Midseason Top 50: Injury Canâ€™t Knock Buxton From No. 1
It has been a dangerous year to be a top prospect. Injuries happen every year, but the 2014 season has been worse than usual. The top prospect in baseball, Twins […]
By Alan Simpson
(National ranking in parentheses)
1. VINCE MAZZARO, rhp (National rank: 137)
School: Rutherford HS.
Hometown: Rutherford, N.J.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. Birthdate: Sept. 24, 1987.
College Commitment: St. John’s.
Scouting Report: New Jersey had three premium high school arms that jockeyed much of the spring for the distinction of being the first player drafted, and Mazzaro looks like the winner. Not only was his power stuff slightly more appealing than the others, but Mazzaro is considered far more signable. He has a live arm, with a fastball at 88-92 mph that touches 93. He gets exceptional movement on the pitch because he throws across his body from a high three-quarters angle. He has a difficult time controlling his slider from that slot, but it’s also a potential put-away pitch. Mazzaro has had several high-pitch games this year, which is a concern to scouts, and his makeup bothers some. But he was 7-1, 0.27 with six walks and 91 strikeouts in 52 innings. While he has committed to St. John’s, he is expected to sign if he's drafted in the first three to five rounds.
2. SHOOTER HUNT, rhp (National rank: 182)
OTHERS TO WATCH
(Numbers in parentheses indicate rank in New Jersey)
Go Long With Garrison?
LHP Steve Garrison (4) grades out third among New Jersey’s elite high school arms for the purposes of this year’s draft, but some scouts believe he may end up better in the long run than Hunt or Mazzaro. He throws strikes with all his pitches, with command to both sides of the plate. His fastball was mainly in the 86-88 mph range this spring, but it has been 90-91 in the past and scouts have no doubt it will return to that velocity, and possibly exceed it because he is athletic and has good arm speed. He also has a quality slider that he can bury under the hands of righthanded hitters. On talent, mound presence and feel for the game, Garrison would surely go in the first 10 round, but he is a signability risk of a strong commitment to North Carolina, and that could knock him down and possibly right out of the draft.
RHP Mike Modica (10) is the best of New Jersey’s arms beyond the big three. His fastball was clocked at 88-90 mph this spring, but he’s not projectable because of a slight body and maximum-effort delivery.
Scouts say if athletic SS Anthony Scirrotto (6) was more inclined to play baseball, he might be the first player drafted in New Jersey. He was a quarterback at West Deptford High, but Penn State will utilize his 4.45 speed in the 40-yard dash at cornerback. With the likelihood that Scirrotto may be passed over altogether, SS Kyle Davis (14) or OF Luis Feliz (15) could be the state’s first high school bats drafted. Neither may be more than good draft-and-follows. Davis is a sound baseball player with good middle infield actions, while Feliz’ best tool is his bat.
The Princeton Factor
Princeton OF Will Venable (3) is one of the most intriguing players in the draft. He’s the son of Max Venable, who played 12 years in the big leagues, but has played little baseball. He has focused on basketball through high school and college and earned all-Ivy League honors his last two years at Princeton. He didn’t play baseball as a freshman and hit .239 in 50 at-bats as a sophomore, but he emerged as a baseball talent a year ago, when he hit .344-1-20 with 14 stolen bases and was a surprise 15th-round pick of the Orioles.
This year, Venable finished basketball early enough to play in 36 of Princeton’s 41 games and improved his numbers to .385-9-33—all team-leading figures. There is a wide range of opinion on his tools and potential, particularly with his bat. Some scouts say he has barely scratched the surface of his ability but resembles Dave Justice, right down to the swing, and could be a sandwich pick. Others say he is raw with limited aptitude and that he’ll be lucky to be drafted as high as he was a year ago.
He has shown improvement with the bat over the last two years, and some scouts say he will hit for power and average. His detractors say he has poor instincts and shows poor pitch selection and recognition. He’s an excellent athlete, looks like a baseball player in a uniform and does everything with ease and grace. He has the makings of four tools, with the speed to play center field, but a below-average arm would limit him to left. Because he has treated baseball as a hobby and doesn’t play the game with a lot of fire, there is concern how much he wants a big league career--particularly with an Ivy League education and basketball options overseas to fall back on. But he’s a fascinating talent, and could be a big catch if it all clicks.
Andrew Salini (8) hit .371-5-26 playing alongside Venable in the Princeton outfield. He has power and arm strength, but scouts say he may be too rough around the edges to consider buying out an Ivy League education as a junior. He can’t run and there is a question whether his bat will play at the next level.
OF John DeFendis (5), who got hot down the stretch and led Rutgers with a .370 average and 49 RBIs, doesn’t have any above-average tools, but he doesn’t have any real weaknesses, either. A center fielder in college, he lacks the raw speed and arm strength desired in the position at the pro level. He’s also a line-drive hitter with an aluminum bat swing, meaning he may lack the power potential to profile for an outfield corner.
LHP Josh Schwartz (9) gained national acclaim in March by breaking the NCAA all-divisions record of 27 consecutive wins. He stretched the mark to 37 in May by pitching a shutout at the Division III World Series to improve his record to 13-0, 1.74 on the year, completing his third straight undefeated season. He went 10-0 as a sophomore and 13-0 as a junior. Slightly built at 6 feet and 175 pounds with a below-average fastball and a big, rolling curve, Schwartz could be attractive from the 10th to 15th rounds to a team that values performance.