17U World Wood Bat Report: Taking A Liking

MARIETTA, GA. – Continuing with the theme of players that grab my attention while out on the road, here are five players that I liked while in attendance at the 17U WWBA National Championship on the ground of the East Cobb Baseball complex.

(Note: This is not a ranking of the players from the event, and none of these players appear on my top-10 lists from previous events.)

Tucker Barnhart, c, Brownsburg, Ind.

Barnhart just adds to the list of quality catchers in the 2009 high school class. A scout once told me that when looking at catchers, if you can imagine him playing shortstop, then he will probably also be good behind the plate (quick reference: Buster Posey). Barnhart is exactly that way. Barthart is listed at 5-foot-9, 170 but is very strong and athletic. He has a compact and durable frame but is also blessed with agility. Defensively, Barnhart has solid catching mechanics and a strong arm, good enough to shut down the running game. At the plate, Barnhart is a switch-hitter, with a good bat path, short to the ball but has length through and after contact. Even at his size, Barnhart has power. In the final inning of his team’s tournament run, trailing 6-2, Barnhart drove a ball deep over the right field fence for a solo home run. He seemed to be the do-it-all player on the squad and undoubtedly has leadership skills and plus-makeup.

Christian Lopes, ss, Canyon Country, Calif.

I didn’t get a good look at Lopes until the last day of the tournament, and now I am really glad that his team stuck around long enough to be seen. At first glance, Lopes is a 6-foot, 175 pound shortstop with strength and polish. After watching him for three games, I liked his smooth actions, strong arm and range more and more. Throughout that stretch, Lopes made all of the routine plays at the premium position and two big league plays, including a play where he ranged behind and past the second base bag to glove a ground ball and then make an off-balanced but accurate throw to first base in time for the out. Lopes also showed an advanced approach at the plate and power potential as he drove several balls with authority to the opposite field. The most impressive (and most important) of Lopes at-bats was in the final inning of the semi-finals with his team losing by two runs. With runners on first and second base and one out, Lopes battled the count and eventually stroked a triple to deep right-center field. He would eventually score the game winning run. What’s even more remarkable about Lopes is he is in the 2011 class–a fact I didn’t realize until halfway through the championship game on Monday.

Evan Marzilli, cf, Cransten, R.I.

Marzilli is the lone player from the tournament’s champion, Diamond Devils, not from the state of South Carolina. A 6-foot, 175-pound center fielder, Marzilli first caught my eye on Saturday during pool play. Marzilli bats and throws lefthanded and is a tremendous defender in the middle of the outfield. He runs well, but more importantly, gets quick jumps and takes direct routes to fly balls. He also showed an above-average arm on a throw to home plate that would have easily caught the runner on third had he elected to tag. At the plate, Marzilli has a good approach and put together mostly quality at-bats. He does not project to be a consistent power hitter but does make square contact and uses the entire field.

Levi Michael, ss, Welcome, N.C.

At 5-feet-10, 155 pounds, Michael is a seemingly undersized middle infielder. However, the lefthanded hitter is solidly built and athletic and does everything well on the baseball field. Defensively, Michael is a smooth fielding shortstop, with advanced instincts, soft hands and a strong arm. He moves well in the middle of the diamond and uses proper routes and footwork to range from left to right. At the plate, Michael has the typical lefthander’s sweet swing with a level bat path and bat speed. He does not hit for much power but does make consistent hard contact and can drive the ball to all fields. He is a slightly above-average runner and swinging from the left side, has the ability to beat out slow ground balls.

Jake Zokan, lhp, Columbia, S.C.

Zokan is a pro-bodied lefthander with a 6-foot-2, 175-pound projectable frame. He passes both the eye-test and the performance test as Zokan’s repertoire boasts three quality pitches, including an upper-80s fastball with lefty life. Zokan also throws a plus changeup in the mid-70s and a downer curve ball. What I liked most about Zokan was his pitchability and poise on the mound. He was able to keep hitters off-balance by utilizing the changeup at appropriate times and commanding it down in the zone. Zokan throws a ton of strikes and can use all three of his pitches at any time in the count. Zokan got plenty of work in the tournament and was the eventual winner in the championship game.