An Early Look at the Center Fielders in the 2017 Draft

This is a series of scouting thoughts on high-school prospects eligible for the 2017 MLB Draft based on observations from summer showcases. Today’s positional group is center fielders. Links to other positional groups appear below.

Previous editions: Catchers / Middle InfieldersLeft-Handed Pitchers.

Center field is a difficult position to play. It requires special straight-line speed but also the ability to read ball trajectory off the bat and hunt down said ball while making in-flight adjustments at a full sprint. As it is such a difficult position to play, not many humans are capable of it and this year’s group of high-school prospects are no different. Below are most all the prospects I’ve seen during summer showcases who I think have a prayer to remain in center field. For the uninitiated, the players who have their own sizeable sections are ranked in the order in which I’d draft them were I forced to do so today, while the players below that are just in alphabetical order.

Jordon Adell, OF, Ballard HS (KY)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 200, Commitment: Louisville

Jordon (or “Jo”) Adell has the best hit/power combination among high schoolers in the 2017 class and has a non-zero chance of playing center field. If that sounds like a player worthy of consideration in the draft’s top 5-10 picks, that’s because it is.

But Adell is not predestined for center field. Though he has posted 70-grade run times in the 60-yard dash (6.47), I didn’t get an in-game run time to first base better than 4.4 (40 on the scale) from him all summer. Why the discrepancy? Well, the quality of Adell’s contact this summer was so good that it often didn’t necessitate a full-effort sprint to first base, and it’s possible I just never saw a good time to first. It’s also possible that, because of how hard Adell rotates toward the third-base line through contact, he just doesn’t get good jumps down the line toward first and his times are artificially slow.

Scouts with whom I’ve spoken fall into two camps regarding Adell’s future position. Some think there’s a slight chance he somehow manages to be passable in center while acknowledging that it’s unlikely for him to stay there, while others think he surely ends up in a corner. I can’t find anyone confident he remains, long term, in center field and instead the industry (myself included) think Adell and his plus-plus arm end up in right field.

It matters not. Adell’s bat profiles comfortably in a corner, too. He has 7 bat speed, can move the barrel around the zone and absolutely punishes everything on the inner half. While I think Adell’s approach can get pull-happy, he has the physical skills to be a future plus hitter. Adell peppered Waveland Ave with baseballs during the Under Armour home-run derby in Chicago then won the Area Code derby and homered in a game there as well. He has plus raw power and arguably projects for more than that.

High-school prospects with that kind of offensive profile often go in the top 10, regardless of where they profile on the defensive spectrum. I think Adell comes off the board very early next June and I don’t expect his commitment to Louisville to be a significant obstacle.

Garrett Mitchell, OF, Orange Lutheran HS (CA)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 200, Commitment: UCLA

As an underclassman Mitchell had some top-of-the-draft buzz because, among other things, he could absolutely fly, had projectable power and scouts hoped his swing would smooth out as he developed adult physicality. But Mitchell’s swing, clunky and stiff, remains a bit of a mess. Despite that, he has found a way to make it work in games to great success and is able to produce more power than most of his peers during batting practice.

There are plenty of successful major leaguers with weird, grotesque or objectively undesirable swings. Hunter Pence is a walking mechanical oddity and has had a great career. Mitchell’s quirks don’t damn his prospectdom, they just make him harder to evaluate, and risk-averse team personnel don’t like that. I think Mitchell has the physical tools to be an average hitter (and, on paper, perhaps more because of his speed) if he can either make some mechanical adjustments or find a way to succeed with his current swing. I also think he’ll one day have above-average raw power though I’m not confident it will play in games. Instead, I anticipate Mitchell to be more of a doubles machine, stretching shallow gap liners into extra bases with his speed, which we’ve already seen from him in games.

Even if Mitchell never hits, he’s a 70 runner, with the speed to play a good center field and a plus arm, which is a solid little package on which to fall back if he never hits — and the foundation of an above-average everyday player, if he does. There’s also a far right tail outcome where Mitchell is a five-tool star, but that’s harder to dream on now than it was 12 months ago.

Royce Lewis, ATH, J Serra HS (CA)
Height: 6’2 Weight: 188 Commitment: UC Irvine

Though Lewis’ approach can be aggressive and lead to some weak contact or some swings and misses, he has a rare power/speed tool combination, has performed in games against elite competition and projects to play a premium defensive position. That’s worthy of first-round consideration in my mind, regardless of where you think Lewis ends up defensively and even if you think he’ll have some contact issues.

I’ve timed Lewis as low as 4.12 from home to first (that time is in the above video and you can see Lewis benefitted from a bit of a jailbreak) but mostly have him right around 4.2, which is plus for a right-handed hitter. I think he’s looked comfortable in center field and should be at least an average defender there at maturity, though you could argue he has more projection than that because he has played all over the place for J Serra and might show accelerated development once he’s allowed to play one position full time. I also think versatility is a valuable thing and would be intrigued if a team were to try to develop him as a multi-positional weapon. He has a 55 arm, enough to play everywhere except for probably shortstop, though he does seem more comfortable with throwing overhand from the outfield than from a lower slot in on the dirt. Lewis was one of the few players at PG All American in San Diego who confidently let things rip during an otherwise lackluster In and Out by both the East and West teams.

Offensively, Lewis’ swing can get long, but the bat speed is fine, he has athletic hitting actions and average raw power. The term “five-tool player” is thrown around entirely too often, but I think Lewis qualifies as that type of prospect, even if most of his tools seem likely to hover around the 50/55 mark.

Quentin Holmes, OF, Monsignor McClancy HS (NY)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 180, Commitment: Mississippi State

Holmes has abundant energy and easily runs well enough to play center field, though the rest of his skillset is middling. The bat speed and arm strength are both fringe to average and Holmes’ overall offensive approach is unpolished, though that is unsurprising for a cold-weather prospect. The carrying tool here is Holmes’ instinctive defense which, aided by impressive speed, projects to plus in center. Holmes glides from gap to gap and his reads both back toward the wall and in on shallow flies are good. There’s a chance for some offense down the line, especially given considering Holmes’ physical projection, but this is absolutely a glove-first prospect right now. We’ve players like this go as high as the second round in recent years, with Rangers and Nationals 2015 second rounders Eric Jenkins and Blake Perkins representing some contemporary examples.

Timmy Tawa, OF, West Linn HS (OR)
Height: 6’, Weight: 175, Commitment: Stanford

I like athletes and Tawa is one. Though not especially big, Tawa has wonderful body control and hand-eye coordination as well as a measured stroke that produces hard contact despite its simplicity. I timed him 4.21 down the line at Area Codes (that’s plus) and clocked one of his fly balls at 6+ seconds which indicates that there might be more raw power there than the fringe raw we saw during BP. I think more power will come. I’ve had trouble projecting body types like this in the past — I was light on Gleyber Torres‘ and Isan Diaz’s power projection when I saw them as teenagers and Tawa is built similarly to them — and think that Tawa will at least have average raw at maturity. His feel for center field is promising and he may stay there while providing well-rounded offensive production.

Tawa plays QB at West Lin, threw fifty touchdown passes last year and had six more of them last Friday in the team’s opener despite having a brand new receiving corps. He is committed to Stanford for baseball but has entertained the idea of playing both sports, which could further complicate a signability situation that is already going to be muddied by the institution in question.

Other center fielders of note:

Jacob Pearson, CF, West Monroe HS (LA) (Video) – Pearson is a rocked-up above-average runner with good bat speed and extension, but I’m not totally sure he stays in center field and he won’t be able to produce airborne contact with his current swing, which will be a problem if he has to move. I think he’ll hit, though.

Bubba Thompson, CF, McGill-Toolin HS (AL) (Video) – Thompson has solid gap-to-gap range despite timing in the low-4.3s for me at Area Codes and such a projectable frame that one could argue he has room to fill out in a way that adds speed into his 20s. He has immature feel for contact but has shown some ability to move his hands and the bat around the zone.

Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

Comments are closed.