State Reports: Michigan




THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
Michigan rolled to the Big 10 Conference regular season and tournament titles and played host to an NCAA regional, and the Wolverines offer most of the state's top prospects—a departure from a year ago, when they didn't have a player selected until the 19th round. Righthander Zach Putnam could go in the sandwich round, and shortstop Jason Christian might not last past the second. Western Michigan (Ethan Hollingsworth) and Wayne State (Anthony Bass) contribute to the state's pitching depth, but the high schools are relatively barren.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Zach Putnam, rhp, Michigan (National Rank: 50)
2. Ethan Hollingsworth, rhp, Western Michigan (National Rank: 105)
3. Jason Christian, ss, Michigan (National Rank: 117)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

4. Anthony Bass, rhp, Wayne State
5. Nate Recknagel, 1b/c, Michigan
6. Kyle Day, c/of, Michigan State
7. Adam Abraham, 3b, Michigan
8. Brandon Ritchie, lhp, Grand Rapids CC
9. Matt Shoemaker, rhp, Eastern Michigan
10. Derek Van Buskirk, of, Michigan
11. Damarii Saunderson, of/lhp, Northville HS
12. Kevin Vangheluwe, rhp, Lake Shore HS, St. Clair Shores
13. Billy Morrison, rhp, Western Michigan
14. Mark Sorensen, rhp, Michigan State
15. Ben Jenzen, rhp, Michigan
16. Kevin Krantz, ss, Traverse City Central HS
17. Dan Taylor, lhp, Central Michigan
18. Michael Powers, rhp, Michigan
19. Chris Fetter, rhp, Michigan
20. Steve Bradshaw, 1b, Eastern Michigan

SCOUTING REPORTS

1. Zach Putnam, rhp, Michigan (National Rank: 50)

When Putnam is going well, he can be very good. In the NCAA super regionals last June, he no-hit eventual national champion Oregon State for 8 2/3 innings before suffering a 1-0 loss. He'll use five pitches, and they'll all have their moments. His fastball sits at 91-92 mph with heavy sink, and he can get to 95 mph with riding life on a four-seamer. His splitter can be devastating and his slider can hit the mid-80s. He also uses a curveball and changeup. Putnam's mechanics aren't the prettiest—he doesn't incorporate his lower half much and powers through his delivery—but they don't prevent him from throwing strikes. He has been a valuable hitter for Michigan, and he has the arm strength and power to profile as a right fielder at the next level, but pro teams want Putnam on the mound. They just aren't sure exactly what to make of him. His secondary pitches are inconsistent, and shoulder soreness cost him two starts at the beginning of the season. He also showed little desire to pitch or play the field in the Cape Cod League last summer, preferring to DH. Putnam's future is likely as a reliever, though it's also possible that his splitter and slider will become more dependable once he's a full-time pitcher. The Yankees are a possible destination for him with the No. 44 overall pick.


2. Ethan Hollingsworth, rhp, Western Michigan (National Rank: 105)

Hollingsworth has a chance to go as high as the second round, which would make him the highest pick in Western Michigan's history. The Broncos have produced five third-rounders, including big leaguer John Vander Wal. Hollingsworth doesn't intimidate anyone with his size (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) or his stuff, but he really knows how to pitch. His fastball sits at 89-92 mph, and while he's unlikely to add more velocity in the future, he maintains what he has and commands his heater to both sides of the plate. His swing-and-miss slider is his best pitch, and he also mixes in an average 12-to-6 curveball and a decent changeup. Hollingsworth throws strikes, works down in the zone and keeps hitters off balance by mixing his pitches and locations. He's likely as good as he's going to get, but he knows how to pitch and should move quickly in pro ball.

3. Jason Christian, ss, Michigan (National Rank: 117)

Christian is one of the few shortstops in the draft with both offensive and defensive skills, and his all-around game could boost him as high as the second round. He has a loose swing, plenty of bat speed and some power potential to tap into once he adds some weight to his 6-foot-3, 170-pound frame. He uses the whole field and shows an aptitude for drawing walks. Once he gets on base, he's a slightly above-average runner who can provide an occasional steal. Unlike many of the better-hitting shortstops available, Christian won't have to switch positions. He has good actions at shortstop, along with plenty of range and arm strength. He missed three weeks with a stiff back, attributed to Michigan's long flights to Florida, Arizona and North Carolina on early-season road trips. Christian since has recovered and his back isn't a long-term concern.

Fishing For Bass

With Putnam possibly projecting as a reliever, the best starting pitching prospect in the state could be righthander Anthony Bass of Wayne State, an NCAA Division II program. Bass has a 90-92 mph fastball that peaks at 94, a curveball with some bite and a decent changeup. While at Trenton (Mich.) High, Bass struck out 19 batters in one game to break J.J. Putz's school record.

Undrafted a year ago, first baseman/catcher Nate Recknagel has made the most of his senior season, setting a Michigan record with 23 homers and earning Big 10 Conference player of the year acclaim. Scouts aren't sure how his maximum-effort swing will play with wood bats, but the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder's strength is undeniable. While he's stiff at first base, he may have a chance to make it behind the plate as an offensive-minded catcher. He needs to improve his receiving and blocking skills, but he throws well enough.

Catcher/outfielder Kyle Day won the Jayhawk League MVP award in 2006, putting himself in good position as a draft-eligible sophomore last year. But he became pull-conscious and didn't perform as expected, and he fell to the Cubs in the 19th round. Day has been better this spring and shows good bat speed from the left side of the plate, though he still lacks consistency. To stay behind the plate, he needs to polish up his throwing mechanics and his receiving.

Third baseman Adam Abraham showed promise as a defenseman in the Ontario Hockey League before deciding to focus on baseball during the NHL lockout. The heart and soul of the Wolverines, he's a quality athlete with strength in his bat and his arm. He tends to drift at the plate, which cuts off some of his power. Though he hasn't pitched much this spring, he has shown aptitude on the mound in the past, earning a win and a save against then-No. 1 Vanderbilt in Michigan's huge regional upset a year ago.

In the game that eliminated Vanderbilt, outfielder Derek Van Buskirk used every inch of his 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame to make a game-saving catch of a Pedro Alvarez blast against the fence. Despite looking the part of a power hitter, Van Buskirk delivered just six homers over his first three seasons before hitting 10 entering NCAA regional play as a senior. He has power to all fields, though a history of shoulder problems may relegate him to first base in pro ball.

Lefthander Brandon Ritchie re-established himself as the state's top juco prospect after missing 2007 with a knee injury. He needs to do a better job of keeping his 6-foot-5, 240-pound body in shape, but he can touch 92 mph with his fastball and spin a slider. In his final start of the season, he went the distance without allowing an earned run to win a first-round game at the Division II Junior College World Series.

Righthander Matt Shoemaker is the best prospect on an Eastern Michigan club that overcame a 0-17 start to win the Mid-American Conference tournament and advance to the NCAA postseason. He had a bad beginning to his redshirt junior season as well, breaking his left arm when he fell on ice in January. He came back quickly, perhaps too quickly, as his fastball maxed out at 91 after he touched 94 mph in the Great Lakes League last summer. Shoemaker also throws a splitter, slider and changeup. Shoemaker was a Trenton High teammate of Bass.

Outfielder/lefthander Damarii Saunderson has the best tools among Michigan's high schoolers, but he's so raw that he'd be better served by attending Iowa Western CC than turning pro. He's an athletic 6-foot-3, 195-pounder with power potential, arm strength and decent speed. He also has holes in his swing.

The state's top prep pitcher is righthander Kevin Vangheluwe, but his draft status is uncertain after he had surgery to remove a blood clot from his pitching arm in April. A strong 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, Vangheluwe has a high-80s fastball and a promising breaking ball. If he doesn't turn pro, he'll attend Michigan, where he'll also get the chance to hit.