Class Of '08 Makes Modest Impression





Also See: 2007 PG National Top 10 Prospects


CINCINNATI--There weren't any of those sticky "Hello, My Name Is" nametags. No one was even privy to pregame introductions. This was the first wide-scale national scouting event of the summer, and before major league teams had time to polish off the paperwork of the 2007 draft, more than 300 of the nation's top rising high school seniors gathered in Cincinnati for '08 orientation.

It was the first chance for more than 100 professional scouts to get a first-hand look at the rising crop of talent, and, as some of the players discovered, it was initiation by fire.

A little advanced scouting report that Eric Hosmer has a penchant for depositing balls over outfield fences might have been helpful for Vance Woodruff, but that's both the beauty and bane of these events. A righthander from San Diego, Woodruff found out the hard way that Hosmer, a first baseman from South Florida, is one of the class' best hitters when Hosmer drilled a Woodruff changeup over the right-field wall for one of the three home runs hit during the Perfect Game National Showcase at Marge Schott Stadium on the campus of University of Cincinnati.

It's one big meet and greet, only instead of handshakes and pleasantries, scouts size up the new crop with stopwatches and radar guns.

"That's what it is, seeing who's out there, seeing who are the guys, who has the tools," said a crosschecker with a National League team.

It's evident that this year's class of high school players isn't as talented as the '07 banner crop that produced 17 first-round draft picks and 20 of the top 33 overall selections.

"I was very disappointed in the position players," a second NL crosschecker said. "I thought there was only a few guys that had the size and the physical strength that you're looking for. The bats were just mediocre, and although the radar gun readings were there, I'm not so sure I'm buying that the group of pitchers we saw is really all that great, either."

While several of the class' top players were not in attendance, the class as a whole appears to have less upside and depth than it offered this year. Hosmer and fellow Aflac all-American Harold Martinez (Braddock High, Miami) showed why Florida's one of the stronger states for high school talent in the rising senior class, but this year's crop is going require scouts to use a little more creativity in their evaluation, as the group of players in attendance in Cincinnati wasn't dripping with upside.

The headliners at the 2006 National Showcase in Fayetteville, Ark., for example, such as pitchers Michael Main (who was taken No. 24 by the Rangers) and Madison Bumgarner (10th-overall by the Giants), stood out for their tools and velocities, but names such as Chris Withrow (No. 20 overall by the Dodgers) and Pete Kozma (18th to the Cardinals) kept popping up in Cincinnati as the type of less-obvious prospects who blossomed the following spring.

"Now let's watch them progress," the scout said. "You saw Kozma last year in Fayetteville, and he was a nice little infielder that didn't hit. But as the summer went along and the fall went along, he grew into a helluva a player.

"There wasn't a lot to get excited about here this weekend, but we'll have to wait and see how it pans out."

Cornered Market

Corner infield was a strong spot due to Hosmer and Martinez. Hosmer has a sweet lefthanded swing with loft and leverage and a sound approach at the plate, and Martinez has been on the prospect map for many years thanks to his mature body, power and slick fielding skills. He plays shortstop for his high school team, but he'll probably outgrow the middle of the diamond and move to third base, where he has plenty of arm strength.

His battle with one of the top pitchers at the showcase, righthander Gerrit Cole (Lutheran High, Orange, Calif.), was one of the event's highlights. Cole pumped low-90s fastballs to get ahead of Martinez, who fouled off five consecutive pitches before Cole buried a 77 mph slider that retired Martinez on strikes. Martinez proved he was capable of handling elite pitching, though, when he ripped a sharp single to left field off another of the event's top arms, righthander Sonny Gray of Smyrna (Tenn.) High.

Ethan Martin might have a say in which corner infielder finishes the summer as the top prospect, however. A third baseman from Stephens County High in Toccoa, Ga., Martin showed raw power that rivals Hosmer's when he hit four consecutive pitches out of the park during batting practice. Fellow Georgian Chase Davidson (Milton High, Alpharetta), a first baseman, has made significant strides since his sophomore season and also showed some thunder with his powerful lefthanded stroke, though his defensive skills are suspect and he doesn't possess a second plus tool the caliber of Martin's well-above-average arm strength.

But the corner infielder with the loudest tools in attendance was Kyle Long, a hulking 6-foot-7, 280-pound first baseman from Ivy, Va. Long is the son of former National Football League defensive lineman and Fox TV analyst Howie Long, and he plays the game with zeal bordering on excess. He hammered a tape-measure home run off an adjacent building beyond right field during batting practice, then climbed atop the mound and touched 94 mph as a lefthanded pitcher. His mound presence was as demonstrative as his arm strength, as Long pounded his glove when he missed his spot and stomped around the mound between hitters, prompting one scout to compare him to former Braves closer John Rocker.

"He just overpowers the game right now," said a scout with an American League club. "I'm not sure what he is, but with those tools, he's definitely interesting."

Long has made a verbal commitment to play baseball at Florida State, and he's been recruited nationally to play defensive line as a football player as well.

Rise And Shine

After back-to-back 14-hour days, it would have been defensible had some of the college coaches and scouts hit the snooze button in their hotels the morning of the final day of the event, but for those that did, they might have missed the best pitcher of the showcase.

Alex Meyer's first pitch came humming in at 92 mph at 9 a.m. sharp, and the 6-foot-7 righty from Greensburg (Ind.) High must have been a dreadful sight for hitters who had just rolled out of bed.

He lives just an hour northwest of Cincinnati, and Meyer's lively fastball, 77-80 mph slider and projectable frame earned him an invitation to San Diego for the Aflac Classic in August. He's sure to be a marked man this summer as major league teams and colleges go in for second and third looks.

At 6-feet, 185 pounds, Gray is a completely different type of pitcher, but was compared by one major college recruiter as "next year's Jarrod Parker," the undersized righthander from Indiana who was taken ninth overall in the 2007 draft by Arizona. Gray's loose, quick arm action helps him create hard, sharp snap on his power breaking ball, and his fastball reached 93 mph in a two-inning outing that included three hits and four strikeouts.

Tim Melville combines the stuff of Gray with the size of Meyer, and has established himself as the best present pitching product on the circuit. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound righthander from Holt High (Wentzville, Mo.) pitched in the low 90s with a heavy fastball that he spotted to both sides of the plate.

As the case was for Meyer, this year's PG National Showcase was a home game of sorts for Robbie Ross. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound lefty needed less than an hour to get to the ballpark from his home in Nicholasville, Ky., and needed just 17 pitches to breeze through six hitters in two perfect innings of work. His fastball touched 91 mph and he pounded the strike zone with an aggressive approach and three solid-average offerings in his fastball, changeup and curveball.

A host of Ross' friends and family tried to subdue their enthusiasm as he polished off his performance with a strikeout, but as the wide-eyed teenager packed up his things in the dugout, he acknowledged the thrill of competing in such a high-profile event such a short distance from home.

"You're playing with the best players in America," Ross said. "Everyone behind you is getting D-I scholarships. You know when the ball's hit, there's someone out there that's just as good as the guy hitting."

While pro scouts weren't as enamored with their first impressions of the '08 high school class, Ross, Meyer, Melville and a handful of the event's top pitchers at least left a little something to look forward to as they continue to sort through next year's talent.

"I'd have to say the arms are a little stronger than the position guys from what I've seen," said an AL crosschecker. "(The arm strength) is the selling point. The buying point is seeing what they look like next spring, once they're stretched out and pitching in game situations."