Draft Tracker: March 28




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If you read Draft Tracker last year, you found out about Taylor Guerrieri, Williams Jerez, Clay Holmes, J.R. Graham, Keenyn Walker and others well before draft day. Here are four more prospects on the rise this year. . .

Pierce Johnson, rhp, Missouri State
Johnson was a prospect at Faith Christian Academy in Arvada, Colo. in high school, ranking second in the state in 2009 behind outfielder Jake Stewart—who is now at Stanford. He pitched in the 92-93 mph range, but a comebacker broke his hand and he missed two months of the season.

After going 1-2, 7.52 as a freshman and 6-5, 4.76 as a sophomore, Johnson has taken things up a notch this spring. The 6-foot-3, 180-pounder is 2-3, 1.94 this season and leads the country with 66 strikeouts over 46 innings.

His stuff has bumped up a notch, as well.

"I saw him 92-94 (mph) and if you talk to the people who saw him in Texas, they're talking about him being up to 96, maybe 97," an American League area scout said. "His fastball can be a hittable pitch at times, but the separator is that knockout breaking ball that he'll throw at any time. He has the confidence in his breaking ball that other guys have in a 3-0 fastball that they throw right down the middle of the plate. He can throw it at any time."

While Johnson's breaking ball can be in between a slider and a curveball, the scout thinks the variance is intentional.

"It can get flat at times, but other times it has depth," the scout said. "I really think he throws the same pitch two different ways for effect. Because sometimes it has depth and bottom to it and other times it has the sweep action. I think he knows exactly what he's doing with the pitch. That just means he has feel."

Johnson has a throwback delivery and is repeating his arm slot more this year than he has in the past, which is helping his command.

"He's got loose whip in his arm," the scout said. "And he's like a rubber band out there. He just throws and throws and throws."

Damion Carroll, rhp, King George (Va.) HS
Coming from a small town about an hour north of Richmond and an hour and a half south of Washington D.C., Carroll is the type of player who proves that if you're good, scouts will find you.

Unlike most players who play for travel teams and participate in expensive showcase events during the summer, Carroll stayed at home and played for the Post 89 American Legion team.

Carroll has been pitching since he was nine years old but has come on strong lately. There was a little bit of buzz on him in the summer as scouts started to whisper his name and that has intensified this spring as he continues to light up their radar guns.

Carroll stands out for his build—he's 6-foot-4 and 198 pounds with a strong, projectable frame and long arms and legs. He also stands out for the fact that he's been sitting in the 92-93 mph range this spring, topping out at 95.

"I don't have the best mechanics," Carroll said. "I'm just like a raw dude that knows how to throw hard."

Scouts agree with Carroll's self-assessment.

"He's raw as a green banana, but he's pretty interesting," an American League area scout said. "He just kind of rears back and chucks it, but I was pleasantly surprised. If you want to draw up a raw, fresh arm, that's your guy."

While Carroll is a long ways away, it's easy to dream on him because of his size and athleticism; he's also the starting center on the King George basketball team.

In addition to his mechanics, Carroll needs to find more consistency with his secondary offerings. He throws a breaking ball that sometimes acts like a curveball and sometimes looks more like a slider, depending on his arm slot, which can drift a little. He also has a changeup but rarely uses it in games.

"My slider is pretty good, I'm not gonna lie," Carroll said with a laugh. "I can break it so good—I can throw it at the batter and it'll end up on the outside of the plate."

Carroll decommitted from Liberty just before the early signing period and said he's thinking about committing to San Jacinto (Texas) JC. But if he continues to pitch like he has so far this spring, he could go high enough that he may never step foot on campus.

Paxton De La Garza, ss, Coronado HS, Lubbock, Texas
De La Garza also didn't spend a lot of time on the showcase circuit this summer. He did play some with the Dallas Patriots, but didn't attend any major showcases and missed the Area Code Games tryout because it was on the same day as his high school team's state championship game.

But De La Garza is impressing scouts this spring, as he's off to a hot start. Over his first 18 games, he's hitting .368 with six home runs.

"He's swinging the bat pretty well," a National League area scout said. "He has good infield actions, he can catch the ball and he has a quick arm. He doesn't run that well, but he's got a power bat and projects to hit for a pretty good average because he stays inside the ball well."

De La Garza is 6 feet and 180 pounds. The Missouri commit said he has been working hard to improve his speed and quickness this season. As a freshman on junior varsity in 2009, De La Garza got to learn from the varsity shortstop that year, senior Jamondrick McGruder, who is now at Texas Tech.

"He influenced me a lot," De La Garza said. "Everyone would make fun of me because I wasn't the skinniest kid out there or the quickest, but he was always telling me to not pay attention to them and just work at it. So, ever since then I've just been working on it and now I'm one of the fastest on the team. He helped me become an all-around better shortstop."

Jeff Gelalich, of, UCLA
Gelalich played alongside Astros 2009 first-round pick Jio Mier at Bonita High, but wound up at UCLA after being drafted by the Phillies in the 41st round that year.

He was a backup for most of his freshman season with the Bruins but played well down the stretch. He hit his first college home run off Anthony Ranaudo against Louisiana State in regionals and then went 4-for-13 with a double, a home run and two stolen bases in the 2010 College World Series.

Last year, Gelalich hit .268/.389/.415, but this year he's on a tear. Through the team's first 22 games, Gelalich is hitting .420/.505/.667 with five doubles, five home runs and six stolen bases in seven attempts. In a down year for Southern California in terms of college draft-eligible players, Gelalich has stood out in a good way so far.

"The biggest difference this year for him is he's put on a lot of strength," an American League area scout said. "He's put on a good 15 pounds and he's cut his swing down a little bit. The balls that he's hitting now, they're going farther and he's got more confidence, he's more consistent at the plate and he's just riding it. He's always had the tools, now he's just gotten stronger."

A lefthanded hitter, Gelalich hits from a wide base and doesn't use a stride in his swing.

"He's got a slight little uppercut to his swing, but he's strong enough to have that because he can drive the ball," the scout said. "He's not striking out as much, he's a real hard worker and things are just coming together for him."

Gelalich has more tools than just his bat. He's a good athlete who also was his team's best linebacker in high school. He's at least a 60 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale and has above-average arm strength, too. While he profiles better on a corner, he could play center field in a pinch.

For Southern California college outfielders, Gelalich's skillset compares favorably to Cal Poly's Mitch Haniger. Haniger, who hits righthanded and ranked No. 49 on Baseball America's preseason College Top 100 list, has a little more power, but Gelalich hits lefty and has more speed.

Don't forget to follow Conor Glassey (@conorglassey) and Nathan Rode (@BAHighSchool) this week from the National High School Invitational for more 2012 draft dope.