East Coast Showcase Wrapup

Showcase season shifts into full gear

See Also: East Coast Showcase Top 10 Prospects

LAKELAND, Fla.—There are enough showcase events to fill every day of the summer calendar these days, but one of the signature events remains the East Coast Professional Showcase.

It's operated by major league scouts, with minimal cost and maximum exposure to the players, and more than 500 college coaches and scouts in attendance. Players are selected out of a series of tryouts and placed on one of six regional teams, making for the perfect scouting venue for area scouts, crosscheckers and scouting directors to get a better feel for what the rising high school class has to offer.

The venue had an all-new look this year, however, as it shifted from its longtime home in Wilmington, N.C., to Lakeland, Fla. Rain delayed and postponed games on the first two days before giving way to brutally hot and humid conditions on the weekend, but scouts saw enough to say they are confident the 2008 crop has potential, if less upside than the banner group that gathered last summer.

"Overall, I felt the players that were here were pretty good, even if there were not many that should be drafted in the top 15, 20 or even 30 picks of next year's draft," a scouting director with an American League club said. "After this year, with what, 17 high school picks in the first round? I'd say the early prognostication on '08 would be a turnaround. I'd bet it might be 17-13 college. The quality among high school players hasn't been present among the top players."

Of the 17 high school players chosen in the first round of the 2007 draft, seven--including righthander Rick Porcello, the consensus top prep pitcher in the country--played in last year's ECPS, and another seven were selected in the first compensation round. Other premium talents, such as Matt Harvey and Jack McGeary, slipped based on signability.

Dynamic Duel

Two rain delays that totaled more than two and a half hours and play as sloppy as the conditions made for a long opening day, but the whole park perked up for the showdown between Tim Melville and Sonny Gray, two of the top righthanders in the class.

A 6-foot pistol from Tennessee, Gray fired 12 pitches in a one-two-three first inning, striking out the side. Gray's fastball hit 94 mph, and he showed two breaking balls: a curve in the mid-70s and a filthy slider that he recently added to his repertoire, which was checking in at 82-84 mph.

Missouri's Melville, a cat-quick athlete in a 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame, pitched at 87 mph, reached back for 93, and mixed in his curve and changeup masterfully. His feel for pitching was evident, and he allowed just two hits in three innings, though his command wasn't as sharp as he's shown in the past. He threw 64 pitches, 36 of which were strikes.

Gray's command also wavered in his third inning, and he finished with two walks and six strikeouts, tossing 42 pitches, 25 of which were strikes.

"You've got to like Melville's upside a lot," said a crosschecker with a National League team. "He actually reminds me a little bit of a combination of (Nationals prospect) Colton Willems, and (Yankees prospect) Phil Hughes. He has the body of Willems with a similar follow-through, and an arm action similar to Hughes'. I could see where he would have better command than what he had, although it wasn't that bad, really.

"Gray is a power arm, a lot like Tim Lincecum. That was one of the best curveballs I've seen in a long time. He's interesting. He's not very big, some teams might shy away from that, but maybe he's (next) year's version of (Diamondbacks 2007 first-rounder Jarrod) Parker . . . Definitely for a smaller guy, he can power it down in the zone and stay on top of the ball, and it doesn't seem to flatten out against the hitter. And the breaking ball is an equalizer."

The Yankees brought another one of the event's best pitching prospects out of the bullpen, with lefthander Robbie Ross relieving Gray, and in the eyes of some, upstaging both of the power righthanders. The 5-foot-11 rising senior from Lexington (Ky.) Catholic High, pitched at 89 mph, touching 92 on the Baseball America Stalker. His slider was up to 82, and while it doesn't have the depth of Gray's power breaker, it has hard, late tilt, and helped him rack up empty swings. Ross allowed one baserunner, on a walk, and struck out nine of the 12 batters he faced in four hitless innings.

"It's definitely not Porcello, Harvey and McGeary, but they're good," an AL scout said. "For me, I'd take Melville. He has such clean mechanics and such an easy-working arm and I think he has plus-plus makeup. Throw in (Indiana righty Alex Meyer, who also threw well in Lakeland), and I don't know how you separate them, other than what about them is going to get them (to the majors). Gray has big potential, I think, because his stuff now is already average to plus across the board. And Ross is another Billy Wagner in the making, so you're really splitting hairs."

Beckham, And The Field

Recognizing the best position player in Lakeland was far simpler. Atlanta shortstop Tim Beckham entered the event with a reputation as one of the top amateur infielders in the country, and did nothing to change that sentiment. He played sound defense, showing off great actions, soft hands and a plus arm, and his approach at the plate drew the most praise, as he showed patience and a willingness to use all fields, in addition to bat speed and a penchant for making hard contact with wood.

"The bat," an AL scouting director responded when asked what Beckham's most impressive attribute was. "That's why he's a consensus first-round talent. He showed focus, a plan. He has advanced bat traits, an ability to make things happen with the bat in his hands, whether it's a double or a walk."

After Beckham, there were not many position players that showed the tools or swing to elevate themselves as potential impact prospects. Another Georgian, Ethan Martin (Stephens County High, Toccoa, Ga.), and Zack Cox (Pleasure Ridge Park High, Louisville), are corner infielders with strength and power, and Casey Kelly (Sarasota, Fla., High) and Rolando Gomez (Flanagan High, Pembroke Pines, Fla.) have average-to-plus tools on both sides of the game. That quartet, along with athletic outfielders L.J. Hoes (St. John's College High, Washington, D.C.), Rodarrick Jones (St. John High, Plaquemine, La.) and Xavier Avery (Cedar Grave High, Ellenwood, Ga.), had the best combination of tools and performance.

Martin homered on his first swing of the showcase, during batting practice, and again in his first game, staying on a ball over the outer half and driving it over the right-field wall.

A blue-chip running back recruit who has committed to Georgia, Avery has 80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale, but gets those feet moving too much before and during his swing, which leads to unbalanced, empty swings. His speed isn't his only plus tool, however, as he showed when he turned on a Tyler Hibbs' (Arundel High, Gambrills, Md.) fastball and drilled it over the scoreboard in right field for what might have been the hardest hit ball of the week.

"Wow. That one caught me by surprise," said an AL crosschecker. "I had this guy down as a slap-type, backside hitter with plus speed, but he's got unbelievable strength in there. He's got a long ways to go, but there are lots of raw tools there."

Cox shows balance and leverage in his swing, and he can turn on the best of inside fastballs because of his strong forearms and wrists, while Gomez is the steadiest of the group, though undersized at 5-foot-7, 145 pounds.

"I would give Cox the edge because I love those lethanded bats with the juice," an AL scout said. "Gomez might be the best player of that bunch. He has potential to be pretty good, and he took infield at second base and really put on a show.

"With Kelly, who knows? The tools are there but he hasn't been squaring up too many fastballs. A lot of strikeouts, and a lot of them looking, and that's a concern. But he is a big-time quarterback who hasn't focused on baseball, so you're going to go in there so see him next spring."