Draft Tracker is evolving. Instead of limiting ourselves to “Three Up and Three Down,” we are instead going to simply spotlight a handful of players each installment. Some will still be moving up, some will be moving down and some will be holding steady.
Mike Foltynewicz, rhp, Minooka (Ill.) HS
Foltynewicz started the year as the No. 63 player in Baseball America’s high school Top 100 list, but no player has improved his stock more this spring.
It’s typical for players in colder-weather states to blossom later in the year than their peers from warmer climates, and that’s exactly what Foltynewicz has done. On the summer circuit, Foltynewicz was sitting 88-91 mph with a 75-78 mph curveball, but his frame and easy mechanics hinted that more was to come, and he’s taken as big a step forward as anybody this spring. With his powerful legs and smooth delivery, the Texas recruit has been sitting in the low to mid-90 mph range this spring, even getting as high as 96.
“He’s shown some good velocity, there’s no question about that,” a National League area scout said. “I had 96 (mph) once and that was in his first start when he was only going to go a couple innings. Last week, when he knew he was going to try and go a complete game, he was up to 94.”
Along with his improved fastball, Foltynewicz mixes in both a curveball and a slider, as well as a changeup.
“The secondary stuff is going to come,” the scout said. “Right now he’s throwing a couple (of) breaking balls. I think most people on our side of the fence think the slider has a better chance than the curveball. Both of them have a ways to go, but he shows flashes of a quality pitch. And his changeup, at least for me the other day, he started using it about the fifth inning and it had great life and solid deception, and it looked like it was going to be a solid pitch as well. He’s shown enough in addition to the plus fastball that he’s getting a lot of attention, that’s for sure.”
Standing 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, Foltynewicz has big, strong thighs and a fluid, easy delivery. Even before the boost in velocity, scouts saw the arm speed they look for that hinted that there might be more in the tank.
“The first time I saw him was the winter of his junior year and I didn’t really know him from Adam,” the scout said. “He started throwing to the catcher and he was kind of rushing to the plate and he was much thinner and it was like, ‘Well, that’s not a great delivery, but oh my gosh—look how fast that arm is!’ I’ve never seen a guy that could rush as bad as he did and still have the hand catch up and get the ball across the plate. So, that kind of excited me at that time and the follow was on.”
With his size, stuff and makeup, it’s safe to say Foltynewicz has pitched his way into the upper tier of pitching prospects for this year’s class and should be off the board on day one of the draft.
Perci Garner, rhp, Ball State
Garner is a premium athlete that was a two-time all-state (Ohio) football player in high school. He passed for 4,400 yards with 43 touchdowns and ran for 700 yards with 17 more touchdowns his senior year and came to Ball State with the intention of playing football, but has since switched to baseball.
It looks like that’s been a wise decision. Baseball America ranked Garner as the No. 2 player in the Great Lakes League last summer (behind Ball State teammate, Kolbrin Vitek) and he’s putting together an impressive season as a draft-eligible redshirt sophomore.
On the season, Garner is 5-0, 3.51 with 49 strikeouts and 21 walks over 41 innings.
“The word’s out,” an American League area scout said. “He’s throwing hard and throwing a good breaking ball and improving his draft status, for sure. I haven’t seen the velocity some guys have seen, but I’ve seen him at 94 (mph) and some guys have seen 96. Coupled with that breaking ball and it’s pretty good. He’s only had three or four starts, but he’s putting it all together and guys are flocking in there to see him, left and right.”
The fact that Garner is relatively new to pitching is a bit of a double-edged sword: On one hand, he doesn’t have a lot of experience and still may need work on some of the finer aspects of the craft. However, on the other hand, teams know they’ll be getting a fresh arm. Plus, he has one thing going for him that many pitchers don’t—his breaking ball (a mid-80s slider) is already a good pitch that he can throw for strikes.
“You like the fact that the guy can spin a breaking ball,” the scout said. “That’s a battle that you get when you’re putting guys in the minor leagues that can’t spin a breaking ball is that it takes them a long time to develop it, but he’s pretty much got it. I guess you could say he needs to work on command a little bit, but the last time I saw him he threw strikes and threw the breaking ball for strikes.”
Joe Leonard, 3b, Pittsburgh
Leonard is a 6-foot-5, 220-pound third baseman for the streaking Panthers. He wasn’t drafted out of high school, but has been a three-year starter at Pitt. Leonard put together a strong freshman campaign, but dipped a little bit for a modest .316/.365/.480 showing his sophomore year.
This year, he’s been killing the ball (.424/.485/.636 over his first 151 at-bats) and is steadily climbing draft boards.
“He’s a pro player, just the way he conducts himself on and off the field, he’s never too high, never too low, always has a very serious approach to the game,” Pittsburgh coach Joe Jordano said. “He’s just a dynamite player, great size, he’s 6-5, he’s got a plus arm. He’s got power, but being as aggressive as we are with situational at-bats, I think at the next level they’ll tweak his swing a bit to get him to lift the ball a bit more, but we have him pretty flat through the zone. There’s been a ton of activity, a lot of people watching him. All the scouts that I’ve talked to really like him. I’ve had 50 or 60 kids sign professionally throughout my career, and without question he has to be considered one of the top.”
Leonard’s father, John, was a first-round pick by the Orioles (fifth-overall) as a righthander pitcher in the second phase of 1982′s January draft. While Leonard doesn’t project as a first-round talent, he’s climbing boards and isn’t too far behind.
“He’s getting a lot of hype with that raw power—he might not get out of the second round,” an American League crosschecker said. “He has raw power and a plus arm. The home run numbers are the reservation with him, but he’s a big strong kid.”
Barret Loux, rhp, Texas A&M
Loux missed some time last year with arm injuries, but after having some bone chips removed from his elbow, he’s been 100 percent this year and has stepped up as the ace of the Aggies.
Over his first nine starts, Loux is 5-2, 2.32 on the year with 78 strikeouts and 19 walks over 54 innings. Racking up 78 strikeouts means the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder is tied for fifth in the nation (along with Florida Gulf Coast lefthander Chris Sale) in that statistic.
“Barret’s had a great year,” a National League area scout said. “He’s a big, strong kid and he’s throwing well. He’s finally healthy, for once, and he’s doing well. He’s had a plus fastball most of the time I’ve seen him and his breaking ball has gotten better. It’s tighter and has had more consistent depth to it.”
The scout predicted Loux, who turned down a high six-figures bonus from the Tigers out of high school, will be off the board within the first two rounds.
Ross Wilson, 2b, Alabama
Wilson came into the season as Baseball America’s first-team All-American second baseman, for the second straight year. Scouts generally considered him a third- to-sixth-round talent. But after hitting .353/.454/.567 last year and slugging 24 home runs in his first two seasons, he’s been in a rut in 2010, hitting .239/.347/.408 over his first 142 at-bats. He’s had even more trouble in Southeastern Conference play, with 20 strikeouts and four walks in 67 at-bats while batting .209/.250/.373.
“He just doesn’t look comfortable at the plate,” a National League area scout said. “I just think he’s pressing now.”
Another area scout added, “He’s not making any adjustments against breaking balls right now, and he’s not running great either. I used to wonder if I was missing something on him, because I never quite understood the interest, mostly because he does everything with effort.”
Both scouts agree that Wilson has generated bat speed in his career despite a hand drop/hitch in his swing. As he’s struggled this season, Wilson has tinkered more with his approach and hasn’t found a way to get comfortable. “(He) just looked a little clueless up there, to be honest with you,” one scout concluded.
Wilson does still have the bat speed to put things together and hasn’t taken his offensive difficulties into the field, according to the NL scout.
“With his kind of power, he could hit four or five in one weekend and have a pretty good year still,” the scout said. “And, defensively, I see a solid second base. He’s never going to be a plus second baseman, but I’ve seen him make some good plays. He seems like he’s himself and, knowing Ross the way I do, he’s going to play the game.”
CONTRIBUTING: Aaron Fitt, John Manuel