A.J. Puckett, RHP, Pepperdine University – Puckett boasts a solid, filled-out frame at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, with long legs and a strong base. There’s some rigidity in his initial rock, and it teams with a quick early tempo, a high leg kick, and some hesitation as he gathers force at the top of the drive to create some tempo issues. His is a long body, and his timing to the point of release will waver. The arm action is quick and short, utilizing a tight arm path to a high three-quarters slot. He clears his hips efficiently and generates a powerful, long stride to a consistent foot strike. Everything on the back end of the delivery is clean, with a fluid finish and easy arm deceleration.
He worked off a relatively straight fastball with plus 91-94 velocity all night, topping a couple times at 95 (including once in the eighth inning). He struggled to command the pitch out of the gate, getting too quick with his lower half and frequently leaving his arm a tick slow. That led to some elevated pitches, and with minimal movement, hitters had little trouble squaring up his mistakes. It’s an average present pitch with some room to jump into 55 territory with more consistent command. He leaned on his secondaries with increasing frequency to settle into a groove, working in a curve that ran from 73-77 mph depending on how he manipulated its shape, and a change in the low 80s that stayed on plane with some fade. His change generated some weaker contact, though his arm speed slowed and his command of it wandered. The hook showed similar inconsistency; he trusted the pitch, front-dooring it on occasion and working a slower version into the zone to steal strikes. But it humped out of his hand and rolled at times, and A&M hitters squared a few early on. Neither looked like more than an average pitch with refinement, though there was some raw material there to work with.
Solid sequencing and better execution helped him settle in after giving up four early runs, and he worked efficiently through 4 2/3 shutout innings after giving up runs in each of the first three frames. The pitch mix kept hitters off his fastball, he hit his spots on the regular, and he missed barrels. That will be his profile when he’s going good, but the straight heater and raw secondaries will give him a thinner margin for developmental error. It’s more of a back-end or swingman profile, but it’s one that’ll get him drafted in the first ten rounds.
Tyler Ivey, RHP, Texas A&M – A true freshman, Ivey was something of a surprise addition to the weekend rotation for the Aggies, and he’s responded with twelve shutout innings in his first two collegiate starts. He’s one of approximately 412 Aggies to stand in the immediate neighborhood of 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, with an ideal frame built on a strong lower half. He’s an athletic kid who shows elasticity and fluidity in his movements. The motion is aggressive from start to finish, featuring some notable effort and culminating with an occasional head whack when he gets through his drive too quickly, and his foot strike firms up. He takes a deep rock, bringing his hands down with him and then taking them up high with a three-quarters turn that has him showing both numbers to the hitter. He controls the extra movement reasonably well, though there are a lot of moving parts to keep synchronized. And while his deep arm action and tight coil combine to create deception, his hunch adds length to his release point and makes the delivery susceptible to timing and repeatability issues at present.
Despite the rough edges, the package of stuff is highly intriguing. He showed a four-pitch mix, sitting 90-93 mph early (88-91 in his sixth and final frame) with a riding fastball that got on hitters quickly. The perceived velocity plays a notch higher thanks to excellent extension at release. The deception and (just enough) movement helped him stay off barrels even when the command faltered, and he registered a whole bunch of weak fly ball contact with the pitch. He backed it up with a slider and change that both registered in the low 80s, and a curve that snapped in the 74-77 band. The slider showed subtle, late break, while he went to his curve with confidence in big spots. It isn’t a hammer, but he commanded it consistently in and below the zone, and it comes out of his hand on a fastball trajectory. The change featured solid velocity separation and some modest tumble, though it stayed relatively true on its plane.
The ingredients of a future Friday Night Starter and 2018 Day One candidate are all there, and he’ll be a name to keep close tabs on this spring as a potential big riser.
J.B. Moss, RF, Texas A&M – Despite entering the season buried in a corner outfield logjam, the junior outfielder was one of the best players on the field last weekend. He’s a built kid at six feet, 200 pounds, with a well filled-out frame. It’s an arm-heavy swing that features a quiet, simple load, with a quick trigger into the zone and mild leverage. He’ll lose his lower half with an early weight transfer and backside collapse, but when he’s on a pitch the bat path is direct and he controlled the barrel consistently in both looks. There’s enough strength in his forearms and wrists to drive the ball despite lacking a ton of separation. He both showed the ability to keep his hands in and turn on the ball with authority, and extend and take it the other way with pop. His cross-over and first step quickness were both notable on a successful stolen base attempt (2.1 pop), and his above-average speed plays up with aggressiveness and instinct on the bases. In the field he showed strong breaks with above-average closing speed in both right and left field, along with plus arm strength to generate velocity and carry on a couple throws. A full season of play on par with the fourth outfielder profile he showed in Malibu would put him in the mix in the back half of the first ten rounds.
- Manny Jefferson, SS, Pepperdine – Long frame with wiry strength and fluidity, high waist; choppy first step, recovers with average foot speed, average range, solid footwork into receiving position; strong hands, average arm strength plays up with quick transfer and release, accurate throws with minimal tail; quiet setup, minimal load, aggressive stride, clears hips early and looks to lift and drive to pull side; above-average raw to pull side; steep angle into the zone, vulnerable on the outer half, pop at price of weak contact, below-average hit tool projection.
Jefferson has some power for a middle infielder and showed competently as a defender, but he lacks quick-twitch physicality and holes in his swing mechanics and approach leave the offensive projection in doubt.
- Hunter Melton, 1B, Texas A&M – Big man with big strength, thick in the chest and arms; noisy swing, high, extreme leg kick to jabbing stride, front foot plants with hips still relatively closed; creates torque, tremendous leverage off back side, plus raw power to pull side and center, above-average bat speed, below-average balance and barrel control; gets on plane early but swing and miss despite relatively short path into the zone.
Melton is an aggressive hitter with some raw thump and the ability to hit mistakes a long way, but his actions in the field suggest a first base-only profile. His bat will make him a decent senior sign, but I didn’t see quite enough in the hit tool to suggest exciting offensive value.
- Ryan Birk, 2B, Texas A&M – Stocky build, filled-out upper half, strong legs; quiet setup, minimal load, short, quick stride; short stroke, hands stay inside, above-average bat speed, can get steep; strong hand-eye, controls barrel; patient approach, shows moderate zone awareness, works deep counts; average raw, linear swing path but will lift and separate; struggled to stay off off-speed, below-average pitch recognition; average foot speed; average range and first-step quickness, reads and anticipates hops well, takes strong angles to the ball, solid-average defensive projection at second; shows some fire.
Birk lacks much in the way of glaring weakness, with a well-rounded skill set and solid makeup.
- Michael Barash, C, Texas A&M – Prototypical catcher’s frame, sturdy base with agility and athleticism; hops into setup, presents early target; strong hands, uses entire glove, receives with conviction; quick out of the crouch, efficient footwork into throws, above-average arm strength plays up with quick release; shows leadership, engages frequently with pitchers, enjoys the game; open stance with low hands; minimal load, clears hips and looks to pull with moderate leverage, direct path into the zone, outer-half vulnerability; excellent command of the zone, sees spin, will attack early fastballs; above-average raw to pull side, line-drive game swing.
Barash presents as a standard-issue slower-burning catcher with a strong defensive tool kit, leadership qualities, and enough command of the zone and raw pop to make him an interesting senior-sign candidate in June.
- Nick Banks, CF, Texas A&M – Banks missed the entire weekend series with a sore back, a potentially notable injury given that he suffered a stress fracture in his back during his sophomore year of high school and has battled the injury bug frequently over the last several years.
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