State Report: South Carolina

Palmetto State continues its growth as a baseball hotbed




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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
College baseball in South Carolina has continued to get better, peaking with South Carolina's 2010 national championship. The state has 10 Division I schools, with programs such as Coastal Carolina, College of Charleston and The Citadel regularly making regional runs or producing high draft picks.

That doesn't mean scouts ignore the high school ranks, and the state's top player is Taylor Guerrieri, a South Carolina signee who should be the first high school pitcher out of the state to be drafted in the first round since Jacob Shumate in 1994. Guerrieri's fastball, which has touched 98 mph, and a wrist injury to South Carolina outfielder Jackie Bradley flipped the two on most teams' draft boards.

The strength of the state's college programs is double-edged for scouts. While it creates depth at all the schools, and thus more opportunities for late bloomers, it also makes predicting signability for high schoolers tricky. The game's popularity makes college an attractive destination for high school prospects.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Taylor Guerrieri, rhp, Spring Valley HS, Columbia, S.C. (National Rank: 10)
2. Jackie Bradley, of, South Carolina (National Rank: 34)
3. Anthony Meo, rhp, Coastal Carolina (National Rank: 55)
4. Brad Miller, ss, Clemson (National Rank: 68)
5. Matt Price, rhp, South Carolina (National Rank: 141)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

6. Will Lamb, lhp/of, Clemson
7. Daniel Gossett, rhp, Byrnes HS, Lyman
8. Kevin Brady, rhp, Clemson
9. Tanner English, of, St. James HS, Murrels Inlet
10. Joey Pankake, ss/rhp, Easley HS
11. Grayson Greiner, c, Blythewood HS
12. Adam Matthews, of, South Carolina
13. Tyler Motter, ss, Coastal Carolina
14. Shon Carson, of, Lake City HS, Scranton
15. Scott Weisman, rhp, Clemson
16. John Hinson, 3b/2b, Clemson
17. Hunter Cole, of, Dorman HS, Roebuck
18. Tyler Mizenko, rhp, Winthrop
19. David Peterson, rhp, College of Charleston
20. Joe Maloney, c, Limestone
21. Matt Leeds, 3b, College of Charleston
22. Travis Burnside, of, Spartanburg Methodist JC
23. Garrett Boulware, c, Hanna HS, Anderson
24. Tommy LaStella, 2b, Coastal Carolina
25. Casey Lucchese, rhp, College of Charleston
26. Scott Woodward, of/2b, Coastal Carolina
27. Michael Roth, lhp, South Carolina
28. Jeff Schaus, of, Clemson
29. Chris Epps, of, Clemson
30. Scott Wingo, 2b, South Carolina
31. Phil Pohl, c/of, Clemson
32. Brady Thomas, c, South Carolina
33. Peter Mooney, ss, South Carolina
34. Jason Stolz, 2b, Clemson
35. Adrian Morales, 3b, South Carolina
36. Rob Kral, c, College of Charleston
37. Eddie Rohan, c, Winthrop
38. Mac Doyle, of/c, Wofford
39. Bryan Harper, lhp, South Carolina
40. Jimmy Birmingham, lhp, Coastal Carolina

SCOUTING REPORTS

Taylor Guerrieri, rhp
Spring Valley HS, Columbia, S.C.

Guerrieri will be one of the toughest calls for clubs in the first round. He has one of the draft's best arms, and among preps he ranks behind only Oklahomans Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley in pure stuff. Guerrieri has a pitcher's body at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds with long arms, coat-hanger shoulders and present strength. Getting his "man strength," to use the scouting term, has allowed him to maintain his delivery better, and his stuff has improved as a result. At his best, Guerrieri's fastball touches 98 mph and sits in the 93-96 range. He throws his curveball with power as well at 80-83 mph. He flashes a changeup and a cutter in side sessions but rarely uses them in games. Like most high school pitchers, his velocity can vary from start to start, but he still sits 91-93 on his off days. His athleticism and strength allow him to repeat his delivery well, though his command is a question. A South Carolina signee, Guerrieri could go in the first 10 picks if teams are sold on his makeup, but many are not. He's on his second high school thanks to off-field incidents at North Augusta (S.C.) High, and scouts continue to research his decision-making.

Jackie Bradley, of
South Carolina

Bradley was South Carolina's best player his first two seasons, bashing 24 home runs, walking more than he struck out and overcoming an early hamate injury to lead the Gamecocks to the 2010 national championship. He was the Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series and then played for USA Baseball's college national team. Scouting directors saw him hit .318 and saw a premium defender in center field, with average speed but tremendous instincts, good routes and a plus arm. However, Bradley was struggling with the new BBCOR bats and slumping this season before he went down with a left wrist injury. He had surgery at the start of May to repair ligament and tendon damage and wasn't expected to return this season. Supporters point to his track record because his lone plus tools are his defense and his arm. He lost his feel for hitting this spring as he sold out for power, employing an uppercut that helped drop his average to .259. His believers give him above-average hitting grades for his bat speed and approach. Bradley looked to be sliding, perhaps out of the first round.

Anthony Meo, rhp
Coastal Carolina

Meo was part of a stacked 2008 prep class in Connecticut and Rhode Island, a group that included Vanderbilt's Jason Esposito and UConn stars Matt Barnes and George Springer. Meo threw 91-92 mph in high school but has bumped his fastball up to 96 mph in college, regularly sitting in the 93-94 range. He's quick-armed and live-bodied at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, with a lean frame that hasn't added much weight over the years. His curveball is quick and short with downer break, and he's starting to harness the command of both pitches. Meo's changeup remains "underdeveloped," as one scout put it, and while his delivery isn't maximum effort, it's not smooth either. He throws strikes but doesn't locate enough to have the command clubs look for in starters. He should go out in the first two rounds as a starter but likely will wind up as a reliever.

Brad Miller, ss
Clemson

Teams pursued Miller out of an Orlando high school, but his signability pushed him to the 39th round. He started at shortstop for most of his first two years for Clemson, and spent the last two summers with USA Baseball's college national team. After failing to register an extra-base hit in the summer of 2009, he hit .441 last summer with four doubles and a home run. Miller kept hitting this spring, especially after returning from a broken finger. He led the Atlantic Coast Conference in batting (.431) and on-base percentage (.536), earning ACC player of the year honors despite an odd approach that evokes Craig Counsell. He holds his hands high to start his stance, and while he doesn't always get his hands into an ideal hitting position, he has excellent hand-eye coordination and keeps his bat in the strike zone a long time. He's been inconsistent defensively, including 31 errors as a sophomore, and has had inconsistent throwing mechanics. He has been steadier this spring but probably fits better at second base. He's a solid-average runner, if not a tick above-average, and has good baserunning instincts. He's a baseball rat with good makeup.

Matt Price, rhp
South Carolina

Price and roommate Jackie Bradley will never have to buy a beer in South Carolina after the careers they've had for the Gamecocks. Price broke his right wrist in March of his freshman year and got a medical redshirt, then became the closer for the 2010 Gamecocks, picking up the victory in the College World Series clincher and striking out 80 in 53 innings. He had more saves (15 to 10) but had been less dominant in 2011, with 56 strikeouts in 42 innings. He's had to pitch to contact more as his fastball velocity has fluctuated. After hitting a lot of 95s and 96s last season, he's lived more at 91-92 mph this season, with occasional bursts of more velocity. His slider has been an average pitch for him this year, and at times it plays up. Scouts note he pitches better with more on the line and feeds off adrenaline. Price is maxed out physically but throws strikes with two pitches that can be plus at their best. He has moxie and big-game experience to spare.

High-End Prep Talent

If not for Guerrieri, righthander Daniel Gossett would be the state's top prep draft pick. A Clemson recruit, he dominated all spring, going 9-0, 0.44 with 94 strikeouts in 49 innings before his final start, when his stuff was down and he gave up six runs (including two homers) in just three innings en route to losing the state 4-A championship game 11-0. At his best, Gossett pushes his fastball into the low 90s, sitting 91-93 mph at times despite a slim 6-foot, 165-pound frame. He has shown the hand speed to spin a curveball with downer action that could be a swing-and-miss pitch. His frame makes it hard to project on him, and it was unclear whether his present stuff was enough to prompt scouts to buy him out of Clemson.

The state's other top prep performers also are tough profiles. The top athlete is outfielder Shon Carson, who played in the Under Armour All-America game as well as the East Coast Pro Showcase last summer. He's also a South Carolina football recruit as a running back. As one scout put it, "I wouldn't want to tackle him." Carson's tools are raw, aside from his well above-average speed. He has present strength in his 5-foot-10, 190-pound body but has a stiff swing. Signability will decide how high he goes in the draft, if he goes at all.

The top hitters coming into the season after Carson were Hunter Cole, a third baseman, and 5-foot-9 outfielder Tanner English. English is more likely to get drafted now as he's at least a 70 runner on the 20-80 scale whose speed plays well in center field. He has an average throwing arm, and some scouts think he'll be an average hitter as well. He generates surprising bat speed despite his small stature. English has signed with South Carolina and would start as a freshman, replacing Bradley in center field, so he's considered a tough sign.

Cole, a Georgia recruit, was also considered a tough sign and had informed area scouts of his intention to go to college. He has the tools for third base defensively with solid hands and a strong throwing arm, and he's an average runner as well. He played a lot of outfield as a senior, and high school outfielders who aren't burners can be a tough sell. His power potential—he hit .525 with eight homers this spring—might have pushed him into the three-to-five round had he been signable.

Another strong performer this spring, South Carolina signee Joey Pankake, had the tools to get drafted but like English lacks physicality. Pankake hit and pitched for Easley and was an all-state basketball player as well despite his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame. He has played varsity since eighth grade and has shown excellent defensive versatility, playing all over the diamond. He has excellent arm strength and has bumped 92-94 mph as a closer, though in longer stints, his velocity fades into the mid-80s. He's a line-drive machine at the plate who makes a lot of contact, at times at the expense of power. He's probably a better fit at second or third base in pro ball, and his lack of power hinders his third-base profile.

The state's other hitters with a chance to get drafted were catchers Grayson Greiner and Garrett Boulware. Greiner made noise with his power potential this spring, while the rest of his tools grade out as average (arm) or below-average. The South Carolina recruit had 14 home runs by mid-May, while Boulware, signed to Clemson, has better athleticism and arm strength. Boulware was an all-state football linebacker and has solid defensive skills as well as the makeup to play behind the plate. If he's signable, he could be the third or fourth prep player in the state drafted.

College Depth

The Gamecocks had the upper hand last year in Omaha, beating Clemson twice en route to the state's first national title in baseball, but the Tigers have more pro talent and should produce more draft picks. Will Lamb will be the toughest call, as he has a pro body that scouts are eager to see in pro ball. He's tall and lean at 6-foot-6, 175 pounds, and has good athletic ability. He's the center fielder for the Tigers and had a better offensive season in 2011 (hitting .344 though with limited power) than in 2010 (.289, four homers), despite this year's lesser bats. Lamb's a fine defender as well and is an above-average runner (he hadn't hit into a double play all year), and scouts who believe in his power could send him out as a center or right fielder. He has told scouts he prefers to hit. More likely, he'll go out as a pitcher, where he has flashed two plus pitches. In shorter stints, Lamb uses his long levers and athleticism to flash 94-95 mph fastballs and a slider with bite and power. As a starter, though, he sits average or fringe-average with his velocity and babies his slider. His arm works and his delivery is sound, leaving scouts to believe Lamb could take off if he concentrates on pitching. Questions about his competitiveness and consistency make him more of an unknown than many of his peers. He could go out as soon as the fourth round.

Clemson's other wild card is righthander Kevin Brady, who in addition to being a redshirt sophomore also missed 70 days with a forearm strain. Brady made three starts in February and March and was outstanding. He struck out 19 while walking one in 12 innings against Eastern Michigan and Michigan State, giving up just six hits and one run. Then he started against South Carolina, striking out four more in four innings while giving up only one run. But he had to leave that start and didn't pitch again until May. He was up to 93-94 mph in his first start and showed good velocity in his return out of the bullpen, sitting 90-92 in one-inning stints in the ACC tournament while adding a cutter. He's also thrown a curve that at times has 12-to-6 action and was a solid-average pitch early on.

Like Brady, righthander Scott Weisman was expected to be a fixture in Clemson's rotation after he led the team with nine victories in 2010. Unlike Brady, he wasn't hurt, just ineffective. He's stocky at 6 feet, 190 pounds, and he was much more effective out of the bullpen, limiting opponents to a .128 average entering the ACC tournament. Weisman's sinker reaches 93, and his slider helps him get groundballs, but neither pitch gets a ton of swings and misses. He added a cutter this year that gave him a different look.

Two 2010 Tigers draft picks, infielder John Hinson and outfielder Jeff Schaus, have persevered in spite of the less-potent bats. Schaus, a senior, has limited athleticism and should be a solid organization player. He's a smart, polished hitter who knows the strike zone and should have power. After hitting 28 homers the previous two seasons, though, he had none in 2011. Hinson has better athleticism and tools, as he's a plus runner despite a back injury that caused him to take a medical redshirt in 2009. He's rough around the edges defensively, having stumbled at second and third base this season. He fits best as a utility player who focuses on the outfield, and some scouts soured on him after he turned down the Phillies as a 13th-round pick.

Clemson has several other draftable players in senior outfielder Chris Epps, who has arm strength and power but swings and misses too much; athletic second baseman Jason Stolz and catcher/DH Phil Pohl, who fit better as senior signs next season. Pohl is a solid hitter whose ability to go behind the plate could get him drafted.

Outside of Bradley and Price, South Carolina's top draft pick is likely to be outfielder Adam Matthews, the team's fastest player and best athlete. A hamstring injury sidelined Matthews for half the season, and he hasn't put it all together offensively, either with his raw power or on the basepaths (just 15 career stolen bases). Because of Bradley's presence and his own hamstring injury, Matthews hasn't played much center field, but that's where he profiles best as a pro. He has an average arm and could play right if he polishes up his hitting approach and gets to his plus raw power.

Gamecocks ace lefthander Michael Roth has been a winner for the team the last two years, as a lefty specialist reliever, emergency starter in Omaha and then again this year as the team's No. 1 starter. Roth has good size at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds with a below-average fastball at 82-87 mph. He adds and subtracts from it and pitches inside to set up his excellent changeup. He's a senior sign for most scouts, who respect his moxie and performance.

Among the non-BCS schools in the state, the top draft will be Coastal Carolina's Anthony Meo. After him, those schools may not produce a single-digit round selection. The most likely candidates are righthanders Tyler Mizenko of Winthrop and College of Charleston's David Peterson, and Coastal Carolina shortstop Tyler Motter.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Mizenko was solid in the Cape Cod League last year, and had pitched well for Winthrop this spring after moving into a starting role. He had 20 saves his first two seasons and was 93-94 mph with his fastball in the Cape. As a starter, he pitched with an average fastball at best and mixed in both a curveball and slider to go with a changeup. He pounded the strike zone all season, but his delivery has too much effort for him to start in pro ball. His fastball has excellent life from a low three-quarters slot, even though it's thrown with a four-seam grip, and he has the makeup to fit as a middle reliever.

Peterson has better arm strength, sitting at 91-94 mph as a starter with his four-seamer, but less control and pitchability than Mizenko. At 6-foot-4, 214 pounds, Peterson has pro size and fringy secondary stuff with his slider and changeup. He doesn't get a ton of swings and misses despite his fastball velocity.

Motter is a solid, reliable defender at shortstop with a solid-average arm as well as good hands and footwork, making up for fringe-average speed. He has good instincts, draws plenty of walks and is a smart baserunner, and his ability to play short should make him the top draft pick on the Chanticleers.

A fourth-year junior who sat out a year after transferring from St. John's, second baseman Tommy La Stella had a strong offensive season and swings the bat with authority from the left side. He's not athletic or strong enough to stay in the infield as a pro and is a bat-only player who figures to play left field, as he did in the Cape Cod League last summer. His Chanticleer teammate outfielder Scott Woodward also should get picked. Woodward is physical (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) and a plus runner who has played the outfield and third base in his career. He's a lefthanded hitter whose bat wrap and swing path lead to plenty of swings and misses.

Like Mizenko and Patterson, College of Charlestron's Casey Lucchese profiles as a reliever and should be a decent senior sign. Lucchese uses a sinker/slider combination, both of which grade as average, as his fastball reaches 92 mph consistently. He's had control issues over the course of his career but had a better senior season, emerging as the Cougars' closer.

The Cougars' top player the last two seasons, third baseman Matt Leeds, hit 18 homers this season even with the new bats, though Charleston's bandbox ballpark takes some of the shine off that. He's a switch-hitter and a fair athlete who already has graduated with honors as a fourth-year junior. He's an aggressive hitter who strikes out a lot. Fellow redshirt junior Rob Kral is a solid lefthanded bat who would get drafted earlier if he could catch-and-throw at an acceptable level.

Joe Maloney was the state's top catching prospect among college players. He's a Pennslyvania native and switch-hitter with power who hit 16 homers this spring. He has good strength in his 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame.

The state's best junior college prospect is outfielder Travis Burnside at Spartanburg Methodist JC, who was drafted out of high school in 2009 by the Dodgers. Burnside is a plus runner and defender who hit .335 this season with eight home runs. His teammate, first baseman Cody Martin, is the younger brother of Dodgers farmhand and 2008 High School Player of the Year Ethan Martin. The state has a notable older brother, too: lefthander Bryan Harper is the older brother of Nationals prospect Bryce Harper.