Miami pitching coach J.D. Arteaga said he has never seen a player take a bigger leap forward in a short period of time than Andrew Suarez did this fall.
The lefthander was a premium prospect as a high school sophomore, when he hit 92 mph, and was the Blue Jays' ninth-round pick in 2011 as a senior. But a shoulder injury he sustained in high school eventually required labrum surgery when he got to Miami, causing him to miss nearly all of 2012. He was solid in 15 starts last year, posting a 3.95 ERA, but he worked primarily in the 85-88 range, causing his prospect stock to drop.
Then, this fall, Suarez started throwing 91-95 mph, and scouts took notice.
“That’s not a secret when guys do that at the University of Miami,” a National League scouting director said.
“His average fastball velocity is up 8 miles an hour—it’s crazy,” Arteaga said. “That slider is like 82-85, the changeup is getting better and better.”
Arteaga said Suarez flashes the makings of four plus pitches. At 6-foot, 205 pounds, Suarez isn’t built like a big league workhorse, and he still needs to show that he’s learned how to win, which is why the Hurricanes project him to be their No. 3 starter this spring, behind advanced lefties Chris Diaz and Bryan Radziewski.
But Suarez has shown enough potential to vault into top-two-rounds consideration for the 2014 draft. He ranks No. 23 on Baseball America’s early College Top 100 prospects list, making him one of the biggest movers on the list.
Here are 10 other players who have boosted their prospect status this offseason, based on conversations with scouts at the end of the fall. None of the players below appeared in any of our college summer league top prospects lists, and this is the first time we have written about most of them. Naturally, the list is dominated by pitchers, whose value tends to be more dynamic as the quality of their stuff fluctuates.
• Jordan Brink, rhp, Fresno State (No. 25): Brink spent all of his freshman year as a position player and played both ways as a sophomore, but he is a career .224 hitter, so Fresno State will use him exclusively as a pitcher in 2014. He posted a 3.92 ERA in 60 innings last year, and we saw him run his fastball up to 93 while flashing a nice low-80s breaking ball at San Diego State in late April. This fall he has worked at 92-96 and shown the makings of an excellent three-pitch mix, making him Fresno's likely Friday starter.
"It's outstanding makeup—I'm all in," a National League area scout said. "You could fast-track him in the bullpen or send him out as a starter, and he has enough weapons to do both. I've seen a 7 fastball (on the 2-8 scale), occasionally a plus to double-plus slider, and a changeup that's coming quick—going to be at least average. Unless his arm falls off, there's no chance he gets out of the second round."
• Chris Oliver, rhp, Arkansas (No. 27): The Arkansas righthander showed 94-97 mph heat with an 85-86 power slider as a sophomore last spring—good enough to earn him 20 innings (mostly in middle relief) on the Hogs' absurdly deep staff. Scouts say he made progress with a changeup this fall, giving him at least a chance to start, but his arm strength and ideal pitcher's frame could make him a supplemental first-round pick even as a reliever.
• Chad Sobotka, rhp, USC-Upstate (No. 36): The junior righty has 19 saves in two seasons as South Carolina-Upstate's closer, and he caught scouts' attention by showing 95-96 mph heat in the Cape Cod League this summer. But he struggled to repeat his delivery, and his secondary stuff was underdeveloped.
"He's 6-foot-6, and he can light up the gun," a National League crosschecker said. "His breaking stuff has got to get better, and he's got to learn to pitch better. He's got to prove it to me, but he could really make a jump."
• Austin Byler, 3b/1b, Nevada (No. 42): After hitting .346/.424/.566 with eight homers as a sophomore at Nevada last spring, Byler struggled in an 11-game stint in the Cape League. But his gap-to-gap stroke and power potential makes gives him a chance to reach the big leagues as a first baseman even if he can't stick at the hot corner, where he plays now.
"This guy's a big leaguer for me," an AL area scout said. "He's every bit of 220 pounds right now, but he runs surprisingly well for his size—above-average underway. The power might be a 60, but I think you could conservatively go 50 hit, 50 power on him. He's a proven commodity; he's always hit."
• Wyatt Strahan, rhp, Southern California (No. 52): Control has been an issue for Strahan during his first two seasons at Southern California, as his career 61-63 walk-strikeout mark attests. But the physical righthander posted a 1.37 ERA as a reliever in 2012 and a 2.45 ERA as a starter last year, showing a knack for pitching out of trouble. Scouts don't love his rather stiff, upright delivery, but his arm strength is intriguing, and his repertoire was significantly improved this fall.
"He's really good. I saw him 93-95, and he touched 97," an AL area scout said. "When he's on top of the ball, he's got some arm-side life and sink, and the breaking ball is pretty good too—it has tightened up. It's a (slider/curveball) hybrid with some power and depth to it."
Another scout saw an average breaking ball and "a surprisingly nice changeup" from Strahan this fall.
• Nick Torres, of, Cal Poly (No. 79): As the No. 3-hole hitter for Cal Poly's regional team, Torres hit .333/.376/.520 with seven homers last spring, putting himself on the map. A hamstring injury hampered him this fall, but scouts who saw him at his best were intrigued by his right-field tool set.
"He's got a great body, a plus arm and can really play right field," a West Coast crosschecker said. "I think he's going to be a pretty good draft. He's a big, strong dude, but he's kind of a sleeper because he hasn't been in the Cape."
• Austin Davis, lhp, Cal State Bakersfield (No. 83): A true sleeper, Davis posted a 6.49 ERA as a freshman in 2012 and redshirted in 2013. But the 6-foot-5, 240-pound lefthander showed 91-94 mph heat this fall, along with a promising 79-81 slurve and good feel for a high-70s changeup with fade. His delivery has some rigidity, and he has a lot to prove, but he is ticketed for a slot in Cal State Bakersfield's weekend rotation this spring. If he succeeds, he could shoot up draft boards, because hulking lefties with his arm strength are tough to find.
• Daniel Savas (No. 92), rhp, Illinois State: Despite going 10-0, 1.79 as a redshirt sophomore last spring, Savas went undrafted, as area scouts were not impressed with the quality of his stuff. Then he went to the Cape Cod League and earned all-star honors, showing good enough stuff to make crosscheckers and scouting directors wonder how the 6-foot-5 righthander slipped through the cracks.
"He's the kid that I think ends up being a sleeper for some people," a national crosschecker said. "He could go in the middle rounds, 4-7, or a whole lot better. And nobody was talking about him last year." At his best, Savas has shown 90-94 heat and a solid 80-81 slurve with good depth, but his changeup needs refinement.
• Zach Thompson (No. 94): A physical 6-foot-6 righthander, Thompson had a 5.33 ERA in 81 innings as a sophomore last spring, posting an uninspiring 26-33 BB-SO mark. He showed better stuff and command this fall.
"It's a plus fastball—he'll pitch 92-93 and even give you some 94s and 95s, with a hard downer breaking ball," another NL crosschecker said. "The changeup was pretty good too. It's a big body, but it's pretty functional."
• Jose Lopez, rhp, Seton Hall (No. 100): Lopez has been a dependable setup man and spot starter for two seasons at Seton Hall, and four of his nine appearances in the Cape League last summer were starts. He posted a 4.90 ERA in the Cape, but he opened eyes by showing 96-98 mph heat in one-inning stints after the summer. At 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Lopez has a slight build but a quick arm, and he has the makings of a solid slider.
|COLLEGE TOP 100|
|No., Player, Pos., School||B-T||Ht.||Wt.||Previously Drafted|
|1. Carlos Rodon, lhp, North Carolina State||L-L||6-3||234||Brewers '11 (16)|
|2. Jeff Hoffman, rhp, East Carolina||R-R||6-4||192||Never|
|3. Trea Turner, ss, North Carolina State||R-R||6-1||171||Pirates '11 (20)|
|4. Tyler Beede, rhp, Vanderbilt||R-R||6-4||215||Blue Jays '11 (1)|
|5. Aaron Nola, rhp, Louisiana State||R-R||6-1||183||Blue Jays '11 (22)|
|6. Luke Weaver, rhp, Florida State||R-R||6-2||170||Blue Jays '11 (19)|
|7. Michael Conforto, of, Oregon State||L-R||6-1||215||Never|
|8. Bradley Zimmer, of, San Francisco||L-R||6-5||205||Cubs '11 (23)|
|9. Kyle Freeland, lhp, Evansville||L-L||6-3||170||Phillies '11 (35)|
|10. Derek Fisher, of, Virginia||L-R||6-3||210||Rangers '11 (6)|
|11. Michael Cederoth, rhp, San Diego State||R-R||6-6||210||Diamondbacks '11 (41)|
|12. Nick Burdi, rhp, Louisville||R-R||6-4||218||Twins '11 (24)|
|13. Brandon Finnegan, lhp, Texas Christian||L-L||5-11||184||Rangers '11 (45)|
|14. Matt Chapman, 3b/rhp, Cal State Fullerton||R-R||6-2||215||Never|
|15. Sean Newcomb, lhp, Hartford||L-L||6-5||240||Never|
|16. Kyle Schwarber, c/1b, Indiana||L-L||6-0||235||Never|
|17. Erick Fedde, rhp, UNLV||R-R||6-4||165||Padres '11 (24)|
|18. Max Pentecost, c, Kennesaw State||R-R||6-1||190||Rangers '11 (7)|
|19. Taylor Sparks, 3b/1b, UC Irvine||R-R||6-4||215||Indians '11 (24)|
|20. J.D. Davis, 1b/3b/rhp, Cal State Fullerton||R-R||6-3||215||Rays '11 (5)|
|21. Dylan Davis, of/rhp, Oregon State||R-R||6-0||210||Never|
|22. Matt Imhof, lhp, Cal Poly||L-L||6-5||220||Never|
|23. Andrew Suarez, lhp, Miami||L-L||6-0||205||Blue Jays '11 (9)|
|24. Grayson Greiner, c, South Carolina||R-R||6-5||210||Never|
|25. Jordan Brink, rhp, Fresno State||L-R||6-1||180||Never|
|26. Scott Heineman, of, Oregon||R-R||6-1||190||Never|
|27. Chris Oliver, rhp, Arkansas||R-R||6-4||180||Orioles '11 (27)|
|28. Casey Gillaspie, 1b, Wichita State||B-L||6-4||238||Never|
|29. Alex Blandino, 3b, Stanford||R-R||6-0||190||Athletics '11 (38)|
|30. Dillon Peters, lhp, Texas||L-L||5-11||200||Indians '11 (20)|
|31. Zech Lemond, rhp, Rice||R-R||6-4||195||Pirates '11 (50)|
|32. Brian Anderson, 2b/3b/of, Arkansas||R-R||6-3||185||Twins '11 (20)|
|33. Brandon Woodruff, rhp, Mississippi State||L-R||6-2||225||Rangers '11 (5)|
|34. Pat Connaughton, rhp, Notre Dame||R-R||6-5||205||Padres '11 (38)|
|35. Sam Coonrod, rhp, Southern Illinois||R-R||6-1||205||Never|
|36. Chad Sobotka, rhp, South Carolina-Upstate||R-R||6-6||195||Never|
|37. Jordan Foley, rhp, Central Michigan||R-R||6-3||214||Yankees '11 (26)|
|38. Greg Allen, of, San Diego State||B-R||6-0||165||Never|
|39. Mike Papi, of/1b, Virginia||L-R||6-3||210||Angels '11 (30)|
|40. Joey Pankake, 3b/rhp, South Carolina||R-R||6-1||200||Rangers '11 (42)|
|41. Ross Kivett, 2b, Kansas State||R-R||6-1||200||Indians '13 (10)|
|42. Austin Byler, 3b/1b, Nevada||L-R||6-3||225||Never|
|43. Nick Howard, 3b/rhp, Virginia||R-R||6-4||215||Never|
|44. Aramis Garcia, c, Florida International||R-R||6-2||220||Cardinals '11 (20)|
|45. Daniel Mengden, rhp, Texas A&M||R-R||6-1||215||Never|
|46. Parker French, rhp, Texas||L-R||6-2||210||Never|
|47. Branden Cogswell, ss, Virginia||L-R||6-2||180||Never|
|48. Ben Smith, lhp, Coastal Carolina||L-L||6-2||190||Never|
|49. Jace Fry, lhp, Oregon State||L-L||6-0||194||Athletics '11 (9)|
|50. Sam Travis, 1b, Indiana||R-R||6-0||205||Never|
|51. Michael Suchy, of, Florida Gulf Coast||R-R||6-4||230||Never|
|52. Wyatt Strahan, rhp, Southern California||R-R||6-3||195||Diamondbacks '11 (27)|
|53. Brandon Downes, of, Virginia||R-R||6-3||200||Red Sox '11 (43)|
|54. Scott Squier, lhp, Hawaii||L-L||6-5||190||Tigers '11 (21)|
|55. Spencer Turnbull, rhp, Alabama||R-R||6-3||220||Never|
|56. Jake Reed, rhp, Oregon||R-R||6-2||190||White Sox '11 (40)|
|57. Lukas Schiraldi, rhp, Texas||R-R||6-4||197||Nationals '13 (35)|
|58. Colin Welmon, rhp, Loyola Marymount||L-R||6-3||190||Never|
|59. Connor Joe, c/1b, San Diego||R-R||6-0||205||Never|
|60. Chris Marconcini, 1b/of, Duke||L-L||6-5||230||Never|
|61. James Norwood, rhp, Saint Louis||R-R||6-2||200||Never|
|62. Jacob Lindgren, lhp, Mississippi State||R-L||5-11||206||Cubs '11 (12)|
|63. A.J. Vanegas, rhp, Stanford||R-R||6-3||215||Athletics '13 (19)|
|64. John Curtiss, rhp, Texas||R-R||6-4||200||Rockies '11 (30)|
|65. *Mark Laird, of, Louisiana State||L-L||6-1||172||Never|
|66. Ben Wetzler, lhp, Oregon State||L-L||6-1||209||Phillies '13 (5)|
|67. Boo Vazquez, of, Pittsburgh||L-R||6-4||215||Rockies '11 (38)|
|68. Rhys Hoskins, of, Sacramento State||R-R||6-4||225||Never|
|69. Benton Moss, rhp, North Carolina||R-R||6-2||174||Never|
|70. Chandler Shepherd, rhp, Kentucky||R-R||6-2||185||White Sox '11 (41)|
|71. Logan Jernigan, rhp, North Carolina State||R-R||6-3||201||Never|
|72. Sam Howard, lhp, Georgia Southern||L-L||6-3||170||Cubs '11 (48)|
|73. Jalen Beeks, lhp, Arkansas||L-L||5-11||180||Never|
|74. Adam Ravenelle, rhp, Vanderbilt||R-R||6-2||190||Yankees '11 (44)|
|75. Jordan Ramsey, rhp, UNC Wilmington||L-R||6-4||205||Royals '11 (28)|
|76. Matt Troupe, rhp, Arizona||R-R||6-2||195||Yankees ’11 (17)|
|77. Daniel Gossett, rhp, Clemson||R-R||6-0||180||Red Sox '11 (16)|
|78. Hunter Cole, of, Georgia||R-R||6-1||186||Nationals '11 (49)|
|79. Nick Torres, of, Cal Poly||R-R||6-1||210||Never|
|80. David Lucroy, rhp, East Carolina||R-R||6-2||220||Brewers '11 (29)|
|81. Dante Flores, 2b/of, Southern California||L-R||5-10||160||Padres '11 (41)|
|82. Mason Robbins, of, Southern Mississippi||L-L||6-0||205||Mets '11 (20)|
|83. Austin Davis, lhp, Cal State Bakersfield||L-L||6-5||240||Never|
|84. Chris Ellis, rhp, Mississippi||L-R||6-5||205||Dodgers '11 (50)|
|85. A.J. Reed, lhp/1b, Kentucky||L-L||6-4||245||Mets '11 (25)|
|86. Austin Robichaux, rhp, Louisiana-Lafayette||R-R||6-6||170||Reds '11 (50)|
|87. Jared Miller, lhp, Vanderbilt||L-L||6-6||235||Never|
|88. Brett Austin, c, North Carolina State||B-R||6-1||190||Padres '11 (1s)|
|89. Kevin Kramer, ss/3b, UCLA||L-R||6-0||194||Indians '11 (25)|
|90. Chris Mariscal, ss, Fresno State||R-R||5-11||175||Orioles '11 (41)|
|91. Evan Beal, rhp, South Carolina||R-R||6-4||190||Royals '11 (8)|
|92. Daniel Savas, rhp, Illinois State||R-R||6-5||220||Never|
|93. Aaron Brown, lhp/of, Pepperdine||L-L||6-1||222||Pirates ’11 (17)|
|94. Zach Thompson, rhp, Texas-Arlington||R-R||6-6||210||Pirates '11 (48)|
|95. Nigel Nootbaar, rhp, Southern California||B-R||6-1||185||Never|
|96. Dustin DeMuth, 3b, Indiana||L-R||6-3||205||Twins '11 (8)|
|97. Austin Cousino, of, Kentucky||L-L||5-10||180||Never|
|98. Jonathan Holder, rhp, Mississippi State||R-R||6-2||229||Never|
|99. Ashton Perritt, rhp/of, Liberty||R-R||6-3||195||Never|
|100. Jose Lopez, rhp, Seton Hall||R-R||6-1||180||Never|