State Report: Alabama

Other programs catch up to Crimson Tide




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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
As the state's flagship program, the University of Alabama is expected to have the state's best talent year-in and year-out. In lefthander Adam Morgan, who gets some Cliff Lee comparisons for his body, delivery and arm action, the Tide has this year's top prospect again. But the biggest story in the state was an Auburn recruit, Clay Holmes, who was challenging Morgan for the top draft spot—as well as the talent level on other Division I schools catching up to that in Tuscaloosa.

What stood out to scouts and rival coaches this year was Alabama's lack of players with standout tools. Auburn had more pro talent and could have eight players drafted, but the Tigers stumbled down the stretch, losing four of their last five games to finish .500 and outside the NCAA tournament field. Alabama-Birmingham, Jacksonville State and Samford all have improved in recent years in talent and results, and South Alabama appears to be on the rebound as it transitions from veteran coach Steve Kittrell to new head coach Mark Calvi.

The state's high school ranks are deeper than the college class, mostly on the mound. Signability will be key to whether the likes of Jo-El Bennett, Brad Roney or Jamal Golden go in the first 10 rounds or fall and become summer follows.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Adam Morgan, Alabama (National Rank: 136)
2. Clay Holmes, rhp, Slocomb HS (National Rank: 140)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

3. Rocky McCord, rhp, Spanish Fort HS
4. Jo-El Bennett, rhp/of, Houston Academy, Midland City
5. Brad Roney, 3b, Wetumpka HS
6. Ryan Woolley, rhp, Alabama-Birmingham
7. Taylor Dugas, of, Alabama
8. Dillon Napoleon, rhp, Alabama-Birmingham
9. Casey McElroy, ss/2b, Auburn
10. Brandon Miller, of/c, Samford
11. Jamal Golden, of, Wetumpka HS
12. Grant Sides, rhp, Samford
13. Chris Ellis, rhp, Spain Park HS, Birmingham
14. Derek Varnadore, rhp, Auburn
15. Kevin Patterson, 1b, Auburn
16. Justin Camp, rhp, Austin HS, Decatur
17. A.J. Cole, 2b/3b, Huntsville HS
18. Bryce Dial, of, Chattahoochee Valley CC
19. Locke St. John, lhp, Pell City HS
20. Justin Kamplain, lhp, Walker HS
21. Brad Hendrix, rhp, Auburn
22. Jonathan Keller, lhp, Thompson HS, Maylene
23. Cooper Moseley, rhp, Central Alabama CC
24. Creede Simpson, of, Auburn
25. Adam Bryant, ss, Troy
26. Andrew Jones, rhp, Samford
27. Tyler Ray, rhp, Troy
28. Robert Shipman, 1b, Chattahoochee Valley CC
29. Saxon Butler, 1b, Samford
30. Ajay Snow, of, Leroy HS, McIntosh
31. J.D. Crowe, c, Oak Mountain HS, Birmingham
32. Jamal Austin, of, Alabama-Birmingham
33. Drew Hall, rhp, Troy
34. Chase Williamson, ss, UMS-Wright Prep, Mobile
35. Tyler Roach, 1b/lhp, Northwest Shoals CC
36. Patrick Palmeiro, 3b/1b, Alabama-Birmingham
37. Chase Williamson, ss, UMS-Wright Prep, Mobile
38. Kyle Putkonen, rhp, Samford
39. Kyle Bluesetin, of, Jacksonville State
40. Justin Fradejas, of, Auburn
41. Sam Eberle, c/3b, Jacksonville State
42. Chase Davis, rhp, Alabama Christian Academy, Montgomery
43. Darren Whatley, rhp, Bibb County HS, Centreville
44. Nick Crawford, 2b, Alabama-Birmingham
45. Jonathan Smart, lhp, Alabama
46. Nathan Kilcrease, rhp, Alabama

SCOUTING REPORTS

Adam Morgan, lhp
Alabama

Alabama's roster is thin on tools, and the Crimson Tide may not have more than one player drafted in the first 10 rounds: Morgan, who has had flashes of brilliance mixed with low points. He has pitched in the rotation for three seasons, and his solid size and good arm action entice scouts. His delivery, arm action and delivery evoke Cliff Lee, though he doesn't have Lee's stuff or command. Morgan does pound the strike zone and at times pitches downhill with a 90-92 mph fastball. He also has flashed an above-average slider that will touch 84 mph, and his changeup flashes average as well. So why doesn't Morgan dominate? He was just 5-6, 4.14 this season with 72 strikeouts and 23 walks in 91 innings. His fastball more regularly sits in the 87-90 mph range, and even at lower velocity it can flatten out. He has a stiff front leg in his delivery that at times prevents him from keeping the ball down, and his slider is inconsistent. He has been durable this season, though his delivery does raise injury concerns with some scouts.

Clay Holmes, rhp
Slocomb HS

Holmes was being recruited by most of Alabama's mid-major programs such as Troy and Samford last year, but Auburn swooped in to grab his commitment after his stuff jumped up a notch this spring and he became the state's top propsect. A strong student, he is the state coaches association's student-athlete of the year, is his school's valedictorian and got a lot tougher to sign when Auburn entered the picture. Holmes is a classic raw arm from the South, with good size but plenty to learn in pro ball. At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, he has present strength in his frame and in his arm, with an above-average fastball at 90-93 mph. He holds his velocity better at some times than others, typical of a high school pitcher, and has shown the ability to stay tall in his delivery and throw downhill. His slider has ranged from average with flashes of plus to terrible. Scouts who have seen it good like its power and occasional depth. His delivery has plenty of effort and is far from fluid, leading to bouts of wildness, but his arm is fast enough to overcome the flaws and he racked up plenty of strikeouts. Scouts also disagree about his level of athleticism. Holmes could go out ahead of Morgan.

Muddled Crop

Righthander Rocky McCord emerged as the second-best pitcher in the state behind Clay Holmes, after Chris Ellis was injured this spring. Ellis, a Mississippi recruit, has an excellent body at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, with a funky arm action that hurts his projection, and he was never fully healthy all spring. He's headed to school.

McCord could be headed to school as well, where he could jump right into Auburn's weekend rotation. He's a winner, pitching atop Spanish Fort High's rotation the last two seasons and leading the team to back-to-back 5-A state championships, earning 10 wins this spring. His wiry build and quick arm produce a fastball with average velocity and above-average life, especially down in the zone. His changeup has similar life and has above-average potential. His slider was below-average early, then showed improvement, enough for scouts to see him as a three-pitch guy. None of his pitches is above-average, though, and some scouts aren't sure he'll have the durability to start long-term. He has deep ties to Auburn and will be a tough sign.

Alabama's prep ranks have several players who have intriguing tools but may not have enough present value for teams to buy them out of school. Outfielder Jamal Golden, for example, is the cousin of the state's top prep last year, Reggie Golden, who signed with the Cubs as a second-round pick. Jamal has a Georgia Tech football scholarship and has less polish than his cousin at a similar stage. His strengths are his solid lefthanded bat and above-average speed.

Two other hitters who could get picked include Golden's teammate, third baseman Brad Roney, and outfielder Jo-El Bennett. Roney is part of a strong Southern Mississippi recruiting class. He's a solid athlete who has present strength and hitting skills, and his above-average arm and agility should allow him to step in and play third as a freshman in Conference USA. He's raw at the plate but has excellent leverage in his swing and plus raw power. As Roney fills out his 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame, he may lose athleticism and get too stiff. Bennett has more projection at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds and more long-range potential. He's less polished than Roney and hasn't had a big spring despite his plus bat speed. Bennett has also pitched and has average arm strength. He's a solid-average runner if not a tick above and will have to stay in center field long-term to be a regular.

A.J. Cole played on the showcase circuit last year, and the Alabama signee showed good speed with 6.7-second 60 times. He didn't play much shortstop this spring, though, instead playing second base, and will play second or third in college. He has shown intriguing raw power but most evaluators considered him a better fit at college for now.

Auburn wound up missing regionals despite a solid, veteran roster, as the team's bullpen blew some close games and the Tigers wound up at .500. The team's top player, infielder Casey McElroy, is a good college player whose soft hands and hand-eye coordination make him an effective two-way player for the Tigers. He's somewhat oddly built with small hands and feet, and he's nimble while lacking athleticism and speed. McElroy has surprising pop, raked in Southeastern Conference play (.398/.451/.602) and has a tremendous feel for the barrel. A below-average runner, he's got a lot of similarities to Dustin Pedroia, right down to the size (listed 5-foot-8, 179 pounds), though he bats lefthanded. Defensively, he's solid at second base and lacks the arm strength to play on the left side of the infield.

Auburn's other unusual draft prospect, righthander Derek Varnadore, has a deceptive arm action that scouts don't love, but he throws strikes with it. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, he has a pro body and a pro approach, pitching off an 89-90 mph fastball and using his deception well. His slider and changeup are fringy, and his signability was tough to gauge. He was not picked last year out of Chattahoochee Valley CC. 

Among other Tigers, righthander Brad Hendrix has touched 96 mph from a low slot and has a fresh arm for a senior, having thrown just 28 innings this year (just eight in SEC play). He doesn't repeat his release point consistently enough to throw strikes. Similarly, athletic outfielder Creede Simpson is a 6.6-seconds runner in the 60 and has good bat speed. His production (.254/.324/.392) didn't match his tools this season thanks to an impatience approach and lack of pitch recognition. Senior Kevin Patterson has improved his defense and is now passable at first base, and he has tremendous raw power. His all-or-nothing approach still produces scads of strikeouts (56 in 195 at-bats this season).

After Adam Morgan, Alabama may not have another player picked in the first 10 rounds. The Crimson Tide scrapped its way to a regional berth nonetheless behind 5-foot-6 righthander Nathan Kilcrease, who spins a good breaking ball. Outfielder Taylor Dugas was a first-team All-American in 2010, and at 5-foot-7, 165 pounds, he's a better college player than pro prospect. Hitting is his best skill. He has an excellent approach, having drawn 100 walks the last two seasons, and he earns comparisons to former Tide outfielder Emeel Salem, who reached Triple-A last season in the Rays system. Dugas is a slighlty above-average runner but plays a good center field. He's a tough profile whose arm is just fair, and his lack of power and game-changing speed limits him long-term.

Alabama-Birmingham may make more of an impact than the Tide. Fifth-year righthander Ryan Woolley had his best season and could sneak into the first 10 rounds to a team looking for a bargain. A former Georgia pitcher, Woolley missed a year as a transfer following an incident in the Cape Cod League in June 2008, when police said he drove a truck that struck Cape teammate B.J. Dail, breaking his ankle and fracturing his skull. Woolley pleaded guilty to operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol in February 2009 and received a suspended sentence and community service. He was drafted in the fifth round in 2009 by the Braves, didn't pitch well that summer in the Alaska League and didn't sign, then struggled mightily last season at UAB (7.09 ERA). In 2011, Woolley finally figured out college baseball. While he can touch 94-95 mph with his fastball, he's better when he sits 90-92 with better life and command. He has cleaned up his delivery, helping him locate the ball down in the strike zone, and has done a better throwing his curveball and changeup for strikes. He's already 23 and profiles as a middle reliever.

Teammate Dillon Napoleon has excellent makeup and similar fastball velocity, sitting 89-91 mph with a peak of 93. His best secondary pitch is a solid changeup. His low elbow in his delivery costs him with his below-average breaking ball, a slider, but at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, his pro body, fine control and baseball savvy (his father is a high school coach) could help him move up draft boards.

Speedy veterans Jamal Austin and Nick Crawford also could get a shot, but both are small at 5-foot-9. Austin, more physical at 170 pounds, is a plus runner and basestealer, and he makes consistent contact. He has no power to speak of and needs to improve his short game. Crawford is more of an average runner who could be an organization player.

Samford has a potential first-rounder for 2012 in lefthander Lex Rutledge, who moved from the bullpen to a rotation spot this season. The Bulldogs' talent is concentrated in its freshman and sophomore classes, and the team won a school-record 37 games this season. A pair of righthanded relievers, Andrew Jones and Grant Sides, and are the team's top pitching prospects this year. Sides has run his fastball into the mid-90s after returning from Tommy John surgery. His 1.78 ERA this year was the best of his career by a long shot, and he still has more career walks (73) than strikeouts (70). He served as Jones' set-up man. Jones touched 93 with his heater while generally pitching with an average fastball with decent life. He throws a lot of strikes and has a solid-average changeup as well.

Catcher/outfielder Brandon Miller Miller, a transfer from Northwest Florida State JC whose career began at Georgia Tech, ranked fourth in the Southern Conference in home runs and hit 11 in league play. Power is his best tool, but it comes with plenty of strikeouts (50 in 196 at-bats this season). He has above-average arm strength, and he's a decent athlete who can play right field. His ability to catch could push him into the first 10-12 rounds. Teammate Saxon Butler, a first baseman, also could get picked after a productive .355/.436/.588 season when he outslugged Miller despite hitting seven fewer home runs.

Troy entered Baseball America's Top 25 rankings for the first time ever this season, riding the right arm of Tyler Ray, who won his first 10 starts. Ray is smallish at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, and has a solid performance track record. Command is his forte; he has walked just 55 batters in 290 career innings. He pitches off an 86-89 mph fastball with a solid changeup and fringy slider that he locates well. Ray pitches with confidence and pitches inside. He profiles more as a senior sign, but his 11-0, 2.39 season may get him drafted.

Teammate Adam Bryant is already a senior and was better defensively as a junior but has good hands and quick feet. He could stay at shortstop as a pro if he can make the most of his fringe-average arm, but he fits better at second base for most scouts. At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, he is only a fair runner. A grinder who can hit, Bryant dipped from 25 to 11 home runs but his 25 doubles ranked among the nation's top 10 in 2011. He should go out between round 10 and 20.

The state has two late-blooming lefthanders who jumped up draft boards. Alabama signee Justin Kamplain, who has a quick arm on a 5-foot-10, 165-pound frame, has hit 91 mph and sits in the upper 80s, and he throws a decent curveball and changeup. Just 17, Locke St. John worked with former big leaguer Todd Jones and improved his velocity to the point that he was sitting in the 87-88 mph range with his fastball. He's considered signable, with a commitment to Southern Union State JC.

Auburn signee Justin Camp has a thick body at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds and has touched 93 mph. He lacks projection and should step into the Tigers' bullpen, where his solid-average slider will play well.

The state's top junior college prospects are all Division I transfers. Cooper Moseley, a hard-throwing righthander, and Robert Shipman, older brother of Athletics 2010 draft pick Aaron Shipman, both started their careers at Georgia. Shipman's notable for his power (16 homers this spring); Moseley's best asset is his low-90s arm strength. The best prospect, Bryce Dial, arrived from Georgia Southern and hit 18 home runs this season. He's a fairly athletic corner outfielder.