While down springs have somewhat negatively impacted the draft day value of fellow Peach Staters Austin Meadows and Terry McClure, Wrenn has been steadily moving in the opposite direction. Owner of a true center field defensive profile, Wrenn is a plus-plus runner with enough arm for the eight spot and a good feel for the position. His speed also plays well on the bases, with the potential to be his strongest asset at the pro ranks.
At the plate, Wrenn has enjoyed a breakout spring, regularly squaring up the ball and working out the gaps. He struggled with quality secondaries last summer, and questions still linger as to how advanced the hit tool truly is at this point. Wrenn entered the season as a potential selection in the back half of the single-digit rounds, but has improved his stock to the point where he should come off the board a few rounds earlier than that—likely somewhere in the third to fifth.
Anderson is a speed and athleticism prospect whose past struggles with on-field intricacies limited his future profile. He has made steady progress over the past 18 months, now boasting a simple swing with good bat speed that can punish fastballs and mistakes alike. He has limited exposure to advanced pitching, and there are legit questions as to how refined his game truly is, given the inconsistent nature of his competition at East Central Community College. Still, his raw skill set is loud enough to get early-round attention, and potentially first-day selection.
A merely adequate defender at shortstop, Anderson stands a good chance to show rapid improvement once he is immersed in a pro system and provided reps and advanced instruction. If short proves too challenging, he would fit well in center field, with a chance to develop into an above-average defender there, and there is a strong argument in favor of making the switch now so as to allow him to focus primarily on the offensive side of the game once he begins his trek through the minors.
One of the loudest collection of tools in the draft class, Lorenzen offers teams the upside of a plus defender in center field with above-average raw power, plus speed, a plus-plus arm, and the chance to hit for average. His collegiate track record has been checkered at best, as has his summer performances with wood. This spring, however, the light switch seems to have flipped for the two-time Team USA alum, as he has improved his contact rate, simplified his swing, and squared balls with more regularity. If his adjustments translate at the next level, Lorenzen could profile as a top-of-the-order threat that could provide a little pop, value on the bases, and an average or better hit tool.
Defensively, Lorenzen has always tracked exceptionally well, utilizing his speed to reach the gaps with ease. He gets good reads off the bat and is able to effortlessly break in, back, and to both sides. He pairs solid accuracy with his plus-plus arm strength, allowing him to impact the game through multiple avenues out in the grass. Teams buying into his 2013 improvements could roll the dice on Lorenzen as early as the first round. If he regresses offensively, he has an excellent fallback as a power arm in the pen, where he sits in the mid-90s and shows solid feel for a potential plus power breaker that draws lots of swings and misses now, but will need to be reined in some when offered to more discerning pro bats.
Brandon Thomas | OF | Georgia Tech
A fourth-round selection last June by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Thomas opted to return to Tech for his senior year, where he has posted a respectable triple-slash line of .348/.435/.438 over the first 45 games of the season. Offensively, he profiles as a bottom-third bat with a fringy hit tool and well-below-average power, in large part due to a stiff one-piece swing and propensity to make contact past the maximum leverage points in his bat path. While he puts forth a solid approach at the plate, his swing could lead more advanced arms to exploit his inability to deliver the barrel with force to all four quadrants.
In the field, Thomas projects as an average defender up the middle who is unlikely to greatly impact the game with his glove. He runs well and could be an asset on the bases. His pure profile is that of a fourth outfielder, but he could come off the board as early as the fourth round to a team that believes they can tease his hit tool up to solid average—particularly if that team is looking to save a little bit of money to allocate elsewhere to a tougher sign.
Michael O’Neill | OF | University of Michigan
O’Neill elicits a wide variety of opinions among evaluators, with his tools often grading beyond what is implemented in-game. A solid runner with enough arm strength for the position, the preferred landing spot for the Michigan outfielder is center (though he has deferred to speedy teammate Patrick Biondi in Ann Arbor). While he doesn’t look lost in the field, his reads and routes are questionable just often enough to give evaluators pause, with some attributing the underperformance to lack of concentration, while others question the overall effort.
The bat has the potential to grade out as a 50 to 55 in both the hit and power departments, but this spring O’Neill’s aggressive approach has too often lead to soft contact out of the zone and a tendency to find himself hitting behind in the count, faced with a steady diet of pitchers’ pitches. The individual tools all grade out as average or better, but the top draft talent in the Big Ten simply hasn’t been able to put it all together to present a top-two-rounds package. He could be popped as early as the second by a team that buys into the tools and its ability to develop them at the next level, but the overall profile is a better fit in the third or fourth round. A strong postseason could greatly help his case as we near draft day.
Nick J. Faleris is a practicing structured finance attorney and Sports Industry team member in the Milwaukee office of Foley & Lardner LLP. The views he expresses in Baseball Prospectus are his own, and not necessarily those of the law firm.