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 American League Central teams. Be sure to read Baseball Prospectus' features on each of these five teams:
White Sox | Twins | Royals | Indians | Tigers
Erik Johnson – RHP
Johnson was named to a pair of top prospect lists from PG showcase events he attended: the 2006 Nor Cal Underclass and the 2007 National. Although those two events were eight months apart, Johnson showed significant improvement between the two; his fastball velocity rose from 84-86, while peaking at 87 mph, to 90-92. He also firmed up his curveball, adding more power to the pitch and turning it from a low-70s offering to an upper-70s one.
Here's his report from the National Showcase:
He has a power pitcher's body, with good body strength and long and loose limbs. Johnson has a low effort delivery with good extension out front over his front leg. He'll occasionally fall of to first base. Johnson's fastball was very consistently in the 90-92 mph range with some late sink and run to it. He threw a slurve type curveball at 78 mph that had very good depth at times and was a solid secondary pitch for him. He also mixed in a couple of 81 mph changeups. Johnson's arm strength and easy fastball velocity make him a pitcher that scouts' can dream about. He is a good student who has a verbal commitment to Cal Berkeley.
As noted, Johnson's physical stature on the mound has always been evident, and despite his larger size he did a very nice job repeating his delivery with simple, on-line mechanics. He added 30-40 more pounds at the college level pitching for the Cal Bears, and he carried that added weight well while continuing to build on his profile as durable, middle-of-the-rotation innings eater. He initially began his college career as Cal's closer before moving to the team's Friday ace role. There he continued to work on developing his changeup, which was a clear third pitch behind his fastball and curveball. —Patrick Ebert
Courtney Hawkins – OF
The Houston native was considered one of the top prospects in the 2012 high school class from an early age. After pitching his high school team to a state championship as a sophomore, Hawkins slowly began to develop into an even better outfield prospect over the next couple of years, and he took a significant step forward athletically between his sophomore and junior years. He improved his 60-yard dash time from 7.15 in 2010 to 6.62 as he grew into a body type that now resembles that of a middle linebacker.
The transition was complete by the summer of 2011, when he began showing tremendous raw power. He hit one of the longest home runs of the 2011 Area Code Games and that power was on display again in batting practice at the PG All-American Classic. He continued to show off the plus raw power in tournament settings as one of the top prospects on the highly visible Houston Banditos. The notes from his breakout showing at the Area Code Games read:
Calmer swing, occasionally swung and missed but much more consistent contact, showed as much power as any player here, big HR, multiple gap shots, 400+ BP bomb, drove RCF gap, tends to jump out at the ball occasionally, likes ball down in zone, made effective OF plays, strong throws, routes can be adventuresome. Stock WAY UP.
He built off that strong summer with a dominant showing in pool play at the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, amateur scouting’s biggest stage. That momentum carried through the spring at Carroll High School as Hawkins led them to a return trip to the state championship en route to becoming the 13th overall pick. Late that spring he was featured in the PG top 50 prospects for the 2012 (as the 13th-ranked prospect), and David Rawnsley wrote:
Hawkins has firmly established himself as one of the elite high-school power bats in the country, if not the best, and his name consistently comes up in the first round in the 8-15 range. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound righthanded hitter has superior bat speed and strength, and the ability to drive balls out of the park to all fields. He is also a free swinger, however, who will expand the strike zone on breaking balls and probably post some high-strikeout numbers early in his professional career. But he rarely swings and misses on pitches over the plate and can handle any degree of velocity. —Todd Gold
Tyler Danish – RHP
Tyler Danish was a sophomore at Durant High School when his baseball future changed. He was a primary third baseman, and a pretty good one, who also threw in relief at times with a fastball that sat in the mid-80s.
One day he and a few of his teammates were messing around in the bullpen when Danish dropped down from his normal high three-quarters arm slot to a crossfire low three-quarters slot. The results were immediate. Not only could Danish throw the ball harder, it had huge tailing and running life at the plate. And it seemed like it was easier to throw from the lower arm slot as well. The conversion to full-time pitcher wasn’t immediate, but it began that day.
By the time Danish graduated from Durant and was drafted in the second round by the White Sox he had become one of the most impressive pitchers ever to pass through the Perfect Game system. One could also make a compelling argument that he was the best high school player in the country in 2013 in terms of his overall performance.
Strangely, Danish didn’t participate in a single Perfect Game Showcase. He did, however, play in nine WWBA tournaments with Chet Lemon’s Juice and was a dominant factor in most of those events. He won the Most Valuable Pitcher award at two of Perfect Game’s most prestigious and competitive events, the 2011 WWBA Underclass World Championship and the 2012 WWBA World Championship.
At the 2011 Underclass, Danish threw in four different games, going 3-0 with a save while throwing 14 innings, allowing three hits, and striking out 15 hitters while only walking one. It’s likely the only time that a pitcher has won three games at a four-day Perfect Game tournament. In Jupiter in 2012, Danish almost duplicated that achievement, again throwing in four games, going 2-0 in 13 1/3 innings, striking out 20 hitters, and allowing only six hits, including a dominant performance over Connor Jones and the EvoShield Canes in the semi-finals that propelled the Juice to the championship game.
That type of performance points to another part of Danish’s overall package, one that doesn’t often come into play for a high school pitcher but that is inescapable in this case. He has a rubber arm and can throw every day and maintain his raw stuff. Whether that is because of his delivery and arm slot or just because of his athletic make-up is impossible to tell, but it is yet another established part of his resume.
As a senior Durant, Danish threw in 17 games, going 15-1 with a 0.00 ERA in 94 innings. That is not a misprint. Playing at the 5A level in one of the most competitive baseball areas in the country, Durant didn’t allow an earned run all season (he allowed five unearned runs). He allowed 32 hits, 16 walks, and struck out 156 batters, and also hit .411-9-27.
Danish created a huge dilemma for the scouting community last spring because he broke all the normal criteria they look for in a top high school pitching prospect. He’s listed at 6-foot-1, 190-pounds. He throws from a highly unusual arm angle and delivery. It’s very easy to immediately classify him as a reliever due to his entire package, including his competitiveness (Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, where Danish was committed, was very open about his plans for Danish to immediately become his closer). And it’s impossible to project him.
Even Danish’s raw stuff numbers weren’t nasty by top round numbers. He’s topped out at 94-95 mph on his fastball but regularly pitches in the 90-92 mph range. But he gets such consistent huge life on the pitch that the velocity plays up, especially to righthanded hitters. Danish’s slider comes in at 76-79 mph, more of the speed of a curveball for a low-90s thrower, so it isn’t a power pitch by that definition. But again the pitch plays up given how sharp and big the break is, combined with how well Danish commands it.
For some scouts it all added up: Danish is a plus athlete with two nasty pitches and the chance for a third in the changeup. He displays plus command, huge competitiveness, absurd performance numbers, and proven durability. —David Rawnsley
Byron Buxton – OF
Had Buxton been born a couple of decades earlier, Buxton could have represented the kind of hidden gem that gets all but one scout in the area fired. Hailing from the small town of Baxley in rural southern Georgia, Buxton was a two-sport star at 2A Appling County High School. His time on the gridiron limited his baseball exposure to the summer months, and when he did compete in national level summer baseball tournaments, he didn’t begin drawing large crowds until the summer after his junior year.
Despite the lack of early buzz, the scouts that saw Buxton play as an underclassmen had very positive things to say about his raw tools. The internal PG notes on Buxton from the 2009 16u WWBA National Championship read:
Athletic build, 7 runner, pull power, good bat speed, sees ball well, quick hands, good hitter, smoked a ball back through the box at 92 mph off the bat.
He continued to impress in his one tournament in 2010, as the notes from the 18u WWBA National Championship, playing up as a 16-year-old. That summer Buxton committed to the University of Georgia, and the word began to spread. By the time he returned to the Atlanta area the following summer for the 2011 18u and 17u National Championships the scouting community eagerly awaited their opportunity to finally see the electric tools they’d been hearing about.
Buxton did not disappoint. After a breakout showing at the WWBA tournaments, Buxton cemented his status as one of the top prospects in the 2012 draft with a standout showing at the East Coast Pro Showcase, after which David Rawnsley wrote:
Pull approach hitting, bit long and will hit around the ball, ball comes off barrel hard, showed pull power off low 90s stuff, does not like off-speed, aggressive approach. Impact speed, 3.89 H to 1B, 3.18 on SB, intimidates the defense. Plays hard and likes to play. Top of the 1st round talent, best prospect here.
Buxton, however, was still earlier in the development curve as a hitter than most of the other elite 2012 draft prospects. Because of that, he wasn’t able to separate himself from the pack as the top prospect in the draft, despite having the highest ceiling. Power armed righthander Lucas Giolito had been the top ranked prospect in the class prior to straining his UCL, ultimately requiring Tommy John surgery. Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa showed a similarly high ceiling and paired it with more advanced skill development at a younger age. Giolito’s injury pushed him down to the middle of the first round, leaving the Astros to choose between Buxton and Correa with the first overall pick. Houston saved millions of dollars by cutting a deal with Correa, allowing the Twins to snatch up Buxton with the second overall pick. —Todd Gold
Alex Meyer – RHP
With a towering, 6-foot-7, 200-pound build, Meyer offered an imposing presence on the mound on the final day of the 2007 National Showcase. He used that size and long levers well to throw on a downward plane with great extension, making his 92-94 mph fastball, which peaked at 95, look that much harder out of the hand. His low-80s slider gave him a second, legitimate strikeout pitch, as he was virtually unhittable when both pitches were working for him. That performance led to him being selected to participate in the PG All-American Classic later that summer.
Here is his report from the National:
Meyer has a very long, tall and loose build that hasn't come close to reaching physical maturity yet. Meyer throws from a low effort tall delivery that he repeats well and maintains good balance from. He arm stroke is clean and extremely fast; he has as much pure arm speed as any pitcher in the 2008 class and has excellent extension out front.. Meyer's fastball topped out at 95 mph and was rarely under 92 mph from a good downward plane. His breaking ball was an 80-81 mph slurve type slider that had some downward break to it. Meyer's delivery lacks deception and his slider isn't a swing/miss pitch at this point, so hitters got reasonably good cuts at him depsite his raw ability, but he has a first round type arm and could be throwing very hard by next year's draft. Scouts will certainly dream on him.
Because of the dominance of his fastball/slider one-two punch, Meyer didn't need to develop his changeup as much at the high school level. He continued to work on this pitch at the college level playing for Kentucky after an inconsistent spring during his senior year in high school caused him to fall to the 20th round of the 2008 draft, although the Red Sox reportedly still offered him $2 million to sign.
The biggest question surrounding Meyer in both high school and college is whether or not he could develop the tempo and command to remain in a starting role. It was something he clearly worked on while pitching for the Wildcats, but it wasn't something that came to him overnight as he continues to work on some of the finer nuances to taking the ball every five days. Even then, a worst-case scenario of him being moved to the back end of the bullpen isn't a bad consolation prize, where he wouldn't have to worry about pacing himself, given his large stature and overpowering arsenal. —Patrick Ebert
Jose Berrios – RHP
One of a handful of promising Puerto Rican players that attended the 2011 National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., Jose Orlando (J.O.) Berrios made the most of his time on the big stage the National offered, working steadily in the low-90s with a peak velocity of 93 mph while mixing in a sharp curveball and a promising changeup.
Here's his report from that event:
Medium athletic build. Standard leg tuck delivery, high 3/4's release point, gets downhill, arm is smooth and quick, ball comes out of his hand easy with low effort. Steady low 90's fastball, topped at 93 mph, mostly straight from regular release point. Will drop down low 3/4's with same velocity for running action or cut fastball at 87 occasionally. Flashes plus spin on mid-70's curveball, good bite with hard downer action, tends to cut curveball out front at times. Rare changeup. Throws strikes, especially with his curveball, and will come inside aggressively to right handed hitters. Quality arm with a feel for pitching.
As noted in the report, his feel for pitching was also evident, and while he wasn't built as lean, loose, and projectable as his island-mate Edwin Diaz (profiled in the first edition of 'Before They Were Pros'), he too offered plenty of projection thanks to a loose, live arm with minimal effort and late, boring movement on his fastball.
Berrios showed roughly the same stuff at the 2012 World Showcase seven months later, giving the 2012 draft class a pair of promising pitchers from the island. The Twins selected Berrios in the supplemental first round of that year's draft, 32nd overall, making him the highest drafted Puerto Rican pitcher ever the same year Carlos Correa went no. 1 overall. Not surprisingly Berrios has hit the ground running in the lower levels of their minor league system. —Patrick Ebert
Sean Manaea – LHP
A classic case of projection, Sean Manaea didn't stand out nearly as much in high school as a 6-foot-4, 200-pound left-handed pitcher that peaked at 86 mph at the four perfect game tournament and showcase events he attended. One of those events was the 2009 National Underclass Main Event Showcase held annually right after the Christmas holiday in Fort Myers, Florida. There he threw in the low-80s, peaking at 85, but his tall, projectable frame made it easy to see much more could be on the way, earning him a PG grade of 8.5 and a spot on the event's top prospect team. Here is his report from that event:
Tall athletic build, good projection. Short compact arm action, some wrap, works well out front, low 3/4's release, FB to 85 mph, some arm side run, nice feel for change up, CB sweeps away from LHH's, delivery and arm both projectable, should keep improving.
Manaea continued to enjoy slow and steady development over his first couple of years at Indiana State, and by the summer of 2011, after his freshman season, he was now pitching in the upper-80s to low-90s consistently, peaking at 93 mph. That development led to him being named the no. 1 prospect in the Prospect League, once again noting that the young lefty still had plenty of more room to improve.
Fast-forward one more year to the summer of 2012 where Sean Manaea, now 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, firmly put his name in the conversation for the no. 1 overall pick for the 2013 draft thanks to a dominant summer performance in the Cape Cod League. He posted video game-like numbers on his way to being named the league's no. 1 overall prospect as well as Perfect Game's Summer Collegiate Player of the Year, thanks to a fastball that now peaked at 97 mph while sitting 93-95 to go along with a wicked slider and solid changeup.
Unfortunately a lingering hip injury followed by shoulder stiffness clouded Manaea's draft status during his junior season. He still threw in the 92-94 range when healthy during the spring for the Sycamores, but the health concerns caused him to slip to the 34th-overall pick, where the Kansas City Royals scooped him up. They were able to sign Manaea to first-round money to get him in the fold, as they signed their first selection, Hunter Dozier, the eighth-overall pick, to a signing bonus nearly $1 million less than the slotted value. —Patrick Ebert
Bubba Starling – OF
The 2011 draft, where Starling (his given name is Derek) went fifth overall to the Royals and received a $7.5 million signing bonus (spread over three years due to the dual sport language available under the CBA at that point) isn’t that far in the past, so followers can still recall his incredible high school athletic achievements.
Playing at Gardner-Edgerton High School southwest of Kansas City, Starling was All-State in three sports—baseball, football and basketball. He was probably best known for his football exploits as a 6-foot-4, 180-pound running quarterback. As a senior, Starling ran for 2,417 yards and 31 touchdowns, including 395 yard and 5 touchdowns in the state championship game. He only threw 81 passes that year, completing less than 50-percent. He was recruited by all the big-name schools, eventually signing a dual-sport scholarship with Nebraska, and was considered the top prize in the Huskers' 2011 recruiting class.
In basketball, all Starling did was average 28.3 points a game as a senior. He has been quoted in feature stories as saying the single most fun thing to do in sports is to dunk on someone.
In Kansas, high school baseball takes a back seat to other sports, but Starling was still a nationally known, if not somewhat mysterious, prospect from early in his high school career. Although he was rostered for a couple of WWBA tournaments, conflicts with football kept him from attending a single Perfect Game event. He was only scouted on a national basis twice before his senior high school season, once playing for the 2010 USA National 18u team and again at the 2010 Area Code Games.
The USA 18u team went 19-2 and included top prospects such as Francisco Lindor, Blake Swihart, Albert Almora, Lance McCullers, and Henry Owens. Starling played in 19 games, hitting .339-3-12, and interestingly finished with 16 walks (second on the team) against only 12 strikeouts. His .474 on-base percentage was second on the team to Swihart’s .491. He also pitched three times, holding foes scoreless in 4 1/3 innings while striking out seven.
Starling was the focus of everyone’s attention at the Area Code Games and performed very well. He ran a 6.56 sixty (he had a 4.36 electronically timed 40 to his credit from football camps), played center field, hit with power and was up to 92 mph on the mound. There was plenty of scout talk that Starling could be a better pitching prospect, with work, than a hitting prospect.
Here are the Perfect Game notes from the event:
Superior athlete. Sound balanced hitting approach, calm in the box, good leverage, plus bat speed, big time power projection, squares up well, quality at bats, some back side collapse, loose and extended out front, short to the ball for his size, plus OF arm strength, good OF instincts. Raw mechanics (on the mound), drop and drive, compact quick arm, loses leverage, throws strikes, pretty hard spin on SL, good bite. MUCH better hitting prospect, very raw on the mound.
It was almost pre-ordained that the hometown Royals (Kauffman Stadium is 36 miles from Gardner-Edgerton High School) were going to select Starling if he was available. A story went around the scouting community that spring that the Royals area scout was told that he or one of his associates should be there every time Starling played as a senior, regardless of the sport. That might have been an exaggeration, but no one was surprised when the Royals did pick, and eventually sign, Starling.
The Bubba Starling football legend still lives on, too, courtesy of the rabid Nebraska football fans. When Starling was struggling in the middle of the 2013 summer and momentum was building for the start of football practice, an article appeared in the Omaha paper speculating that Starling might be interested in returning to football if his baseball career continued on its present path. —David Rawnsley
Francisco Lindor – SS
Lindor was born in Puerto Rico and lived there until 2006, when he and his family moved to the Orlando area. He played in the same youth leagues in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico as Cubs 2011 first round pick Javier Baez, who also later moved to Florida. Having started his schooling in Puerto Rico, Lindor was actually a year younger than most of his peers in the 2011 draft class, and if he’d been in Florida his entire life he likely would have been in the 2012 class.
Carrying on the Lindor/Baez connection, the early season match-up in 2011 between Lindor’s Montverde Academy and Baez’s Arlington Country Day High School team was one of the most scouted games of the 2011 spring, with well over 100 scouts purportedly in attendance.
Lindor made his first impression on Perfect Game a very strong one. Playing for the Apopka Black Sox as a sophomore at the 2008 WWBA Underclass World Championship, and still more than a month shy of his 15th birthday, Lindor blasted a home run early in pool play and word quickly circulated about this 150-pound switch-hitting 14-year-old with surprising power and flashy defensive skills. Lindor followed up that early game with two more extra-base hits and some multi-hit games and vaulted right into the top 20 in the early Class of 2011 rankings.
A number of very consistent tool-oriented themes developed with Lindor over the next three years leading up to his being selected by the Indians with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft.
Lindor made his debut on the national stage showing power from both sides of the plate and continued to do so throughout his pre-professional career, even winning the home run contest while hitting righthanded at the 2010 Perfect Game All-American Classic. Although he only has eight home runs in over 1,000 professional at-bats, the potential is there for more power production.
In professional scouting terms, Lindor only had “average” running speed and arm strength in high school. The best 60-yard dash he ran was 6.78-seconds, and he was consistently in the 4.3 area from home to first base. He lacked plus arm strength from the hole at shortstop, but his arm strength played up because he was so adept and charging the ball and working around and through difficult plays, and his release was lightning quick. There isn’t much precedent for a teenage shortstop being a top 10 draft pick without true plus run and throw tools but Lindor was an exception.
The reason that Lindor was a top 10 draft pick is a reoccurring theme in the Perfect Game notes and in scout discussions in the spring prior to the draft. He played the game so easily – you could see the game happening in slow motion in his eyes, whether it was hitting or on the bases or playing defense. Lindor was always quick but was always on balance and was never athletically rushed. Much is made about young, very talented players learning to slow the game down before they are able to be truly successful and Lindor was always able to do that from a very young age.
That is undoubtedly one of the reasons that he was immediately successful upon reaching the AA level as a 19-year-old in 2013. Take a quick look at some of his peripheral numbers from 2013: 25-for-32 in stolen base attempts despite average speed, and a 49-to-46 walk-to-strikeout ratio as a teenager. Those are signs of someone who understands the game and slows it down. —David Rawnsley
Nick Castellanos – 3B/OF
Castellanos got an early start to his Perfect Game career, attending the 2006 WWBA Underclass World Championship early in his freshman year with the Deep South Florida team, and made his first showcase appearance at the 2007 Southeast Underclass Showcase in Atlanta at the start of his sophomore season. He went on to participate in 12 WWBA tournaments, mostly with the All American Prospects, and stood out at the 2009 Perfect Game National Showcase.
He received a PG Grade of 9 at that Southeast Underclass, a grade that in retrospect might have been a bit higher if he hadn’t run 7.35 in the 60-yard dash and only thrown 81 mph during infield drills. While Castellanos' run and throw tools were never stellar, he did get his 60 time down to 6.70 on the turf at the Metrodome in 2009 at the National Showcase. His fastest infield throw was 87 mph.
What stood out about Castellanos even back then was his ability with the bat and how well he projected both physically and with his hitting skills. Here are the notes from that initial showcase, when Castellanos was 15-years-old and listed at 6-foot-3, 180-pounds:
Tall, good looking projectable athlete, has some bat speed, swing is long and loopy, showed oppo pop, looks to lift, has hitting tools to develop. Game swings were shorter, crisper but as a long levered athlete, will always have to work to stay short. Long arm, strong arm, corner guy, very good fundamentals, soft hands, player, smooth actions at 3B. Hit everything hard.
Perhaps because of his running speed and arm strength, Castellanos was always a better player to watch and evaluate in game situations, where his hitting ability and high baseball IQ had a better stage to stand up and perform. The left side of the All American Prospects infield for two years consisted of Castellanos at third base and PG All-American Yordy Cabrera, later a second round pick of the Oakland A’s, at shortstop. That talented combo led All American Prospects to the championship at the 2008 WWBA Underclass World Championship, where they shared Most Valuable Player honors.
Castellanos was one of the final players considered but not selected for the 2009 Perfect Game All-American Game that featured players such as Bryce Harper, Jameson Taillon and Kris Bryant, while Angels top prospect Kaleb Cowart was the starting third baseman for the East team. Cabrera, won the Rawlings Home Run Challenge that year.
Castellanos was obviously very well known to scouts at that point but his draft stock really blossomed during his senior season at Archbishop McCarthy High School. He played so well defensively at shortstop during the spring that there was talk about his potential ability to play that position as a professional, just as there was similar conversation about another fast-rising infield prospect in Miami at the same time named Manny Machado. And, of course, Castellanos did what he’d always done offensively: crush the ball consistently (.542 with 42 RBI) and run the bases with plus instincts (22 steals).
While Castellanos was considered a solid first-round talent on the field, there was a significant concern about his signability going into the draft. Castellanos was a solid student in the classroom and was an articulate young man with a scholarship to the hometown Miami Hurricanes, while his father Jorge is a physician. The Tigers ventured where many decided to shy away, picking Castellanos with the 44th-overall pick and signing him to a $3.45 million signing bonus. —David Rawnsley
Jake Thompson – RHP
Thompson was certainly no stranger to the showcase circuit, attending his first showcase as a freshman in high school. At a young age Thompson was a two-way prospect, showing a steady development of raw power at the plate in addition to his ability on the mound. Over time his arm strength began to create separation in that two-way profile, as his development as a pitcher outpaced that as a hitter.
One side affect of his two-way profile was that he often pitched while dealing with considerably more fatigue than the “pitcher only” prospects in his class. His fastball velocity climbed steadily and was towards the top of his class, but never reached eye-popping levels. He didn’t surpass the 91 mph mark until the 2011 WWBA World Championship, where he sat 90-93 in the early innings. But what Thompson always showed was a bulldog mentality on the mound, pitching aggressively and backing his fastball with a tight slider that he commanded well at an early age.
And while his raw stuff was certainly prospect caliber, it is only part of what stood out about Thompson. He was a big-game pitcher throughout his prep career, stepping up in several big spots. He punched out 11 in a win against powerhouse East Cobb in the 17u WWBA National Championship before a packed house of scouts. He struck out seven while pitching Rockwall-Heath High School to the Texas 5A state championship game. In his outing in Jupiter he allowed two runs over three innings, but they were of the unearned variety, and he impressed with his ability to maintain his composure.
Entering the draft, David Rawnsley the following about Thompson as part of the Texas State Preview:
He solidified his new-found standing as a top prospect this spring by continuing to throw his fastball steadily in the low-90s with good sinking action. Thompson comes from a mid- to low-three-quarters release point with very good extension out front, and though his delivery is somewhat unconventional for a pitcher with his size and build, it works very well for him and shows his athletic looseness. Thompson’s strikeout pitch is a big-breaking, low-80s slider that he commands very well and is especially tough on righthanded hitters.
His combination of polish and stuff led to his projection as a Group 1 (rounds 1-3) prospect entering the draft, and the Tigers made him their first pick of the 2012 draft in the second round. —Todd Gold
James McCann – C
McCann has fit the profile of a take-charge, defensive-oriented catcher whose bat shows promise, but likely will rise based on the strength of his skills behind the plate for quite some time. As a young high school player from California, McCann attended the 2007 Sunshine West Showcase the summer prior to his senior year. There he showed his lateral quickness, release and arm strength, and at the time swung the bat from both sides of the plate. Here is his report from that event:
McCann has a nice long and lanky frame that is projectable. Defensively he has an accurate arm from behind the plate with a good release. He has solid arm strength (75 mph), and he produced good pop times, including a 2.05 game pop. He keeps the ball in front of him well, and he has soft hands. McCann also has the ability to play 3B as well. At the plate he is a legitimate switch hitter who has a solid approach from both sides. He has bat speed through the zone, and he has a nice line drive swing plane. He stays inside the ball with the ability to hit to all fields. McCann has a nice approach, and he centers the ball consistently. Even though he is not listed as a pitcher, he threw at the event touching 84 mph. He throws from a 3/4 arm slot with a loose arm. He stays balanced and has good arm speed. McCann struck out five in two innings of work. He is an excellent student as well.
Although the White Sox drafted McCann in the 31st round in 2008 coming out of high school, McCann took his talents to Arkansas to continue to improve his hitting skills while honing his defensive talents. He handled a very talented and young Razorbacks pitching staff that reached the College World Series the following year, serving as his team's leader that finished 40-22 while hitting .306-6-38. Leading up to the draft that year, here is what was written about McCann as part of the Arkansas state preview:
With his superior defensive skills, refined mechanics and take-charge approach, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound McCann could catch in the big leagues right now. He is regarded in a class of his own defensively among college catchers. Not only is he strong, durable and athletic behind the plate, but has very mature instincts for catching…Where McCann’s athleticism is readily evident defensively, he struggles to show the same kind of consistent athleticism in his approach at the plate. He hit just .105 last summer as the regular catcher for Cotuit, the Cape Cod League champion, as pitchers routinely exposed his long swing and stride. He has quickened the hip rotation in his swing this spring, though, enabling him to turn on balls more consistently and he has shown marked improvement with the bat, also hitting a number of timely home runs.
Identified as one of the best overall defensive players available for the 2011 draft, McCann's profile led to him being selected by the Tigers in the second round, the team's first selection that year. —Patrick Ebert