Braxton Garrett, LHP, Florence (AL) High School
Garrett took the mound on day one of the NHSI in the best prospect-versus-prospect pitching matchup of the tournament. Facing Liberty Christian (VA) Academy and RHP Zach Hess, Garrett turned in a fantastic performance in front of many scouting directors and crosscheckers.
Garrett doubles as his team’s three-hole hitter and center fielder when not on the mound, and carries an athletic frame. He might not ooze projection, but his frame isn’t maxed out either. He should continue to add bulk over the next few years, with the physical features of a player with good weight left to add. The son of a coach, Garrett’s poise and focus was impressive as he worked calmly out of jams throughout the outing. He has a very mature feel for pitching and changing speeds, allowing him to get the most out of an average-to-solid overall mix of stuff. Similarly, his ability to hold runners and vary his sequencing and times to the plate gave additional insight into the lefty’s polish that many scouts are lauding.
Garrett has the delivery and look of a starter that can reliably fill the zone with numerous pitches. He throws from a semi-windup with good posture in his upper half, staying balanced through a tall leg kick. He takes a long stride that maintains good direction straight to his target, landing quietly and athletically on a flexed landing leg. Garrett did a good job extending his torso over his lower half through his delivery’s release, which helped him angle the fastball down to lower quadrants of the zone. His arm stays in line behind the backside of his body through the takeaway, and works very quickly through a high-three-quarters slot. Readers can see the arm-speed and fluidity through Garrett’s arm by observing the part of the video that shows him throwing from an open-side angle.
Garrett grabbed a handful of 92s and one 93 reading during the outing, but worked consistently in the 89-90 range with playable run to the pitch. Even factoring in future physical development, this is a guy who will pitch with closer to an average fastball every fifth day. Even so, his control and secondaries help the full mix play up—especially as a lefty. Though any athletic southpaw who throws strikes with a low-90s fastball grabs scouts’ attention, it’s Garrett’s feel for his changeup and curveball that have the industry expecting him to factor into the first round. Right off the bat, he worked in a circle-change at 83-86 with short, late arm-side action, as well as a curveball at 78-81 with flashes of tremendous late action and quality rotation. The changeup might be a hair too firm given his fastball velocity, but he gets good action on the pitch and had overmatched high-school bats swinging over it all game. His curveball had 2-7 action that will be especially difficult for left-handed bats to keep their front shoulder in on, as his best breakers have big two-plane depth and somewhat side-to-side tilt as opposed to 12-6. Occasionally, Garrett lost his front side in the delivery and the breaking ball would roll—that was the only pitch he didn’t execute consistently.
I walked away from his dominant eight-inning outing seeing a ceiling of a reliable middle-rotation left-handed starter, with an average fastball and above-average secondaries tied together with above-average control.
Zach Hess, RHP, Liberty Christian (VA) Academy
Hess took the mound opposite Garrett, holding Florence (AL) HS scoreless through seven innings. He’s the embodiment of a “big donkey,” listed at a strapping 6-foot-6, 200 pounds (though he looks bigger than 200 pounds) with a broad upper-half and noticeable muscularity throughout. He’s so built that there might not be much more room for Hess to get stronger, but the LSU commit already carries a pro-style frame and, at his best, will run his fastball into the 94-95 range.
Hess’ size and fastball definitely check scouts’ boxes, but his delivery—and the issues with his breaking ball and command that it causes—have concerned me since the showcase circuit last summer. Hess makes use of an up-tempo semi-windup, but his arm flails wildly behind his back and he finishes with effort through an arm-slot somewhere between high-three-quarters and true three-quarters. Though he has plenty of natural strength and arm-speed—that’s where his velocity comes from—his arm recoils after release with a noticeable head-whack that impacts his command. There isn’t any touch or control to the finish of his delivery, and his backside usually swings around hard as he gets down the mound. As with many prep pitchers that feature this type of effort in their deliveries, Hess loses any command he does have when he works from the stretch—getting even more herky-jerky mechanically while working in the 88-90 range with his fastball.
Overall, Hess worked 88-94 with his fastball over the whole outing, settling in at 91-92 on average. It’s a four-seam fastball, though his rigid, cross-body arm-stroke gives the ball natural cutting action at times. Hess didn’t have much feel for pitching to spots in the zone, but at this level that lack of refinement isn’t much of a deterrent; he can just blow his fastball by high-school hitters, especially as he pitches in a non-hotbed area in the Mid-Atlantic. He’ll range between 76-82 on a slurvy breaking ball. At lower velocity bands, it plays like a fairly loose side-to-side curveball, though he’s trying to throw a slider. The pitch has better true slider tilt when he releases it at 79-82, but Hess’ varying arm slot sometimes makes him drop his hand under the ball and push it. His slider does have 50-grade upside, but it’s a long ways away thanks to his troubles with his pitch-by-pitch execution. Furthering the assertion that his size and raw arm strength are miles ahead of his true feel to pitch, I’ve never seen him turn a changeup over, dating back to last season.
With lots of attention throughout the showcase circuit and an All-American game on his resume, my guess is the price tag will be fairly lofty to convince Hess to forego three years of pitching in Alex Box stadium. It will be interesting to see if he can improve his overall pitchability in the SEC, and if he’s able to avoid surgery given the high-stress action he puts on his arm. His size and velocity are certainly impressive, but I’d be going against my gut feeling if I were to throw a “definite big-league starter” tag on him at this point.
J.C. Flowers, RHP, Trinity Catholic (FL) High School
Flowers was both the best pure athlete at the NHSI as well as the best two-way pro prospect. He drew the largest crowd of decision-makers of any pitcher at the event save for Braxton Garrett. The only two other prep pitchers I’ve seen this draft class that have Flowers’ level of athleticism are Reggie Lawson (CA) and Alex Speas (GA), though Flowers isn’t nearly as polished as Lawson, nor is his stuff as dynamic as Speas’. Flowers got hit hard by a Huntington Beach club that ultimately won the entire tournament, but the stuff and ease of operation he exhibits are unquestionably interesting.
Flowers throws from a semi-windup in which he finds a good, gathered balance point at the top of his leg kick. He does some other things mechanically that aren’t picture perfect, but he’s so athletic and has such unusual body control, I am sold on his ability to make more adjustments than many other prep arms can. Flowers’ arm wraps fairly significantly behind his back hip with a bit of a hooked wrist, but his arm works so quickly through a fluid true three-quarters slot that it actually can catch up out in front of his delivery most of the time. He also features a somewhat closed landing, causing him to throw across his body, at times impacting his ability to command specific spots in the zone. Even so, the athleticism is evident in Flowers’ free and easy finish down the mound after releasing the ball.
He worked between 87-93 in this outing, though he sat between 89-91 on average. The fastball had consistent late burst and riding action, and I’m confident he will continue to add arm-strength. His slider was 80-83 with a wide variance of execution. It is more of a gliding pitch now, with extra-wide, long, lateral tilt, but it showed consistent flashes of late, darting glove-side action and occasional two-plane depth. Though it requires a healthy amount of projection, I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow at future 60 grades on both Flowers’ fastball and slider. Flowers got hit the hardest when he didn’t establish his front side on his slider, basically leaving a low-80s spinner right over the heart of the plate. For an athlete who has consistently played on both sides of the ball, Flowers’ third pitch was fairly advanced. Though his changeup is certainly the pitch he leaned on the least in this outing, he showed some feel for the pitch, keeping it at 79-82 with signs of arm-side sell and slight fade away from left-handed bats.
There are a lot of things Flowers does on the hill that you can’t teach. There’s still plenty of room to grow, however—and it isn’t clear whether he will be drafted as an outfielder or as a pitcher. Most notably, his overall control has a long way to go. Flowers’ ability to throw strikes came and went throughout the outing, and the Huntington squad hit him hard as a result. When the game got away from him,Flowers didn’t dig in and push back the way you’d want a prospect to when challenged, in this outing. I don’t necessarily attribute this to a lack of competitiveness so much as the need for more experience in such situations on the mound.
Flowers is a projectable, top-of-the-line athlete, both as a center fielder and as a pitcher. There’s going to be a debate about whether his best-case future is on the mound or in the field, and it isn’t out of the question a team gives him a bat first, while offering pitching as a fallback if positional play doesn’t work out. If he does honor his commitment to Kentucky, he’ll be the Wildcats’ most enticing freshman in years, with a chance to be a first-round pick by his junior season. I’m not sure a team will let this type of athleticism get to college, though—I do expect someone to really make a push to sign him out of high school.
Hagen Danner, RHP, Huntington Beach (CA) High School (2017 eligible)
Danner was the other two-way prospect getting pro looks from scouts, though he won’t be eligible until next year’s draft. The pitcher/corner infielder/occasional catcher has been known as one to watch in the 2017 class for some time. A shorter right-hander, Danner showed a polished ability to extend his upper-half down the mound and repeat his delivery, though a somewhat stabby arm in the back—paired with a fairly average build that’s not overly-projectable—makes me wonder how much room to grow remains. He has reportedly been up to 94 in the past but was 88-91 in this look. His curveball was 73-76 with tumbling 12-6 break, and he threw a changeup in the 77-80 range. A straight-over-the-top arm slot really limited the movement on both his fastball and changeup, and despite fair velocity, his breaking ball showed early and was below-average for me. I expected to see more from Danner given his name value, but he’s a college coach’s dream as a two-way threat.
Nick Storz, RHP, Poly Prep (NY) High School (2017 eligible)
Storz is a massive kid. At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, there’s no projection left in the traditional sense; in fact, he might actually get stronger as he loses weight, as his frame carries some baby fat right now. He’ll need to maintain his shape to ensure his body doesn’t get away from him. The LSU commit sat 88-90 in one of his first times on an outdoor mound this season, though the zone got away from him plenty through a laborious outing. His arm action isn’t athletic and it has some complexities, which really killed his ability to spin a pro-caliber breaking ball. Storz’s curveball was 73-74 with slurvy action, and he got under the ball and pushed it to the plate. He was mostly a two-pitch guy, though spiked a crude changeup at 76-80 a handful of times. Storz has size and probably will throw harder this summer over the showcase circuit, but I’m fairly confident, even over a year away from 2017, that this is the type of kid who will honor his LSU commitment.
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