State Report: New Jersey

Nothing blooming in the Garden State






See also: Baseball America's Complete 2010 Draft Map


THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
One Northeast talent evaluator put it succinctly: "It's the worst year in the history of New Jersey. It's awful." In the last decade, New Jersey has produced talent more consistently than any other state in the Northeast, and in the last five years it has produced such blue-chippers as Rick Porcello, Todd Frazier, Anthony Ranaudo, Jason Knapp and Mike Trout. This year, no prospect in the state came close to cracking the Top 200, and the usually solid prep crop is downright barren.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

None

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

1. J.C. Menna, rhp, Brookdale CC
2. Dan Barnes, rhp, Princeton
3. Jaren Matthews, 1b, Rutgers
4. Pat Biserta, of, Rutgers
5. Artie Lewicki, rhp, St. Joseph Regional HS, Montvale
6. Rolando Gautier, of/lhp, Pennsauken HS
7. Eric Stevens, rhp, Don Bosco Prep HS, Ramsey
8. Connor Mullee, rhp, St. Peter's
9. Thomas Zengel, 1b/of, North Hunterdon HS, Annandale
10. Ryan Kinsella, c, Morristown-Beard HS, Morristown
11. Jordan Tabakman, rhp, Pequannock Township HS, Pompton Plains
12. Joe DiRocco, rhp, Seton Hall
13. David Palms, lhp, Princeton
14. Michael Lang, of, Rutgers

SCOUTING REPORTS

Scraping The Bottom Of The Barrel

The top prospect in New Jersey is Brookdale CC righthander J.C. Menna, who ranked 16th on this list and went undrafted a year ago. He did improve his performance this spring, going 6-3, 1.53 with 64 strikeouts and 16 walks in 59 innings. A 39th-round pick by the Pirates out of New Jersey's Red Bank Catholic High in 2007, Menna headed to James Madison after graduating, then transferred to Seton Hall and finally landed at Brookdale last season. Menna ran his fastball up to 92 mph at times in 2009, but his velocity was inconsistent, and his breaking ball was mediocre. This spring, he threw more consistently in the 90-92 range with good life, and he improved his secondary stuff, flashing an average slider and a fringy changeup. He has a chance to be drafted toward the back of the top 10 rounds.

Princeton junior righty Dan Barnes also has an outside chance to sneak into the top 10 rounds, though scouts have expressed reluctance to buy him out of his senior year at an Ivy League school. He did not exactly dominate against soft Ivy competition, either, going 1-3, 5.14 with 40 strikeouts and 19 walks in 49 innings. Generously listed at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Barnes is not physical, but he can run his fastball up to 93 mph with a bit of life, though it dips into the high 80s after a few innings. He leans heavily on his heater and has below-average secondary stuff, including a 75-78 mph curveball, a slurvy low-80s slider and a developing changeup. He sometimes struggles to repeat his arm slot, particularly as he gets tired, and he profiles as a reliever.

St. Peter's senior Connor Mullee started all of the Peacocks' 205 games in the infield and posted his best offensive season as a senior this spring, hitting .325 with eight homers and 16 stolen bases in 16 tries. But scouts are interested him as a pitcher, though he has made just seven career appearances (all this year), posting a 10.50 ERA. The 6-foot-3, 183-pounder flashed 93-94 mph heat in a tryout camp last year, and scouts who saw him this spring say he worked at 90-91 late in the season, though he threw harder in previous outings. He'll get drafted as a senior sign with arm strength, but he'll be a project, because he lacks feel for pitching, control and command. He'll need to improve his slurvy slider, too.

Rutgers juniors Jaren Matthews, Pat Biserta and Michael Lang all have shots to be drafted, though all three project better as senior signs next year. Matthews has the most upside of the trio, but he has performed the worst, hitting .298/.385/.495 with seven homers and 35 RBIs this spring. Matthews was drafted in the 17th round by the Red Sox out of Don Bosco Prep in 2007 after flashing above-average raw power in workouts, and he agreed to a $250,000 bonus one day before the signing deadline, only to change his mind and attend Rutgers. He won't come close to that kind of money this year, because he has regressed during his college career, prompting some scouts to question whether he's receptive to instruction. His swing is a mess, and he has a hard time getting his upper and lower halves to work together, but there are still days he flashes the plus raw power that made him a prospect—like April 24 against Connecticut, when he hit two homers against flame-thrower Matt Barnes.

Biserta (.369 with 18 homers) and Lang (.319 with 11 homers) have outperformed Matthews this spring, but scouts question whether Biserta's power will translate to wood bats, and he lacks athleticism. Lang is a good athlete with slightly above-average speed and a fringe-average arm, but he lacks a standout tool.

No high school player in New Jersey figures to sign a pro contract this year, though a few could turn themselves into prospects after a few years in college. The best of the lot is righthander Artie Lewicki, who showed a 90-91 mph fastball, a promising slider and an advanced feel for pitching as a junior last spring, then had surgery in the fall to remove bone spurs from his elbow. He gradually worked his way back this spring, sitting at 85-86 mph early in the season and climbing into the 88-90 range later, touching 91-92 in a duel against Don Bosco ace Eric Stevens. Lewicki is considered much more signable than the average Virginia recruit. Stevens could also be headed to the ACC (Boston College). At his best, he works at 88-89 mph, but scouts report seeing him at 85-86 this spring with a below-average breaking ball. At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Stevens has room to improve.

Two more ACC recruits are headed to North Carolina. Thomas Zengel is undersized at 6 feet, 195 pounds, but he has some strength and power potential in his lefthanded swing. But he has trouble with advanced pitching, isn't particularly athletic and is regarded as a one-dimensional and raw player. Six-foot-4, 200-pound righty Jordan Tabakman has an intriguing frame but worked in the mid-80s this spring. He has a promising breaking ball, feel for pitching and some sink on his fastball, but he's certain to head to UNC.

Two mid-major recruits are also worth keeping an eye on. Ryan Kinsella, an Elon signee, is a switch-hitting catcher with a bit of pop from the right side. He has arm strength but needs to refine his receiving and footwork and get stronger. Rolando Gautier has a chance to be an impact two-way player for Austin Peay State. He missed the first half of the spring with a minor elbow sprain, but when healthy he has demonstrated excellent athleticism and a loose swing. His gangly 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame has power projection, and it's also easy to envision him adding velocity to a fastball that sits at 84-88 mph from the left side. He also shows feel for a breaking ball, but he is raw in all facets of the game.