State Previews: Minnesota




THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
With the University of Minnesota enduring its worst season since 1947, the state's deepest high school class in recent memory had to pick up the slack. Lefthander Brad Hand pitched well in front of scouts as the draft approached, and worked his way into the top three rounds. Many of the state's best prospects will be all but impossible to sign, as outfielder Eric Decker is a football star for the Golden Gophers, while high school two-way stars Joe Loftus (Vanderbilt) and Jacob Esch (Georgia Tech) are strongly committed to college.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Brad Hand, lhp, Chaska HS (National Rank: 92)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

2. Joe Loftus, 3b/rhp, Academy of Holy Angels, Richfield
3. Eric Decker, of, Minnesota
4. Matt Nohelty, of, Minnesota
5. Jacob Esch, rhp/3b, Cretin-Derham Hall, St. Paul
6. Chase Hentges, rhp, Shakopee HS
7. Kyle Carr, rhp, Minnesota
8. Chris Odegaard, rhp, Minnesota State-Mankato
9. Justin Gominsky, of, Mahtomedi HS
10. Cordell Greene, rhp, Maple Grove HS

SCOUTING REPORTS

1. Brad Hand, LHP, Chaska HS (National Rank: 92)

Hand has created a bigger sensation among scouts than any Minnesota high school prospect since Joe Mauer. He won't go at the top of the draft like Mauer did, but Hand performed very well when two dozen scouts attended his fourth start of the spring. His fastball ranged from 88-93 mph with nice life, and both his curveball and changeup flashed plus potential. Hand is an athletic 6-foot-2, 205-pounder who also plays football and hockey, and in baseball he doubles as a first baseman with lefty power. The biggest issues with him are his mechanics and his signability. He has violence and a head whack in his delivery, and he lands on a stiff front leg. Hand has pitched himself into third-round consideration, but the slot bonuses in that area of the draft (roughly $275,000 to $400,000) may not be enough to lure him away from an Arizona State scholarship. The Twins usually stay on top of their homestate prospects, and they could be tempted to take him with a sandwich or second-round choice.


Another Gibson?

Minnesota assistant head coach Rob Fornasiere says outfielder Eric Decker reminds him of another former Big 10 Conference two-sport star, Kirk Gibson. Decker set a school record with 67 receptions (for 909 yards and nine touchdowns) last fall. Very athletic at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, he can go from the left side of the plate to first base in an above-average 4.1 seconds and has plus-plus speed once he gets going. He covers enough ground to play center field, though he mans left field in deference to Matt Nohelty. Decker also has plenty of untapped power potential, and while he's raw, he shows the makings of good plate discipline. His worst tool is his arm, but it's playable. Scouts love Decker's tools but don't think they have any chance of signing him as a draft-eligible sophomore.

Passed over as a draft-eligible sophomore in 2007, Nohelty has above-average speed and a feel for hitting. He needs to draw more walks to fit at the top of a batting order, and his slap approach doesn't lend itself to much power. He's a solid center fielder with a below-average arm. His signability is in question because he's a top student who earned a computer-science degree in three years and turned down the chance to play summer ball in 2007 so he could intern with Northwest Airlines. If he doesn't receive a pro offer to his liking, he could return to Minnesota and pursue a master's degree.

Joe Loftus has prototype third-base tools. He's a 6-foot-3, 205-pounder with a lot of power potential and arm strength. He's also a good athlete who shows a high-80s sinker and a hard breaking ball on the mound. Whether he'll get drafted high enough to pass up his Vanderbilt scholarship remains in question, however. If he does make it to the Commodores, he'll take over for departing superstar Pedro Alvarez at third base.

Righthander/third baseman Jacob Esch has an easy arm action that delivered 89-91 mph fastballs and solid curveballs on the showcase circuit last summer. A high school shortstop, he projects to have more power and move to third base once he fills out his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame. He's also a punter for Cretin-Derham Hall's football team. Pro teams like him more as a pitcher but his stuff has been down this spring, so they may not be willing to buy him away from Georgia Tech.

Righthander Chase Hentges, who has committed to Iowa Western CC rather than a four-year school, is one of the more signable prospects in Minnesota. He's not as refined as the other high school players, but he's projectable (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) and already reaches 88-92 mph with clean mechanics. His slider is more flat and slurvy than reliable at this point.