Deep Keepers: Perfect Game All-American Classic Part I
The draft is becoming increasingly popular with dynasty league owners, and for obvious reason: knowing the draft means gaining an edge in acquiring tomorrow’s stars. While there are a multitude of summer showcases, the best places to get a look at draft eligible high school talent are the Perfect Game All-American Classic and the annual Under Armour game. The past few years the events were scheduled so close together that players were forced to either choose one or the other — but this year they’ll be played on successive weekends — with PGAAC up first this last weekend.
The consensus seems to be that the 2013 high school draft class is less compelling than the last several years, and although it is true that it lacks the star power at the top, it does have solid depth. Despite it’s short comings, a highlight of this draft is the better than average group of catchers and left-handed pitchers. Overall the caliber of play was as high as one would expect, and most glosses of the game I’ve read seem to overlook the baseball in their haste to dismiss the lack of elite talent.
I wasn’t sure how to organize my notes, but what better way than to simply present my impressions from each inning? This means longer comments for pitchers and notable hitters, with pithier observations as I see fit.
LHP Robert Kaminsky started the game, and I was particularly interested to see him as he’s been a riser at earlier events this summer. It’s easy to see why he’s garnered favorable reviews as he features a quick, athletic delivery and two above average-to-plus pitches. One is his FB that sat at an easy 90-92 mph and a fast curve that sat in the low 80s (best around 83). While pitching off of the fastball and locating it well, the curve is the money pitch and is overpowering at this level. It was especially tough on his fellow lefties, as evidenced by the strikeout looking by Reese McGuire and the swing and miss whiff by Rowdy Tellez. While Kaminsky has a strong, compact build, those who favor projection will find him lacking, and he’s got some “what you see…” going on. He reminded me a bit of a left-handed version of Keegan Thompson, whom I covered in the Prospect Classic. Both are well-conditioned, strong pitchers with good rather than great FBs, who may already be maxed out physically. Keegan does enjoy the advantage of showing four pitches, while Kaminsky didn’t really show a third. Of course, it isn’t like he needed to in one inning with that devastating a FB/curve combo. Expect him to generate some divergent opinions next June.
There wasn’t much hitting in the top of the first, with lead-off hitter SS J.P. Crawford the only West hitter to look good against Kaminsky. Crawford has a thin but projectable build, and I was particularly looking forward to seeing him as I’ve been a fan of his since last year. At bat he starts with a high hand load, but drops his hands before driving them through for a level swing. He doesn’t show much power now — though he did have a triple at the Area Codes — preferring to go back up the middle, which he did this time, chopping one past the mound and over second. He does show natural loft in BP and has a build that should add muscle without impairing his quickness or flexibility. He has a chance at five average or better tools. He wasn’t really tested at short, but he did have good actions around the bag on throws to second. He got dinged on his baserunning at Area Codes, but he looked great here. He flashed good speed that allowed him to beat out a potential double play in one instance and then later on steal two bases. I came in predisposed to like him and nothing he did here changed that.
RHP Kohl Stewart was the pitcher in the bottom of the first and he announced his presence with a lively 94 mph FB. Stewart is also a football prospect and is one of the most physically imposing pitchers. It should come as no surprise that he had some of the top velocity readings. He threw a slider around 81 mph that had some late break but most lacked shape. He threw a change-up that had some wiggle at the end, catching Zach Collins by surprise with it. His command wasn’t great as he missed glove side with the FB and opposing hitters got some surprisingly hard contact off the 4-seamer. Stewart will be a favorite of many because of the body and heat, but there’s some effort in the delivery and he’s a bit of a project in terms of command refinement of the secondaries. An optimistic comp might be Noah Syndergaard; though Syndergaard’s delivery and FB command were better than this in his draft year, giving Stewart somethign to aim for.
SS Oscar Mercado has his first plate appearance and drew a four pitch walk. He then stole second, but the speed is closer to good than great. If Stewart had delivered a better pitch, Reese McGuire would likely have nabbed Mercado. It was nice to see McGuire throwing conventionally after nothing but throws from his knees at the Prospect Classic.
OF Clint Frazier is another player inflating his stock this summer and it was easy to see why. While not physically imposing, he is a bit of a fooler with powerful forearms and breadth through the chest and shoulders. He showed some of the best hands and wrists of any hitter in the game and lined a shot to right off a 94 mph FB on the outer half for a sac fly.
1B/C Zack Collins has a rep as a guy who rakes wherever he goes and a chief ingredient in that reputation is his willingness to go to the opposite field. He lined a shot to left that was mostly wrists rolling over and great hand position. He is a big kid though and it’s hard to see him sticking at C as he matures. The good news is that he should still hit enough to be a top prospect as a 1B.
The East lineup was pretty loaded at the top. Another favorite of mine, OF Justin Williams, followed the excellent bats above. Williams is extraordinarily strong with a fullback’s build and some of the best bat speed in the class. He’ll need to add polish, which he showed by getting thrown out trying to stretch a dropped fly ball into a double, but he’s definitely one of the highest ceiling bats around.
LHP Trey Ball is everyone’s favorite two-way prospect in the class after a great Area Codes performance, but he definitely showed better on the mound than at the plate. While at the dish he was 0 for 2 with two strikeouts and in the field he misplayed a Rowdy Tellez opposite field hit into a triple. If you’ve seen Rowdy Tellez you’ll know he’d need considerable assistance to log a triple, even in Petco. Ball is tall and thin, but fantastically projectable, and his delivery is as athletic and repeated as one would expect from his reputation. He uses his height well, driving the ball down in the zone with a FB ranging from 87-93 mph. The FB is a bit straight and as a result of that he gave up hard contact when he caught too much of the plate. He threw a slider in the high 70′s and it was hard to tell if he was throwing two breaking balls or if he was just inconsistent. Some breaking balls featured hard, downer break while others lacked shape and stayed up in the zone. He showed a nice approach though, using the pitch early in the count.
The pleasant surprise was Ball’s change-up which had good downer action and some fade. His arm speed was excellent and one of his best sequences was an 89 mph FB down and away to a RHH followed by an 84 mph change to the same spot. There’s some effort in the delivery, but it’s a fast arm and he has very high ceiling if he stays on the mound.
OF Ryan Boldt showed a solid lefty stroke and was short to the ball. All around solid player, though his range in CF seemed exposed a bit by Petco.
C Nick Ciuffo, a favorite of mine from the Prospect Classic, showed off his arm by gunning Boldt on a steal attempt. He then managed to pick off Jeremy Martinez who got caught straying too far from second base.
Speaking of, C Jeremy Martinez, he showed why he’s one of the most highly regarded bats in the class. He put together a great PA. After working a full count, Martinez took a very low strike (true pitcher’s pitch) back up the middle for a single. It wasn’t the loudest hit of the day, but he showed such good barrel ability and strong wrists that it was worth filing away. His defense was rock solid as usual, and I don’t think there’s a catcher in the class with softer (meaning stronger) hands or better framing ability. Martinez still profiles somewhere between Yadier Molina and Carlos Ruiz for me.
I saw LHP Ian Clarkin on the Prospect Classic broadcast as well, and while I wasn’t overwhelmed, I did come away a bit more impressed after this look. I’m still not wild about the delivery — excessively high leg lift, quite a bit of effort, arm a tick late — but his command was on today thanks to his maintaining his arm slot. There’s no doubting the arm speed though, and he uses that arm speed to deliver premium velo at 92-93 with life, and his slow curve was one of the best off-speed offerings of the day. Clarkin’s curve matched Kaminsky’s harder version for break and depth despite coming in in the low 70′s. Clarkin also threw a breaking ball around 73 with more sweep that may have been a stab at a slider. The FB was all over the zone, and had hitters well behind. The delivery isn’t ideal and I think I counted one change-up, but he’s interesting if he can clean things up.
Ciuffo impressed me with his patient approach at the Prospect Classic and did so again working a walk against Clarkin.
SS Jan Hernandez gave everyone a déjà vu moment when he crushed a ball to the deepest part of the park à la fellow P.R. SS prospect Carlos Correa in last year’s All-American game. Hernandez is even more physically developed than Correa was, as Hernandez is strong-limbed and projectable. The swing is fairly simple but he lunges at the ball and will get eaten alive if he doesn’t learn to stay back. Unlike Correa, Hernandez did not impress me with his actions at SS. I’m generally resistant to bids to move players off a premium position at this age, but Hernandez made two costly miscues behind Mayky Perez that I’ll cover more when we get to the sixth inning. I have my doubts.
3B Travis Demeritte is a name to remember. I wasn’t crazy about his swing last year, but he looked better this time around and ended up one of the nicest swings in the bunch for me. He starts with an open stance before closing almost too much for my taste, but it worked for him as he hit a nice shot to right that Dom Smith couldn’t quite get to. I understand that these games force players to positions they’re ill-suited for, but putting 1B Smith in RF was borderline inhumane. I had been impressed by Demeritte’s actions at 3B in prior looks, and he did nothing to change that. He shows good footwork, comes in on the ball well and has a strong, precise arm.
C Chris Okey is another of the talented catchers in this class, and I really like his bat; in some ways he’s the right-handed counterpart to Ciuffo’s lefty with both featuring patient approaches and clean, line drive swings and power potential. Today wasn’t Okey’s day though and he was victimized by an especially overpowering sequence from Clarkin this time up.
3B John Sternagel isn’t flashy in any phase, but he continues to show advanced contact ability. He was one of the only hitters to even touch Clarkin’s curve.
McGuire showed his defensive chops a bit, blocking enough of a bounced Clarkin curve to keep it between his legs then picking it up and gunning a runner trying to advance.
A. J. Puk continued the theme of tall LHP, though he’s the baby face among the group and has the least developed upper half. That didn’t stop him from pumping steady low 90s gas, and with so much projection left it’s easy to dream on this ticking up as he firms up the body. The FB is straight at this stage, and he clearly doesn’t trust it enough. He instead leaned on (read: over-utilizing) an above avg low-70s curve that he dropped on the arm side black in relentless fashion. He has a good 3/4 arm slot, but there is a hitch in his delivery as well as a noticeable wrist hook. As a result, he really cuts himself off in front. If I had to pick a guy who could make the biggest leap forward between now and June 2013, he’d be a prime candidate as he pitched well despite these self-constructed obstacles.
This is the inning where Crawford beat out the DP after hitting another shot back through the box, this time fielded by the pitcher. He stole second again, and is just very, very fast. I wasn’t at Area Codes, but I have to wonder at the kvetching over baserunning gaffes when a guy has wheels like this. You can teach a guy how to run the bases; you can’t teach him to run like the wind. This is how guys get buried thanks to a couple of mistakes in a high profile venue, so let’s hope the naysayers were paying attention in this look. It’s enough to make one cynical…
Mercado showed off his range with a gutsy charge into foul territory on a pop up that ended with a last minute slide into the base of the wall behind third, hitting it pretty hard. That’s an “A” for effort, but also a scary moment.
RHP Dustin Driver pitched the bottom of the inning and it was nice to finally put a face to a name that’s been on my radar. Driver has a strong, mature build, but I can see remaining projection. He showed all three of his pitches in order — taking the concept of showcase literally — with a 92 mph FB, a traditional slider with lateral action at 83 and a curve that hovered around 77/78. The FB was straight and up in the zone though, and Driver was hit fairly hard as a result. I’m intrigued, but didn’t see anything to hang my hat on in this look.
Mercado flew out to CF but made hard contact as he would throughout the day. He’s not a big kid, but I could see him getting a few Francisco Lindor comps because of his build, defensive ability, and his combo of barrel ability and surprisingly forceful swing. I love the physical projection with him as I do with Crawford: not a build that grows off SS but wiry strength that may develop above average power for the position.
OF Austin Meadows had his only hit of the day, and while it wasn’t a loud one, it was the sort that endears him to me. Taking a curve for a called strike, he pulled his hands in on the next pitch, a 92 mph FB, and punched it to the opposite field for a single. It’s great to have big hits in showcase games, but he showed me the skills that get you to the majors in that plate appearance. For those looking for evidence of the tools that are his calling card, he obliged by stealing third later in the inning.
Frazier was up again, and cemented initial impressions that he is a serious hitting prospect. After a couple of looks at the gently swirling bat and the flex and strength in his hands and wrists, I’m sold.
McGuire had an amazing block in this inning, bending his right knee and extending his left leg straight out to the side to kill the ball. Dave Rawnsley of Perfect Game likes to refer to the way McGuire plays the position like a hockey goalie, and this was a perfect example of that observation. I’ve read less than flattering reviews of some of the catching in the game by some notable pundits, including McGuire’s performance, and I’m baffled. I’ve seen him several times now and come away impressed with his flexibility and preparation each time. He’s from Kent, Washington, and unlike kids like fellow 2013s Jeremy Martinez or Arden Pabst, doesn’t get to catch premium velocity or breaking balls with any regularity. That he can come in and handle guys like Stewart, Clarkin and Driver as if he’s been doing it all year is impressive.
Cord Sandberg had a fairly non-descript day, but rifled a ball to RF. He’s well put together so he’s a follow.
Ciuffo flew out, but I’m more and more taken with the bat. I’m starting to wonder how many high school catchers could go in the first round.