State Report: Oklahoma

Juco prospects provide only premium talent in Sooner 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
If not for the emergence of a pair of junior college players, Oklahoma would be in danger of getting shut out of the first five rounds—something that never has happened in the previous 45 drafts. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons arrived at Western Oklahoma State JC from Curacao, while outfielder Marcus Knecht transferred to Connors State JC after spending last season on  Oklahoma State's bench.

Scouts aren't blown away by the high school crop and already are looking forward to next year, when two pitchers could be first-rounders. Righthanders Dylan Bundy (Owasso High) and Archie Bradley (Muskogee High) are Baseball America's No. 2 and No. 3 prospects in the 2011 prep class.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Andrelton Simmons, ss/rhp, Western Oklahoma State JC (National Rank: 90)
2. Marcus Knecht, of, Connors State JC (National Rank: 94)
3. Zach Neal, rhp, Oklahoma (National Rank: 185)
4. Thomas Keeling, lhp, Oklahoma State (National Rank: 189)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

5. J.T. Realmuto, c/ss, Carl Albert HS, Midwest City
6. Tyler Saladino, ss, Oral Roberts
7. Jeremy Erben, rhp, Oklahoma
8. Jon Gray, rhp, Chandler HS
9. Ryan Duke, rhp, Oklahoma
10. Cale Coshow, rhp, Deer Creek HS, Edmond
11. Kevin David, c, Oklahoma State
12. Mike Strong, lhp, Oklahoma State
13. Dillon Overton, lhp, Weatherford HS
14. Davis Duren, 2b, Oklahoma State
15. Daniel Meeley, of, Connors State JC
16. Houston Slemp, of, Eastern Oklahoma State Jc
17. Tyler Lyons, lhp, Oklahoma State
18. Garrett Buechele, 3b, Oklahoma
19. Tom Belza, ss, Oklahoma State
20. Wander Nunez, of, Western Oklahoma State JC
21. Cayle Shambaugh, lhp/of, Jay HS
22. Matt Presley, of, Oklahoma City
23. Casey Sadler, rhp, Western Oklahoma State JC
24. Jacob Rice, 3b, Union HS, Tulsa
25. Nick Baligod, of, Oral Roberts
26. Randolph Oduber, of, Western Oklahoma State JC
27. Peter Bako, c, Connors State JC
28. Bobby Shore, rhp, Oklahoma
29. Mason Justice, rhp, Holland Hall, Tulsa
30. Dusty Harvard, of, Oklahoma State

SCOUTING REPORTS

Andrelton Simmons, ss/rhp

Western Oklahoma State JC


Like Connors State outfielder Marcus Knecht, Simmons is an Oklahoma junior college player who went from obscurity to scouts' must-see lists. Simmons turned down small bonus offers to sign out of Curacao at age 16, and that would have spelled the end of any professional baseball hopes if Western Oklahoma State coach Kurt Russell hadn't seen him on a Caribbean scouting trip. He's the best defensive shortstop in the draft, an athletic 6-foot-1, 180-pounder with a cannon for an arm and plus actions and instincts. In fact, some teams might be more tempted to draft him as a pitcher, because he has run his fastball up to 95 mph and flashed a mid-80s slider in limited action. That decision became even more difficult when he missed a month with a broken toe, though he returned to help the Pioneers finish third at the Division II Junior College World Series. Simmons' righthanded swing is long, but he makes enough contact and has pop to go with his average speed. He might not provide a huge impact with his bat, but he should hit more than enough to make keeping his glove in the lineup worthwhile. Simmons is only a freshman, but he'll turn 21 in September and needs to start his pro career.



Marcus Knecht, of

Connors State (Okla.) JC


After getting drafted in the 23rd round by the Brewers and playing for Canada at the World Junior Championship in 2008, Knecht went to Oklahoma State and got just 12 at-bats as a freshman last spring. Unhappy with his playing time, he transferred to Connors State, where he has electrified scouts. Knecht's 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame generates plenty of bat speed and raw righthanded power. He ranked among the national juco leaders in hitting (.453) and homers (21), though he struggled at times to make consistent contact against good velocity. Knecht is more than just a slugger. He ran a 6.55-second 60-yard dash during Connors State's scout day in the fall, and he earns solid 55 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale for his speed and his accurate arm. He lacks the instincts for center field and played left for the Cowboys this spring, and it's possible he could play right field as a pro. Knecht doesn't have a long track record, but his huge power potential and all-around tools are attractive to teams. He has committed to North Carolina State, though he's expected to turn pro after getting drafted in the first three rounds. The Blue Jays have a natural interest in Canadians and could choose Knecht as early as the sandwich round.

Zach Neal, rhp

Oklahoma


Neal began his college career at Sam Houston State before transferring to Howard (Texas) JC, where he went 13-0 and was part of a 63-1 national championship team in 2009. He has had no trouble making the jump from juco ball to the Big 12 Conference. He seized Oklahoma's Friday-night starter job, and the Sooners won 12 of his 14 regular-season starts this season. Neal works at 88-93 mph with his fastball and holds his velocity into the late innings. His No. 2 pitch is a tight slider, and when he's at his best opponents have trouble telling it apart from his heater. He also has a changeup and a show-me curveball. He throws tons of strikes, and though he's just 6-foot-2 and 209 pounds, he does a good job of pitching down in the zone. Scouts love the way he competes, and he has gone 36-4 during the last four springs. Neal went undrafted in 2009 because of his commitment to Oklahoma, but he should be signable as a fifth- to seventh-rounder this June.


Thomas Keeling, lhp

Oklahoma State


The Yankees could have taken a huge bite out of the Oklahoma State rotation when they drafted Tyler Lyons (10th round) and Keeling (20th round as a draft-eligible sophomore) a year ago, but both lefthanders decided to return to school. Keeling has improved his stock and should go slightly ahead of Lyons in the fifth to seventh round this June, but he's still trying to figure out how to harness his quality stuff. Keeling would have placed fourth in NCAA Division I in strikeouts per nine innings (12.9) in 2009 if he hadn't fallen a few innings short of qualifying, and he ranked fourth with the same rate at the end of the 2010 regular season. Yet he didn't become a full-time starter until his redshirt junior season and went just 4-6, 5.74 this spring. Keeling's best pitch is a 90-93 mph fastball that tops out at 96 with riding life. The 6-foot-3, 184-pounder gets that movement by throwing across his body, which hampers his control and ability to throw a breaking ball. His slider has improved but he still can't consistently find the strike zone with it. After missing the 2007 season because the growth plate in his shoulder blade was irritating a muscle, Keeling has been healthy since. But he's still learning how to pitch.

Big Year Boosts Realmuto's Stock

Catcher/shortstop J.T. Realmuto set national high school records this spring with 88 hits and 119 RBIs. A 6-foot-1, 190-pound righthanded hitter, he has an unorthodox style at the plate. He has a wide stance and leans the bat behind his right arm, an approach that may not work against better pitching or with wood bats. He has good bat speed and the ball jumps off his bat. A quarterback who led Carl Albert High to the state 5-A football title in the fall, Realmuto has arm strength and good actions in the field. If he can stay behind the plate, that will enhance his value. His set-up makes it unclear how high he'll go in the draft, and if he doesn't turn pro he'll head to Oklahoma State. He's the nephew of Cowboys wrestling coach John Smith, who won two Olympic gold medals and has guided Oklahoma State to five national championships.

A 36th-round pick of the Astros out of Palomar (Calif.) JC last year, Tyler Saladino was the Summit League player of the year in his first season at Oral Roberts. The 6-foot, 185-pounder is a flashy athlete who covers a lot of ground at shortstop and makes plays with his strong arm. He offers bat speed and gap power as well, though he needs to make more consistent contact.

Oklahoma teammates Jeremy Erben and Ryan Duke are attracting attention from scouts despite being 5-foot-11 righthanded relievers. Erben is a slightly better prospect because he throws harder (91-92 to 94 mph) and can more easily work multiple innings. He also throws a hard curveball. Duke, who needed one save in the NCAA playoffs to tie the school career record of 28, has a superior breaking ball (his is a slider) and works at 88-91 mph with his fastball. He showed more velocity earlier in the year. Duke drew a five-game suspension in May after being charged with driving under the influence.

While Oklahoma State landed Realmuto, rival Oklahoma locked up most of the state's best high school players, including righthanders Jonathan Gray and Cale Coshow, lefthander Dillon Overton and lefthander/outfielder Cayle Shambaugh. The best prospect of that group is Gray, a 6-foot-4, 240-pounder who has an 88-93 mph fastball and a hard slider. He struck out 20 over nine innings in his final high school start, a playoff game his team lost in the 10th.

Coshow's 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame prompts comparisons to Jonathan Broxton. He has a clean delivery and touches 94 mph at times, though his velocity tapered off at the end of the spring because he shouldered a heavy workload. He also shows some ability to spin a curveball.

Overton is a classic projection lefthander. He carries just 170 pounds on his 6-foot-2, 170-pound frame, yet he'll flash a 90-91 mph fastball for a couple of innings. His velocity drops off afterward, something he can address by adding more strength. He also has a good curveball. Rainouts helped him start all three of Weatherford High's playoff wins en route to the 4-A state title.

Shambaugh entered the year as the top prep school prospect in Oklahoma, but a disappointing senior season makes it unlikely he'll get drafted high enough to sign. On the showcase circuit last summer, the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder threw an 88-93 mph fastball, tight breaking ball and promising changeup. This spring, he didn't show the same arsenal and battled his control. He also struggled at the plate, though he has lefthanded power potential and a right-field arm. The Sooners plan to use him strictly as a pitcher, and most scouts agree that his future is on the mound.

A high school shortstop, Kevin David converted to catcher when he arrived at Oklahoma State and missed the 2008 season after having Tommy John surgery. He's still smoothing out rough edges behind the plate, but he does have arm strength and power potential. The 6-foot-1, 203-pounder is a better athlete than most catchers, too. He's a redshirt junior who turned down the Cubs as a 35th-round pick last year.

Lefthander Mike Strong was Oklahoma State's most effective starter after transferring from Iowa Western CC. He's 6 feet and 184 pounds, with a quick arm capable of delivering 90-92 mph fastballs and hard curveballs. The White Sox drafted him in the 25th round last year.

After leading USA Baseball's college team with a 0.00 ERA in 2008, lefthander Tyler Lyons had a chance to go in the first round of the 2009 draft. His stuff was down for most of his junior season, picked back up in the NCAA playoffs and the Cape Cod League, but dipped again this spring. Lyons pitched at 87-90 mph as a sophomore and added velocity coming out of the Team USA bullpen, but now he rarely tops 88. His curveball also has regressed, leaving his changeup as his best pitch. He still throws strikes, but he got pounded to the tune of a 3-6, 6.06 record this spring. The 6-foot-2, 207-pounder now projects as a middle reliever, though moving back to the bullpen could restore zip to this fastball. Though he had a good summer on the Cape last year, the Yankees didn't make him an offer after drafting him in the 10th round.

Garrett Buechele originally planned to attend Kansas, but balked when the Jayhawks wanted to make him a catcher. He transferred to Oklahoma and sat out 2008 in accordance with transfer rules. He led the Big 12 Conference in hitting with a .396 average in 2009, then batted .393 entering NCAA regional play this spring. The 6-foot, 197-pounder has a feel for hitting and decent righthanded power potential. A third baseman like his father Steve, who played 11 seasons in the majors, Buechele has good hands and instincts and enough arm at the hot corner. His lack of athleticism and speed, as well as his extra leverage as a redshirt sophomore, may drive him down in the draft.