The weather is getting warmer, clocks have sprung forward an hour and baseball is underway. College baseball is about three weeks into the season and high school play is just getting underway, but already players are creating some early draft buzz one way or another. From now until June 9, we’ll use the Draft Tracker to spotlight players that are moving up or down teams’ draft boards.
Brad Boxberger, rhp, Southern California
Brad Boxberger isn’t the first in the family to have success as a Trojan. His father, Rod, was named the Most Outstanding Player for USC’s 1978 College World Series team. Following in his footsteps, Brad started the season ranked as our 32nd-best college junior, but he’s creeping up that list with a strong showing this spring. Over his first three starts this season, he’s 2-0, 1.37 with 26 strikeouts and 13 walks in 20 innings. It’s a marked improvement from his 2-4, 6.12 line last season as a sophomore split between the rotation and the bullpen, although he did strike out 52 and walk 26 over 50 innings. Boxberger has two seasons in the Cape Cod League under his belt, and he ranked as the league’s 20th-best player last summer after flashing a 94-95 mph fastball in the all-star game. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound righthander comes at hitters with a low 3/4 arm angle. He’s been holding his velocity deep into games this year, which has helped him shut down Long Beach State, Western Carolina and Tulane. He was 92-94 into the 6th inning against Western Carolina.
“He was really spotting his fastball well, all around the zone,” a National League scout said about one of his starts this season. “He has three average pitches, if you ask me, and his fastball could be more than average. So, he’s got three pitches he can use and he’s got pitchability. He doesn’t have one major knockout pitch, but he locates really well. He can break the slider off at any time, he’ll throw the change any time and he keeps hitters off balance.”
Brooks Raley, lhp/of, Texas A&M
One of the nation’s best two-way players, Raley entered the season with more buzz off the mound, where he emerged as the Aggies’ Friday starter as a freshman last year. Now a draft-eligible sophomore, Raley has picked up where he left off a year ago, going 3-0, 2.50 with 16 strikeouts and seven walks over his first 18 innings. He has run his fastball up to 91 mph and shown a very good 81-83 mph slider and a 75-77 curveball. Raley’s pitching stock continues to rise, but scouts are now strongly considering him as a position player as well. Raley’s speed rates as a 70 or 80 on the 20-80 scale, according to an American League area scout who clocked him up the line in 3.63 seconds on a bunt recently. Those wheels help Raley cover plenty of ground in right field, and he’s stolen seven bases in seven attempts through 11 games. He’s also wearing out the gaps at the plate, batting .422/.480/.600 with six doubles in 45 at-bats.
Joe Gardner, rhp & Mark Haddow, of, UC Santa Barbara
UC Santa Barbara righthander Joe Gardner really started to get his name out there last summer when he pitched for the Peninsula Oilers in the Alaska Baseball League. Over 10 appearances, Gardner went 6-0, 0.92 with 38 strikeouts and 18 walks over 49 innings. Gardner has a big, 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame and features a lively, 90-94 mph four-seam fastball, an 84 mph sinker with promise and an effective slider that sits at around 77 mph. He does need to clean up a few mechanical issues, though. He has a high leg kick and then lands on a stiff front leg, causing some arm recoil and his arm sometimes has a bit of a wrap in the back. After transferring in from Ohlone (Calif.) JC, Gardner’s gotten off to a great start this season with the Gauchos. Over his first three starts, Gardner is 1-0, 1.66 with 27 strikeouts and six walks in 21 innings.
The Gauchos are getting some offense from their solidly-built outfielder Mark Haddow. At an athletic 6-foot-2 and 215-pounds, Haddow has some big raw tools. On UCSB’s scout day this fall, he ran a 6.69-second 60-yard dash, flashed an above-average arm and put on a show in batting practice. The draft-eligible sophomore didn’t see a lot of action last season, but is off to an exciting start this year, hitting .387/.441/.677 with two doubles, two triples and a home run over his first 31 at-bats. He’s also 6-for-6 in stolen base attempts. If he maintains this type of production, he could vault himself into the top three rounds, ala Cal Poly’s Grant Desme in 2007 (drafted 73rd overall by the A’s) or Azusa Pacific’s Kirk Nieuwenhuis last year (drafted 100th overall by the Mets).
Stumbling Out of the Gate
Steven Fischback, rhp, Cal Poly
For Fischback, the season was over before it even started. Fischback went 5-4, 4.55 last spring with 79 strikeouts and 23 walks in 85 innings. He enhanced his prospect standing last summer in the Alaska League, where he ranked as the No. 1 prospect and the 6-foot-3 righthander ranked 51st on BA’s preseason Top 100 college prospects. He was held out of the rotation early in the season while he was, according to a Mustangs press release sent in late January, “nursing a shoulder injury.” At the time, coach Larry Lee hoped to have his Friday starter back by the start of Big West Conference play. But things seem to have taken a turn for the worse. While MRI results came back negative, Fischback still has an impingement and Lee isn’t expecting him on the mound at all this season. The Mustangs are off to a nice 9-2 start without their ace, but this is certainly a blow.
“It would make us a very, very good team with him somewhere in the rotation—especially at the top,” Lee said. “We’re dealing with it, but with our lack of depth, it’s noticeable.”
Gavin Brooks, lhp, UCLA
A torn rotator cuff in high school hurt his draft stock at the time, but Brooks responded at UCLA with a strong freshman showing, especially for the Pac-10, going 6-7, 4.47 with 98 strikeouts and 30 walks in 111 innings. The shine started to wear off some last year, though, as Brooks didn’t improve upon his freshman showing. He went 6-3, 5.07 and still struck out 62 over 71 innings, but he also walked 53. As a junior this year, Brooks has moved further down coach John Savage’s pecking order after a rocky first start where he gave up six runs to UC Riverside in one inning of work. Right now, he’s working with a fastball in the upper 80s, a curveball that sits 72-75 mph and a sinker or split. Although he pitched five no-hit innings in relief last weekend against Oklahoma, his overall stock still mirrors that of the Bruins—it’s down.
Kyle Heckathorn, rhp, Kennesaw State
It’s still very early and he still has top-of-the-rotation stuff and lots of projection, but Heckathorn has stumbled out of the gate against teams that he should be putting away. After leaving the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod League with elbow soreness after just two appearances, Heckathorn has looked rather pedestrian against Samford, Campbell and East Tennessee State. Over his first three starts, he’s 1-0, 5.40 with seven walks and 20 strikeouts over 15 innings, and he’s also thrown four wild pitches and hit four batters. Heckathorn has given up 17 runs over 15 innings this season, but he’s kept his ERA to 5.40 because just nine of those runs have been earned.
CONTRIBUTING: Conor Glassey, Dave Perkin, Aaron Fitt & John Manuel