Vitters vs. Moustakas

Josh Vitters entered the spring as the top high school talent in California. The Cypress High third baseman had pneumonia during the season that limited his performance somewhat. He hit .390 but still showed the pretty swing and all-fields power that made him stand out last summer at events such as the Area Code Games and Cape Cod High School Classic.

This spring, though, it was obvious who the best player in Southern California was: Chatsworth High’s Mike Moustakas. The lefthanded-hitting shortstop set a state single-season record with 24 home runs, struck out twice in 97 at-bats and set a state career record with 52 homers while leading Chatsworth to another section championship.

Oh by the way, Moustakas bumped 98 mph off the mound in brief stints, and at least two scouts I’ve talked to said he also flashed a plus slider that scraped 90 mph. In other words, he showed two plus-plus pitches off the mound, enough for some scouts who think his bat may be fringe-average to consider him a better prospect on the mound. (No one seems to doubt the power is at least major league average, though again his aptitude may limit the power’s usability.)

It all makes Moustakas the more exciting prospect for sure. Does it make him the better prospect? That remains a question as we’re about two hours away from the draft, and the Royals at No. 2 appear to be deciding between these two California infielders.

Moustakas’ tools profile him as a catcher for some, but those who believe in his bat don’t seem to worry about his future position. They know it’s not shortstop and believe with his arm and decent hands, he could be an average third baseman. Even if it has to be first base, the bat will play, and it’s a lefty bat that teams like at first.

Vitters’ defense also gives scouts pause, though. He earns Pat Burrell comparisons as a righthanded power bat who looks like a prototypical third baseman but probably doesn’t have the hands or actions to stay there as a big leaguer. Vitters doesn’t get his feet and hands in the right position to get great hops, the consensus goes, and may have to move to left field for his bat to truly come alive.

Vitters is a year younger than Moustakas; being a lefthanded hitter gives Moustakas an edge. While Moustakas is a Scott Boras client, the signing bonus demands for both players are similar. Moustakas is a Southern California signee and good friend of Trojans two-way talent Robert Stock; in fact, he’s basically taken Stock’s place as the lefty power bat and power arm in this draft, after Stock skipped his senior prep season and enrolled one year early at USC. Vitters is part of Arizona State’s all-star, over-recruited signing class.

Which player the Royals prefer–and believe they can sign quickly–at No. 2 overall probably has a lot to do with how the top 10 picks fall. The Greek-American in me says Moustakas is the better bet; the baseball journalist in me says go with the lefty bat when you can, and the scouts I’ve talked to just sound more excited when they talk Moustakas.

In the spirit of the NBA finals, it may be the difference between LeBron (Moustakas) and Tim Duncan (Vitters). In the NBA, I’d take Duncan. In the baseball draft, I’d take Moustakas.

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