These are good outfielders. So good, in fact, that I don’t even know where to begin when trying to break them down. I mean, there’s always a good outfield group because we live in a big country with a lot of great, hard-working athletes who will always remain willing to pursue a potentially extremely lucrative position playing a game for a living. But, still: this is an unusually good group of outfielders, noticeable both for its upside at the top and depth throughout. I’m excited about this year’s high school outfielders and you should be as well. The rankings are more fluid here than at any other high school position player group, so bear with me as I skip around and try to touch on as many of the top guys as I can.
Mitchell Hansen (Plano HS, Texas) has been compared by Baseball America to both Brandon Nimmo and Shawn Green. The only comp I got on him was a cautionary one: Jeremy Hermida. Like all of my favorite bats in this year’s high school class, Hansen will likely shift from center to an outfield corner before too long in the pros, but the bat speed is legit and the swing works. Demi Orimoloye (St. Matthew HS, Ontario) is all upside. I’m a sucker for upside. Ergo, Orimoloye was one of the earliest high school players to earn the FAVORITE designation from me last summer. To say that he passes the eye test as a ballplayer is an understatement. I like him more than Gareth Morgan (74th overall pick) from last year’s draft and think his game shares many positive elements with Jermaine Dye’s.
OF Eric Jenkins (West Columbus HS, North Carolina) reminds me of Matthew Railey (89th overall pick) from last year’s draft. He has all the speed, athleticism, and center field range you could ask for, plus a surprising bit of pop that could result in double-digit home run power as he continues to fill out. Jahmai Jones (Wesleyan HS, Georgia) is a fantastic athlete with explosive bat speed. I try not to put too much stock in what I see up close, but Jones made a really big impact on me with how he hit just about everything hard in my looks. I think getting into baseball full-time could help take his game to the next level. Alonzo Jones (Columbus HS, Georgia) is my preferred speed option in a class with some good ones. He consistently reminds me of Roman Quinn, a player I know not many national writers have taken to but one I consider a potential first-division regular in center field. A Quinn comp from me is a mighty compliment. I really like Jones.
The Greg Pickett (Legend HS, Colorado) bandwagon has emptied quickly this spring, but I’m sticking with the big raw power, disciplined approach, and average all-around skill set elsewhere all the same. There’s some justified concern that he’ll have to move to first base sooner rather than later, but that’s not an outcome I’m sweating too much just yet.
It’s perhaps a silly distinction to make, but I appreciate those who have hinted at this over the past few months: Daz Cameron, while still an excellent prospect, profiles more as a player with “star” upside than as a potential “superstar.” Both are mostly meaningless terms made up by people with too much time on their hands (like me!), so take this any way you ultimately see fit. The earliest comps on Cameron, or, as he was once known, the third Upton brother, shine a light on the downside of player comparisons. Over the top comps created unrealistic expectations that paint really good players as “failures” in the eyes of those who only really follow the draft/prospects on the surface. Cameron’s game hasn’t taken off the way many thought based on the early promise he showed two plus years ago, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good player. He is who we thought he was, so to speak. Cameron is an exceptionally well-rounded player with no overwhelming strengths yet no noticeable weaknesses. In reality, his greatest strength is the fact he has no glaring weakness. I’m not sure he has a single tool that you couldn’t project to average or better if you wanted to and a player like that with little to no question (I say no) that he’ll stick in center (I’d say excel) for a long time to come has serious value as a prospect.
Somewhat similar prospects to Cameron that I can think of in recent years include Josh Hart (now with Baltimore) and Anfernee Grier (Auburn). Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs once described him as a similar player to Derek Hill. Cameron has a bit more raw power than all those guys, but I think all are reasonable starting points. The two former big league players that I think Cameron most closely resembles are Steve Finley and Marquis Grissom. Finley’s 162 game average stands out: .271/.332/.442 with 19 HR and 20 SB. I think that’s a fair guess at Cameron’s considerable upside (20/20 guys who can run down balls in center are no joke), though any comparison to Finley’s bizarre career should be made carefully. Finley isn’t quite Raul Ibanez (53 homers in his 40’s and 27 in his 20’s, with 225 in between), but he did manage to sock almost as many home runs in his 40’s (19) as he did in his 20’s (37) with 248 in between. That’s got next to nothing to do with Cameron, but I thought it was weird enough to mention. One other name I heard when asking around on Daz: Jose Cruz Jr. I’m not sure what to do with any of this at this point, so take it however you’d like. I do think that when added together, you’re looking at a player with the chance to be really good for a long time with potential spurts of greatness. The defensive value alone should get him to the big leagues and the development of the bat will determine his role from there. Admittedly, this relatively low ranking of Cameron doesn’t quite match with the preceding wall of text, but it’s that last point about his upside with the bat remaining an open question that keeps me from going all-in on him as a top half of the first round talent.
Comparing Daz to his father is lazy, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong. I mean, I don’t think it’s an ideal comparison – Daz is more polished at the same stage as his father, Mike was more athletic with arguably more natural ability – but it’s not wrong just because it’s lazy. Take this excerpt from a Cameron scouting report…
“Good tools, good make-up, must adjust bat little, has hands and bat speed to hit, centerfield type, long strider, glider, will become plus outfielder.”
Sounds like Daz to me, but that’s actually a report written on Mike by Rod Fridley back in the elder Cameron’s senior year of high school. Fridley graded Mike’s tools as all having average or better upside with the exception being power (40). Sounds a little like Daz to me. Still, the best comp I’ve gotten to date on the younger Cameron’s ceiling is Vernon Wells. Before his massive contract made him (unfairly) a walking punchline, Wells was regarded as an outstanding prospect and a young player capable of putting together consistently above-average seasons. Through his age 27 season he put up a .288/.336/.492 line (112 OPS+), averaging 28 HR, 40 2B, and 11 SB per 162 games. Through his six years of club control he put up 18.5 fWAR with above-average defense in center in all but one season. His bWAR (28.7) ranks as the fourth highest of any signed first round pick that year behind only Lance Berkman, Troy Glaus, and Jayson Werth, and it’s good for fifth overall (add Tim Hudson to the mix) of any player signed in the first ten rounds that year. Some of the scouting notes from Wells during his senior season of high school…
- “Polished player, who looks to be having a lot of fun playing.”
- “Has the foundation to be a regular at the major league level.”
- “Should be a five-tool player with bat leading [the] way. Line-drive stroke puts some ?? on power but think HRs will come naturally.”
All three reports were littered with future 60s and 55s for his tools, which might be a touch rich for Cameron in my view – I could see going 60 on his defense, but that’s it – yet still falls fairly close to how he’s viewed by many in and around the game. The comparison to Wells takes a fun and unexpected turn when you consider that Cameron, widely speculated to be in the mix for Houston with the fifth pick, could wind up being selected in the same spot as Wells eighteen years after Toronto took Vernon fifth overall. That’s a largely pointless coincidence, but I think it’s neat so there.
I’ve waited to get into too much detail on Garrett Whitley (Niskayuna HS, New York) because he’s at or near the top of the list of prospects that most confound me in this class. Quite frankly, I don’t have much detail to get into outside of what you, Mr./Mrs. Informed Reader, already know. His natural ability is obvious and there’s a chance he does enough outside of the batter’s box to contribute to a big league team one day even if he doesn’t hit as much as his peers, but the nagging doubts I have about him developing into the kind of hitter that winds up being a true difference-maker keep me from pumping him up as a potential top ten pick. That said, I’ve heard and read – and much of this is public info that you (yes, you!) might have read as well – that he’s made a huge leap as a hitter this spring. I haven’t had independent sources corroborate this – the geography of the situation is killing me here – but even just seeing the national guys talk him up is obviously quite encouraging. It certainly makes me feel as though my lukewarm opinion on his bat based largely on what I saw last summer (I’m not a scout, but I am a human who will have biases that seep into my evaluations) isn’t a fair way to judge him anymore, if it ever was at all (see previous parenthetical). That’s a long way of saying that I genuinely don’t know what to make of Whitley. One of the failings of trying to coverage a country’s worth of prospects by myself as a hobby means that certain players, even top guys like Whitley, can fall through the cracks.
Whitley is this class’s biggest mystery to me. He could wind up a star. He could wind up topping out in AA unable to hit anything but average-ish fastballs. Consider any attempt at my ranking him with his peers with a gigantic block of salt. The few responses I’ve gotten when asking about Whitley (all from guys working well outside Whitley’s area) haven’t helped me achieve increased clarity. One friend thought I was nuts for liking Plummer over Whitley, calling the latter a carbon copy of a young Adam Jones. That’s a comp I haven’t heard before or since, yet I don’t hate it. Another simply shared his own confusion about what to do with Whitley, calling him “the most likely prospect to make or break an executive’s career” in this year’s class. That actually made a lot of sense to me. Whitley has been such a tricky player to scout fairly this spring that hitting on him would be a tremendous victory for a scouting staff. Missing on him, however, would mean blowing an early first round pick. I think picking him at any point after the first few picks or so is justified, but still damn risky. Can’t wait to see which brave team takes the gamble.
(Preliminary ranking outside of the top three to come later in the day…I need a few hours to get my best guesses in order)
OF Kyle Tucker (Plant HS, Florida)
OF Nick Plummer (Brother Rice HS, Michigan)
OF Trenton Clark (Richland HS, Texas)