Image credit: Sammy Siani (Photo by Stacy Jo Grant)
Most of the major league scouting community traveled down to Jupiter, Fla., to see the 2018 edition of the Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association (WWBA) World Championship—the biggest travel ball tournament in the country.
While there, area scouts, cross checkers and scouting directors were able to get additional at-bats from many of the top hitters in the 2019 class, while a few high-profile arms like No. 4 high school prospect Brennan Malone (Fla.) and No. 27 Jack Kochanowicz uncharacteristically have yet to shut things down. The WWBA also provided a preview of some of the top 2020 prospects, which is shaping up to be a deep and talented crop of players.
Below are eight 2019 draft prospects who raised their stock at the tournament, as well as a pair of 2020s who made names for themselves at the event. Keep in mind that this isn’t a ranking of the top prospects at the WWBA, as both No. 1 and No. 3 high school prospects Bobby Witt Jr. and Riley Greene performed well, but rather a look at players further down the draft list who are moving in the right direction.
Joshua Rivera, SS/3B
IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.
The Co-MVP of the tournament after leading Florida Burn Platinum to a championship victory over the Canes, Rivera stood out on both sides of the ball with his fluid play at shortstop and a polished hit tool from the righthanded batter’s box. Rivera will play his spring ball at IMG Academy alongside highly-touted infielder Rece Hinds, and while he doesn’t have the huge tools that Hinds brings to the table, he is the more developed defender of the two and has a more advanced bat, with a loose swing and impressive barrel control.
The 6-foot-2, 205 pound infielder can handle shortstop now, but projects as a third baseman down the line as he continues to add strength to his frame. Scouts believe plus power will come as he adds more physicality and adjusts a hitting approach that is presently inside-out and line-drive oriented.
“You can tell he’s nowhere near man strength,” said one area scout. “Once he gets some strength I think some power is going to come down the line. Not a bad frame, but a unique setup, gets down on the ball well and puts the barrel on the baseball. I would bet on that.”
.438/.545/.625, 7 H, 1 HR (8 games)
Sammy Siani, OF
Penn Charter HS, Philadelphia
The younger brother of 2018 2018 Reds fourth round pick, Mike, the middle Siani brother has shown more feel to hit over the summer and fall than his more toolsy brother, and scouts were impressed with his increased physicality and pop during Jupiter.
Half of Siani’s six hits were of the extra-base variety, with a pair of triples and one home run over four games. His plus speed doesn’t play out of the box, but he runs well underway and from first to third. His bat path and the looseness to his swing is more advanced than Mike’s at this point in the draft cycle and he’s shown his feel to hit at more events.
It’s a different profile, and Sammy is not a lock to play center field like Mike, but the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Duke commit is proving to be talented player in his own right with a bat trending in the right direction.
.545/.583/1.182, 6 H, 2 3B,
1 HR (4 games)
Tyler Callihan, 3B/2B
Providence HS, Jacksonville
Callihan entered the WWBA as the No. 11 high school prospect in the country and left no doubt that his bat is one of the top in the class after a five-game performance.
“He crushed. He just hits, man,” said one area scout. “(There’s) no true position for him, but he hits… The way baseball is with the shift he may settle in at second base and crush…. I want to see him make some more athletic movements.”
A lefthanded hitting infielder listed at 5-foot-11, 211 pounds, Callihan played third, second, DH and pitched for the Houston Astros Scout Team/Elite Squad and will most likely handle one of those infield positions at the next level, though he’s spent some time catching and a team could try him behind the plate as well. He’s also enough of a runner to potentially handle a corner outfield position.
Wherever he winds up defensively, the South Carolina commit is proving to be one of the best hitters in the prep class with a consistently loud lefthanded bat.
.333/.357/.500, 4 H, 1 3B (5 games)
Anthony Volpe, SS
Delbarton HS, Morristown, N.J.
A 5-foot-10, 182-pound shortstop, Volpe will never be described as a toolsy player, but he continues to go out and handle every aspect of the game with competence, particularly as a sound defensive shortstop. He grades out across the board with fringe-average (45-grade) or average (50-grade) tools and so some teams might be inclined to let him prove himself at Vanderbilt, but his play throughout the summer and fall will make them think hard about passing on him.
“I love Anthony Volpe,” said one area scout. “Nothing plus, but he’s a solid baseball player. Makes all the plays defensively, arm is average. Clean swing, uses the field well.”
.381/.481/.477, 8 H, 2 2B (8 games)
Christian Cairo, SS
Calvary Christian HS, Clearwater, Fla.
Similar to Volpe, Cairo is an undersized infielder who handles the shortstop position well and has no true holes in his game, but no huge tools to project on either. His arm strength grades out a tick better than Volpe, but the two have been compared throughout the summer and will likely continue to be mentioned in the same conversations as teams get closer to draft day.
“He has actions at shortstop and can hit,” said one area scout. “Easy 55 arm and knows how to play the game.”
Cairo is athletic and possesses some twitchy quickness if not blazing speed, and scouts rave about his defensive instincts in the middle of the infield. Playing for powerhouse Calvary Christian High in Clearwater, Fla., Cairo could be a tough sign as an undersized player committed to Louisiana State, but—like Volpe—is making the decision tougher on scouting departments with his performance at big events.
300/.462/.400, 3 H, 1 2B (4 games)
Joe Naranjo, 1B
Ayala HS, Chino Hills, Calif.
Naranjo impressed with the bat enough at the WWBA that scouts and coaches routinely referred to him as “Joey Barrels.” Short for a first baseman at just 6-foot, the left-left Cal State Fullerton commit has a tough profile moving forward, but is arguably the best hitter in Southern California and will face better competition than most hitters during the spring. He could also benefit from the success of another short first baseman—North Carolina’s Michael Busch—in the same draft class, though the confidence gap between college and high school hit tool evaluations is large.
“Naranjo probably was the best bat out of that group,” said an area scout. “I was sitting there like goodness gracious.”
.353/.421/.765, 6 H, 1 2B, 3 3B (6 games); 0.70 ERA, 9.2 IP, 7 H, 10 K, 1 BB, 0.83 WHIP
Alex McFarlane, RHP,
Habersham Central HS, Mt. Airy, Ga.
Born and raised in the U.S. Virgin Islands, McFarlane will play his senior season in Georgia, giving southeast scouts yet another uber-projectable arm to bear down on during the spring. While he threw just three innings at the WWBA, McFarlane showed all the exciting tools that teams glimpsed throughout the summer, with a fastball in the 90-92 range early, an upper 70s breaking ball and changeup that all have promise.
The Miami commit’s quick arm and lanky, 6-foot-3, 170-pound frame make him an obvious pop-up candidate with a big spring next year as he continues to add strength and refine his slider.
“(He has a) loose, live arm with an athletic body and delivery,” one scout said. “Fastball has some power and life to it, changeup showed better… We’ll want to see how his slider progresses next spring.”
0.00 ERA, 3 IP, 2 H, 3 K, 1 BB, 1.00 WHIP
Tyler Nesbitt, RHP
LaBelle (Fla.) HS
Previously committed to Florida Gulf Coast, Nesbitt announced his commitment to Florida on October 22, just one day after a five inning, 10 strikeout performance with the Canes National team in the quarterfinals that earned Nesbitt the WWBA Most Valuable Pitcher Award.
Throwing in the 86-91 mph range for the most part throughout the summer, Nesbitt upped his fastball velocity in this Jupiter outing, touching 93 at his best and overwhelming a talented CBA Marucci team, but it was the breaking ball’s improvement that really impressed scouts.
“His breaking ball was inconsistent early in the summer but has consistently gotten better over the year,” said one scout. “Then he showed the ability to consistently throw a plus breaking ball in Jupiter.”
1.40 ERA, 5 IP, 2 H, 10 K, 0 BB, 0.40 WHIP
Yohandy Morales, SS
Braddock HS, Miami (2020)
A 6-foot-4, 180-pound shortstop, Morales showcased his offensive potential in the biggest pitching matchup of the WWBA, with dozens of scout-filled golf carts lined up watching Malone take on Kochanowicz.
Morales wasn’t fazed in the slightest by the flame-throwing Malone, squaring up a 93-mph outside fastball from the righthander and driving a deep line drive to right-center field for an easy triple. He also showed feel for the defensive game with a slick play on a slow-roller at shortstop, with a strong and accurate throw to first base on the run.
“He’s a dude. He’s definitely going to be someone for next year,” said one area scout. “He uses a middle-away approach. I didn’t see the plate coverage, I didn’t see the barrel on the inner half. I don’t know if that is on purposes or what… You can teach him how to pull (the ball), you can’t teach people to go the other way. It’s advanced. He goes with pitches well.”
.333/.417/.777, 3 H, 2 2B, 1 3B (4 games)
Kevin Parada, C
Loyola HS, Los Angeles (2020)
The Co-MVP of the tournament along with Rivera, Parada tallied 11 hits including four doubles and two home runs (one a grand slam) for GBG Marucci, and was one of the most talked-about players at the complex throughout the five-day tournament.
A 6-foot, 200-pound catcher committed to Georgia Tech, Parada has plenty of raw power already and also showed off plus arm strength and solid defensive actions behind the dish. The Yellow Jackets have become something of a catching pipeline over the years and Parada could follow the path of Giants 2018 first round pick Joey Bart in a few years if he actually makes it to campus.
“Parada was one of the best players there,” said one area scout. “There was power, a quick-twitch swing, arm, he can make all the throws—he’s back picking with lefthanders (at the plate) to first base on his knees… Sometimes he relies on his arm too much, I want guys to get up and make throws. I don’t know if it’s laziness or a high school kid who just trusts his arm a lot. But he can throw. Big strength to the body (and his) power projects.”
.478/.520/.913, 11 H, 4 2B, 2 HR (7 games)