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Electric Pitching Class On Display At PG National

Kumar Rocker (Photo courtesy of Perfect Game)

FORT MYERS, Fla.—There’s still plenty of action left in this year’s Perfect Game National Showcase. Sometimes promising arms don’t end up pitching until the final days of the event—at the 2013 PG National, Josh Pennington pitched on one of the final days of the showcase and showed easy low 90s velocity. Pennington went on to be selected by the Red Sox in the following year’s draft and is now a prominent prospect in the Brewers’ system.

But so far, with four days of the showcase in our rearview mirror, this event has been chock full of high-ceiling pitchers, with prep righthanders looking like an early strength of the 2018 draft class. Here’s what we’ve seen from some of the top arms so far.

Ethan Hankins | RHP | Forsyth Central High (Cumming, Ga.)

Listed at 6-foot-6, 200 pounds, Hankins has the makings of an early first-round pick. He has already established a deep track record, having pitched at the 2016 East Coast Pro Showcase and turning in a dominant performance in the semifinals of the 2016 WWBA Championships, where he showcase his easy delivery and athleticism against older prospects such as Jacob Gonzalez and Jake Holmes.

Hankins took the mound in the 8 a.m. game on Monday and did not disappoint. He has a loose, easy delivery. Hankins has a full arm circle and a clean motion in his arm swing in the back, and he finishes cleanly out front as he gets extension over his front side. He gathers himself well over the rubber and has a loose, athletic lower half.

Hankins struck out four batters in two innings. His fastball ranged from 92-96 mph in his first inning, and sat at 92-94 in the second. He controlled his fastball well and spotted it down and to his arm side effectively against lefthanded hitters—six of the seven batters he faced were lefties. Hankins generated nine swings and misses on 25 fastballs, and got one more whiff with his curveball when he spotted it through the backdoor to strike out the first batter he faced.

The Vanderbilt recruit has the size and athleticism to develop into an elite starting pitching prospect. His curveball worked at 73-76, showing long vertical break out of his hand. It backed up on him occasionally and was more vertical when he threw it to his arm side, while showing more two-plane break when he finished out front with it and located it to his glove side. Hankins threw a pair of changeups at 85 and 86 mph.

Slade Cecconi | RHP | Trinity Prep School (Winter Park, Fla.)

Remember this name. Cecconi used the stage at PG National to assert himself as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. He has an athletic, well-coordinated motion with excellent body control and balance on the mound. Cecconi tickled 97 mph with his fastball and pitched at 94-95 in his first inning before settling in at 92-94 in his second.

Cecconi throws a cutter that has a slider look to it; he grips it similarly to how he grips his four-seam fastball, but moves his fingers slightly closer to the bottom of the horseshoe seam and puts more pressure on it with his middle finger, giving it sharp horizontal bite. The pitch could be a plus pitch, as it checks in at 84-85 and Cecconi shows feel for throwing it for strikes.

The Miami recruit was also able to manipulate the shape and depth of his curveball. Thrown at 76-80 mph, the pitch showed late 11-to-5 break. His natural athleticism, arm strength and feel for spinning the baseball all give him a chance to develop into a frontline starting pitching prospect, provided he stays healthy and continues to improve. Cecconi has been well-protected and has monitored his innings carefully. He’ll throw approximately 100 innings in the 2017 calendar year.

Kumar Rocker | RHP | North Oconee High (Bogart, Ga.)

Rocker’s legend has built over the years, and he’s finally a rising senior, just a year away from the 2018 draft. It’s pretty simple here: He’s built like a linebacker at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, he throws an easy plus fastball, and he shows flashes with a hard, late-biting, mid-80s slider.

Rocker struck out the first two batters he faced in his outing at PG National, pitching at 95-98 in his first inning. Surprisingly, Rocker got hit around a little bit in his second inning as he left some fastballs up in the zone and his velocity dipped to 92-95. It’s pretty incredible that a 17-year-old’s velocity can fall off and he’s still pitching with plus Major League velocity.

The Vanderbilt commit has the athleticism to develop excellent command and control as he matures. He looks like a future 220-inning behemoth.

Other pitchers to watch closely in the coming months include Austin Becker, Mason Denaburg, Luke Bartnicki, Cole Wilcox, Carter Stewart, Adam Kloffenstein, Brandon Neeck, Carter Lohmann, Lineras Torres, Jack Perkins, Jonathan Gates, Levi Kelly, David Luethje and Blake Burzell.

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