Draft Calls Tidbits

BA staffers have started their draft calls in earnest, bearing down for our mid-May Draft Preview issue, and conversations with scouts and college coaches always reveal interesting information that need not be held until the Preview issue. So we’ll be dropping some of these short updates between now and mid-May, when our full reports really get started online and in the print edition of the magazine.

• We just posted an updated Top 50 for subscribers, and we’re already receiving plenty of feedback on it from industry types. One player it looks like we’re a little light on is Georgia prep righthander Zack Wheeler, who is likely to go much higher than our No. 32 listing. One front-office official said he didn’t think Wheeler would get out of the first 10 picks; the top 20 certainly seems reasonable.

Wheeler pumps his fastball into the 90-94 mph range, touching 96, and does everything with ease, while sporting a 6-foot-4, 170-pound frame that scouts love to project. As one source put it, 2008 High School Player of the Year Ethan Martin—a Georgia prep righty whom the Dodgers picked in the first round last year, 15th overall—had better present stuff, but Wheeler’s is comparable, with more mound savvy and control and consistent, dominant performance.

• Another Georgia pitcher moving up draft boards is Kennesaw State righty Chad Jenkins, who has a burly 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame yet is far from the most imposing pitcher on his team. That title goes to 6-foot-9 flamethrower Kyle Heckathorn, who’s been inconsistent but better of late and pitched well in his April 3 matchup with Lipscomb’s Rex Brothers. But Jenkins has improved his draft stock considerably this season as he’s added velocity to his fastball, helping him to a 4-1, 3.12 mark with 50 strikeouts and just 11 walks in 49 innings. He already had good control and a three-pitch mix featuring a strong changeup and solid breaking ball. Now Jenkins’ fastball is touching 93 and sitting in the 90-92 mph range, pushing him into the first four rounds for most clubs.

• Out West, two college closers who didn’t make our Top 50 certainly could have been ranked. This isn’t a year deep in college closers, with Arizona righty Jason Stoffel the top-rated closer, but UC Riverside righthander Joe Kelly and Stanford righthander Drew Storen could crash the party as well.

Storen isn’t getting many save opportunities, even with a recent Cardinal hot streak pushing the team’s record to 15-13. Storen, a draft-eligible sophomore, has three wins and four saves, but the more impressive statistics are the 96 mph readings he’s touched on radar guns with his fastball (which generally sits 92-94 mph), and the 34-1 strikeout/walk ratio he’s posted in 21 innings.

Kelly has the best pure arm of the bunch but also has the least experience. He’d thrown 44 2/3 innings coming into this season and has just 16 more innings this year, making him one of the hardest players to scout in the nation. The 6-foot-1, 178-pounder has as much arm strength as anyone in the draft, with a loose arm pumping heat up to 99 mph. He’s also flashed a mid-80s slider and has even shown a feel for a changeup on the side. But he’s pitched barely over 60 innings in college and didn’t pitch much in high school, either. and might need a full season as a starter or in extended relief outings in the minors just to work on basics such as pitch sequences, control and holding runners.

• Scouts laud New Jersey prep outfielder Mike Trout for his tools and ability, but they also pass along kudos about his family and high school coach for keeping them informed. Due to poor weather this spring, Trout’s Millville High club has played just three games—he hit two homers Monday to push the team to 3-0—but scouts have been able to get in to see him due to constant updates e-mailed out by his parents and coach Roy Hallenbeck. "It’s refreshing," one area scout said, "the kid and the family are humble and helpful, and they are enjoying the process." Even scouting directors have been able to check in to see Trout have intrasquad scrimmages, and Trout has started switch-hitting in batting practice, though he hasn’t starting hitting lefthanded yet in games. Again, he’s only had three.