I just got back from Durham — I should have been getting back from Durham tonight, but I booked my trip for 8:30 AM, not PM (whoops) and was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Prospect Classic. The event — while still flawed — was markedly improved in format, with college pitchers facing college hitters and the prep pitchers facing high-school bats. While it’s fun to see if a 17-year old can hold his own against a college hitter/pitcher, you really can’t gain anything from watching collegiate arms mow down high-school juniors.
The talent, on the other hand, wasn’t great. My (likely) top three high school players all chose not to play, and there were other defections that really hurt the 18-under field. With that being said, there were still plenty of talented players to see for the 2013 and ’14 class.
Here’s a rundown of what stood out over the three games I was able to see.
The development of Arkansas’ right-hander Ryne Stanek has really been something to see. He was mostly 93-95, but popped 96 a few times in the first inning with plenty of life on the heater. The slider was mostly plus, though here and there the pitch had a tendency to be a bit short. The changeup continues to look like a potential out pitch, and he commanded it better than I’ve seen in person before. If I had to make odds for the first pick right now, Ryne Stanek would be right at the top.
Florida right-hander Jonathon Crawford only worked an inning, so it didn’t help answer my reliever or starter questions. The fastball popped — and the mechanics have improved considerably — but hes really only a two pitch pitcher at this point. The same can be said for Bobby Wahl of Ole Miss, a right-hander with arm strength who misses bats, but is likely a reliever at the pro level.
It was my first look at Gonzaga left-hander Marco Gonzales, and I came away impressed. He commanded his 90 mile-per-hour fastball extremely well, and the change up looks like a potential plus-plus offering. When you add in his athleticism — he can really hit and he’s a very good first-baseman — and you might have the 2013 Danny Hultzen.
On the less spectacular side, UCLA right-hander Adam Plutko really struggled to command anything, and the mechanics have digressed since his prep days. I thought Plutko would be a potential first-rounder when he chose school in 2010, but that decision doesn’t seem to have paid off at this point.
High School Pitching
This was not a bully crop, but there were still some interesting arms to keep an eye on over the next eleven months.Steven Gonsalves showed a plus breaking-ball with plenty of projection — as all 6-5, 190 left-handed starters seem to be — but the mechanics were sub-par, particularly in the finish. Another lefty that looked impressive was Ian Clarkin about who one former executive joked to me “if Hunter Virant is the next Tyler Skaggs, is this kid the next Hunter Virant?” He had more oomph on the fastball than Gonsalves, but the breaking-ball was more Tyler Pike than Max Fried.
The best right-handed arm on display was Nick Gordon, who impressed in both of his appearances. He won’t be eligible until 2014, but the right-handed son of Tom and brother of Dee showed plenty of arm strength and an easy 91-93 mile per hour heater, and a curveball that flashed plus. It’s all raw, but he’s an arm that must be paid attention to over the next two years.
As good as Stanek was, the most impressive player on display over the weekend was San Diego third-baseman Kris Bryant. The right-handed hitting Bryant hit everything hard to all parts of the field, and hit some absolute mammoth bombs in his batting practices. He’s not a lock to stick at third because of his size (6-5, 225) but he’s easily the best collegiate bat heading into the year.
I was curious to see what New Mexico first-baseman DJ Peterson would look like after the giant 2012 season, and the results were mixed. The pop was real — only Bryant put more balls over the left-field fence — but the bat speed wasn’t élite, and as strictly a first baseman, the bat has to be special to go on day one. Certainly a name to keep in the back of your head, but take the stats with a grain of salt.
The outfielders were a collective “meh”. Cal-State Fullerton’s Michael Lorenzen showed plenty of athleticism and speed, but not much pop and looks more like a fourth outfielder. Michael Comforto of Oregon State was probably the best bat from the left-side, but is without a position and doesn’t have a stand out tool. I do think that University of Arizona outfielder Jonny Field had a nice couple of days, hitting the ball with authority to all fields and making a few stand out plays in left.
High School Hitting
The strength of the high school class is behind the plate, and a large portion of the big names were in Durham this weekend. This was my first live look at catcher Chris Okey, and while he’s on the smaller side, he showed plenty of pop and plenty of arm strength. Jeremy Martinez once again showed solid defensive and offensive skills, and while Reese McGuire’s bat isn’t as polished as those two, he’s probably the best defensive catcher in the class. Other bats that impressed were outfielder Eugene Vazquez, third-baseman Andy McGuire and outfielder/left-handed pitcher Garrett Williams.