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Prospect Dispatch: Two New Jersey High School Prospects

Since the inception of the MLB Draft in 1965, there have never been two players drafted in the first round from the same high school in the Northeast in the same draft class. Jack Leiter and Anthony Volpe, both senior Vanderbilt commits at Delbarton School in Morristown, New Jersey, have the potential to change that this year. I watched Delbarton face off against Red Bank Catholic High School on Saturday afternoon along with several dozen scouts. What follows are my takeaways from their respective performances in the game.

Jack Leiter, RHP
Current 2019 Draft Ranking: 28

Leiter is, as you might have extrapolated from his last name, the son of the former major leaguer Al Leiter, who accumulated nearly 2,400 career innings pitched and a total of 36.5 WAR across 19 seasons. Al’s brother, Mark, also pitched in the big leagues for 11 years, and Mark’s son, Mark, Jr., debuted with the Phillies in 2017. Jack’s performance on Saturday showed a glimpse of the potential that suggests he could one day join his dad, uncle, and cousin in a big league uniform.

Leiter stands at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, with a fairly slim frame and well-distributed strength. I wouldn’t describe him as slight, but he’s relatively average-sized and doesn’t have a build you’d typically expect out of a high school right-handed pitching prospect. Leiter’s arm action and delivery are amongst the best I’ve seen from a high school prospect. He has a simple, uptempo delivery, delivering the ball from a high three-quarter slot with above average arm speed, and he stays on line with the plate very well. He has a medium length arm swing with a loose, easy path and is on time throughout his delivery. There is some stiffness on his front leg during his follow-through, but this isn’t a concern for me, as it occurs after release. Everything works in-sync and fluidly together, and he repeats his delivery extremely well for any prospect, especially one in high school.

Throughout the outing, Leiter showed flashes of a legitimate three pitch mix. He came out of the gates hot, touching 96 early and sitting 92-95 for the first three innings. His higher slot generated more plane than angle and he’ll likely look to work with more four-seamers than two-seamers long term because of it. His calling card is his curveball, a big breaking 74-77 mph downer that flashes plus. He spins the ball well, generating good tilt and depth to the pitch and enabling himself to miss bats below the zone.

Also a part of his arsenal was a slider, which worked 84-85, that he broke out a bit more often as the game went on. The slider is fringy, working between a 40- and 45- grade, as it had true shape but sort of rolled out of the hand. I do think it’ll be a nice supplement to the arsenal long-term, but I don’t think it has a chance to be anything better than average at best and will likely stay a supplementary offering. Leiter didn’t throw any changeups in game but threw several in warmups and showed some feel to command the pitch, although he did slow his arm down to throw it. Given the ease with which he throws and his consistent delivery, I would have no issue projecting a changeup of similar quality to his slider in his pitch mix long-term, which would round out a solid four-pitch mix for a starting pitcher.

All of the above information would place Leiter firmly in the first round of the draft as a right-handed pitcher showing two plus pitches and with a chance to stay as a starter long-term. The main issues I have in projecting him highly are his build and his age, which are, in some ways, connected. Leiter’s velocity tapered in the fourth inning of his outing and while he finished with 11 strikeouts in five innings, the opposing Red Bank Catholic lineup strung together some decent contact in the latter two frames of his outing. His fastball velocity was 88-92 for those two innings and his curveball, while still showing quality depth, did not flash plus like it had in the early innings. Leiter’s fastball doesn’t play any higher than its true velocity and as it tapered, it became more difficult for him to miss bats.

A high school pitcher’s velocity falling off is not a concern in and of itself. In fact, it’s fairly common. Leiter’s average size, however, could lead to some concerns long term about his durability or his ability to maintain effectiveness without mid-90s velocity. That, combined with the fact that Leiter will be 19-years-old at the time of the draft and will ostensibly be a year ahead of his 18-year-old peers developmentally, could lead some teams to shy away from him. The demographic of high school right-handed pitchers has not been great historically, and when you combine that with the fact that this particular pitcher is of average size and is older than his peers, it will likely lead to reservations in draft rooms.

With that being said, Leiter’s delivery and his stuff speaks for itself. He’s clearly talented enough to be a first round selection as a potential No. 4 or No. 5 starter long-term – with a mid-90s fastball, a curveball that flashes plus, a usable slider, and a plus delivery – and I think a team will take a chance on him. Leiter’s talent puts him in the back end of the first round typically, and I could see a team selecting him there or at some point in rounds two through four for what is the equivalent of late first round money.

Anthony Volpe, SS
Current 2019 Draft Ranking: 33

Volpe has long been a mainstay at the highest profile amateur baseball venues, playing for Team USA in Taiwan at 12-years-old and participating in several dozen showcase and tournament events in high school, including last year’s Perfect Game and Under Armour All-American games at Petco Park and Wrigley Field, respectively. His experience is evident on the field – Volpe shows plus feel to play on both sides of the ball, which helps to elevate his game above his collection of relatively average tools.

A right-handed hitting shortstop, Volpe is short and muscular, with especially strong legs and a lively look to his frame. He’s a good athlete who moves around the dirt well, showing average range and an average arm with instincts that might enable him to play slightly above those. He has good hands and takes very good angles to balls, seemingly never fielding an in-between hop and doing a good job getting around and fielding the ball. I think he has a chance to be average at shortstop and could provide good utility value moving around the dirt to both second base and third base long-term.

Offensively, Volpe hits from a spread stance with high hands, even with the pitcher. He’s compact to the ball and is an aggressive hitter who showed a pretty good approach at the plate, looking to drive the ball to the gaps. He is a 55 runner who runs hard and takes good angles around the bases. His swing – compact and consistent — showcases both fringy quickness and bat speed. He really pinches his hands in and artificially gets his bat on plane (think J.D. Martinez from gather to contact, and not Alex Bregman). This isn’t necessarily an issue, but Volpe has 40-grade raw power and is already relatively mature physically.

This type of swing path – one that pulls the hands in and then drives the barrel downward into the hitting plane and pushes it through with the hands – typically leads to an opposite field-heavy approach. Someone like the aforementioned Martinez, who artificially gets on plane, overcomes suboptimal contact points because he’s so strong. In 2017 and 2018, Martinez’s average exit velocity and launch angle to right field were 92.6 mph and 25.3 degrees, respectively, and he hit 54.6% of batted balls to right field at above 95 mph. It’s extremely difficult to imagine Volpe impacting the ball that much and with that much regularity long term.

Volpe showed his feel to hit and his opposite field approach on Saturday by driving a line drive to right center field for a home run, although the right center field fence was just 330 feet away so this ball would have likely been a double or a triple on most fields. My concern is not with his ability to make contact or his ability to hit the ball to right field; it’s with his ability to drive the ball with power and pull the ball consistently. I can see an average hit tool long-term due to the feel to hit and pitch recognition skills, but the lack of power and the artificial nature with which his barrel gets to the zone concern me with respect to his ability to drive the ball consistently.

Of course, none of the above concerns mean that a swing like Volpe’s isn’t fixable. He’s been lauded in the industry for his baseball IQ and showed nothing on Saturday to make me reach a different conclusion, so there is the possibility that he can make adjustments to his swing and drive the ball more consistently. And regardless, this is a well-rounded high school infielder with a high baseball IQ, a chance to stay at shortstop, and average hit tool potential. That’s an intriguing profile, and one that doesn’t last beyond the first few rounds of the draft, as there is bat-to-ball and utility value in the profile. His lack of a plus tool and the uncertainty about his ability to hit for better than 40-grade power push him into more second or third round contention for me, but I could see a team who values versatility and strong contact skills taking him a little higher than that and letting their minor league hitting coaches get to work.


Prospect Dispatch: Hickory at Lakewood

Editor’s Note: Josh Herzenberg spent three years as an area scout covering North Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas for the Dodgers. He also spent two years coaching, one with the Ogden Raptors and one with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, predominantly working with pitchers and helping to integrate analytics into preparation for minor leaguers. He pitched at Oneonta State and has a Master’s Degree from Georgetown. He currently lives in New York City, where he works in finance, and will be contributing here at FanGraphs.

As someone born and raised in the northeast, the beginning of the professional baseball season has always been a marker, of sorts, of springtime finally arriving. That didn’t change in 2019, as Sunday afternoon’s Low-A matinee between the Phillies’ Lakewood Blueclaws and the Rangers’ Hickory Crawdads brought pleasant weather, plenty of sunshine, and some intriguing players to New Jersey. What follows are some of my notes from that game, with each player’s Top 100 and organizational ranking per Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel indicated where applicable.

Lakewood

Alec Bohm, 3B, Top 100 Rank: 66, Org Rank: 2
Bohm was the third overall pick out of Wichita State in 2018, lauded as a player with a chance to make an impact as a power hitting third baseman. Physically, he stands out on the field as advertised, with an XL frame and broad, strapping shoulders. There might be some more room to fill out the frame but that also might not be necessary – he’s a large human being already. Bohm smoked a double into right center field in his second plate appearance in what was an otherwise underwhelming day for him. The double – off an elevated sinker out over the plate – was a glimpse of Bohm’s ability to drive the ball, but I’m not convinced he’s going to be able to tap into that power consistently enough for it to make the impact the Phillies were likely hoping it would when they selected him in last year’s draft. He’s very compact and fails to get his hands extended through the zone, resulting in him effectively jamming himself and forcing him to work with a smaller hitting zone because of it.

Defensively, Bohm showed plenty of arm to stay at third base and his footwork was fine. He has long, loping strides and is a slower twitch mover, showing below average range on a play to his left, and running below average times on the basepaths throughout the day. I wouldn’t rule out his ability to stay at the hot corner long term but he will need to work on staying agile as he gets bigger in order to do so. The frame and the power is evident, but the bat path and lack of quick twitch drew some mild concerns in this one game look.

Luis Garcia, SS, Top 100 Rank: NA, Org Rank: 4
Garcia will play the entire 2019 season at age 18 and by the looks of his game on Sunday, he should have no trouble holding his own in the South Atlantic League. An undersized, scrappy middle infielder who made his professional debut last year, Garcia presents himself as more of a jack-of-all-trades player than one with a singular carrying tool. He’s a slick fielder at shortstop with enough arm to stay there and he showed good baseball IQ defensively, especially for a teenager, enough to assume he has the potential to play a super utility role in the future, which would ostensibly bode well given Phillies manager Gabe Kapler’s affinity for versatility. Garcia doesn’t pack a huge punch at the plate but showed a compact, rhythmic approach and good patience. I could foresee an average hit tool at his ceiling with power production that is more doubles- than home run-oriented. Garcia has the ceiling of an everyday player, but also likely has a higher-than-usual utility infielder type floor given his current level of polish.

Francisco Morales, RHP, Top 100 Rank: NA, Org Rank: 9
Morales is another intriguing teenage talent on a roster full of them, and threw well in his South Atlantic League debut on Sunday. A tall, fairly full framed 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher, Morales fits the bill physically as a workhorse and showed the early makings of a power arm. His fastball ranged from 92-95, touching 96, as he worked into the fifth inning. He showed good plane and was able to generate life through the zone. He leaned fairly heavily on a quality slider in the mid-80s, a short breaker that he seemed to have feel to manipulate to move either horizontally or vertically at will. It showed big league average consistently, with a chance to be better in the future.

Morales’s arm action is just fair, with a long, offline plunging type action and some effort at release. He moves athletically enough to repeat his delivery – especially on his slider – but there is some cause for concern with respect to long term sustainability and lack of a present third pitch to project a starter role long term. I think Morales settles in as a quality right-handed reliever long term with two offerings that are at least 55s, but would give him every chance to start at this point as the body, arm strength, and ability to spin a quality breaking ball stand out.

Victor Santos, RHP, Top 100 Rank: NA, Org Rank: 27
Santos continued Lakewood’s trend of making most evaluators (including this one) feel old, as he won’t be turning 19 until July. An average sized right-handed pitcher who looks relatively generic upon first glance, Santos impressed with his command and his ability to change speeds in Sunday’s extended relief look. After walking less than 2% of the batters he faced in the GCL in 2018, he continued his advanced command in this four inning outing, throwing 38 strikes against just 16 balls. He featured a three pitch mix, with a tailing fastball that worked 88-91, a short, low-80s slider, and a diving low-80s changeup. The changeup was the better of the two off-speed pitches on this day and he seemed comfortable with it in any count.

Santos is off to a fast start in his career and while only his changeup showed as a major league average offering on Sunday, he could have the ability to move quickly through the lower levels of the minor leagues due to his command and feel to change speeds. He’ll be worth monitoring moving forward to see how the stuff plays against better competition, and if it improves as he matures.

Hickory

Chris Seise, SS, Top 100 Rank: NA, Org Rank: 12
Seise was somewhat of a late riser in the 2017 high school draft class, enough that the Rangers decided to take him with the 29th overall pick out of West Orange High School in Central Florida. Seise flashed some power in his first pro season after signing but missed all of 2018 due to right rotator cuff surgery and is now back on the field and healthy in meaningful games for the first time in about 19 months. At 20 years old, Seise certainly looks the part of a big leaguer, filling out his uniform well with a high waist and very broad shoulders.

He has fluid, athletic actions defensively and moves both ways at shortstop with no problem. His first step quickness is probably about average at this point, which brings up some questions about his ability to stay at shortstop long term as he continues to get bigger. He showed no throwing issues during warmups and made just a few throws in game play, all of which were below average but didn’t necessitate more. I’ll reserve judgment on the arm strength until another look but for now, I’d say there’s enough risk that he doesn’t stay at shortstop due to the first step risk that assessing utility options – whether it be third base or center field (Seise is a plus runner underway presently) – could happen as early as 2019 Instructional League.

Offensively, Seise has something of an all-or-nothing approach, with plus bat speed and strength in his swing. There is some inherent swing-and-miss risk, but he has the ability to impact the baseball. Seise has everyday upside but carries a lot of risk due to questions about where he ends up defensively and if he’ll make enough contact to actualize his impressive athleticism and strength in the box.

Dylan Bice, RHP, Top 100 Rank: NA, Org Rank: NA
Bice was drafted in the 23rd round of the 2016 draft out of a Georgia high school and spent three years in the AZL, including a 2018 season that saw him throw just three innings. Now 21, Bice was impressive in his full season debut on Sunday, throwing 21 of 29 pitches for strikes in two innings of relief. He is a big bodied right-handed pitcher, standing at 6-foot-4 and listed at 220 pounds, although he looks a bit more than that.

He has a long arm stroke and a violent, effort-filled release that generally leads to both reliever projection and command questions long term. I do think Bice is a reliever, but he showed no command issues on this day. His fastball was 94-97 and averaged 96, with steep downhill plane and life through the zone. He throws from a high slot and could probably bode well working up in the zone with his fastball. His breaking ball, sort of a tweener, is currently an 82-85 mph slider that should probably be a curveball to play off a north-south profile long term. Bice showed some feel to spin the pitch and while it is fringy now, it could get to average with better shape. A big bodied reliever without a plus off-speed pitch isn’t someone who generally turns into anything more than a player with marginal impact at baseball’s highest level, but Bice is worth monitoring moving forward due to the big frame and arm strength.