State Report: Tennessee




THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see
Vanderbilt produced the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks in the last two drafts in David Price (2007) and Pedro Alvarez ('08). The Commodores don't have anyone whose talent matches those players this year, but lefthander Mike Minor could end up going nearly has high in a volatile first round. Lipscomb's Rex Brothers emerged early as one of the 2009 draft's biggest breakout players, while the fortunes of the University of Tennessee's top prospects suffered as the Vols endured a trying season.

The prep ranks, which peaked in 2004 when Price, first-rounder Kyle Waldrop and current minor leaguers Matt Spencer and Cale Iorg were all in the same class, continue to lag behind. The state had a pair of top 60 talents in righthanders Sonny Gray and Seth Lintz last year, but it couldn't produce an encore in '09.

Looking ahead, lefthander/outfielder Bryce Brentz of Middle Tennessee State emerged as one of the nation's top power hitters and could be a first-rounder in 2010.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Rex Brothers, lhp, Lipscomb (National Rank: 17)
2. Mike Minor, lhp, Vanderbilt (National Rank: 35)
3. Kentrail Davis, of, Tennessee (National Rank: 39)
4. Bryan Morgado, lhp, Tennessee (National Rank: 139)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

5. Jordan Cooper, rhp, Shelbyville Central HS
6. Jason Thompson, 3b, Germantown HS
7. Drew Hayes, rhp, Vanderbilt
8. Ryan Casteel, c, Bradley Central HS, Cleveland
9. Nick Hernandez, lhp, Tennessee
10. Caleb Cotham, rhp, Vanderbilt
11. Josh Garton, of/1b, Volunteer State JC
12. Dan Palo, rhp, Houston HS
13. Curt Powell, ss, Farragut HS, Knoxville
14. Russell Brewer, rhp, Vanderbilt
15. Hunter Adkins, rhp, Red Bank HS, Chattanooga
16. Nick Christiani, rhp, Vanderbilt
17. Stephen McCray, rhp, Tennessee
18. Chase Reid, rhp, Vanderbilt
19. Andy Hillis, rhp, Brentwood HS
20. Aaron Tullo, rhp, Tennessee
21. Michael Faulkner, of, Germantown HS
22. Ty'Rell Harris, rhp, Tennessee
23. Daniel Tenholder, rhp, Austin Peay State
24. Danny Wiltz, rhp, Tennessee
25. Adam Liberatore, Tennessee Tech
26. Jonathan White, of, Vanderbilt
27. Tyler Wilson, of, Lipscomb
28. Josh Liles, of, Tennessee
29. Josh Smith, rhp, Lipscomb
30. Kenneth Roberts, lhp, Middle Tennessee
31. Chris Nunn, lhp, Harding Academy, Memphis
32. Zak Fuesser, lhp, Walters State
33. Jesse Wierzbicki, c, Walters State
34. Coty Woods, rhp, Middle Tennessee
35. Jordan Cooper, lhp, Farragut HS, Knoxville
36. Rawley Bishop, 1b, Middle Tennessee
37. Andrew Giobbi, c, Vanderbilt
38. Ryan Denneck, lhp, Tennessee Tech

SCOUTING REPORTS

REX BROTHERS, LHP, 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.

MIKE MINOR, LHP, 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. He 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.

KENTRAIL DAVIS, OF, TENNESSEE

An All-Freshman choice in 2008 who starred for Team USA, Davis is a sophomore-eligible who doesn't neatly fit any mold. His performance suffered this spring on a Tennessee team having a down season, and he had struck out in 25 percent of his at-bats in two college seasons. However, he has tools and hitting ability that stand out in the 2009 draft class. Strong and physical at 5-foot-9, 200 pounds, Davis has a short, powerful swing when he's going well, with bat speed to spare. Despite that, Davis had a tendency to chase pitches this year when pitched around, and he got pull happy, which caused his swing to get a little long. Similarly, Davis has plus speed as a 6.6 runner over 60 yards, but it doesn't play plus offensively. Davis is an average defender in center field, which is below what most big league teams look for. If he can't stay in center, his fringy arm will push him to left, where his power will have to play.

BRIAN MORGADO, LHP, TENNESSEE

A prominent recruit out of the Miami area, Morgado missed his freshman season after having had Tommy John surgery on Oct. 9, 2006. As he redshirted, coach Rod Delmonico, who recruited him (and several other Miami area players over the years) was fired. But Morgado stuck it out and stayed at Tennessee. Coming back from the surgery, Morgado struggled working as a starter and eventually moved to the bullpen. There Morgado's arm strength played up, though he still didn't dominate. His fastball, a 90-93 mph pitch as a starter, sat in the 92-95 range from the bullpen, and he ran it up to 97 against Louisiana State. He lacked the fastball command or even control to be pitch efficient and go deep into games as a starter, but his fastball control improved in short relief. Morgado's offspeed stuff, fringe-average with fringy control as a starter, played up out the pen as well, as he threw more strikes with his power slider, an average pitch. He tends to pitch off emotion and needs to mature in that regard if he's to be anything more than a setup man as a pro. An eligible sophomore, Morgado was expected to be a reasonably easy sign as the Volunteers program looks to clean house after a miserable season.

Top Hitters Not At Four-Year Schools

Tennessee's top hitters, aside from Kentrail Davis, are in the high school and junior-college ranks. However, scouts and college recruiters were of mixed opinions on whether those hitters showed enough to buy them out of college.

Tennessee recruit Ryan Casteel and Germantown product Jason Thompson, a Louisville recruit, are the two top prep bats. The consensus has both being better served going to school, but they stand out in a weak year for hitters in the Volunteer State, and might get overdrafted as a result.

Thompson, a switch-hitting 6-foot-1, 180-pounder, is a prep shortstop who profiles as a third baseman both in college and probably in pro ball, though some scouts like him as a second baseman. An Aflac All-American, Thompson has good athletic ability, is a plus runner and has a solid-average arm. His swing gets long and he hit a modest .406 this spring, making contact but driving the ball too inconsistently for scouts' taste. A hamstring tweak hurt hit performance late in the spring.

Casteel has similar size at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, and the righthanded hitter wouldn't be close to Thompson if he weren't a capable catcher. Scouts like his athletic ability and makeup. He may not be strong enough to hold up under the grind of catching, and an early hamate bone injury hampered him at the plate, making it tough to get a read on his bat. He runs well for a catcher and could move to a corner outfield spot if catching doesn't work out.

Two other prep hitters drawing interest are more likely to go to college. Speedy outfielder Michael Faulkner, an Arkansas State signee, has well-above-average speed, posting sub-4.0 second times to first base from the left side. He's a contact hitter with some Juan Pierre in him, making consistent if not hard contact. Middle infielder Curt Powell is smaller than his listed 6 feet and has a scrawny build. He helped Farragut High to its fifth state title in seven years as a fast-twitch speedster with a strong arm. In three years, with added strength, he should be a good draft pick out of Vanderbilt.

The only other hitter doing anything for scouts was Josh Garton, an outfielder at Volunteer State. He challenged pitchers Trent Rothlin, a righthander committed to Mississippi, and lefty Chad Bell (Tennessee) as the top prospect in the juco ranks. Garton, a Florida International signee, might be better suited to first base or left field in pro ball. He's strong-bodied and athletic, with a fringe-average arm, and has played some center field. He plays with energy, endearing him to scouts and college coaches alike. His bat is his best tool, with above-average raw power, and he could go in the seventh- to 10th-round range.

Bell and Rothlin pitched at Walters State and both went 7-1, and the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Bell had the better year in terms of ERA and strikeouts. He has been drafted twice already (Brewers and Indians) and has good pitchability with an upper-80s fastball. Rothlin, who went to Clemson before transferring, has a good changeup, loose arm and upper-80s sinker that will hit the low 90s. His breaking ball is short, however, and scrapes average when he's at his best. Both pitchers seemed to be pricing themselves out of the eighth- to 12th-round range, where scouts think their talent would put them.

Prep Arms On The Rise

Powell's Farragut teammate, Mississippi signee and lefthander Jordan Cooper, shares a name with the top prep prospect in the state, righthander Jordan Cooper of Shelbyville Central. Shelbyville's Cooper, a righthander, had late helium as his velocity jumped late in the year. While scouts questioned his maturity, his fastball hit some 94s and frequently sat at 92-93 mph. At other times, he lost the feel for his delivery and sat at 86-88. One scout described his mechanics as raw, and that affects his consistency. Cooper's hard slurve lacked a consistent shape or velocity, but when it's on, it's a good, hard breaker. He's committed to Kentucky and could go in the sixth- to eighth-round range on talent.

A trip of prep righties—6-foot-7, 210-pound Andy Hillis, 6-foot-4, 180-pound Alan Walden and 6-foot-3, 185-pound Hunter Atkins—went backward during the year. Walden had a broken elbow after a thumb injury earlier in the season and wound up pitching just 12 innings. He hit 94 in the fall, and his father is the assistant coach on his high school team. Scouts aren't high on Hillis' makeup, though he has a pro body and average stuff (88-90 mph fastball). Adkins is consistent and pitches at 88-90 mph. He's switched to a slider for his breaking ball and has a god feel for a changeup. His 6-foot-5, 180-pound frame inspires scouts to project him aggressively, but perhaps not enough to buy him out of his college commitment to Middle Tennessee State.

One prep righty who improved his stock is another Blue Raiders signee, Daniel Palo, who has good size at 6-foor-4, 210 pounds. He's a two-way recruit who has power as a first baseman, but his power arm is what attracts scouts. There are reports he hit 94 mph, and college recruiters and scouts confirmed him up to 93, sitting at 90-91. He has a loose arm that works well and has shown a feel for throwing his curveball for strikes. Scouts wonder if his body is too soft and his breaking ball too inconsistent to buy out of college, but his velocity could still get him into pro ball now.

Vols, 'Dores Pitchers Struggle

Vanderbilt and Tennessee combined to go just 23-36 in Southeastern Conference games, and in large part that lack of success was due to poor pitching. The Commodores posted a 5.95 ERA in conference games, still better than the Vols' 7.19 mark.

More was expected of several Tennessee pitchers, starting with lefthander Nick Hernandez, whose father Nicolas was the eighth overall pick in the 1978 draft as a catcher. He's also the nephew of major league umpire Angel Hernandez. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Hernandez was a potential top 100 pick entering the spring after he led the Cape Cod League with six wins and 57 innings last summer. He showed tremendous control as a sophomore, walking just nine in 84 innings. His walk rate increased this year, and when he caught the plate it was the fat part too frequently. Opponents hit .317 off him with 38 extra-base hits this spring. The velocity on his 88-91 mph fastball fluctuated all year, which made his plus changeup less effective. Hernandez's curveball is below-average, and he'll have to improve that to be a starter long-term in pro ball. He pitched better down the stretch, going at least six innings in each of his final six starts, and could still go in the first six rounds.

Other Vols pitchers didn't even fare as well but still should be drafted. Righthanders Ty'Relle Harris, Stephen McCray and Aaron Tullo all took turns in the weekend rotation. Harris competes well but has less stuff than his teammates, sitting at 88-92 mph with his fastball, complemented with a solid upper-70s slider. Tullo, a 17th-round pick of the Brewers out of St. Petersburg (Fla.) High in 2006, spent two years at junior college, then found the SEC going tough, posting a 7.80 ERA even while striking out 50 in 43 innings. He touches 94 mph and has a plus changeup at times. However, his curveball is below-average, and he lost confidence after getting hammered in an 18-3 loss to LSU. McCray runs his heater up to 94-95 mph, but it's straight at that velocity and his secondary stuff is fringy.

Vanderbilt also had a disappointing season, though the Commodores at least made NCAA regionals. No pitchers after Minor stepped forward, though sophomore-eligible righthander Caleb Cotham showed flashes. He was a sinker-slider pitcher most of the time and missed time due to knee soreness. He came back working in more of a relief role and showed a plus slider at times out of the bullpen. He works off the slider and his 88-92 mph fastball with decent sink, though for many starts his velo was in the 87-88 range. Cotham throws a curveball and changeup as well, but he rarely has all four pitches working. That accounted for his 14 home runs allowed in 70 innings.

Sturdy, 6-foot-1 righty Drew Hayes has a bigger raw arm and runs his fastball up to 95 at times, usually sitting in the low 90s. A prep quarterback of some note, he's a solid athlete whose father Glenn coached baseball at Bethel (Ind.). He's a middle-relief profile with a modest changeup who was ill-suited to starting, but struggles by the likes of sophomore-eligible righty Chase Reid and senior righty Nick Christiani left the Commodores looking for answers in the rotation. Reid's velocity was fringy in the 86-89 mph range, though his curve remains a solid and at times plus pitch. Christiani still throws hard, consistently in the low 90s. His slider and changeup are both decent and he throws strikes, yet he's been hit fairly hard for four seasons. Only Vandy's closer, eligible sophomore Russell Brewer, improved his stock with a strong season, following up on a Cape Cod League all-star nod last summer. He's a 6-foot righty with an 88-92 mph fastball he locates with confidence. Christiani, as a senior with arm strength, and Hayes will be the first picks off this group, and either could go as high as the 10th round.

Vanderbilt's position players offer little, as catcher Andrew Giobbi has solid tools but lacks an impact bat, and senior Jonathan White, a plus-plus runner and great athlete, hasn't figured it out with the bat. He also turns 23 in June, further lowering his value.

Middle Tennessee won the Sun Belt Conference behind Brentz, the team's No. 2 starter who also was tied for the national home run lead with 28 as regionals began. While he was playing his way into first-round consideration for 2010, he helped attract attention to other Blue Raiders, led by junior reliever Coty Woods, the team's closer who doesn't have a plus pitch but keeps the ball down and spots his slider. He could go in the 15th-18th round, as could the team's leading winner, finesse lefty Kenneth Roberts. Redshirt senior Rawley Bishop, already 23, also should get a shot at pro ball after flirting with .400 most of the season. Injury issues such as past shoulder surgery mar his status, but he's a good hitter with a combined 29 home runs in his two full seasons as a starter.

Among Tennessee's smaller Division I colleges, Lipscomb's Rex Brothers stood out from the crowd by a wide margin. His teammate, righthander Josh Smith, was putting together a good season with a fastball that has average velocity with good sink and tail. He has a short arm action and a past arm surgery that scares off some teams.

Tennessee Tech made regionals this season by winning the Ohio Valley Conference despite seeing ace Adam Liberatore go down after three starts with Tommy John surgery. He didn't have surgery until April, after running his fastball up to 94 mph in the fall. He took a medical redshirt but is eligible for this year's draft. Lefthander Ryan Denneck may have earned a draft spot by throwing very well against Clemson in regional play, working off an 88-90 mph fastball for seven innings. Austin Peay's top draft pick should be reliever Daniel Tenholder, a low-slot, durable sinkerballer who scrapes 90 mph.