State Report: Tennessee

Loaded Vanderbilt team makes it a good year




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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
Vanderbilt's rise as a national college program will be evident in this draft, as seven Commodores made it into BA's Top 200 Prospects. It won't truly be complete until Vandy gets to the College World Series, however. It came close in 2010, losing in a super regional at Florida State, and had a team as talented as any in college baseball in 2011. Ace righty Sonny Gray is a surefire first-rounder, and five other Commodores—righthanders Jack Armstrong and Navery Moore, lefthander Grayson Garvin, third baseman Jason Esposito and first baseman Aaron Westlake—all are likely to go in the first five rounds.

Baseball in the rest of the state was down, particularly at Tennessee, where Todd Raleigh became the second Volunteers coach fired in the last five years. His predecessor, Rod Delmonico, is the father of the state's top high school hitter, Nicky Delmonico, who entered the year as a potential first-rounder and finished strong. He led Knoxville's Farragut High to its fourth straight 3-A championship, getting help from lefthander Philip Pfeifer, Vanderbilt's top in-state signee.

Pfeifer, a USA Baseball veteran, isn't overly physical and may not have been a high draft pick even if he were healthy. His bout of shoulder tendinitis kept him from pitching in an April matchup with Tennessee's top prep talent, lefthander Daniel Norris. A Clemson signee, Norris dropped a bit as the season wore on due to inconsistency, though he wasn't expected to slip out of the first 33 selections.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Sonny Gray, rhp, Vanderbilt (National Rank: 12)
2. Daniel Norris, lhp, Science Hill HS, Johnson City (National Rank: 16)
3. Grayson Garvin, lhp, Vanderbilt (National Rank: 56)
4. Aaron Westlake, 1b, Vanderbilt (National Rank: 59)
5. Jason Esposito, 3b, Vanderbilt (National Rank: 77)
6. Nicky Delmonico, c/1b/3b, Farragut HS, Knoxville (National Rank: 88)
7. Navery Moore, rhp, Vanderbilt (National Rank: 113)
8. Jack Armstrong, rhp, Vanderbilt (National Rank: 152)
9. Cody Stubbs, 1b/3b, Walters State JC (National Rank: 166)
10. Taylor Hill, rhp, Vanderbilt (National Rank: 173)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

11. Mookie Betts, Overton HS, Brentwood
12. Drew Martinez, of, Memphis
13. Philip Pfeifer, lhp, Farragut HS, Knoxville
14. Ben Paullus, rhp, Memphis
15. Matt Ramsey, rhp, Tennessee
16. Jake Overbey, ss/3b, University HS, Jackson
17. Mark Lamm, rhp, Vanderbilt
18. Steven Gruver, lhp, Tennessee
19. Jeremy Dobbs, lhp, Austin Peay State
20. Clint Wright, lhp, Columbia State JC
21. Curt Casali, c, Vanderbilt
22. Corey Williams, lhp, Vanderbilt
23. Derek Trent, c, East Tennessee State
24. Michael Blanchard, of, Austin Peay State
25. Matt Hamman, rhp, Belmont
26. Brandon Zajac, lhp, Walker Valley HS, Cleveland
27. Bo Reeder, 3b/rhp, East Tennessee State
28. Jack Snodgress, lhp, Austin Peay State
29. Will Clinard, rhp, Vanderbilt
30. Chad Zurcher, ss, Memphis
31. Shane Grimm, lhp, Walters State JC
32. Paul Hoilman, 1b, East Tennessee State
33. Matt Duffy, 3b, Tennessee
34. Cody Geyer, rhp/3b, Walters State JC
35. Khayyan Norfork, 2b, Tennessee
36. Jacob Wilson, 3b, Memphis
37. Michael Gunn, lhp/1b, Christian Brothers HS, Memphis
38. William Locante, lhp, Cumberland
39. Justin Guidry, of, Middle Tennessee State
40. Nathan Woods, 1b/c/rhp, Belmont
41. Will Cooper, 3b, Baylor School, Chattanooga

SCOUTING REPORTS

Sonny Gray, rhp
Vanderbilt

Gray was BA's No. 52 draft prospect as a high school senior in 2008, but a broken ankle, 5-foot-11 frame and Vanderbilt commitment pushed him down the draft until the Cubs took him in the 27th round. He figures to go 26 rounds higher after three seasons with the Commodores. He has added plenty of polish, throwing higher-quality strikes with similar stuff as he showed as a high schooler. His fastball often gets better during games, sitting from 90-95 mph, touching 97 when he needs it. His size keeps him from getting tremendous plane on his fastball, but he has the velocity to pitch up in the zone. High fastballs help set up his best pitch, a power curveball at 82-84 with downer action. His changeup has come along, and after early reports that it was a distant third pitch, he started using it more in May as it showed improvement. Scouts laud his preparation and competitiveness, so while he's tempting as a closer for his two-pitch mix, many scouts expect him to remain a starter. He could stand to repeat his delivery more regularly, and scouts haven't seen much of his change as they'd like. Those are the only chinks in Gray's otherwise impressive armor.

Daniel Norris, lhp
Science Hill HS, Johnson City

Norris entered 2011 as the top high school lefthander in the country, and he has done nothing to change that assessment. He spent last summer dealing for the East Cobb Yankees and then gave up football, where he played quarterback, to focus on baseball as a senior. Norris has shown three potential plus pitches, with a fastball that reaches 96 mph but generally rests in the 89-93 mph range, a curveball and changeup. He throws the changeup with good arm speed and has plenty of hand speed to spin a breaking ball, and he has also toyed with a slider. Norris features a clean arm and plenty of athleticism, though like many high school pitchers he has inconsistent mechanics, tipping when he's throwing a fastball or breaking ball. He has the athleticism to make adjustments quickly, and he had already improved his arm action in recent months, making it more compact. Scouts laud his makeup and passion for the game. A Clemson recruit, Norris has strong present stuff and room to improve.

Grayson Garvin, lhp
Vanderbilt

Garvin has performed as well as any Division I pitcher over the last calendar year. He was the Cape Cod League's ERA champion last summer at 5-0, 0.74 with 37 strikeouts in 37 innings. In the spring, he was 11-1, 2.08 and was a perfect 9-0 in Southeastern Conference play until his last start of the regular season. He was named SEC pitcher of the year. Garvin's performance stems from his size, solid stuff and ability to pitch off his fastball. At 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, he gets a good angle on his fastball, pitching downhill, coming inside effectively at 90-92 mph and reaching 94-95 on occasion. His fastball velocity should be a tick above-average as a pro, and he uses his fastball well to set up his solid-average changeup, which has solid fade when he turns it over. His slurvy slider is below-average and rarely generates swings and misses, which limits his upside for many scouts, and he may wind up throwing more of a cutter eventually. Garvin is considered a safe pick, and his summer performance could push him into the first or supplemental first round despite his short breaking ball.

Aaron Westlake, 1b
Vanderbilt

At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Westlake is physically ready for pro ball and was strong enough to have a strong season despite the powered-down bats in college baseball this season. He was forced to redshirt in 2008 due to a blood clotting issue, and he was drafted in the 22nd round as a sophomore last year. The Blue Jays followed him in the Cape Cod League, where he hit .292 with five homers. He had career-best numbers this spring for Vanderbilt as the team's offensive anchor, murdering mistakes, and his eight home runs in league games led the Southeastern Conference. He's patient and strong, generates solid bat speed and is an adequate defender. A gamer, he played catcher (albeit poorly) for an injury-ravaged Vandy team in 2009. He's 22, so he'll probably be pushed through the minors quickly.

Jason Esposito, 3b
Vanderbilt

The Royals drafted Esposito in the seventh round out of high school in 2008, but he turned down a reported $1.5 million offer to attend Vanderbilt. He may not get that much this time around, but he'll be close. He got hot offensively this spring at the right time, hitting .376 in SEC play. Esposito is a college version of Marlins prospect Matt Dominguez in that his glove is ahead of his bat. He played some shortstop this spring but is an above-average defender at third with good hands and plus arm strength. Offensively, he has backed up a bit. An average runner with good instincts, he has been less proficient on the bases this year (11 SB, 10 CS) after going 51-for-60 his first two seasons, and stolen bases won't be a significant part of his game as a pro. He has struggled against velocity at times and lost his rhythm, which tends to happen with players with a big leg kick. Some scouts wonder if he's a natural hitter and believe he'll wind up as a utility player, with his glove as his calling card.

Nicky Delmonico, c/1b/3b
Farragut HS, Knoxville

Delmonico comes from a baseball family. His father Rod was Tennessee's head coach for 18 seasons until 2007, and his brother Tony hit .374 for Florida State's 2008 College World Series team before embarking on a pro career with the Dodgers. Tony moved to catcher as a pro, and Nicky also has a chance to catch. Scouts aren't completely sold on his defensive ability, but he has the body and arm strength for the position. Delmonico is maxed out physically at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and is 19 years old. He had a tough spring, hitting six home runs but disappointing scouts with his lack of impact offensively. His value is in his bat, and his swing has become more stiff in the last year, perhaps as a result of a nagging back injury he had from lifting weights. Some scouts consider his swing mechanical, while others believe he just lost bat speed due to draft pressure and trying too hard. Those who believe in Delmonico believe his above-average instincts, plus arm and adequate receiving skills will keep him behind the plate, making him an above-average offensive player for the position if his bat bounces back. He's signed to Georgia.

Navery Moore, rhp
Vanderbilt

Moore has come back from Tommy John surgery back in high school to become a factor in Vanderbilt's deep bullpen. He made just three appearances as a freshman and 10 as a sophomore, totaling fewer than 18 innings, but has served as Vandy's closer most of this season and had a team-high nine saves. He didn't give up an extra-base hit until the mid-May series against Florida, when he gave up two home runs and a double. While he's not intimidating on the mound at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Moore has closer stuff, starting with his fastball. It can be a swing-and-miss pitch in the strike zone, with velocity in the 92-96 mph range, and has solid life. Moore's breaking ball is more of a sweepy slider than a downer breaker, and he has a hard time repeating his release point. Some scouts believe his long arm action will preclude his breaking ball from ever being a swing-and-miss pitch, which could limit him to a set-up role. He also earns high grades for his makeup.

Jack Armstrong Jr., rhp
Vanderbilt

Armstrong will be one of the draft's most interesting calls. The son of former big league pitcher Jack Armstrong, who was a first-round pick in 1987, Junior has really been a significant contributor only as a sophomore, going 7-4, 4.71 in 2010. He has performed well for two summers in the Cape Cod League, earning the No. 6 prospect spot in 2009 and No. 23 in 2010, and he was a preseason third-team All-American in 2010. He has jumbo size at 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, yet he's athletic enough to do standing backflips. Armstrong hasn't been fully healthy in 2011 and didn't start pitching until mid-March while battling back woes. He hasn't flashed the mid-90s stuff he showed as a freshman, though he has still worked in the low 90s and at his best has shown plenty of stuff against good competition. His best outing came in a loss as he threw four hitless innings against Florida, though he walked four and had more balls (38) than strikes (36). Armstrong throws a curveball and changeup that have their moments, but he's more of a physical athlete than a polished pitcher at this point. Signability will matter a great deal for a player who has been better in the past than he is in 2011.

Cody Stubbs, 1b/3b
Walters State JC

Stubbs drew early-round interest out of high school in Waynesville, N.C., but headed to Tennessee after spurning the Red Sox as a 29th-round pick in 2009. Nothing went as Stubbs planned, as he drew sporadic playing time and hit just .241 with three home runs, then struggled in the Cape Cod League, hitting just .172 with one homer. He transferred to Walters State, Tennessee's top junior-college program, and got hot in the second half, showing the form that got scouts interested out of high school. Stubbs is big and physical at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, and he has played mostly left field in junior college, indicative of his decent athleticism as well as his solid arm strength. He's a below-average runner and will fit better at first eventually as a pro. Scouts who like him buy the bat, with Stubbs' strength and leverage producing above-average power. His 12 home runs ranked in the top 20 nationally among juco players. He's committed to North Carolina if the draft doesn't work out for a second time.

Taylor Hill, rhp
Vanderbilt

Hill has pitched in Vanderbilt's rotation for most of his four seasons on campus. A 30th-round pick of the Indians last year, he didn't sign and has maintained his rotation spot despite the Commodores' tremendous pitching depth. Hill earned and has kept his spot due to his ability to pound the strike zone with four pitches, and he has been rewarded with fewer home runs allowed due in part to the new bats. Hill's fastball has sink and boring action and can reach 93-94 mph, though he usually sits 87-92. His slider and changeup are solid-average secondary pitches, and every once in a while he'll mix in a split-finger pitch. Big and physical at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Hill profiles as an innings-eating, back-of-the-rotation starter.

Top-Heavy Tennessee

The state's high school class, like the college group with Vanderbilt, is top-heavy. Lefty Philip Pfeifer once ranked at the top of the class, despite a 6-foot, 196-pound frame. His polish, average fastball and plus curveball with true 12-to-6 action should make him successful at Vanderbilt, and scouts expect him to head to school. Already the state's career wins leader, Pfeifer didn't pitch for six weeks until starting the state title game, getting four outs and throwing 24 pitches. He could be picked as a summer follow, but he should be a good prospect again after three years with the Commodores.

Mookie Betts was the top signee for the embattled Tennessee program, which was headed for last place in the Southeastern Conference. He could be a college difference-maker for his hitting ability, speed and solid athleticism, the last of which helped him be an all-conference basketball player and the state's boys bowler of the year in 2010. The question was whether any of Betts' tools was a carrying tool. He's an above-average runner but not a true burner. However, he has good baserunning instincts, and his running ability should play in pro ball offensively. Some scouts believe the speed will play better defensively and want to shift him to center field. Others believe his solid first-step quickness and quick-twitch athleticism give him a chance to stay in the infield, though more likely at second base than at short. He has some footwork issues to iron out to stay in the dirt. Betts has good hitting fundamentals and has excellent makeup and intangibles.

The other prep player in the state with a good chance to get drafted is shortstop Jake Overbey, who is signed to Mississippi. Scouts also expect him to make it to college because he doesn't have a standout tool. He's athletic and competes well, having played quarterback in football, and has a nice swing to go with his rangy, projectable frame. Overbey is just a fair runner and didn't show enough explosiveness this spring with the bat for most teams to consider buying out his college commitment.

The second-best college team in the state after Vanderbilt was probably East Tennessee State, even though the Buccaneers missed regional play while Austin Peay (Ohio Valley Conference champion) and Belmont (Atlantic Sun tournament champ) earned regional bids. East Tennessee State's location is remote compared to other schools, and it's not easy to scout in the Southern Conference; many area scouts that have Tennessee don't also have North or South Carolina, where many SoCon teams play.

The Bucs have an aggressive approach, leading to a lot of swings and missed but also to a consistent offense. Catcher Derek Trent was an exception, making more contact and using the whole field more than his teammates. He has shown an average to above-average arm, flashing 1.9-second pop times to second base. He threw out 41 percent of basestealers. Trent split time for his first three seasons between catching and outfield, and as an integral part of the Bucs' offense, he often rested instead of catching extra bullpens. As a result, his receiving isn't advanced. He makes up for it with good offensive ability. He adjusted his approach to make more contact and wound up hitting .351/.450/.620 with 14 homers this spring. A decent athlete with a lefthanded bat and solid (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) size, Trent is one of the nation's better senior signs.

His teammates aren't as attractive to scouts but should get picked. Senior first baseman Paul Hoilman produced with the new bats, hitting 22 home runs to tie for second in the country as regionals started. Hoilman's a masher whose 72 strikeouts also ranked second nationally. Scouts were more interested in teammate Bo Reeder, a squat two-way player who is listed at 6 feet, 195 pounds. As a closer, his fastball sits in the 90-92 range, touching 95, and he attacks hitters but might fit better as a hitter. He played third base for the Buccaneers and could play behind the plate or at second base if he's athletic enough to stay there. He's unrefined as a hitter but has good bat speed and surprising pop.

Belmont got hot late behind righthander Matt Hamman, who got hot during the second half and emerged as the Bruins' ace. Hamman, a two-way player in high school, picked up experience last summer as his team's MVP in the Coastal Plain League. His fastball scrapes the low 90s, and he mixes in a curveball, changeup and the occasional split-finger pitch. He throws strikes and pitches inside.

Austin Peay commanded its league from start to finish, and the Governors have a few intriguing prospects led by speedster Michael Blanchard, a true 80 runner on the 20-80 scale who turned in 6.2-second 60 times on scout day in the fall. He made strides on offense in 2011, becoming more patient and more consistent with his swing. The Govs also have a few intriguing pitchers, including lefthanders Jeremy Dobbs and Jack Snodgress. In regional play, Snodgress dominated Georgia Tech for seven innings to improve his stock. He works off a mid- to upper-80s two-seam fastball and has built up arm strength all year, recovering from labrum surgery in 2010. His changeup is his best secondary pitch. Dobbs, drafted out of high school by the Orioles, has more arm strength, regularly pitching with average velocity and touching 92. He locates his slider better than he has in the past and has a useful changeup as well.

Memphis has a fine 2012 prospect in hard-throwing ace Dan Langfield. He got plenty of exposure as scouts came to see outfielder Drew Martinez, an unsigned 23rd-round pick of the Mets last year. Martinez, whose father Chito played parts of three seasons in the major leagues, was a Cape Cod League all-star last summer after hitting .359, second in the league, and leading the league with 22 stolen bases. He's not physical at 5-foot-11, 172 pounds and isn't a burner either, though he's an above-average runner, steals bases and plays a solid center field. While his dad hit 13 homers as a major league rookie, Martinez's biggest problem is his lack of home run power. He didn't homer in 2011, and his lack of impact makes him profile more as a fourth outfielder.

Memphis' next pick likely will be righthander Ben Paullus, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound closer. He had just four saves for a 30-27 team but showcased a power breaking ball that at its best rivals that of Sonny Gray. He throws it with power, at times touching the low 80s with 12-to-6 break. His fastball sits at 90-92 mph and touches better. He generates two plus pitches with a violent, slinging delivery and doesn't repeat his arm slot well. He's athletic enough to make adjustments and throws just enough strikes. He limited hitters to a .170 average and should sneak into the same eighth-12th-round range as Martinez.

The Tigers' best performer was redshirt junior Chad Zurcher, one of the nation's most productive shortstops. He was leading the nation in batting and on-base percentage, batting .443/.547/.557. Zurcher, just 6 feet, 167 pounds, has no plus tool; scouts and even college coaches give him average grades for his bat despite his gaudy numbers. He has barrel control and plays hard and smart, maximizing what he has. Zurcher played next to third baseman Jacob Wilson, a 6-foot, 195-pounder who can play shortstop but is an outstanding defender at third with good hands, feet and arm strength. He has offensive tools with quick hands and bat speed, but he doesn't use his lower half in his swing. He could be athletic enough to handle second base at the pro level and may be a better fit as a senior sign.

Tennessee's disappointing season should still end with a few players getting drafted, starting with lefthander Steven Gruver, a 6-foot-1, 200-pounder. Gruver excited scouts by touching 93 mph in fall practice, then deflated them by sitting in the 84-88 mph range all spring. He also throws strikes with his curveball, slider and changeup. None of them is above-average, and Gruver's control is better than his command. If his fastball were firmer or his command more precise, he could move into the first five rounds; instead, he's more likely to go from rounds 10-15.

Teammate Matt Ramsey has bigger stuff, yet hardly pitched this year thanks to his catching and outfield duties as well as a forearm strain. At 6 feet, 200 pounds, Ramsey has strength and a quick arm that allows him to pump his fastball up to 98 mph, sitting at 94-97 in relief stints. He throws two different breaking balls, including a hammer curveball that flashes plus potential. Ramsey has 81 innings of college pitching experience and will need to refine his rough delivery, which probably led to his forearm strain when Tennessee tried to make him a starter. He could be drafted in the first 10 rounds if he has a clean bill of health.

Slugging Cody Stubbs heads up a thin junior-college crop that's also buoyed by righthander Clint Wright, a jumbo-sized 6-foot-7, 240-pounder who is a third-year sophomore. Committed to Austin Peay, Wright had average fastball velocity to go with a slider and changeup. He shows better velocity in shorter stints.