St. Petersburg, FL - It was a long Tuesday at Tropicana Field, the first of six long days in a row for those of us attending the prestigious Perfect Game Junior National and National Showcases. We scouted six teams through a full workout and three games from morning to night. Perfect Game has successfully gathered many of the finest rising juniors in the country, providing scouts an early look at players destined to make their mark in the 2012 Draft.
A number of pitchers displayed high-80s arm-strength with projectable bodies, and the makings of big league breaking balls. Tampa Jesuit righty Lance McCullers will throw tomorrow and he’s the likely standout when all is said and done.
There was a scattering of fast runners and good defenders as well.
But the bats are what most impressed me on Day One.
I’ve long suspected Miami Gulliver Prep first baseman Chris Chinea to be among the nation’s best 2012 hitters and he continued to prove his case on Tuesday. The righthanded hitter has a mature, 5’10”-5’11”, 210 lb. build and can really generate both bat-speed and power with wood. During the high school season, he hit line-drives as hard as any sophomore I can remember and I consider him the hardest hitter among this group as well. Chinea’s swing is very short and he stays back well on off-speed pitches; it’s an unusual combination of tools and instincts for a hitter.
Kayden Porter hits the ball almost as hard and has, to scouts, a much more projectable body to go with it. The Utah native (from Spanish Fork High School) stands 6’4”, 230 lbs and has room for at least another 25 lbs by the time he’s 25 years-old. It’s scary how strong he is at such a young age, unfortunately one of his scalding line-drives hit an opposing pitcher on the knee and took him out of the game. He may not be quite as polished as Chinea, but Porter took some good at-bats and worked the count. Porter also showed very good actions defensively at first base and a plus arm across the infield. He’s listed as a primary pitcher, so I’m real curious to see him on the mound tomorrow.
Perhaps the best lefthanded bat goes to Jesse Winker, the outfielder form Orlando’s Olympia High School in Florida. At 6’2”, 190 lbs, Winker has one of those leg-kick swings where he somehow manages to keep his hands free and easy. I’ve seen him hit good pitching in the past and he’ll only get stronger.
Tampa Hillsborough first baseman Keon Barnum has the most powerful lefthanded swing at the Trop. He can generate big league bat-speed and solid-average raw power right now with wood. He’s not nearly as advanced come gametime, Barnum’s pitch recognition is behind Winker’s, but the 6’3”, 225 pounder has big upside as a power hitter.
An outfielder from Texas has bat-speed to compare with anyone’s and his name is Courtney Hawkins (Corpus Christi Carroll HS). The 6’2”, 213 lb Hawkins isn’t smooth or pretty to watch. But he has very quick hands and an ultra-short stroke to the ball. I was excited to see him after watching BP, but Hawkins struggled against live pitching, repeatedly chasing balls high and out of the zone. Hawkins hasn’t developed the good pitch recognition he’ll need to advance in the minors, but of course, he still has two more years of high school ball and I’d rate his upside very high.
Last but not least worthy of a quick mention is a shortstop from the Florida panhandle, Pace High’s own Addison Russell. Russell is an all-around gifted player who has a real shot at the early first round if he continues to develop the next two years. His swing isn’t as powerful as the above-mentioned players, but it’s right behind them and he has very good pitch recognition for his age. Russell chased a couple of high fastballs he should have laid off on and he didn’t get any hits today, but over a larger sample size, he’ll come up with as many hits as anybody in this age group.
Two years from now, there may be other hitters from this who catch up and even surpass these six players. Bodies change so much during the teen years, you have to be careful about projecting even from 16 to 18 because added physical strength can make all the difference in the world! But right now, these kids stand out to me for the reasons described.
The event will close with three more games tomorrow. Check back as we’ll recap the PG Junior National Showcase and feature the event’s best pro prospects.
The Perfect Game National that starts on Thursday will feature many of the best 2011 Draft prospects and I will be here in St. Petersburg to scout that event as well.