A Draft and Spring Training Prospect Notes Nine-Pack (3/2/2021)

Prospect writers Kevin Goldstein and Eric Longenhagen will sometimes have enough player notes to compile a scouting post. This is one of those dispatches, a collection of thoughts after the second weekend of college baseball and first two days of spring training. Remember, prospect rankings can be found on The Board.

Eric’s Notes

Justice Thompson, CF, North Carolina: 6-for-10, 2 2B, HR, 2 BB, 1 K

There are going to be an inordinate number of pop-up college guys this year and Thompson appears to be one. He was seen by a ton of scouts early in 2020 during Northwest Florida State’s clash with San Jacinto (two prominent junior colleges), so teams knew who he was entering this season, but had he looked in ’20 like he looks now, he’d probably already be in pro ball rather than at Chapel Hill. This is a freaky frame/power/speed prospect, the kind not typically seen on college campuses at all, the sort of athlete who often signs out of high school. After the first couple weekends of Division-I ball, Thompson is slugging .920. Even at a lanky 6-foot-4, he’s shown an ability to pull his hands in to put the barrel on inside pitches, and drive them with power. I don’t know exactly where to put this guy on The Board just yet, but he has first round physical tools, and the typical issues that plague long-levered hitters don’t appear to be a problem here. Thompson had his 6-for-10 weekend against Virginia’s pitching staff, not some non-conference cupcake.

Elijah Green, CF, IMG Academy (FL) – 2022 eligible

Green is the first high schooler to sit atop a future draft board since I’ve been at FanGraphs, as he’s currently the top 2022 prospect. I talked with several scouts and directors who were in Florida throughout February (mostly to source JUCO dope) and the way they talk about Green (who is being seen a lot because he’s on a team with 2021 prospects at IMG) has a different vibe. Only the underclass excitement for Hunter Greene has really come close to this since I’ve been covering the draft. I’m wary of hyping high school underclassmen for any number of reasons (their athletic and personal development haven’t even come close to concluding, and I don’t want to help turn anyone into baseball’s Corey Feldman), but Green hit a curveball out of Globe Life Field over the weekend, which is not normal. He has big physical tools and is laying a really strong statistical performance foundation by hitting as much as he has as an underclassman.

Sal Frelick, CF, Boston College: 6-for-13, 2B, HR, 0 BB, 2 K

Frelick’s expansive approach is perhaps a little concerning but he’s a toolsy little firecracker with a multi-sport background (baseball, hockey, football), and plays with his hair on fire. In addition to the impressive hitting line, Frelick also made a leaping catch while colliding with the center field wall and was running 4.10 from home to first (that’s plus for a left-handed hitter) over the weekend. His golf shot homer came on a pitch that was down and in, while his double came on a pitch that was out and away from him. It would likely have been a homer in lots of other parks but Duke’s left field wall is Green Monster-y. There’s a bat control/pop combo here, and at a premium defensive position. Frelick’s instincts in center are only okay but he has the long speed and athleticism to play there.

Tyler Wells, RHP, Baltimore Orioles: 1 IP, 1 BB, 1 K

It was nice to get a look at the giant 6-foot-8 Wells, one of Baltimore’s two Rule 5 picks who threw on Monday, given that he hasn’t been seen at all in the last two years while rehabbing from Tommy John. He came out sitting 93-95 with really tough angle because of his height. Baltimore has taken a go-wide approach to their rebuild, especially when it comes to acquiring pitching, and as a result they have several low-profile arms in their mid-20s fighting for big league reps. Wells was Baltimore’s hardest-throwing arm Monday.

Kevin’s Notes

Elijah Cabell, OF, Florida State: 4-for-12, HR, 3 BB, 6 K

In Lakeland, Florida in the spring of 2018, Elijah Cabell hit the longest home run I’ve ever seen a high school player hit. It’s probably far from accurate, but using a map/measurement app on my iPhone, I estimated the dead-center shot at 450 feet. He was big, athletic, ran well and had a plus arm. The only problem was that when he wasn’t hitting moonshots, he wasn’t hitting the baseball at all. He threw out a seven-figure asking price in the draft, the Brewers failed to sign him out of the 14th round, and he went off to Florida State, where he’s hit moonshots, drawn a ton of walks and whiffed at an alarming rate. Cabell entered his junior year with a strange two-year batting line of .231/.427/.475 with 120 strikeouts in 221 at-bats. Throw in 14 home runs and 49 walks and you get a Three True Outcomes rate of more than 60%. After missing the first weekend of the season with a hamstring issue, Cabell returned to the field for a series with Pitt and was, for lack of a better term, Cabell-esque, including six strikeouts and a nearly 500-foot home run that briefly made the rounds on Twitter Sunday afternoon. He bet on himself in 2018, and while it would take a miracle to generate a $1 million bonus this summer, he’s still a likely Day Two pick for a team that is enamored with his huge exit velocities — that is, when he actually generates them.

Dylan Crews, OF, LSU: 4-for-10, 2 2B, HR, 2 BB, 4 K

Let’s get excited about the 2023 draft, or at least get excited about Dylan Crews. He’s an interesting case in that he removed himself from consideration from the 2020 draft in early June, which so far has very much been to LSU’s benefit. One of the more analytically-inclined teams in college baseball, LSU shares plenty of data from their entertaining and well-managed Twitter account, and if you follow them, you’ll see Crews comes up quite often, as he smoked six balls with an exit velocity of more than 100 mph over the weekend, maxing out at 108. He’s a compact, bulky athlete with strength, speed and more than a bit of swing-and-miss in his game, but with a .429/.543/.821 line in his first seven games with the Tigers, he’s putting himself at or near the top of team boards two years from now.

Jeter Downs, SS/2B, Red Sox

Jeter Downs ranked No. 53 on the FanGraphs Top 100 prospects list, which prompted a question in one of my chats about how Downs is consistently rated so highly despite lacking tools that generate high grades. The answer? He’s just really good at baseball, and those skills were on display as major league spring training games began on Sunday. Entering as a late-game replacement at shortstop, Downs went oppo against a struggling Tyler Duffey in his first at-bat of Grapefruit League play, and hit a clean RBI single up the middle in his second. Downs has a solid approach, a good feel for contact, and has developed the average power scouts predicted for him out of high school. Evaluators are still mixed about Downs’ ability to stay at shortstop, but there is more than enough offensive ability here to be above-average at either middle infield position.

Will Dion, LHS, McNeese State: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 19 K

Let’s get this out of the way. Will Dion is not any kind of Day One or Two draft prospect, and Day Three is just a maybe if he can find an area scout willing to put his name on the guy. That said, a game score just south of 100, even if it’s just against Prairie View A&M, deserves recognition, so let’s give it to him here. Dion is a 5-foot-10 lefty who sits in the upper 80s and leans on a mid-70s curve as his primary secondary offering. He throws a ton of strikes, including 35 of the first 40 pitches he delivered on Friday. He’s fun to watch, and is clearly trying to emulate Clayton Kershaw with a sit-and-pop-up move mid-delivery to create timing issues. He can also really can locate, but there’s not really a professional weapon to make good hitters miss in the zone. A freshman All-American in 2019, Dion has always missed bats, including 37 Ks in 20.2 innings last spring, and has a chance to be a late-round pick based solely off his statistics. For now, let’s just tip our hats to one hell of a day.

Ty Madden, RHS, University of Texas: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 11 K

Madden was a fall hype guy coming into the 2021 season. He was off to a great start in 2020 before college baseball shut down, but stories from offseason workouts had him consistently getting into the mid-90s and looking like a sure-fire first-round pick. After just two starts for the Longhorns, including Friday’s dominant outing against BYU that required just 87 pitches, he has a chance to move into the first 10 picks. Physically, Madden checks a lot of boxes, with a 6-foot-3, 215 pound frame that just looks the part, a clean delivery and a high arm slot that produces the kind of spin axis that teams covet. With that comes what is now very powerful stuff, as he averaged just under 95 mph with his fastball on the day while touching 98, and his mid-80s slider has hard bite and is a current plus pitch. His changeup is inconsistent and he needs to prove he can locate on the arm side to keep balls away from left-handed hitters, but this is a prototypical starting pitching prospect who is moving up on boards.

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What difference does it make whether Downs can play SS? That position is in excellent hands in Boston. If he rakes he plays.