Port St. Lucie, FL - PORT ST. LUCIE, FL- With the 2010 Draft just two weeks away, scouts have their hands full, so they’re not quite ready to start looking for 2011 and 2012 players.
Again at Digital Domain Park, the talent was good but mostly young and the scouts were sparse; you could count them on one hand and still have enough fingers left to snap.
For me personally, when I look back on this week in five or ten years, I won’t break them down into seniors and underclassmen. Just the opposite, I’ll remember which big leaguers were there and may not recall what year they were in school at the time. My guess is that it will be the underclass kids who’ll stand out 5-10 years from now. And because most pro scouts are slammed in preparation for the draft, I feel like I’ve gotten a heads up watching these future draft picks in an ultra-competitive setting even before they get put under the scouting spotlight.
The best senior prospect I watched on Monday was Pace lefthanded pitcher/outfielder CT Bradford who is headed to Mississippi State and has also had some pro attention. The most likely major leaguer of the Monday Class 2A/5A group was his sophomore teammate. Shortstop Addison Russell has legitimate 1st-round potential in 2012.
Pace High School is located in the city of Pace, Florida, on the far west end of the Florida panhandle about 15 miles from the moderately sized Pensacola. Despite being a public school in a fairly remote area, Pace is a perennial baseball power. The shortstop before Russell was Drew Cumberland, a lefthanded hitting speedster who went to the San Diego Padres as a 1st-round sandwich pick (46th overall) in 2007.
What Russell represents is a baseball player who is truly a great athlete, and not the other way around which is an important distinction. He shows instincts and awareness on the infield as well as at the plate that one only gains from playing lots of baseball. Russell’s athleticism would translate well to just about any sport, but this is the only one he plays at the high school level.
Defensively, the 6’1”, 170 lb Russell has quick feet and hands to go with excellent body control for his age. In the third inning, he made one of the finest plays I’ve ever seen made by a high school shortstop and one that I believe ten out of the 30 major league starting shortstops would fail to make.
A Tampa King HS hitter sent a liner back to CT Bradford and Russell broke to range up the middle. It ricocheted off Bradford’s glove in the other direction. There was a runner on third with two outs, and he was just about to cross the plate. Russell changed directions, charged the ball to his arm-side, barehanded it, and whizzed a strong, off-balance throw right on the money to first base to get the runner out by a hair.
I actually got goosebumps watching it and showed them to the person sitting next to me. I didn’t think he’d throw it much less get the runner out.
At the plate, Russell went 1-3 with two punchouts, an intentional walk, and a single past the third baseman. He showed a very quick bat and an ability to use his hands and adjust to the curveball. He was struck out on a couple of well-placed change-ups where Russell took big swings and tried too hard to pull the ball. Russell has holes in his approach, but he’s quite advanced for a sophomore and his line-drive power will turn into wood bat “over the fence” power when he physically develops. Russell’s frame is actually quite immature, which is scary considering how good he already is.
CT Bradford had a fine day both pitching and hitting, going 3-5 at the plate and throwing four strong innings (2H, 1ER, 0 BB, 2K) to beat Tampa King 11-1 in six innings.
As a 5’9”, 160 lb lefty who throws mostly 87-88 MPH, Bradford gets overlooked by pro scouts in favor of the strong-bodied southpaw who shows low-90s arm-strength. But pitchers like Bradford have a way of sneaking up and passing the arm-strength guys; he shows a real feel for pitching and a competitive desire that can’t always be taught. Bradford’s low-70s curveball has a chance to become a quality major league pitch and he just needs to perfect a change-up.
One disadvantage associated with lack of size is a lack of physical projection and it’s true that Bradford won’t be able to gain 30+ lbs of good weight the way a rangy, broad-shouldered 6’4” kid can. I do think he’ll be able to maintain his velocity over the long haul and maybe even add to it, because his arm is loose and he gets a lot out of his delivery. Bradford does well to exploit the bigger muscles groups in his legs and core, which take strain off his left arm.
I believe someone will take a stab at him somewhere this year and I can see him becoming a high draft after three years of Mississippi State.
Bradford and Russell will take on Armwood High School (near Tampa) in the Class 5A Final on Tuesday at 7:00 PM.
OTHER DAY 5 PROSPECT NOTES: Armwood righty Zac Powers is getting some 2010 Draft attention. Signed to go to the University of Florida, the 6’4”, 215 lb Armwood pitched his club to a 3-1 victory of St. Thomas Aquinas to advance to the Final. Powers threw 83-87 MPH with very good sinking action, he looks like a groundball-inducing machine in the making. With his body, delivery, and arm-action, there’s a chance he throws with near-average MLB velocity one day (i.e. 90-92 MPH) but it’s the movement that will make him a prospect. His off-speed pitches are in the early stages of development….. Tampa King first baseman Keon Barnum has one of the most powerful lefthanded swings I’ve seen for a sophomore. The 6’3”, 230 lb Barnum takes a wonderful batting practice but he’s yet to develop into a good high school hitter. Barnum struggled with his approach, unable to work the count or recognize good hitter’s pitches, going 0-2 with a walk. He actually showed more instinct on the mound, pitching the last 1.2 innings for King at 85-87 MPH. There’s much work to be done tightening his delivery and his breaking ball and I still prefer Barnum’s upside as a hitter, but his work on the mound is worth following….. Barnum’s teammate in center field is an interesting junior to follow for the 2011 Draft. Javaris Reynolds is a strong 6’2”, 200 lb left/left kid with some pop in his swing and above-average speed. I’d timed him home-to-first at 4.11 and 4.12 seconds. His biggest flaw is a very weak throwing arm that will be a liability if what he showed yesterday doesn’t improve greatly….. Orangewood Christian (from Maitland, an Orlando suburb) lost to Westminster Christian (Miami) 13-5 in a Class 2A semifinal but junior Dante Bichette Jr. hit the ball very hard a couple of times and looks to be a strong follow for the 2011 Draft. The son of a very successful ex-big leaguer, Bichette plays third base now but projects to the outfield in many scouting eyes. He stands about 6’0”, 180 lbs, and runs average. Teammate and classmate shortstop Vince Conde also has some big league athleticism and defensive tools, though he had a difficult day in the field and at the plate….. Westminster Christian will face Shorecrest Prep (St. Petersburg) in the Class 2A Final at 4:00 PM on Tuesday. Shorecrest defeated Jay HS 5-3 on Tuesday morning.