State Report: Mississippi




THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
The most-watched player in Mississippi this spring was Scott Bittle, the Rebels' senior righthander. He was a second-round pick of the Yankees last season but didn't sign after the organization didn't clear him medically. Bittle sought and received three other opinions, including one from Dr. James Andrews, that cleared his shoulder, and he was having another strong season after moving to the weekend rotation. A late shoulder injury sidelined Bittle again, however, and he wasn't on the Rebels' postseason roster.

He likely had already been passed by a pair of high school athletes as the state's top prospect. Speedster Billy Hamilton ranks among the draft's fastest players, while David Renfroe—son of a big leaguer—ranks as both the state's top hitter and top pitcher.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. David Renfroe, ss/rhp, South Panola HS, Batesville (National Rank: 67)
2. Billy Hamilton, ss/rhp, Taylorsville HS (National Rank: 98)
3. Jordan Henry, of, Mississippi (National Rank: 131)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

4. Scott Bittle, rhp, Mississippi
5. Nathan Baker, lhp, Mississippi
6. Drew Granier, rhp, Mississippi Gulf Coast JC
7. Clint Dempster, lhp, Mississippi Gulf Coast JC
8. Phillip Irwin, rhp, Mississippi
9. Aaron Barrett, rhp, Mississippi
10. Connor Powers, 1b/3b, Mississippi State
11. Matt Smith, 1b, Mississippi
12. Chris Stratton, rhp, Tupelo HS
13. Donnie Tabb, ss/rhp, Nashoba Central HS, Philadelphia
14. J.R. Ballinger, rhp, Southern Mississippi
15. Scott Copeland, rhp, Southern Mississippi
16. Lex Rutledge, lhp, Tupelo HS
17. Corey Dickerson, of, Meridian CC
18. Craig Westcott, 1b/lhp, Belhaven College
19. Jeremy Hill, lhp/1b, Mississippi Gulf Coast JC
20. Darren Farmer, c, West Lauderdale HS, Collinsville
21. Jared Bales, c, Picayune HS
22. Russ Snead, 3b, Mississippi State
23. Daniel Eichelberger, of, East Central CC
24. Tyler Vick, 3b, Meridian CC
25. Jake Morgan, rhp, Mississippi
26. Logan Power, of, Mississippi
27. Jet Butler, Mississippi State
28. Blake Hennington, lhp, Meridian CC
29. James Ewing, 2b, Southern Mississippi
30. Bo Davis, of, Southern Mississippi (24)
31. Todd McInnis, rhp, Southern Mississippi
32, Brett Bukvich, lhp, Mississippi
33. Brian Dozier, Southern Mississippi
34. Brett Basham, c, Mississippi
35. Ethan Bright, 1b, South Panola HS, Batesville

SCOUTING REPORTS

DAVID RENFROE, SS/RHP, SOUTH PANOLA HS, BATESVILLE, MISS.

Renfroe's father Laddie played baseball at Ole Miss, where he was a pitcher and a two-time all-Southeastern Conference selection. If the younger Renfroe makes it to Oxford, he has a chance to exceed his father's accomplishments as a power pitcher who also could be an outstanding college hitter. That's the problem for Ole Miss, though—Renfroe may be too good to get to school. He's a legitimate prospect both ways and reportedly put the word out that he wanted to hit, and that he wanted to sign if the money was right. Renfroe has a polished approach as a hitter, with solid-average power and hitting tools. He's a smooth defender with good hands who should be a capable college shortstop and an outstanding third baseman at the pro level. He has obvious arm strength that also plays on the mound. He sits at 88-92 mph with his fastball and has touched higher, up to 95 at times. He has the ability to spin a breaking ball and has shown a feel for a changeup. Scouts are split on whether he has more upside as a pitcher or as a hitter. He showed his wood-bat power with a home run last year during the Under Armour/Baseball Factory all-star game, easily reaching the Wrigley Field seats. He could go late in the first round as a hitter for a team that wants to buy him away from Ole Miss, though the consensus had him as a second- to third-round talent.

BILLY HAMILTON, OF/SS. TAYLORSVILLE (MISS.) HS

Hamilton, like many Mississippi prep products, remains raw, as he's never played baseball full-time and needs to face better competition. Hamilton ranks among the fastest players in the draft, a true 70 runner on the 20-80 scale. Hamilton also is among the lightest players, if not the lightest being considered in the first five rounds, checking in at around 150 pounds. One evaluator said he resembles Brewers utilityman Bill Hall at a similar stage of development. Hamilton lacks present strength in his wispy frame, and some teams will walk away from a player whose present bat is short. Hamilton's swing is fairly sound, though, and he's learning to bat lefthanded as well to take advantage of his speed. He has outstanding arm strength, reaching 94 mph off the mound, and might be able to remain a shortstop; if not he'll stay in the middle of the diamond in center field. He's a Mississippi State football recruit, but scouts still consider him signable.

JORDAN HENRY, OF, MISSISSIPPI

Henry was a Freshman All-American two years ago, when his brother Justin (a second baseman who is now in the Tigers farm system) was a teammate, but he struggled as a sophomore for Mississippi. He rebounded to key the Rebels offense in 2009, leading the Southeastern Conference in walks and stolen bases to earn first-team All-SEC honors. Henry earns Jason Tyner comparisons for his slap-happy, speed-oriented approach. He's patient and can spoil pitchers' chase pitches with two strikes. He's a 70 runner whose speed also plays defensively, where he's a good defender in center field. Henry has enough arm to be a fourth outfielder, which is his likely future role unless he shows an ability to impact the ball with the bat. He has hit just two homers and has just 26 extra-base hits in three seasons. He could go as high as the fourth round due to his speed and improved performance this season.

Rebels Have Outpaced Bulldogs

Between the state's two Southeastern Conference rivals Mississippi State has more tradition, both in producing players for the pros and having success on the field. The Bulldogs reached Omaha in 2007, while Mississippi has lost in the super-regional round four different times. However, Ole Miss has missed regionals only once this decade, while Mississippi State bottomed out last year with a last-place SEC finish. New head coach John Cohen should turn things around eventually, but he couldn't get the Bulldogs back into the SEC tournament (or NCAA tournament) this year.

Ole Miss also has passed the Bulldogs in terms of pro talent, such as Scott Bittle. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder was a first-team All-American a year ago and when he's healthy, he has one of the best pitches in the draft. He attacks hitters with a ferocious cutter in the 84-86 mph range, and should saw of plenty of bats in pro ball with the pitch. It has amazing depth for a cut fastball as well. His fastball can reach 92 mph in shorter stints, though he pitches in the upper 80s with sink as a starter. His changeup also has become an average pitch. Bittle's medical history makes it impossible to know where he'll be drafted. He redshirted in 2006 at Northeast Texas CC because of rotator cuff tendinitis, so his shoulder has been an issue—either keeping him off the mound or keeping him from signing in the draft—three times in the last five years.

Ole Miss' other projected top prospect entering the season, righthander Aaron Barrett, had a poor season and has been passed by several teammates. He has a big league repertoire, at times sitting in the 90-93 mph range with his fastball and touching 94. He throws a hard slider and has a decent changeup as well, though he ditched it when he moved out of the weekend rotation. Barrett's slider has reached 85 mph out of the bullpen, which is probably his future role, as poor command has killed him as a starter. He's consistently behind hitters and gets hammered when he's up in the strike zone, which is often when he lands on a stiff left leg.

Bittle moved into the rotation when redshirt sophomore Jake Morgan moved into the closer's role and thrived. Morgan doesn't have premium stuff, but he throws a solid-average 90-92 mph fastball and low-80s slider, and he throws them both for strikes down in the zone. He's considered a tough sign as a 6-foot-1, 230-pounder with a less-than-ideal pro body and two years of eligibility remaining.

Another eligible sophomore for the Rebels, first baseman Matt Smith, attracts more attention as one of the better hitters available from the SEC this year. Smith looks the part at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, and hit 14 homers as a redshirt freshman, a school record for the class. He also struck out 80 times as a freshman in 227 at-bats, and he had adjusted as a sophomore. A solid runner and good athlete for his position, Smith had improved his batting average by 65 points, cut his strikeouts nearly in half and increased his on-base and slugging percentages—though he had hit just six home runs entering regional play. As a sophomore Smith has leverage, and teams may not be willing to pay for a righthanded-hitting first baseman with just six homers.

As Barrett backed up, lefthander Nathan Baker and righthander Philip Irwin moved up. A 6-foot-3, 193-pounder, Baker showed better velocity this spring, sitting average with his 88-92 mph fastball and touching 93 at times. He also improved his slider, at times running his slider up to 78-79 mph, and his changeup gives him a third solid-average pitch. Baker worked mostly in shorter stints because he throws strikes consistently, but he's also around the plate a lot. Some teams have interest in stretching him out more as a starter and could reach up to get him in the first six rounds. Irwin, another big-bodied 6-foot-3, 215-pound pitcher,  also has shown three average pitches and keeps the ball in the ballpark. He lacks a dominant offering. Senior lefty Brett Bukvich, a fifth-year senior who's already 23, is more notable for his size (6-foot-3, 237 pounds) and older brother (ex-big leaguer Ryan). He competes hard and is lefthanded, and he tends to get hammered when he doesn't hit his spots because of his fringy stuff.

Mississippi State's top draft pick will likely be corner infielder Connor Powers, who took a step back defensively this season, playing mostly first base instead of third. Powers' best tool is, appropriately, power. The 6-foot-2, 228-pounder ranked fifth in the SEC with 19 home runs, and he ranks with anyone in the league in terms of raw power. Most scouts see plenty of holes in his swing and say he has trouble handling velocity, and his body has gone backward. Junior third baseman Russ Sneed could go out in the first 15 rounds as well, if signable, as he has a better offensive approach and tools to play third base. He's inconsistent in all phases and may be a better senior sign.

Southern Mississippi reached regionals (and then advanced to super regionals) despite an injury to senior shortstop Brian Dozier, the team leader who went down in April with a broken clavicle. He was more of a solid college shortstop than a big pro prospect and fits better at second base, as a fringy runner with a fringe arm. The Golden Eagles' top prospect, eligible sophomore righthander J.R. Ballinger, has a smaller-than-ideal frame at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds. He has run his fastball up as high as 92 mph but pitches at 89-90, with a solid changeup. His out pitch is his curveball, a short spike in the upper 70s, and he keeps the ball in the ballpark, having yielded just two home runs. The team's best hitter had been senior outfielder Bo Davis, an above-average runner with athletic ability who led the team in batting, OBP, slugging, home runs, walks and stolen bases. He's a fifth-year player who turned 24 in April.

Lots Of Diamonds In The Rough

Mississippi's juco ranks have their usual array of intriguing if raw players. Meridian CC outfielder Corey Dickerson has pro size at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, but scouts still haven't seen him against quality competition. He played at a small private school in high school, hitting 45 homers to set a career mark for the state's private-school association. He played center field in junior college but profiles as a corner bat. He has shown average speed, improved defensive abilities and some hitting aptitude to go with raw power. He hit .381 with 15 homers and 21 doubles this spring, though scouts still aren't sure what to make of him.

Dickerson's competition as the top juco player in the state comes from Mississippi Gulf Coast duo Drew Granier and Clint Dempster, who also were high school teammates. Granier, a righthander, has a big, slow curveball to go with an 87-89 mph fastball that touches up to 92 at times. He's only 6-foot-1 and needs to throw his breaking ball with a little more power. Dempster probably will go higher despite his similarly short frame, with a better curveball with bite and a bit more power to go with an 88-92 mph fastball. He's energetic and probably needs to move to the bullpen in pro ball. Granier has committed to Louisiana-Monroe, while Dempster is signed to Nicholls State.

Lefthander Blake Hennington has shown similar stuff to the Gulf Coasters, hitting 91 mph with his fastball and a solid breaking ball. He was a late bloomer who threw just 35 innings on the spring. He's committed to Mississippi.

Another Gulf Coast player, lefthanded hitter Jeremy Hill, contends with Est Central CC's Daniel Eichelberger as the next-best hitter in the juco ranks after Dickerson. Eichelberger hit 10 homers this spring and has good speed. He's also a third-year sophomore who takes an enormous, unrestrained hack more often than not, and hit just .329 this spring against modest competition. Hill is less athletic but has first-base size (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) and pure hitting skill, with good hand-eye coordination. He hit .448 with 12 homers this spring and looks like a double-digit pick because of his lack of other tools.

The state's high schoolers drop off dramatically after Renfroe and Hamilton. Some scouts like lefthander Lex Rutledge after seeing good early velocity that reached 90 mph. The Samford signee might have been the state's most notable pop-up guy (he wasn't a showcase player in the past) but he didn't maintain his fast start. More likely to go out is his Tupelo High teammate Chris Stratton, a Mississippi State recruit. He has a better pro body at 6-foot-3, 175 pounds, and most scouts have seen him in the 90-91 mph range—though he sits in the upper 80s. He hasn't shown a consistent curveball yet, as it needs to be tighter and thrown with more power. He wants to go to college and should be a good pick in three years with more maturation and consistency.

The top hitters in the state include 6-foot-5, 230-pound first baseman Ethan Bright, Renfroe's prep teammate who has raw power but a slow bat; and shortstop Donnie Tabb, a 5-foot-9 athlete who has raw tools—emphasis on the raw. Tabb is a plus runner (though not a burner) with excellent arm strength, running his fastball up to 92 mph when he pitches. He has surprising strength at the plate but is behind in his development because he primarily was a football player in high school.