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This is one high school position nationally where there’s a clear #1 prospect in October. Daniel Norris (Science Hill HS, TN) has the premium arm to go very early in the 2011 Draft and headlines this year's senior class of left-handed pitchers. There are several others with first-three round potential, but no other projected 1st-rounders at the moment.
Norris is a very athletic 6’1”, 180 lb lefty with a quick arm and a strong delivery. Both his 91-94 MPH fastball and hard curveball have the potential to become plus major league pitches. Norris rates among the best over the last decade.
Behind Norris, it’s largely a matter of taste as to where you rank them.
#2 Henry Owens (Edison HS, Huntington Beach, CA) is intriguing for his size (6’6”, 195 lbs) and arm-strength, showing low-90s at times. He throws a big, slow breaking ball that has potential, but is not quite as razor-sharp as Norris’s.
#3 Jake Cave is a great competitor and an athlete, also ranking #14 among the Top-70 HS Outfielders. His velocities approach Norris and his peripheral stuff will improve. Cave will get early-round attention at both positions and may be the next-most likely to go in the first round after Daniel Norris.
Miami-bred lefty Andrew Suarez (Columbus HS, FL) follows at #4. He is the best of an unusually shallow group of lefties in the Sunshine State. The 6’2”, 200 lb Suarez has received considerable scouting attention and can go in the first three rounds next June.
#5 Andrew Chin (Buckingham, Browne and Nichols, MA) doesn’t throw as hard as anyone ranked above him, but has the makings of a plus curveball and very good pitchability. Georgian Jarrett Brown (#6, Salem HS) is also a “crafty” lefty who throws in the high-80s and really knows how to pitch. Both his curve and change-up are advanced. Like Chin, Brown is very athletic and will throw harder when he fills out his lanky 6’1”, 169 lb frame.
Perhaps the best pitchability of them all belongs to northern California’s John Hochstatter (#15, San Ramon Valley HS), who also stands 6’4”, 200 lbs and has big physical projection. Hochstatter threw mostly in the mid-high-80s last summer, but there’s clearly more in there. The fact he can carve up good hitters already is encouraging. He ranks farther down for his lack of velocity but is a premium High-D1 recruit and a pro draft sleeper.
Several of the top lefties are also impressive lefthanded hitters who may be drafted as position players. Along with Jake Cave are #8 Carlos Rodon (Holly Springs HS, NC), #9 Dan Camarena (Cathedral Catholic HS, CA), and #16 Billy Flamion (Modesto Catholic Central, CA). All have the potential to go in the first ten rounds both ways, but Flamion, whom we ranked as the nation’s #1 outfielder, will almost surely be drafted for his bat.
COMPARING 2011 TO PREVIOUS DRAFTS
In the 2010 Draft, only one prep lefthanded pitcher was taken in the first round (Jesse Biddle 27th overall to the Phillies). There were just six selected in the first ten rounds and oddly enough only two were drafted by teams other than the Toronto Blue Jays.
Three more prep lefties were taken late and given bonuses of $500,000 or higher.
This 2011 group figures to be at least as good with Daniel Norris a better prospect than anyone available in 2010. Of course, there will be more lefties to emerge come June, pitchers we’ve yet to learn about.
Perhaps the best Top-3 of the last decade was the 2009 Draft haul that included Tyler Matzek (#11, Colorado), Matt Purke (#14, Texas), and Chad James (#18, Florida), all of whom were taken among the first 18 picks. Matzek and Purke, who didn’t sign, could have gone within the first-five on talent alone but their bonus demands scared teams off.
The most prep lefties taken in the first round during the 2000s? There were four selected in the 2000 Draft, but upon hindsight it doesn’t appear all that strong. Among the quartet of Mike Stodolka, Joe Torres, Mark Phillips, and Sean Burnett, only Burnett would reach the big leagues at all, sticking around as mostly a long reliever.
The way it looks in mid-October, the 2011 group should end up with a high number of first-ten round lefties. There’s good depth, probably more than 2010 if it gets any help at all from pitchers emerging in the spring. There’s no Matzek/Purke/James trifecta or even the Adam Loewen/Scott Kazmir of 2002 going into the spring, but there’s enough quality behind Norris to make it interesting for teams in the hunt for young lefties.
Perhaps the Blue Jays will pick off even more in 2011.