The draft is just a little more than a month away and players are starting to run out of time to show what they can do. From now until June 9, we’ll use the Draft Tracker to
spotlight players that are moving up or down teams’ draft boards.
Rex Brothers, lhp, Lipscomb
Coming into the season ranked No. 77 on our college Top 100 list, Brothers has been skyrocketing up with some added oomph on his fastball and some impressive showings in front of the right people.
“He’s been phenomenal, man,” Lipscomb assistant coach Chris Collins said. “We haven’t seen an arm from the left or the right that’s been better than him. Obviously, the velocity is there. He’s pitching at 93, 94 at times and he’s touching 96. Even at our level, you just don’t see lefthanded velocity that often. But, what’s bigger than that is that his slider is 86-88 and just sharp and late with that typical, big-time slider action from the left side. That’s been the difference for him this year versus last year is that he’s been able to locate that and throw it where he wants to.”
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Brothers works fast, gets a lot of power from his thick thighs and, along with his plus fastball and slider, mixes in an average changeup to keep hitters honest.
“Now, if we could just score for him,” head coach Jeff Forehand said. “We’ve scored two runs in his last 24 innings. It’s going to be funny that the best pitcher in our conference is going to have a losing record.”
It could end up that way. With a bevy of scouts—including 15 scouting directors—in the stands on April 3, Brothers hung right with Kennesaw State’s Kyle Heckathorn, striking out 12 with no walks in an eight-inning complete game, but Lipscomb was edged out, 2-1. The next Friday, April 10, Brothers went the distance again against North Florida, allowing one run on two hits while striking out 14, but his Bisons lost 1-0. Last week, Brothers took yet another tough loss, giving up two runs over seven innings. On the season, he’s 4-4, 2.37 with 94 strikeouts and 29 walks over 65 innings.
Brothers is handing the increased attention well and taking everything in stride.
“You wouldn’t know if he was a Tuesday starter or one of the best lefthanders in the country,” Collins said. “He’s just a down-home, really respectful kid—just your typical country boy. He was raised well, he’s really grounded and you wouldn’t know that he’s about to make millions of dollars.”
Eric Arnett, rhp, Indiana
Coming into the season, most believed Indiana’s top player would be All-American catcher Josh Phegley. However, his 6-foot-5, 225-pound batterymate Arnett may have leapfrogged him as the first Hoosier off the board come draft day.
“He’s unbelievable. There’s crosscheckers in every week now, he’s been blowing up,” Indiana assistant coach Ty Neal said. “He’s just gotten stronger, and he’s gotten better every year. Before, he was a 92 (mph) guy and the ball was flat in the zone. Now, he’s bigger and stronger, the slider’s a little better and he’s starting to miss bats and beat guys with his fastball.”
Arnett’s fastball is touching 96 this spring and he’s maintaining the gas late in games. Neal said during a 10-inning complete game against Illinois on April 3, he was still dialing it up to 94 in the ninth inning.
Right now, Arnett is throwing mostly fastballs and sliders. He occasionally mixes in a splitter that he uses a changeup, but the fastball and slider are his bread and butter. Neal said the coaches haven’t worked with Arnett on other pitches because all he’s needed this year are the two.
So far this season, Arnett is 8-1, 1.94 with 69 strikeout and 19 walks over 70 innings, including four complete games.
He uses his height to his advantage, getting good plane on a fastball that bores in to righthanded batters. His 84-85 mph slider has great two-plane break and misses a lot of bats because it’s hard and hitters move their hands early, thinking it’s a fastball.
Angelo Songco, of, Loyola Marymount
Angelo Songco wasn’t drafted out of high school, but all he’s done at Loyola Marymount is hit. As a freshman, he played in all 56 of the Lions’ games and hit .321/.405/.528. The next year, he improved upon those numbers by hitting .356/.432/.681 with 15 home runs. He proved the power wasn’t a fluke by winning the Cape Cod League all-star game home run derby.
Songco continues to make improvements this year. Over his first 158 at-bats, he’s hitting .373/.500/.715 with 12 home runs.
Loyola Marymount head coach Jason Gill told BA in March that he’s never coached a swing like Songco’s. He said Songco is a legitimate big league hitter that will probably have to move to left field as a professional, but the bat will play there. He has power to all fields, he can drive the ball the other way and he’s hard to pitch to because he’s a smart hitter with a good plan at the plate.
Gill also praised Songco’s leadership.
“He’s the most positive guy on our team,” Gill said. “When we were going through that (losing) streak, the coaching staff was preaching, ‘Stay with it, it’s a grind.’ Everybody on our team lost their poise at one point during that streak except him. I know I did. In Hawaii I was losing it, and he came in and said ‘It doesn’t matter, we’re going to get them.’ He’s great in the clubhouse, and he leads by example.”
Kentrail Davis, of, Tennessee
Davis entered the season as the best draft-eligible power and speed combination in college baseball. As a freshman last year, he hit .330/.435/.583, becoming the fist Volunteer since 2002 to win the team’s Triple Crown. His 13 home runs were more than Todd Helton hit as a freshman, and he followed that up by playing for the USA Baseball national team that went 24-0 last summer.
Davis hasn’t progressed much this year. He’s hitting .301/.434/.536 with six home runs and just three stolen bases. A rival coach who saw him recently said Davis looked to be pressing.
“He looked like a guy who was struggling,” the coach said. “He’s expanding his strike zone, swinging at pitches that are balls, then missing pitches that he should hit. He did have one good game that I saw, laced a couple of doubles, and you can really see the bat speed, it’s premium bat speed. But right now, it’s just not happening consistently for him.”
Often compared physically to Kirby Puckett, the 5-foot-9, 200-pound Davis doesn’t have the prototypical center-field body.
“You struggle with him—what is he?” a talent evaluator said. “You would like him to be a center fielder—his overall tools and being a power-speed guy would make a real good fit—but he doesn’t really look the part. He’s so thick and very strong.”
Overall, the combination of Davis being advised by Scott Boras, having the extra leverage of being a draft-eligible sophomore and not putting up over-the-top numbers this year means that his price will likely overmatch his recommended bonus.
Ryan Jackson, ss, Miami
Jackson’s calling card has always been his defense. With a lean, athletic 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame, Jackson has the range, soft hands and arm strength necessary to play shortstop. His actions are extremely smooth and he makes everything look easy in the field.
The questions surrounding Jackson’s future have always been with his bat and he’s not doing anything to quiet the doubters this spring. Hitting mostly in the nine-hole for the Hurricanes, Jackson is hitting a soft .260/.368/.390, a dramatic decline from his .360/.422/.496 line last year.
Jackson’s pedigree and track record are in his favor and teams are always looking for good defenders up the middle, but he’s hitting his way out of the first round, and his below-average speed hurts him as well.
“I don’t think Jackson’s ever going to hit,” an American League area
scout said. “Plus, he’s a 30, 35 runner—he can’t run. He’ll give you
4.5, 4.6 (seconds) down the line all the time. For a skinny righthanded
hitter with a weak bat, you’d better be running. Maybe underway he’s a
45 or maybe, maybe a 50. His range plays better than that. Jackson’s
got a bad swing, length, a bad front arm, he doesn’t have authority
through the zone. There was talk he could go in the first round, but if
he keeps hitting .250 he won’t go in the first round.”
Jason Stoffel, rhp, Arizona
Jason Stoffel came into the season as the top reliever in this year’s draft class. He’s Arizona’s all-time leader in saves and has a career 173-43 strikeout-walk ratio over 127 innings.
Stoffel’s stuff has been down a tick recently. He’ll show his usual 94-95 mph fastball at times, but other times he’ll top out at 93. Worse yet, it’s been straight and he’s been hit hard. Through 25 appearances so far this season, Stoffel is 1-1, 4.54 with seven saves, 39 strikeouts and 15 walks over 36 innings. In Pacific-10 Conferece play, he’s really struggled, giving up 15 runs over 13 innings with seven strikeouts, 10 walks and a 10.12 ERA.
“He’s not the same kid (he was over the last two years),” said one coach whose team has faced the Wildcats. “His breaking ball really didn’t seem the same.”
The hammer curveball used to be a plus offering for Stoffel, but the pitch has regressed, and he hasn’t been able to get by on his fastball alone. While any pitcher can look bad over just 13 innings, some teams are also wondering if Stoffel has the drive and mental toughness to pitch in high-pressure situations at the big league level. After his freshman season, he turned down the opportunity to pitch in the Cape Cod League and then last summer passed on pitching for Team USA.
Contributing: Jim Callis, Aaron Fitt, Conor Glassey & John Manuel