It's not shaping up as a very strong season for college hitters in the draft, but relatively speaking, the talent is stronger in the Southeast than it is in the West or Midwest. Recently, I spoke with a scout that covers that part of the United States. Here are his thoughts on a few of the top college players from his area for the 2010 draft.
Zack Cox, 3b, Arkansas
"Cox is another one who's going to have to hit. He's certainly not your prototype at second base or third base—I've seen him at both spots this year. Some of his stuff has gone a little bit backwards for him since high school. His arm strength has gone a little backwards, but he's always going to be a fringy fielder. His hands are fine, balls hit to him are OK, he's got slow feet, his range should be good enough for third base. The thing that I can't figure out with him is he goes out and hits .260 with 15 home runs or whatever for Arkansas last spring and then he goes out to the Cape and hits .340 with no power and now he comes back this year and what's he hitting? [.414/.516/.606 with nine extra-base hits.]
"He's strong, he's a real strong kid. You watch him in BP and he can launch balls. But it seems like he has to make a tradeoff. Either he's going to hit for power or he's going to hit for average and I'm not certain that he can do both. The thing that concerns me about his swing is that he has a lot of head movement in his swing. He starts off with his head upright—a fairly standard look—but when he's actually making contact, his left ear's touching his shoulder. He's figured it out against college pitching, but I'm concerned about as he gets more advanced. I think he is going to hit and he's a good prospect, but we'll see how everything goes signability-wise and how all that plays into it. But he's a hard-working kid, good kid, that can swing the bat a bit and I think he'll play third base enough to stick there."
Bryce Brentz, of, Middle Tennessee State
[Editor's note: This interview took place before Brentz's recent injury.] "He's so aggressive that he gets himself into trouble at times. I know there was a four- or five-game stretch there where he was tied for the career home run record at Middle Tennessee and it looked like every at-bat he was trying to set it. And he doesn't need to be that aggressive to hit the ball out. He has tremendous bat speed and a good swing and he gets himself out when he gets too aggressive. That's where I think a lot of the strikeouts are coming from. It's funny, as he's kind of piled up the strikeouts, I went back through some of my game notes through last year and this year, and I don't think I've seen him strike out once when I was in the park. He's got very good hand-eye coordination and he's very strong. He's not your prototypical 6-3, 6-4 outfielder with the big size, but he's very strong from the elbows to the fingertips and has great bat speed. It's nice this year that's he's not having to be their Friday night guy because you can get a much better feel for him on defense. Last year, he was playing left field and he usually wouldn't take infield/outfield, you didn't see the arm strength there—but I've seen him up to 93 on the mound and he's a guy where it really translates out in the field. He's got a plus arm and it might even be a little bit better than that. I think he profiles in right field better than center field, but I would certainly send him out there in center and let him play off the position. He's going to go really good, I think."
Brett Eibner, rhp/of, Arkansas
"I like him as a pitcher. You could certainly take him pretty high as a hitter too. He has a bit of a long swing. He has good power and he's a good athlete out in the field, but his arm doesn't play as well in the field as it does on the mound. But on the mound he does everything real easy. He looks like he's playing catch and it's 92-94 (mph). And for a guy who's playing both ways, you figure he's not getting as much time either way, you think he might be able to take off once he just focuses on one of the two. I know the whole situation with the Astros coming out of high school (he didn't sign as a fourth-round pick) is because he wanted to be a position player, and I haven't really sat down with him yet to figure out if his thinking has changed on that at this point, but I see him as a significantly better prospect as a pitcher than as a position player. His secondary stuff is good. He flashes a plus slider and the changeup is coming along. He didn't throw the changeup the first time I saw him in the game. The first couple outings were just three innings or so and he pretty much cruised on just the fastball and the slider. But he's shown feel for the changeup in the bullpen, and I know he's started to mix it in more as his outings are getting a little bit longer. Again, he's pretty much coming out of center field and doing what he's doing. You think both of those are going to get better as he focuses fully on pitching."
Andy Wilkins, 1b, Arkansas
"He's another guy who has had a little bit of an inconsistent start to the year. There's some games where he has a good approach up there and he's using the whole field—and he's certainly strong enough to hit the ball out of any part of the park. But he's not making a lot of consistent contact right now. He's hitting a lot of stuff off the label and with an aluminum bat that's going to work, but he's going to break a lot of bats with the way he's swinging it right now. He's OK over at first base. Balls hit to him, he's all right. Around the bag he's better than when he's fielding ground balls, but the range is limited—he's a first base-only guy. I think he's going to end up hitting because he does have a good feel up there, but it seems he's just caught in between on a lot of stuff right now and he's up there guessing a little bit. But I think he is going to hit. He's a strong kid. He's definitely got some power and when I saw him last year, it looked like his approach was a little more consistent and he was centering more balls up."
Cody Hawn, 1b, Tennessee
"Hawn can hit. That's what he does. He hurt his shoulder early on in the year, but it hasn't really hurt him at the plate at all. The tough thing is, he really just has no position. It's kind of painful watching him because he's a great kid. From seeing him at Walters State (JC) a few years ago to last year and this year, he's probably the most consistent guy I've ever seen with run times—he's always giving a good effort—but it's 4.65 to 4.7. He's really a guy that's going to be tough for a National League team to take. He's got good feel for hitting, he has bat speed, he makes adjustments within at-bats—it's tough to get him on the same pitch two times in a row and if you do, you know he's going to make that adjustment for the next at-bat. But he's a tough one because, athletically, there's nothing that really goes with the bat. I think he's DH'd every game I've seen for him this year and over at first base, it was below average. He can make some plays on ground balls hit right at him. He's marginal around the bag but, range-wise, it's real short and his arm's below average as well. I don't think there's any chance he can play left field, and third base was a real challenge for him when he was over at Walters State."
Hayden Simpson, rhp, Southern Arkansas
"He's putting together about as good of a college career as you can. I think he's 28-1 or 29-1 in college now. I'm not sure what year he lost a game, I know it wasn't this one. I haven't seen him a second time, but I saw his first start of the year and. . . they left him in a little longer than you'd like to see—I think he threw 115 pitches in his first start—but he was sitting 92-94 and touching 96 for the first couple innings. It fell off a little bit but he can spin a curveball too. He's not a big guy—I would say he's about 5-11, 175—but he's got a good arm and his numbers are backing it up. His delivery gets out of whack every once in a while and he struggles throwing strikes, but he can usually put it back together. His stuff is just overpowering at that level. I think he's striking out 13 or 14 per nine and guys aren't making solid contact off of him at all. I think he's a bullpen guy. That first outing, he fell back down to 90-92 late in the game. He never dipped below 90 on my gun and he reached back a couple times when he saw the finish line. I know his second start of the year, his velocity did fall a little bit—I think he was 88-93, working much more with an average fastball, so I'm interested to see him when I get back in there a second time and see how he's holding up over the course of the year. I heard last year he finished the season as strong as he started it, but it seems this year there's a little bit more variation in the velocity."