Scouting Reports: Georgia

THIS YEAR’S CROP
***** One for the
books
**** Banner
year
*** Solid, not
spectacular
** Not up to
par
* Nothing to see
here

When
calendars turned to March, Georgia’s college programs were in full gear
and high schools were getting cranked up, the state became a popular
place for scouts.

Aside from the obvious prospects such as Matt
Wieters, Josh Smoker, Nathan Vineyard and Jason Heyward, Georgia has a
secondary group of draft-eligible players who show lots of promise, and
with so many players on the cusp of breaking out early this season,
scouts scrambled to make sure they were picking the right games to see.

“I
think I spent two weeks in Florida early on, but when I got to Georgia
I realized I was going to be here for a while,” said an East Coast
crosschecker. “There for awhile there was a new name popping up every
other day–another guy to go chase down just to make sure you weren’t
missing something.”

But while college pitchers such as Cody
Gearrin of Mercer and David Duncan of Georgia Tech continued their
momentum toward the end of the regular season, many of the second-tier
high school players fell off. Most area scouts had follow lists with
more than a dozen high school pitchers who had flashed potential last
summer and fall, and had a chance to establish themselves as options
for the first four rounds this year. Ultimately, most of them leveled
off, and like Florida’s secondary crop of prep players, signability
might mean that many of the Peach State’s intriguing pitchers will wind
up in college.

“I was disappointed with that second-tier group,”
said one veteran area scout. “Nobody really got better. Some got worse.
You saw it in there last summer, you had some real high expectations
for some of them, but nobody really sustained momentum.”

Nonetheless,
with three potential first-rounders and a bevy of fifth- to
seventh-round talent, the state again has plenty to offer.

National Top 200
Prospects

1. Matt
Wieters, c, Georgia Tech
2.
Jason Heyward
, of, Henry County HS, McDonough,
Ga.
3.
Josh Smoker
, lhp, Calhoun (Ga.)
HS
4.
Nathan Vineyard
, lhp, Woodland HS, Cartersville,
Ga.
5. Joshua Fields, rhp,
Georgia
6. Danny Payne, of, Georgia
Tech
7. David Duncan, lhp, Georgia
Tech
8. Cory Gearrin, rhp,
Mercer

Other Prospects Of
Note

9. Lyle Allen, of, Cartersville (Ga.) HS
10. Jake Cowan, rhp, Roswell (Ga.) HS
11. Ryan Pope, rhp, Savannah College of Art & Design
12. Isaiah Fronenberger, lhp, Forest Park HS, McDonough, Ga.
13. Michael Fisher, ss, Georgia Tech
14. Anthony Whitenton, ss, Heritage HS, Conyers, Ga.
15. Richard Weems, c, Columbus (Ga.) HS
16. Zach Brewster, lhp, North Hall HS, Murryville, Ga.
17. Brian Fletcher, 3b, Starr’s Mill HS, Fayetteville, Ga.
18. Charlie Culberson, 2b, Calhoun (Ga.) HS
19. Stephen Dodson, rhp, Georgia
20. Hunter Strickland, rhp, Pike County HS, Zebulon, Ga.
21. Brandon Cumpton, rhp, Greenbrier HS, Evans, Ga.
22. Trent Franzago, rhp, Peach County HS, Fort Valley, Ga.
23. Caleb Brewer, rhp, Harris County HS, Hamilton, Ga.
24. Eddie Burns, rhp, Georgia Tech
25. Will Casey, lhp, Kennesaw Mountain (Ga.) HS
26. Jonathan Wyatt, of, Georgia
27. Brantley New, rhp, Mercer
28. Kelvin Clark, of, King HS, Ellenwood, Ga.
29. Chris Epps, of/rhp, Dunwoody (Ga.) HS
30. Adam McDaniel, rhp, Georgia
31. Ben Blanton, lhp, Chattahoochee (Ga.) HS
32. Ben Cornwell, rhp, Holy Innocents’ Episcopal HS, Atlanta
33. Luke Murton, 1b/of, Georgia Tech
34. Rico Reid, rhp, East Coweta HS, Sharpsburg, Ga.
35. Israel Troupe, of, Tift County HS, Tifton, Ga.

Scouting
Reports

Matt Wieters1. Matt Wieters, c
(National rank:
2)

School:
Georgia Tech. Class:
Jr.
B-T: B-R.
Ht.: 6-5.
Wt.: 230.
Birthdate:
5/21/86.
Scouting
Report:
Like Price, Wieters’ strong college commitment
was the only reason he wasn’t drafted in the first two rounds in 2004.
A talented two-way player who flashed 90 mph heat and plus-plus raw
power at his suburban Charleston, S.C., high school, Wieters is well on
his way to fulfilling the lofty projections on his bat. He’s batted in
the heart of Georgia Tech’s batting order and served as the closer
since arriving on campus. He ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the Cape
Cod League in 2006 and was a first-team Preseason All-American this
year. While his size has been used as a knock on his defensive ability,
one national crosschecker said Wieters was the best defensive catcher
he’d seen as an amateur since Charles Johnson, and another said only
Joe Mauer was better among the amateurs he’d scouted. Wieters has soft
hands, good footwork and well-above-average arm strength, as evidenced
by the 96 mph heat he has shown from the mound. Despite his size, he
shows an ability to handle low strikes and receives quietly. He’s not
as vocal on the field as prototypical catchers. Wieters is the most
polished hitter in the draft class. He commands the strike zone,
displaying patience and pitch recognition. When he gets his pitch, he
can use his plus bat speed to pull it out of the park, or keep his
hands inside it and line it to the opposite field. A natural
righthanded hitter, his swing is shorter from the right and he tends to
work up the middle more as a righthanded hitter. He prefers to pull and
has more power from the left. He could post averages near .280 with
30-homer potential in the big leagues. If the Devil
Rays take Price No. 1, the Royals could take Wieters second, but he
could slide out of the top 10 if the money adviser Scott Boras
reportedly will seek is perceived as
exorbitant.

Jason Heyward2. Jason Heyward, of
(National rank:
9)

School:
Henry County HS, McDonough, Ga. Class:
Sr.
B-T: L-L.
Ht.: 6-2.
Wt.: 198.
Birthdate:
8/9/89.
Scouting
Report:
Along with Brackman, Heyward has as much upside
as any player in the draft. He possesses a rare blend of strong tools
and feel for all phases of the game. He draws physical comparisons to
Fred McGriff, while his tools are similar to Willie McCovey’s and his
approach is comparable to Frank Thomas’. Heyward’s father played
basketball at Dartmouth and his uncle played basketball for John Wooden
at UCLA. He led McDonough High to the school’s first state championship
in baseball as a junior, when he was used as a center fielder, first
baseman and pitcher. He’ll play right field as a professional, where
he’s a solid-average defender with average arm strength. He’s an
average runner. His plate discipline and pitch recognition are
outstanding, though some scouts left his games frustrated that he
wasn’t more aggressive. He rarely misses his pitch, and he shows
above-average bat speed and a willingness to use the whole field. He
has plus-plus raw power. Heyward will need to lower his hands in his
set-up to improve his ability to get backspin on balls, helping his
power translate into more home
runs.

Josh Smoker3. Josh Smoker, lhp
(National rank:
16)

School:
Calhoun (Ga.) HS. Class:
Sr.
B-T: L-L.
Ht.: 6-2.
Wt.: 190.
Birthdate:
11/26/88.
Scouting
Report:
It was apparent Smoker was bound for success
when, as a freshman in 2004, he set a school strikeout record with 126
in 62 innings. He broke the record in 2005, when he amassed 137 in 75
innings, helping his team win Georgia’s 2-A championship. Smoker was
named co-player of the year in the state, sharing the honors with
Buster Posey, now at Florida State. He has been a mainstay on the wood
bat and showcase tour for years, and has a portfolio as deep as any
player in the draft, including college players. He’ll warm up with six
pitches and uses them all in games, though his 91-92 mph fastball,
74-76 mph curve and low- to mid-80s split-finger fastball are his bread
and butter. He also flashes a changeup and slider. When he stays over
the rubber and doesn’t attempt to overthrow, he shows above-average
command of all of his stuff. He’ll run his fastball in on righthanders,
snap his curve for a swing-and-miss pitch and lean on his splitter for
strikeouts, as it at times can be unhittable. He pitches with fervor
and guile, endearing himself to teammates and scouts alike. Smoker
isn’t expected to get much bigger, but he’s athletic and durable,
profiling as a No. 2 or 3 starter. He could go as high as No. 14 to
Atlanta.

4. Nathan Vineyard,
lhp (National rank:
51)

School:
Woodland HS, Cartersville, Ga. Class:
Sr.
B-T: L-L.
Ht.: 6-3.
Wt.: 200.
Birthdate:
10/3/88.
Scouting
Report:
Like fellow Georgia high school lefty Josh
Smoker, Vineyard has been on the map as a prospect for several years.
His performance has been far less consistent than Smoker’s, but he
re-established himself as a potential high-round pick last fall when he
dealt in front of more than 100 scouts in the featured game of a World
Wood Bat tournament in Jupiter, Fla. His delivery is loose and easy and
the ball jumps out of his hand. His fastball comes in at 88-91 mph, but
because he leans heavily on his plus slider, there’s reason to believe
he will add velocity once he learns to pitch off his fastball. His
slider has late break with good depth and tilt. He’ll throw it in any
count and can spot it down in the zone or bury it as a chase pitch.
Vineyard profiles as a No. 4 starter or set-up man in the big leagues
and could be drafted as high as the supplemental
round.

5. Joshua Fields,
rhp (National rank:
58)

School:
Georgia. Class:
Jr.
B-T: R-R.
Ht.: 6-0.
Wt.: 180.
Birthdate:
8/19/85.
Scouting
Report:
Fields was pegged as a potentially fast-moving,
low-risk college reliever after his remarkable 2006 summer in the Cape
Cod League. He led the league with 13 saves and ranked as the league’s
No. 4 prospect. He maintained his 93-96 mph velocity this spring as a
junior, but his command has been erratic and the plus-plus breaking
ball he showed last summer has deserted him. He has a tendency to
overthrow, and he’s upright in his delivery, flies open, doesn’t stay
back over the rubber and has lots of effort. While his slider had hard,
three-quarter tilt at 83-85 mph in the past, its shape and spin have
been inconsistent, and the pitch has been mostly 79-81 mph. It’s also
hard to project much in his smallish frame. He’s hard-nosed and
determined, but he struggled most of the spring and slipped out of
contention for a spot in the first round. Based on his past
performance, Fields will likely still get a look in the supplemental
round.

6. Danny Payne, of
(National rank:
82)

School:
Georgia Tech. Class:
Jr.
B-T: L-L.
Ht.: 5-11.
Wt.: 192.
Birthdate:
9/8/85.
Scouting
Report:
Payne is popular among coaches and scouts alike.
He plays the game with zeal, and when he injured his non-throwing
shoulder and missed the end of his sophomore season, it was evident how
important he was to the Yellow Jackets, who couldn’t replace his
leadership. His baseball IQ helps his fringe-average tools play up, and
he’s compared to Rusty Greer for his ability to track balls down in the
alleys and reach base in a number of different ways. He has
solid-average bat speed but slightly below-average power. He controls
the strike zone and has improved his approach, from dead-pull as a
freshman to more of a gap-to-gap hitter with a propensity to pull
mistakes out of the park. He has solid-average arm strength, which he
showed by doubling as Georgia Tech’s closer. He’ll likely be drafted in
the supplemental
round.

7. David Duncan, lhp
(National rank:
145)

School:
Georgia Tech. Class:
So.
B-T: L-L.
Ht.: 6-8.
Wt.: 205.
Birthdate:
6/1/86.
Scouting
Report:
A year after Andrew Brackman came out of
Cincinnati’s Moeller High, Duncan created a buzz in the Buckeye State
with low-90s heat from a similarly tall, athletic frame, but from the
left side. He was drafted in the 14th round out of New Richmond (Ohio)
High by the Twins in 2005 and turned down about $500,000 to attend
Georgia Tech, where he has shown glimpses of his potential but not
consistency. While Yellow Jackets pitching coach Bobby Moranda has
streamlined Duncan’s delivery, it’s more of a herky-jerky motion as
opposed to a clean, fluid one. His command is erratic, and when he’s
behind in the count he’s unable to take advantage of his best pitch: a
tumbling split-finger fastball that gets lots of swings and misses.
Duncan’s fastball ranges from 88-92 mph. His circle changeup is ahead
of his slider, showing good armside run with the ability to turn it
over. A draft-eligible sophomore, Duncan could be taken as early as the
third round, but could elect to return to school if he slides past the
fourth.

8. Cory Gearrin, rhp
(National rank:
147)

School:
Mercer. Class:
Jr.
B-T: R-R.
Ht.: 6-3.
Wt.: 210.
Birthdate:
4/14/86.
Scouting
Report:
After one year at Young Harris (Ga.) Junior
College, Gearrin talked his way into a tryout in Cape Cod last summer
and pitched his way into prospect status. He recorded 41 strikeouts in
27 innings for Cotuit and ranked as the Cape Cod League’s No. 29
prospect. A sidearmer who uses a low-90s fastball and a sweeping slider
that he can start at righthanders’ back pocket and sweep back across
the plate, Gearrin allowed just five hits in his first 30 innings of
work at Mercer this spring and didn’t allow a run until March 20.
Though he allowed six earned runs over 1 2/3 innings in an April 6 loss
to Lipscomb, he bolted down back-to-back saves against Miami to start
the season. A high school middle infielder, Gearrin dropped his arm
slot, moved to the mound and has gradually grown into his delivery. His
fastball has late movement and deception at 88-91 mph, and he leans on
his 76-79 mph slider for swings and misses. He profiles as a
situational reliever and could be drafted as high as the third
round.

Project Projection

Each
summer for 14 straight days, more than 1,500 high school juniors
and seniors descend on suburban Atlanta for two weeks of tournaments at
more than a dozen high schools and the East Cobb youth baseball
complex. Most
scouts who are assigned coverage of the events dread it because of the
long, hot, humid days and tournament brackets that include more than
100 teams some years, not to mention the daily mid-afternoon
thunderstorms that soak their notes and cause even more scheduling
confusion.

But just as certain as the storms is the talent.
Last summer you could
have covered it without a program, because whatever field you watched,
you stood a strong chance of seeing a quality professional prospect.

Lefthander Isaiah Froneberger
was one of the most enjoyable players to watch. A hard-nosed sparkplug
who plays center field
when he’s not on the mound, Froneberger has potential to develop into
a reliable situational reliever. At 5-foot-8 and 196 pounds, he draws
comparisons to Ray King. He has a compact delivery and plenty
of arm strength. When he came out flashing a 90-92 mph fastball he was
making a move up draft boards, but his velocity was more often in the
86-88 range as the season went on. He also lacks
projection, making it tough to take him in the first five rounds. His
breaking ball is a legitimate weapon, though. It’s a hard downer with
tight spin and plus depth at 76-79 mph. Froneberger was considered
signable in the top eight rounds and should go off the board by then.


Zach Brewster
and Will Casey were two other lefthanders from Georgia
who showed potential as underclassmen but never quite fulfilled it this
spring. Casey was the ace of Kennesaw Mountain High’s staff,
helping the Mustangs reach the 5-A semifinals and establish themselves
as a mainstay in the Baseball America/National High School Coaches
Association Top 50. His feel for pitching and command are his best
assets, though his curveball is an effective offering with depth.
Like Froneberger, Casey’s velocity peaked early this spring, touching
91, but he settled in at 83-86 mph as the season went on. He also lacks projection and was expected to attend South Carolina.
Brewster has more projection but his delivery is less fluid. He has a deceptive, low three-quarters arm slot and an 87-88 mph
fastball that has plus movement and sink at times. His command is
below-average, and he struggles to repeat his delivery. He has been
unable to craft a usable breaking ball, and his changeup is
below-average.


Jake Cowan
and Taylor Whitenton
too showed flashes of brilliance without consistency. One
area scout said that only Georgia closer Josh Fields has a quicker arm
in his area than Whitenton. Tall and thin, Whitenton has been a tease
for scouts because he has upside but hasn’t been able to harness his
command and struggles to repeat his
delivery. He tends to leak out over the third-base side of the rubber
and lose his balance, pitching across his body and causing his stuff to
flatten out. When he stays on top of his curveball, it has hard snap.
He’s been up to 92 mph with his fastball, but like so many other of
the state’s prep arms this season, more often pitches near 88. He has
committed to Darton (Ga.) Junior College, and if he indicates he’ll
sign for slot money
in the sixth or seventh round he could get selected
in that range.

Cowan has significant projection and his arm
works well from a clean, three-quarters release point. He achieves
excellent extension,
which creates life on his 88-91 mph fastball. He features a 73-78 mph
breaking ball that has sharp tilt at times but is inconsistent. He’s
committed to Virginia and was considered signable in the top two or
three rounds, but that means he might slide. He comes from an affluent
family that has placed an emphasis on his education.

Brandon Cumpton’s bonus demands were even steeper, and he was
considered a lock to attend Georgia Tech. A member of Greenbrier’s 2006
4-A state title team, Cumpton could step right into the
Yellow Jackets weekend rotation because he has a good present feel for
pitching and average fastball velocity. He had developed a slight wrist
wrap in the back of his arm stroke that could be ironed out. His body
and stuff are not considered projectable.
 

Perfect Timing

As Georgia’s high school talent leveled off with most of its high
school pitchers, there were a trio of prep position players who were
making a push into the top five rounds of the draft, and possibly even
higher: Richard Weems, Lyle Allen and Charlie Culberson. Not every scout is sold on their upside, but others see a lot of potential.

Allen concentrated primarily on football at Cartersville High.
But after capping his football career as Georgia’s Class 3-A offensive
player of the year last fall, when he threw for 3,112 yards and 28
touchdowns, and rushed for another nine with 814 yards, Allen turned up his
game on the diamond. He didn’t miss a beat even after his family’s house burned down in March, while they were away at a
tournament in LaGrange, Ga.–where Allen was the MVP. He has plus raw
power, though he does it with strength and leverage as opposed to his
hands and bat control. Strikeouts could become a problem
as he faces better pitching, and his below-average arm and speed
profile best in left field.

Weems
could be the Thomas Hickman of this year’s Georgia draft class.
Hickman remained tucked away in the hills of north Georgia last year
until his stock soared in the weeks before the draft and he was taken
by
the Marlins in the second round. Weems’ Columbus High made a late surge
into the 3-A semifinals, and he was the Hornets’ catalyst. He has
athleticism and a sound swing from the left side, but his best tool is
his arm strength, which grades as a 65 on the 20-80 scale. His
footwork is fine behind the plate, but he has stiff hands and he’s not
an adept receiver, leading to questions about his ability to stay
behind the plate. He’s committed to Alabama, and it could take
second-round money to get him signed.

Playing alongside Josh
Smoker has given Calhoun High shortstop
Culberson plenty of opportunity to impress scouts, and he made the
most of the added exposure. A gamer in the mold of Marcus Giles,
Culberson is a baseball rat who has Hall of Fame bloodlines in his
extended family. He’s related to George Sisler, and his grandfather was
Leon Culberson, who spent six seasons in the big leagues with Boston
and Washington in the 1940s. Charlie doesn’t have the range to stick at
shortstop, and though he posted huge power numbers this season,
doesn’t project to hit for power as a professional. His pitch
recognition and plate discipline could improve. He’s a below-average
runner. He has a plus arm and fringe-average bat speed, however, and
given all the intangibles, could become an attractive pick in the third
or fourth round.


Trent Franzago
could parlay a deep playoff run into a spot in the first
five rounds. He was a dropped third strike away from a
perfect game in a regular season no-hitter and again pitched well in
the Georgia 3-A playoffs, carrying Peach County High to the quarterfinals. The Georgia Southern signee has shown
solid-average fastball velocity, mixed his pitches well and showed
courage when he went right after Jason Heyward in a matchup against one
of the nation’s best high school hitters.

Lefty Ben Blanton
has underwhelming stuff, but his feel for pitching is
commendable. Although his fastball sits in the mid-80s, he pitches to
both sides of the plate with it and can get away with it because of his
deceptive delivery. He won’t receive much interest in the top 10
rounds, but he’s an interesting player. He’s committed to Pennsylvania
and has some pocket
change after he and his mom won a
contest. A wireless-phone company put $5,000 in Blanton’s college
education
fund and he and his mother Jan won a quiz show held at the school
using text messaging to enter answers to personal questions.

Scott Fletcher spent 15 years in the big leagues, and his son Brian
Fletcher
has the bat speed and strength to develop into a prospect as
well. He’s improved his approach this season, using the whole field
more often, though his swing has holes. When he squares the ball up, it
jumps off his barrel. He’s well-below-average defensively in the
infield, and has had trouble making accurate throws this
spring. A team that likes the juice in his bat could take him as high
as the sixth round.

Filler Material

Beyond the premium four-year college
players in the state, scouts didn’t find much to be interested in, and the junior-college ranks are barren.

Tiny Savannah College of Art and Design produced the state’s biggest
riser among college prospects, as Ryan Pope came out this season
throwing well, racking up a 40-3 strikeout-walk ratio in his
first 25 innings. He has a prototypical pitcher’s body and
athleticism, which enables him to repeat his delivery. His fastball was
up to 90-93 mph early in the season, though his velocity fell off as the season wore on. His command is below-average and he
tends to leave his stuff up in the zone. His 12-to-6 curve is a
below-average offering, but he shows feel for a solid-average changeup.
One scout called the Bradenton, Fla., native the enigma of the
draft because of how he jumped on the scene from so far off the
radar. Teams like the Mets and Yankees, among a handful of others who
saw him at his best, might be willing to take him in the third- to
fifth-round range.

Georgia Tech shortstop Michael Fisher might have made himself some
money with a strong junior campaign. He’s a high-energy player whose
best tool is his speed, which grades as 60-65 on the 20-80 scale, but otherwise his tools
are fringy across the board. He has a good approach at the plate and
slaps line drives to all fields with limited power potential, though he
shows better bat speed from the left side and a penchant for pulling
the ball into the right-center field alley. He has some restriction in
his throwing motion, and his arm is below-average, meaning he’ll have
to slide over to second base as a professional. He has good hands,
though he tends to field balls deep toward his body at times. He took a
bad-hop ground ball off his face during a May game at South Florida,
breaking his cheekbone, but was back in the Yellow Jackets lineup by
the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Georgia righthanders Adam McDaniel and Stephen Dodson should also be
drafted, with Dodson going as high as the fifth round and McDaniel in
the eighth to 10th. Dodson’s hard sinker at 91-92 mph is an attractive
offering, as he pitches off it and can get lots of ground balls. His
slider has Frisbee break, working side to side, lacking depth. He has a
good body, athleticism and repeats his delivery.

Draft | #2007

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