Draft Scouting Reports: Lefthanders
This year's lefty crop is very deep
If you're looking for a college lefthander this year, you're in luck, with lots of depth behind the high school southpaws at the top.
1. Tyler Matzek, Capistrano Valley HS, Mission Viejo, Calif.
Matzek was virtually unknown until a preseason scrimmage last year, when he squared off against righthander Gerritt Cole, who became a 2008 first-rounder and is now at UCLA. Matzek was fantastic, striking out five of six hitters in two innings as 40 scouts were crammed into the bleachers, whispering, "Who is this guy?" He's anonymous no more. He starred in the 2008 Aflac game and at showcases both nationally and in Southern California, and while he's committed to Oregon he could be the first high school player drafted. With a rare blend of quality stuff, pitching smarts and ease of delivery, he may be the best prep lefty from Southern California since Cole Hamels in 2002. Similar in build and style to Angels southpaw Joe Saunders, Matzek features a 90-93 mph fastball, which peaks at 94, as well as a sharp-breaking curveball. He has flashed a changeup and slider in the past, but had not used them much this spring. Several crosscheckers hoped to see a more advanced feel for pitching and sharper secondary stuff, and Matzek had a few indifferent outings this year, struggling with his command and experiencing a dip in velocity, perhaps due to a blister on his pitching hand, which has since healed. Matzek's arm action is wonderfully smooth, and the ball leaves with his hand with ease, though he has a tendency to open up too soon. With a nearly stiff front leg landing, his fastball will often sail up and out of the strike zone, but any flaws are considered correctable.
2. Matthew Purke, Klein HS, Spring, Texas
Purke rivals Tyler Matzek as the best lefthanded pitching prospect in this draft. He already throws a 92-95 mph fastball and could throw harder as he adds strength to his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame. He backs up his heater with a hard slider that ranks among the best in the prep draft class. He doesn't have much experience throwing a changeup because he hasn't needed one. Last summer, Purke needed just nine pitches to work a perfect inning at the Aflac All-American Game and started the gold-medal game for Team USA at the World Junior Championship in Canada (albeit taking a 7-0 loss against Korea). Matzek has moved ahead of Purke for most clubs because he works with less effort. Purke throws from a low three-quarters angle that adds life and deception, but he has slinging action in his delivery. It's not violent, but it's not smooth either. Purke's stuff, track record and strong makeup combine to make him an upper-first-round talent, though teams still were trying to gauge his signability. If he follows through on his commitment to Texas Christian, he'd be eligible again as a sophomore in 2011.
3. Rex Brothers, Lipscomb
As a prep player in Tennessee, Brothers made the rounds of baseball camps in the state, attending Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee State, among others. Still, his best offer came from Lipscomb, which became a full NCAA school in 2004. He was the Atlantic Sun Conference's top freshman in 2007, going 7-4, 3.51, then led the Bisons to a regional bid last season, striking out 96 in 97 innings. He pitched in the Cape Cod League last summer, showing a power arm, and has improved significantly this spring, coming out of the gate throwing 92-94 mph with low-80s sliders against Georgia Tech. His stuff got better as he showed a smoother delivery, eliminating a head whack that hampered his command. At his best, Brothers showed two plus pitches: a fastball in the 94-96 mph range that touched 97, and a filthy slider in the 85-87 mph range. Some scouts see Brothers' delivery, which is still not smooth or easy, and want to put him in the bullpen. Several compare him to Randy Myers, who had similar size and stuff and fashioned a 14-year major league career. Others note that Brothers holds his velocity deep into games and should get a chance to start. His matchup with Kyle Heckathorn and Kennesaw State—a huge weekend in the Peach State, when North Carolina visited Georgia Tech and Louisiana State was at Georgia—was perhaps the heaviest-scouted game of the spring, and he delivered with his best stuff, making himself a surefire first-round pick.
4. Andy Oliver, Oklahoma State
Oliver starred with Oklahoma State and Team USA in 2008, but he didn't look like the same pitcher at the start of this season (see page 23 for the complete story). He had trouble locating his fastball, lost a curveball that had been one of college baseball's best and was flying open in his delivery, allowing hitters to get a better look at his pitches. Oliver got back on a roll as the draft approached, pitching inside more and routinely dominating teams with his fastball. It sits at 92-94 mph and touches 95, and he has a slow delivery that lulls hitters to sleep before his heater explodes on them. He relies heavily on his fastball because he never regained his curve. He now employs a cutter/slider as his No. 2 pitch, and he also flashes an average changeup. His strong 6-foot-3, 212-pound frame bodes well for durability. If Oliver can't develop a reliable breaking ball, his fastball velocity and command should make him at worst an effective big league reliever. The NCAA suspended him last May for having an adviser/attorney, Tim Barratta, present during negotiations with the Twins in 2006, when they drafted him in the 17th round out of an Ohio high school. Barratta turned him into the NCAA after the pitcher switched to Scott Boras, but Oliver successfully sued the NCAA and was reinstated. Oliver shouldn't be a tough sign if he's drafted in the first round as expected.
5. Tyler Skaggs, Santa Monica (Calif.) HS
Skaggs has the most projectable frame of any California prospect in this draft class. Thin and lanky at 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds, Skaggs has long arms, long legs, big hands and the angular and athletic build that could handle more muscle without becoming bulky. Skaggs' mother Debbie is the girls volleyball coach at Santa Monica High, and Tyler has also played football and basketball, though his emerging baseball talent caused him to drop the other sports. He cemented his reputation nationally with an outstanding performance last October in the World Wood Bat Championship, then pitched well this spring. He struck out 15 in a showdown with Bryan Berglund, and then tossed a 12-strikeout gem at the Anaheim Lions Tournament in front of 60 scouts. Skaggs' fastball sits in the 88-91 mph range, peaking at 92, and his four-seamer is most effective when it darts to his arm side. He adds a classic, over-the-top rainbow curveball, and has experimented with a slider. He will need to develop his changeup, but that pitch also shows promise. Utilizing an old-fashioned windup in which he brings his hands over his head and to the back of neck, Skaggs does a nice job of bending his back leg to drive off the rubber. He can fall into bad habits, such as rushing his delivery and overthrowing, and he'll have to be patient enough to let his velocity rise as his frame fills out. He should eventually pitch in the mid-90s, but that might not be for a few years. With his projectable build, easy arm action and promising stuff, Skaggs is one of the more enticing pitchers recently seen in Southern California. He's committed to Cal State Fullerton but is a likely first-round pick.
6. Chad James, Yukon (Okla.) HS
James spent the offseason on a stringent conditioning program, and his hard work will pay off when he gets selected in the first round in June. After pitching in the high 80s and showing a mediocre curveball last year, he has gotten noticeably stronger. The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder now routinely sits at 90-92 mph and touches 95 with his fastball. While his curveball needs more consistency, it's close to a plus pitch at times. He continues to have success with a changeup that ranks as one of the best among this draft's high schoolers. James has some minor delivery issues, but he's so athletic that he should be able to make those tweaks with ease. His brother Justin was a fifth-round pick out of Missouri by the Blue Jays in 2003. Chad has committed to Oklahoma State, but his stock continues to rise, making it unlikely he'll make it to college.
7. James Paxton, Kentucky
Paxton was a 6-foot-1, 185-pounder with an 86-87 mph fastball and some feel for a breaking ball when Kentucky recruited him out of a British Columbia high school. Three years, three inches and 30 pounds later, he has shown a 93-94 mph fastball throughout the spring. He has peaked at 97, and his heater also has very good run and sink. He throws with a clean arm action and little effort. Paxton also has transformed his breaking pitch from a slurve into a true curveball. On his best days, he'll show a plus-plus fastball, an above-average curveball and good command. He also has a changeup that has its moments, though he doesn't use it often. He's one of the youngest college juniors in the draft—he won't turn 21 until November—suggesting that he has even more room for improvement. Despite his improved stuff and ability to throw quality strikes (as evidenced by his 109-20 K-BB ratio in 73 innings), Paxton has been hit surprisingly hard this season. His ERA has risen from 2.92 last year to 5.30, with no obvious explanation. He has a history of nagging injuries, including a sore elbow in high school, back problems as a sophomore and some tendinitis in his left knee this spring. But he's never had surgery and scouts don't have serious concerns about his health. Anonymous a year ago, Paxton has pitched himself into first-round consideration.
8. Aaron Miller, Baylor
Baylor was supposed to have one of college baseball's best rotations, and instead it has been the biggest disappointment. Kendal Volz, a projected early first-rounder when the season opened, has seen his stuff regress. A pair of possible second-rounders, Shawn Tolleson (elbow issues) and Craig Fritsch (command woes and a lack of mental toughness), fared even worse, and the trio had combined for just six wins with a week left in the regular season. Miller has swooped in to pick up some of the slack, pitching himself into the sandwich round in the process. Though he hadn't pitched regularly since high school, Miller has repeatedly shown a 91-94 mph fastball and a nasty 82-83 mph slider. His command is spotty, but the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder has the athleticism to improve with more experience. Miller first emerged as a top pitching prospect when he threw 90-91 mph as a high school sophomore, but by his senior year he was more highly regarded as a right fielder in the mold of Paul O'Neill. Miller didn't want to pitch as a freshman for Baylor and made just six mound appearances in 2008. He still starts in right field for the Bears when he's not pitching, and ranks second on the club in all three triple-crown stats at .354-11-43. But it's clear now that his future will be on the mound.
9. Brooks Raley, Texas A&M
Brooks Raley (Photo by Andrew Woolley)
Raley can make a case for being the best two-way player in college baseball. The consensus is that he's better on the mound, where he has command of a diverse array of pitches. He works mainly with an 87-90 mph sinker, a slider and a changeup, and he also has a four-seam fastball that peaks at 93 mph and a curveball. Scouts respect his ability to compete and to command all of his offering, but he doesn't have a true out pitch, which will leave him with little margin for error in pro ball. Though Raley has a clean delivery, they also wonder how well he'll hold up at a wiry 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds. He also has potential as an outfielder, though a second-half slump has led to some questions about his bat. He does offer plus-plus speed, a good eye and gap power as a hitter, as well as above-average range and arm strength. Raley plays the outfield corners for Texas A&M, in part to reduce the physical burden of playing both ways, but definitely is capable of playing center field as a pro. A sophomore-eligible, he's spooking clubs by not giving them any inkling as to his asking price or agent, so he could last much longer in the draft than his talent would dictate.
10. Mike Minor, Vanderbilt
Baseball America's reigning Summer Player of the Year, Minor vaulted into first-round consideration with a dominant performance for USA Baseball's college national team, including two victories against Cuba. Minor could be the third lefthander drafted in the first round out of Vanderbilt in the last six years, and he's more Jeremy Sowers than David Price. Like Sowers, Minor has more pitchability than stuff, with a fastball in the 86-89 mph range and a plus changeup that grades as his best pitch. His other strongest attribute could be his pickoff move, a weapon he broke out repeatedly against Cuba last summer. Minor's future may depend on his breaking stuff. He formerly threw a slider as his primary breaking ball, and at times it was an above-average pitch with depth. He showed he could throw the pitch for strikes or bury it. Minor added a solid curveball this fall and threw four pitches for strikes this spring, but some scouts think the curve has sapped some of the life off the rest of his offerings. Vanderbilt's catching problems—at one point they used a fourth-string catcher due to injuries—also limited Minor's repertoire, making him hesitant to throw his breaking balls as chase pitches. Minor will be all over draft boards in June, and could go anywhere from the first half of the first round to the back half of the second.
11. Chris Dwyer, Clemson
After prepping with Phillies 2008 first-round pick Anthony Hewitt in Connecticut, Dwyer turned down the Yankees as a 36th-round pick last year to enroll at Clemson. Unlike most college players, he knew he wouldn't have to wait three years to re-enter the draft. Because of his background (see story, page 27), which includes being held back in elementary school and an extra high school year at Salisbury Prep, he is a draft-eligible freshman, already 21 years old. Dwyer's physical maturity helped him dominate at times, including six straight strikeouts in his debut against Charlotte. Dwyer's maturity is still that of a freshman, however, in that he's been unable to sustain his top-shelf stuff from start to start. An excellent athlete who was a standout quarterback in high school, Dwyer has shown the ability to throw two plus pitches for strikes at times. His fastball can sit in the 90-94 mph range when he's at his best, and his curveball is a plus pitch and a true hammer. He didn't have too many instances of being in trouble or having runners on base in high school, and that lack of experience might be why he's susceptible to the big inning. He hasn't challenged hitters in conference play, with 21 of his 24 walks coming in nine ACC games. He hasn't quite figured out how to battle through jams and execute pitches when he needs to get out of trouble. Being a draft-eligible freshman also clouds his signability, but he has more stuff and pitchability than some of his lefthanded peers in the draft.
12. Ashur Tolliver, Oklahoma City
NAIA power Oklahoma City usually has an interesting NCAA Division I transfer, and this year's prospect is Tolliver. He went just 2-5, 7.94 at Arkansas-Little Rock in 2008, but started to blossom in the Cape Cod League during the summer. He drew a lot of attention when his fastball sat in the low 90s and popped some 96s early in the spring, though he was working more at 88-92 mph as the draft approached. Scouts wonder about his durability because he's generously listed at 6 feet and 170 pounds. He has a very quick arm, though there's also effort in his delivery, and he ultimately may wind up in the bullpen. Tolliver's second-best pitch currently is his changeup. He showed some feel for a curveball in the fall but now employs a slurvy slider in the low 80s. He has a chance to become the highest-drafted player in Stars history, surpassing Grant Hansen, who went 89th overall to the White Sox in 2003. But Tolliver didn't help his chances by giving up eight runs in three innings against Louisiana State-Shreveport in the first round of the NAIA playoffs.
13. Justin Marks, Louisville
Marks started winning immediately at Louisville, quickly joining the rotation as a freshman in 2007 and earning victories in the Big East tournament and NCAA regional clinchers during the Cardinals' run to their first-ever College World Series. In three seasons, he has become the program's career leader in wins (26), ERA (2.95) and strikeouts (270 in 274 innings). Marks doesn't have an overpowering pitch but he's a lefty with command of four solid offerings: a lively 90-92 mph fastball, a slider, a downer curveball and a changeup. Outside of a rough time in the Cape Cod League last summer, he has been very consistent. Marks has a good 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame, though there's some violence in his delivery from a high three-quarters slot. He could beat out more ballyhooed Chris Dominguez to become the first Louisville player drafted this year, with both figuring to go near the third round.
14. Matt Bashore, Indiana
Bashore piqued the interest of scouts when he hit 94 mph last spring, but then he came down with a tender arm and pitched out of the bullpen in the Cape Cod League during the summer. He started slowly this spring but had turned in five quality starts in his last six outings heading into the last week of the regular season. He's attractive because he's a lefty with size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds), velocity (his fastball sits at 90-91 mph and has peaked at 95 this year), a pair of solid breaking pitches and an effective splitter/changeup. Bashore has an easy delivery and has improved his control this year. He gives Indiana a third player with a chance to get popped in the first two rounds, joining righthander Eric Arnett and catcher Josh Phegley.
15. Tyler Kehrer, Eastern Illinois
Kehrer went just 1-5, 5.02 as a sophomore in 2008, but he hinted at his potential by battling Eastern Kentucky's Christian Friedrich (who became the Rockies' first-round pick) and Jacksonville State's Ben Tootle, the Ohio Valley Conference's two best arms, to draws. While he's still somewhat of a work in progress, Kehrer's fastball has sat at 90-93 mph for most of his starts this spring, and he carries that velocity into the late innings. He has improved his slider to the point where it's an average pitch. He helped his cause by delivering a 14-strikeout one-hitter against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in front of several scouts. How much progress Kehrer can make with the consistency of his changeup and command will determine whether he remains a starter in pro ball. He's a strong 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, and his fastball would play up in shorter relief stints. If Kehrer goes in the third round, he'd be Eastern Illinois' highest draft pick since the Athletics took Stan Royer 16th overall in 1988.
16. Del Howell, Alabama
Like many college pitchers this spring, Howell's draft stock has been volatile. Recruited as a two-way player, Howell shined as a pitcher in the Texas Collegiate League last summer and earned top prospect honors there, striking out 47 in 34 innings. Alabama intended to use him as a reliever this year, in a middle-relief, "moment of truth" role, but he wasn't 100 percent healthy as he recovered from a case of mononucleosis. In an effort to make up for lost innings, Alabama used Howell as a starter early in the season, and he flashed above-average stuff, including dominating Vanderbilt in a complete-game effort. His fastball touched 94 in relief last summer and sat at 89-92 mph at its best this spring. He's got natural sink and tail on the fastball as well and complements it with a good, hard slider in the low 80s. In relief, Howell was a two-pitch guy, but he flashed an average changeup this spring. He has thrown fewer than 100 innings in college, making him an intriguing, fresh arm for scouts who have seen him throw well. He doesn't have the innings under his belt to know how to get out of jams or fight through innings when he doesn't have his best stuff. He could go anywhere from the second to the fourth round.
17. Michael Belfiore, Boston College
Scouts were mildly intrigued by Belfiore's big frame and loose arm coming out of Commack (N.Y.) High three years ago, when he worked in the 85-87 mph range with his fastball. He has started at first base for three years at Boston College and has thrived as the Eagles' closer the last two. Belfiore now works in the 90-93 mph range and tops out at 94 with a lively fastball. He shows a solid-average to plus slider in the 83-85 range at times, but he tends to push the pitch at other times. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Belfiore is physical enough to start, and he maintained his stuff for five innings in front of a number of scouting heavyweights in late April against Duke. He also has a starter's repertoire, with an average low-80s changeup that dives at the plate at times. He also shows a promising curveball in warmups, though he rarely uses it in games. Belfiore's mechanics need smoothing, and his offspeed command could use polish, but he could take off once he concentrates on pitching full-time.
18. Donnie Joseph, Houston
19. Colton Cain, Waxahachie (Texas) HS
20. Steven Matz, Melville HS, Setauket, N.Y.
21. Jake Eliopoulos, Sacred Heart Catholic HS, LaSalle, Ont.
22. Christian Jones, Monte Vista HS, Danville, Calif.
23. David Holmberg, Port Charlotte (Fla.) HS
24. Alex McRee, Georgia
25. Brian Morgado, Tennessee
26. James Jones, Long Island
27. Hoby Milner, Paschal HS, Fort Worth
28. Patrick Schuster, Mitchell HS, New Port Richey, Fla.
29. Austin Kirk, lhp, Owasso (Okla.) HS
30. Tyler Lyons, Oklahoma State
31. Buddy Baumann, Missouri State
32. Ian Krol, Neuqua Valley HS, Naperville, Ill.
33. Dallas Keuchel, Arkansas
34. Chris Rusin, Kentucky
35. Josh Spence, Arizona State