Draft Tracker: March 23
Here are some players generating buzz for various reasons this spring. . .
Danny Hultzen, lhp, Virginia
There's no questioning Virginia lefthander Hultzen's talent on the mound. He's been unbelievable this season, sitting in the low 90s with a nasty changeup and slider, while going 4-0, 1.05 and leading the country with 62 strikeouts over 34 innings.
Rumors were beginning to swirl, however, that Hultzen's signability may be an issue. The rumor was that when Hultzen went to college, he made a promise with his father, Chris, that he would graduate before playing professionally.
While graduating is important to the Hultzens, that rumor doesn't have legs.
"I think we're waiting to see how things develop," Chris Hultzen said. "The most important thing when he was in high school was that he go to college. That he graduates someday is certainly something that we want him to do and that he wants to do, whether it's after playing pro ball or whether it's four consecutive years at Virginia, I think we're going to just have to wait and see. He hasn't particularly decided at this point, but there's no hard and fast guarantee that he's going to stay for four years, we're just going to wait and see how it develops."
Signability was a factor for Hultzen coming out of high school. Baseball America ranked him No. 79 in the country heading into the 2008 draft, but he slipped to the 10th round (Diamondbacks) because of his strong commitment to Virginia.
"The most important thing when he was in high school was that he have time to go to college and play college ball and have some friends and have the college experience and grow up a bit and not make that huge leap from high school to pro ball," Chris Hultzen said. "That's exactly the experience that he wanted and that's exactly the experience at Virginia that he's getting."
Signability will become more clear as draft day approaches. For now, Hultzen is only focusing on what happens between the lines.
"It's pretty exciting for him, but he's being sheltered from it," Chris Hultzen said. "We've asked the scouts basically to leave him alone and let him focus on his pitching."
Williams Jerez, of, Grand Street HS, New York
One of the most interesting storylines for any draft-eligible player belongs to Jerez, who moved to New York City with his father two years ago from the Dominican Republic. His mother and sister are still back in his native country.
Jerez didn't generate much buzz this summer because he didn't play in many of the big showcase events. But he's been generating some buzz this spring, especially after playing in an event in Florida a couple weeks ago as a member of Hank's Yanks, a team sponsored by Yankees owner Hank Steinbrenner that gives underprivileged players a chance to play in events they couldn't otherwise afford.
"The reason why people are surprised about him is because my ballplayers cannot afford the huge sums of money that Perfect Game demands of players when they go to workout and showcase their talents," Grand Street head coach Melvin Martinez said. "We're talking about 90 percent of the families of the kids in my high school are in public assistance. There's no way they can afford that."
At 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, Jerez has a nice, physical frame and some exciting tools. But there's still some rawness to his game, which should be expected.
"He has a little bit of pop in his bat," an American League scout said. "He's still a little bit down the road, I think, because he hasn't played against high competition and he needs to get a little bit stronger, but there's some ability there. The question is what kind of runner he really is. I think he ran a 6.76 in the summer at an Area Codes workout. I don't know if those are the times we got out of the box, down the line, so whether it translates or not into being plus, that'll determine whether or not he can stay in center field long term. He's young and hasn't played a lot over here, so it's tough to say he can't, but he's not a sure thing."
Grand Street High—the same school that produced Yankees righthander Dellin Betances—has a bilingual education program, which helps Jerez now, but he's still learning to adapt to the new language and new culture. He is committed to San Jacinto (Texas) JC, which also has an English for Speakers of Other Languages program, if he decides to turn down pro ball after the draft.
"There's only so much you can do in a year and a half," Martinez said. "They say English is the most difficult language to learn in the world, so it's not an easy task. He's understanding it a lot better. He's writing very simple sentences, but it will take another two or three years for him to really master the language."
Josh Osich, lhp, Oregon State
After missing all of 2010 following Tommy John surgery, Oregon State lefthander Josh Osich is finally showing off the talent that has tantalized scouts for years. Osich, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound fourth-year junior, is 2-0, 2.50 with 23 strikeouts and seven walks through 18 innings over his first five starts. The Beavers started him off with a pitch count around 50 early in the season, and they have slowly extended him. He threw 81 pitches over 5 2/3 innings Saturday at Long Beach State, allowing just one run on two hits and a walk while striking out eight. Osich told the Beavers he felt strong enough to go deeper into the game.
"But if he's getting tired you've got to ask him," OSU coach Pat Casey said. "We have the doctors involved, we've got the trainers involved. It's pretty much up to Josh; he gives us the guide about where he is, and if he feels he's getting tired he lets us know and we go to work."
Osich showed premium velocity from the left side on Saturday, sitting at 93-95 for the first few innings and topping out at 96-97. He dropped off a bit later in his outing, working more in the 91-93 range and bumping 94. His go-to secondary pitch was a nice 81-82 changeup, but he also began throwing a few sliders for the first time this season.
"He's made great strides every outing, we think," Casey said. "He was throwing 92-97, consistently throwing the ball for a strike, and now he's starting to spin his breaking ball. His offspeed stuff was good, his fastball was good, he threw strikes and he really, really competed. It's neat to see him come back, and I'm really happy for Josh."
Lefthanders with Osich's size and arm strength are rare, and he could easily work his way into the first round if he continues to progress as the season goes on.
Mark Pope, rhp, Georgia Tech
Pope has had a strong start and has results that stack up with any pitching in Division I. After closing as a freshman and working as a mid-week starter in 2010, Pope has established himself as the Yellow Jackets' Friday starter. He's won all five of his starts and has a 32-4 strikeout-walk ratio in 39 innings, with opponents hitting just .165 with one extra-base hit. His streak has improved to 34 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run. "I can't say enough about him," Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall says. "He gives us a chance to win every time he goes out there."
Scouts agree but try to temper their enthusiasm for Pope when it comes to the draft. Two scouts BA contacted regarding Pope's start said he remains a similar pitcher to the one drafted in the 17th round by the Braves out of high school in 2008: He throws both a two- and four-seam fastball (that tops out around 93), a curveball and changeup that he uses to keep hitters off balance, and a slider that rates as his best pitch.
"He's missing more bats than he used to," one scout said, "and I would imagine the bat has helped him a lot. His fastball has average velo, but it has some life and his slider is a plus pitch at times. He's always had a good breaking ball, and the main thing is, he throws strikes. I don't mean to be trite, but it's that simple—he's throwing a lot of strikes."
Mike Wright, rhp, East Carolina
Wright is off to a good start for the Pirates, posting a 4-0, 1.80 record in five starts. In 30 innings, the 6-foot-5, 195-pound Wright has allowed just 23 hits and six walks, holding opponents to a .207 average. He only has 19 strikeouts, but Wright is focused more on getting ground ball outs.
"He's not going to be a big strikeout guy," an American League scout said. "It's not his game. People just have to figure out if he's a starter or not. That'll determine where he goes. He's shown a pretty decent changeup, but it's not real consistent yet."
Wright's fastball sits at 90-91 mph and can touch 93 with sink. He also throws a curveball and slider, but the scout said his secondary stuff is just OK right now. The difference between starting and relieving is in his delivery. Wright throws across his body some, lands short with his front foot and tends to spin off. That causes him to lose angle on his fastball and his stuff can flatten out.
"He's been up and down," the scout added. "He's on the cusp of the top 200 type. There's not a lot of history to him so he's going to have to keep it up."
Contributing: Conor Glassey, John Manuel, Aaron Fitt, Nathan Rode & Norm Maves.