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This year’s prep outfield class is an enigma. It is very deep. There will probably be a lot of early-round picks, but we’re hard-pressed to pick a #1.
At the top of the list, we have perhaps five or six outfielders who could be re-ordered depending on the eye of the beholder. Their styles of play vary so much that it’s almost a matter of taste more than talent who should be #1.
In the end, we went with Billy Flamion from Modesto Central Catholic HS in northern California. Flamion breaks the mold of the typical physical, toolsy 1st-round prep outfielder, standing 5’11”, 175 lbs, with his best asset being his left bat. Flamion ranks among the nation’s very best pure hitters with an advanced approach and the tools to also become at least a solid-average defensive outfielder.
The “safety” factor of his bat is what pushed him over #2 Bubba Starling (Gardner-Edgerton HS, KS) and others. Starling is the more impressive physical specimen, standing 6’3”, 210 lbs, with the shoulders and torso to grow into a very big man. He also ran 6.5-6.6 60 yard-dashes over the summer and showed a projectable plus outfield arm. Starling’s bat has a chance to turn out, but that will be what delays his path to the majors if he spurs a football scholarship to Nebraska and signs next June.
At #3 is Dwight Smith (McIntosh HS, GA), who is surprisingly similar to Flamion in the fact he’s an undersized (5’9”, 180 lbs), bat-first, lefthanded hitting outfielder with solid but unexceptional peripheral tools to go with it. Scouts will question both of their projections, but their bats should play early and big. #4 Mike Conforto (Redmond HS, WA) and #6 Aaron Brown (Chatsworth HS, CA) are a few inches taller, but essentially from the same mold: advanced lefthanded hitters with solid but unspectacular peripheral tools. #7 Travis Harrison (Tustin HS, CA) is a pure righthanded hitter with the best power of the bunch and a plus arm. Harrison has corner infield options as well.
Sandwiching Harrison are two speedsters, #5 Chris McFarland (Lufkin HS, TX) and #8 Charles Tilson (New Trier HS, IL). But don’t be misled, they wouldn’t be ranked so high if they were just one-trick ponies. McFarland and Tilson swing fast bats from the right and left side respectively and have offensive potential. The Rice-bound McFarland is just as likely to be drafted as an infielder, but both he and the Illinois-bound Tilson have center field agility.
Perhaps the most usable speed belongs to #9 Shon Carson (Lake City HS, SC), who has the quick acceleration of a basestealer. He also generates big league bat-speed with wood and has an average arm, but at a solidly built 5’9”, 188 lbs, Carson has less projection than the other Top-10 outfielders.
There are a number of sleepers down the list, players with big projection but whose less-advanced bats keep them from a higher ranking at the moment. Brandon Nimmo (#10) is a very intriguing lefthanded hitting outfielder from Wyoming (East HS) with tools across the board and a 6’2” frame to grow into. #13 Wallace Gonzalez (Bishop Amat HS, CA) and #16 Jeff Driskel (Hagerty HS, FL) are two big-bodied multi-tooled baseball/football recruits who better fit the old school mold of high draft outfielders.
High school outfielders were generally considered the riskiest 1st-round picks for some 30+ years after the draft began in 1965. The flawed strategy of drafting athletes and “teaching them to hit” is largely responsible for the poor results. Teams have clearly changed their angle in the most recent decade, skewing it more towards pure hitters. That is what we try to reflect in our rankings for 2011.
Dante Bichette, the son of former longtime Colorado Rockies slugger with the same name, checks in at #11 (pictured right).
COMPARING TO RECENT DRAFT CLASSES
There were three prep outfielders taken in the 1st round of the 2010 Draft, but a whopping six were selected in 2009. The group consisted of Donavan Tate, Randall Grichuk, Mike Trout, Rey Fuentes, Slade Heathcott, and Levon Washington.
In our Top-45 Middle Infielders article last Wednesday, I noted how the 2010 Draft was historic for preps at that position. The 2009 Draft might be considered the equivalent for high school outfielders.
Going back over the decade of the 2000s, there were never more than four prep outfielders selected in any first round. The most top-heavy was the 2003 Draft which saw Delmon Young (1st overall), Chris Lubanski (3rd), and Ryan Harvey (6th) go in the first six picks, then Lastings Milledge at #12.
The least top-heavy draft was 2001, where the first prep outfielder wasn’t taken until Cleveland selected Boston-area prep Mike Conroy 43rd overall in the sandwich round.
The 2011 Class compares favorably among them with pure hitters though it may be just middle-of-the-pack in terms of multi-tool athletes.
There may end up “only” one or two 1st-rounders, but look for a load of sandwich, 2nd, and 3rd-round picks come June. The outfield depth is impressive and there are sleepers around the land who could come on in the spring.