The 2018 draft cycle is in full swing, with several major high school showcases and tournaments in the rearview mirror, including Perfect Game National, USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars and the Wilson Premier Classic East. Baseball America will continue to cover the biggest events and top players throughout the summer, but had scouts break down five of the top high school prospects in the class.
SEE ALSO: 2018 Draft Watch List
Brice Turang, SS
Santiago High, Corona, Calif.
The top-ranked high school player to start the 2018 draft cycle is Southern California shortstop Brice Turang, who plays for Santiago High in Corona, Calif. Turang did not play at Perfect Game National, the first major showcase immediately following the 2017 MLB Draft, but he has a long track record at top events. Many scouts got their first 2017 look at him in Cary during the Tournament of Stars.
Turang had a solid, but not spectacular performance over his four games at TOS, hitting .267 (4-for-15) with one double, four walks and a pair of strikeouts—after striking out just once during his junior season with Santiago in California's Southern Section.
Turang's skills were quickly apparent on the field, in batting practice, pregame infield and during games. Turang has advanced instincts defensively and does an excellent job covering ground up the middle, getting his feet around the ball and in line towards his target, helping a solid arm play up. His hands are quick on transfers, and his feet are light and sure on plays around the bag.
Perhaps his biggest current strength is his approach at the plate and his ability to make hard contact. In his first TOS game, Turang took two outside, mid-90s fastballs from J.T. Ginn (the hardest thrower of the event, per TrackMan) before squaring up a hard line drive on a 95 mph fastball over the plate.
Seemingly always in control of his at-bats, Turang has a simple yet effective approach when he steps to the plate:
"I'm going to crush this pitch right back up the middle, that's what I'm thinking," he said. "I don't guess pitches. I'm going to sit and I'm going to smash this pitch."
— Hudson Belinsky (@hudsonbelinsky) July 1, 2017
What the scouts say
• "He's a really advanced guy. Obviously we saw him last year, he was one of the best players on the team even last year. I got a good look at the Boras (Classic). He looks the part, that kind of body, he's got the look to him . . . The kid's actually got a real simple stroke and approach. Just always stays cool and controlled . . . (His arm) was just fair in the game. I saw enough for him to play shortstop. They can't all be Andrelton Simmons. It's not plus-plus arm strength but you saw him throw from every angle and he always made the play. And he runs, he throws, he can hit. Power will come. Still just a baby."
• “I think he's kind of a high school version of a Dansby Swanson, in a way. It's very, very hard to find a kid you think can truly stay at shortstop in the big leagues. Those guys don't come around every draft. And to be a lefthanded hitting, true shortstop profile, who's polished, who has range, is impressive. I think that power is the last thing to develop with most guys, and I think that his power will develop. But he has a polished approach at the plate, he's a guy you could send out right away I would think, in the draft, and could hold his own and grow and be in the big leagues within three or four years or so.”
Ethan Hankins, RHP
Forsyth Central High, Cumming, Ga.
Currently the top prep pitcher of the 2018 class, Hankins is a 6-foot-6, 211-pound righthander with a full arm circle and a fast, easy arm. He occasionally cuts himself off, but has shown above-average control of his fastball despite that.
At Perfect Game National, Hankins generated nine swings and misses on 25 fastballs—a pitch that sat in the mid-90s and touched 96. In Fort Myers, Hankins struck out four batters in two innings. He then threw five, no-hit innings while striking out 12-of-16 batters and locating a mid 70s breaking ball at the Wilson Premier East Classic.
He followed those events with another impressive performance at Tournament of Stars in Cary, striking out four batters while averaging 95 mph with his fastball and allowing no hits or free passes in three innings.
Hankins has had success working off of just his fastball, as evidenced by his first batter at TOS, Pennsylvania center fielder Michael Siani. Hankins fed Siani six heaters, ranging from 93-95 to both sides of the plate before getting Siani looking on a 94 mph fastball on the outside corner.
— Hudson Belinsky (@hudsonbelinsky) June 23, 2017
What the scouts say
• "To me, he's a front-of-the-rotation guy. Obviously it's a good frame at 6-5 or 6-6, up to 96. It's now stuff, an impact arm. I've got average on his breaking ball now, going to be plus. That big breaking ball, it's got slurve action. I call it a slurve. To me it's going to be plus long term. His changeup has a ways to go. To me it's a 40, it would be a future 50 pitch to me. Like I said, front rotation guy, easy quick arm, loose. It looks like he's playing catch. The slurve is a tweener for me right now. I would (add a slider). He has the arm speed to do so. Most guys that throw that hard, they throw a slider. Most of those guys I believe throw a slider. He doesn't hold baserunners well. He doesn't command from the stretch as well as he should . . . It was mostly the leg lift and he was slow to the plate. I know Touki Toussaint had a problem with that. This dude has more command than Touki, but like I said from when guys are on base, what I've noticed he was scattered in the zone a little bit and he was a little bit slow."
• “Ethan profiles beautifully. He's a prototypical frontline starting looking pitcher. He's long in the right places, he has a loose arm. I think the kid my throw 100 one day. And I think that the off-speed stuff is developing, the breaker is developing. I think that's still a tick behind, but I have seen him snap off a few lately that are plus. They had some tightness to them and some depth that you want to see . . . But I think what will put him above is his projectability with the body, and the fact that it's an easy arm action. I would say he's a dynamic one.”
Kumar Rocker, RHP
North Oconee High, Bogart, Ga.
Rocker is likely the most physically imposing prep pitcher in the class, listed at 6-foot-5, 259 pounds with impressive musculature. He sat 95-98 mph in his first inning at Perfect Game National before settling down to 92-95 in his second, where he was actually hit around pretty well. Rocker faced the showcase maximum of five batters in his second inning, failing to get all three outs and surrendering hard line drives to Florida prospects Kendrick Calilao and Cory Acton.
He performed much better in Cary, N.C., at the Tournament of Stars, where he sat in the low 90s and touched 95, striking out five batters in four, no-hit innings while walking two.
The following week at the Perfect Game WWBA championships, Rocker threw a five-inning shutout, needing only 51 pitches (41 strikes) to strike out nine batters in a one-hitter. His fastball worked at 95-97 in his first inning and 91-95 in the fifth.
At all three events, Rocker showed a hard, mid-80s slider that flashed plus, and he generated swings and misses with a firm, upper-80s changeup both in Cary and at the WWBA.
Georgia righty Kumar Rocker opens up with a 97 mph fastball. It’s easy. pic.twitter.com/jO9DJFljB6
— Carlos Collazo (@CarlosACollazo) June 18, 2017
What the scouts say
• "Front-end guy . . . Good arm up to 97, power arm. Heavy sink to the ball. Average slider with him. Another big break. I've got average now. It's more 45-50, a future plus pitch. And then his changeup is like a 40-45 pitch, and that will be a future 50. The thing with him, you can see (the changeup) out of his hand. You saw it out of his hand and he didn't really have command of that pitch. He buried one in the dirt and you can really see it out of his hand. His deception was just average (at Perfect Game National), not above.”
• “If somebody put Kumar No. 1 I wouldn't knock them for that, because it's an easy mid 90s to upper 90s fastball that he's able to control. He needs to be able to spot it down in the zone, sometimes he leaves it up in the zone, which leaves it susceptible to being hit hard. But it's easy with a little bit of movement to it. It's probably the easiest fastball as far as how it comes out, like he's just handing it to the catcher. He's got true power stuff.”
Will Banfield, C
Brookwood High, Snellville, Ga.
The top catcher in the class, Banfield is one of the most impressive prep catchers in recent memory, combining an elite arm behind the plate with above-average footwork and lateral mobility to go along with a simple, quick bat.
Banfield recorded the quickest pop time at Perfect Game National (1.74), throwing 84 mph to second base at his best, with strong carry and excellent accuracy. It's rare to see a ball get past Banfield, as he does an excellent job positioning his body behind the plate, both before the pitcher's release to help present the pitch and after, when he needs to react to a wild pitch or a breaking ball in the dirt.
At the Tournament of Stars, the righthanded-hitting Banfield went 3-for-11 (.273) at the plate with a pair of walks. On the first day of the tournament he showed plus bat speed and kept his hands inside the ball well to drive a double to the right-center gap against Matthew Liberatore. He also showed the ability to hit balls hard to the opposite field at PG National.
— Hudson Belinsky (@hudsonbelinsky) June 22, 2017
What the scouts say
• "Banfield is one of the best catching prospects I've seen in a long time. His arm is (currently) an elite arm. To me you can probably put a 60-70 on the arm. It's hard to find catchers, but guys like that who can receive, block and the quickness . . . The quick release and the pure arm strength and the accuracy, that's the main thing, he's very accurate. He has plus accuracy now. And most guys you find, they would be a 45-50, but he's on the money pretty much every time . . . Bat-wise, it's a good swing, an above-average swing. He's got solid-average bat speed, with average raw power. Future plus raw (power), long-term. To me, most catchers don't hit. But I would think he would hit . . . Most catchers you find that have that much defense, they have 40-45 bat speed, but this dude has solid-average bat speed and a good swing . . . He might be No. 1."
• I would say that he would be right there as one of my top position players for high school guys, if not the top high school position player . . . I think that he's a true catcher. And typically people get a little gun-shy about buying high school catchers in the first round, but if there was going to be one he would be the one for me. I think that his throw down transfers are plus-plus. It's on the bag. I think he has a real mature approach to the game, understands how to call a game and handle a staff. I think he folds up well behind the plate and he's a guy that catches your eye, you can't take your eyes off of him when he's out there doing what he does.”
Slade Cecconi, RHP
Trinity Prep High, Winter Park, Fla.
Cecconi had one of the most impressive performances at Perfect Game National, striking out five batters in two innings. He sat 94-95 in his first inning and dropped down to 92-94 in his second. He touched 97 and showed similar velocity at Tournament of Stars (TrackMan's best recorded fastball was 96.7, the second-fastest pitch of the tournament) where he was less effective, allowing five hits over three innings.
The 6-foot-4, 185-pound righthander has the stuff and frame to project as a top-of-the-rotation arm. He throws five pitches: a four-seam fastball, changeup, curve, sinker and what he calls a cutter but that has slider movement. He used that pitch in Fort Myers to strike out toolsy Mississippi outfielder Joe Gray Jr., and also got Gray Jr. to swing and miss on a 96 mph fastball to start the at-bat.
Cecconi also struck out the next batter, Dexter Jordan Jr.—a teammate of Gray Jr. at Hattiesburg High School—and got him to swing through a 95 mph fastball. Cecconi pitched Jordan Jr. backwards in this at-bat, starting with a breaking ball for a called strike and getting him looking on a mid-90s fastball to end it. This sequence was particularly impressive, as Jordon Jr. showed one of the best hit tools of the showcase.
Cecconi is being careful with his workload and plans on throwing 100 innings during 2017.
What scouts say
• "Front-end guy, probably a No. 2 guy at best. To me one of the best pitchers . . . His fastball was really good. Heavy, power with tilt. Up to 97 . . . Average breaking ball. Tight sweeper. Another future plus pitch with his slider. And his changeup, I really like it. It's a 40, but he mixes it well. It plays up. To me his changeup plays up a bit because he mixes it well and he has command of that pitch. I've got a future 50 and maybe a 55 . . . Slade's got some length to it, but he's got solid-average arm speed. But yeah, front-end arm, impact type."
• “I think that he probably has the most strikeout material of the bunch (between Hankins, Rocker and Cecconi). I think that he's the most electrifying out of them, as far as just arm. I think that he's got a live fastball that has armside run to it, and good life. He has a slider it looks like that falls off the table . . . With the fastball running to one side of the plate and that breaker falling off the other side of the plate, that's hard to hit, man. He has the most effort of the three, so that will be interesting to see how he kind of develops with that. That'll probably be my only hesitancy with him . . . It's not a ton of effort, but he shows the most effort (between Hankins, Rocker and Cecconi).”