February 10, 2014
Perfect Game Presents
Before They Were Pros: NL Central
AL West | AL Central | AL East | NL West | NL 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.
We continue by looking at select top prospects from National League Central teams. Be sure to read Baseball Prospectus' features on each of these five teams:
Cubs | Brewers | Reds | Pirates | Cardinals
Javier Baez – SS
Baez, a native of Puerto Rico, was a bit late to arrive on the national prospect scene, but he was a well-known player within the Jacksonville area, where he attended high school at Arlington Country Day School. He made up for lost time, opening eyes in his first WWBA appearance after being scooped up by East Cobb's highly visible program for an early summer tournament. He was immediately invited to the PG National Showcase, where he earned himself an invitation to the PG All-American Classic. At that game he shared the left side of the infield with fellow Puerto Rican native and 2011 first-round pick Francisco Lindor, whom he also teamed with at the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter that October as members of the loaded Cardinals Scout Team.
Baez's offensive upside was highly regarded in the prospect community, and his power projection made him a household name amongst scouts within weeks of landing on the national radar. The question about his long-term future was his eventual defensive home. His quick actions, smooth hands and plus arm strength assured that he could be at least an above average infielder playing on the left side of the diamond. The question was whether or not he could stay at shortstop as he matured and his body began to add mass. He also made a few cameos behind the plate as a catcher, though his offensive upside prevented that idea from picking up much steam given the time and attention that would have been required for him to learn the finer points of the position.
While there was a considerable amount of swing-and-miss to his game due to his super aggressive hitting approach, he was widely considered a safe bet to come off the board in the first round because of his elite bat speed and power projection. Those who had faith in both his ability to make frequent contact against professional pitching and stick at shortstop saw him as one of the elite prospects in a top heavy 2011 draft class. The Cubs fell into the latter group and selected him with the ninth-overall pick. —Todd Gold
Albert Almora – OF
There haven’t been many players at Almora’s prospect level who followed the mantra “play as often as possible against the best players as possible as soon as possible” any more actively in pursuing becoming a better player.
With all his high level experience as a teenager it is no wonder that Almora’s top attributes as a baseball player are often considered to be his skills and make-up rather than his physical tools. They've been developed differently than most teenagers.
Consider this resume:
Almora played for various USA National teams for four consecutive years. He hit .667-3-14 in eight games for the 2008 14u Team. He spent the next two years playing for the 16u team, hitting .356-1-15 in 2009 and .455-1-5 in 2010. In 2011 he graduated to the 18u National team and was the Most Valuable player at the Pan American championship.
Almora played in four different WWBA World Championships beginning his freshman year, the first two with the All-American Prospects, followed by a year each with the Florida Legends and FTB Mizuno. There is no official record kept for players who have done this, but if there were, it would be a very short and exclusive list.
Almora also played in two WWBA World Junior Championships, the Perfect Game Junior National and National Showcases, the East Coast Professional Showcase and topped it off with the 2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic.
At no event did Almora ever have the best tools. His fastest recorded sixty in the PG database is a 6.78 and his best outfield velocity was 89 mph. At 6-foot-2 and a slender 180 pounds, he didn’t stand out as the alpha prospect in any crowd of athletic teenagers either. But he was frequently the best baseball player.
Almora’s defining moment as a prospect was at the 2011 East Coast Professional Showcase in Lakeland, Fla. That was an absurdly talented gathering of players, highlighted by Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa in full tool mode and Lance McCullers hitting 100 mph on the scoreboard radar gun. But Almora stole the show from the very beginning. As the first batter in the first game on the first day of the four day event, Almora blasted a deep home run to left-center field. He did the same thing in his second at-bat. The final score of the game was 2-0.
Almora grabbed everyone’s attention that day and carried it all the way through the next year, when the Cubs picked him with the sixth pick in the 2012 draft and signed him to a $3.9 million bonus. Even though he was advised by Scott Boras, Almora carried no signability issues into the draft as the scouting community knew he was a 100-percent-dedicated ballplayer who should and would be playing professionally. —David Rawnsley
C.J. Edwards – RHP
Edwards pre-professional background is the stuff that movies could be made from if he makes it big in the major leagues. He was a 48th-round draft choice in 2011 by the Texas Rangers out of Mid-Carolina High School about a half-hour north of Columbia, South Carolina. 2011 was, of course, the last year the draft went 50 rounds—it was reduced to 40 rounds in 2012. It’s safe to say that Edwards will be the last top prospect ever picked in the 48th round.
That Edwards reportedly received a $50,000 bonus in that round to buy him out of a scholarship to Charleston Southern is pretty impressive for that round. The Rangers knew they had something.
Prosperity, South Carolina, is a town with a listed population of 1,184. Only Edwards didn’t really live in Prosperity, he lived about six miles outside of Prosperity down a couple of dirt roads. If you’ve driven around the rural Deep South much, it isn’t hard to picture. Edwards had two nicknames growing up due to his baseball prowess and build, the “String Bean Slinger” and “Satch"—the latter after the great Satchel Paige.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly given his background, Edwards did play at three WWBA tournaments in high school, two for the Carolina Cyclones and one for the Diamond Devils. He wasn’t a hidden player by any means, just an obscure one. His first event was at the 2009 16u WWBA National Championship coming out of his sophomore year. He threw in the 82-86 mph range with a 72-mph curveball and 77-mph changeup. The scout notes on him from that event read:
Low effort, raw, whippy AA, not real great mechanics, doesn't follow through, w/coaching could be a great pitcher, FB has cut and ASR, can mix them up, once he warmed up his CB was sick-nasty.
Edwards final appearance was at the 2011 18u WWBA National Championship about a month after he was drafted. It’s easy to imagine that the Rangers had multiple scouts in attendance to see Edwards pitch. He threw 87-90 mph on his fastball with a 73-mph curveball and 85-mph cutter/slider. His notes from that event read:
Overtop arm angle, Good command, Throws strikes, Arm works well, Effortless arm action, Good follow through, Sharp downhill, Throws easy, Quick arm, Works fast, Attacks hitters, Stays tall on backside, Smooth delivery. —David Rawnsley
Dan Vogelbach – 1B
Vogelbach most certainly did not fit the mold of an elite draft prospect as a teenager. For starters, organizations are typically very hesitant to invest heavily in high school first basemen. In the five drafts prior to Vogelbach's 2011 draft class only two high-school first basemen were selected in the top 50 picks.
Eric Hosmer, who is the kind of athlete who would've been a high-level third base prospect if he were born a right-handed thrower, was selected third overall in 2008. Christian Yelich was selected by the Marlins in 2010 and was immediately shifted to center field.
But even within the high-school firs- base demographic, Vogelbach didn't fit the mold of a prototypical prospect due to his thick, stout build. Many scouts either wrote him off completely as a result, or were slow to come around on him. This was certainly not a secret to Vogelbach himself, who was fueled by the doubters and played with an obvious chip on his shoulder.
The son of a personal trainer, Vogelbach was and is a much better athlete than he is generally given credit for. He ran a 7.20 60-yard dash as an underclassman, which while below average is not at a level that precludes him from being able to run the bases competently as a professional. After being measured at 5-foot-10 and 250 pounds at the 2010 East Coast Pro Showcase, Vogelbach worked hard over the off-season heading into his senior year, shedding 20 pounds. Of course, that would've gone unnoticed were it not for the fact that over his high school career Vogelbach had clearly established himself as one of, if not the, best hitters in the country.
Vogelbach had one of the most prolific careers in the World Wood Bat Association's history, consistently putting up huge offensive numbers while hitting in the middle of the order for one of the top travel baseball programs on the national circuit; FTB (Florida Travel Ball). He showed the ability to drive the ball out of every part of the park with ease, using a well controlled swing with plus bat speed and tremendous strength at contact, and an advanced approach with no glaring flaws.
In the year leading up to the 2011 draft there was a philosophical debate taking place amongst scouts, and Vogelbach was clearly the catalyst. It was generally phrased along the lines of, “if a player is projected to be a legitimate plus hitter at the major-league level, but doesn't project as an average defender at any position, is he worth a first-round pick?” There wasn't a consensus as to whether or not Vogelbach could develop into a serviceable defensive first basemen with time in a player development system, or if he would live up to his lofty offensive ceiling. But it was plainly clear that Vogelbach was at least one of the best hitters in the class, with many feeling he was the best, and that he was never going to win a Gold Glove.
There was a general feeling heading into the 2011 draft that Vogelbach was likely to be taken by an American League club. But it was the Cubs, who spent aggressively on the best available player on the board who took advantage of the industry's skepticism, landing a first-round-caliber bat with their second-round pick. —Todd Gold
Tyrone Taylor – OF
Taylor was a two-sport star in high school and played in only one national-level event, the 2011 Area Code Games. With all his achievements in football and the energy it probably took, that’s probably not surprising.
During his senior year at Torrance High School between Los Angeles and Long Beach, Taylor rushed for 1,521 yards and 20 touchdowns and also added 25 more receptions good for 10 more touchdowns. He excelled on defense as well, making 190 tackles and intercepting three passes. He also kicked off for Torrance and recorded 29 touchbacks and even picked up seven more points on PAT’s. In an evident attempt to make sure he never left the field, Taylor also returned punts and kickoffs.
Taylor produced at much the same level on the baseball field, hitting .488-4-29 as a senior and .473-6-25 as a junior.
Taylor’s baseball skills were understandably raw, especially for a top prospect from Southern California, but his athleticism stood out. He had easy-plus speed and was big and strong enough to be showing present power and plenty of offensive projection. His Perfect Game notes from the Area Code Games certainly reflect that:
4.10 runner, plays the game fast, raw hitting mechanics, pulls up and out, finds the barrel consistently, has hitting skills despite mechanics, surprising pop, ball jumps, could be a big surprise over the next year.
The Brewers selected Taylor with their second round pick in the 2012 draft and eventually signed him for a $750,000 bonus, well over the recommended slot of $523,000. Taylor passed on a baseball scholarship to Cal State Fullerton to enter professional baseball. —David Rawnsley
Jimmy Nelson – RHP
The big-bodied Jimmy Nelson already checked in at 6-foot-5, 220-pounds when he made his first Perfect Game showcase appearance at the 2006 Florida Showcase. At the event Nelson pumped his sinking fastball up to 86 mph while also throwing both a promising slider and a changeup.
A year later at the 2007 World Showcase—where he earned a PG grade of 9.5 and was named to the event's top prospect list—Nelson's fastball was now thrown consistently as his previous peak velocity, touching 89 while throwing a harder, firmer slider and his usual polished change. Here's his report from that event:
(Nelson) has a big and tall country strong type of build that could get really strong in the future. Nelson throws from a complicated, multi-piece delivery with a full arms over head takeaway and a high 3/4's release point. There are plenty of inconsistencies he'll have to iron out at the next level. His arm works very well through all of it. His best pitch was an 80 mph slider that had a sharp 2-plane break and was nasty at times and will be a major weapon for him in the future. Nelson had much better command of his slider than his other pitches and lots of confidence in the pitch. His fastball was 86-89 mph from a good downhill plane and it had excellent sink at times when he got it low in the strike zone. Nelson's change up also showed quality and he should consider throwing it more often. Nelson is a very good prospect now and when he gets his delivery under control and his strength grows into his frame, he could be something special. That slider will be unhittable when he's throwing it 85 mph. Nelson is a very good student who will be attending Alabama.
Nelson did indeed attend Alabama after going undrafted out of high school. He continued to work on his delivery while in college and his fastball continued to add velocity, thrown consistently in the upper-80s—where it showed more sinking life—and peaking in the low-90s. Nelson's slider also continued to be a plus offering for him, thrown with the same arm speed and action as his fastball, giving him the profile of a sinker-slider innings eater. —Patrick Ebert
Taylor Jungmann – RHP
Jungmann's reputation led to him being selected to participate in the 2007 PG All-American Classic despite not attending a Perfect Game event prior to that. Here is the report from his performance at the Classic:
Jungmann started off a little shaky, as he appeared to be over-throwing while not incorporating his whole body into his delivery as he was out of rhythm and all over the place. The good thing is that he was missing low, and the better thing is that he started to settle down and pitched quite well despite giving up a walk and a base hit to (Tim) Beckham and (Ethan) Martin respectively. He showed once he settled down that he does have pretty good fastball command and a nasty slider, using one such pitch to set Destin Hood down swinging.
Although the Angels selected him in the 24th round out of high school in the 2008 draft, it wasn't nearly early enough to sway him from him strong commitment to his home-state Texas Longhorns. There Jungmann enjoyed immediate success, and was remarkably consistent during his three-year stay with the Longhorns, collectively going 32-6 with a 1.63 ERA and highlighted by his 13-0, 0.95 campaign as a junior, which cemented his status as a first-round pick in the 2011 draft.
At Texas his success was predicated largely on his command, effectively changing speeds between his low-90s fastball, which would peak in the mid-90s and usually settle in to the upper-80s later in games, a slider, curveball, and changeup. He grew more confident throwing his curveball during his college career, effectively dropping it in for strikes to induce weak, early contact, but none of his secondary pitches projected as much more than average.
Based on this profile, since he wasn't over-powering, his ceiling was that of a no. 3 starter. Because he consistently displayed plus command of four offerings he could throw for strikes, he also had a high floor, and was believed a safer bet to contribute effective innings at the major-league level. —Patrick Ebert
Robert Stephenson – RHP
Stephenson grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and like many young top players from that region, didn’t travel much in high school until the beginning of his senior year. His first national level event was the Perfect Game National Showcase in June, 2010. He quickly showed that he was a top pitching prospect, sitting steadily at 92-93 mph during his outing with a mid-70s curveball and a 7- mph changeup. Stephenson was an easy choice for the 2010 PG All-American Classic based on his stuff and very projectable build, but the package was still pretty raw.
The scouting notes from that event read as follows:
Long slender build, not close to mature, big leg raise delivery, drift in delivery, some effort, quick arm, loose actions, CB has v. short flat break, FB runs arm side, Good change but rarely uses, some head jerk, misses arm side, command improved 2nd IP, spin/effort not ideal but a power arm.
Later in the summer it was obvious that Stephenson was doing exactly what one wants to see a young high level pitching prospect do; improve in noticeable and multiple ways. At the Area Code Games and PG All-American Classic in August, Stephenson upped his velocity to the 93-95 mph range and developed more depth to his curveball and better relative velocity to his more frequently used changeup. His notes from the Area Code Games read:
Big leg raise delivery, rocks back, sometimes gets off balance, + athletic build, projects, occ has trouble working down in zone, mixes pitches well for a young power pitcher, change was very nice at times.
Stephenson’s senior year, when scouts frequently got to double up on days with he and fellow first round pick Joe Ross in nearby Oakland, was more of the same. He opened the season with a pair of no-hitters and ended up striking out 119 batters in 61 innings. Stephenson generally worked in the 92-94 mph range, topping out at 97 mph, and he frequently maintained that velocity through a full seven innings. The debate between Stephenson and Ross centered around Ross being smoother with less effort in his delivery versus Stephenson’s lightning fast arm and tick better raw stuff.
Ross won on draft day by going two picks higher than Stephenson’s 27th slot to the Reds, where he received a $2 million signing bonus. Thus far it looks like Stephenson has the edge as a professional, however. —David Rawnsley
Billy Hamilton – OF
When Billy Hamilton made his first appearance at a Perfect Game tournament event—the 2006 16u WWBA National Championship—he was a 5-foot-6, 115-pound shortstop/right-handed pitcher whose athleticism was obvious. Not surprisingly, his game was highlighted by his quickness and speed even if he didn't have the strength necessary to consistently drive the ball.
Two years later Hamilton had grown to 6-foot, 150-pounds, and while he still needed to continue to add strength to improve his impact at the plate, his game-changing speed allowed him to wreak havoc simply by putting the ball in play.
That isn't to say Hamilton was weak, as he had visible, wiry strength, and even took to the mound with the ability to reach 90 mph with a promising curveball.
Here is a collection of reports from the tournament events he attended:
60 runner, great range in CF, 4.46 RH turn. Good range at ss, in CF w/ above avg HS arm. When he physically matures he could blow up. Smooth CF. Good wheels. Fast out of the box, good swing, kid flies, can go the other way. 4.22 H-1B. Hustle double, baseball instincts, runs well. Tall thin RH, slow delivery, good arm action, over the top delivery, quick to plate, early control trouble, good CB with weak command.
Hamilton made one more appearance at a PG tournament in 2009 at the 18u National Championship prior to signing with the Reds as their second-round pick that year. At that event he showed the promise as to why he was selected as early as he was, although there was still the need for him to improve as a hitter. His athleticism with three plus tools—arm strength, defense, and foot speed—made it easy for the Reds to select him as early as they did, and those tools continue to be the foundation to his success. —Patrick Ebert
Jesse Winker – OF
Winker was as well traveled as a teenage baseball prospect could be, competing in 25 Perfect Game events during his high school career, many with the FTB Mizuno organization, along with a pair of East Coast Pro Showcases, an Area Code Games and the 2011 USA National 18u team. On top of that, he played on a top flight Olympia High School team with first round righthanded pitcher Walker Weickel – now a member of the Padres organization – and a young shortstop named Nick Gordon.
What playing in all those high profile events enabled Winker to do for the scouts was to give them the opportunity to track the huge improvements he made as an athlete over that time. Winker already had a national reputation as a hitter during his sophomore year, but was somewhat of a slow-twitch athlete who had below average speed (7.5 second in the 60-yard dash) and arm strength on the professional grading scale. At that point he looked like a future sweet-swinging college left fielder.
That changed significantly over the next two years, as Winker got stronger and quicker. He got his sixty times down around 7.0 and his arm went from being a non-factor to a plus weapon. The extra strength and quickness in his body found its way into the barrel of his bat in the form of big power.
There was an ironic side to Winker’s improved arm strength. The lefthander rarely pitched for either Olympia High School or for FTB Mizuno, but was pressed into pitching for the 2011 USA National 18u team. He went 2-0, 0.00, with a save, including a complete game seven-inning shutout featuring only 66 pitches and was named the top pitcher at the Pan Am Championship. Winker did pitch in relief during his senior high school season, usually topping out in the 93-94 mph range.
Winker’s defining moment as a prospect came in the same place as it does for many top prospects, in Jupiter at the WWBA World Championship. FTB Mizuno coach Jered Goodwin put together and unparalleled outfield featuring a trio of PG All-Americans including Winker, Albert Almora and David Dahl. Winker outshined both the future top-10 picks, leading all Jupiter players in RBI and hitting a pair of long home runs. In the playoff quarterfinals, with FTB Mizuno down 5-3 in the bottom of the fifth inning, two outs and the bases loaded, Winker took a mighty cut and just got under a ball that was caught on the warning track in right field. A grand slam could have very well changed the entire course of the tournament. —David Rawnsley
Jameson Taillon – RHP
Taillon very well may have been a legitimate choice for the no. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft if it weren't for the simple fact that young phenom Bryce Harper was also available. Built tall and strong at 6-foot-7, 230-pounds, Taillon had the workhorse frame and the stuff to match to project as a staff ace.
What made Taillon even more impressive was his athleticism and body control, as young pitchers of his stature often have difficulty repeating their deliveries. He also threw from a pronounced downhill plane, which made his fastball—which could sit in the 93-96 range while flirting with triple digits at times—that much harder to catch up to. He also threw a low-80s hammer curve, giving him two distinct swing-and-miss pitches.
That profile allowed Taillon to start the 2009 PG All-American Classic for the West squad, coincidentally throwing to the aforementioned Harper behind the plate. In that game he struck out four of the six batters he faced, three of them swinging on fastballs.
Taillon pitched at numerous PG events, including the 2009 National Showcase, where his report read as follows:
Extra large athletic build, plus strong, very well coordinated actions. Well paced 3/4's cross body release, long extended arm action, repeats + well. Maintained 95 mph FB from stretch, outstanding angle to RHH's. Present plus true CB at times, hard and late with big break, commands CB plus well. Only 1 change this outing, has flashed plus change in past. No doubt #1 guy in class, special talent. Very good student, early draft prospect, verbal to Rice.
Taillon continued his dominance on the travel circuit the rest of that summer, including his appearance at the Classic. He showed much of the same the following spring, leading to the Pirates taking him with the no. 2 overall pick in June, right behind Harper. —Patrick Ebert
Nick Kingham – RHP
Nick Kingham’s career as a prospect got off to a bumpy start, but once he got moving forward it took off quickly. He didn’t pitch in high school during his junior (2009) season due to transfer rules enforced in Las Vegas. His first Perfect Game showcase was the 2009 Sunshine West Showcase, which is held in early June just prior to the National Showcase.
One of the primary functions of the Sunshine Showcases (there will be five in 2014) is a final sweep of the country to find any overlooked players that belong at the National Showcase. Numerous top prospects, including Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo were first seen at these events.
Kingham threw very well at Sunshine West, pitching in the 85-88 mph range with a hard 75-mph curveball and an 80-mph changeup. Here are his notes from that event:
Arm works, good pitcher’s build, arm speed, projects, long levers, low effort, balanced, some extension, can stay back better, opens a bit early with front hip, sharp CB, 11/5 CB, pot 92-93 arm, some down plane, 84-86 from stretch, comes out clean, can get more from midsection, occ ASR FB, occ GSR FB, quick move.
Kingham did earn his invitation to the National Showcase and his first exposure before a national scouting audience. He threw even better at that event, throwing in the 88-90 range with two quality secondary pitches. My own notes on Kingham’s performance didn’t understate how much I liked him:
Profile build, well-paced balanced delivery, loose athletic actions, downhill, stays behind the ball, projects ++ well, compact in back, Chg was very good, + arm speed, CB has hard spin/good shape, has an idea how to pitch. Really LIKE this kid's potential.
Kingham stayed in that 88-90 mph range for the rest of the summer and fall while maintaining his high level secondary pitches and ability to mix. One just knew that it was only a matter of time before he started throwing harder and he did, bumping up his comfort range the next spring to 90-92 and touching 94 mph regularly.
Knowing he had a scholarship to Oregon in hand, the Pirates selected Kingham with their fourth-round pick, the 117th-overall selection. They signed him for $480,000 about 10 days before the signing deadline. —David Rawnsley
Josh Bell – OF
Bell was a well-known prospect after hitting .412-11-36 as a junior at Jesuit Prep in Dallas and was on his way to experiencing the full force of the summer showcase circuit in the summer of 2010 until he fractured his right kneecap in a high school playoff game and missed the entire summer.
That put the scouting community well behind on Bell compared to his peers in the class of 2011. It was frequently written and commented on that Bell would be the most watched player at the WWBA World Championship in late October, where he was playing for the Dallas Patriots. With a huge contingent of scouts following his every move, Bell proceeded to put on one of the best performances in Jupiter history. He blasted three home runs in pool play to lead the Patriots to the playoffs. In the quarterfinals, the Patriots were the victims of one of the most brilliant pitching performances ever at that level of baseball, facing off against Jose Fernandez at the peak of his abilities. While Fernandez threw mid-90s with a disappearing slider and pin-point control for six innings, Bell had a pair of quality at-bats, including a hard base hit, and looked remarkably comfortable against the otherwise dominant Cuban.
Bell went on to hit an eye-opening .552-14-55 as a senior, with 19 stolen bases, 48 walks and only five strikeouts.
Bell’s non-hitting tools were frequently described as fringy average leading up to the draft. He was a 6.9 to 7.0 runner with fair arm strength, tools that both played up because Bell showed very good instincts on the bases and in the outfield. But it was his ability to hit equally well and with power from both sides of the plate that made up almost his entire value as a prospect.
Bell’s path leading up to the draft and to signing with the Pirates was not as pretty as his swing, however. As a very hot commodity with Scott Boras as his advisor and a strong commitment to Texas, it had all makings of a player with complicated signability issues. Late in the spring Bell sent a letter to all 30 major-league teams that he was firm in his commitment to Texas and would be going to school. Even though Bell was perceived as having potential top-10-overall-pick talent, he slid to the Pirates with the 61st-overall pick. The Pirates then surprised virtually everyone by finding Bell’s price, which turned out to be an even $5 million. —David Rawnsley
St. Louis Cardinals
Kolten Wong – 2B
Wong's talents were evident at an early age, and it was never a surprise that he could hit, as his father, Kaha, spent two years in the minor leagues, posting a .280/.345/.351 slash line, and is now one of the more respected hitting instructors on the Big Island.
Kolten first attended a PG event as a high school sophomore, the Hawaii Showcase in 2006, and came state-side during the summer of 2007 to attend the National Showcase in Cincinnati, Ohio. A very good overall athlete with great versatility and a wide array of tools from a compact, 5-foot-9, 175-pound frame, Wong was a catcher early in high school before eventually making the permanent switch to second base. He also played in the outfield, as well as some time at shortstop while at the University of Hawaii.
With a compact left-handed swing, Wong proved to be one of the better hitters in the nation, routinely smoking line drives to all parts of the field while also displaying surprising pop for a player of his stature. He also exhibited good foot speed and quickness, giving him a well-rounded tool-set. Here's his report from the National where he earned a PG grade of 9.0 (out of 10):
(Wong) has a short, compact build with good present strength. Wong has swung between catcher and second base and played mostly catcher in Cincinnati. His tools and actions are better suited for second base, where he has good quickness and speed (6.88 in the 60), and we are told that is the position that he is going to play in college. Wong's left handed bat will play well at either premium defensive position. He hits from a balanced coil at the plate with very quick hands and a pull type of approach. For much of the showcase Wong seemed to be content to make contact and didn't elevate his bat speed and ability to drive the ball like we've seen frequently in the past. When Wong stepped up against 6-8 Kyle Long and his 94-96 mph fastball, we saw the true Wong, though. He was unfazed by the velocity and showed the bat speed we knew he had, along with the aggressiveness. Wong's bat plays and he has an aggressive ballplayer's approach to the game.
The Twins took Wong in the 16th round of the 2008 draft, but he opted to take his talents to the University of Hawaii and ended up being a first-round pick three years later. He was a College All-American at Hawaii, and also was named the MVP on the Cape Cod League during the summer of 2010.
Here's a snippet of his Draft Focus report prior to the 2011 draft:
Pound for pound, there may not be a better prospect in the 2011 draft class than the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Wong. He has well-rounded skills and may have solidified his status as a potential first-rounder last summer by passing up an offer to return to Team USA’s college national team for a second season. He elected instead to play in the Cape Cod League, where he earned league MVP honors for a .341-3-11 season along with a league-best 22 stolen bases. Wong showcased polished offensive skills with a sound approach from the left side of the plate, and surprising pop for a player his size. He drove the ball hard consistently. He also became an accomplished base stealer … Wong had been an extremely versatile player earlier in his career, and spent most of freshman season at Hawaii in center field, while earning national acclaim by hitting .341-11-52 with 11 stolen bases. After initially being tried as a catcher as a sophomore, he settled in at second base and hit a solid .357-7-40 with 19 stolen bases … Though not blessed with blazing speed, Wong is aggressive on the bases and has excellent base-running instincts.
Kolten's success from high school to college and now as a pro led the Tampa Bay Rays to draft his younger brother, Kean, a similar prospect, in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. —Patrick Ebert
Carson Kelly – 3B
The state of Oregon has received plenty of baseball attention in the last decade due to the pair of NCAA championships won by Oregon State, plus the reemergence and immediate success of the baseball program at Oregon.
But the state rarely produces much in the way of high school baseball talent. Carson Kelly had the distinction of probably being the state’s best high school hitting and pitching prospect in the last two decades while he was at Westview High School in Portland. The last high school player to be selected in the first round of the draft from Oregon was first baseman Matt Smith by the Royals in 1994. The only prep pitcher selected in the top three rounds during the same time was the late Steve Belcher, taken in the third round by the Orioles in 1998.
Kelly was picked in the second round with the 86th-overall selection.
More so than any player in the 2012 draft, Kelly was a true two-way prospect who had scouts lined up on both sides of the fence as to his future role in professional ball. Here is what was wrote in late March of 2012 in Kelly’s Perfect Game Draft Focus report:
Kelly is a primary third baseman. He’s very athletic defensively at third base, the kind of defender who plays on his toes and is very quick laterally on ground balls and line drives. His arm strength is a clear plus tool both on the mound and throwing across the infield, and he has a flexible, quick release. Offensively, Kelly has a very nice load and hitting rhythm with a bit bigger leg raise trigger than some scouts prefer. He shows plus raw power from the right side and has nice lift in his swing when he’s pulling the ball. Kelly will get long at times and expand the strike zone, especially on off-speed pitches, but he handles high velocity stuff well.
Surprisingly perhaps, Kelly is more polished on the mound. He has a simple, repeatable delivery and sits in the 90-92 mph range with minimal effort on release. For a pitcher who throws in the low-90s so consistently, it’s somewhat unusual that there have never been reports that he’ll touch 94-95 at times as most young strong armed pitchers do occasionally. That’s a sign for me that his present mechanics work well for him and he’s throwing in his envelope right now with his fastball.
Kelly has shown less consistency with his breaking ball. I’ve seen him with a mid-70s curveball, but the best breaking ball I’ve seen him throw was at the 2011 Area Code Games, when he was throwing an 80 mph pitch I called a slider but which had tight, hard bite, good depth and was buckling hitter’s knees with consistency. Kelly has a changeup that still is in the developing stages, and he throws consistent strikes with all three pitches. If he can develop consistency with the 80 mph hard biting version of his breaking ball, I can see more and more scouts leaning toward his future as a pitcher. —David Rawnsley
Tim Cooney – RHP
Although Cooney displayed solid baseball skills while in high school, it was clear at the time that his body needed to mature physically before he could reach his potential. At the time, that potential was unclear with a slight 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame. He did attend the Northeast Showcase after his sophomore year in high school, topping out at 84 with a sharp 74 mph curveball, earning a PG grade of 8.0 and this report:
Pitches from a high 3/4 arm slot, solid mechanics, clean arm action, straight FB at 84 mph, tight CB at 74 mph, CB has depth, mixes in a 74 mph CH, hits from a slightly open stance, high hands, top hand release, level swing plane, makes consistent contact, excellent student.
His velocity held throughout his high school career, peaking at 85 mph during his senior year while pitching for All Star Baseball Academy at the 2008 WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., and went undrafted the following June.
Cooney elevated his game to another level while in college at Wake Forest, adding two inches and 30 pounds to his previously slight frame. He made a strong initial impression during his freshman year at Wake Forest, pitching in 14 games, 13 of which were starts, and served as the Demon Deacons' Friday ace during his junior season. His fastball sat in the upper-80s to low-90s, peaking a few ticks higher, while routinely displaying a well-rounded four-pitch mix and advanced sense for changing speeds.
Here's part of his Draft Focus pre-draft report from 2012:
Cooney emerged as a solid second- or third-rounder with a breakthrough sophomore season, and he essentially solidified his standing in the draft as a junior … Typically, (his fastball) ranges from 88-91 mph, but Cooney tried to overthrow it, at times, to achieve a little more velocity, and while it often reached 92-93 mph, his command suffered in the process. He threw quality strikes with his fastball more consistently towards the end of the season as he made a more-conscious effort to stay within himself. He did not have the same kind of command issues with any of his three off-speed pitches, a change, cutter and breaking ball. His cutter, which normally sits in the mid-80s, is considered his best secondary offering. Cooney typical relies on an advanced sense of pitchability for his success, and precise command is critical in his approach. At his best, Cooney excels at mixing his four pitches efficiently to get hitters guessing and keeping them off balance, and he is able to create deception with his loose, easy, free arm action. —Patrick Ebert
Randal Grichuk – OF
While Houston area native Randal Grichuk will always be known as the high school outfielder that the Angels took just before Mike Trout in the 2009 draft, the selection actually made sense in the context of the time that the decision was made. Trout was a late bloomer in high school, especially with the bat, and New Jersey had an especially cold and rainy spring that year, making it difficult for cross-checkers and scouting directors to get a thorough read on him. Trout wasn’t an unknown by any means, but there wasn’t much surety on him.
Grichuk, on the other hand, had been putting up eye opening home run numbers in the Houston area since he was in Little League. He was the dominant performer on the 2007 Team USA 16u National Team, which included players such as Nick Franklin, A.J. Cole, Matt Davidson and Zach Lee, and he hit .563-3-6 in six games. He played in Jupiter twice with the Houston Heat and won the 2009 International High School Power Showcase, blasting 20 home runs overall. In his senior year in high school, Grichuk hit .613-21-46.
The ball made a different sound when it came off Grichuk’s bat at that age, it just exploded. It wasn’t a classic or even pretty swing by any means, as he hit down to the ball in an almost exaggerated way and didn’t have the lift and extension out front that one normally sees in power hitters. He just overpowered the ball with strength and bat speed.
Grichuk was also a 6.85 runner and regularly ran in the 4.2 to 4.3-second range to first base from the right side of the batter's box. He was considered a plus makeup young man with a plus motor on the field.
Here are the notes on Grichuk from the 2008 Area Code Games:
Strong kid, quick hands, live body look, kind of stiff at ball, level to almost downward swing, hits bombs, 420' to LCF off 90 mph FB, can flat hit, very hard contact, ball explodes, will fish at outside CBs, one of the best hitters in the 2009 class. Arm is marginal, likely LF future. —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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