State Report: Kentucky
|THIS YEAR'S CROP
||One for the books
||Solid, not spectacular
||Not up to par
||Nothing to see here
Kentucky may not produce another first-rounder to follow Ben Revere (2007) and Christian Friedrich (2008), but the Bluegrass State has no shortage of talent. Lefthanders James Paxton and Justin Marks, and third baseman Chris Dominguez all should go in the first three rounds. The high school crop is down after a banner year in 2008, but the colleges are deeper than normal, most notably Western Kentucky.
|NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS
1. James Paxton, lhp, Kentucky (National Rank: 37)
2. Justin Marks, lhp, Louisville (National Rank: 83)
3. Chris Dominguez, 3b, Louisville (National Rank: 85)
4. Chris Rusin, lhp, Kentucky (National Rank: 194)
5. Wade Gaynor, 3b, Western Kentucky
6. Chad Cregar, of, Western Kentucky
7. Andrew Clark, 1b, Louisville
8. Matt Ridings, rhp, Western Kentucky
9. Gabe Shaw, rhp, Louisville
10. Chris Wade, ss, Kentucky
11. Bob Revesz, lhp, Louisville
12. Luke Maile, c, Covington Catholic HS, Park Hills
13. J.B. Paxson, rhp/c, Western Kentucky
14. Daniel Calhoun, lhp, Murray State
15. Drew Lee, ss, Morehead State
16. Tanner Perkins, lhp, Rockcastle County HS, Mount Vernon
17. Jarred Clarkson, of, Shelby County HS, Shelbyville
18. Marcus Nidiffer, c, Kentucky
19. Ryan Schmidt, lhp, Northern Kentucky
20. Wes Cunningham, 1b, Murray State
JAMES PAXTON, LHP, 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 115-20 K-BB ratio in 78 innings), Paxton has been hit surprisingly hard this season. His ERA has risen from 2.92 last year to 5.86, 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.
JUSTIN MARKS, LHP, 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 (29), ERA (2.96) and strikeouts (305 in 301 innings). He set another school mark with 11 victories this season. 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.
CHRIS DOMINGUEZ, 3B LOUISVILLE
Dominguez's combination of size (6-foot-4, 235 pounds), power and arm strength is as imposing as any player in this draft. He hits tape-measure shots in batting practice and games, and he has four home run crowns to his credit (New England Collegiate League in 2006, Big East Conference and Cape Cod League in 2008, Big East with a school-record 25 in 2009). "You always worry that he's going to swing and miss, but he's going to hit 25-30 homers if he makes contact," an area scout says. While Dominguez continues to chase breaking balls, he has made strides as a hitter. His 55 strikeouts in 64 games this spring were a far cry from the 88 whiffs he had in 66 games as a redshirt freshman in 2006. He has quieted his approach and shortened his stroke without compromising his power. He doesn't possess an abundance of speed, but he has improved his conditioning and has enough quickness and instincts to have stolen 19 bases in 25 attempts. Scouts still wonder how dominant Dominguez might be on the mound after he showed a mid-90s fastball as a freshman reliever, but he doesn't want to pitch and hasn't taken the mound in the least two years. His arm is an asset at third base, and he has the hands and reactions for the position. He made 23 errors this spring and his range is fringy, so he's not a lock to stay at the hot corner. The Rockies thought they had an agreement with Dominguez when they selected him in the fifth round last year as a draft-eligible sophomore, but he ultimately declined to sign. He'll likely go a round or two earlier this time around.
CHRIS RUSIN, LHP, KENTUCKY
Rusin can't reach the mid-90s like Kentucky teammates James Paxton and Alex Meyer (projected first-rounders in 2009 and 2011, respectively) but he pitched both of them this spring. He finished his career ranked second in career wins (23) and strikeouts (274 in 302 innings) in school history, and he should be one of the first college seniors drafted this year. Rusin had a chance to go in the first five rounds in 2008 before coming down with a sore elbow shortly before the draft. He had arthroscopic surgery in the fall to repair a slight tear in a tendon and has been as good as ever this spring. Six-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Rusin primarily works with a lively 87-89 mph fastball and a curveball. He'll need to improve his changeup to succeed as a starter in pro ball. He doesn't have a pretty delivery, but it adds deception to his pitches without impairing his ability to throw strikes. He repeats his mechanics well, though some scouts wonder if they could lead to more arm problems down the line.
Gaynor, Cregar Power Western Kentucky
Western Kentucky made its deepest NCAA playoff run ever, reaching the regional finals. Third baseman Wade Gaynor
became the first Hilltopper ever to record a 20-20 season, batting .371 with 25 homers and 21 steals. The 6-foot-4, 213-pounder stands out for his size, bat speed and righthanded power. He has a lot of hand movement before he swings, which could affect his ability to hit for average in pro ball. He has athleticism but is an inconsistent defender.
Outfielder Chad Cregar
, who didn't sign as a 47th-round pick of the Cubs last year, hit 40 homers in two seasons at Western Kentucky after spending two years at Northwest Mississippi CC. The 6-foot-3, 221-pounder has an unorthodox approach and pulls everything, but his lefthanded power is undeniable. He's an adequate defender at left field or first base.
The state's top high school player is catcher Luke Maile
. Scouts love his athletic 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame, his arm strength and his leadership. The righthanded hitter has bat speed but isn't ready to solve pro pitching, so he probably won't get drafted early and will follow through on his commitment to Kentucky.