Tag: Kyle Freeland

Top of draft remains unsettled

AlexJacksonAs soon as last June’s draft ended — perhaps even well before — the conversation about the class of 2014 started and ended with North Carolina State southpaw Carlos Rodon. He was the clear pre-season No. 1 and entered the season with the best chance to be taken off the board first when the Houston Astros select first for the third straight year. We’re about beyond the halfway point of the amateur season and only one thing is clear and that’s that the top of the draft is far from settled.

Rodon hasn’t been what clubs would like to have seen to this point. He’s flashed the firm, mid-90s fastball and showcased the wipeout slider, but his command has been inconsistent as has the velocity and, at times, his delivery. Rodon remains the top college pitching prospect, but East Carolina’s Jeff Hoffman is fresh off a strong outing in front of big-time heat that included at least a pair of scouting directors. Other college arms such as Aaron Nola of LSU, Vanderbilt’s Tyler Beede and left-hganders Kyle Freeland of Evansville and TCU’s Brandon Finnegan are also on the radar in or around the Top 10. A blue chip final half-dozen starts from Beede and he could solidify a Top-5 selection, as could Rodon and Hoffman.

Many clubs, however, have San Diego prep left-hander Brady Aiken of Cathedral Catholic Academy (Calif.) atop their draft boards. I spoke to three crosscheckers and two scouting directors from five different clubs who all but confirmed that they were included in the group that sees Aiken as the No. 1 talent in the class.

The class as a whole has grown, both in terms of depth and overall strength. With prep pitchers such as right-hander Tyler Kolek of Shepherd High School (Texas), left-hander Sean-Reid Foley of Sandalwood High School (Fla.) and Coral Springs Christian High Schol (Fla.) right-hander Touki Toussaint holding their status as first-round picks — Kolek is likely to be off the board in the top 5 — it’s the pre-season second-tier among the high school arms that has made the biggest impact.

Right-hander Grant Holmes (Conway High School, S.C.) has shown big arm strength, hitting 97 mph and sitting 95-98 for scouts in March and holding most of that velocity in April. Holmes is now firmly in the mix in the top 20 or so.

The race for No. 1 may be down to a very small handful of candidates. I’m not going to pretend to be in the head of Houston Astros GM Jeff Luhnow or scouting director Mike Elias, but I Imagine Rodon will stay in the conversation until the final hours, along with Aiken, Kolek and maybe one of the other college arms, particularly if the club can save some pool space with the pick that greatly helps them in later rounds.

The Astros selected prep infielder Carlos Correa two years ago and college pitcher Mark Appel last June. The majority of their top prospects right now are pitchers, but outfielder George Springer, a first-round pick in 2011, has a chance to be a star and was just called up to the majors last week, as does Correa, suggesting there is little reason to believe the club will choose to lean in one direction or the other between pitcher or hitter. If it comes down to Rodon or Aiken, it may be about money, particularly if both finish strong. If Rodon is worthy of being the top pick, it may be difficult for Houston to pass on him considering he could team up with Appel, and eventually right-hander Mike Foltynewicz and Lance McCullers, Jr. to form quite the long-term starting rotation.

The Chicago Cubs at No. 4
If we assume that Rodon, Aiken and Kolek, in some order, are the first three players selected, the Cubs could be left with a decision between Hoffman, Beede and Rancho Bernardo High School (Calif.) C/OF Alex Jackson.

The Cubs chose University of San Diego power bat Kris Bryant last year rather than taking Oklahoma right-hander Jon Gray despite their organization’s weakness being starting pitching. The Cubs, led by Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod and new scouting director Matt Dorey, have never shown a willingness to draft for need — which no club should high in the draft — so Jackson, or perhaps North Carolina State shortstop Trea Turner, prep shortstop Nick Gordon out of Olympia High School in Orlando or Clovis High School (Calif.) Jacob Gatewood, could be the pick. Any of the latter three could be under-slot selections.

If Rodon, Aiken or Kolek get to No. 4, one has to imagine they’d be the top player on the Cubs board and ultimately the pick.

Seattle at No. 6
The Mariners have gone the way of college players high in the draft every year they’ve had a pick in the Top 11. Last year it was New Mexico’s D.J. Peterson. In 2012 the M’s tabbed Florida catcher Mike Zunino, who is already the club’s starting backstop. In Tom McNamara’s first draft as Seattle’s scouting director he called Dustin Ackley’s name at No. 2 overall. Two years later it was Virginia southpaw Danny Hultzen. This could be the first time McNamara and GM Jack Zduriencik snag a prep bat with big-time upside in the top half of the first round, or a high school pitcher with an ace ceiling.

Aiken isn’t getting that far and it’s difficult to believe Kolek will, either. If I had to nail down the club’s most likely names as it stands today I’d put Jackson, Gordon, Turner and Toussaint in the mix. Of course, the pool money may come into play. If it does, Beede, Nola, Freeland, Reid-Foley and outfielders Bradley Zimmer at San Francisco and Michael Conforto at Oregon State could pop up into that range.

It’d have to a wild bonus-saving scenario for Seattle to pass on the best player, especially considering the organization’s lack of everyday talent with all-star ceilings.

The Blue Jays
I have no idea what the Toronto Blue Jays may do in Round 1. They own the No. 9 and No. 11 selections and since the new bonus pool regulations were installed, we’ve seen a few clubs that have two high picks go off the board a little bit with one or both in order to spread around their allotted monies.

It’s an organization with a lot of talent, still, despite trading some top prospects to acquire R.A. Dickey and Jose Reyes. The opportunity to add two quick-to-the-bigs college arms is intriguing. Freeland and Nola? Beede and Hartford’s Sean Newcomb? Like I said, I have no feel for the Blue Jays’ preferred philosophy, but they have a chance to add two very good players.

J.J. Schwarz
Florida commit and Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High School catcher J.J. Schwarz is the apple of the eye of one area scout down in South Florida. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound backstop “does a little of everything,” the scout said. “He runs well, (has a) solid arm and I love the energy. There’s power there, too, no doubt about it.”

Schwarz has the athleticism and present strength to suggest he can stick behind the plate, but there are some potential long-term adjustments necessary at the plate. He over-strides at times, though the scout noted he’s abbreviated that some and has been keeping his hands back better this spring.

The handful of clubs I have spoken to about Schwarz have varying degrees of valuation, from Comp Round A to somewhere late in Round 2. Schwarz, who calls his own game,typically ranks as the top pure catching prospects among the prep prospects — Jackson is also viewed as a possible catcher, but not everyone believes he’ll remain there — and among the top two or three catchers in the entire draft, behind only Jackson and Kennesaw State’s Max Pentecost.

Indiana’s Kyle Schwarber is listed at catcher but plays a lot of first base and left field and the consensus is that he’s a bat who will move to a corner spot permanently in pro ball.

Matt Imhof, LHP
Cal Poly ace Matt Imhof has dominated his second-rung schedule this spring but has shown enough in terms of stuff and command that he may garner some comp-round attention. He’ll pitch in the low-90s mostly, but can reach back for 93-94 (and the rare 95) and does a good job mixing in his secondary offerings by working off the fastball early in games. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior offers an average breaking ball that most scouts call a curveball with two-plane break, but the pitch teases slider velocity in the 78-82 mph range. The changeup is fringy at best right now but he can throw it for called strikes and keeps it down well.

When I saw Imhof in March, he showed an ability to pitch inside to right-handed batters and may have thrown a cutter or two to help him do so. The four-seamer has some natural armside tail. He doesn’t always stay tall in his delivery, however, bending his back leg early and driving toward the plate, flattening out his pitches and likely reducing the chances his breaking ball sharpens into a true slider or power curveball with bigger bite.

Still, left-handers who can throw strikes with what projects as three big-league offerings, including above-average-to-plus velocity, don’t grow on trees — trust me, I have checked — suggesting Imhof will intrigue numerous clubs on Day 1 and last no longer than Round 2, most likely.

Photo of Alex Jackson by Scott Kurtz

Draft Watch: Rodon Dazzles, Bukauskas turns heads

rodoAfter an enigmatic spring in which Carlos Rodon has seen his ups and downs, the NC State southpaw bounced back in a big way last Friday. From the box score you could tell it was a good outing, Rodon fanned 12 and allowed just one earned run, but the stuff he flashed in the game was really encouraging. After seeing a dip in his velocity most of this Spring, Rodon has been sitting in the 89-92 MPH range mostly, but he worked between 93-96 in his last start against Duke, topping out at 98. His slider featured devastating, sharp break and was just about unhittable the entire outing. He also threw his changeup and cutter with more confidence and effectiveness than he has shown all year. Rodon really looked like a slam-dunk 1-1 guy for the first time since this summer, and all eyes will be on him this weekend when the Wolfpack host Boston College this weekend. His pitch count will also be under a lot of scrutiny, as there was a lot of outrage over Pack head coach Elliot Avent’s decision to allow Rodon to throw 134 pitches last week.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Vanderbilt ace Tyler Beede has hit a rough patch lately. In fact, in his last 21 innings of work, Beede has surrendered 22 runs (14 earned). After getting off to a hot start and exhibiting improved fastball command, Beede has really regressed, and although he flashes top of the line stuff, his command really has to improve for teams to risk a top-10 pick on him. If he doesn’t regain form, rising arms like Grant Holmes of Conway, S.C. and Kyle Freeland of Evansville could surpass him, if they haven’t already.

He will not pitch this weekend, as he actually took the hill on Thursday because of an altered schedule due to Easter weekend, but Cal Poly’s Matt Imhoff is a hot name. Imhoff turned in yet another spectacular outing against a premier lineup on Thursday, when he held Cal State Fullerton to just two hits. He also over-matched the Titan’s big boppers, third baseman Matt Chapman and outfielder JD Davis. Imhoff’s stock is rising with each outing, and he is now the nation’s strikeout leader with a total of 97 punchouts in 68 frames. While his stuff is pretty solid across the board, his delivery generates a great deal of deception which makes him harder to hit than the first glimpse might suggest. Imhoff looks the part of a late Round No. 1 pick.

After a career day in which Evansville’s Kyle Freeland fanned 15 batters two weeks ago against Charleston, it was déjà vu all over again for Freeland against Wichita State. Freeland punched out 15 more batters, and his numbers this year would even look out of place in a video game. The Purple Ace’s lefty now owns a K/BB ratio of 75/4 on the year. Freeland has a silky smooth delivery and great arm action, and his body fits the bill of a big league workhorse. His breaking ball, which features slider-like break, has taken huge strides over the last calendar year. It flashed the makings of an out-pitch last summer on the Cape, but now it looks like a real weapon. Freeland has a very good chance at being a top-10 pick in June.

In Freeland’s last outing he yielded just one run on a hit that came off the bat of Wichita State’s Casey Gillespie. Gillespie has been one of the best performers in college baseball to date and boasts a .393/.500/.674 slash line to go with 9 home runs. Gillespie is a hulking 6-foot-4 and weighs close to 250 Lbs. Scouts are split on where Gillespie’s power comes from – Is it just his sheer size or does he have enough batspeed to hit major league pitching? But in a class that is starving for power bats, someone should pop him in Round No. 2, if not earlier.

Another college hitter who has been tearing the cover off the ball lately is Max Pentecost of Kennesaw State. Pentecost is an extremely athletic backstop whose overall skill set reminds some of Buster Posey. This isn’t a straight comparison — Posey was a better prospect — but Pentecost’s agility behind the plate, balanced swing, and outstanding athleticism are reminiscent of Posey’s game. Pentecost has not been facing stellar competition, but he is hitting .380 on the year with 21 extra-base hits. He is also 11 for 12 in stolen base attempts. Pentecost could very possibly be the top college catcher drafted, and should go in the top 20 picks and might even sniff the top 10.

You may or may not have heard of Jacob Bukauskas, but if you haven’t, you will soon. The Virginia prep pitcher is relatively new to this class, as he is actually only a Junior, but he re-classified this winter in order graduate high school early. Initially Bukauskas wanted to graduate solely so that he could make it to the college level earlier, as he is a North Carolina commit. But that all changed when he had a monster spring, and now he could be in line for Round No. 1 bonus. In his most recent start on Monday, Bukauskas touched 100 MPH according to several reports, and now he is the talk of the industry. Bukauskas also demonstrated an aptitude for mixing in a quality breaking ball and changeup. With that kind of arsenal and arm strength, there is no way that Bukauskas will fall out of Round No. 1 if he is perceived to be signable.

Like Bakauskas, Isiah Gilliam of Parkview High School (Ga.) is another recent addition to the prep class, and he will also graduate early. Gilliam is an outfielder with power from both sides of the plate. The concern is that he might end up moving to first base, where his bat will really have to play for him to be of value. Gilliam is probably a factor somewhere in Rounds No. 3-5.

Although there have been a lot of concerns about Michael Getty’s hit tool lately, it looks like he has made some progress of late. While all high school stats should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s good to see that Gettys has gotten 10 Extra-Base Hits in his last 24 at-bats, including 5 home runs. It sounds like he is doing a better job with his pitch-recognition skills and staying back on off-speed pitches. If he can make consistent contact, Getty’s ceiling is unrivaled among prep hitters in this class. The rest of his game is dynamic, and he possesses game-changing speed and a rocket arm. He is somewhat of a wild card in this draft, and could go in the top-15 picks but also could fall out of Round No. 1 — it really only takes one team to roll the dice on the bat.

Finally keep an eye on Marcus Wilson of Junipero Serra High School (Ca.). Wilson is a raw athlete who doesn’t have a ton of polish, but he has been making tremendous improvements lately. Wilson has a lightning quick bat and a frame that that offer serious power potential. Wilson should also be a threat on the base pads. He is a quick-twitch athlete and moves with grace in the outfield, although he is still refining the routes he takes to the ball. While he still has plenty of work to do, Wilson could go in Round No. 1, and if he is lasts to Round No. 2, he could be a steal.

Draft Watch: Freeland and Other Arms Heating Up

FreelandHeading into last weekend, Jeff Hoffman had seen his stock slip steadily after a run of several consecutive sub-par outings. The ECU right-hander turned that around in a big way last weekend with arguably his best start of the year against one of the better lineups he has faced all season. Hoffman went eight frames against Rice, allowing just one walk and yielding a single run. But perhaps most importantly, Hoffman snapped off some of the best curveballs he has thrown since his breakout summer on the Cape. Hoffman also showed improved fastball command and a more balanced delivery that he repeated with ease. This is the first outing in several weeks that Hoffman has looked worthy of the 1-1 buzz he has received in the past, and it was certainly a good night to do it with Astros GM Jeff Lunhow in the house. Hoffman will hope to keep this momentum going forward and will take the hill against Old Dominion on Friday.

Aaron Nola of LSU has likely been the most dominant pitcher this season at the college ranks, and he appears to be solidifying his spot as a top-15 pick. He has now lowered his ERA on the year to a microscopic 0.47 ERA. He also boasts a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 71-11 on the year. Nola has long been regarded as control artist, but this year he is also flashing more lively stuff. While he won’t blow up any radar guns, his fastball will sit in the low-90’s with life. Nola will take on SEC foe Arkansas this weekend.

However, no college arm has been rocketing up draft boards quite like Evansville southpaw Kyle Freeland. The Purple Ace’s Friday-starter turned in a masterful performance last week in which he went the full effort and fanned 15 batters against Charlotte. Freeland worked ahead and pounded all quadrants of the strike zone with an explosive mid-90’s heater. Freeland also flashed a wicked sweeping slider while mixing in a vastly improved change-up and curveball. Freeland possesses an ideal big-league body at 6-foot-4 that should enable him to eat up innings once adds muscle mass. The overall package is reminiscent of a top-10 pick, and if the southpaw continues to show consistency, there is no reason he shouldn’t go higher.

Another hot name in the industry is Brett Graves, an undersized but athletic right-hander for Missouri. He repeats his delivery well, and fires a fastball in the low to mid-90’s. His out pitch is his slider that has sharp, late tilt. He also has a changeup in his repertoire that he can consistently throw for strikes. Graves is a sleeper to go in the Round No. 1, but could prove to be a steal for a team that is willing to gamble on his height. Graves and the Tigers will take on one of the nation’s best lineups and college baseball’s hottest hitter when they visit Kentucky this weekend. There will be a lot of attention on Graves when he faces A.J. Reed, a first baseman who doubles as a left-handed pitcher. Reed is currently slugging .771 and has launched 12 homers this year, and he is right there with Kyle Schwarber as the best power bat in the college class.

Jordan Brink of Fresno State is another undersized righty with a big arm. Brink throws with above-average velocity and also is very poised and competitive on the mound. In terms of raw stuff, he is probably a little behind Graves, but should be to go in the middle of Round No.2. On the season he is posting impressive numbers and has recorded a 1.84 ERA heading into this weekend, where he will take on New Mexico. He generates plenty of groundballs, but he needs to miss more bats if he is going to remain a starter.

Meanwhile at the prep level, there have been three outfielders who have been heating up lately. Behind the ultra-toolsy Michael Gettys, Derek Hill, Monte Harrison, and Matt Railey have emerged as the top outfielders in the prep class.

Hill, a senior at Oak Grove High (Calif.) has been a well-known commodity in the industry for a while now, and his speed and defense are true impact tools. He projects to be a potential threat to steal-30 bases annually and could be a stellar defender in centerfield. He already has shown the ability to size up a fly ball and takes excellent routes in the outfield. All of a sudden, his bat is starting to really come around too. He possesses a quick, whip-like bat path that should enable him to have solid pop and excellent gap power. Hill profiles as an ideal leadoff hitter and could be a factor at the end of Round No. 1 or into the comp round.

Harrison, a prep outfielder from Missouri, may offer an even more tantalizing package of tools. Harrison features one of the best outfield arms in the class and is an elite quick-twitch athlete. Harrison has the bat speed and strength to hit for power, but his swing needs refinement and he needs to incorporate his lower-half more. Harrison is also committed to Nebraska to play both football and baseball, so signability could be a factor with him. If teams deem him signable, he could go in the early part of Round No. 2.

Railey, a centerfielder from North Florida Christian High School, does not offer the same projection as Harrison or Hill, but his tools are already starting to play. Railey is a compact, physical player who is very fast in short bursts. His hands are very quick and he generates impressive power already. He needs to avoid expanding the strike zone, but he has all the ingredients to be a very solid Round No. 2 pick.

Two prep pitchers have also been climbing the charts over the past few weeks. Bryce Montes de Oca returned to the draft scene in a big way after making his first start since Tommy John surgery this offseason. In his very first start he touched 97 MPH on the gun. Obviously the injury will be a big red flag, but Montes de Oca’s fastball and his imposing 6-foot-8 frame make him an extremely intriguing prospect. He could be a high-ceiling snag between the second and fourth rounds.

Also keep an eye on Cameron Varga a righty from Ohio who has been a steady riser all spring. Varga can command three pitches and dial up to the mid-90’s MPH. All year has Varga has been carving up inferior competition while also improving his secondary offerings. His curveball is his out-pitch and features sharp, vertical break. Varga’s 6-foot-4 frame gives scouts plenty to dream on.

Overall this draft class is shaping up to be a very deep one. There is no slam-dunk candidate to go 1-1 right now, but that could change. The core-five all would probably go behind Mark Appel, Kris Bryant, and Jon Gray from last year’s class, but the first round on the whole is right there with the 2011 and 2005 classes in terms of depth. Obviously the strength of the class lies on the mound, particularly in the power arms. There are an abundance of guys with special velocity, and teams picking in Round No. 3 will find first0round quality arms still on the board. We are about midway through the amateur season, but there should continue to be a lot of movement in the class.

Draft Watch: Arms Race Week 6

NewcombHartfordIt has been all about pitching this spring at both the college and prep levels. The BBCOR bats are certainly having ramifications on the game, as offense among the amateur ranks is at an all-time low. There are two storylines in particular to keep an eye on this weekend; first the arms race between left-handers battling for spots on team’s draft boards, and also the prep pitchers who are lighting up radar guns in the early goings.

TCU Southpaw Brandon Finnegan has been piling up strikeouts at a ridiculous rate this spring. In four of five starts he has accumulated more than 10 punchouts. Finnegan has elite arm speed and can dial his fastball up into the upper 90’s MPH, which is extremely impressive for a left hander. He complements his heater with a hard slider and an improving changeup. His height and arm slot lead some to believe that he could wind up in the bullpen, but his command has also taken a step forward this spring, and Finnegan looks like he has the makings of a possible top-20 pick. Finnegan will be taking the hill against Texas-Tech this weekend.

Another lefty making noise this spring is Sean Newcomb of Hartford. Newcomb reminds some of Sean Manaea from last year’s draft because he is an athletic left hander with a big frame and a big arm. Also, like Manaea, Newcomb hails from a mid-major Northeast school and pitches against inferior competition, which can make it tough for scouts to gauge his true talent. Newcomb had an inconsistent summer on the cape after struggling with a bout of mono, but in his last two starts has yielded just four hits in 14 scoreless innings. Like Finnegan, Newcomb could be a factor in the middle part of Round No.1.

Cal Poly’s Matt Imhof is a sleeper in this draft that could be a great value pick for a club somewhere in the middle of Round No. 2. Imhof is a physical 6-foot-5 and pounds all quadrants of the strike zone. The big lefty had a breakout summer for Team USA and is carrying that success into this season, currently boasting a 4-1 record with a minuscule 1.29 ERA. Cal Poly’s baseball program is also surprising a lot of people, and is starting to look like one of the top teams in the nation.

Kyle Freeland, the ace of the Evansville staff, is yet another southpaw putting up video game numbers. He has struck out 29 batters and granted just two walks heading into this weekend. Freeland already possesses a live fastball and his thin 6’4” frame offers more projection than the average college arm. With Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos in attendance last weekend he hurled six shutout innings with nine K’s. Although it might be a little early for him, the Jays hold the No. 9 and No. 11 picks in this year’s draft.

As usual the spotlight will be on NC State’s Carlos Rodon this weekend. Rodon came up short last weekend in an epic battle with FSU’s Luke Weaver, but it was an encouraging start as he flashed his devastating slider and struck out 12 against one of the nation’s best lineups. This weekend he will be taking on Maryland, another quality opponent. It will be key for him to demonstrate improved fastball command as his location has been spotty at times his year. He still remains the top prospect in this draft, but needs to cut down on the walks that he has been giving up. However, in the past both his fastball command and velocity have improved with the weather.

Another strength of this 2014 class is the depth of talented college backstops. Kyle SchwarberGrayson GreinerMax Pentecost, and Aramis Garcia are the cream of the crop, but keep an eye on Brett Austin of North Carolina State. Austin was a high-profile prospect out of Providence High, but struggled to hit as an underclassmen. This year however, Austin is hitting .391. Last week in a devastating series in which NCSU was swept by Florida State, Austin went 7-for-15. Austin is probably a second-tier catching prospect behind some of the aforementioned guys, but could go as early as Round No. 3.

Another catcher to keep an eye on is Mac James of Oklahoma. James played sparingly last year and wasn’t really on anyone’s radar entering the season, but that could change soon. It is not a guarantee that he will be able to stick behind the dish, but he is currently raking.As of right now the Sooner’s catcher’s triple-slash line  reads: .442/.494/.636. And yes, you did read that right.

There is no doubt that offense has been down significantly throughout college baseball this year, but a pair of Cal State Fullerton sluggers are still performing well.Outfielder J.D. Davis controls the strike-zone well and generates a lot of power due to the natural loft in his swing. Davis is slugging at a .537 clip so far. His teammate Matt Chapman has also has plenty of pop in his swing. The third baseman has connected for two bombs and six doubles through his first 17 games, but he needs to make more consistent contact. Both Chapman and Davis could be taken somewhere in rounds No. 2 or No. 3, but could go earlier if a team is willing to gamble on their raw power.

The Kentucky Wildcats also possess a potent offense that has been churning out runs by the truckload this season. Juniors Austin Cousino and AJ Reed anchored the offense as freshman, but struggled mightily last year. However the duo has bounced back in a big way. Cousino is slashing .409/.455/.613 and is showing an improved approach at the plate. Reed, who doubles as a power-armed reliever, improved his conditioning over the off season and is reaping the benefits. Reed is currently pacing the country with nine home runs this season. Come June, both Reed and Cousino will be rare commodities with top-three-round-talents and performance to match.

The top arm in a deep high school class is Tyler Kolek, a country strong 6’5” 240 lb. Texan from Shepherd High. Through his first four appearances he has not yielded a hit and has reportedly topped out at 101 MPH. Because his fastball is so overpowering, he doesn’t necessarily need to use his changeup or breaking ball, but he has done a good of incorporating him in his arsenal anyway. He has massive hands which leads many scouts to believe that his change could evolve into a true out-pitch with more polish.

Kolek has been connected to the Marlins early and often this spring, and is probably a good bet to go No. 2 overall, especially given Jeff Hoffman’s recent struggles. In the past the Marlins have a track record of drafting physical pitchers from Texas and Oklahoma, and Kolek certainly fits that bill. In the meantime however, I pity the poor sophomore that has to face Kolek, because he is probably soiling himself in the batter’s box.

No prospect has had more helium this spring than Brady Aiken, a prep lefthander out of the San Diego area. Aiken entered the year with the reputation of a projectable strike-thrower with a hammer curveball, but his velocity has taken a huge leap forward. Early reports have clocked him as high as 97 MPH on the gun. He has also added a cutter to his repertoire, giving him the potential for an arsenal that includes four swing-and-miss offerings. Once considered a factor at the backend of Round No. 1, he has established himself as a likely a top-10 pick.

Mt. Pleasant’s Michael Kopech continues to fly up team’s draft boards and in his most recent start he reportedly hit 98 MPH. Kopech’s delivery is unconventional to say the least, but it does generate a lot of deception and he possesses elite arm speed. The amount of prep arms with premium velocity in this draft class is absurd, but Kopech is beginning to separate himself, along with Aiken, Kokek, and Grant Holmes. In his last outing, Kopech was actually out-dueled by Whitehouse High’s Patrick Mahomes, a legit prospect in his own right, who hurled a no-hitter. Mahomes is top quarterback signee for Texas Tech, and it is not clear whether his future lies on the diamond or on the gridiron. Some team could be tempted by his athleticism and blazing fastball and try to pry him away from football with a seven-figure bonus this June.

Finally, Touki Toussaint of Coral Spring, Fla. continues to improve his stock by flashing better fastball command. With a knock out curve and an electric fastball that has been up to 97 MPH this year, Toussaint may offer the greatest upside of any pitcher in the country. Although he is extremely athletic, he is lacks polish, and it showed last summer in various showcases. Although, it is important to remember that Toussaint, a Haitian native, grew up a soccer player and only began playing baseball his freshman year.

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