Another draft, another draft: Tournament of Stars and a ‘framework.’
Before the 2017 amateur draft signing deadline had even passed, with draft pundits, fans, and prospect junkies preparing to relax until next spring, the 2018 draft cycle was already underway in Cary, North Carolina at the USA Baseball complex. While there are a few earlier events, Tournament of Stars (TOS) collects 80 of the best preps from around the nation to tryout for the U18 National Team, placing them on four teams that play a round robin and championship round in late June. For MLB teams, this is a prime opportunity to get multiple eyes on a lot of potential Guys before the showcase season picks up steam.
Some 200-plus scouts and front office personnel attended the event. The 2017 draft class included 10 first round TOS alumni, with nos. 1 and 2 picks Royce Lewis and Hunter Greene the headliners. But let’s remember that we’re talking about 17-year-olds a year before the draft, so things change. A great example is McKenzie Gore, who wasn’t even at TOS last summer. For this reason, the term “framework” was thrown around a lot when I spoke to scouts.
“It’s really about getting a framework. It’s just the start really, so we’re getting overall perceptions of the depth and talent in the class. It’s not time for pref lists,” said one crosschecker.
An area scout added, “A lot of this event is about seeing these guys for the first time (unless the player is in your area), seeing the physicality and maturity, and seeing them go against elite talent. It’s really just the start.”
So, if it’s good enough for the scouts, it’s good enough for me. What follows is NOT a preference list or ranking. I’m not even digging into tool grades at this point. My goal here is to present a framework for this prep class, and when relevant to highlight some of the players that stood out.
**Note: Pitchers typically throw one 2-4 inning outings during the week, and unfortunately, I could not attend every game and missed some of the primo pitchers. I note some of these names below.
Names you might already know
Four players who played on last year’s U18 National team who were still eligible for this team were back: Bryce Turang, Jared Kelenic, Mike Siani, and Tristan Casas.
Brice Turang (Santiago, Corona, CA) is a surefire shortstop with an exceptional feel to hit. He shows great plate discipline, smooth actions in the field, an all fields approach, and likely average raw pop at maturity. He runs well and is a do-it-all two-hole type hitter. I personally won’t comp high schoolers to major leaguers, but the one I heard floating around from others on Turang was Christian Yelich but with plus defense at shortstop. Commit: LSU
Jared Kelenic (Waukesha West, Waukesha, WI) played both right and center at TOS, but long-term I expect him to settle in a right field where his plus arm, speed, and actions will play. And he can hit. Kelenic was plus power, hitting an absolute bomb with a 109 mph exit velo, and rips line drives pull-side and up the middle. Both myself and the scouts I sat with loved Kelenic’s BP, backspinning balls out and driving through for hard contact all over the field. He is an elite athlete and if he manages to stick in center, the upside is incredible, but I expect him to outgrow the position. Commit: Louisville.
Mike Siani (Penn Charter, Glenside, PA) showed drool-inducing defense in center field, using his plus-plus speed (3.80 from left side to first on jailbreak) and elite arm to profile as a no-doubter at the position. For me, there could be three 70 grade tools in the arm, glove, and speed, but Siani is a bit divisive since there are some questions about the hit tool. Still, this sort of prospect has a high floor and the bat will not need a ton for Siani to provide major league value. Commit: Virginia
Tristan Casas (American Heritage, Pembroke Pines, FL) is a large human being measuring 6-foot-5, 240 pounds. I was concerned he’d be stretched at first, but then I watched him move his feet well to charge a ball, slide a few steps to the side for another, and look wholly capable of playing the position with good hands. But you’re not here for the defense, you’re here for the power, which is, well, immense. At least in this view, so was the swing-and-miss, and he’ll need to adjust to higher quality pitching for the top-of-the-scale power to really play. Commit: Miami
Pitchers you probably heard of if not before TOS, then after
As stated above, I didn’t get to see a bunch of the standout pitchers due to some scheduling. That means no Ethan Hankins, David Weathers and Matt Liberatore among others. Overall, the pitching corps of this class appears to be its greatest strength, both in high-end talent and depth. Here some guys I did see:
Righty Kumar Rocker (North Oconee, Watkinsville, GA) was the best pitching prospect I saw personally at the event. He threw a 93-95 mph fastball with above-average run and sharp command to open his outing. His slider (84-87 mph) was inconsistent, getting slurvy in the lower velo band, but the good ones were sharp bat-missers. He has impressive changeup feel for a prep pitcher, getting good tumble away from lefties. I expect this pitch to improve with pro development. Rocker is huge at 6-foot-5, 259 pounds, so don’t count on much projection, but with a pro routine and mechanical development, he could add a tick or two. It’s a starter’s toolkit with a clean delivery, workhorse body, and three future plus pitches if it comes together. Commit: Vandy. I had some video issues, so you’ll see a few of his worst pitches below, since the good stuff is in the ether now.
Right-hander Austin Becker (Big Walnut, Sunbury, OH) has an easy, low-effort delivery on a 6-foot-4, 175-pound frame (he looked more like 6-foot-6, 190 to me), so it’s all about the projection. He was 90-92 mph with a tight, plus curveball and some feel for his 83-84 mph changeup. His fastball command was spotty for spells, but overall his stuff was good enough to work around it. As Becker fills out and adds strength, I anticipate both added velo and strength to further stabilize his delivery and keep it in sync, a must for a pitcher of his size to remain in the rotation. Commit: Vandy
Mason Englert (Forney, Forney, TX), another righty continued the trend of pitchers with feel for their changeups, and I love preps with a changeup. His was 86 mph, a bit firm relative to his low 90s fastball, but the essentials are there and the fastball velocity should increase given the projection on his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame. Commit: Texas A&M
Names you’ll likely here more of in the next year if you haven’t already
Will Banfield V (Brookwood, Lawrenceville, GA) looked to be the premier catcher in the class, with the best chance to have an impact on both sides of the ball. He has both feel to hit and projects for at least average game power. Like many of these hitters, tightening up the zone against better quality secondaries will be a necessary developmental step. Defensively, Banfield showed a strong arm and ranged well laterally on balls in the dirt. Commit: Vandy
Alek Thomas (Mount Carmel, Chicago, IL) is an athletic center fielder who was among the best hitters at the event. He didn’t expand the zone, took good strikes, and shot line drives and hard grounders to all fields. He’s not going to be a power guy, and his skillset is geared to the top-of-the-lineup. His baserunning instincts and feel for the game are noticeable, plus he had the coolest cleats at the event (Jordan Xs!). He’s committed to TCU for both football and baseball, so his future is a bit uncertain. Commit: TCU
Elijah Cabell (Winter Park, Winter Park, FL) profiles in an outfield corner with plus power from the left side and a beautiful swing that produces hard contact consistently. He did expand the zone, chasing fastballs up, and he doesn’t have the same upside and athleticism as a Kelenic, but there is a lot to like in Cabell’s hit/power combo. Commit: LSU
Just a few personal favorites
At any event with this many players, there’s bound to be a few guys that make an impression on me that may not command a ton of attention right now, ten months out from draft day, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see their stock improve.
SS/P Brandon Dieter (South Hills, Covina, CA) is generally assumed to come out in the draft as a SS, since his size (6-feet, 175 pounds) and high-effort delivery suggest a pen future on the mound. That said, I loved his three-pitch mix including one of the better changeups I saw at the event and excellent fastball command. The actions at short are smooth and there is plenty of arm to stay there. He put in several high quality at-bats and could make for a quality two-way player in college if he foregoes the draft. Commit: Stanford
1B Alex Binelas (Oak Creek, Oak Creek, WI): Binelas struggled early at TOS, falling behind in counts with swing-and-miss that prevented him from getting to the big power he has. What impressed me was the way he adjusted his approach, shortened his swing, and looked to find a groove by going the other way. His at-bats improved by week’s end and he’s still raw, but kids who make adjustments are always going to get my attention. Commit: Louisville
3B Jordan Groshans (Magnolia, Magnolia, TX) showed some good pop and hard contact throughout the week. Defensively, he may be stretched at third base and could end up in left field, and he’s a fringe-average runner, but I liked the bat aplenty. If he can stay at third, he’s a guy I could see rising in the next year. Commit: Kansas
And while we’re here . . . 2019
SS Bobby Witt, Jr. (Colleyville Heritage, Colleyville, TX) Consensus top prep in the 2019 class. Currently projects for shortstop, but we’ll see as the body changes. Plus hit, plus power, plus . . . everything. It’s difficult to not notice his incredible polish as a forthcoming HS junior who just turned 17. Commit: undecided
Rece Hinds (Niceville, Niceville, FL) profiles at third and has a lean, projectable body at present. He has plus bat speed and raw power, but he really struggled early in the week to make contact, showing a hyper-aggressive approach and zone expansion. He settled in eventually, including a deep pull-side home run and more patient at bats to close the week. At this age, it’s the tools that stand out, and as he develops, Hinds plate discipline will be a focal area. Commit: LSU
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