Tennessee Scouting Reports

***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
There was one consistent theme echoing across the Volunteer State this spring: Wait ’til next year. With Tennessee sophomore catcher J.P. Arencibia and Vanderbilt sophomore lefty David Price priming themselves for their draft year, scouts were left to look forward to 2007 when evaluating a lackluster 2006 class. Not helping matters was Tony Delmonico’s decision to skip his senior year in high school and go straight to Tennessee, where he more than held his own as a freshman shortstop. Delmonico would have been a senior at Farragut High this spring, and arguably the state’s top draft-eligible prospect.

National Top 200 Prospects

1. Bryan Morris, rhp, Motlow State CC (CONTROL: Devil Rays)
2. Kyler Burke, of/lhp, Ooltewah HS
3. Sean Watson, rhp, Tennessee

Other Players Of Note

4. Deunte Heath, rhp, Tennessee
5. Casey Weathers, rhp, Vanderbilt
6. Aaron Solomon, rhp, Cumberland
7. Mikie Minor, lhp, Forest HS, Lewisburg
8. Matt Buschmann, rhp, Vanderbilt
9. Stephen Shults, 3b, Walters State
10. Justin Pickett, 1b, Walters State
11. Shane Byrne, of, East Tennessee State
12. Richie Goodenow, lhp, Overton HS, Nashville
13. Rowdy Hardy, lhp, Austin Peay
14. Cody Crowell, lhp, Vanderbilt
15. Ty Pryor, rhp, Tennessee
16. Jack Tilghman, rhp, Walters State
17. J.B. Paxson, c, Walters State (CONTROL: Diamondbacks)
18. Matt Packer, lhp, Christian Brothers HS, Memphis
19. Michael Wheeler, c, Walters State
20. Ty Davis, rhp, Vanderbilt
21. Luis Martinez, c, Jackson State (CONTROL: Mets)
22. Michael McKenry, c, Middle Tennessee
23. Kelly Edmundson, 1b/c, Tennessee
24. Rob Catapano, lhp, Farragut HS, Knoxville
25. Jeffery Lockwood, 1b/lhp, Halls HS, Knoxville
26. Todd Martin, 1b, Middle Tennessee
27. Tyler Henry, rhp, Red Bank HS, Chattanooga
28. Coby Killian, rhp, Warren County HS,McMinnville

1. Bryan Morris, rhp (National rank: 29)
School: Motlow State (Tenn.) CC. Class: Fr.
Hometown: Tullahoma, Tenn.
B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 175. Birthdate: 3/28/87.
Scouting Report: The Devil Rays and Morris reportedly agreed to a signing bonus in excess of $1 million last summer, but when the old Devil Rays management failed to follow through, Morris headed off to Motlow State, where his father is a coach. He led Tennessee junior college pitchers with a 0.91 ERA, racking up 108 strikeouts in 79 innings. When he wasn’t pitching, Morris hit and played center field, and scouts expressed bewilderment at his reckless abandon on the basepaths, which led to a broken bone in his left hand following a headfirst slide. Morris’ stuff was as good or better than it was during 2005. His fastball sits between 90-93 mph, touching 95 with late life. His power breaking ball has excellent depth and grades as a plus pitch. He’ll flash a rudimentary changeup and has improved his slider. His delivery is not pretty, but his arm works and his stuff is consistent, so an overhaul isn’t likely. Because of his quick arm, he manages to overcome his mechanics, although his command is inconsistent. Morris maintained he wanted $1 million out of high school, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll settle for less after acquitting himself nicely in junior college and after failing to reach a deal with the Devil Rays.

2. Kyler Burke, of/lhp (National rank: 32)
School: Ooltewah HS. Class: Sr.
Hometown: Chattanooga, Tenn.
B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 198. Birthdate: 4/20/88.
Scouting Report: After Burke became the first high school player in the state to hit 20 home runs since Jeremy Reed did it in 1998, most clubs were convinced his future was in the outfield. He has a sturdy, streamlined frame, and showed off his athletic ability when he won his school’s slam dunk contest. He was also a linebacker for the football team. With above-average raw power, Burke can drive balls to all parts of the field, though his numbers were skewed because of a short right-field porch on his home field and substandard competition in southeast Tennessee. He has some feel for hitting, and showed a good eye during the spring, drawing 40 walks. He’s an average runner, but better under way. He doesn’t get great jumps in the outfield, but he has above-average arm strength and profiles at a corner, where he should be an adequate defender. He pitches at 89-91 mph, though his velocity often tails off to 86-88 in the middle innings. He spins a solid-average breaking ball. Burke pitches up in the zone too much. He signed with Vanderbilt, where he could be a potent two-way weapon. Similar to Twins prospect Kyle Waldrop, another high-profile Tennessee prep player who had committed to Vandy, Burke is expected to sign if he’s taken in the top two rounds.

3. Sean Watson, rhp (National rank: 58)
School: Tennessee. Class: Jr.
Hometown: Miami
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 215. Birthdate: 7/24/85.
Scouting Report: Tennessee has developed a pipeline from South Florida, and Watson came to Knoxville after a celebrated prep career in Miami that included a stint on USA Baseball’s youth national team. He was a 21st-round pick by the Giants in 2003, and blossomed into a hard-throwing reliever with an aggressive approach, after splitting time between the pen and Tennessee’s rotation. Watson has two above-average pitches in his fastball and knuckle-curveball and can dial his fastball up to 94 mph, pitching at 90-92. His knuckle-curveball is a hard, tumbling pitch at 82-85 mph. Like his fastball, his secondary stuff is inconsistent, due in part to a lack of focus on the mound and inconsistent mechanics. Watson’s arm works well, but he falls off the mound and spins out of his delivery, which leads to an inconsistent release point and erratic command. He’s not timid, but his concentration seems to drift from outing to outing. He has some feel for a slider and changeup, and can be a successful reliever if he learns to command his two top pitches.

Any Volunteers?

The buzz around Walters State practices this spring was positive, and for good reason. The Senators were sitting on a stacked team and returned to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo. They won 15 of their first 16 games and even roughed up Bryan Morris in February. As many as six Senators could be drafted.

Which one of the their corner infielders is the best prospect was the hot topic this spring. Sophomore first baseman Justin Pickett is a better pure hitter than freshman third baseman Stephen Shults, though Shults hammered more than 20 home runs and has a better body. Pickett has a good approach, showing patience, pitch recognition and a feel for the strike zone. He stays balanced throughout his swing and has a short, quick path to the ball, which should help him hit with wood. He’s a fringy defender with average arm strength. Some scouts envision him catching. Shults’ actions are more fluid in the field. His raw power comes from a thick and chiseled upper body and strong hands and wrists. His set-up and swing are unconventional, but he centers balls with regularity.

J.B. Paxson was under control after being drafted by the Diamondbacks in the 33rd round out of high school in Indiana, and he saw the lion’s share of catching duties for Walters State this spring–though Michael Wheeler showed athleticism and arm strength that could play behind the plate as well. Paxson’s bat isn’t going to be a plus tool, but his arm strength is, and could play up once he cleans up his exchanges on throws to second base. Jack Tilghman, at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, is another possible diamond in the rough. He has a strong body, a low-90s fastball and a below-average breaking ball. His delivery is far from fluid.

The same can be said for Aaron Solomon, a hard-throwing righthander who popped up this spring delivering low-90s heat from a labored delivery. He transferred from Trinidad State (Utah) Junior College and was described by one scout as the “Nuke LaLoosh of this year’s draft. He’ll throw one on the black and then he’ll hit the bull.” He has a stiff front leg, landing on his heel, and has trouble finding a consistent release point. He pitches at 87-88 mph but flashes a fastball that has touched 96 mph. He’ll also show a hammer curveball with sharp, late action.

Tennessee reliever Deunte Heath isn’t as raw as Solomon, but he’s similarly inconsistent. He’ll warm up with composure and nasty stuff–a 89-91 mph fastball and an above-average slider–but rarely holds his velocity or command in game action. He has an athletic body to go along with a free and easy arm action and relatively clean delivery. He had a huge fall in 2004 prior to his sophomore season at Lake City (Fla.) Community College but has not been able to build on that success.

Vanderbilt had three players drafted in the first four rounds in 2005, but its best two draft-eligible prospects this year are Casey Weathers and Matt Buschmann, neither of whom is expected to be drafted in the top eight rounds. Weathers offers intriguing arm strength with a fastball that has been up to 95 mph. His delivery is clean and he repeats it well. He’s a converted outfielder and doesn’t have much feel for pitching or secondary stuff. He throws a fringe-average slider. Buschmann stepped into Vandy’s rotation as its Friday starter when David Price hit a slump during the season and earned himself some money. He has good makeup and should be a good senior sign for a team looking for a player who could overachieve because of his athleticism and work ethic. His stuff is average, with a high-80s fastball and slurvy slider. He needs to pitch off his fastball more effectively.

Tennessee’s Ty Pryor has a better pedigree, with a father who played professionally in the Angels system, but was disappointing this spring. He transferred from South Florida following the 2005 season and pitched as a midweek starter and weekend reliever in his first season at UT. When he’s throwing well, he shows a heavy, 90-92 mph fastball, a slurvy, 80-82 mph breaking ball and a straight changeup at 79 mph.

The prep group in Tennessee falls off a cliff after Kyler Burke. Mikie Minor is the state’s second-best prospect, but he has a strong commitment to Vanderbilt. He features a projectable frame, 85-88 mph fastball, promising changeup and an advanced feel for pitching. If he improves his breaking ball, which now is a fringy curveball, he could become a Friday starter and top-five-round pick in five years.