Draft Tracker returns as weekly part of Baseball America’s draft coverage. Four high school prospects have improved their draft stock in the early part of the spring season.
Tate Blackman, ss/2b/3b, Lake Brantley HS, Altamonte Springs, Fla.
Blackman’s skill set and age make him a fascinating player to watch this spring. After hitting consistently on the showcase circuit last summer and fall, Blackman is drawing comparisons to a Florida infielder from last year’s draft, Giants first-round pick Christian Arroyo, because of his body, tools and hitting ability.
Although Blackman does not have a loud sets of tools, his polished baseball skills play in the batter’s box. Scouts believe that he is one of the most consistent hitters in the draft class. From a squared stance, Blackman has a quick stroke that produces hard contact to all fields and works inside the baseball. The righthanded-hitting Blackman has strong timing at the plate and superb bat-to-ball skills. After showing a little swing and miss at Perfect Game National, Blackman rarely whiffed the rest of the summer and fall on the showcase circuit. He consistently puts together high-quality plate appearances and shows a keen understanding of the strike zone.
The Mississippi commit’s power lags behind his hit tool, but he has fringe-average power to his pull side.
Although Blackman posted plus times in the 60-yard dash at the outset of the summer, he is a below-average runner who posts home-to-first times in the 4.4 range.
Blackman, currently a shortstop, also played second and third base on the showcase circuit. He is an instinctual defender with soft hands and good actions, adequate lateral agility and an average arm. Scouts believe his defensive attributes will play best at second base professionally, where he could be an average defender, or he could slide over to third base.
Much like Arroyo, Blackman does not have a conventional, lithe middle infielder body. The 6-foot, 187-pound Blackman has a large frame and strong build with some thickness in his lower half.
While Blackman has a carrying tool in his bat, scouting opinions of him are very divergent because of his other tools, body and his skill set is one that typically comes from the college ranks. Another complicating factor is that Blackman is one of the oldest high school players in the class. He will be 20 years old by the end of this minor league season and is nearly two years old than some of the younger players in the class: shortstop Ti’Quan Forbes, lefthander Brady Aiken and righthander Mitch Hart.
A team that values polished hit tools could grab Blackman in the first few rounds of the draft.
Michael Kopech, rhp, Mount Pleasant (Texas) High
Kopech had an uneven summer on the showcase circuit but finished on a high note at the Under Armour All-American Game, showing sharpened stuff and strike-throwing ability. A well-respected scout predicted that Kopech would have a big velocity increase in the spring like Orioles first-round pick Hunter Harvey did last spring. It didn’t take long for this prediction to look prescient, as the quick-armed Kopech ran his fastball up to 96 mph in the first month of the spring.
As detailed in August, Kopech’s delivery was not consistently on line to the plate during some parts of the summer, but the Arizona commit streamlined his delivery and improved his direction leading into the Under Armour Game. He has built upon these adjustments.
Throughout the summer, Kopech’s velocity sat in the high 80s and low 90s, touching 93. He has sat in the 90s in the spring, touching 96. The athletic Kopech has a loose arm that can also produce above-average fastball movement to either side of the plate with sink, and the ball jumps out of his hand with good extension out front.
Although throwing across his body this summer made his breaking ball that sat in the high 70s a below-average pitch, it has shown above-average potential with improved direction. He supplemented the offering with a changeup that improved over the course of the summer.
The 6-foot-2, 188-pound Kopech has a body to dream on with a high, trim waist, lanky build and long extremities on his large frame that will accommodate significant strength gains. The 17-year-old Kopech is also young for the class.
Grant Holmes, rhp, Conway (S.C.) High
One of the top high school righthanders in the class, Holmes has continued to take strides and has added a third weapon to his repertoire this spring. Holmes showed consistent velocity on the showcase circuit, often sitting 92-94 mph and touching 96 at his best. His fastball also showed plus life with arm-side run and sink, mostly working to his arm side in game action. In early spring starts, Holmes sat 93-96 and touched 97 on some guns and 98 on others, according to scouts.
“He is as strong as a bull and it is as live an arm as you will find in the draft,” a National League scout said.
Holmes’ arm strength has been a known entity but the development of his changeup has been a separator this spring. He threw a changeup sparingly on the showcase circuit, working it more into action during the fall, but it was a below-average offering.
“This spring he has thrown the best changeup I have seen him throw,” the scout said. “Last summer he was mostly a two-pitch pitcher. He started to work the changeup in at Jupiter but it was mostly flat at 86-88. But it has been an above-average offering this spring and he has shown a lot of feel for the pitch. It’s pretty impressive.”
His changeup complements a breaking ball with plus potential that reaches the mid-80s.
The 6-foot, 216-pound Florida commit has a physical build, impressive physical strength and powerful lower half to go with a barrel chest. His build has drawn comparisons to other short, physical arm-strength righthanders Chad Billingsley and Eric Gagne.
Garrett Cave, rhp, South Humter High, Bushnell, Fla.
The Sunshine State entered the spring with an embarrassment of high school pitching riches, boasting potential first-round picks and considerable depth. Cave has emerged as one of the early risers in the state.
The righthander touched 90 at Perfect Game National and 91 at Florida Diamond Club, often sitting sat in the mid-to-high-80s. But Cave has sat in the low 90s and touched 93 mph in recent starts.
Cave has altered his delivery since the beginning of the summer, adding length to his stride and collapsing his backside to get over his front side. He has a loose arm with some length to his arm action and gets arm-side run and sink.
Cave’s breaking ball, which was in the mid-to-high-60s earlier in the summer, was not sharp and was thrown from a higher arm slot than his fastball. He also did not command the offering. The righthander is now throwing the offering with greater arm speed, touching 76, and it shows the makings of an average offering. The Florida International commit’s mid-80s changeup is his third offering.
At 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, Cave has a lean, angular and projectable build with longs limbs and a high waist. Cave is young for the class and will only be 17 on draft day.