It's rare for a draft prospect to enter the spring as an unknown. Even if the player hasn't had any national exposure, the overwhelming majority of prospects and suspects--players who scouts think could prove to be prospects in the spring--are known by area scouts who are responsible for knowing about every prospect in their territory.
The term "pop-up guy" is thrown around loosely, often used to categorize players who rise up draft boards and weren't previously in consideration for an early pick. Sometimes it's a player who was known and got much better in the spring; this is the case for prospects such as Sam Carlson (Minnesota), James Marinan (Florida) and Matt Tabor (Massachusetts).
But sometimes players "pop up" in a different way. Sometimes unknown prospects rise due to the halo effect, wherein a top prospect brings scouts to the yard, and those evaluators come away impressed with one of the player's teammates or opponents.
Charlie Neuweiler is this spring's most prominent beneficiary of the halo effect. A righthanded pitcher at Monsignor McClancy High (East Elmhurst, N.Y.), Neuweiler has been seen by scouting directors, national crosscheckers and front office officials who came to see star teammate Quentin Holmes this spring. Neuweiler is committed to play at LIU-Brooklyn next season, but some scouts see him going as high as the fifth round.
"This spring it started clicking for me that these guys really have interest in me and that I have a chance to get to the next level," Neuweiler said.
He hadn't received much attention from professional evaluators prior to this spring, but a National League area scout saw him throwing an indoor bullpen in the winter and told Neuweiler he'd have a chance to prove himself when scouts came to see Holmes.
"He saw me throwing in the bullpen and told me that guys were going to come see Q," Neuweiler said. "He told me if I worked hard and pitched well I could have a shot to go pro."
Neuweiler has done just that. He's not a first-round prospect, but he's got some elements that intrigue evaluators. He's got a sturdy, broad-shouldered build at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds. Neuweiler flashes late life on his fastball, which worked at 87-89 mph when Baseball America saw him in early April, but has ticked up to 88-92 as the spring has unfolded. His most appealing attribute, however, is his wicked breaking ball.
"I learned the curveball in eighth grade. It's a spike curve," he said. "It's definitely my out pitch. I feel comfortable throwing it 0-2 or 3-2."
Young pitchers often struggle to repeat the spin on a spike curveball. Scouts note that Neuweiler's breaking ball will need to become more consistent for him as he matures and progresses up the ladder, but it flashes hard and tight break and low 80s velocity, and it looks like his fastball when it comes out of his hand. On the right day, the pitch earns plus grades from scouts. On the wrong day, scouts grade it as below-average, a 40 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale.
"I hear guys say he's not that projectable," one area scout said. "How much do you have to project? He isn't hitting 94-95. But there's a bunch of guys who hit those numbers and fall off to the upper 80s in the second inning. Charlie sits 89-91 the whole game."
"Get this kid on a pro strength and conditioning program and you might get him to sit 91-92 with life and a big league breaking ball."
Evaluators are afraid to go all-in on Neuweiler. Some area scouts who saw him early in the spring didn't raise the flag on him to have their bosses bear down on Neuweiler when they went to see Holmes.
"I'd have a hard time giving him sixth round money," a second area scout said. "It's a pretty comfortable at-bat when he doesn't have that breaking ball going for him. He's not a safe pick. If that breaking ball is always going to be hit or miss what do we have?"
That line of thinking leads to some uncertainty about Neuweiler's ultimate role. He's a starter for now and he's shown enough flashes to give that a shot at the next level, but he could end up in the bullpen in the end.
Neuweiler wasn't expecting all the attention he's received this spring, but he's had Holmes to help guide him through the process and help him stay focused on the task at hand.
"We really haven't talked about the scouts a lot," Neuweiler said. "We just try to focus on what's in between the lines. I've asked him about what the scouts are going to ask and what they're like, but we're really more focused on winning a state championship right now."
Scouts who like Neuweiler laud his attitude and the way he interacts with teammates and coaches. The righthander has earned the recognition he's received, but he's quick to give credit to those around him.
"I would like to give a huge thank you to my parents, my family and my coaches," Neuweiler said. "Especially my high school coach Nick Melito for helping me become the person I am today on and off the field."
Being likable can take a prospect a long way on draft day. There are area scouts who will pound the table for their teams to take Neuweiler, and all their bosses have seen him pitch, so there's a foundation for a team to justify selecting him relatively early in the draft. It isn't exactly clear where he'll land, but Neuweiler could be a good value pick for a team on the second day of the draft.
"Since I started playing ball, it's been my dream to get drafted and make it to the big leagues," he said. "If the opportunity is there and the price is right, I'd love to go out and play pro ball."