Missouri Scouting Reports

***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here

Missouri doesn’t get much hype as a baseball hotbed, yet it continues to churn out talent, and this year should be no exception. For the second time in three years, the state should have a pair of first-round picks, this time with Max Scherzer and Brett Sinkbeil. There’s a nice balance between hitters and pitchers, as well as between collegians and high schoolers.

National Top 200 Prospects

1. Max Scherzer, rhp, Missouri
2. Brett Sinkbeil, rhp, Missouri State
3. Jason Hagerty, c, St. John Vianney HS, St. Louis
4. Nate Culp, lhp, Missouri
5. Scott Carroll, rhp, Missouri State

Other Players Of Note

6. Kent Gerst, of, Fort Zumwalt West HS, O’Fallon
7. D.J. Belfonte, of, Rockhurst HS, Gladstone
8. Mike Pontius, rhp, Holt HS, Wentzville
9. Adam Howard, 3b/rhp, St. Louis CC-Meramec (SIGNED: Marlins)
10. Logan Morrison, 1b, Maple Woods CC (SIGNED: Marlins)
11. Shane Lowe, ss, New Bloomfield HS
12. Hunter Mense, of, Missouri
13. Chris Nash, 1b, Johnson County CC (CONTROL: Angels)
14. Bridger Hunt, 3b, Central Missouri State
15. Travis Wendte, rhp, Missouri
16. Chris Krawczyk, rhp, Missouri State
17. Jake Blackwood, 3b, Maple Woods CC (CONTROL: Mets)
18. Josh Morgan, rhp/of, Missouri-St. Louis
19. Christian Overstreet, of, Nixa HS
20. Taylor Parker, lhp, Missouri

1. Max Scherzer, rhp (National rank: 9)
School: Missouri. Class: Jr.
Hometown: Chesterfield, Mo.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 210. Birthdate: 7/27/84.
Scouting Report: Expected to be the first righthander selected in the 2006 draft, Scherzer has slipped a few notches this spring. He missed an early-season start after slamming a door on the middle finger of his pitching hand, and five more at midseason with biceps tendinitis. Since coming back from the tendinitis, he has only flashed the mid- to upper-90s velocity he showed throughout 2005 with Missouri and with Team USA during the summer. Scherzer has pitched more at 91-92 mph, often peaking at 95. While he has one of the best pure arms in the draft, he doesn’t consistently have a second plus pitch. His slider is effective but usually rates as a 50 or 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He has added a wide-grip changeup and a two-seam fastball in the last year, and he’s still refining his secondary pitches. While he has toned down his delivery in college, he still throws with more effort than Joba Chamberlain or Luke Hochevar. More than most of the top pitching prospects in this draft, Scherzer may be better suited as a closer than as a frontline starter. Add that to his abbreviated spring and his choice of advisers (Scott Boras), and Scherzer could slide into the middle of the first round.

2. Brett Sinkbeil, rhp (National rank: 21)
School: Missouri State. Class: Jr.
Hometown: Sand Springs, Okla.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 185. Birthdate: 12/26/84.
Scouting Report: The Cardinals drafted their home state’s top two 2006 prospects, Missouri’s Max Scherzer and Sinkbeil, out of high school three years ago. Scherzer has kept a higher profile in college, while Sinkbeil has become more of a stealth first-rounder. He first hinted at that status by following a 7-9, 4.84 sophomore season with a standout performance in the Cape Cod League last summer, and solidified it this spring–before straining an oblique muscle in mid-April. He went just 1 1/3 innings in his next start and missed his next three turns in the rotation. Before he got hurt, Sinkbeil’s fastball was sitting at 91-92 mph, reaching as high as 95 and showing plenty of sink. His slider is a good second pitch, and his changeup has improved. Not only does he throw strikes, but he also locates his pitches well within the zone. On his best nights, area scouts say Sinkbeil has outclassed any college pitcher in the Midwest, including No. 3 overall prospect Brad Lincoln of Houston. Some of them would take him over the region’s other top college-age arms (Scherzer, Joba Chamberlain and Luke Hochevar). While that won’t happen, Sinkbeil still should go in the bottom of the first round if he can show he’s healthy.

3. Jason Hagerty, c (National rank: 168)
School: St. John Vianney HS. Class: Sr.
Hometown: St. Louis
B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Birthdate: 9/13/87.
Scouting Report: Hagerty is one of the most athletic catchers in the draft, and there may not be a better receiver available. That’s a tribute to his head coach at Vianney High, former big leaguer Steve Bieser, who converted him from shortstop to catcher on the junior varsity team as a freshman. Hagerty had regularly clocked 1.9-second times from mitt to glove at second base, but hasn’t thrown as well this spring. He had an MRI on his shoulder during the fall, but it came back clean. Though he has yet to put up big offensive numbers in high school, the potential is there. He’s a switch-hitter with power potential, and his body easily could add strength. Hagerty could be a tough sign because he’s more projectable than pro-ready at this point, plus he’s committed to the University of Miami. If he joins the Hurricanes and develops as expected, he’ll be a premium pick in 2009.

4. Nate Culp, lhp (National rank: 171)
School: Missouri. Class: Jr.
Hometown: Glen Carbon, Ill.
B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Birthdate: 10/9/84.
Scouting Report: With Max Scherzer battling biceps tendinitis, Culp became Missouri’s top starter for much of the spring. He handled the extra responsibility with no problems, winning 10 games (one short of the school record) during the regular season. Culp and Scherzer couldn’t be more different. While Scherzer is a righthanded power pitcher, Culp is a crafty lefty who relies on finesse. His best pitch is an 86-89 mph sinker that he can locate with precision. His velocity has been consistent all year long, peaking at 91. Culp came to Missouri with a curveball that became slurvy during his sophomore season, so he’s gone to a cutter/slider he throws at 80-84 mph. He also has a changeup and still mixes in a curveball, with the ability to throw any of his pitches for strikes. None of his offering grades out as above-average, but his feel for pitching clearly does.

5. Scott Carroll, rhp (National rank: 199)
School: Missouri State. Class: So.
Hometown: Liberty, Mo.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 200. Birthdate: 9/24/84.
Scouting Report: Carroll was Missouri’s top high school pitching prospect in 2003, ahead of potential 2006 first-rounders Max Scherzer (now at Missouri) and Kris Johnson (Wichita State). If not for a scholarship to play quarterback at Purdue, Carroll might have gone in the third round then. After two years at Purdue, where he played sparingly in football and wasn’t allowed to play baseball, Carroll transferred to Missouri State so he could get on the field in both sports. He threw for 1,394 yards and nine touchdowns last fall, and his performance on the mound has made him one of the more attractive redshirt sophomores in the 2006 draft. Carroll is still raw as a pitcher, but his size and fresh arm are drawing interest. He threw 93-94 mph early in the spring and settled in 88-91 later in the season. His second-best pitch is a splitter, as he has a version that dives against lefthanders and a straighter one that serves as more of a changeup against righthanders. He uses an overhand curveball as his breaking pitch but would be better served by using a slider. Carroll wants to sign and is willing to give up football to prove his commitment to baseball. If he were to return to Missouri State and continue to make strides in 2007, he could go in the top three rounds of that draft. He’s more of a fifth- to eighth-rounder this year.

Show Me Some Athletes

One of the fastest players at the Area Code Games last summer, outfielder Kent Gerst could be the first high school player drafted out of Missouri. A Missouri State recruit, he’s considered signable in the first 10 rounds, and the White Sox have shown as much interest as any club. Gerst has 65-70 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he’s a legitimate center fielder and leadoff man. He makes contact but there are some concerns about his size (5-foot-10, 175 pounds).

Outfielder D.J. Belfonte earned all-state honors in baseball and football as a junior, and was poised to repeat that feat until he tore an anterior cruciate ligament on the gridiron last fall. At the time, he led Rockhurst High in rushing, touchdowns and tackles. Though he’s just 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Belfonte is strong for his size. He makes consistent hard contact, runs well and has more instincts than most dual-sport players. Belfonte, who returned to baseball action in late April, probably didn’t get seen enough for a team to try to sign him away from Nebraska.

Righthander Mike Pontius is built like a linebacker (6-foot-2, 235 pounds) and reminds some scouts of Bob Wickman. His stuff already is pretty good, as he owns an 87-92 mph fastball and can spin a breaking ball. He needs to clean up his command and the effort in his delivery. Committed to Central Missouri State, he may contemplate attending a junior college as a draft-and-follow.

The Marlins controlled the rights to the top two juco players in Missouri, third baseman/righthander Adam Howard (a 33rd-round pick in 2005) and first baseman Logan Morrison (22nd round), and they signed them both. Though he shows an 87-91 mph fastball, solid slider and clean delivery on the mound, Howard has more of a future as a position player. He has a short, powerful stroke, and his above-average strength could lead him to return behind the plate, where he played as a freshman at Meramec. Six-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Morrison packs plenty of lefthanded power.

After DHing his junior season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, shortstop Shane Lowe has reasserted himself as one of the best prep athletes in the state. He’s 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds with speed, arm strength and some pop. He will attend Nebraska if he doesn’t turn pro. The Dodgers have shown interest in him.

A preseason All-American who played with Team USA last summer, outfielder Hunter Mense nosedived this spring. He slumped for the first three months of the season, and though his bat started to recover in May, he didn’t start for the Tigers in the Big 12 Conference tournament. Mense used to have an easy swing that stayed in the zone for a long time. Because he tried to hit for more power this year, his stroke got out of whack and he didn’t handle adversity well. And with plenty of scouts on hand to see his teammates Max Scherzer and Nathan Culp, Mense couldn’t hide his struggles. Mense has some quickness and arm strength, but his dismal year with the bat clouds his draft status.

At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, first baseman Chris Nash resembles another hulking slugger who came out of the Show-Me State: Ryan Howard. Nash has prodigious power but isn’t as agile as the 2005 National League rookie of the year. The Angels control Nash’s rights after taking him in the 22nd round out of high school a year ago.