These are notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.
I’m going to eschew minor league lines from last night to talk about the players I saw in the Northeast over the last week. My trip prioritized draft coverage but included some pro stuff due to rain.
Let’s start with Navy righty Noah Song who, like former Air Force righty Griffin Jax before him, has a military commitment that complicates his draft stock. In May of 2017, the Department of Defense changed a policy which had only been in effect for about a year, that allowed athletes at the academies to defer their service commitment in order to pursue professional sports.
Jax has been able to continue pitching after he was accepted into the World Class Athlete Program, which enables military athletes who fit certain criteria to train for the Olympics full-time. This only recently became an option for baseball players, as baseball will once again be an Olympic sport in 2020. The exemption grants a two-year window for training prior to the Games. Considering that it took Jax several months to apply and be accepted into the program, this avenue is probably too narrow for Song.
Song was draft eligible in 2018 as a junior but wanted seven figures to sign because, as this article indicates, he’d have been forced to pay the government the cost of his tuition were he to leave the academy before graduating to play. (Cadet tuition is taxpayer funded, which, along with some of the physical parameters required of those who attend the academies, has inspired some dubious creativity in order to compete.)
Teams weren’t wiling to offer that kind of bonus and Song went back to school for his senior season. He has pitching exceptionally well. On Saturday against Lehigh, he sat 93-95 for seven innings and struck out 15 Mountain Hawks. He has a four-pitch mix led by a slider, which he uses heavily and has better feel for locating than his fastball. He understands how to sequence and set up hitters to offer at a fastball up near their chest, or get them to freeze when they see his 12-6 curveball. He looks like a second round arm, on talent.
Those scouting Song aren’t totally sure of the details of his service commitment, but here’s what both Kiley and I have been told by various team personnel: Song probably wouldn’t be able to focus on baseball until the fall of 2021, when he’d be 24. Some teams think he’ll be stationed at a Naval aviation facility in Pensacola, Florida, which is the current location of the Twins’ (who drafted Jax) Double-A affiliate, but is also near some other Southern League clubs. If the 2021 timeline is accurate, teams are going to have a hard time taking Song anywhere near where he’d go just on talent, and he may not come off the board until after the 10th round.
I saw several high school draft prospects in Philadelphia, including a matchup between William Penn Charter OF Sammy Siani and Malvern Prep OF Chris Newell on Tuesday. Siani is an above-average runner with a 40 arm. He has above-average bat speed and good feel for contact (he turns on balls more readily than his brother, Reds 2018 second-rounder Mike Siani), but he saw just seven pitches in five at-bats and needs to stay in center to profile. Newell, who is currently prospect No. 100 on our 2019 draft board, is a high-risk, left-handed corner outfield power bat with a big frame. His hit tool was exposed last summer and there are teams that heavily weigh summer performance and are probably just out on Newell, but he has some of the best high school pop in the class. He homered on Tuesday and showed a 6 arm during pregame drills, but he took several awkward swings that day.
Rain kept me in the Lehigh Valley on Friday night where I saw Phillies lefty Ranger Suarez (No. 12 in the org) allow six baserunners in 6.1 innings while striking out seven Buffalo Bison. He pitched heavily off his secondaries, which are all pretty average, but he locates everything and liberally mixes in his secondary stuff. He started Buffalo’s best hitting prospect, Cavan Biggio, with a slider in each of his at-bats, a sign that Suarez will pitch backward in times of trouble if he should get a big league look this year.
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 ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.