Fort Myers, FL - What a difference a year makes.
That comment was worn out by the handful of scouts and the horde of college coaches who’d attended the PG Junior National right before. The players at the “Senior” National are so much more physical and developed that you have to remind yourself they are only a year older.
Not only that, but many of these rising seniors played in the 2010 Junior National and in other highly exposed events prior to today. The changes they’ve made in their bodies and their games over one or two years is staggering, in some cases they look like entirely different players. Therein lies the challenge of projecting the futures of teenage ballplayers.
On Thursday, six of the 12 teams went through full workouts including batting practice and defensive drills prior to the games. So I was able to see half of the teams, about 140 players, in action with 3-4 of their pitchers taking the hill.
From these six teams, I saw a lot of good singular tools. But I was a little surprised at how few players shined both in the defensive workouts and in batting practice. I’d see a kid throw bullets from the outfield or show fluid actions at shortstop only to look like a banjo hitter at the plate. I’d also seen kids who looked out of place with a glove, like they didn’t belong at the event, only to mash in BP.
In other words, there’s a lot of talent, a lot of tools, but thus far not an all-around standout who does it all.
Outfielder Jesse Winker has been a budding lefthanded bat for years and he put on a show in BP. The 6’3”, 195 lb lefthanded hitting outfielder from Olympia HS (near Orlando) has developed big league average bat-speed with solid-average loft power already. No one showed hitting tools like Winker on Friday, it’s precious to find a kid who has the strength to hit for power and the loose hands to make adjustments. Winker shivers his hands prior to the swing a la Josh Hamilton and he also showed a plus left arm in the outfield, one of the very best in the class.
The only thing Winker has never done average is run. He appears a little bit faster than a year ago, but still below-average. Nevertheless, he gets good reads in the outfield and with his plus arm, profiles very well for right field.
Winker didn’t have the very best outfield arm however, I gave that title to Skye Bolt (Holy Innocents HS, Woodstock, GA). The 6’2”, 175 lb outfielder is committed to North Carolina already and threw line-drive lasers to third base and the outfield during his workout. He also had an unusually quick glove-to-hand transfer, an attribute not often considered for outfielders. I graded Bolt’s arm a 65 on the 20-80 scale with Winker and several other outfielders registering 60s.
Bolt is a very good athlete with a projectable body and a chance to become a big league hitter but not in the class of Winker as a pure, present-day bat.
During the infield workouts, the best feet I saw belonged to shortstop Andrew Velazquez (Fordham Prep HS, NY). There are very few domestic high school kids you look at and see big league shortstop range, but Velazquez showed a lightning first step and excellent agility. If he can gain a little bit of arm-strength, Velazquez has a good chance to play the most difficult position on the big league field. If not, he’s a far-ranging second baseman.
No one on Thursday had the overall infield actions of Tanner Rahier, a 6’1”, 205 lb shortstop from Palm Desert HS in California. Despite his thick lower half, Rahier showed very good feet and exceptional body control making plays in the hole and up the middle. Rahier’s glove-to-hand transfers were very quick.
Because of his body-type and an inaccurate arm (that otherwise grades solid-average MLB strength), Rahier might not stick at shortstop to the highest level but right now he’s the toolsiest of the bunch. Rahier showed big line-drive power at the plate too. He’s verbally committed to the University of San Diego.
The most impressive workout catcher was Stryker Trahan, a bruising 6’0”, 215 pounder from Louisiana (Acadiana HS). Trahan showed lefthanded power and big league arm-strength, pop-timing under 1.9 seconds on a couple of workout throws. He’s also a solid-average runner. I don’t question that he’s the best catcher right now (among the six teams working out Thursday), but I’m not certain he will still be the best in five years because his body is so mature and nearly maxed out.
As far as raw power is concerned, Jesse Winker was rivaled by a couple of usual suspects who hit bombs at last year’s Junior National: Kayden Porter (Spanish Fork HS, UT) and Keon Barnum (Tampa King HS, FL). Porter is a jumbo-bodied 6’4”, 250 lb righthanded hitter while Barnum is a more sculpted 6’3”, 230 lefthanded bat. Porter’s swing has stiffened up some from last year despite the increased strength and power. Barnum’s swing is looser and with more life, but not quite at the level of Winker’s.
During the games, several pitchers showed early round probabilities. The hardest thrower was Clate Schmidt, the Clemson-bound righty from Allatoona HS in Georgia. A shallow-chested, rangy 6’1”, 175 lbs, Schmidt threw with a lot of effort but hit 92-95 MPH consistently in two innings of work. He also showed a big league curveball. Control is a big issue as well as durability and Schmidt may end up a closer who could move much more quickly in such a role.
Matt Smoral (Solon HS, OH) was at the Junior National last year and has improved his velocity from 83-84 MPH to 91-93. It’s not a total surprise, Smoral is 6’8” with long levers and has gained a good 15-20 lbs up to about 245 in 2011. Smoral is still wild but showed much better coordination than a year ago and the makings of a two-plane, low-70s curveball. Scouts have to get excited about his long-term upside, but he’s probably a couple years away from pitching effectively at North Carolina (where he’s committed) in the ultra-competitive ACC.
A very impressive lefty was Maryland-committed Jake Drossner from Council Rock North HS in Pennsylvania. Drossner is 6’3”, 195 lbs, and showed a lot of projection, an 87-90 MPH fastball, and at times a big league average curveball. Both pitches could end up plus down the road.
Righty Teddy Stankiewicz (Southwest Christian HS, TX) also took the hill on Thursday. He threw well (90-91 MPH, makings of change and curve), but I’ve actually seen him much better; his stuff didn’t stand out today against the nation’s other premium prep arms. He’s a very athletic 6’4”, 200 lb kid with a body to fill out and an exceptional pickoff move. Everything works well with his delivery and arm and I’d put him among the favorites to go in the 1st round next June.
The swing that caused the most oohs and ahs during the games belonged to Josh Henderson, a home-schooled outfielder from Suffolk, Virginia, who missed the entire workout. Towards the end of the very last game, the lefthanded Henderson came to the plate and put plus bat-speed on an inside pitch, driving a screaming line-drive just foul to the right field wall. To see a 6’0”, 184 lb kid generate so much juice is impressive and it will be fun to see him over the next three days.
For me, the defensive standout during the games was third baseman Glenn Sawyer for the maroon team. The Atlanta native (Woodward Academy) made a diving stop down the line, then got to his feet and fired so quickly I thought I was watching Buddy Bell all over again. What most amazed me were his reactions and his ability to get off the ground and finish the play. You see a lot of toolsy infielders in high school, but rarely do you see someone whose skills are so attuned to making the difficult plays at third base. Sawyer is a bit undersized (5’8”, 180 lbs), but has some pop and looks like he’ll at least be a very good D1 college player.