Jupiter, FL - One of scouting’s biggest dilemmas is the two-way prospect. These are the young players scouts are torn between putting on the mound or into the batter’s box.
I saw a big league example while watching the “The Club” on MLB Network, the new reality show that follows the Chicago White Sox and their management through the 2010 season. There was a scene where GM Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen called players into the office to make final cuts in spring training. They called in Sergio Santos and told him he made the squad as a reliever; his reaction was so genuine that no actor could have done it justice. Santos was completely speechless for several seconds before fighting back tears and coming out with, “It’s been a long time coming”.
For those who don’t know Santos’s background, he was a 1st-round pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks back in 2002 as a shortstop out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California. Santos was a prep phenom in every sense of the word. Every scout in California knew about Santos after his freshman year because he’d just gone to the Area Code Games and crushed elite pitchers who were two years older. There was a future Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback a year ahead of him, but Santos was the talk of Mater Dei, not Matt Leinart.
He was always a good athlete with a strong arm and when the bat failed to come around, Santos switched to pitching after four organizations and seven years in pro ball.
Santos has played no small role in the White Sox rise to first place in 2010, registering a 1.88 ERA in 28.2 innings as a middle reliever to closer Bobby Jenks.
What’s crazy was that Santos was never a “two-way prospect” to begin with, he was just an infielder. I don’t know of any scouts who put him in as a pitcher and I’m unsure if he ever took the mound in high school. Mater Dei Coach Bob Ickes had so many good arms at the national powerhouse that it may not have been worth risking Santos’s bat and defense for him to pull double-duty.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of players going into their senior year who have shown major league potential both ways and sometimes I think it’s too early to pigeon-hole them. For most prospects it’s obvious, but there are going to be a handful for whom the jury is out all the way to the draft. And as Santos proved, sometimes we don’t figure out where to put them until seven years after!
I’ve picked the seven top two-way prospects I’ve seen thus far while scouting the Class of 2011. All of these young men can play both ways for an elite Division I program, but if they sign professionally they’ll have to choose. In my estimation, they have the potential to become at least first-ten round picks. While I (and others) may prefer them one way or the other, I think there’s enough on the other side of the ball to warrant further looks prior to the draft.
Seven Top Two-Way HS Prospects for 2011 Class (alphabetical order)
Dylan Davis, RHP/1B, Redmond (WA) HS
My money puts him on the mound because Davis is polished and has a three-pitch package to go with a strong delivery. Nevertheless, Davis’s body (6’0”, 200 lbs) looks like a position player’s and he has one of the strongest righthanded swings I’ve seen in the early going. His lack of physical projection may be what keeps some scouts from putting him in the first round as a pitcher. Davis is also nearly an average runner and can become a solid defensive rightfielder without too much imagination.
Billy Flamion, OF/LHP, Modesto Central Catholic (CA) HS
I list Flamion as an outfielder first, because I think he’s a pure lefthanded hitter who could advance quickly with his mature approach. I don’t project plus-plus power for the 5’11” Flamion, but he’ll hit for average and lots of gap power. Flamion also has a chance to become a solid defensive MLB corner outfielder. On the mound, Flamion throws in the high-80s with the makings of a curve and good pitchability, from the much-coveted left side.
Ricardo Jacquez, RHP/SS, El Paso Franklin (TX) HS
Jacquez is only 5’9”, but I see an especially quick arm and project him as a reliever. Super-athletic with a fluid arm-action, Jacquez can deliver in the low-90s for a couple innings and has the makings of a knockout big league slider. Jacquez’s athleticism comes through at shortstop and he may have the tools to play there all the way up, but he’s “only” an average runner and the bat is not nearly as superlative.
Dillon Maples, 3B/RHP, Pinecrest (NC) HS
I’m going to buck “the word on the street” and say Maples is a better hitting/third base prospect than pitching. Granted, I probably watched Maples’ worst outing on day one of the Tournament of Stars, but I think his athleticism comes out much better at the hot corner than it does on the mound. Maples has arm-strength, but a stiff delivery and on that day he was very wild. Maples has a position player’s body, an aggressively powerful righthanded bat, and a chance to become a big league starting 3B in my estimation. Not many low-mid-90s guys get moved off the mound, but I’d at least consider it with Maples.
Dan Mengden, C/RHP, Houston Westside (TX) HS
I only got a brief look at Mengden on the mound and he showed low-90s strength out of an impressive delivery. There’s raw material to work with as a pitcher, but he’s relatively polished behind the plate, a plus defender in the making who has a chance to hit at the highest level. Mengden has the athleticism to play the outfield or third base as well as on the mound, but I like him best as the backstop. His 6’0” 190 lb frame is strong and sturdy but lacks projection for a pitcher.
Joe Ross, RHP/3B, Bishop O’Dowd (CA) HS
I haven’t heard anyone mention Ross as an infielder and I agree wholeheartedly he’s a pitcher first. But Ross is an impressive athlete with good hands and fluid defensive actions to go with a smooth righthanded swing. Ross’s 6’3”, 180 lb frame looks like it belongs wherever you want to put it in just about any sport. His loose arm and low-90s fastball are inviting, but I’d at least keep an eye on him as a hitter going into his senior year.
Kyle Smith, RHP/SS, Santaluces (FL) HS
Smith is Florida’s version of Ricardo Jacquez. His small-framed 5’10” build and plus athleticism points to the infield, but his stuff says the mound. I lean to Smith as a pitcher but not without hesitation. His arm-action is beautiful and I believe his curveball can become a plus major league pitch. He also showed low-90s velo at the Tournament of Stars. Smith has good infield actions, enough to consider shortstop, but he might not become much more than a contact hitter at the highest levels.
Bubba Starling, OF/RHP, Gardner-Edgerton (KS) HS
I unfortunately left Cary before Starling pitched at the Tournament of Stars, so I only saw him as a position player. From what I saw and from knowing that the University of Nebraska intends to use him as a primary outfielder and secondary reliever, I’ll list Starling first as an outfielder. He didn’t throw that well from right over the week, but he was accurate, got good reads on fly balls, and showed some bat-head ability from the right side. At 6’3”, 210 lbs, Starling will grow into big league power and runs average to plus, depending on whether you look at his home-to-first or his 60 yard-dash. Starling is actually a three-way prospect; he’s signed with Nebraska on a football scholarship to play quarterback.