2019 MLB Draft Stock Watch: Standout Prospects From The NHSI
A large portion of the major league scouting community descended on USA Baseball’s National Training Complex in Cary, N.C., last weekend for the eighth annual National High School Invitational.
Baseball America was at each game of the event, and we have copious notes and stories from each day, but today we’ll focus on how the top prospects at the event handled themselves and whether or not they improved their draft stock.
We didn't have a Jordyn Adams-type situation this year, where a player significantly boosted his stock and jumped into first round consideration, but there were enough players at the event already in that range to begin with to—hopefully—keep you draft junkies satiated.
C.J. Abrams, SS, Blessed Trinity (Roswell, Ga.)
BA Rank: No. 4
Abrams looked fine at the plate—he didn’t overwhelm and he didn’t look overmatched—but it was an impressive showing for him defensively at shortstop, which is the area that most scouts have had questions. While there is still risk he moves to center field in the future, Abrams showed the athleticism, range, footwork and throwing ability to more than handle himself at shortstop,
Whichever team takes Abrams during the draft in June will assuredly run him out at the position and leave him there until he proves he can’t handle it, but based on what he showed in Cary, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him stick in the dirt. Athleticism and speed are Abrams' best tools, defensively, but his glovework was solid the entire week. With more reps at the position, he should have all the talent and arm strength necessary to make throws from multiple angles and from deep in the hole.
Abrams did pull his first baseman off the bag on one play in the hole during the tournament, but he made the same play a day prior with no issues. Offensively, Abrams went 3-for-13 with one strikeout, two singles and a double. He didn’t look like he had the best approach in several of his at-bats, but he has enough track record of hitting and bat-to-ball skills that a small sample shouldn’t knock him too much.
Riley Greene, OF, Hagerty (Oviedo, Fla.)
BA Rank: No. 7
As mentioned with Abrams, Greene has a phenomenal track record of hitting—perhaps more so than any hitter in the 2019 class. That said, he didn’t have his best showing in Cary, going 3-for-15 with two singles, a double and four strikeouts to two walks. Greene showed some swing-and-miss against below-average pure stuff, whiffing six times during the tournament, though he did drive the ball hard multiple times on the final day of the event for long outs. He has extremely quick hands and is wiry enough that he should add weight moving forward, which will allow him to turn some of those long outs into home runs.
Defensively, Greene left a lot to be desired, as he lacked the footspeed to track down a few playable balls in front of him in center field. He managed to go 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts and he does get out of the box well at times, but in the outfield he is a below-average runner and will have to play a corner position at the next level.
Still, scouts and national crosscheckers at the event believe he has the best pure bat of any player at the tournament and he’ll still go off the board quickly this June. 2018 first-round pick Nolan Gorman (Cardinals, No. 19) had a much worse showing at last year's NHSI and still went off the board in the middle of the first round—and Greene’s hit tool is much more polished at the same point.
Brennan Malone, RHP, IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)
BA Rank: No. 16
Malone put together one of the most complete showings that Baseball America has seen of him in person, throwing on Day 1 for IMG and shutting out La Mirada over seven innings in a big-time matchup against 2020 flamethrower Jared Jones.
While Malone held his fastball velocity at 93-96 mph throughout the entire outing, what was particularly compelling was the consistency and sharpness of his slider. Malone has been considered in the top tier of prep pitchers throughout the entire 2019 draft cycle, but one of his most frequent criticisms has been the lack of a consistent breaking ball. He had shown flashes with his slider or curveball at different events, but he rarely threw either as a consistently above-average pitch.
That was not the case in his NHSI outing, as his 80-83 mph slider was a consistent weapon that he used to rack up eight strikeouts. In total, Malone generated 13 swings and misses, which was good for fifth-best at the event, and he also flashed a solid changeup and showed signs that he could have a solid or better curveball in the future as well. And while Malone did walk three batters, he showed solid control and threw 69.7 percent of his pitches for strikes—tied for 10th at the tournament among all pitchers who threw at least one complete inning.
Jack Leiter, RHP, Delbarton (Morristown, N.J.)
BA Rank: No. 37
Leiter made quick work of South Forsyth (Cumming, Ga.) in his Thursday outing. The polished, Northeast righthander threw six shutout innings in 17-0 blowout and allowed just one hit and one walk using primarily a fastball-curveball combination.
Leiter used a 72-76 mph curveball with impressive three-quarter breaking action to finish off seven of his eight strikeouts and also showed a solid 81-83 mph slider, though the curve was his primary out-pitch. He was able to spot his breaking ball in the strike zone or bury it as a chase pitch. With a clean arm action, major league bloodlines and no real weaknesses in his game, Leiter figures to be the rare example of a high school righthander that many teams would be interested in during the first round.
Kendall Williams, RHP, IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)
BA Rank: No. 45
The third-ranked pitcher who took the mound at the event, Williams was also impressive in his start against Blessed Trinity (Roswell, Ga.).
Williams struck out 10 batters and walked just one, scattering five hits and throwing 74.5 percent of his pitches for strikes. While Williams might not have the top-of-the-scale pure stuff that his teammate Malone possesses, he has a deep arsenal of solid pitches and knows how to use them effectively. Williams sat in the 92 mph range and got up to 94 mph, uses both a four- and two-seam fastball and throws a slider (which is likely his best breaking ball at the moment), curveball and a changeup.
The excellent combination of size—Williams is 6-foot-6, 190 pounds—pitchability and a deep repertoire give him plenty of upside and could see him called on Day 1 of the draft this June.
Anthony Volpe, SS, Delbarton (Morristown, N.J.)
BA Rank: No. 67
Volpe was the most impressive ranked hitter at the event, leading all hitters (along with Dominic Martinez and Campbell Holt) with eight hits, including one of three home runs at the tournament. All together, Volpe went 8-for-12 with one double, one home run, one walk and no strikeouts.
Defensively, Volpe was his usual self, making every play that came to him at shortstop with no problem and being the obvious leader on the field while doing it. Scouts had noticed improved run times with Volpe this spring and he showed that in Cary as well, with several above-average home-to-first times out of the batter’s box. While he likely isn’t a legitimate plus runner and doesn’t have plus power, Volpe’s high-effort playing style and feel for the game should allow him to get the most out of his solid-average set of tools while handling himself at a premium defensive position.
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Quinn Priester, RHP, Cary-Grove (Cary, Ill.)
Ranked No. 51 on BA's Top 300 Draft Prospects list, Priester is off to a hot start this season and recently threw 6.2 innings against Huntley (Ill.) High, striking out 11 batters and walking one. Priester showed good stuff, including a fastball in the 92-94 mph range with solid running life, a curveball with good spin and shape and a solid changeup as well. Priester allowed more contact than would be expected given the quality of his stuff (he surrendered seven hits), leading to some questions about his lack of deception, but he has all the ingredients for big upside with a few tweaks.
Grant Gambrell, RHP, Oregon State
At Oregon State, much of the draft attention is rightly on No. 1 prospect Adley Rutschman, but the Beavers' Sunday starter is turning in a solid, if somewhat inconsistent, season. At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Gambrell has a strong pitcher's frame and the pure stuff to go with it. His fastball sits 92-95 mph with impressive finish, and he also flashes a pair of future plus secondaries in a curveball and changeup.
If Gambrell can figure out a way to be more consistent within his outings and from outing to outing, he could tap into some serious upside. His back-to-back starts against UCLA and California last month were indicative of his season, as the Bruins jumped him for 10 hits and six earned runs over 6.1 innings, while the following week Gambrell allowed just two earned runs over 6.1 innings with 12 strikeouts and no walks. On the season, Gambrell has a 3.53 ERA over seven starts and 35.2 innings with 38 strikeouts and 12 walks. He could be a late-Day 1 or early-Day 2 pick.
Randon Hostert, RHP, Bonneville (Idaho Falls, Idaho)
While Idaho isn't a big talent-producing state, there seems to be an intriguing arm coming out of the area every season. This year is no different, with prep righthander Randon Hostert offering tremendous upside. Also a basketball player at Bonneville High School, Hostert is 6-foot-5, 195 pounds with plenty of strength on the way as he matures. He's already throwing hard sinkers that get up to 93 mph with solid feel for a breaking ball. Hostert's season has been up and down to this point, but plenty of teams should be intrigued with his potential enough to pop him early on Day 2.
Korey Lee, C, California
Like Gambrell at Oregon State, Lee might not get a ton of attention considering Andrew Vaughn's presence at Cal, but he's quietly put together a strong season, hitting .333/.424/.588 with six home runs. Previously the bat has been a bit of a question mark with scouts, as Lee posted just a .676 and .754 OPS during his freshman and sophomore seasons, with a pair of solid, but unspectacular, summers in the Northwoods League. He has increased his walk rate and maintained his 2017 strikeout rate while tapping into more game power with a strong, 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame. Defensively, Lee handles himself well and also has a solid arm. His breakout hitting season, combined with solid defensive skills and a tendency for the industry to push college catchers up the board, could have him go among the first few rounds on Day 2.