State Report: South Carolina

Colleges crank out wins and prospects






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
South Carolina's high schools aren't noted for producing high school talent, at least not players who sign out of high school. Current big leaguers such as Justin Smoak, Brett Gardner and Matt Wieters played in the Palmetto State before standout college careers, though, and rising Astros prospect Jordan Lyles signed straight from high school.

The lure of the state's college programs remains very strong, and with good reason. Five South Carolina colleges earned regional bids in 2010, with Coastal Carolina and South Carolina serving as hosts. Clemson and South Carolina boast some of the nation's best college baseball ballparks, and the profile of college baseball in the state is so high that it's hard to lure players away to pro ball out of high school.

So it's no surprise that eight of the state's top nine prospects are four-year college products. With six of those players landing in Baseball America's Top 200, it's a great year for the state.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Asher Wojciechowski, rhp, The Citadel (National Rank: 22)
2. Kyle Parker, of, Clemson (National Rank: 37)
3. Drew Cisco, rhp, Wando HS, Mount Pleasant (National Rank: 74)
4. Sam Dyson, rhp, South Carolina (National Rank: 106)
5. Tyler Thornburg, rhp, Charleston Southern (National Rank: 190)
6. Heath Hembree, rhp, College of Charleston (National Rank: 200)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

7. Cody Wheeler, lhp, Coastal Carolina
8. Jeff Schaus, of, Clemson
9. Casey Harman, lhp, Clemson
10. David Donald, of, Mann HS, Greenville
11. Forrest Koumas, rhp, Lugoff-Elgin HS, Lugoff
12. Brian Harrison, 3b, Furman
13. Whit Merrifield, of/2b, South Carolina
14. John Hinson, 3b, Clemson
15. Rico Noel, of, Coastal Carolina
16. Blake Cooper, rhp, South Carolina
17. Bryce Hines, rhp, Hanahan HS
18. Chris Hanna, lhp, Stratford HS, Goose Creek
19. Daniel Palka, 1b/of, Greer HS, Lyman
20. Brandon Henderson, lhp, Chesnee HS
21. Kevin Decker, rhp, College of Charleston
22. Austin Fleet, rhp, Coastal Carolina
23. Scott Woodward, 3b/of, Coastal Carolina
24. Jimmy Birmingham, lhp, Coastal Carolina
25. Rob Kral, c, College of Charleston
26. Joey Bergman, 2b, College of Charleston
27. Mac Doyle, c, Wofford
28. Jarrett Thomason, rhp, Eastside HS, Taylors
29. Jose Iglesias, c, Coastal Carolina
30. Drew Mahaffey, lhp, The Citadel
31. Ian Perry, rhp, Furman
32. Matt Talley, lhp, Citadel
33. Tyler Christman, rhp, USC Sumter JC
34. Chris Epps, of, Clemson
35. Jordan Scott, of, Riverside HS, Greer, S.C.
36. Nick Ebert, 1b, South Carolina

SCOUTING REPORTS

Asher Wojciechowski, rhp
The Citadel

Wojciechowski grew up in Michigan but moved to South Carolina during high school with his family, in part for the strong college baseball. He wound up at The Citadel and has been a weekend staple for three seasons, earning a spot on USA Baseball's college national team last summer. Noted mostly for his 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame and above-average hard slider previously, Wojciechowski worked off the fastball more last summer with Team USA at the urging of Elon coach Mike Kennedy, who was Team USA's pitching coach. Wojciechowski took the advice to heart and has thrown harder as a result of throwing more fastballs and honing his mechanics. After throwing 89-92 mph last year, Wojciechowski has shown one of college baseball's best heaters this season, sitting 93-96 in numerous starts and reaching 96 in the eighth inning in at least two starts. Wojciechowski's slider is still a plus pitch, but he needs work on his rudimentary changeup. He has good control of his fastball and the durable frame to project as a mid-rotation innings-eater.

Kyle Parker, of
Clemson

Parker has unique leverage, as he's a junior in baseball but finished his redshirt freshman football season in January as Clemson's starting quarterback. He threw for 2,526 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Tigers, and he's the first player in Division I history to throw for 20 touchdowns and hit 15 homers in the same season. Parker graduated high school a semester early to join the baseball team and was a Freshman All-American in 2008, clubbing 14 homers. His plate discipline slipped last year, but he has bounced back with a splendid junior season, hitting .391 with 17 home runs, making more consistent contact and being much more selective at the plate. Parker's a good athlete but not an elite, fast-twitch one, and his arm strength, like many quarterbacks, is just average in baseball. He may have enough arm for right field but would be a solid-average left fielder with polish. He has tremendous bat speed at the plate as well as good strength. He's a grinder on the ballfield, and scouts like his aptitude.

Drew Cisco, rhp
Wando HS, Mount Pleasant

Cisco signed with Georgia, and the Bulldogs could have used his feel for pitching this season. Cisco is so polished that it's almost unfair to lump him in with other high school pitchers. His grandfather Galen was a big league pitcher and pitching coach, while his older, shorter brother Mike pitched at South Carolina and is now in Double-A with the Phillies organization. Drew Cisco has good size at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, the best command in the prep class and a knack for pitching beyond his years. Scouts believe Cisco will carve up wood bats with his ability to pitch inside and confidently work off his fastball, even if it has just average velocity at 88-91, touching 92. It stands out more for its life and command than for velocity. Cisco has a mid-70s curveball he can throw for strikes or bury that grades out as average, and a changeup with sink that he also commands. Cisco sets up hitters like a pro and will move faster than many college pitchers, but any loss in fastball velocity would reduce his margin for error significantly.

Sam Dyson, rhp
South Carolina

Dyson was a 19th-round pick of the Nationals out of Jesuit High in Tampa in 2006, but he decided to attend South Carolina. He missed his freshman season after having labrum surgery and seemed primed to go out high in the 2009 draft, as he showed power stuff and good competitiveness. His medical history, though, helped push him down draft boards, and he wound up as the Athletics' 10th-round pick and didn't sign. After going 17-4 his first two seasons, he hadn't posted as gaudy a record as a redshirt junior, but his 5-5, 3.92 season actually was more impressive. Dyson has dialed his velocity down into the 92-93 mph range rather than the upper 90s and sitting 93-95. He can still flash that kind of velocity but has sacrificed it for better command and life. He's driving the ball down in the strike zone more and had cut his home runs allowed from 18 in 102 innings to three in 83 innings. Dyson is at his best when he is throwing his curveball for strikes and not just using it as a chase pitch. He also throws a slider in the mid-80s that doesn't have great depth, but he locates it better than the curve. His changeup has made progress as well. Dyson's medical history is what it is, but he has been durable over the last two seasons, making every start and approaching 200 innings total. His improved control should allow him to stay in a rotation in the near-term, though his power stuff could lend itself to a bullpen role eventually.

Tyler Thornburg, rhp
Charleston Southern

Scouts and opposing coaches inevitably invoke Tim Lincecum when discussing Thornburg, which certainly is a compliment. It started last summer, when Thornburg closed for Brewster in the Cape Cod League. He struck out 18 in 17 innings and racked up eight saves, using a delivery similar to Lincecum's, and his size (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) is in the same ballpark, though he's thicker. That helped Thornburg hold up through the grind of being Charleston Southern's top pitcher as well as a middle-of-the-order hitter who often plays right field when he doesn't pitch. He made an early statement with a complete-game, 158-pitch victory against Florida, which won the Southeastern Conference regular-season crown. He also mixed in a loss at Presbyterian, the Big South's ninth-place team. A rough season with the bat and the impending draft prompted the Buccaneers to keep Thornburg's focus on the mound in the season's final month, and he ranked third in the Big South in strikeouts while leading the league with a .213 opponent average. He has top-five-rounds stuff with a low-90s fastball that has topped out at 95 mph. His fastball lacks life and can be pretty flat, which makes his power curveball his best pitch. Thornburg is still looking for a consistent third pitch to round out his repertoire. He's likely more of a middle reliever, a quick-armed set-up man in the Scot Shields mold who should be off the board by end of the fifth round.

Heath Hembree, rhp
College of Charleston

Hembree has one of the draft's freshest power arms, having pitched fewer than 30 innings in three years. He also didn't pitch during his senior season in high school, due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee that he injured during prep football. Hembree made only one appearance at South Carolina, recording one out, then transferred to College of Charleston. He sat out 2009 before getting irregular work as the Cougars' closer. Scouts weren't happy with how he was used, though it's hard to argue with Charleston's 40-win season and regional berth. Hembree displayed mid- to upper 90s velocity, regularly hitting 98 mph and sitting in the 94-96 mph range. He has a long, lean pitcher's body at 6-foot-4, 195 pounds with wide shoulders, as well as a clean arm action. His secondary pitch is a slider that flashes mid-80s power potential. Much of Hembree's game is raw. His fastball tends to straighten out at higher velocity, and he has proved hittable due to spotty command. He doesn't have a pitch to combat lefthanded hitters, though some think his power repertoire and big hands make him an excellent future candidate for a split-finger fastball. Hembree's modest numbers and inexperience may slot him behind college closers such as Texas Tech's Chad Bettis or Florida's Kevin Chapman, but his pure arm and velocity are as good as the college ranks have to offer this season.

College Depth Carries State

Coastal Carolina won 50 games for the fourth time in six seasons and earned the No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. The Chanticleers' top draft pick figures to be lefthander Cody Wheeler, who could go in the first five rounds. While Wheeler's stuff was uneven this season, his results have been remarkably consistent, as he was 26-1 in three seasons. His ratios have been steady the last two years as well. Wheeler's best trait, aside from being a southpaw, is his athletic ability. It allows him to add and subtract from his fastball, repeat his delivery, field his position and hold runners well. His fastball and curveball were usually fringe-average pitches this season, though he dialed up more velocity (reaching 91 mph) and seemed to have a sharper curve when needed. His changeup was just better last year, a plus pitch as opposed to solid-average.

Righthander Austin Fleet and lefthander Jimmy Birmingham also should go out. Fleet, a rotation stalwart for the Chanticleers with 31 starts his first three seasons, moved into the closer role this year and ran his fastball up to 93-94 mph at times, with solid sink. Birmingham sits 88-91 mph and has deception thanks to a quick arm and 6-foot-5 frame. His lack of command of his secondary pitches (a curve and change) kept the transfer from Pennsylvania from dominating the Big South Conference.

The Chanticleers' position players include solid senior catcher Jose Iglesias and speedsters Rico Noel and Scott Woodward. Legally deaf, Woodward has excellent speed and patience at the plate but hasn't hit with the power he showed as a freshman. That limits his profile because he lacks the power for third base and the footwork for the middle infield. He's likely destined for the outfield.

Noel has excellent defensive ability in center field thanks to his range and solid arm strength. He's a well-above-average runner and was tied for the national lead with 51 steals heading into regional play (Woodward was second with 48). His swing gets big when he sells out for power, and he needs to shorten up more in two-strike situations, but his plate discipline has improved considerably in his three seasons. He might be up to a shift to second base, where he played as a freshman.

Clemson has produced more than its fair share of pros over the years, and even in an up-and-down season, the Tigers could contribute as many as five players in the first 15 rounds of the draft. Lefthander Casey Harman and outfielder Jeff Schaus will race to be the second Tigers drafted after Kyle Parker. Schaus has been a middle-of-the-order force since his freshman season thanks to a solid, strong swing. His actions are a bit stiff and he lacks great athleticism. His patient approach, average hitting ability and average power will have to be his calling card. Harman, miscast as a staff ace, is a solid three-pitch lefthander with steady stuff, including an 85-89 mph fastball with good sink. His straight changeup and slider are fringe-average but play up when he commands the two-seamer.
Harman and Schaus factor into the sixth- to 10th-round range.

Tigers third baseman John Hinson had to take a medical redshirt in 2009 thanks to a back injury, and as an eligible sophomore he'll have a bit of leverage. He was healthy and showed his athleticism this season, hitting 12 homers and leading Clemson with 22 steals. He's athletic and repeats his swing, and his power is mostly to the gaps. Defense was a problem for Hinson throughout his career, though he has improved at third. He may profile better as a utility player.

Speedy, athletic Chris Epps has never developed hitting ability to go with his considerable patience and looks like a senior sign.

Furman third baseman Brian Harrison was the state's wild card. A knee injury sidelined him for nearly two months, but the athletic junior returned to power the Paladins into the eighth and final spot in the Southern Conference tournament. He went 15-for-24 with four home runs in Furman's last six conference games, and had 10 homers in 109 at-bats overall during a .367/.462/.734 season. Drafted out of high school (29th round, Pirates), he should go in the first 10 rounds given a clean bill of health. Harrison has solid athletic ability and solid-average all-around tools, including an above-average arm.

South Carolina had a relatively young team with athleticism and some solid juniors who could go in the first 12 rounds. Righthander Blake Cooper wasn't quite as sharp down the stretch as he had been early. Still, he was 10-1, 2.94 entering regional play and led the Southeastern Conference in innings (104) while ranking fifth in ERA. Cooper isn't physical at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, and some question whether he could maintain his velocity over a full pro season. He throws his sinker in the upper-80s and touches 90-91 mph with armside run. He has a great feel for pitching, spotting his sinker, solid curve, slider and changeup.

Gamecocks teammate Whit Merrifield spent most of the season in right field and has experience in the infield and center. He's the best athlete among South Carolina's draft-eligible group, with 6.7-second speed in the 60 and team-highs in 12 home runs and 12 stolen bases. Merrifield earns Ryan Freel comparisons and plays with a swagger that defies his 6-foot, 165-pound frame. The rest of South Carolina's roster features senior signs such as first baseman Nick Ebert, who hit just seven homers this season after belting 23 last season.

College of Charleston should have several players drafted after reliever Heath Hembree, including senior Joey Bergman, who couldn't repeat last year's .452/.551/.778 season. A fringe-average runner who has good instincts on the bases, Bergman should slide to second base as a pro and fits the profile as a No. 2 hitter with contact ability, patience and modest power. He fought back from a hamate injury last summer in the New England Collegiate League and hasn't had the same zing in his swing this spring.

There was some draft interest in 5-foot-9 catcher Rob Kral, a redshirt sophomore who has plate discipline and solid power, but his below-average defense holds him back. The Cougars' next-best pitcher after Hembree should be quick-armed senior Kevin Decker, who is 6-foot-1, 185 pounds with a fastball that pushes 93 mph.

Wofford offers its own offensive, sophomore-eligible catcher in Mac Doyle, whose first cousin Dock starred at Coastal Carolina and was a Mets fifth-round pick in 2008. Doyle is a feast-or-famine hitter who slugged .755 this season but struck out once every four at-bats and is rough defensively. He could be a summer follow as he was only a part-time catcher this season, primarily working at DH.

Prep Ranks Don't Measure Up

The vast majority of players drafted out of South Carolina will be collegians, but a few prep players should get picked, and at least one is likely to sign. Outfielder David Donald is a standout athlete who also had a strong prep football career and is still developing his baseball skills. He has raw bat speed, above-average speed and strength in his 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame. A center fielder, he has poor instincts across the board, and his lack of pitch recognition hinders his ability to make contact. He was considered an easy sign who will appeal to organizations that like to develop toolsy players. Initially committed to College of Charleston, he fell back to Tallahassee (Fla.) CC.

First baseman/outfielder Daniel Palka has the best, most polished bat in the state, with lefthanded power and a physical frame at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, with some present strength. His best tool after his bat is his throwing arm, as he also pitches. He's committed to Georgia Tech and wasn't considered signable.

The high school pitching depth is solid, but most of these players are expected to go to school. Righthander Forrest Koumas, a South Carolina signee, had the best pure arm strength in the state despite standing just 5-foot-11, 180 pounds. He has a quick arm and has touched 94 mph with his fastball while showing a plus breaking ball on occasion. Scouts considered Koumas more signable than the average Gamecocks recruit, but as an undersized rigihthander it's not clear how much teams will invest in that effort.

Most scouts preferred righthander Bryce Hines or lefthander Brandon Henderson, who beat Hines' Hanahan team to clinch Chesnee High's 2-A state title. Hines, a Citadel recruit, has better size than Koumas, with a similar curveball that he commands better. He won his first 13 decisions this spring and sits more in the mid-80s with his fastball. Henderson, a Gardner-Webb recruit, went 14-0 this season and threw two-hitters five days apart to drive Chesnee to its first state title since 1988. He has a three-pitch mix also topped by a breaking ball. He's slender at 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, and his present fastball velocity, in the mid-80s, is probably a bit short at this point for pro ball.

Chris Hanna, another little lefty at 6 feet, 170 pounds, is also a Citadel recruit and throws three pitches for strikes. Most scouts consider all three fringe-average or below, though he does throw strikes. Righthander Jarrett Thomason was in the mix with this group before breaking down and requiring Tommy John surgery.