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From a stuff standpoint Tommy John surgery survivor RHP/1B Tristin English profiles very similarly to RHP Jonathan Hughes. Both guys have fastballs that can hit 96 MPH (87-94 regularly) with average or better sliders. Hughes has the edge with his third pitch, another average or better offering (changeup), but English’s top tier athleticism tip the scales back to him. There are some who prefer English as a hitter, but I think his future, as is the case with most guys who can throw mid-90s heat, is on the mound. Like Hughes there are still plenty of kinks to be worked out, but the upside is considerable. For what it’s worth, I LOVED English coming out of Pike County HS in 2015. The love has cooled a bit — two years away from the mound will do that — but remembering why he was considered such a big-time prospect in the first place can help rekindle those old feelings. A young, healthy English flashed a plus slider, promising curve, and usable changeup, all in addition to that fastball that topped out in the mid-90s. If he can get back to that just a little bit — he’s already there with the aforementioned fastball and slider — then he has a chance to be pretty special.
Patience is needed with Hughes as he also works himself back from Tommy John surgery. Patience and understanding. Hughes’s raw stuff (good!) has long outpaced his peripherals (bad!) all while putting up impressive run prevention stats (good…but maybe not all that predictive). It’s a damn confusing overall package. His return to the mound so far in 2018 just muddles the waters even more. Hughes has upped his K/9 to a still below-average 6.28 while his BB/9 has rocketed to 9.42. It’s a really small sample, but the fact he’s done that and still has an ERA of just 2.08 is pretty wacky. I have no idea what to make of Hughes just yet. The good news is we might not need to make any grand conclusions on him considering his three years of eligibility left. It would be a major upset if he used all three years, but certainly not a stretch to see him back at a fine academic institution like Georgia Tech for his academic senior year in 2019.
RHP Patrick Wiseman is a super deep sleeper who hasn’t pitched much at all since enrolling due to a variety of injuries. When healthy, the 6-5, 225 pound hurler can run his fastball up to 95 MPH. RHP Bailey Combs, RHP Jake Lee (16.45 K/9 + 1.94 BB/9 = 11.57 ERA in 9.1 IP, somehow), and RHP Micah Carpenter all live in the upper-80s with decent secondary stuff. RHP Keyton Gibson is a half-grade ahead in both velocity (89-93) and overall prospect stock.
C/1B Joey Bart is really good. I know a lot of people who think he’s the best college catching prospect and a potential first round pick. I can’t disagree. He’s part of the large group of college catchers all battling it out to be the first of their kind off the board. Bart’s power and arm strength are exactly what teams are drawn to at the position. His approach has taken a big step forward early this season — something many smart onlookers (i.e., not me but the people who occasionally tell me things) expected on some level — and if it’s a real change and not a small sample blip, then his already high stock will shoot up even higher. I still think there are some rough edges defensively that need polishing, but the same can honestly be said of just about any 21-year-old catching prospect with the offensive talent to start in the big leagues.
It’s stunning to me to see 2B/SS Wade Bailey back at Georgia Tech after the junior season he had. Pro ball’s loss is our gain (temporarily) as we get to talk about Bailey for another few months before losing him to minor league prospect writers who specialize in super duper deep sleepers. Bailey is good at second, playable at short, and has hit every single season of his life. I like prospects like that.
SS/OF Carter Hall is a lot of fun for a lot of reasons. My favorite reason is that I honestly don’t know what to make of him yet. He’s a redshirt-sophomore who figures to remain in school at least another year and likely longer than that — guys who go to school to play for their dad don’t tend to leave early — so we at least have a year or three to figure it out. Hall is also fun because he’s a blazing fast runner with the kind of defensive chops to handle both middle infield spots and chase down balls in the gaps in center. A player like that who has impressed in his small sample opportunities at the plate gets interesting in a hurry. I’m here for Carter Hall even if it means waiting a year or two until his signability comes into clearer focus.
I’m just about out of words to say about 1B/OF Kel Johnson. He’s a really good college player who was burdened with outsized expectations going back to his prep days, but he’s now settled into a really tough 1B/LF only righthanded power bat with way too much swing-and-miss in his game. That’s a really, really tough profile to love.
The ultra-athletic OF Chase Murray is a really good looking young hitter who can run and defend. The leap he’s made in his approach is really exciting as Murray has gone from striking out in 20.5 % of his plate appearances to doing the same in just 8.8% of his plate appearances so far in 2018. It’s a really small sample (25 AB), but C Kyle McCann hitting .400/.583/1.120 is so good that I can’t not mention it. I have a weird suspicion that those numbers will dip some as the year progresses, but with two carrying tools (above-average power, plus arm) he’s a fun backstop to track heading into next year’s draft. RHP Garrett Gooden and LHP Connor Thomas are good 2019 prospects, but RHP/SS Xzavion Curry is potentially a great one.
rSO RHP Jonathan Hughes (2018)
rSO RHP/1B Tristin English (2018)
SR RHP Patrick Wiseman (2018)
rSR RHP Ben Schniederjans (2018)
SR RHP Jared Datoc (2018)
JR RHP Robert Winborne (2018)
JR RHP Micah Carpenter (2018)
JR RHP Jake Lee (2018)
JR RHP Keyton Gibson (2018)
JR RHP Bailey Combs (2018)
JR C/1B Joey Bart (2018)
SR 1B/OF Kel Johnson (2018)
SR 2B/SS Wade Bailey (2018)
rSO SS/OF Carter Hall (2018)
SO RHP Garrett Gooden (2019)
SO LHP Connor Thomas (2019)
SO RHP/SS Xzavion Curry (2019)
SO RHP/2B Austin Wilhite (2019)
SO LHP/OF Nick Wilhite (2019)
SO C Kyle McCann (2019)
SO OF Chase Murray (2019)
FR RHP Hugh Chapman (2020)
FR LHP Brant Hurter (2020)
FR LHP/OF Will Shirah (2020)
FR SS/RHP Oscar Serratos (2020)
FR OF Colin Hall (2020)
FR OF Baron Radcliff (2020)
FR INF Luke Waddell (2020)
FR OF Michael Guldberg (2020)
FR OF Colin Hall (2020)
JR LHP Ben Parr (2016)
JR RHP Matthew Gorst (2016)
SR LHP/OF Jonathan King (2016)
JR RHP/3B Brandon Gold (2016)
JR RHP Zac Ryan (2016)
rSR RHP Cole Pitts (2016)
JR LHP Tanner Shelton (2016)
JR RHP Matt Phillips (2016)
JR OF Keenan Innis (2016)
JR OF Ryan Peurifoy (2016)
JR C Arden Pabst (2016)
JR SS Connor Justus (2016)
SR 3B/SS Matt Gonzalez (2016)
SO OF/1B Kel Johnson (2016)
SO RHP Patrick Wiseman (2017)
SO 2B Wade Bailey (2017)
FR RHP Jonathan Hughes (2018)
FR RHP Tristin English (2018)
FR RHP Bobby Gavreau (2018)
FR RHP Keyton Gibson (2018)
FR RHP Jake Lee (2018)
FR RHP Micah Carpenter (2018)
FR C Joey Bart (2018)
FR OF/1B Brandt Stallings (2018)
FR 2B/SS Carter Hall (2018)
FR 2B/SS Jackson Webb (2018)
JR OF Ryan Peurifoy has made enough incremental progress as a hitter over the past few years that I’m buying him as a potential 2016 breakout prospect. He’s an unusually instinctual player with above-average range and foot speed that both play up even more than that thanks to his innate feel for the game. His best physical tool has always been his arm, a real weapon that is plus in both strength and accuracy. He still might wind up a tweener who doesn’t quite have the power for a corner or the quicks for center, but that’s not the kiss of death that it was once. In today’s testing world, a “tweener” can do quite well for himself with teams who put a premium on outfield defense in left and right field. Put me down for thinking Peurifoy has a reasonable fourth outfielder floor with the chance to be one of those plus glove/decent bat starting corner outfielders if it all breaks right. He’s joined in the outfield by JR OF Keenan Innis, a decent runner with some power who could also enjoy a breakout junior season of sorts.
The infield has three potential draft picks in JR C Arden Pabst, JR SS Connor Justus, and SR 3B/SS Matt Gonzalez. Pabst is the most interesting to me at this moment because of a steady defensive presence and as yet untapped raw power. Justus is an outstanding defender who will need to do more at the plate to creep up into the early round draft conversation. Gonzalez is another gifted defensive player who has to show a lot more offensively to be thought of as a viable draft prospect. He checks many of the physical boxes, but his approach (13 BB/52 K) is holding him back in a major way.
I’m less enthusiastic about Georgia Tech’s pitching prospects, but there are still a few potential relief arms to track this spring. My favorite Georgia Tech arm is attached to the body of JR RHP/3B Brandon Gold. Gold is a good athlete — no surprise coming from a two-way talent who might be seen as a primary third baseman by some teams — with the kind of stuff that you wonder if it might play up once asked to focus on pitching full-time. He’s been up to the low-90s with a nice changeup and average or better command, so there’s a good base to work with here.
JR LHP Ben Parr looked promising after an impressive freshman season, but things went completely off the tracks for him last year. He’s maintained the same mid- to upper-80s fastball with advanced command profile, so a return to his debut year form ought to get him in the draft conversation once more. JR RHP Zac Ryan has the one-two punch (FB/CB) and enough of a track record to get a look in pro ball. SR LHP Jonathan King has decent stuff, but no real projection left and a three year run of declining strikeout numbers. rSR RHP Cole Pitts is a Tommy John survivor with inconsistent control, but the kind of size (6-5, 235) that could interest teams.
I don’t think I have much in the way of biases when it comes to liking or not liking college teams, but re-reading this quickly before hitting publish has me thinking this skews a little bit negative. I swear it’s not personal, though I suppose my dislike for bees might be subconsciously torpedoing things. So, in the spirit of positivity , allow me to say that the future at Georgia Tech looks quite bright thanks to a loaded freshman class. I don’t think it’s premature to have RHP Tristin English, RHP Jonathan Hughes, OF/1B Brandt Stallings, and C Joey Bart as the top four prospects on the team (apologies to OF/1B Kel Johnson, who is a fine prospect and exactly what many of us thought he was, good and bad) before they’ve played their first college game. We’ll wait to figure out the order of those four until we get a bit closer to 2018…
Slipped my mind that Kel Johnson is a draft-eligible sophomore. Here are his HS scouting notes…
OF/1B Kel Johnson (Home School, Georgia): above-average to plus power upside, easy power during BP; sprays ball all over; more power than hit tool; slow; below-average arm; uncanny similarities to Hunter Pence physically; 6-4, 215 pounds
The Pence comparison was and is physical only; like, the two look similar but don’t have the same game. As a freshman Johnson did pretty much as expected: tons of power with lots of swing and miss. I’d actually say his contact skills were better than what we could have hoped. I’m cautiously optimistic heading into his second college season though the aforementioned swing and miss issues and defensive questions (maybe a LF, likely a 1B) are red flags.
Stacked up against ACC prospects from teams profiled as of this edit, I’d tentatively have him behind teammate Ryan Peurifoy as well as Willie Abreu (Miami), Jacob Heyward (Miami), Ben DeLuzio (FSU), and Saige Jenco (Virginia Tech). Could probably argue him all the way up to second on that list if so inclined.
As a player who has been famous in prospect circles for two plus years now, the draft stock of Chris Betts (Wilson HS, California) is currently suffering from a clear case of prospect fatigue (also known as Daz Cameron Syndrome). Teams have seen him so often that they are now firmly in the nit-pick stage of evaluation. Internet folk (like me!) have known about him for so long that they (we!) now worry if placing him at the top of the pile will be considered too boring, too safe, and too predictable a projection. Further complicating things is the “sudden” presence of Tyler Stephenson (Kennesaw Mountain HS, Georgia), a pop-up guy who isn’t really a pop-up guy — Perfect Game has been on him for months, though recent reports from Kiley McDaniel and Jim Callis are what have put him on the main stage for internet folk (like me!) trying to catch up with the spring high school season — but still has the right combination of limited information and clear physical gifts to potentially overtake Betts as the first prep catcher off the board.
When both McDaniel and Callis, two guys who are really good at their jobs, mention Matt Wieters as a comparison, it’s time to take notice. Evoking Wieters name when discussing Stephenson is an point in the favor of the utility of a good comp because it provides a little bit of context and a frame of reference to what kind of player Stephenson is and what kind of player he could eventually be. Stephenson isn’t Wieters, but the two share enough traits that thinking of the latter will help paint a clearer picture of what the former actually looks like. When you think Wieters — the most physically impressive amateur I’ve ever seen in person, for what it’s worth — you think big power, bigger arm, and biggest frame. That’s the overall package the 6’4”, 220 pound Stephenson brings to the field each time out. Compare Stephenson’s plus raw power, plus arm strength, and imposing physicality with what was written about Wieters’s high school days at the time of his selection out of Georgia Tech in 2007…
Wieters’ strong college commitment was the only reason he wasn’t drafted in the first two rounds in 2004. A talented two-way player who flashed 90 mph heat and plus-plus raw power at his suburban Charleston, S.C., high school, Wieters is well on his way to fulfilling the lofty projections on his bat.
There’s obviously enough vagueness in that report that it’s a tad disingenuous to cite it as concrete proof that Stephenson = Wieters (which obviously isn’t the point anyway), but you can see how the two could be compared at least in the abstract. Big power, bigger arm, and biggest frame. Any catcher with Stephenson’s bulk is a question mark to stay behind the plate over the long haul.
I think it’s fair (boring, perhaps) to like Betts more as a prospect because of his overall defensive edge. The belief that their bats will be close enough with Betts being the better bet to remain a catcher through his first contract of club control has merit. Close or not, Stephenson still has more upside as a hitter, but the lingering defensive questions mitigate some of the recent excitement about his offensive game. This is hard. The two are very, very close to me. I understand the desire to chase offensive upside with your first round pick, so Team Stephenson has a strong built-in argument that I wouldn’t debate against. If it all clicks, Stephenson should end up the better player — catcher or not — but the odds of it all clicking are a bit higher for Betts.
At minimum, I think it can be agreed upon that these are the top two high school catching prospects in the country without much current competition threatening to knock them off their perch. Both profile as average or better all-around big league catchers who stack up quite well with with any one-two catching prospect punch of the last few years. Asking around on each player didn’t give me the kind of comps I was hoping to hear — the old adage of “don’t force comps” applies to these two players, apparently — but I manage to get one name for Betts and two for Stephenson. Neither of the prospect to prospect comps that you’ll read were given with much confidence and I hesitate to even share them because they were very much “well, if I HAD to compare him to somebody I’ve seen…” kind of comps, so let’s all agree to view these for the entertainment value that they bring more than anything. The name I heard for Betts was Greg Bird (as a hitter only) and the name I heard for Stephenson was (a bigger) Clint Coulter. I mentioned earlier that I got two comps for Stephenson…yeah, the other was Wieters. I believe he was deemed the “Matt Wieters starter kit.” Don’t know why I expected to hear anything differently, but there you go. For the record, since I’m realizing while doing a quick edit of this that I’ve written mostly about Stephenson, Betts can really, really hit. The Bird comp feels a bit rich based on what we know Bird has done as a pro so far, but I think an average or slightly better hit tool and raw power combination could be the end game for Betts. Those abilities combined with a reasonably disciplined approach and a high probability of playing average or better defense behind the plate for years makes Betts a legitimate first round pick. Again, purely for fun, here are the scouting notes from this site on Coulter and Bird from their HS days…
C Clint Coulter (Union HS, Washington): good defensive tools, but a little stiff behind plate; may or may not stick at catcher long-term, but I’m a believer; little Jeff Bagwell in his crouch and swing setup; good athlete; plus arm, but needs to polish up footwork; pro body; loud contact; strong; big league caliber defensive tools for me, not all agree; above-average arm; really interesting power; fun player to watch who impacts the game in a multitude of ways; 6-3, 220 pounds
Bird came into the year a big prospect, but much of the hype that came with catching Kevin Gausman last year seems to have disappeared after Gausman went off to LSU. The Colorado high school catcher has a little bit of Cameron Gallagher to his game. Both prospects are raw defensively with impressive raw power that has been seen firsthand by area scouts at the high school level. That’s an important thing to note, I think. We hear so much about raw power, so it is worth pointing out when a player has plus raw power and average present power. That’s where I think Bird is currently at. There might not be a ton of projection to him, for better or worse.
To an extent, I can see how those comps came to be — and, if you’re willing to go down that rabbit hole, so can you through the power of Youtube! — but I think it’s notable that I confused the two comparisons in my head before actually going back to check my email. Coulter was an iffy defender for many coming out of high school, but I liked him enough behind the plate to want to see his defensive development through as long as possible. I can’t disagree with the Brewers decision to put him in right field — they have seen him more than anybody, plus getting the most out of his awesome bat should be the real priority at this point — but I’ll always feel like his all-around skill set behind the plate was underrated. Same goes for Betts, though now that his body is in better shape this spring there seem to be less willing to go on record as believing he’s not a catcher long-term. Bird struck me as closer to a Stephenson type since both guys were defensive maybes with advanced bats. The note about Bird’s impressive present power being as significant as his plus raw power applies to Stephenson as well. You could keep talking yourself into circles when it comes to trying to find similarities and differences between prospects — Betts and Bird share the pros/cons of being very heavily scouted for multiple seasons, for example — so we’ll just go ahead and quit while we’re almost ahead now.
Betts and Stephenson or Stephenson and Betts. Either way, you’re looking at two quality catching prospects worthy of mid- to late-first round draft consideration. I’m more comfortable with Betts right now, but the upside of Stephenson is not lost on me. Ask me again in a month and you may or may not get the same answer, but I’ll almost certainly have changed my mind a dozen times or so in the interim. I’m glad there’s a few more weeks to think this over.
We could end the conversation here because yesterday’s quick and dirty attempt at research indicated that there will only be two successful big league catchers out of this year’s high school class, right? No? Fine, let’s go a little deeper. Before we do, allow me to get on public record that my knowledge of any year’s group of high school prospects pales in comparison to what I know (or think I know) about a given year’s college players. I’ve actually seen more high school baseball this year than I can ever remember (probably been since my own HS days ten plus years ago) – been averaging around three games a week since mid-March with games today, Thursday, and Saturday morning on the docket – but that just means I’m a fraction more informed – and even that’s debatable since, again, I’m not a scout – about high school ball in a very small geographical footprint of the country than I’d otherwise be. I’m still largely at the mercy of whatever publicly available information finds its way to the internet, plus whatever bits of information I can procure from pals I’ve made in the game over the years. In other words, I’m going to be wrong a lot more than I’m right when it comes to high school prospects, so accepting that now is probably best for everybody involved. Anyway…
Lucas Herbert (San Clemente HS, California) looks to be the best of the rest thanks to his well-rounded set of defensive tools and mature approach at the plate. I’ve seen plus pop times out of him, an impressive feat for any young catcher but more so because I’d say his arm is more good than great. Times like that speak to his quick release and nimble footwork behind the dish. His swing is nice and quiet with just a little bit of jumpiness in his back right foot, but otherwise well-orchestrated coordination between his upper and lower halves. If any prep catcher has a chance to be a regular player outside of the draft’s first round, it’ll be Herbert.
Right behind him is the draft’s best young defensive catcher in Garrett Wolforth (Concordia Lutheran HS, Texas). Whether or not he’ll hit enough to ever profile as more than a defense-first backup at his best remains an open question – there’s some bat speed there, though he’s still raw at the plate – but his soft mitts and rocket arm should make him a popular guy on draft day.
If we go back yet again to yesterday’s findings, then we should be on the lookout for three more intriguing catching prospects that could crack the draft’s first five rounds. I’ll go with Justin Cohen (Riverview HS, Florida), Elih Marrero (Coral Gables HS, Florida), and Nick Dalesandro (Joliet Catholic HS, Illinois). I won’t pretend to know all that much more about these players than what most could ascertain through some good old fashioned internet sleuthing, but I am intrigued by Cohen’s bat, Marrero’s well-roundedness, and Dalesandro’s (who reminds me a tiny bit of Blake Hickman a few years ago) arm and athleticism.
I’ve had Wyatt Cross (Legacy HS, Colorado) higher than this in the past and was ready to keep him in the top five names or so, but I’ve heard what we can charitably call mixed things about him this spring. On the other end of the spectrum are Nick Fortes (Deland HS, Florida) and Joey Bart (Buford HS, Georgia), two players that I’ve heard good things about over the past few weeks. One name that I don’t know much about but would love to know more: Brendt Citta (Leland HS, California): I could see either Citta or Cooper Moore (Huntington Beach HS, California) finishing higher where I tentatively have them at the moment.
C Chris Betts (Wilson HS, California)
C Tyler Stephenson (Kennesaw Mountain HS, Georgia)
C Lucas Herbert (San Clemente HS, California)
C Garrett Wolforth (Concordia Lutheran HS, Texas)
C Justin Cohen (Riverview HS, Florida)
C Elih Marrero (Coral Gables HS, Florida)
C/RHP Nick Dalesandro (Joliet Catholic HS, Illinois)
C Dominic DeRenzo (Pittsburgh Central Catholic HS, Pennsylvania
C Wyatt Cross (Legacy HS, Colorado)
C Nick Fortes (Deland HS, Florida)
C Joey Bart (Buford HS, Georgia)
C Brendt Citta (Leland HS, California)
C Alex Webb (Columbia Central HS, Tennessee)
C Justin Glover (Dunedin HS, Florida)
C Cole Warken (Martin Collegiate SS, Saskatchewan)
C/1B Cooper Moore (Huntington Beach HS, California)
C Tyler Garrison (Mill Valley HS, Kansas)
C/3B Cody Roberts (Blessed Trinity Catholic, Georgia)
C Baylor Rowlett (College Station HS, Texas)
C Chris Cullen (West Forsyth HS, Georgia)
C Cal Raleigh (Smoky Mountain HS, North Carolina)
C Hunter Stovall (Pelham HS, Alabama)
C Cesar Salazar (Sahuaro HS, Arizona)
C Michael Curry (Gainesville HS, Georgia)
C Eric Jones (South Mecklenburg HS, North Carolina)
C Chase Smartt (Charles Henderson HS, Alabama)
C Sean Buckhout (Don Bosco Prep, New York)
C Carlos Reyes (Hialeah HS, Florida)
C Ryan Fineman (Agoura HS, California)
C Malik Brown (Birmingham Groves HS, Michigan)
C Cole Buffington (Kennesaw Mountain HS, Georgia)
C Kyle Schmidt (Smithville HS, Texas)
C Tyler Murray (Huntington Beach HS, California)
C Angel Lopez (Perkiomen HS, Pennsylvania)
C Noah Croft (Olathe South HS, Kansas)
C/RHP Brendan Illies (Puyallup HS, Washington)
C Gian Martellini (Bishop Hendricken HS, Rhode Island)
C Scott Kapers (Mount Carmel HS, Indiana)
C Ryan Sloniger (Punxsutawney HS, Pennsylvania)
C/3B Gabriel Garcia (Monteverde Academy, Florida)
C Dalton Blumenfeld (Alexander Hamilton HS, California)
C Tyrus Greene (St. Augustine HS, California)
C/RHP Kyle Davis (Miller HS, Alabama)
C Darren Shred (St. Roch Catholic, Ontario)
C Jacob Washer (West Stokes HS, North Carolina)
C Hunter Hearn (Crosby HS, Texas)
C Briggs Benson (Tift County HS, Georgia)
C Jackson Lueck (Orangewood Christian HS, Florida)