It’s a pretty average year for draft-eligible talent in North Carolina, with Duke right hander Michael Matuella leading the way as a possible first-round pick, despite undergoing Tommy John surgery after just a few starts. West Columbus High School center fielder Eric Jenkins is the state’s second-best prospect, a 70-grade runner with projectable hitting tools who should go inside the top two rounds.
After those two come a sheaf (the correct collective noun for prospects) of players who grade similarly talent-wise after the third round. Among them are UNC center fielder Skye Bolt, Charlotte Christian HS right-hander Jackson Kowar, Marvin Ridge HS left-hander Max Wotell, Southpoint HS left-hander Garrett Davila and Greenfield HS outfielder Isaiah White.
UNC, the state’s top exporter of pro prospects, once again runs deep with draft talent, even if it won’t produce a first-rounder as it has five times in the last six years. Of the potentially seven Tar Heels who could be signing pro contracts in the coming weeks, Bolt is the most interesting (and mercurial), and there are a few more who show enough promise to justify clogging up the FanGraphs servers with the following words and moving pictures.
Skye Bolt, CF
For years, area scouts have been scratching their heads over Bolt, a switch-hitting center fielder whose performance never caught up with his five-tool potential. At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, there’s lean muscle projection in his tapered-off build, and his fast-twitch athleticism shows in every facet of his game. Good bat speed and a pronounced load help him generate solid-average raw power from both sides of the plate, with more loft from the left side created by a higher hand set-up. But despite the noticeable hitting tools, he slashed a modest .259/.383/.449 this spring, showing an acute weakness for identifying and hitting offspeed stuff with pitch takes that lack the conviction of a batter who sees spin and break.
He offers fewer question marks in center field than he does at the plate, showing plus range with more good routes and jumps than bad ones. He also has above-average arm strength, which will play to its potential when pro reps improve his accuracy on longer throws. For Bolt it all comes down to whether he can hit enough to justify a regular role, even as a switch-hitter who plays a premium defensive position. He grades as a second-round talent on tools alone, but likely falls somewhere in the fourth- to sixth-round range due to the underperformance that has made him more difficult to evaluate.
Hit: 20/40, Game Power: 30/40, Raw Power: 50+/50+, Run: 60/60, Field: 50/55, Throw: 55/60
Benton Moss, RHP
Moss, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound right-hander who returned to school for his senior season after spurning the Giants when they picked him in the 15th round last year, functioned as the Tar Heels’ Sunday starter for most of the season. At his best, the fastball sits in the low-90s and touches 95, which he’ll complement with a 12-to-6 curveball that has flashed above-average and a changeup that’s just okay. I saw a much lesser version of him in a mid-May start against Virginia when he got yanked after three innings, sitting 89-92 mph with an ordinary breaking ball and poor command. With little projection remaining in a sloped-off frame, a medium-effort delivery and fringy stuff, he’s a target after the fifth round for teams who believe he’ll become a useful low-leverage bullpen option.
Trent Thornton, RHP
Thornton showed well for the Orleans Firebirds in the Cape Cod League last summer, prompting scouts to slap second-round grades on him entering the spring. His stock has dropped since then, however, due in part to wavering velocity, inconsistent stuff and underwhelming performance.
After closer Reilly Hovis (more on him later) made just two appearances before undergoing Tommy John surgery, Thornton was removed from the weekend rotation and jettisoned to the bullpen, where he showed evaluators different versions of himself. When he’s going good, the 6-foot, 185-pound righty pumps a fastball that sits in the low-90s and reaches 94 mph, pairing it with a projectable hook with varying shape that I’ve seen as low as 74 and as high as 80. When he’s not going good, the fastball ticks down to the 89-91 range and the curveball gets loopy, which has resulted in some pretty rough outings over the past few months.
The delivery is athletic and delightful to watch if pitching motions that defy gravity are your thing, but it’s also one that’s difficult to repeat and has contributed to below-average command. Teams who have seen enough of good Thornton and believe they can mold him into a productive big-league middle reliever could still take him in the sixth- to eighth-round range, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him fall further.
- The aforementioned Hovis pitched well as Thornton’s teammate in the Cape, combining a low-90s fastball with a high-70s slider that showed above-average potential. Despite missing basically the entire season, he has a solid pitcher’s build at 6-3, 200 pounds and familiarity with Carolina area scouts dating back to high school, so he’s still a candidate to go inside the top eight rounds.
- Outfielder Landon Lassiter, catcher Korey Dunbar and right-hander Trevor Kelley, are all late-round possibilities who can provide organizational depth. Lassiter, who was first selected as a high schooler in the 16th round of the 2012 draft and then picked in the 28th round last year, was moved to the outfield this season after playing third base last year. A patient approach fueled his .300/.420/.399 line this season, but his power is well below-average and doesn’t profile at any corner position. Dunbar has above-average raw power and fringe-average arm strength, but he’s a big kid whose footwork will force him off catcher and his bat won’t play anywhere else. Kelley, who led the nation in appearances, is a low-slot reliever with an ugly, high-effort delivery whose fastball tops out at 88 mph, but his frisbee 73-74 mph slider and deceptive delivery proved effective against ACC competition.