Both Eric and I will be posting in-person scouting reports on draft prospects we see throughout the spring. And through summer, too. And the fall, also, for that matter. Here is my first dispatch from Florida. Other will follow from where I am currently — namely, the Dominican Republic. (See my twitter account for real-time updates.) Here’s Eric’s recap of his first week watching amateur action in Arizona.
There’s been a good bit of draft news since our rankings dropped, so let’s run down the news before I get into the games I saw last weekend.
As I first reported (with an assist from Eric), the No. 3 overall prospect on our preseason board, Georgia prep RHP Ethan Hankins, left a start in the first inning with an arm injury that was later revealed to be a sore shoulder. It’s believed that this is just a minor setback that will be resolved with weeks of rehab, which shouldn’t severely impact his draft stock.
Some scouts with whom I spoke before Hankins’ injury were mildly concerned that his debut ranked third behind behind those of Florida prep righties Mason Denaburg and Carter Stewart. (more on those two below.) News regarding Hankins’ injury helps to explain his ineffectiveness, though. He’ll have plenty of time to get healthy and back on track. Here’s to hoping it’s as minor of an injury as expected.
We lost two notable college arms — Texas Tech LHP Stephen Gingery (a second- to third-round prospect) and Florida State LHP Tyler Holton (a performer with solid stuff who didn’t sign in last year’s draft as an eligible sophomore) — to torn UCLs over the weekend.
Beyond that, some quick hit notes from around the country:
- No. 2 on our list, Arizona prep 3B Nolan Gorman, hit an opposite-field homer in his team’s first action last weekend.
- Eric saw Oregon State this weekend and will see them again, so he’s holding off on writing about them, but it sounds like 2B Nick Madrigal (No. 6 on our list) and RF Trevor Larnach (No. 29) met and exceeded expectations, respectively, on opening weekend.
- No. 7 on our list, Stetson RHP Logan Gilbert, featured stuff that was down a tick, but he was effective anyway (and it’s early). Another college pitcher and No. 8 prospect, Ole Miss LHP Ryan Rolison, apparently had a tick better stuff in his debut, flashing 55-60s not only on all three pitches but also his command. One scout described it as “a top-five-pick performance.” I also heard some buzz that the debut of a third collegiate, No. 18 Auburn RHP Casey Mize, was as impressive as his line, and he has some top-10 pick momentum now as well.
- No. 9 prospect, California prep SS Brice Turang, went deep after fellow California prep RHP Cole Winn (who would’ve been in the 30s of our list if we went a little deeper) exited the game. Winn was 90-95 and touching 96 mph when he faced Turang. Winn is also known for having one of the highest-spin curveballs in the class, behind Notorious RPM Carter Stewart
- No. 23 on our list, Florida prep CF Connor Scott may already be making that Austin Beck-esque move up the board we mentioned in the draft rankings, hitting a homer earlier this week and continuing to grow on scouts with his wide base of standout tools. Another prep arm, No. 22 RHP Kumar Rocker from Georgia, was solid in his season debut, working 94-98 mph for three innings.
- No. 19 on our list, Oregon RHP Matt Mercer met expectations in his debut outing, with the expected above average four pitch mix and mid-90’s velocity. We’ve also heard from some scouts that it appears both No. 17 on our list South Alabama CF Travis Swaggerty and Oklahoma RF Steele Walker (just missed the top 30) have added more loft to their swings. Both weren’t really homer threats last summer for Team USA but hit homers this weekend playing in the same tournament in Myrtle Beach. Swaggerty and Walker both have enough raw power to move up boards if they can successfully make and sustain this adjustment.
- Among players who just missed the top-30 group, Connecticut LHP Tim Cate has some big believers, while others think he’s just a smallish reliever, with one scout reserving judgment on his debut saying he was “just fine.” Stanford RHP Tristan Beck was healthy (a big accomplishment for him at this point), and his stuff was mostly back, which could land him in the middle of round one if he can do that for the rest of the spring.
- Also, Florida State RHP Cole Sands was into the mid-90s in his debut, and scouts are telling me I need to get in to see the Seminoles to check out their likely new Friday starter (taking Holton’s spot), 2018-eligible bats OF Jackson Lueck and C Cal Raleigh, along with 2019-eligible 3B Drew Mendoza. In what already appeared to be a banner year for talent in Florida colleges and preps, things keeps getting better.
Now, on to the guys I personally scouted last weekend:
Carter Stewart, RHP, Eau Gallie HS (FL)
In the draft-rankings blurb, we noted that Stewart’s curveball is his separator, with some scouts projecting it to a 70 on the 20-80 scale. If his 88-92 mph fastball from this summer can get into the mid-90s, however, he’ll likely rise into the early to mid-stages of the first round. In his season debut, his velocity was 91-94 mph for the whole three-inning outing, pitching in front of 12 of the 30 scouting directors by my count. This was because Denaburg (below) was going in the nightcap at the same field as part of a PBR tournament and, the next day, Florida, Stetson, and USF would all be featuring top-15 type arms within driving distance. Stewart’s curveball wasn’t its normal self, more 50 to 55 with a couple 60s mixed in at 78-82 mph. For a long-limbed teenage pitcher in his season debut, however, throwing a consistently sharp curveball is a tall order.
The Mississippi State commit threw one changeup at 82 mph that flashed average. He’s an athletic, projectable kid; an accomplished golfer; and has pretty good feel for a young power arm. I just spoke with a scout who saw Stewart’s second outing and said Stewart was up to 97 mph, hitting 96 mph in the sixth inning with the curveball closer to its normal self. Eric and I had Stewart ranked 26th overall before this start and he’s already moved up from there.
Mason Denaburg, RHP, Merritt Island HS (FL)
We had the Florida commit just off of the Top 30, with a couple scouts telling us he should be on and a couple other telling us to wait and see. It’s clear he’ll be on the next iteration of the list, as Denaburg was very impressive in his season debut. He struck out 10 against a strong TNXL Academy lineup with multiple high-D1 commits, sitting 93-96 mph early on with an inconsistent curveball, then settling in 91-95 mph with above average life, solid command, and a consistent plus curveball at 76-80 mph. He threw a handful of 84-87 mph changeups that were essentially BP fastballs in the dirt, but I’m confident, given Denaburg’s feel for pitching, that there’s something more in there down the road. Multiple scouts asked me who had the best curveball I saw this night (a leading question) and it was clearly Denaburg, much to my surprise.
To illustrate this, I put all the decent to good versions of his curveball at the beginning of the above video. They take up almost 90 seconds. If you want to know what a 60 curveball looks like, there’s more than a couple of them in that video. At 6-foot-4, Denaburg has some projection, has top-five-round talent as an offensive-minded catcher, and is trending in the right direction. Off of this look, I’d take him over Stewart, with some scouts arguing after these games that Denaburg and Stewart were the third- and fourth-best prep pitchers in the country, after Hankins and Matthew Liberatore. I’ll see all four of them in the next month or so to try to work that out, as there’s still plenty of time for movement between them.
Shane McClanahan, LHP, USF
We ranked McClanahan fifth on the recent list, hearing that his stuff was electric, with enough starter traits to stick in a rotation. That’s basically what I saw last weekend. He was 94-98, touching 100 mph in the first few innings, then shifted more to a 90-95 mph sinker with above-average life. At least once an inning, though, he would pop a 97 or 98 when he felt like he needed it. His 81-84 mph curveball was a consistent 55 pitch with three-quarters tilt all night, and his 84-87 mph changeup was more of a consistent 50 that flashed a number of 55s for me. Some scouts would go 60 on one or the other. Some days the curveball is better while, on others, the changeup is the better option.
McClanahan’s command was fine. You could project it to 50 from this outing, but there’s definitely some effort to the delivery at times — especially the finish — and there’s some thrower rather than pitcher traits at times. I imagine you’d do the same thing if you could throw 100 mph as a college kid, too. At about 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, he’s a little on the small side for an elite pitcher, and he also had Tommy John a year ago, so there’s concern here if you want to find something to be negative about. That said, I think he could sign, go to the majors this summer, and not be the worst guy in a big-league bullpen — say, if the Giants take him, are contending, and need a second lefty. You’d then move him back to the rotation since there’s way too much here to not try in that role. For me, McClanahan basically held serve as an clear top-five overall prospect with a real chance to go 1-1 in a year with no slam-dunk top prospect.
As for the the other notable prospects I saw over a jam-packed weekend in Florida, all 2018-eligible unless otherwise noted:
- Virginia CF Jake McCarthy showed plus speed as one of many Cavaliers with a maddening Virginia swing and approach that may have taken the mantle from Stanford and Fullerton, for preaching opposite-field ground balls and bunts. He ripped a double into the corner in his last at-bat and made a diving catch in center field to show us what he’s capable of doing. He’s a prime candidate for a swing adjustment in pro ball to lift the ball more, as he has at least average raw power and contact skills. He’s definitely on a top-50 list if we were to make one today and may be sneaking into the top 30.
- Ohio State RHP Ryan Feltner started his outing a little out of control, sitting 95-97 mph with below-average control, but settled in with a 90-95 sinker that hit 96 mph that he could control. This lower-effort approach allowed his 80-84 mph changeup to settle at a lower velocity and thrive. He leaned on it a lot, as a consistent 50 that flashed 55 a couple times for me. His 79-81 mph slider was mostly below average, not too trusted or well commanded, flashing average once or twice. For a loose, long, lanky power arm from up north, Feltner had a nice debut, and there’s a chance he has three average or better pitches with starter traits by draft day, which would land him somewhere between picks 30-50, but he’s probably in the third round right now.
- Virginia 2B Andy Weber has nice contact skills from the left side, shows some pop in BP, and can play in the dirt. The tools aren’t flashy, however, so a solid season should help him work his way into the fourth- to fifth-round area. USF LHP Andrew Perez has been better in the past, but closed out the win over North Carolina at 90-92 mph with a below-average curveball at 73-75 mph, opting not to use his changeup but succeeding on command and angles. UCF RHP Thad Ward was 91-94 mph with an 82-86 mph slider that flashed above average, a nice step up in velocity from his underclassman days.
- Florida prep RF Elijah Cabell has easy plus raw power, bat speed, and arm strength but real contact issues that cropped up while facing Denaburg like they did all summer. It’s tough to pay for a hitter that you don’t see hit that much, but the ceiling is huge if and when he turns it around. RHP David Luethje faced Stewart and is a solid projection arm: a lanky 6-foot-5 who sat 87-90 mph with a 79-80 mph slider that flashed average. He’ll likely head to Florida next year to add to their embarrassment of pitching riches. RHP Nick Pogue relieved Stewart in a game with a crazy amount of prep pitching talent and the 6-foot-5, 225-pound righty was very solid, sitting 90-93 mph for multiple innings, flashing an average slurve at 77-79 mph, and a fringy changeup at 83 mph. There was a little effort to his delivery, and he’s probably another kid that is a Gator next year, but if he can take another step forward, he could work his way into the top five rounds.
- 2019 draft prospects North Carolina RHP Gianluca Dalatri and Rice RHP Matt Canterino both showed the potential to be early-round picks over a year from now. Dalatri showed four average to slightly above pitches, headlined by an 88-92 mph heater with above-average movement and command. He doesn’t have a ton of margin for error, but that’s the profile of a guy who goes in the second round if he really performs in a big conference (like Thomas Eshelman, or possibly Colton Eastman this year, both from Fullerton) and maybe third to fourth if the performance is just okay. Canterino was more traditionally scout-friendly, with a larger frame, 92-94 mph fastball, and a two-plane breaking ball at 78-83 mph that flashed plus, along with a 77-78 mph changeup that flashed above average. His command and consistency came and went, but there’s obviously plenty here to fit in the first few rounds with some further development.
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.