Making Their Case

Next crop of draft prospects show off for Team USA

CARY, N.C.—Halfway through 2009, the world of amateur scouting is already focused on the 2010 draft despite the latest edition barely being in the past. Showcases around the country highlight the summer, and the latest to be completed was USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars.

Not only an event for scouts and college recruiters to scour, the Tournament of Stars helps USA Baseball compile the roster for its 18U National Team trials that will be held in September. From the trials a final roster will be selected and those players will travel to Barquisimeto, Venezuela, for the 2009 COPABE Pan Am 18U Championships Sept. 24-Oct. 4. Another year produced another great event as members of Baseball America and the scouting community braved the searing heat and humidity to get a look at next year's crop of talent.

"We thought it was a successful event," said Rick Riccobono, director of USA Baseball's 18U National Team. "We were really impressed with the athleticism as well as the baseball IQ. I can't remember having a general group of players who really seem to understand the game as well as these guys. Hopefully that is something that is going to really serve our national team well later in the year."

Babe Ruth eventually won the tournament after scoring four runs in the top of ninth to beat American Legion, one of the favorites coming into the week, 8-7.

Good Arms

The start of the tournament made it seem it would lean a little toward the offensive side as several players came out of the gates swinging. A couple of pitchers showed solid stuff and got good results early, but scouts didn't really perk up until the second night, when righthander Karsten Whitson took the mound for Dixie.

Whitson entered the game in the fourth inning and was consistently hitting 94-95 mph in his first inning of work. After lighting up the radar guns, Whitson sat 91-93 with a mid-80s slider. He threw again over the weekend and sat 91-92, touching several 93s with some life, but his slider wasn't as sharp. In the end he had pitched 51⁄3 innings, striking out eight while allowing just one earned run on four hits.

"He has a real good arm," a National League scout said. "It's pretty easy, not too violent. He's a good looking kid."

Dixie arguably had the best pitching staff as three of its arms, Whitson, A.J. Cole and Zach Lee, made our Top 10 Prospects for the event. Cole made his first appearance on Day Three and did not disappoint. His fastball sat at 91-92 while touching 93-94. At 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, he has a tall, projectable frame that scouts dream on. His second outing was much of the same, sitting in the low 90s with a sharp 77-80 breaking ball.

While Cole topped the list, Jameson Taillon was the only other arm to best Whitson. Taillon is physically imposing at 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, and his stuff is just as good. He sat 92-93, touching 94, breaking several bats and inducing poor contact. Taillon also throws a good curveball that is sharp and sits 77-80 and can mix in a mid-80s slider.

"He looked like one of the better arms there," an American League scout said. "He had good depth on the curveball. He had two plus pitches that first day. He also had a little sink on the fastball."

Even with the likes of Cole, Taillon and Whitson, Riccobono was impressed most by Drew Cisco, a righthander from Wando High in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. Cisco had just one outing in which he went four innings, allowed just two baserunners (two hits, no walks) and struck out seven.

"First and foremost for me it was Drew Cisco on the mound," Riccobono said. "We had heard he was going to be competitive and a guy to watch and could really come in and compete for a spot on the team. He really went above and beyond the expectations, at least in my eyes, in showing that he was somebody that was ready to pitch right now successfully and live down in the zone, work both sides of the plate with three pitches. He really threw the ball well. He really shined."

Getting Offensive

On the hitting side, shortstop Manny Machado of Miami's Brito Prep had his breakout event. He looks the part of a middle infielder with a lean frame at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds. He looked smooth and easy at shortstop and consistently made good contact at the plate, collecting eight hits in 19 at-bats (.421), three of which were for extra bases.

"He looks pretty athletic," the AL scout said. "He needs to put on some more strength on that good frame he's got. He handles the bat pretty well. Once he gets a little stronger and fills out he should be a pretty good player."

The most interesting performance was Chad Lewis, a third baseman from Marina High in Huntington Beach, Calif. Lewis, a teammate of Machado on the AABC team, stands 6-foot-3, 195 pounds and went off on the first day, going 4-for-5 with two home runs and a double. On his first homer, Lewis went with the pitch and drove it to the opposite field. His second cleared the fence in left-center as he took advantage of a lesser fastball and squared it up.

"He swung the bat pretty well that night," the AL scout added. "He had a pretty good swing, some power from right-center to left-center. Looks like he might profile at the third base position off that one game."

Justin O'Conner, a shortstop/righthander from Cowan High in Muncie, Ind., continued to impress after a good showing at PG National. His stats didn't jump off the page but his tools did. He stands at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and plays a good defensive shortstop with a strong arm. He also made good, consistent contact at the plate.

"I liked him," the NL scout said of O'Conner, "He grew on you as you watched him more. He's a good sized guy."

O'Conner is also a prospect on the mound, but he threw 80 pitches the day before the tournament began, so he was limited to just one inning. Had he been stretched out he likely would have made the Top 10 Pitchers list as in that inning he sat 90-92, touched two 93s and two 94s while also throwing a good 76-77 curveball for strikes.

Looking Further Ahead

Another great aspect of these tournaments and showcases is that they're not limited to 2010 prospects. Several 2011s get to show off as well, and the Tournament of Stars had its share. Eric Snyder, an outfielder from Edison High in Huntington Beach, was a dynamic leadoff man for the Babe Ruth team. He showed good speed, hittability and had a good arm in center field.

Bryce Harper, the catching phenom from Las Vegas High, commanded a lot of attention as expected, including his own pre-TOS press conference. Harper's tools and talent were obvious, much of the reason why he is forgoing his final two years of to attend the CC of Southern Nevada. He is expected to take his G.E.D. this fall, which would make him eligible to play junior college baseball and available in the 2010 draft.

With Harper probably in the 2010 picture, the early front-runner of the 2011 prep class is shortstop Christian Lopes of Valencia (Calif.) High. Lopes has a strong body at 6-foot, 185 pounds, good hands and a strong arm. Lopes also pitched late in the tournament but exited after facing five hitters with an injury. A scary moment was laid to rest when MRI results showed a mild muscle strain and he is expected to make a full recovery.

"All those guys stuck out," the AL scout said. "Lopes, he's not a big time toolsy guy but he's got a good feel for the bat head, looked like an average runner and is a pretty good defender."

Top 10 Hitters For 2010
Player Pos. High School
Manny Machado SS Brito Prep, Miami
Breakout performance going 8-for-19, showed good defense and ran a 6.85 60-yard dash
Brian Ragira OF Martin HS, Arlington
Wiry outfielder who had five of eight hits go for extra bases, but needs to add strength to his frame
Justin O'Conner SS Cowan HS, Muncie, Ind.
Lean, athletic middle infielder that ran a 6.9 60 and sat 90-94 in one inning on the mound
Garin Cecchini SS Barbe HS, Lake Charles, La.
Strong, lefty-hitting infielder showed ability with the bat and hit the event's most impressive HR
Chad Lewis 3B Marina HS, Huntington Beach, Calif.
Another breakout performer leading the TOS with 11 hits in 22 ABs and could remain at 3B
Christian Yelich 1B/OF Westlake HS, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Showed an ability to square balls up and ran a 6.75 60 but needs work on his arm mechanics
Cory Hahn OF Mater Dei HS, Santa Ana, Calif.
Small lefty hitter with big game, hit a HR off a lefty, ran a 6.8 60 and can touch 88 on the mound
Mike Antonio SS/3B Washington HS, New York City
Showed ability to square fastballs, ran 6.9 60, but was challenged by offspeed pitches
Tony Wolters SS/2B Rancho Buena Vista HS, Vista, Calif.
Electric middle infielder ran a 7.1 60 and showed good hitability collecting a hit in all five games
Jeff Yamaguchi IF/C Lakewood (Calif.) HS
Played four positions (C, 2B, 3B, LF), ran a 7.0 60 and collected four doubles in 19 ABs
*Bryce Harper is not yet eligible for the 2010 draft

Top 10 Pitchers For 2010
Player Position High School
A.J. Cole RHP Oviedo HS, Orlando
Tall, projectable righty sat 91-93 touching 94 in two outings with a good breaking ball
Jameson Taillon RHP The Woodlands (Texas) HS
Big righty with a heavy fastball sitting 92-93, touching 94 with a 77-80 curve and mid-80s slider
Karsten Whitson RHP Chipley HS, Bartow, Fla.
Pounded 94-95 in first inning then sat 91-93 rest of the event with a low-80s slider
Cody Buckel RHP Royal HS, Simi Valley, Calif.
Sat high 88-90 with a low-70s curve and 85-86 change but allowed no runs in 8.1 IP with 12 Ks
Drew Cisco RHP Wando HS, Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
Limited outing (4 IP) but struck out seven while sitting 88-89, touching 90-91 with a 73-75 breaker
Kevin Gausman RHP Grandview HS, Aurora, Calif.
Long-legged righty sat 88-90 with 78-80 change and allowed just three hits in 7.1 IP
Gabriel Encinas RHP St. Paul HS, Santa Fe Springs,Calif.
Works quickly, throws strikes; allowed one hit in 8 IP while sitting 88-91 with 72-74 curve, 78 change
Griffin Murphy LHP East Valley HS, Redlands, Calif.
Pitched seven innings, allowing 4 H, 0 R while striking out seven and sat 87-89 with 72-73 curve
Jesse Biddle LHP Germantown Friends School, Philadelphia
Southpaw with easy delivery located well and sat in high 80s with 68-71 curve flashed a cutter
Zach Lee RHP McKinney (Fla.) HS
Sat 88-90 in 6 IP but hit several 91-92s in first outing; also threw 76-77 slider 76-80 change