State Report: Georgia




THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
Georgia will place a high school pitcher in the first round for the second straight season, and it once again has the draft's top-rated high school position player, with Donavan Tate following in the footsteps of 2008 No. 1 overall pick Tim Beckham. But as the draft approached, Tate's stock was slipping as scouts pondered doubts about his bat and his dedication to baseball, citing his commitment to play football (and baseball) at North Carolina. (Surely being a Scott Boras Corp. client has nothing to do with it.) The bulk of Georgia's prep class, however, was below the state's usual standard of the last 15 years.

The same was true of the college talent at Georgia, which faltered severely down the stretch, and Georgia Tech. Both teams have plenty of pro talent among their underclassmen, with the Yellow Jackets' Deck McGuire emerging as one of the top 2010 pitchers available. Luckily for scouts in the area, Kennesaw State made up for the deficit, with righthanders Kyle Heckathorn and Chad Jenkins emerging as twin first-round possibilities. Jenkins entered the year with less fanfare but had clearly passed Heckathorn as the state's top college prospect, drawing comparisons to Joe Blanton.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Donavan Tate, of, Cartersville HS (National Rank: 3)
2. Zack Wheeler, rhp, East Paulding HS, Dallas (National Rank: 12)
3. Chad Jenkins, rhp, Kennesaw State (National Rank: 20)
4. Kyle Heckathorn, rhp, Kennesaw State (National Rank: 28)
5. Rich Poythress, 1b, Georgia (National Rank: 33)
6. Luke Bailey, c, Troup HS, LaGrange (National Rank: 96)
7. Alex McRee, lhp, Georgia (National Rank: 149)
8. Dean Weaver, rhp, Georgia (National Rank: 171)
9. Luke Murton, of, Georgia Tech (National Rank: 193)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

10. Miles Head, c/1b, Whitewater HS, Fayetteville
11. Brandon Jacobs, of, Parkview HS, Lilburn
12. Telvin Nash, 1b, Griffin HS
13. Trevor Holder, rhp, Georgia
14. Jeff Rowland, of, Georgia Tech
15. Taylor Whitenton, rhp, Darton JC
16. Crawford Simmons, lhp, Statesboro HS
17. Matt Taylor, lhp, Columbus HS
18. Zach Dotson, lhp, Effingham County HS, Springfield
19. Braxton Lane, of, Sandy Creek HS, Tyrone
20. Zach Von Tersch, rhp, Georgia Tech
21. Geoff Thomas, rhp, Stephenson HS, Stone Mountain
22. Bryan Blough, rhp, Middle Georgia JC
23. Matt Cerione, of Georgia
24. Griffin Benedict, c, Georgia Southern
25. Daniel Sarisky, rhp, Oglethorpe
26. Corey Davis, 1b, Coffee HS, Douglas
27. Will Palmer, lhp, Georgia State
28. Catlan Kendrick, rhp, Northgate HS
29. Ryan Moore, rhp, Georgia State
30. Eric Swegman, rhp, Young Harris JC
31. Shannon Wilkerson, of, Augusta State
32. Chris Mederos, rhp, Georgia Southern
33. Jason Haniger, c, Georgia Tech
34. Buck Farmer, rhp, Rockdale County HS, Conyers
35. Tony Plagman, 1b, Georgia Tech
36. Alex Glenn, of, Henry County HS, McDonough
37. Andrew Robinson, rhp, Georgia Tech
38. Chase Burnette, of, Georgia Tech
39. Jeff Walters, rhp, Georgia
40. Brennan May, of, Middle Georgia JC
41. Dexter Bobo, lhp, Georgia Southern
42. Jace Whitmer, c, Kennesaw State
43. Ross Smith, of, Middle Georgia JC
44. Gary Smith, rhp, Middle Georgia JC
45. Bryce Massanari, c, Georgia
46. Chris Beck, rhp, Jefferson HS
47. Tyler Stubblefield, ss/3b, Kennesaw State
48. Joey Lewis, c/dh, Georgia
49. Marc Mimeault, c, Georgia State
50. Nick Fuller, rhp, Southern Poly
51. Chase Childers, 2b/ss, Georgia State
52. Blaine O'Brian, rhp, Middle Georgia JC

SCOUTING REPORTS

DONAVAN TATE, OF, CARTERSVILLE HS

Widely regarded as the top prep position player in the class entering the spring, Tate has done little to dissuade scouts of that notion. He earned that status with premium athletic ability, graceful actions, good bloodlines and emerging baseball skills. Tate showed his athleticism during a rigorous summer, playing for USA Baseball's 18U team, and in the Aflac and Under Armour games. The long summer prompted him to consider quitting football, but his father Lars played football at Georgia and in the NFL, and Tate has committed to play both football and baseball at North Carolina. So Tate changed his mind after one week and returned to the gridiron. His two-sport stardom has left his skills in need of some polish, particularly his hitting ability. He can get pull-happy and doesn't have a natural feel for hitting, but that doesn't significantly limit his ceiling. He has earned comparisons to fellow Georgia prep Jeff Francoeur for his athleticism, and has more feel for hitting than the Braves outfielder, with similar power potential. Tate has true bat speed and strength, and makes adjustments against better pitching. His other tools are outrageous: he's a plus-plus runner with Gold Glove potential in center field and a strong throwing arm that grades out above-average as well. Tate plays with supreme confidence that goes hand-in-hand with his well-above-average athletic ability. A Scott Boras Corp. client, Tate was considered a tough sign, and some teams wonder about his willingness to sign. Still, he remained near the top of every club's position-player board.

ZACK WHEELER, RHP, EAST PAULDING HS, DALLAS

Wheeler emerged last summer as the top pitcher in Georgia's East Cobb prep program and didn't let up this spring. He has a chance to be the well-regarded program's best starting pitcher ever, and he could allow Georgia to provide the top high school pitcher in the draft in consecutive seasons, following Ethan Martin (15th overall, Dodgers). Wheeler figures to go higher in the draft than fellow Georgia prep pitcher Ethan Martin did last year (15th overall) based on a picture-perfect projection body. Lean with long levers, Wheeler generates excellent arm speed and can produce mid-90s heat with his fastball, sitting in the low 90s. He has the athleticism and solid mechanics to produce average big league command. Wheeler pitches off his fastball and puts hitters away with a power breaking ball, most accurately called a slurve. It has late bite and depth, giving him a second plus pitch. Wheeler doesn't throw much of a changeup at this point. He's considered signable, having committed early to Kennesaw State with a fallback option of Chipola (Fla.) JC. His older brother Adam was a 13th-round pick in 2001 who spent four seasons in the Yankees system.
 
CHAD JENKINS, RHP, KENNESAW STATE

While Kyle Heckathorn entered the year as the top prospect in the A-Sun, Jenkins and Brothers weren't far behind. A mid-80s guy in high school, Jenkins had a soft body but his arm worked well, and he has improved significantly in college. He had a strong sophomore season, first with Kennesaw State (5-5, 3.96), then in the Great Lakes League. Jenkins has firmed up his still soft body, and his velocity has caught up with his ability to throw strikes. He now has two or three plus pitches at times with good command, giving him serious helium. Jenkins has a great feel for pitching and now sits at 90-93 mph with his hard sinker and reaches back for 96 mph with a four-seamer at times. His sinker has boring action in on righthanded hitters when it's going well. His slider gives him a second plus pitch. His changeup is average. Jenkins repeats his delivery, and scouts see his big 6-foot-4, 225-pound body as a durable asset, particularly if he keeps getting in better shape. He resembles Phillies righthander Joe Blanton, with better command, and should go in the first 20 picks.

KYLE HECKATHORN, RHP, KENNESAW STATE

Heckathorn has been on scouts' radars since he started growing into his 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame. As a prep junior, he had an ankle injury that prompted many of the larger schools recruiting him to hesitate, while Kennesaw State kept after him. He reciprocated their loyalty and finally was having a breakout season as a junior, after several fits and starts. Heckathorn has raw stuff on par with anyone in the draft class, even Stephen Strasburg. He runs his fastball up to 99 mph as a starter, sitting in the 94-97 range into the eighth inning against Jacksonville in a May start. His slider can be similarly lethal, sometimes turning into a true cutter at 91-93 mph, other times getting decent depth in the 85-88 mph range. He doesn't throw much that's soft and actually throws too many strikes; he hasn't yet learned how to set up hitters to chase his slider or heater out of the zone when ahead in the count. Heckathorn's quick (two outing) departure from the Cape Cod League last summer raised some red flags for teams, as has his lack of consistent dominance in the Atlantic Sun. His command also is not what it should be. Most clubs consider Heckathorn, who has a short, quick arm action, a likely reliever as a pro, as a better (they hope) version of Kyle Farnsworth.

RICH POYTHRESS, 1B, GEORGIA

After helping Georgia to the College World Series last season, Poythress has had an impressive follow-up season, hitting consistently as the anchor of Georgia's lineup. He recovered from a torn ACL in the fall of his freshman year to make 38 starts and hit .282. He's hit close to .390 the last two seasons with 36 home runs. Poythress does it more with strength, a polished approach and leverage in his swing rather than pure bat speed. He's more of a hitter rather than a slugger, lacking the raw power that Bulldogs shortstop Gordon Beckham showed. He ranked second in the Southeastern Conference in batting, slugging, on-base percentage and home runs while having a stellar junior season. His swing is geared to use the middle of the field, and he could hit for more power if he learns to pull for power better. Some scouts wonder if he'll hit for power against better velocity and consider him a solid hitter but more of a second-division player rather than a difference-maker. Poythress gave third base a whirl last summer in the Cape Cod League and in the fall but fits better defensively at first base, where his soft hands are an asset.

LUKE BAILEY, C, TROUP HS, LaGRANGE

Bailey entered the season at the front of the national group of high school catchers, one of the strongest positions in the draft. He had shown a rare combination of hitting ability, raw power and arm strength, all of which graded above-average, as well as solid athleticism and surprising speed. Bailey's offense had slipped this spring, as he hit just three home runs. Scouts said he was tinkering too much searching for power, trying different strides and different timing mechanisms. Scouts had no questions about him defensively, where he ranks among the best athletes in the prep catcher group, and he showed toughness as a junior by playing through a broken rib. He has plenty of arm strength and was doing some ill-advised pitching for his high school team before going down with Tommy John surgery in April. Bailey has an Auburn commitment, having grown up a fan, but still was expected to be signable, much as the late Nick Adenhart signed after having had the surgery back in 2004.
 
ALEX MCREE, LHP, GEORGIA

McRee was a crucial cog in Georgia's 2008 run to the College World Series finals, working as a lefthanded setup man. He made six starts during his first two seasons and 44 relief appearances, running his fastball into the mid-90s. His size (6-foot-6, 236 pounds) and velocity, plus being lefthanded, made McRee an easy target for scouts; scouting directors voted him a third-team All-American in the preseason. However, he had mononucleosis early in the season, and he's never gotten in a rhythm. While his fastball still has excellent life and downhill plane and has reached 94 mph, he has lacked consistency with it. He's pitching at 90-92 mph and still has a slurvy breaking ball, which some scouts want tightened up into a slider. His changeup has made significant strides, yet his pitchability has not. He was averaging 6.9 walks per nine innings and barely more than four innings per start, then got hammered for seven runs in less than an inning by Louisiana State in the Southeastern Conference tournament. McRee has a strong academic profile and has plans to go to medical school, and he wasn't expected to sign for less than supplemental first-round money. He hopes to return to school and replicate Joshua Fields' achievement of being a first-round pick as a senior out of Georgia.

DEAN WEAVER, RHP, GEORGIA

Weaver struggled badly as a starter earlier in his college career but started unlocking his talent in the New England Collegiate League in 2007. The league also featured Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 prospect, and probable 2009 first-rounder A.J. Pollock of Notre Dame. Weaver doesn't figure to go in the first round, but he should be the second player picked from Georgia after first baseman Rich Poythress. He was better suited to the setup role he filled last season in front of Joshua Fields, as he uses a three-quarters arm slot to fire a pair of plus pitches that nonetheless aren't strikeout pitches. Weaver throws strikes with a two-seamer that varies in velocity. At times he runs it up to 96 and pitches at 92-94 mph; in other appearances, he sits in the upper 80s. His slider can be a plus pitch at times as well, with solid tilt. He gets plenty of ground balls and has given up just seven home runs in 118 career innings. Weaver has flashed a changeup, and his 6-foot-4, 211-pound frame could possibly handle the load of starting if he ever got another shot at it. He figures into the fourth-to-sixth round range this June.

LUKE MURTON, OF, GEORGIA TECH

The younger brother of former Georgia Tech star and big league outfielder Matt Murton, Luke Murton is a bigger, less athletic version of his brother. At 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, he's actually 20 pounds lighter than he was his first three years of college. Murton struggled to live up to the family reputation early in his career, striking out 95 times between the 2007-2008 seasons, when he hit 21 homers combined and was drafted twice (33rd round, 2007 as an eligible sophomore, 40th round 2008). Already 23, Murton doesn't have a ton of upside, but he does have righthanded power, more athleticism in his lighter frame and enough arm (it's fringe-average) and speed (below average) to play left field as a pro. He was solid as Georgia Tech's right fielder in 2009 after mostly playing first base or DH for the majority of his college career. His weight loss also has quickened Murton's bat, and he's trusting his hands more instead of constantly cheating on fastballs. That's allowed him to make more consistent contact and use the whole field. As a result, he entered the NCAA tournament with career-best numbers (.370, 17 HRs, 33 BB, just 28 SO). With plus righthanded power and the ability to stick in the outfield, Murton should become a draft factor in the fifth-to-sixth round as a top senior sign.

Colleges Outside ACC/SEC Duo Thrive

It was a strong year for colleges in the state other than the two flagship programs. In addition to Kennesaw State's twin aces, Georgia Southern earned a No. 2 regional seed, while Georgia State won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament to earn its first-ever regional bid.

The parade of scouts in to see Jenkins and Heckathorn provided good exposure for the rest of the Owls' roster, and several players should benefit from it. Lefthanded reliever Kenny Faulk had touched 93 mph with his fastball and attacks hitters with it, usually in the 87-91 mph range. His breaking ball is short for a lefty reliever, but he should be a solid senior sign. Catcher Jace Whitmer has handled premium velocity all spring, though not particularly well. He's a below-average receiver with solid arm strength and some raw power, having led the team with 13 home runs. The team's other position player with a chance to go out was shortstop/third baseman Tyler Stubblefield, who has surprising strength in his 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame. He's a good defender who could be a utilityman with his average speed and experience all over the infield. He and Whitmer figure to be taken starting around the 10th round.

The Panthers' top pitcher, 6-foot-7 righthander Ryan Moore, sounds like a solid prospect with good size, solid performance (7-2, 4.41) and a fastball that can reach 93 mph and is fairly downhill. His breaking ball is well-below-average, and his split-action changeup is just fair. More difficult to overcome is his medical history, as Moore had open-heart surgery in high school to repair a heart defect. He's likely to come back as a senior. Catcher Marc Mimeault, a senior from Quebec, and lefthander Will Palmer should get drafted earlier. Palmer, a thick southpaw, is a fastball/changeup lefthander with a resilient arm and a durable body. Mimeault hit .398 this spring and has raw power that grades as average. He's a poor thrower who can catch and block adequately behind the plate.

Georgia Southern's top prospect is Griffin Benedict, the son of former Braves catcher Bruce. A senior, Benedict is an adequate defender who has good instincts for the game and a solid lefthanded bat that helped him hit .312 with 14 homers this season. He's better at receiving and blocking than he is at throwing. Lefthander Dexter Bobo never put it together and could be a better value as a senior sign. He's a stocky, scatter-armed reliever who pumps his fastball at 90-92 mph at times, but who hasn't performed (6.55 ERA this spring). Slender, almost frail Golden Eagles ace Chris Mederos went 11-1, 3.83 by using a solid-average cut fastball as his bread and butter pitch. His 86-89 mph velocity could improve a touch or two if he gets stronger.

Georgia and Georgia Tech have more solid college players who aren't selling jeans—such as Bulldogs catcher Bryce Massanari— than players who get scouts excited. Massanari has tremendous hands that work for him as a catcher and at the plate, and he ranked second in the Southeastern Conference with 13 homers in league play. However, he's got a thick lower half, little mobility and plays with low energy. Backup catcher and DH Joey Lewis hit 19 home runs and would be a nice sleeper pick if not for a below-average arm, slow transfer and a somewhat ugly swing. He collapses his back side to produce power, causing lots of swing and miss (67 strikeouts in 238 at-bats) but also above-average raw power.

Bulldogs outfielder Matt Cerione has tremendous energy and plus tools, physically matching up well with Florida's Matt den Dekker (though he's a bit behind den Dekker across the board in raw tools). The problem with Cerione's energy is that it often is aimed in the wrong direction, and he sometimes lets his emotions get the best of him. Georgia coach Dave Perno benched him in regionals and criticized him publicly for showy play rather than playing hard. A bigger issue for scouts is Cerione's bat. He is an average to plus runner and defender, but he hit just .248 in SEC play, has a big swing and lacks a mature approach at the plate. He may be drafted high for his tools, or he may not be drafted as a snub for his attitude.

Senior righthander Trevor Holder was a 10th-round pick last season and should go in about the same range this June. He allowed 19 home runs in 92 innings as he failed to harness his improved velocity. Holder's fastball touched 95 and sat in the 91-94 mph range for much of the spring, but it's straight as an arrow at that speed, and hitters seemed to be running to the bat rack rather than being intimidated by the velocity. He has more movement when he throws it 88-91 mph, setting up a solid slurvy breaking ball and fringy changeup. Reliever Jeff Walters has a pro body at 6-foot-3, 192 pounds, and pro pitches with a 90-92 mph fastball and solid-average slider. A 30th-round pick last year out of St. Petersburg (Fla.) JC, his changeup has its moments and could help him start in pro ball. He lacks command of his stuff, and no pitch or trait separates him from the pack.

Georgia Tech had a team full of grinders compared with some of its past clubs. From 2001-2004 the Yellow Jackets three times had the most players on BA's Preseason All-America team. While Murton is the top prospect this year, several other Jackets should get drafted, such as righthander Zach Von Tersch, who has three average to fringe-average pitches. His fastball, which sits at 88-92 mph, is his best offering. He hasn't filled out the projections scouts put on his 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame and didn't perform well this season. Senior catcher Jason Haniger has a below-average arm, decent power and should be an organizational catcher at worst. Slugging first baseman Tony Plagman has shown plus power with 32 homers the last two seasons, despite becoming steadily more aggressive and less selective. He fits better as a senior sign.

The two most intriguing Yellow Jackets are eligible sophomores Chase Barnett, who in a limited role has shown a live bat, and center fielder Jeff Rowland, who runs well and is a good defender in center field, albeit with a below-average arm. Scouts compare him to former Jackets outfielder Danny Payne, who has struggled in the Padres system. The biggest question with Rowland is how much authority he'll have with wood bats; he didn't show much pop last summer in the Cal Ripken Summer League.

Preps Deep, But Drop Off Fast

The most anticipated prep showdown of the spring wasn't a pitching matchup. Rather it involved Donavan Tate and Auburn football signee Brandon Jacobs of Parkview High. Scouts flocked to see the state's two top athletes and weren't disappointed, as both hit home runs. Jacobs could be a premium pick if he indicated he wants to play baseball. He had not been in touch with Auburn's baseball program at all, so if he goes to college it will be to play football. He has plus raw power and speed that would need time to be harnessed, and he also has a 6-foot-3, 240-pound body that comes to baseball rarely.

Another athletic outfielder, Braxton Lane, had a down spring. He's a 70 runner on the 20-80 scale and has committed to play football at Oregon. His father played football at Oregon State, and he's the nephew of former NFL running back MacArthur Lane. He switch-hits and would fit the profile of a center fielder if he could hit, though he has a below-average arm. The scouting consensus was that Lane can't hit enough to buy him out of his football commitment.

If only Lane and Miles Head could share tools. Head has a bad body but is the best prep hitter in the state this year, in terms of pure hitting ability, and is a key Georgia recruit. He could go in the fifth to eighth round to a team that believes he can catch or hold down third base defensively. His arm is fringe-average, and he could be a playable defender at the college level. Then scouts could see if he improves his conditioning and tones up his body. He repeats his short swing and has some present strength, and he could contribute immediately with the Bulldogs next spring.

Head's biggest rival for top prep hitter this spring was Telvin Nash, a monstrous first baseman at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds. Nash runs below-average but isn't a slug, having played third base at times next to former prep teammate Tim Beckham, the shortstop drafted No. 1 overall last year. Nash has as much power as anyone in the state, with some scouts giving him a 70 grade for his raw power on the 20-80 scale. He has strength, leverage and good enough bat speed, but he's not considered an easy sign. He's committed to Kennesaw State and could come off the board around the fifth round to a team that believes he'll consistently tap into his power.

Scouts had seen steady improvement from Georgia signee Zach Dotson, who sat from 87-88 mph with his fastball and touches 91. Both his curveball and changeup have flashed potential. Dotson tightened up his body thanks to a distance running program that helped him lose 25 pounds. He didn't show the same velocity this spring that he showed last summer, but he has athletic ability and has three average pitches, so he stands out among the state's pitching prospects. In the eyes of some scouts, though, he'd been passed by Matt Taylor, who throws in the upper 80s, touches 91 and has a solid, if slow, curveball. Taylor is an Alabama signee. Another lefthander passing up Dotson was Crawford Simmons, a Georgia Tech signee who was considered a tough sign in the first five rounds. Simmons' fastball is a shade shy of average. but he's projectable at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, and his curveball and changeup are solid-average with more potential.

The state's emerging sleeper prep pitcher was Geoff Thomas, who had a good spring to follow up a successful showcase circuit. He's lean and athletic at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds and has signed with Southern Mississippi, though scouts considered him signable. He's loose-armed with an average fastball that has reached 93 mph. He's raw in terms of repeating his delivery, spinning his breaking ball and commanding his stuff but had a chance to go out in the first 10 rounds.

Georgia isn't known for its junior-college programs, but Middle Georgia and Young Harris consistently produce draft picks and good college players, with Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis (Young Harris) the best recent example. This year's top junior-college talents in the state are all pitchers, including Darton JC righthander Tony Whitenton, who ran his fastball up to 94 mph at times this spring, sitting in the 88-91 mph range. He also flashed a solid to plus slider that had power and some depth.