Second-Day Candidates

LOS ANGELES—Understandably, the majority of attention and publicity for the draft is focused on the top prospects. In Southern California in 2009, that list would include Stephen Strasburg, Grant Green, Tyler Matzek and Tyler Skaggs, to name a select few.

Scouting directors and crosscheckers typically decide their club’s selections at the top of the draft on day one. Day two is often referred to as “Scout’s Day,” in which local area scouts have a significantly increased influence on who gets picked.

 

This past week in Southern California, I observed a sampling of second-day draft possibilities. None of these players are the near “slam dunk” candidates for professional success as the upper tier prospects; however, they all possess tools and abilities which are both intriguing and tempting for scouts. 

Monday, March 16

 

Along with 20 other scouts, I began the week at Villa Park High School in Orange County to take a peek at Trayce Thompson, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound outfielder from Santa Margarita High.

 

Trayce is the son of Mychal Thompson, who was the first pick in the NBA draft out of the University of Minnesota in 1978. The elder Thompson played 14 seasons in the NBA with the Trail Blazers and the Lakers, winning two NBA titles in 1987 and 1988 with Los Angeles.

 

Mychal Thompson is a staple at his son’s games, easy to pick out in his folding chair, large black sun umbrella and 6-foot-10 frame.

 

Several scouts compare Trayce Thompson with Marlins prospect Mike Stanton and, while their builds are similar, Thompson is not yet in Stanton’s league as a prospect.   

 

At bat, Thompson flashes fascinating bat speed, and his power potential is terrific.  

 

To reach his potential, he’ll need to make some mechanical adjustments.   Thompson doesn’t load as much as he rocks slightly pre swing; his top hand grip is too far back into his palm; he needs to keep his front side and front foot closed longer; and he has a tendency to drift his hands away from his body instead of keeping them on an inside path.

 

In the field, Thompson possesses acceptable speed for a big man; however, he is not a particularly aggressive outfielder. A corner outfield prospect who plays CF in high school, Thompson does not charge balls well and, for some reason, often defers to his corner mates on drives in the gaps that he should take the initiative on.  Thompson’s arm is acceptable but he is timid with his throws and doesn’t go after runners who attempt to advance.

 

Nonetheless, Thompson is the type of prospect that tantalizes scouts. He will obviously require substantial development in the minors, but Thompson’s blend of a loose, projectable, athletic frame and enticing tools—driving power in particular—may make him too alluring to pass up in the draft.

 

Tuesday, March 17

 

St. Patrick’s Day found Downey High hosting a doubleheader against California High of Whittier. Cal High offended the fashion police by wearing special green jerseys to go with their gray and blue color scheme. Let’s be kind and say the outfits didn’t quite jell.

 

Ivory Thomas of Downey was the top prospect on display before about a dozen local scouts. A 5-foot-9, 180-pound centerfielder, Thomas is an acquired taste for many scouts.  The physical opposite of Thompson, Thomas is compact, muscular and not projectable, possibly scaring off clubs that prefer tall and lanky outfield prospects.

 

Those who like Thomas, yours truly included, see a strong, athletic, high-energy player with a boatload of tools.  Thomas has excellent speed (I’ve caught him at 6.77 at showcase events) a strong arm, and a bat that exhibits a short stroke, which leads to a provocatively quick swing.

 

Thomas, who is considered signable, may be 2009’s version of Chris Smith. Last year, Smith was an outfielder from nearby Centennial High in Compton. Most organizations had Smith ranked as a 10th-rounder, if not lower. The Yankees took a shine to Smith and unexpectedly popped him in the fifth round.

 

It is easy to conceive of an organization becoming enamored of Thomas, then acting contrary to the pack and selecting him in a single digit round. Not to discredit Smith, but Thomas’ raw tools are superior.

 

Wednesday, March 18

 

Simi Valley and Agoura High Schools are members of the ultra competitive Marmonte League, a conference which has sent numerous players to D-I ball, not to mention both the minors and majors.

 

The two rivals squared off Wednesday in a Marmonte League opener that drew a raucous crowd that included fans, parents, 50 scouts and the Simi Valley cheerleading squad, some of whom had a difficult time distinguishing between the two teams.

 

Jonathan Meyer is Simi Valley’s top draft prospect. A 6-foot-1, 200-pound switch hitter, no one quite seems to know exactly what Meyer is, least of all Meyer himself. He can play short, he can play third, he can catch, he pitches and he has taken up switch-hitting in the past year. One scout has even suggested that Meyer try his luck at second base.  

 

On the mound, Meyer’s fastball ranges from 87 to 91, and has peaked at 92. He flashes a decent hard breaking ball at 77, and cannot be accused of being a “nibbler”—he goes after each hitter aggressively.

 

Perhaps the answer to Meyer’s future was discovered after the game. In a discussion with a local part-time scout, I learned that Meyer prefers to catch. Meyer exhibits a nice pair of hands, and he certainly he has the arm and build to fit behind the dish.

 

In a postgame wood bat BP session, Meyer took cuts from both sides of the plate. Balls he hit left handed reached the warning track; balls hit right handed reached the parking lot.

 

Most every organization can use a right-handed, power-hitting backstop.

 

If anyone is shopping for a lefthanded, power-hitting catcher, the answer may be found in Agoura High’s Richard Stock. The brother of Robert Stock, USC catcher and part time pitcher, the younger Stock has been racked by injuries, one of which was a hairline fracture of a vertebra in his lower back. Indeed, Stock seemed a bit stiff Wednesday, still trying to recover fully.

 

Taller and more angular in his build than his older sibling, Richard needs a significant amount of work in refining his catching skills. His glovework and footwork lack ease and fluidity and need polish and refinement. Stock’s biggest asset is his arm, one of the more powerful guns seen on a local high school catcher in many years. Almost casually, Stock can flip the ball from his shoulder and deliver a straight line laser to second. At a summer showcase event, Stock recorded a 1.85 pop time.

 

At bat, Stock has a fundamentally-sound setup which is square and balanced. While he may benefit from relaxing his hands a shade, Stock employs a quirky grip: he curls the pinky finger of his top left hand onto the top of his right hand, emulating a golfers overlapping grip. 

 

One scout likened his swing to Fred McGriff. That is, a sweeping, lefthanded uppercut with little pre-swing movement. Stock hit several balls hard in Wednesday’s game, however, he’ll need to learn to handle the outside pitches—he can already destroy the inside deliveries.

 

For many observers both inside and outside the baseball industry, the second day of the draft is more interesting than the first. First rounds are typically a case of which well-known, highly-publicized amateur star with a mega agent goes where. The later rounds can not only produce bargains and surprises, they can produce players who eventually outperform their more highly touted (and highly-paid) peers.

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