State Report: Kansas

Draft's best athlete, plus outstanding pitching depth




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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 best athlete in the entire draft, Bubba Starling has drawn the most of the attention in Kansas this spring. But the Sunflower State has a lot more talent where that came from, including an exceptionally deep group of arms. Starting with Wichita State lefthander Charlie Lowell, as many as seven four-year college pitchers could get selected in the first 10 rounds, as could Johnson County CC fireballer Jeff Soptic and projectable high school lefty Cody Kukuk.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Bubba Starling, of, Gardner-Edgerton HS, Gardner (National Rank: 6)
2. Charlie Lowell, lhp, Wichita State (National Rank: 62)
3. Evan Marshall, rhp, Kansas State (National Rank: 98)
4. Jeff Soptic, rhp, Johnson County CC (National Rank: 110)
5. Colton Murray, rhp, Kansas (National Rank: 111)
6. Tyler Grimes, ss, Wichita State (National Rank: 145)
7. Cody Kukuk, lhp, Free State HS, Lawrence (National Rank: 154)
8. Nick Martini, of, Kansas State (National Rank: 172)
9. Brian Flynn, lhp, Wichita State (National Rank: 191)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

10. James Allen, rhp, Kansas State
11. Tanner Poppe, rhp, Kansas
12. T.J. Walz, rhp, Kansas
13. Chris O'Brien, c, Wichita State
14. Vince Spilker, rhp, Johnson County CC
15. Jake Barrios, ss, Seward County CC
16. Kyle Hunter, lhp, Kansas State
17. Dillon Hazlett, of, Emporia State
18. Jason King, 3b, Kansas State
19. Mitch Slauter, c, Barton County CC
20. Dakota Smith, of, Leavenworth HS
21. Chance Sossamon, rhp, Wichita State
22. Thomas Taylor, rhp, Kansas
23. Johnny Coy, 1b, Wichita State
24. Nathan Williams, rhp, Valley Center HS
25. Josh Smith, lhp, Wichita State

SCOUTING REPORTS

Bubba Starling, of

Gardner-Edgerton HS, Gardner


Starling is the best athlete in the 2011 draft. As a pitcher, he'd be a potential first-round pick as a 6-foot-5, 195-pound righthander with a fastball that touches 95 mph. He's also a gifted quarterback who earned a scholarship from Nebraska after leading Gardner-Edgerton to the Kansas 5-A state semifinals as a senior. Starling ran for 2,377 yards and 31 touchdowns last fall, while passing for 790 yards and eight more scores. Despite his ability on the mound and on the gridiron, his future is as a five-tool center fielder who resembles Drew Stubbs. Starling missed nearly a month with a quad injury this spring, but that didn't dent scouts' enthusiasm, and he homered twice in his first game back. His strength, bat speed and the leverage in his righthanded swing give him above-average power. His swing got long at times on the showcase circuit, but Starling did a nice job of shortening it and making consistent hard contact later in the summer. His speed is as impressive as his power, making him a basestealing threat and giving him plenty of range in center field. He has the power and arm strength to profile as a star in right field as well. Starling has faced little in the way of challenging high school competition and will need to smooth out rough edges in his game in pro ball, but that hasn't prevented him from making the short list of candidates to go No. 1 overall to the Pirates.

Charlie Lowell, lhp

Wichita State


In Lowell and Brian Flynn, Wichita State has two big-bodied lefthanders who will get selected in the early rounds of the 2011 draft. The Missouri Valley Conference pitcher of the year, Lowell is the better prospect because he's more polished and has had more consistent success. He set a Missouri state record by finishing his high school career with 57 straight scoreless innings in 2008, and has experienced few speed bumps with the Shockers. He missed six weeks with a strained forearm a year ago, but returned before the end of the season and ranked as the top prospect in the Jayhawk League during the summer. Six-foot-4 and 245 pounds, Lowell delivers 90-95 mph fastballs on a tough angle to the plate. His hard slider is a solid second pitch, and he also uses a serviceable changeup. He generally repeats his delivery well and throws strikes, though his command is no better than average.

Evan Marshall, rhp

Kansas State


The state of Kansas could have as many as seven college pitchers taken in the first 10 rounds, and Marshall has become the top righthanded prospect in the group after excelling as a set-up man this spring. He began last season in Kansas State's rotation, but his stuff has played up significantly this year when he has come out of the bullpen. After pitching in the high 80s as a starter, he has worked at 93-94 mph while teaming with James Allen to give the Wildcats the best bullpen tandem in the Big 12 Conference. His hard slider gives him a second plus pitch, and his lack of a reliable changeup isn't a handicap as a reliever. Marshall isn't big at 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, and he throws with some effort, often flying open in his delivery. He still throws strikes, and he has a loose, resilient arm that has allowed him to top out at 96 mph even when used on consecutive days. He profiles more as a set-up man than a closer but should get to the majors quickly.

Jeff Soptic, rhp

Johnson County CC


Few pitchers in this draft can light up a radar gun like Soptic can, but his lack of consistency likely will keep him out of the first couple of rounds. The 6-foot-6, 220-pounder's arm works easily, as he effortlessly delivers fastballs at 93-96 mph and peaks at 100. Velocity is the one constant with Soptic. His four-seam fastball is fairly straight and gets hit harder than it should. He'll flash a plus slider at times, but it's below average more often than not. His changeup is a distant third pitch. Unless he can significantly improve his control and secondary pitches, Soptic probably will have to settle for being a reliever as a pro. Nevertheless, his arm strength and body are hard to ignore. Drafted in the 43rd round out of high school by the Royals but unselected when he maxed out at 94 mph as a freshman, Soptic will attend Missouri if he doesn't turn pro.


Colton Murray, rhp

Kansas


Murray put himself on the prospect map with an all-star summer last year in the Cape Cod League, where he saved eight games and allowed just one earned run in 19 innings. He has continued to impress at Kansas, where he has been a key contributor in the bullpen for three seasons. Though he's just 6 feet and 193 pounds, Murray generates a 91-94 mph fastball without much effort. He complements his fastball, which features some life, with a solid slider. His pitches tend to get on hitters quickly because his high leg kick adds deception to his delivery. He consistently throws strikes as well. Murray may not have closer stuff, but he could be a set-up man who won't require a lot of minor league seasoning before he's ready for the majors.

Tyler Grimes, ss

Wichita State


Grimes has better all-around tools than most college shortstops, and a club that thinks he can improve his consistency may be tempted to pop him as early as the second or third round. He excels at getting on base, ranking among the NCAA Division I leaders in both walks (57, third in the nation) and getting hit by pitches (19, 13th) entering the regional playoffs. The 5-foot-11, 181-pounder also has more bat speed than most middle infielders, though that can work against him. He takes a huge cut from the right side of the plate, leading to too many strikeouts (61 in 243 at-bats) and lower batting averages (he's a career .282 hitter at Wichita State). Grimes has plus speed and uses it well on the bases in the field. He also has a strong arm and can make nifty plays at shortstop, but he also plays out of control at times. He committed 30 errors in 65 games after making a total of 25 in his first two years with the Shockers.

Cody Kukuk, lhp

Free State HS, Lawrence


In addition to being the best athlete in the draft, Bubba Starling is also the best high school pitcher in Kansas. Among those whose future will be on the mound, however, Kukuk stands out. He's a projectable 6-foot-4, 190-pound lefthander whose best days are ahead of him. For most of the spring, he pitched at 88-91 mph with good armside run on a fastball that has reached 93 in the past. He also shows a hard slider at times, though it gets slurvy. His changeup is a work in progress. Kukuk's biggest need is consistency, as his release point varies and affects the quality of his pitches and his control. In an effort to throw more strikes, he tried using a more compact delivery, frustrating scouts who wanted to see him cut loose as he had in the past. Though he's far from a finished product, loose and athletic lefties with quality arms are hard to ignore. A Kansas recruit, he could get popped as early as the third round.

Nick Martini, of

Kansas State


Martini set an NCAA Division I record by reaching base in 93 straight games in 2010-11, and that's what he does best, as he's a gifted lefthanded hitter with quick hands, a line-drive swing and good command of the strike zone. He works counts, makes consistent contact and uses the opposite field well. His instincts allow his solid speed to play up on the bases. Martini is 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds, and most of his power comes to the gaps. He has played both left and center field for Kansas State, and though he gets good jumps, his range fits better in left field. His arm is average. Because Martini doesn't have a plus tool besides his bat, he may profile better as a fourth outfielder than as a big league regular. Nevertheless, his hitting ability should get him drafted in the first five rounds or so.


Brian Flynn, lhp

Wichita State


Though Flynn has been inconsistent at Wichita State, winning just eight games in two seasons sandwiched around a redshirt year in 2010 when he was academically ineligible, he remains intriguing because he's a 6-foot-8, 239-pound lefthander who operates in the low 90s and can reach 95 mph with his fastball. His size allows him to throw on a steep downward plane. Flynn's future depends on his ability to develop his secondary pitches. He scrapped his curveball and had some success with a slider, generating momentum in April that might have carried him into the first rounds had he not slumped in May. His slider isn't always reliable, and neither is his changeup or control. His size and plus velocity still could get him picked in the first five rounds, though teams also may be leery of the extra leverage he possesses as a draft-eligible sophomore.

Allen's Fastball Sneaks Up On Hitters

Righthander James Allen entered NCAA regionals ranked third in the nation with 17 saves, a new Kansas State record, and he broke the Wildcats career record with 31. Though he's just 6 feet and 197 pounds, Allen generates a 90-92 mph fastball that touches 94, doing so with a smooth delivery that seems to make his heater get on batters even more quickly. He has improved his slider, giving him a solid second pitch, and he has thrown strikes for three years at Kansas State.

Baseball was righthander Tanner Poppe's third-best sport at Girard HS, where he was recruited by college football programs as a tight end and led the basketball team to consecutive Kansas 4-A runner-up finishes. He's still more of an intriguing athlete than a polished pitcher. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder has a low-90s sinker and flashes an average slider, but he lacks control and command and thus doesn't miss as many bats as he should. He's a draft-eligible sophomore, and his added leverage and his inconsistency could cause him to slide in the draft.

Though righthander T.J. Walz set Kansas career records for wins (26), starts (50), innings (328) and strikeouts (307), scouts project him as a reliever because he's a 6-foot-1, 180-pounder who sits at 89-91 mph as a starter. He touches 93 mph and shows some plus sliders, and scouts like the way he throws strikes and competes. He'll be a good senior sign after telling teams last year that he wanted to return to school in 2011 to complete his degree. The Athletics took a shot at him in the 50th round anyway.

It's fair to say that no one anticipated Chris O'Brien's breakout season. He hit .272/.365/.401 in his first two seasons at Wichita State, then dipped to .197/.282/.219 with wood bats in the Cape Cod League last summer. He looked like a different hitter this spring, batting .410/.495/.643 with a 40-18 BB-K ratio even after the NCAA switched to less lively bats. A 6-foot, 219-pound switch-hitter, he took regular batting practice in the offseason and made his stance wider and more open. Though catchers who can hit are always in demand, O'Brien probably won't go in the first five rounds. He has fringy arm strength and receiving skills, though he does earn high marks for his ability to call pitches and run a pitching staff. His father Charlie was an All-America catcher for the Shockers and spent 15 years in the majors thanks to his defensive prowess.

Jeff Soptic wasn't the only pitcher drawing scouts to Johnson County CC. Vince Spilker doesn't hit 100 mph like Soptic can, but he's a more well-rounded pitcher. He has gotten into better shape in two years of junior college, and the 6-foot-4, 220-pound righthander now works with a 90-94 mph fastball with armside run. He also throws a hard slider, and his curveball and changeup have potential as well. There is some effort to his delivery, which detracts from his control. The Rays drafted Spilker in the 49th round two years ago out of a Missouri high school.

Though Jake Barrios was an all-state quarterback, hit the game-winning homer in the Oklahoma 4-A championship game and played with heavily scouted lefthander Dillon Overton at Weatherford (Okla.) High last year, he drew surprisingly little interest from scouts and four-year college programs. That has changed after he led Seward County to the Junior College World Series and showed solid all-around tools. He's a 6-foot-2, 195-pound righthanded hitter with bat speed, gap power, solid speed, and the arm and range to stay at shortstop.

Kyle Hunter is a classic pitchability lefthander. The 6-foot-2, 207-pounder won't light up a radar gun, but he will locate his 87-89 mph fastball to both sides of the plate and touch 91. His changeup is his best pitch, and he has a little slider that's effective. Kansas State's best starter the last two years, he has been drafted twice, by the White Sox in the 33rd round out of high school and by the Yankees in the 43rd round as a sophomore-eligible last year. He's related to Hall of Fame shortstop Luke Appling.

Dillon Hazlett starred for two years at Allen County (Kan.) CC and hit .324 at North Carolina last season before transferring to Emporia State for his senior year. He batted .433, set a Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association record with a 32-game hitting streak and ranked among the NCAA Division II leaders in hits (93), doubles (25) and steals (43 in 45 attempts). A 6-foot-2, 180-pound righthanded hitter, he's a good athlete with plus speed and solid power and arm strength. He played infield for most of his college career but looked more comfortable after the Hornets moved him to center field.