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A minor bout with writer’s block (and Louisville playing ten minutes from my apartment for three games) has had me silent of late, so I’m going with the old approach of just picking a random topic and writing until something worthwhile comes out. Whether or not I succeeded here is up for debate (as always), but it does feel good to get back in the swing of things.
Quick aside before we talk HS catchers…I put out some feelers (including my first tweet!) as to whether or not the brains behind College Splits have designs on updating their statistical database for the 2014 season, but have yet to hear back. If anybody knows anything on that front, I’d greatly appreciate an update. Not only does College Splits have certain bits of info that no other site has, but it also has all of said info in one convenient place. The thought of clicking around a couple hundred team websites looking for updated stats does not really appeal to me anymore. Getting too old for that, you know?
I’ve written it before and I’ll surely write it again, but I like Alex Jackson as a catcher going forward. I think he’s good enough defensively at present with enough athleticism and general baseball aptitude to continue to progress behind the plate. My older notes on him reveal what I think will continue to become an accepted truth among industry folk: “not sure of the origin of the ‘not a catcher’ talk, but if he looks like a catcher, fields like a catcher, and leads like a catcher…”
I also think Jackson’s bat is very interesting, but not quite on the level of other prospects transitioned to the outfield in a rush to get them to the big leagues. The latter consideration isn’t reason enough to prevent moving him — if not being Bryce Harper disqualified a catcher from moving off the position to speed up a big league timeline, then we’d have thousands of pro catchers and empty outfields — but it does raise the question about what kind of player you’re really getting if you see Jackson as a top five type of prospect. I say very good to great bat with average to slightly above-average catcher defense. As a hitter — and, I suppose, as potential former catcher — I can see some similarities shared between Jackson and former catcher Paul Konerko. I’d like that comp more if I hadn’t used it twice already (CJ Cron and Kyle Schwarber, but you’ve memorized all my comps by now, right?), though I still think it works here in terms of offensive ceiling (adjusted for era, of course). The bat should play in a corner spot, but it could only be categorized as potentially special if Jackson is left alone and allowed to continue catching.
Just about the only thing I don’t love about Jakson Reetz is the spelling of his first name. His athleticism, arm strength, and hit tool are all top notch tools. Reetz was on my short (well, short-ish) list of FAVORITES that I saw play this past summer. The list has held up fairly well — he was joined at the time by Braxton Davidson, Kel Johnson, Jack Flaherty, Keaton McKinney, Ti’Quan Forbes, and Touki Toussaint — and the specific mention of Reetz’ foot speed, opposite field power, approach at the plate, and, again, athleticism made him one of the standouts among the standouts. In what I still consider a relatively weak year for college catching, — full disclosure: I still have plenty of work to do in finalizing college grades, so I could be way off and you can ignore me if you like — Reetz has a chance to go much, much higher than I think many currently anticipate. A bolder man than I might be tempted to jump him to the top of these rankings, but being locked in at the second spot behind a talent like Jackson and ahead of names like Chase Vallot, Simeon Lucas, Evan Skoug, JJ Schwarz, Bryce Carter, Michael Cantu, and on and on and on isn’t a bad spot to be. I don’t want to get the hype train rolling along too briskly just yet, but a source I trust threw down a “righthanded poor man’s version of Joe Mauer” comp on Reetz that exceeded even my loftiest of expectations of what others see in him. I mean, I thought I liked him, but wow. More realistic yet no less valid comps that I like: “better version of Brandon Inge” (that’s from a source) and my own Russell Martin. I can also buy Blake Swihart if you wanted to use a recent draft example as a frame of reference. Reetz is a really good player.
Last few days have been hectic, but I’ve been doing some catch-up work on the 2014 HS class in whatever downtime I’ve had. I’ll preface all mentions of prep talent by reminding anybody who will listen that I’m a) not a scout, and b) not a guy with the magical powers of teleportation and therefore don’t stick to the admirable rule of only ranking players I’ve seen in person. That said, I did see way more HS baseball (including everybody listed below) this past summer than damn near anybody in the country not drawing a paycheck for their work, wonderfully devoted parents of players not included. I actually think I saw more HS baseball this summer than I’ve seen in the four — has it been that long? — summers I’ve been running the site put together, though you could argue that’s more of an indictment of my prior laziness/cheapness than anything else. Again, I don’t mention any of that to position myself as any kind of authority on the matter, just providing some context and background.
It should be no surprise that I find the players who currently rank second at each spot way more fascinating to discuss at this juncture, but we have plenty of time to flesh out longer position lists in the coming weeks. I don’t think there are any particularly insightful picks here as I’m fairly certain these align with much of what the internet currently thinks about this class, but I’ll do my best to briefly explain my rationale and hopefully provide something a little bit different from the copy/paste world we live in. First the “team” (2-9 on the diamond only, no pitchers yet) and then me rambling…
C/OF Alex Jackson (Rancho Bernardo HS, California)
1B Jeremy Vasquez (Martin County HS, Florida)
2B/SS Greg Deichmann (Brother Martin HS, Louisiana)
SS/RHP Nick Gordon (Olympia HS, Florida)
3B/SS Jacob Gatewood (Redwood HS, California)
OF/1B Braxton Davidson (Roberson HS, North Carolina)
OF/RHP Michael Gettys (Gainesville HS, Georgia)
OF Marcus Wilson (Junipero Serra HS, California)
I know I’ve mentioned it before, but after seeing Alex Jackson up close a few times, I never could quite grasp why so many wanted to move him off catcher as soon as the ink dries on his first pro deal. He’s a first round prep catcher for me, but not necessarily a slam dunk first round prep bat (though damn close), if that makes sense. As a point of reference (and not comp), newly minted OF Stryker Trahan’s development path is probably how I’d approach Jackson’s future. Give Jackson a real, honest chance to catch, but be prepared to make the switch if circumstances call for it. If that sounds like common sense, well, that’s because it is.
1B, 2B, and third OF were easily the toughest calls. I know I could have made life much easier by classifying Braxton Davidson as a 1B (where my comp of him to Freddie Freeman works even better), but he’s good enough in an outfield corner that it would be a shame not to at least try him there at first. Jeremy Vasquez doesn’t have the power upside that would make me feel more confident in his spot atop a position list known for the long ball, but he does too many other things so well at the plate — the man can track offspeed stuff like a seasoned vet — that I like the upside regardless.
Greg Deichmann’s placement is dangerous because I think that’s the one spot where I went with my own eyes more than my accrued notes. Maybe I’ll regret it, but there were few players I saw hit the ball as hard and as often as Deichmann did throughout the last nine or so months.
Marcus Wilson’s eye-opening skills (his tools are awesome, obviously, but he was much, much further along as a ballplayer than I was led to believe prior to seeing him live) made me a believer over time, so that’s why I narrowly went with him as the third OF. Still love Stone Garrett, newly fallen for Matt Railey, and extremely impressed with the Zach S’s (Sullivan and Shannon), so expect this race to tighten over time. There’s also Monte Harrison, Scott Hurst, Luke Bonfield, Kevin Bryant, Gareth Morgan, Dalton Ewing, Alex Verdugo, to say nothing of all the speed/range standouts like Carl Chester, Derek Hill, and Todd Isaacs. (I didn’t name everybody at the top, so don’t scream at me for “forgetting” your guy…or do, and we can talk about him in the comments/via email!). It’s a good year for prep outfielders, but, then again, it’s always a good year for prep outfielders, you know?
SS was surprisingly close, but that’s not a knock on the top guy in the least. Nick Gordon in so many ways reminded me of JP Crawford, last year’s 16th overall pick, every time I saw him this summer. All the reports that say he’s bulked up and looks better than ever early this season are nothing but encouraging. Easy first round talent. What made the battle for the top spot close, however, is my enduring infatuation with Ti’Quan Forbes. Not only do I think the gap between Gordon and Forbes is smaller than most, I’ll go the extra step and make the direct and obvious (in my mind) link between the 6-4, 180 pound middle infielder to this class’ other oversized shortstop, none other than Jacob Gatewood. I’m a big Gatewood fan — he’s comfortably atop the 3B rankings, and would have ranked tops at SS or OF if that’s where you happen to think he winds up professionally — but I can’t say that there is nearly as much separation between Forbes and Gatewood as many on the internet currently believe. These next few months will be especially huge for both Gatewood and Forbes, so…we’ll see.
Almost 1,000 words so far and I couldn’t find a way to shoehorn Michael Gettys into the conversation. I’ll say this: the Clint Frazier comp that is now the norm in every report you read on the internet about him could not have felt more real the first time (without hearing that comp, either) I saw him up close. The arm, the smarts, the build, the style of play…it is a very natural fit. I’ll see the industry’s Frazier comp and raise it one better. Watch out now. Person in baseball that I trust (or, as I like to think of him, a PIBTIT) mentioned this one to me and I can’t say I hate it. Michael Gettys, he of the easy plus arm strength, big raw power, ample speed, and quick bat occasionally mitigated by an overly aggressive approach to hitting, reminded him of none other than Yasiel Puig. Love comps, hate comps, no strong feelings about comps because you stumbled across this site by accident and are frantically trying to click the tiny red X to escape the insanity of one man’s thousands of hours spent analyzing teenage ballplayers…but, come on, that’s a pretty cool one to have out there.