Deep, Talented High School Stars Shine Brightly In Jupiter





See also: Class of 2007 Top 20 Prospects
See also: Class of 2008 Top 10 Prospects


JUPITER, Fla.--The final wide-scale high school scouting event of the year is always a test of ability, talent and skill, but simply finding the strength and energy to persevere through the grueling five-day, 80-team tournament that includes eight games--five in the final 24 hours--is what's paramount.

BEST TOOLS
Here's a look at some of the best tools among the draft-eligible players in attendance, as judged by BA's Alan Matthews in conjunction with scouts in attendance.
Best Batting ProspectJosh Vitters, 3b, Cypress (Calif.) HS
Best Power ProspectMichael Burgess, of, Hillsborough HS, Tampa
Fastest BaserunnerRyan Dent, ss, Wilson HS, Los Angeles
Best Pitching ProspectRick Porcello, rhp, Seton Hall Prep, West Orange, N.J.
Best FastballRick Porcello, rhp, Seton Hall Prep, West Orange, N.J.
Best Breaking PitchJack McGeary, lhp, Roxbury (Mass.) Latin HS
Best ControlJack McGeary, lhp, Roxbury (Mass.) Latin HS
Best Defensive PlayerPeter Kozma, ss, Owasso (Okla.) HS
Best ArmDanny Rams, c, Gulliver Prep
Best Defensive CatcherYasmani Grandal, c, Miami Springs (Fla.) HS
Most Exciting PlayerRyan Dent, Wilson HS, Los Angeles

The last team standing at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., at the ninth annual World Wood Bat Association fall championship not only secured the designation as the event's best collection of talent, it also had that key ingredient in sparkplug Andrew Lambo.

With the rest of the Reds Scout Team running on fumes, Lambo, a sweet-swinging outfielder/first baseman with an effervescent attitude from Newbury Park (Calif.) High, volunteered to take the ball for the championship game and promptly thumbed his way through five shutout innings, pacing the Reds' 3-0 win over the Houston Heat to take the title.

"He's like the Energizer bunny," said Lambo's teammate Michael Burgess (Tampa), shaking his head in wonderment as Lambo paraded outside the dugout. "He just keeps going. All week he hasn't stopped talking, keeping us loose, and he's still bouncing around like he could play another eight games."

The tournament's annual ringer entry, the Reds boasted a hand-picked roster of players from 11 different states and one from Ontario, and flexed their muscle with dominant pitching and a heavyweight lineup. Lambo and seniors Patrick Arnold (Huntington, W.Va.); Seth Blair (Rock Falls, Ill.); Chris Jones (Tampa); Bob Revesz (Grove City, Pa.); Sam Runion (Asheville, N.C.); Ryan Sharpley (Marshall, Mich.) and Tommy Toledo (Tampa); and juniors Steve Gruver (Canfield, Ohio); Walker Kelly (Fort Worth, Texas) and Mike Nastold (Cincinnati) all had a hand in the Reds' success. The pitching staff allowed just six runs--only one in three playoff games played successively on the event's final day--on its way to a perfect 8-0 record.

While Lambo carved up the Heat with a crafty approach and a low- to mid-80s fastball, his future lies in his hitting ability. He and Burgess, along with catcher Yasmani Grandal (Hialeah, Fla.) and shortstops Ryan Dent and Justin Jackson (Asheville, N.C.), formed a formidable lineup and will enter their senior seasons as potential first-round picks in the 2007 draft.

"I'm sitting there watching this team play and just started shaking my head as each guy came on deck," said a scout with a National League organization. "It was one lefthanded power hitter after another."

Rising Stock

Grandal, one of five Aflac All-Americans on the Reds roster, doesn't fit the profile of a middle-of-the-order hitter, but he helped sew things together for the Reds. One of the event's most intriguing subplots was his impressive ability to handle the Reds pitching staff. A competent switch-hitter, the Cuba native's upside lies in his catch-and-throw package, which is among the best in a draft class thin at the position, including collegians. Grandal has improved since the beginning of the summer, showing aptitude as well as ability. His hands are soft, he's agile and has above-average arm strength.

"He handled a pretty good pitching staff with a lot of different looks and deliveries," said a scout with an NL organization. "They had big righthanders with big arms, funky lefties who would change speeds, and for a catcher not to waver at all in terms of how he receives, and still pay attention to game situations, was nice to see. He moves well behind the plate and can throw, too."

Grandal's performance was understated compared to that of Dent. A fast-twitch, live-bodied middle infielder from Los Angeles' Wilson High, Dent swings the bat with a purpose and has the ability to man the middle of the diamond. When he wasn't turning line drives into doubles, he was turning in above-average 4.1-second home-to-first times.

He and Grandal may have made the biggest leaps forward in the minds of scouts in attendance, while Burgess, New Jersey righty Rick Porcello, Georgians Jason Heyward and Josh Smoker and the California duo of Nick Noonan and Josh Vitters solidified their status among the nation's top draft-eligible prospects.

"I thought that there was a really quality group of players in attendance," said a scouting director with an American League club. "Most of the guys we were here to see performed the way we would have wanted them to perform, and there were other players who have emerged as well.

"This is a complete class. There's a strong mix of both position players and pitchers."

Savory Showdowns

The event's signature showdown took place in the second round of the playoffs early on the final day, just as the Florida sun rose. Two of the country's top travel club programs squared off, with the East Cobb (Ga.) Astros edging the ABD Bulldogs 5-2 in what would go down as the defining moment in a young career of Smoker, who promises to offer many more similar moments on more significant stages.

The fiery lefty from Calhoun (Ga.) High attacked the Bulldogs lineup with a low-90s fastball, split-finger fastball, changeup and curveball. It isn't the best package of pitches among this year's talented crop of prep pitchers, but when combined with his guile and feel for pitching, it proved more than enough to help the Astros advance.

The contrast in personalities between the two teams was palpable, and each time it appeared the cool California sluggers such as Noonan (San Diego), Vitters (Anaheim) and Brett Krill (Laguna Niguel) had Smoker on the ropes, he made a pitch to get out of a jam.

Krill laced an RBI triple off the fence in right-center field in the fifth with no outs before Smoker struck out Vitters, Anthony Rizzo (Parkland, Fla.) and Daniel Elorriaga-Matra (Cape Coral, Fla.), in order, to squelch the threat. Smoker pumped his fist as he sprinted off the mound, capping his outing with 13 strikeouts in five innings and locking up the event's most valuable pitcher honors for the second year in a row.

"This is why I think these events have so much value," the AL scouting director said. "It's so much tougher to see the better hitters during the high school season because they don't get pitched to. I'm watching Smoker against Vitters! I'm not going to get that this spring.

"It's as good a competition as we'll see all year and it's games, not a showcase. You really get to see the more competitive juices, see who really cares about winning."

Pocket Aces

While more reserved and less outwardly emotional, Porcello exhibited that same will to win during a relief appearance in the first round. The 6-foot-5, 188-pound righthander needed just three pitches--a pair of fastballs that came in at 96 and 97 mph, and a 78 mph changeup--to induce a rally-ending double-play ball. He tossed fewer than 40 pitches during the event, as his coach tried to preserve him for a late-round game that never took place when his team was knocked out in the second round. But his velocity, command and easy delivery validated his stock as one of the top arms in the country.

"For me he was easily the best arm here, and he also might be closest to being most complete," the AL scouting director said. "With his fastball, curveball and changeup, and you factor in the command and the movement . . . He made a very good impression."

The same couldn't be said for Michael Main (Deland, Fla.), who skyrocketed atop follow lists in June when he flashed 96-97 mph heat at a number of high-profile events. Main, two weeks removed from a trip to Cuba with USA Baseball's junior national team, wasn't at his best. His only appearance in Jupiter was pedestrian, although he again dialed his fastball up to 96 mph. His arm strength is evident, but his command and feel for pitching at times have not been. He was touched up for a pair of earned runs on two hits with three walks. Five of the six outs Main recorded were on strikes. Scouts are optimistic he'll refine his approach to pitching.

One of the most compelling aspects of this year's draft class is the depth in high school pitching. The athletic Main throws 96, but it's possible he won't be one of the first three prep pitchers drafted in June.

Lefthander Jack McGeary could hear his name in the first round, as he continued his ascent with a pair of impressive appearances at the tournament, the second of which was inspiring more for the competitiveness and resolve he showed rather than his stuff. The Newton, Mass., product walked the first two hitters of the game then gave up an RBI double before dealing his way through six innings, finishing with 13 strikeouts.

"That's when you can really learn something about a pitcher, and he showed me he can go out there and get the job done against good competition, even when he doesn't have his best stuff," an AL scout said.

McGeary's delivery is effortless, and he's shown feel for three pitches. His fastball sat near 88 mph in Jupiter.

MOONS OF JUPITER

• The event has evolved somewhat for the hundreds of college coaches and recruiters in attendance. With so many players committing verbally long before the official Nov. 15 signing date, most college coaches are focused primarily on underclassmen, while still keeping tabs on the seniors that they've already received commitments from. There was plenty of talent on hand from the Classes of 2008 and 2009, as well, particularly from the state of Florida.

"Florida is down somewhat in terms of the depth in talent for 2007 as compared to last year, but the '08s could be outstanding," said a Florida-based scout in attendance.

Eric Hosmer (American Heritage High, Plantation, Fla.) held down the cleanup spot in the Reds Scout Team batting order and showed power, hitting ability and glove work at first base reminiscent of a young Casey Kotchman, a first-rounder from Seminole (Fla.) High in 2001.

• For those coaches and scouts who braved heavy rain early one morning, they were rewarded with a strong pitching performance from junior Tim Melville (Holt High, Wentzville, Mo.). The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Melville started an 8 a.m. game, then sat for more than an hour during a rain delay before returning--and cruising. Melville's effortless delivery yielded an 85-88 mph fastball, a good downer curveball and usable changeup.

• Lefthander Blake Monar, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound junior from Rockport, Ind., started the weekend off in style, throwing a perfect game for the Akadema (Ind.) Yankees against the Puerto Rico Raiders on the tournament's first day. Monar, whose best attribute is his advanced feel for pitching, showed good command of an 83-84 mph fastball that touched 86, a solid 72-74 mph curveball and feel for a changeup.

• Lefty John Gast wasn't perfect, but he was pretty close in a 17-strikout performance. A senior out of Lake Brantley High in Altamonte Springs, Fla., Gast had his downer curveball working well, and showed improved command of his 86-90 mph fastball in a complete-game one-hitter.

• The head of Clemson recruiting coordinator Kevin O'Sullivan had to be on a swivel during the event's semifinal playoff round. Seven different seniors O'Sullivan secured verbal commitments from were playing integral roles on three different teams that remained in contention--outfielder Chris Epps (Dunwoody High, Atlanta); second baseman John Hinson (Reynolds High, Asheville, N.C.); Noonan, righthanders Justin Poovey (South Caldwell High, Hudson, N.C.) and Trent Rothlin (Foard High, Newton, N.C.); outfielder Jeff Schaus (Barron Collier, Naples, Fla.); and Smoker. Schaus gave the Tigers a clean sweep of tournament hardware, matching Smoker, the most valuable pitcher, as the event's MVP. Schaus was 12-for-24 with at least a hit in each of the Reds' eight games.

Contributing: Aaron Fitt.