Catcher and third base are my top favorite high school infield position groups heading into the spring. If forced to choose, I’d have to go with the men who man the hot corner. Seeing as we’ve covered the backstops already, let’s take a closer look at what makes this year’s group of third basemen so special. More so than tremendous depth, there’s a wild amount of star power at the head of this class. I see no less than a half-dozen potential first round picks as we live and breathe here in early December. That ain’t bad.
I’m not sure if this qualifies as a bold statement or not, but I think Josh Lowe is the best baseball player in this class. That doesn’t necessarily make him the best prospect – though he’s pretty damn close and a legit contender to go 1-1 in my view – so allow me to clarify what I mean. Best baseball player is a weird thing to discuss because it can be interpreted in many different ways. The best player in baseball right now is Mike Trout. The best player that I’ve ever seen close up is Barry Bonds, arguably the greatest ballplayer who ever lived. The man that many would counter Bonds with would be Babe Ruth. That would get no argument out of me; in fact, his case for best all-around baseball player might be the strongest of any to have played the game. The argument for Ruth is particularly strong when you take the idea of “best baseball player” literally. Which player hit, defended, and pitched as well as Ruth? If you sort this list by innings, you’ve got some other HOF names that could at least be in the mix.
Or is it somebody from this list? Or is it a great hitting pitcher like Walter Johnson, Ken Brett, Dontrelle Willis, Don Larsen, Mike Hampton, or Carlos Zambrano? Or a current player like Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Mike Leake, or Madison Bumgarner? Could it be a hitter who can also pitch like Cliff Pennington, Chris Davis, Rick Ankiel, Brooks Kieschnick, Jason Lane, or John Cangelosi? Maybe the best all-around isn’t even playing Major League Baseball: a case could be made for two-way star Shohei Otani as the top guy in the world.
So, long story short, I just compared Josh Lowe to Babe Ruth in a roundabout way. You heard it here first. We’ve clearly gone off the deep end here. Let’s try to get back on track.
When I go through my mental rolodex of every player I’ve seen up close, few stand out as more impressive than Lowe. He makes the most challenging sport to play well look easy, often comically so. As a third baseman, I’d put him down for plus tools in foot speed, arm strength, and raw power. Then there’s also his obvious exceptional athleticism – guys who can pitch and hit and field at his level tend to only get away with it by being pretty special athletically – and a measured, smart approach to hitting that is almost as if he has the strike zone knowledge of, you guessed it, a top pitching prospect.
I have not seen any of the other top prospect lists yet to know if this is particularly high or not, but I don’t see a high school infielder that quite compares to Lowe at this stage. He’s the best prep infielder for me.
(I just peaked at Baseball America’s list and I guess my take isn’t as original as I thought. Rats. Still, like BA, I think Lowe is second as a HS hitter in his class only behind one outfielder…except we disagree on who the outfielder is. Stay tuned to see who I picked! Or…just use some common sense. Either way.)
My current favorite high school third base prospect is Carter Kieboom. That is a statement I wrote a few days ago before I finally caved and moved Lowe from my pitching list to the hitting list. Now he’s second, but not because of anything he has or hasn’t done on the field. By the way, I’m not quite sure how high Lowe would have finished on my pitching list, but he would have been very, very high up there. In fact, I think I might prefer him on the mound. His type of athleticism with his strength, ability to spin a breaking ball, and impressive (though admittedly inconsistent) command is a special package. I have him down for three potential plus pitches, so if hitting doesn’t work out then his fallback plan is clear.
Andres Sosa shares a lot of the same positive traits as Kieboom. Both guys are athletic, power-hitting righthanded bats with approaches at the plate that are mature beyond their years. Sosa is a half-step behind for me, but that’s more about how much I like Kieboom, who I think has a chance to finish the year comfortably in the draft’s top twenty, than anything else.
The 1b to Kieboom’s 1a on this list is Joe Rizzo. Again, that was written before the Lowe switch. So let’s pretend it says 1c and 1b and move on. Let’s also pretend my backspace key is broken to keep the illusion alive. While Kieboom is more of the classically built high school shortstop expected to outgrow the middle infield and become a defensive asset at third type (can’t shake that Perfect Game Corey Seager comp…), Rizzo is, well, I’m not quite sure how to describe Rizzo. He’s extremely strong and an unusually gifted natural hitter, but his body more closely resembles that of a backup catcher on the wrong side of a thirty than a teenage first round draft prospect. His body type will be a secondary concern (if that) as long as he keeps mashing, though a potential move behind the plate could help eliminate some of the cognitive dissonance that comes to watching him play.
Nolan Jones is my John Aiello for 2016. Aiello, a freshman on the upcoming 2016 Wake Forest team and potential first round 2018 draft prospect, played in my backyard in 2015. Now it’s Jones’ turn to be the local high school shortstop with good size and a big arm (though Aiello never got to show his off this past spring as he recovered from TJ surgery) expected to be shifted to third base as a pro to get viewed under THE BASEBALL DRAFT REPORT microscope this spring. I’m sure he’s quite excited for that honor. For what it’s worth, I like Jones even more than I liked Aiello at this same stage last year. His Virginia commitment has me thinking of two Cavaliers that his game reminds me of some: Daniel Pinero and freshman (and fellow PA HS product) Ryan Karstetter. Again, like the Aiello comparison, I think Jones is ahead of where those guys were at similar stages of development. I almost think of him as a slightly lesser version of Josh Lowe in terms of offensive and defensive tools: big arm, fantastic athlete, legit power, and more than enough glove. In the FWIW department, I’ve heard from those who know that some teams like him as a second baseman as much as a third baseman (assuming shortstop doesn’t work out). The thought of the 6-5, 200 pounds Jones manning second is just a wonderful thing…unless you’re a base runner barreling towards him, I guess.
Bo Bichette is a really good prospect. Bo Bichette also makes my head hurt. I was never all that high on his brother (“I’d be lying if I said I felt good about his future from an instinctual standpoint” is a thing I said about him once and I ranked him 103rd on my board when he went 51st), so I admittedly went into my evaluation of him with a little bit of a skeptical predisposition. That’s not fair and not a particularly good way of doing business, but I’m human and therefore susceptible to silly biases with a brain desperate to create formations of patterns when there’s really nothing there. Fortunately, I’m also a fairly reasonable human who is all too aware of his own failings, so I did my best to get over whatever agenda my dumb brain tried to stick me with. Bichette is really good and getting better. I’m a believer in his power, his bat speed is no joke, and he takes at bats (works deep counts, utilizes whole-field approach) like a seasoned professional hitter already. I’m not on board with those who’d like to push his glove to second, but I think he’s athletic enough to hand at third for a bit. A strange and arguably nonsensical comparison that came to me when watching him over the summer: Maikel Franco. You watch him and maybe it shouldn’t all work, but it does.
In terms of talent, Luis Curbelo, Drew Mendoza, Kevin Brophy, and Colton Welker all could join that Kieboom/Sosa tier of athletic shortstops likely to outgrow the position professionally. All have the ability to finish in the top five at the position by June. Joey Polak and Andrew Daschbach could reach similar heights as both guys can just flat hit. There’s something about Polak in particular that I find myself oddly drawn to with every watch. Whatever “it” is for a hitter, he has it.
3B/RHP Josh Lowe (Pope HS, Georgia)
3B/SS Carter Kieboom (Walton HS, Georgia)
3B/C Joe Rizzo (Oakton HS, Virginia)
3B/SS Nolan Jones (Holy Ghost Prep, Pennsylvania)
3B/SS Andres Sosa (Reagan HS, Texas)
3B/2B Bo Bichette (Lakewood HS, Florida)
3B/SS Luis Curbelo (Cocoa HS, Florida)
3B/SS Drew Mendoza (Lake Minneola HS, Florida)
3B Joey Polak (Quincy Notre Dame HS, Illinois)
3B/SS Kevin Brophy (Morristown-Beard School, New Jersey)
3B/1B Andrew Daschbach (Sacred Heart Prep, California)
3B Rylan Thomas (Windermere Prep, Florida)
3B/SS Colton Welker (Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS, Florida)
3B/RHP Mason Studstill (Rockledge HS, Florida)
3B/OF Anthony Gonnella (Riverside HS, Florida)
3B Austin Shenton (Bellingham HS, Washington)
3B/SS Daniel Bakst (Poly Prep Country Day School, New York)
3B Joe Skinner (Bishop Moore HS, Florida)
3B Zach Weller (Coronado HS, California)
3B Braden Shewmake (Wylie East HS, Texas)
3B Spencer Steer (Millikan HS, California)
3B/RHP Isaiah Kearns (Mifflin County HS, Pennsylvania)
3B Colin Ludwig (Chandler HS, Arizona)
3B Mitchell Caskey (Westside HS, Texas)
3B Cole Henderson (Valhalla HS, California)
3B Blake Berry (Casa Grande HS, California)
3B/RHP Matt Mervis (Georgetown Prep, Maryland)
3B/SS Matt Burkart (Eaton HS, Colorado)
3B Mason Templet (St. Thomas More HS, Louisiana)
3B/RHP Garrett Milchin (Windermere Prep, Florida)
3B Chad McClanahan (Brophy College Prep, Arizona)
3B Laney Orr (Reynolds HS, North Carolina)
3B Peyton Russoniello (Quaker Valley HS, Pennsylvania)
3B Matthew Miller (Paintsville HS, Kentucky)
3B William Matthiessen (West Linn HS, Oregon)
3B Riley Hogan (Edgewater HS, Florida)
3B Kyle Johnson (Jackson Memorial HS, New Jersey)