Pitchers star at East Coast Showcase

By Alan Matthews
Updated August 08, 2005

WILMINGTON, N.C.–After two intense months of evaluating rising high school seniors–following a 2005 draft that featured 19 high school players taken in the first and supplemental rounds–scouts say the Class of 2006 is a tick below last year’s in overall talent.

The annual East Coast Professional Showcase provided more than 400 scouts and college recruiters a long look at next year’s East Coast crop. And while the class appears to lack premium position players like Justin Upton or Cameron Maybin, and polished power pitchers, it does offer intriguing arms and a handful of hitters who have considerable ceilings.

“Overall, there were some very interesting guys,” a scout with an American League organization said. “No definite first-round position players but a lot of guys you would love get in the second or third round.”

About 150 players from 26 states came to Wilmington, filling out rosters of six teams competing in four games over a four-day span. The electric arms came out on day three.

Righthander Jeremy Jeffress from Halifax County High of South Boston, Va., lit up radar guns, touching 98 mph on some and pitching at 95 on the Baseball America Stalker gun. He polished off the side in his first inning by blowing a 97 mph fastball by Andrew Clark, a powerful lefthanded hitter from New Palestine (Ind.) High who will be Jeffress’ teammate at the upcoming Aflac All-American game. Jeffress established himself as one of the top pitching prospects in the class, showing good control of his fastball from a three-quarters arm slot. His slider sat at 79 mph, though he needs to tighten it a touch.

“I saw the whole East Coast this year and I didn’t see one person hit 98, and he did it three times,” one crosschecker said. “He really impressed a lot of people there and he appears to have a decent feel for the zone. He’s got a long way to go with the secondary stuff, his breaking ball is just okay, but when you’re running 96s and 97s up there, as long as you can get your breaking ball near the zone, you’ve got enough to make someone (draft you high) and work with it.”

One game featured five arms that could potentially become high-round picks, including all three of the pitchers on the Reds team, made up of players from Florida.

Lefthander Bryan Morgado of Miami’s Florida Christian High started and struck out four in three frames, flashing a slider that at times was a plus pitch with tight rotation and late break. His feel for pitching is advanced, as he added and subtracted velocity off his fastball, ranging from 84-89 mph.

Colton Willems, a 6-foot-4 righthander from Fort Pierce, was equally impressive in relief of Morgado, tossing three shutout innings with a hit and four strikeouts. Carmen Giardina of Durant High in Valrico touched 90 mph from a high arm slot that allows him to pitch downhill with late life on his four-pitch mix. His changeup was one of best at the event.

“Coming in to (the third day), I would have just said the arms are about like they always are–some good guys but nothing overly impressive at the top and not the deepest bunch. But after seeing five guys trot out there and show the stuff they did, I think I’d have to say the arms are a pretty good class,” one scout said. “Jeffress . . . (Matt) Latos, these guys aren’t the total package like a Gavin Floyd, Zack Greinke or Chris Volstad. They’ve got power but you’ve still got some questions about the secondary stuff and the control. But there’s reason to be optimistic about next spring, and the group behind (Jeffress and Latos) is deep and solid.”

Righthanders Ryan Butner and Nick Fuller were among the pitchers opposing the Reds’ trio. Butner’s opening inning was arguably the most impressive all week–until Fuller trumped him. The 6-foot-4, 170-pound Butner, from Hialeah (Fla.) High, painted the outside corner with an 88 mph fastball to catch Ryan Jackson looking, then carved up John Tolisano, one of the event’s best hitters.

Fuller featured a fastball/slider mix that one scout compared to Brad Lidge’s, as he ran 93 mph fastballs over both corners of the plate and spun an 83 mph slider with excellent, sharp break.

Jackson and Tolisano were two of the Reds’ handful of impressive position players, and it looks like Floridawill be loaded with premium prospects for 2006. Jonathan Pigott from Seabreeze High in Daytona Beachmade the biggest leap forward of any player. A sturdy, 6-foot-2, 190-pound outfielder, Pigott has above-average tools across the board, including a short, powerful swing that was just as impressive in games as it was batting practice. He went 5-for-11 during the showcase, including a line-drive home run offBaltimore’s Neal Davis on the opening day. Chris Duffy from Orlando’s Cypress Creek High also has a powerful stroke and plays with passion.

Max Sapp’s prowess at the plate was less surprising, as he’s been recognized as an outstanding hitter since his youth days, but the lefthanded-hitting catcher fortified his reputation with another good showing.

Beach Balls

• The aforementioned Matt Latos continued his impressive summer. In his first game action since touching 96 mph at the World Wood Bat Association Summer Championship, an outing in which he threw well over 100 pitches, the 6-foot-5 righthander was dominant albeit with less velocity. Latos threw three innings and retired all nine hitters he faced while fanning six. Latos pitched at 91 mph, touching 93 with good arm-side run.

• Latos’ teammate Marcus Lemon also opened some eyes, particularly in the field. The son of former big leaguer Chet, Marcus displayed impressive range at shortstop. His performance was even more remarkable when you consider that he was playing with 17 stitches and 11 staples in his right leg, the result of catching the spikes of a catcher while sliding into the plate at a recent tournament in Florida. Lemon reopened the wound while stealing third in his first game of the week, but was back in the lineup the next day after going to the emergency room to get re-stitched up.

• One of the more complete players at the event was Ryan Adams of Jesuit High in New Orleans. Adamsdisplayed a wide range of skills from soft hands in the field to 4.2 speed to first base from the right side. The shortstop also exhibited impressive bat speed as he doubled off of a Jeffress’ fastball.

“Adams impressed me. He’s one of those guys (whose tools don’t jump out) at a showcase like this but he could turn out to be an Aaron Hill or a Khalil Greene,” said one AL scout. “At the end of the day you realize he’s outplayed everybody here. It looks like he can play shortstop and he can really swing the bat.”

• Similar to Pigott, Drew Poulk was another hitter who broke out at the event. Although he couldn’t run at full speed due to a pulled quadriceps muscle, the outfielder from Morehead City, N.C., put on an impressive show in batting practice as he put numerous balls over the fence. Poulk, whose brother plays for UNC-Wilmington, brought that same pop to game action, as he hit a home run to dead center field in his first game.

• One of a bevy of southpaws who emerged at the event was Matthew Petiton from Garden City (N.Y) High. Petiton features a deliberate delivery with a high leg kick that evokes Dontrelle Willis. Petiton’s fastball sat in the high 80s and he controlled it, as well as his secondary stuff, impressively. His command wavered when he pitched from the stretch, but he boasts a wicked pickoff move.

Matt Bryant of Falmouth, Va., had one of the longest and strongest pitching performances of the week. The 6-foot-4 righthander tossed four shutout innings against a loaded Reds team as he pounded the strike zone with a lively fastball in the low 90s. Bryant does not have much secondary stuff at this point, but he got Pigott to go down swinging on a 1-2 changeup. He also fanned Sapp on three straight fastballs to end the fourth.