Much like the college class, the 2006 high school class is rich with pitching, light on bats, and filled with players who entered the year highly-regarded, but have disappointed thus far. While it’s still early in the high school season, many teams are still looking for that out-of-nowhere player who suddenly gains momentum and works his way into the early rounds. “There’s always one of those guys,” said one team executive. “But based on this crop, I’m not sure he exists.” Just the small number of top-flight positional players from the high school ranks has been the biggest disappointment. “This high school class, when it comes to hitters, is the thinnest I’ve ever seen,” added a scouting director. “It’s worse than 2000, and that’s saying something.”
- One of the bigger disappointments so far has been Mansfield (Texas) HS righthander Jordan Walden, who moved to the top of many lists when he hit 99 mph on the gun last July. Walden hasn’t approached that velocity since, having trouble even reaching 90 mph at times while mostly throwing in the low 90s and occasionally touching 94-95. He has an ideal pitcher’s frame, and is a definite early pick, but teams picking near the top have backed off of him–he could slide all the way to the end of the first round. “He’s really more of a thrower than a pitcher for me,” said one scouting director. Another scouting director, who recently saw Walden, walked away just as disappointed. “The breaking ball is inconsistent, the command is inconsistent, there has basically been no progress since last summer.”
- One player who has been living up to expectations is Woodlands (Texas) HS righty Kyle Drabek, the son of 1990 Cy Young Award winner Doug. Drabek, an excellent athlete who would go in the first three rounds of the draft as a shortstop, has added a tick of velocity this year, sitting at 92-94 mph with his fastball while touching 96-97; he also features not one, but two breaking balls–a big spike curve and darting slider–which both have been graded as plus. “His stuff has just been absolutely outstanding,” said a scouting director. Most see him as the top high school player out there, but some questions about his makeup are starting to crop up, a surprising development for a player with Drabek’s pedigree.
- Teams looking for pure projection have been traveling to Brooklyn, New York of all places to check out righthander Dellin Betances, pitching for Grand Street Campus. At 6’9″, Betances delivers mid-90s heat on an extreme downward plane, and has shown the ability to spin a hammer curveball that has a long way to fall because of his height and high release point. Like many players in the Northeast, Betances doesn’t have the experience of players in warm weather climates, and will be a long-term project for whoever drafts him. “He does offer a lot to dream on,” said one scouting director. “But his command is all over the place and he’s extremely crude.” Another scouting director added, “I’m not taking him, but if somebody sees him on the right day, they could be easily convinced that he’s worth seven-figures.” Betances gets a later start than most, and need to come on quickly, as he was just 89-92 mph in his first start.
- The safest high school arm may reside in Stillwater, Oklahoma. 6’4″ lefthander Brett Anderson has dominated all year and is the rare prep hurler with a full repertoire of pitches, including a 91-94 mph fastball, a plus curve and a solid changeup. “He’s the total package when you look at his size and his stuff,” said one scouting director. “He’s just very advanced for his age and has an excellent feel for his craft.” Anderson’s father, Frank, is the head coach of Oklahoma State, but both father and son have made it clear to teams that Anderson is ready to begin his pro career after high school, as Anderson currently looks like an early first-round pick.
- On the position player side, Monsignor Pace (Florida) HS third baseman Chris Marrero remains the top-rated player, but much like Evan Longoria on the college side of things, its mostly because he hasn’t disappointed as opposed to being overly impressive. Marrero has dealt with some minor injuries and has been inconsistent at the plate and in the field, but he’s done enough to hold onto his status. “He is the best high school position player, I agree with that,” said one scouting director. “But I was looking over last year’s draft and where would he have gone then? I can’t even guarantee the first round.”
- Staying in Florida, no prep hitter’s stock seems to have dropped more than Mosley (Florida) HS outfielder Cody Johnson, despite some solid numbers. “Cody Johnson is a total myth,” said one scouting director. “All people heard in the past was that he was a five-tool guy,” added another. “But he’s a tick below-average runner, his arm isn’t very good, and in the end he’s a first baseman.” Johnson’s power potential in unquestioned, and he’s put on a show in a pair of home run contests this year, but his loopy swing creates a lot of holes… and a lot of question marks for scouts. “He’s the reason you put the word ‘raw’ in front of power,” said one scout. Another hitter who matches Johnson’s profile is Chino Hills (California) HS first baseman Chris Paramelee. “He’s a famous guy, and he’s done well at all the showcases,” remarked a scouting director. “But he’s a first baseman, so you better be real sure about the bat.” Both players should go somewhere between the 25th and 50th pick. Another more polished power option is Jackson HS (Washington) outfielder Travis Snider, who, like Parmelee and Johnson, is also limited defensively.
- The dearth of hitting talent could lead to overdrafting due to positional scarcity: good news for the top prep catchers. Huntington Beach (Calif.) HS backstop Hank Conger shows plenty of power from both sides of the plate and a good arm, but has looked sluggish at times. “He’s put on weight and he hasn’t even been paid yet,” said one scouting director. “Explain that to me.” On the East Coast, Max Sapp, from Bishop Moore HS in Florida has plenty of questions about his ability to stay behind the plate, but is a better pure hitter than Conger, with one scouting director comparing him to Oakland top prospect Daric Barton.
- One of the few middle infielders with any buzz is Canyon HS (California) shortstop Grant Green. In the new mold of big (6’3″) athletic shortstops, Green has shown plus defensive skills and good potential with the bat, and is starting to get some attention as a possible late first-round or sandwich pick.