State Report: Kentucky

College position players carry Bluegrass 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
As expected, the Bluegrass State's top prospect hails from the University of Kentucky—but it's second baseman Chris Bisson and not lefthander James Paxton, who ran into eligibility issues after failing to sign with the Blue Jays as a sandwich pick last summer. Instead of pitching for the Wildcats, Paxton is showcasing his stuff in the independent American Association.

In a draft that's generally much deeper in pitching than hitting, Kentucky is unusual in that most of its top prospects are position players. Louisville rode a veteran lineup to a national seed in the NCAA playoffs, and should have as many as 12 players drafted. By contrast, there may not be a single high school player in Kentucky whose talent and signability warrants turning pro.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Chris Bisson, 2b, Kentucky (National Rank: 149)
2. Thomas Royse, rhp, Louisville (National Rank: 182)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

3. Logan Darnell, lhp, Kentucky
4. Josh Richmond, of, Louisville
5. Stewart Ijames, of, Louisville
6. Matt Ridings, rhp, Western Kentucky
7. Matt Rice, c, Western Kentucky
8. Phil Wunderlich, 3b, Louisville
9. Andrew Clark, 1b, Louisville
10. Rye Davis, rhp, Western Kentucky
11. Gabriel Shaw, rhp, Louisville
12. Jayson Langfels, 3b, Eastern Kentucky
13. Corey Littrell, lhp, Trinity HS, Louisville
14. Justin Hageman, rhp, Hopkinsville HS
15. Matt Little, rhp, Kentucky
16. Neil Holland, rhp, Louisville
17. Lucas Witt, of, Lexington Christian HS
18. Wes Cunningham, 1b, Murray State
19. Trevor Gott, rhp, Tates Creek HS, Lexington
20. Jeff Arnold, c, Louisville
21. Adam Duvall, ss/2b, Louisville
22. Bart Carter, lhp, Western Kentucky
23. Jarrett Casey, lhp, Northern Kentucky
24. Patrick Maronde, rhp, Lexington Catholic HS
25. Brandon Alphin, rhp, Bullitt East HS, Mount Washington

SCOUTING REPORTS

Chris Bisson, 2b

Kentucky

Among players expected to remain at the position as pros, Bisson is the best second-base prospect in the 2010 draft. Ball State's Kolbrin Vitek is a likely first-round pick, but he's expected to move to the outfield. Bisson hit just .157 in a part-time role as a freshman before blossoming last year, leading Kentucky in most offensive categories during the spring before topping the Cape Cod League with 36 steals in the summer. He'll be a legitimate basestealing threat at the next level, too, with well-above-average speed and savvy on the bases. To be an effective leadoff man, he'll need a more consistent approach at the plate. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder offers some lefthanded pop, but too often gets caught up trying to drive balls and overswinging. He's at his best when he stays on top of the ball and distributes liners and grounders all over the field. Bisson is a fast-twitch athlete with good infield actions, though his arm limits him to second base rather than shortstop. He also profiles as a possible center fielder.

Thomas Royse, rhp
Louisville

Royse had just started to roll as a weekend starter in 2009, sandwiching a pair of 10-strikeout efforts around eight shutout innings against Pittsburgh, when a compression fracture in his lower back brought his sophomore season to a halt. He has picked up where he left off, becoming Louisville's Friday-night starter this season. The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder has been healthy all spring and the Cardinals won all but one of his 15 starts entering regional play. Scouts have mixed opinions about Royse. Those who like him point to the 90-93 mph fastball he throws on a steep downward plane, his ability to cut and sink the ball in on the hands of lefthanders and his tight slider. Others say his velocity drops to 87-89 mph after a few innings and see the slider as a fringy pitch. He does a good job of throwing strikes and has the makings of a changeup. Undrafted out of a Kentucky high school three years ago when he turned down six-figure overtures from pro clubs, Royse should go in the fourth to sixth round this time around.

Darnell Best Suited For Pen

After 2009 sandwich pick James Paxton ran afoul of the NCAA and left for an independent league, Kentucky hoped fellow lefthander Logan Darnell would assume his role as No. 1 starter. That didn't go as well as planned, as Darnell went 5-3, 5.62, missed two weeks with shoulder tendinitis and eventually returned to the bullpen. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder profiles better as a reliever because he has one plus pitch, and his arm action and the effort in his delivery are better suited for shorter stints. As a reliever, Darnell works at 91-93 mph with his fastball. He'll flash a sharp slider intermittently, and his changeup is more effective. Projected as a top-five-round pick coming into the season, he now figures to go between the sixth and 10th rounds.

Louisville should have six hitters selected in the draft, and the one with the most potential missed most of the season. Outfielder Josh Richmond injured his left hand when hit by a pitch in April 2009 and eventually had surgery last winter. A circulation problem kept his hand from healing properly, and he reinjured it diving for a ball in February and missed 41 games. He's a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder with the swing and strength to hit for average and power once he improves his pitch recognition. His best tool is his strong arm, and his slightly above-average speed may allow him to play center field in pro ball. If healthy, Richmond might have gone as high as the third round. Now it's likely that whichever team drafts him will monitor his health in summer ball before signing him.

Fellow Louisville outfielder Stewart Ijames missed the 2009 season with rotator-cuff problems. He returned to lead the Coastal Plain League with 12 homers last summer, and has 14 more this spring. Of all the Cardinals' hitters, Ijames has the swing best suited for wood bats, and he still has untapped lefty power in his 6-foot-1, 215-pound frame. He has a decent arm, but his below-average speed relegates him to left field. He's a redshirt sophomore, so his extra leverage could make him more difficult to sign.

Righthander Matt Ridings led Western Kentucky in wins in each of his four seasons, setting a school record and tying a Sun Belt Conference mark with 34 (against just nine losses) in his career. He doesn't have size (6 feet, 195 pounds) or overpowering stuff in his favor, but he has tremendous feel for pitching and competes hard. He commands his 88-91 mph fastball, which touches 93, repeats his decent slider well and battles lefthanders with his changeup. Area scouts love him and he could move into the top 10 rounds as a senior sign, though his draft status became cloudy when he missed his Sun Belt tournament start with elbow inflammation. (UPDATE: Ridings' elbow injury turned out to be a torn ligament that will require Tommy John surgery.)
 
Matt Rice doesn't do anything pretty, but he gets the job done at the plate and as a catcher. His biggest complicating factor is that he's a candidate to become Western Kentucky's first-ever Rhodes scholar. Rice has a spread-out righty stance and an uphill swing that may not work well with wood bats, but he hits line drives, has gap power and set a school record with a 31-game hitting streak in 2009. His long release detracts from his arm strength, though he threw out 30 percent of basestealers this year. His receiving skills are just decent, but at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds he's more athletic than most catchers. The Rhodes Scholarship is probably the most prestigious in the world, granting college graduates the opportunity to study at Oxford University in England. It could drive Rice down in the draft, however.

Wunderlich Passes Test

Phil Wunderlich missed just one game in 2009 despite tearing the labrum in his throwing shoulder in February, an injury that required surgery and prevented him from trying out for Team USA. He didn't miss any time this spring after a pitch hit him in the face in April, breaking his nose and orbital bone. Wunderlich's bat is as impressive as his ability to play through pain. He packs plenty of lefthanded power into a 6-foot, 225-pound frame, hitting 38 homers over the last two seasons, and makes consistent contact. His lack of athleticism and a natural position holds him back as a prospect. A DH as a freshman, he played left field in 2009 and moved to third base this spring. He has good hands but not much range and a diminished arm at the hot corner, and he doesn't cover enough ground in the outfield. He has worked hard to improve but is probably destined for first base, and he's short for that position.

Andrew Clark was more of a prospect as a pitcher until he had labrum surgery before his senior season in high school. He played part-time at Mississippi as a freshman before becoming a three-year starter at Louisville. Though he's a 6-foot-3, 225-pound lefthanded hitter with a terrific approach and control of the strike zone, scouts question how much power he'll hit for in pro ball. They also wonder how easy he'll be to sign as a senior after he turned down a six-figure offer from the Cubs as a 31st-round pick a year ago. He's a good defender at first base. He missed 14 games this spring with a stress fracture in his left ribcage.

Righthander Rye Davis nearly lost his right eye and broke several bones in his face when he was hit by a line drive in a preseason scrimmage a year ago. After missing all of 2009, he has returned this spring and touched 94 mph at times with his fastball. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder normally sits at 89-92 mph and lacks life on his fastball and slider because he drops his elbow in his maximum-effort delivery. His command can get shaky at times, too. Teams may wait another year on the draft-eligible sophomore, but his size and arm strength have attracted interest.

Lefthander Corey Littrell is the state's best high school player, but he has more polish than stuff and isn't considered signable away from Kentucky. He usually works at 87-88 mph and touches 90 with his fastball, has a quality changeup and has improved his curveball. He should pick up velocity as he adds strength to his 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame.

Wes Cunningham has posted crazy numbers in the last two seasons, hitting .411/.468/.698 in 2009 and .408/.476/.824 this spring, winning Ohio Valley Conference player of the year honors and setting several Murray State records in the process. He's not the prospect his numbers might indicate, however. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder offers a lot of bat speed from the left side of the plate and slightly above-average speed, but he can't hit lefties and lacks a position. He's stiff and has hard hands and doesn't profile to stay at first base. He's a senior sign who probably will have to try to play second base, but that's a stretch.