State Report: Arkansas

Thin year in the Natural State




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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
Arkansas has some high-end talent this year, but not tremendous depth. The University of Arkansas is the top baseball institution in the Natural State and has more talent among its underclassmen, chiefly sophomore righthander D.J. Baxendale and freshman corner infielder Dominic Ficociello (both of whom were invited to Team USA's college national team trials), and freshman righthander Ryne Stanek, one of college baseball's hardest throwers.

The state has two players likely to go in the first three rounds and five players who could go in the first 10 rounds this year. Arkansas-Little Rock won the Sun Belt Conference tournament but may not have a player drafted, while Southern Arkansas doesn't have a prospect to rival last year's surprise first-rounder, Hayden Simpson. His younger brother, 5-foot-10 righthander Landon, was the MVP of the 5-A playoffs in leading Magnolia High to a state championship, but he's likely headed to Arkansas next season rather than pro ball.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Dillon Howard, rhp, Searcy HS (National Rank: 31)
2. James McCann, c, Arkansas (National Rank: 129)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

3. Kentrell Hill, of, Arkansas Baptist JC
4. Jacob Lee, rhp, Arkansas State
5. Mark Reyes, lhp, Jessieville HS
6. Collin Kuhn, of, Arkansas
7. Andy Ferguson, rhp, Arkansas State
8. Todd Baumgartner, of, Arkansas State
9. Bo Bigham, 2b, Arkansas
10. Kyle Robinson, of, Arkansas
11. Geoff Davenport, lhp, Arkansas
12. Logan Williams, 3b/1b, Southern Arkansas
13. Brandon Farley, rhp, Arkansas State
14. Brandon Choate, c/1b, Southern Arkansas
15. Landon Simpson, rhp, Magnolia HS

SCOUTING REPORTS

Dillon Howard, rhp
Searcy HS

Howard established himself as the top prospect in Arkansas early on, earning all-state honors as a sophomore, and has maintained that through his senior season. He has a strong track record in showcases and summer ball. He hasn't had a boffo senior season but has maintained his status as a potential late first-round or sandwich pick. At his best, Howard throws a fastball with above-average life and velocity. It can sit 92-94  and at times has heavy sink. Command can be an issue, but he's a solid athlete whose arm works well, so scouts can project average big league fastball command. He's played catcher, shortstop and third base in high school and is a baseball rat who has passion for the game. His secondary pitches, a curveball and changeup, have their moments but have been inconsistent this season. He has more feel for his secondary offerings than many prep pitchers, which has some scouts surprised that he hasn't had a more dominant season. Some have raised concerns about his mound demeanor and energy level, but it's unlikely he falls far enough for his Arkansas commitment to come into play. Late reports indicated his signability remained difficult to gauge.

James McCann, c
Arkansas

McCann is a California product who was drafted in the 31st round out of high school and has started for most of the last three seasons at Arkansas. He is putting together his best college season as a consistent hitter for a relatively punchless Arkansas club, rebounding from a .105 showing in the Cape Cod League last summer. McCann doesn't have any standout tools, but he also doesn't have a glaring weakness. He has a chance to hit for average and has fringe-average power, though his swing can get long. His home runs usually come on mistakes, and he has had issues with velocity. McCann has a solid-average arm and is a fringe-average receiver whose actions can get long defensively as well. His solid 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame is a plus, as are his leadership skills and intangibles. The thin college catcher crop should help him get drafted in the first three rounds.

Intriguing Trio

The next three players drafted in the state include a prep lefthander, a college righthander and a junior-college speedster.

Lefthander Mark Reyes, an Arkansas recruit, has a tremendous feel for pitching as well as athleticism and a knack for getting strikeouts. Reyes' fastball has touched 90-91 mph, but scouts like his ability to add and subtract from his heater more than his pure velocity. He had an 18-strikeout no-hitter in this year's state 3-A quarterfinals, and earned playoff MVP honors with a 17-strikeout two-hitter. His fastball sat in the low 80s for much of those games, according to evaluators, and he was able to reach back for 87-88 mph when needed. Reyes has deception in his delivery and a rubber arm that allowed him to pitch in relief frequently in the postseason in between his starts. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, though for some scouts that's just Reyes adding and subtracting off his fastball. He's considered a tough sign.

Arkansas State ace Jacob Lee had a Jekyll-and-Hyde season, at times dominating and at others getting hit harder than he did in past years, when college hitters had better bats. He has average size at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, with a loose arm that gives him two solid-average pitches when he's at his best. At times his fastball sits in the 87-89 mph range, but he also can sit 90-92 and touch 93. His curveball is his strikeout pitch, and it flashes above-average potential with good shape. He doesn't get ahead of enough hitters to use it as a chase pitch. His changeup is decent, but Lee looks more like a future reliever than a rotation stalwart.

Kentrell Hill is the state's lone junior-college contribution, and he has a shot to sneak into the first 10 rounds thanks to his loud tools. While Hill is raw at the plate, he has made adjustments to use his hands more and showed improvement. His power will be the last tool to come. The rest of his tools and his makeup earn plenty of praise. He's an above-average runner who has turned in 6.5-second times over 60 yards, and he has an above-average arm as well. Hill has the speed to cover center field and a solid 6-foot, 185-pound frame. His work ethic and aptitude earn high marks as well. He could be a summer follow, as he's slated to play in the wood-bat Coastal Plain League this summer. He's an Oral Roberts recruit if he doesn't sign.

The rest of the state isn't nearly as interesting, but there are intriguing college players who should be drafted. Arkansas State has two solid senior signs in outfielder Todd Baumgartner and righthander Andy Ferguson. Baumgartner, who has played some second base in the past, is athletic for a senior sign. He runs well and could fit a utility player if he hits enough. Ferguson throws strikes with an upper-80s fastball and gets strikeouts with a solid split-finger pitch that helps him compete well against lefthanded hitters.

Arkansas has its own senior sign in outfielder Kyle Robinson, who has power and athleticism. He struggled in Southeastern Conference play, hitting just .175. Fellow outfielder Collin Kuhn outhit Robinson against better league pitching and was the team's leading home run hitter. Like Robinson, he can be too aggressive at the plate, but at least he has speed and can sub in as a center fielder. His below-average arm may limit him from being a fourth outfielder, however. He's a fourth-year junior with present strength and no carrying tool. Scrappy second baseman Bo Bigham also should get a shot at pro ball for his contact ability, average speed and grinder style.