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2014 MLB Draft Podcast: Jim Callis
The Perfect Game National Showcase is the first event of "showcase season," meaning the summer/fall of events for prep prospects for the next year's draft to show their talents to scouts. One week after the 2014 MLB Draft, the 2015 prep class got started with over 300 players spread over a 5 day event, coming on the heels of 3 days where the 2016 class had a similar event (the Junior National) with some 2017s mixed (Pitcher Roundup & Hitter Roundup).
This event is the biggest of its kind and the first of the season, so it serves to introduce the scouting community to the biggest names they'll spend the next year scouting, though many of these players have been known to scouts for over a year. With the year-round nature of the showcase season, many of the top prospects in the class are identified earlier and earlier, making appearances as underclassmen at the premiere prep senior events.
To that point, last year's PG National featured every single one of the prep prospects to go in the top 34 picks last week (the 1st and compensation rounds). Only one of those players wasn't considered a potential first rounder after the event and that player (the Pirates 24th overall pick SS Cole Tucker) was in the 2nd-3rd rounds on most board for draft day, which many pegged him as coming out of PG National. The other slight exception was Cardinals 1st rounder (34th overall) RHP Jack Flaherty, who was seen as a top couple round prospect out of last year's event, but as a third baseman. He didn't pitch at all over the summer/fall, but was known to be a top 5 round prospect on the mound because he was seen a lot as an underclassmen on the same high school team as Lucas Giolito and Max Fried.
I point all that out to say that the cream of the prep crop that go in the top 20-30 picks are very often known to be that kind of prospect after this event, 11.5 months before next year's draft. Of course, players rise, fall and get hurt and there are late velo spikes (like Phil Bickford two years ago) and physical maturations that happen over the next year. That said, the players you are most interested in, that have top half of the first round potential, are known early (particularly the hitters) and you'll likely see their names below (then copied and pasted on other blogs). Since this is a free roundup of the top names, I've purposefully omitted a few top players, though most of them are on my pre-event list and all will be covered in the coming weeks for subscribers.
See my last list of the 2015 class as I knew it before the PG National and see the sidebar below for the top 5 players that I hadn't seen, hadn't heard of, or only had heard a passing mention of before the event. My pre-event list has been blown up and I'll address many of the biggest movers below, but won't publish a new list until mid-August after the Area Code Games and then again in October after Jupiter. After those events, the new names slow to a trickle and we've seen enough to figure out the true talent, as many "new" prep players can shine for one event and tank in the next, with the truth laying in between the two.
Rodgers Keeps The Top Spot
Orlando-area prep SS Brendan Rodgers (Lake Mary HS/FL/Florida State commit) moved into the top spot of my 2015 prep list after I saw him show considerable progress just before the 2014 draft at the East Coast Pro Showcase tryout and was told by multiple sources that CF Daz Cameron (Eagle's Landing HS/GA/Florida State) wasn't quite what the hype machine had made him out to be. Rodgers is now legitimately in the class of 2014's #5 overall pick SS Nick Gordon (another Orlando-area product that committed to Florida State) and has to be taken seriously as a top 5 overall pick.
Rodgers was earning raves from scouts that ran into him this spring for his game power after hanging with the seniors in the 2014 class all summer/fall at major events. Like Gordon, he's only a solid-average runner and doesn't have flashy defensive tools, but makes the most of his ability and should stick at the position. Rodgers doesn't have Gordon's plus arm or fallback plan on the mound, but has a grade or two better raw power (Rodgers flashes grade 55 raw power now, with Gordon's a current 45 that I project to 50) and similar if not better bat speed. Gordon is a left-handed hitter that has more projection to his frame and big league bloodlines, but if both stick at short as expected, have similar bats and speed and Rodgers has more power, it's hard to ignore that, by next June, Rodgers may be a superior prospect and isn't that far off right now.
Cameron has legit plus speed that profiles in center field and a live bat with smooth mechanics and some feel to hit, the hype that he was a Justin Upton type draft prospect was a little overheated. Cameron also has big time bloodlines from father Mike Cameron and he's still clearly one of the top few bats in the class, but Rodgers has the title right now, and by a decent margin.
Texas Leads The Way With Power Arms
The buzziest pop-up arm of the event was RHP Mike Nikorak (Stroudsburg HS/PA/Alabama), who was completely unknown and sat 93-95, hitting 97 mph in his two inning stint. Nikorak ran a 6.84 time in the 60, is 6'5/205, has projection and looseness and flashed an above average hard curveball at 77-79 mph. He checks all the boxes, but scouts have now seen him throw a total of two innings and a source that saw him this spring said he was 85-87 mph, so it still remains to be seen if he can maintain this kind of arm speed. That said, he may have made himself millions of dollars at this event and because he pitches in a cold weather climate, he may only need to show it about a dozen more times over the next year to keep those millions.
While Nikorak's unexpected performance got the most attention, the big story on the pitching side of things at PG National were the power arms from the state of Texas. RHP Cole McKay (Smithson Valley HS/TX/LSU) was already #36 on my list, but took another step forward, sitting 92-94 mph with an above average curveball and changeup from a sturdy 6'5/215 frame. Then, RHP Beau Burrows (Weatherford HS/TX/Texas A&M), who was #33 on my list and was regularly in the low 90's last summer/fall, took a step forward of his own, sitting 93-96 with an lighting quick arm, but at 6'2/195 with less feel for his off-speed, is a bit behind McKay.
Five more arms from the Lonestar State stood out, though only one of them was a legitimate new name with three of the five already on my last list and a fourth just missing it. RHP Maddux Conger (Stephenville HS/TX/Arizona State) doesn't have a ton of projection at 6'2/195 but had plus life on his 90-92 sinker that hit 93 mph and feel for four average-ish pitches. RHP Parker Ford (Lufkin HS/TX/None) was a new name and is uncommitted but the 6'3/210 righty sat 89-93, touching 94 mph with hard cut and an above average curveball.
2. Hogan Harris, LHP, LA, Louisiana Lafayette
3. Parker Ford, RHP, TX, None
4. Cornelius Randolph, 3B, GA, Clemson
5. Reggie Pruitt, CF, GA, Vanderbilt
RHP Luken Baker (Oak Ridge HS/TX/TCU) has workhorse build at 6'4/240 and sat 92-95 over two innings, but his curveball and changeup were more fringy right now. RHP Chris Andritsos (Woodlands HS/TX/Oklahoma) has been seen a lot and attends a powerhouse prep program; he's got some pop at the plate but stands out more on the mound where he sits 90-93 with a hard curveball. Finally, RHP Tyler Ivey (Rockwall Heath HS/TX/Texas A&M) is 6'4/200 and sat 90-92 with an average curveball and possible more in the tank.
There were more than a few other arms into the mid-90's at the event, but I'll save those and more videos and reports for the subscribers. Until the new and free list comes out in August, this article will have to tide over the freeloaders, as the rest of my early 2015 MLB Draft coverage will be behind a pay wall. No time better than the present to sign up for that free trial at the top of the page.
Power Bats Compliment Power Arms
While the 2015 class doesn't have quite the bulk of power arms and bats at this juncture that we saw last year, there are still plenty of elite prospects showing the tools to go in the top few rounds. As for the power bats, two catchers and a half dozen outfielders stood out at the event, all of whom were already on my earlier list. This illustrates the point that elite bats emerge earlier than pitchers in most cases as a pitcher's draft stock is so closely tied to physical development/arm speed, which often comes later, while hitting ability is more a skill and can develop earlier.
Catchers Chris Betts (Wilson HS/CA/Tennessee) and Wyatt Cross (Legacy HS/CO/North Carolina) both stood out and the biggest surprise between them was the progress Betts has made behind the plate, now flashing a plus arm that gives him a real chance to stick behind the plate. Betts flashes average raw power from the left side; his mature frame leads to some sloppiness behind the plate but the raw tools are elite. Cross flashes similar raw power to Betts with a notch less arm strength at 55, but with a cleaner body and better feel behind the plate.
OF Kyle Tucker (Plant HS/FL/Florida) was outstanding in a tryout last week for the East Coast Pro Showcase (video above) where he and Rodgers looked like top half of the first round picks. Tucker wasn't quite as good at PG National and he didn't lean into a long fly in his BP swings, but I've already seen his above average to plus current raw power, above average foot speed and remarkably quiet lefty swing from a projectable 6'4/175 frame. Tucker legitimately has top-15 pick ability that showed more in the games at this event and his stock should rise throughout the summer as some tooled-up hitters flounder in games. Tucker's prep teammate RHP Jake Woodford (Plant HS/FL/Florida) will return from a broken finger in a few months and could help make Tampa's Plant HS the top prep team for scouts to see this spring. The 6'4/210 righty was up to 93 mph with a sharp slider this spring.
OF/RHP Ryan Johnson (College Station HS/TX/TCU) showed the most progress of this group from last year, when he was a LF/1B fit that wasn't that athletic but could really hit and showed the power to profile on the corner. Johnson ran 6.98 at 6'3/205 with a solid-average arm that worked 91-94 with a solid-average hook in an inning on the mound. Some think he could still show better in each of those metrics as he continues to mature and the multi-sport athlete focuses primarily on baseball. He was already #10 on my list entering the event and is now a good deal better, so the upside is enormous.
LF Greg Pickett (Legend HS/CO/None) was probably the most impressive overall bat at the event, showing above average bat speed and raw power to go with very professional at bats that used the whole field with consistent contact. His fringy arm and speed fit in left field but the 6'4/220 slugger was incredibly impressive. CF Dayton Dugas (Sam Houston HS/LA/None) is still a little raw at the plate, but the 6'2/230 athlete ran 6.64 in the 60 and might be able to stick in center field, where his 55-60 raw power would look great.
LF Daniel Reyes (Mater Academy HS/FL/Florida) started as a freshman in left field for Mater Academy with Albert Almora in center field and current standout for Miami, Willie Abreu, in right field. It's Reyes' time now and the 6'2/200 athlete showed 55 raw power to his pull side to go with an average arm and solid-average speed from a slimmed-up physique. Like Johnson, OF Mitchell Hansen (Plano HS/TX/Stanford) is a multi-sport star from Texas that's taken a step forward in the last year. At 6'4/195 with above average speed and raw power from the left side along with feel to go the other way versus good pitching, Hansen has a lot to like and projection means he could still get better.
The Non-2015 Prospects
Six players not in the 2015 class were at the event this year: one Mexican pitcher for this year's July 2nd class, one for next year's class, two drafted but unsigned prep players from the 2014 class and two standouts from the 2016 class. The two 2016 players, RHP Anthony Molina (Somerset Academy HS/FL/Miami) and OF Seth Beer (Lambert HS/GA/None), were also at the Junior National and were covered in the Pitcher and Hitter recaps from those events. Beer is aged like a 2015 prospect, so it was good to see him compete on an even playing field while Molina is a true 2016 and one of the four elite arms in that class, all from Florida, that would be near the 2015 class and all of them were at the Junior National with full reports here for subscribers.
The soon-to-be-eligible Mexican pitcher was a smaller guy in the lower 80's, but the kid to watch was 2015 July 2nd prospect, Oscar Arzaga, a 6'3/200 15-year-old Mexican righty. Arzaga sat 86-88 and hit 90 mph with some cut and a 3/4 breaking ball that flashed average. The 2014 draftees in attendence were Cubs 23rd-rounder LF Isiah Gilliam (Parkview HS/GA/Chipola JC (FL)) and Giants' 18th-rounder RHP Edrick Agosto (Int'l Baseball Academy HS/PR/Broward JC (FL)); both will head to Florida-based junior colleges if they dont sign. Agosto is the easier to evaluate, as he is a 6'2/275 righty that sat 88-90 with an average-ish three pitch mix that's hit 93 mph in the past and more Rich Garces comps than you can shake a stick at.
Gilliam was re-classified to the 2014 class in the middle of the spring and clubs didn't have the history to pull the trigger on a big bonus and high pick with just a handful of looks before the draft. Right after re-classifying, Gilliam's team played at the NHSI event in front of over 100 scouts, but with no public BP and Gilliam taking infield at first base, all scouts had there were game swings and Gilliam's was all arms, though the upper half worked well.
At PG National, he showed what I had heard he worked on later in the spring, integrated his lower half, which unlocked his above average raw power from both sides of the plate. The 6'3/215 athlete also showed some ability at third base during infield, was solid at the plate during the games and still hasn't turned 18, aged more with the 2015 players he was facing at this event. His average arm and below average speed make left field or even first base the most likely landing spots. The Cubs may run out of draft pool money before they can meet Gilliam's price, forcing him to Florida panhandle power Chipola JC, but he made himself some money at PG National and is a top 3 round talent.
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