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Before I jump into the draft bunker completely and start pumping out regional previews, scouting reports, etc. every day until the draft, I thought this would be a good time to take a step back and look forward. While I've been touching base with scouts and industry insiders all season about the 2013 draft, I've also been collecting notes on 2014 and 2015 draft prospects as well. They've now piled up and it's best to offload what I have so far. Keep in mind this is obviously incomplete information at this very early juncture, but this is a good look at many of the top names and how the class looks as a whole. This is part three of a four-part preview split up by college/high school and hitters/pitchers of the top prospects for the 2014 MLB Draft.
As I said in the high school pitcher preview, it's very difficult to project this class before any of the showcase/tournament season, but about half the first round high school players in this year's draft were known at this point last year, so it isn't futile. The good news for the 2014 MLB Draft class is that with a college crop that's basically the same as a solid but unspectacular 2013 crop, the prep crop looks very strong. About a year ago, scouts were already complaining that no prep pitchers were separating themselves and there wasn't a franchise hitter. That's largely held up; Kohl Stewart emerged in a weak pitcher crop and Clint Frazier moved to the front of a weak high-end hitter class. For 2014, I already covered that there are a number of potential first round pitchers that have shown the ability to separate themselves and the hitter class also has some slam dunk first round type of talents at this point. It would be unfair to match it up with 2013 yet as a lot can still happen but the top 5-7 hitters below compare favorably with the 2013 class already, indicating there's a good chance this 2014 class surpasses them.
|1. Alex Jackson
||Rancho Bernardo (CA)
|2. Jacob Gatewood
|3. Nick Gordon
|4. Jack Flaherty
||Harvard Westlake (CA)
|5. Kel Johnson
||Home School (GA)
|6. Justin Smith
||Bartram Trail (FL)
|7. Zach Shannon
|8. Braxton Davidson
||T.C. Roberson (NC)
|9. Dalton Ewing
|10. Liam Sabino
||Blair Academy (NJ)
|11. Alexis Pantojas
||PR BB Academy (PR)
|12. Matt Railey
||N. Florida Christian (FL)
|13. Taylor Lane
||Great Bridge (VA)
Two California-based bats top my list and I haven't seen either of them in person yet, but have heard plenty and will see a lot on the showcase circuit this summer/fall: San Diego-area C Alex Jackson and Northern California SS Jacob Gatewood. Jackson comes from a historic power (Rancho Bernardo HS) that's produced a number of high draft picks (Cole Hamels and Hank Blalock among 14 draftees and 4 first rounders from 1999-2005) and Jackson has been getting considerable hype as an underclassmen that showed up the older kids at a few showcases last year. He did this as a catcher that showed the tools to possibly stick behind the plate including an easy plus arm, plus power potential, bat speed and some feel to hit. While he isn't the same kind of prospect, you can see why there were some whispers of him being the next Bryce Harper: a precocious underclassman catcher from a western high school power that flashed top five pick tools at a young age. Like Harper, there have already been rumors that with the ensuing circus after his showcase performances that he's getting advice to move away from catcher to save his knees, extend his career, keep healthy and maximize his ultimate payday(s).
Meanwhile, Gatewood is a lanky, projectable 6'4 athlete that flashes plus power potential, the ability to stick in the infield, possibly at shortstop, and a this spring started hitting the mid 90's with his fastball. You can see in the video that there's a lot of bat speed and athleticism and I see a little bit of Addison Russell and Carlos Correa, with scout accounts agreeing with this general opinion. Gatewood is another player, like Nick Gordon below, where there's still a good bit of physical development to come so it's hard to speak with certainty about how he profiles (same with Correa) but the athleticism/size/power/arm/hands combo is going to find a spot high in the draft, likely in the first round. Gatewood has the arm, hands and actions to stick at short although his foot speed sounds a little short, so third base seems like the natural home down the line, especially as he fills out his frame. He's also been into the mid 90's with a hard breaking ball this spring but I've been told he doesn't have a ton of interest in pitching long-term.
Nick Gordon is a player that I've seen a ton over the past year. Gordon attends many showcases and played on a stacked 2012 Olympia HS roster with first rounders RHP Walker Weickel (Padres) and OF Jesse Winker (Reds) along with Braves over slot OF Connor Lien ($375,000). Olympia has also in recent years produced six more draftees, including Mariners SS of the future Brad Miller, who went to Clemson before becoming a 2nd round pick. Gordon's father is former MLB All-Star closer Tom "Flash" Gordon, who is visible at almost every game or showcase his son attends. Gordon has still more pedigree as his brother Dee is a Dodgers shortstop and there are some physical similarities though it's obvious Nick has a much more physical build, hopefully allowing him to get past some of the strength issues that have held Dee back.
Nick has started to separate himself on the mound as a potential early round pick as well. At a showcase in January, he worked at 91-94 mph with a sharp upper 70's curveball that flashed above average potential in a short outing. Despite his talents on the mound, Gordon's best potential is as a shortstop and he's shown progress each time I've seen him, as he's slowly growing into his frame. He's still got another 10-15 pounds to go to get all the strength and bat speed that's in there, so there's still some projection necessary but he'll flash good raw power for his size in BP with a gap-to-gap approach. Gordon is a plus runner with an above average arm and both could get better as he develops. He shows the ability to stick at shortstop, although he isn't silky smooth and he's still filling out, so there's a chance he could eventually move off the position.
Yet another premium bat from California is one that I did see this year at the NHSI tournament, LA-area 3B Jack Flaherty. He's already a big kid at a filled-out 6'4 but has surprising lateral quickness and hands for his size with an above average arm that fits at the hot corner. He's got a chance to stay in the infield but may eventually move to right field or first base. He actually reminds me somewhat of Kris Bryant, although Bryant was still very lanky at this age. Their swings are similar and they're both power over hit types that fit in a corner but are more skilled than most corner bats. I'll need to get a longer look to see if Flaherty has the hit-ability and projection to his raw power to eventually be a top half of the first round type prospect, but he's definitely in the first round conversation. Harvard Westlake is yet another factory popping up on the list, recently producing RHP Lucas Giolito (Nationals) and LHP Max Fried (Padres), 2012 first rounders.
A similar prospect to Flaherty that also has top half of the first round aspirations is Kel Johnson. I saw him a good bit in Jupiter and was impressed by a kid his age and size already translating raw power into games; he loves to get his arms extended and can pull a good fastball away without hooking it. I have him one spot behind Flaherty since I haven't seen either enough to have a strong opinion on their bats, Johnson is older and bigger and is a left field/first base type, so he has less margin for error with the bat. Johnson is big enough that he needs to be a great athlete to hit for average and there's more looseness to his swing than you'd expect given his size, but he did struggle with breaking stuff a bit in Jupiter.
Justin Smith has been getting some buzz around Florida as the big bat to watch in this year's class with a toolsy center field profile. He's a big, fluid athlete with plus foot speed and bat speed although some have already started voicing concerns about his ability to hit in games, something that plagued a similar prospect, showcase standout Louisiana prep RF Justin Williams, although Smith has a better bat path than Williams.
Zach Shannon has also been generating some buzz as an advanced two-way prospect with first round tools. I saw him pitch in Jupiter, sitting 90-91 with plus life and a hard slurve at 77 mph that flashed plus potential, although his delivery had a good bit of effort. Shannon also is a big kid that lacks projection but has a right field profile with a good swing and power potential. Shannon comes from Cincinnati's historic Moeller HS, which has produced Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin, among others.
Davidson plays some outfield for his high school team but you can see he has the type of body that will continue to fill out and eventually move to first base. The last swing in the above video is him hitting an opposite field home run in the NHSI tournament. The bat is very advanced, the batting eye is good, the power is to all fields and Davidson won't turn 18 until a few days after the draft. That means you saw a lefty-hitting 16 year old go deep the opposite way against good pitching. T.C. Roberson HS is yet another baseball factory on the list, recently producing first rounders CF Cameron Maybin (Tigers) and SS Justin Jackson (Jays).
Ewing plays for Milton HS with the #5 pitcher on my 2014 prep arms list, Dylan Cease, in the loaded-as-usual Atlanta suburbs. Ewing is an easy plus runner (maybe more), with a plus arm and good size (6'1/175) to profile in center field. He has a good swing and obvious athleticism and will no doubt be scouted to death for the next year. I don't have a great feel for how good of a hitter he is and Ewing is old for the class, but his raw tools are enough to put him this high on the list. Along the same lines, we have two prep shortstops who are most notable for being athletic guys with solid swings and a good shot to stick at short, while the game hit-ability and power will be investigated further this summer. Liam Sabino is a guy that's been know for awhile and from what I've been told sounds similar to Oscar Mercado from this year's class, as a lanky righty hitter with gap power and smooth defensive skills. I saw Pantojas in January at a showcase and he was a generic solid follow that needed to put on 10-15 pounds before anyone would know what he was. I talked to a scout that said after a trip to Puerto Rico that he's a fringe first rounder now as a guy that will stick at short and his fluid swing from the left side has a little more bat speed and power than before.
He doesn't swing in this video but I thought the visual of his setup and physical build would give you a good sense of Matt Railey. He'll also be scouted a good bit next spring with teammate LHP Carson Sands being the last cut from the prep pitchers list. Railey flashed a loose, strong swing, fringy raw power power and above average speed as one of the few underclassmen at the Diamond Club showcase last October. Like Sands, Railey also turns 19 before the draft, so looking like he fit in with the seniors at Diamond Club was a good indicator as he was the same age as most of them. Taylor Lane is the next big player to come out of yet another factory, Great Bridge HS in Chesapeake, VA that produced Braves OF Justin Upton and this year has potential first rounder RHP Connor Jones. Lane is a raw, athletic shortstop with quick-twitch tools and power potential but he has had some trouble this spring converting those tools into performance.
Others Of Note
Ryder Ryan was the last cut from the list, in part because he also turns 19 before the draft but also because some have expressed concerns that he may be plateauing as a prospect. He reminds me some of Austin Maddox, a Jacksonville-area prep standout who was a huge prospect entering his spring draft season. Maddox was a catcher with massive right-handed raw power that also put up some velo numbers on the mound but was raw as a pitcher. Maddox ended up going to Florida and slowly lost his athleticism as he added weight, costing him the ability to hit for average and the flexibility to explode for the same power. On the mound, he developed a plus breaking ball and went in the third round as a reliever. Ryan was a power-hitting catcher that I was alerted to as a sophomore in high school (the above BP video is from that spring) where he showed precocious ability. He hasn't improved a whole lot and has moved to third base, while he's still raw on the mound but gets in the 90's pretty easily. I'm not sure how Ryan's next year will play out, but he's got a lot of ability.
In the deep south, I've got four more names to pass along. Brother Martin HS (LA) infielder Greg Deichmann projects as a lefty-hitting third baseman with raw power but the LSU commit will have to show more game hit-ability as the bat path can get uphill. Thorsby HS (AL) catcher Matt Morgan is an athletic backstop committed to Alabama that shows some offensive potential and a chance to stick behind the plate. Harrison Central HS (MS) third baseman Bobby Bradley is maxed-out at 6'2, 220 pounds but he shows left-handed raw power and the LSU commit has the hands to possibly stick in the infield. Walton HS (GA) catcher Aaron Rzucidlo caught some scouts attention this spring (mine included) that were in to scout Stephen Wrenn but saw Rzucidlo show an above average arm, some feel to catch and at least average raw power.
I've got two first baseman in Florida to keep tabs on: Brian Gonzalez of Archbishop McCarthy HS (Miami commit) and Jeremy Vasquez of Martin County HS (Florida commit). Gonzalez also pitches in the high 80's from the left side but the righty swing of the 6'3, 230 pounder is his meal ticket, producing average raw power for the school that recently produced 1st rounders OF Nick Castellanos (Tigers) and RHP Nick Travieso (Reds). Vasquez is a smaller guy (6'0, 195 pounds) that's likely limited to first base but he has a very smooth left-handed swing and all fields power that is below average now but could get to average as he matures. Vasquez has a lot of similarities to Venice HS (FL) senior first baseman Nick Longhi. Both are advanced hitters limited to first base that are very young for their class and may project for average game power despite limited physical projection, due to their age and good hit tool, but teams are betting on the bat.
Another interesting name to keep tabs on is Canadian right fielder Gareth Morgan. He's had inconsistent game performances with wood bats against good pitching for the traveling junior Team Canada, but he has big raw power from a fluid 6'4, 210 pound frame. Two California prospects with early round potential are St. Francis HS catcher Tim Susnara (Oregon commit) and Orange Lutheran HS shortstop Josh Morgan (UCLA commit), both showing everyday potential at premium positions. I saw Sahuaro HS (AZ) RF/LHP Alex Verdugo playing for the Scout Team Yankees in Jupiter and was impressed with his above average arm, sound swing, power potential and high-energy style. He also has hit 92 mph on the mound this spring. Lastly, two of the better names in amateur baseball are both Division-1 prospects in this draft class: St. Paul's HS (LA) catcher Handsome Monica (Arizona commit) and Spanish River HS (FL) infielder Fenway Parks.