State Report: Lower New England

Hard to imagine a better year for Connecticut and Rhode Island






THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
Rating compares this year's group to what a state typically produces, not to other states
Connecticut's 2008 high school class was arguably the best in recent history, producing Salisbury Prep teammates Anthony Hewitt, the 24th overall selection by the Phillies, and Chris Dwyer, who went to Clemson and became a fourth-round pick of the Royals in 2009. That year the Nutmeg State also turned out Vanderbilt third baseman Jason Esposito, a sandwich-round talent for 2011.

But two remaining pieces from the '08 prep class are arguably even better prospects: UConn's George Springer and Matt Barnes, who are projected top 20 picks in this year's draft and will surpass Charles Nagy as the highest-drafted Huskies ever. Springer and Barnes should also make it 10 straight years that two players from the same school get taken in the first round. They highlight a loaded UConn team that could make it a historically good year for this two-state area, even though Rhode Island has little to contribute.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. George Springer, of, Connecticut (National Rank: 11)
2. Matt Barnes, rhp, Connecticut (National Rank: 13)
3. Nick Ahmed, ss, Connecticut (National Rank: 79)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

4. Sal Romano, rhp, Southington (Conn.) HS
5. Jeff Diehl, c, Cranston (R.I.) West HS
6. Mike Nemeth, 1b, Connecticut
7. Chris Madera, of, Avon (Conn.) Old Farms HS
8. Kevin Vance, rhp, Connecticut
9. David Fischer, rhp, Connecticut
10. Greg Nappo, lhp, Connecticut
11. Doug Elliott, c, Connecticut
12. John Andreoli, of, Connecticut
13. Elliott Glynn, lhp, Connecticut
14. Brian O'Neil, rhp, Bryant
15. Chris Pickering, lhp, Rhode Island
16. Devin Over, rhp/of, Windsor (Conn.) HS
17. Michael White, of, Salisbury (Conn.) HS
18. Carson Helms, of, Farmington (Conn.) HS
19. Mike Colantonio, c, Brown
20. John Tangrehlini, rhp, CC of Rhode Island

SCOUTING REPORTS

George Springer, of
Connecticut

Springer was largely overlooked in high school, taking a back seat to higher-profile New England draftees like Anthony Hewitt, Ryan Westmoreland and Chris Dwyer. The Twins took a 48th-round flier on him in 2008 but he went to Connecticut, and three years later he may have the best all-around tools of any college player in the last decade. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Springer has a skill set rarely seen among college players. He generates plus raw power with explosive bat speed. He has a plus arm and is a plus runner, and he's a smooth defender in center field. He struggled early in 2011, when his hands were tight to his body and his stance was narrow, and he collapsed on his back side. But he made adjustments and returned to form when Big East play started, showing scouts why he was the Cape Cod League's No. 2 prospect last summer. His early-season struggles scared some scouts who question Springer's swing mechanics, as he can be exposed with velocity on the inner half. He's raw for a college first-round pick, but Springer may have the highest ceiling in the draft.

Matt Barnes, rhp
Connecticut

Barnes was an under-the-radar prospect and went undrafted coming out of high school in Connecticut, but after three years at UConn he has firmly established himself as a first-round talent. Barnes shined last summer, ranking as the Cape Cod League's No. 3 prospect during a stint with Wareham and going 3-0, 1.42 with 26 strikeouts in 19 innings for Team USA. Barnes added 6-8 mph on his fastball before his sophomore year, jumping his velocity to its current 92-96 mph range and 98 peak, which he holds deep into games. He has a loose arm and minimal effort in his delivery. Barnes gets good armside run on his two-seamer, and he also throws a cutter. He throws a sharp-breaking curveball that's plus at times and an average mid-80s changeup. Barnes is at his best when he eliminates his slider from his repertoire. His secondary stuff, along with his command and mechanics, need work, as he tends to alter his release point and miss high in the zone. Scouts love Barnes' 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame, and they still think he could add about 20 pounds.

Nick Ahmed, ss
Connecticut

With the spotlight on UConn teammates George Springer and Matt Barnes this spring, Ahmed made the most of his opportunities. The more scouts saw of him, the more they liked him, especially his old-school approach to the game. Ahmed got bigger and stronger before this season, adding muscle to his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame. He's a good athlete, a plus runner and has a plus arm. There's nothing fluid about his actions at shortstop, but he has average range and makes every play. There are questions about how his bat will play at the next level, and he struggled with Bourne in the Cape Cod League last summer, but he has improved his bat control and the way his hands work to the ball. Ahmed also showed a 91-94 mph fastball in the Big East Conference tournament as a reliever last year. He suffered a collapsed lung in a collision at first base in late April, but the injury isn't a long-term concern. If anything, scouts were impressed with his fiery energy in that midweek game against Quinnipiac.

Huskies' Historic Class Leads The Way

With its plethora of draft prospects, UConn was working on another impressive season, winning its first-ever Big East Conference regular-season title with a 22-5 record in conference play. The Huskies spent much of the season ranked in the Top 25, and they could surpass last year's record 49-win season with a strong finish. At the least, UConn will make back-to-back regional berths for the first time in almost two decades, and it has the starting pitching and star power to make a run to Omaha.

Outside of the team's big three draft prospects, Mike Nemeth figures to be the first Husky selected, thanks to his consistent track record with the bat. Nemeth set UConn's all-time hits record as a junior, and he continued padding his total this year, upping the number to 309 career hits through 55 games this year. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Nemeth has gap power and is a below-average runner. He's solid in the field and was named the Big East's top defensive first baseman before the season. He has drawn comparisons to Casey Kotchman, and he'll likely get taken in the 15-20 rounds range.

Closer Kevin Vance performed well in the Cape Cod League for Chatham last summer, impressing scouts with a fastball that touched 94 mph. He showed similar velocity during UConn's scout day and intrasquad workouts, sitting 90-92, but during the spring he has mostly been in the 86-90 mph range. Vance still was one of the Big East's top bullpen arms, registering 12 saves and holding opponents to a .105 average through his first 23 appearances. He flashes an above-average curveball with good shape and a decent changeup. When he's on, scouts said Vance looks like Ricky Bottalico, though the drop in velocity could hurt his draft positioning.

Like Vance, David Fischer came out firing this season, working at 90-92 mph and touching 93 with his fastball on UConn's spring trip to Florida, which had some scouts projecting him into the first 10 rounds. Since then, his velocity leveled off and he has been inconsistent, making scouts think of him as more of a senior sign. His fastball has good tilt and sink, while his changeup is average.

Gregg Nappo is a fifth-year senior whom teams talked to about drafting in the 10-15 round range last year, but he wanted to return to Storrs. At 6 feet and 195 pounds, he doesn't offer much projection, but he has been one of the Big East's best performers, going 9-2, 2.97 through 13 starts. He works at 86-90 mph with his fastball, cutting it and adding two-seam run at times. Nappo doesn't overpower hitters, but he gets outs by working both sides of the plate and sequencing pitches well. He has an average slurvy breaking ball and a firm changeup.

Fellow lefty Elliott Glynn has been in UConn's weekend rotation since his freshman year, and he spent his first two seasons as a two-way player before concentrating on pitching full-time. He was drafted in the 46th round out of high school in Long Beach in 2007, and in the 49th round last year. He doesn't show as much velocity as Nappo, sitting at 86-88 mph with good sink, and he throws two breaking balls. Glynn has a 6-foot-1, 175-pound build and relies on his feel for pitching.

Scouts have been impressed with the way senior Doug Elliott has handled UConn's pitching staff, which brought him into draft consideration. Elliott stepped into the starting job after incumbent catcher Joe Pavone tore his ACL in the preseason, and he was hitting .320/.371/.389 through 54 games. Elliott is a contact hitter with good receiving skills and an average arm.

Right fielder John Andreoli, whose dad has the same name and played in the NFL for one season with the New England Patriots, had a solid sophomore season but needed to reinvent himself with the less-lively bats this year. Andreoli, who is also Daniel Bard's cousin, improved throughout the spring, but scouts still question his bat, as he doesn't hit for much power. He's a plus runner timed in the 6.55-second range in the 60-yard dash, and he has a knack for bunting for a base hit. Andreoli is a good defender, and his arm strength is not that far behind Springer's.

Solid Prep Products

After back-to-back down years in the high school ranks, Lower New England offers a solid crop this year, though it's not comparable to 2008's banner class. This year's headliner is Tennessee recruit Sal Romano, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound righty from Southington (Conn.) HS, the same school that produced Carl Pavano, who scouts say Romano resembles. Romano broke his jaw in two places on a comebacker to the mound last July and had to have it wired shut for six weeks, which kept him off the mound for a significant portion of the showcase season. He came back with a solid senior year, drawing scouts' attention for his low-90s fastball and projection—he's just 17 and wears a size 16 shoe. He has an average curveball and shows feel for a changeup. Romano has a herky-jerky delivery and a crude arm action that will need refinement, but he should get taken in the top 10 rounds.

Cranston West HS produced Coastal Carolina's sandwich-round talent Anthony Meo in 2008, and this year it has Jeff Diehl, the top prep prospect in Rhode Island. Diehl is a raw, athletic 6-foot-4, 195-pound backstop with good catch and throw skills, though he probably won't stay behind the plate as his frame fills out and he gets stronger. As a catcher, Diehl is not polished and has stiff actions, so he profiles as a corner outfielder or first baseman. A broken finger kept him out of the Area Code Games, and he struggled during the summer but looked better in the fall and spring, showing good bat speed and raw power to the pull side. Diehl struggles with consistency but flashes potential, and he will likely be taken in the top 12 rounds. He has a commitment to Rhode Island, but scouts say he's likely to sign.

Avon Old Farms School, George Springer's alma mater, has sent a slew of players to the college ranks in recent years, but this year's top prospect, Chris Madera, hasn't committed anywhere. Originally from the Dominican Republic, Madera has a 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame, and his best tool is his arm. He is an average runner and has some pop in his bat. Madera's uncle is Phillies scout Kolby Perez. Without any signability questions, Madera should fall between rounds 15 and 20.

Though he hasn't gotten much draft consideration, Connecticut signee Devin Over will be an interesting name to follow for the next three years. At 6-foot-1 and 183 pounds, Over reminds some of Huskies shortstop Nick Ahmed in athleticism and body type. Over plays shortstop in high school but might fit better in the outfield. He is a plus runner with a good arm and shows gap power. Over should also contribute on the mound, where he has an 88-92 mph fastball with good sink and a solid breaking ball.