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Arizona’s Top MLB Prospects

Image credit: Matthew Liberatore

1. Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Mountain Ridge HS, Glendale, Ariz. (BA Rank: 2)
HS • 6-5 • 200 • B-L • Arizona

During the summer of 2017, Liberatore was an uber-projectable lefthander with great feel for three pitches that scouts could project to become plus down the line. At that time, Liberatore was sitting mostly in the upper 80s and low 90s with his fastball and had a low-70s, 12-to-6 curveball, as well as a changeup in the low to mid-80s. He performed well on the showcase circuit and with USA Baseball’s 18U National team, pitching in the USA’s 8-0 win over Korea in the gold medal game. During his first outing this spring, however, he was up to 96 mph with his fastball, a sharper curveball and a plus changeup. The 100-plus scouts could confidently leave that game and project three plus pitches on the prep lefthander who stood 6-foot-5. While the stuff hasn’t been quite as loud for Liberatore since then—his fastball in particular hasn’t held that velocity—he still has the frame and pitchability that teams can dream on, with a fairly clean and quick arm as well as makeup that scouts rave about. The Arizona commit pitches with a bulldog-like mentality on the mound but also brings a cerebral approach to what he’s trying to do, with an advanced understanding of how to attack hitters and how to manipulate his pitches. During the spring, Liberatore added a low-80s slider that he showcased to a large group of evaluators at USA Baseball’s National High School Invitational. The pitch is currently behind his curveball and changeup—both of which project as plus offerings—but showed some promise and he seemed confident with the offering given that he added it to his now-four-pitch mix about a week prior. While Liberatore’s stuff and control isn’t currently as loud as MacKenzie Gore’s (the top lefthander in the 2017 draft class) was at this same point last year, the combination of his size, projection, makeup and pitchability should have him off the board early in the first round.

2. Nolan Gorman, 3B, O’Connor HS, Phoenix (BA Rank: 15)
HS • 6-1 • 210 • L-R • Arizona

Gorman has some of the best raw power in the 2018 draft class—college or high school—and raised his stock significantly over the summer. Gorman won multiple home run derbies and showed that his power played against some of the top pitching prospects in the game at a few of the bigger showcases, displaying easy plus power against mid-90s velocity. He was the talk of the scouting community after putting on an offensive show during USA Baseball’s 18U National Team trials in late August against multiple college teams in Minnesota. Gorman was unanimously voted to BA’s Preseason High School All-America team at third base by major league scouting directors and had positioned himself to be one of the first hitters taken in the draft. However, his stock fell a bit this spring, when scouts noted that Gorman looked stiffer defensively, creating more reason to believe that he would eventually need to move to first base. Additionally, Gorman has added to the questions surrounding his hit tool rather than answer them, particularly at USA Baseball’s National High School Invitational, where he swung and missed often against offspeed pitches and also expanded his strike zone. He was one of just four batters at the event to swing and miss at least 10 times. While Gorman has had little trouble squaring up big-time velocity, he now has some significant questions about his ability to handle breaking pitches, as he also struggled in that domain during the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U-18 World Cup in Thunder Bay, Canada, where he hit .222/.241/.294 with 10 strikeouts and four walks. Still, when Gorman hits the ball he hits it harder than almost anyone in the class. He had the highest average exit velocity at the NHSI at 102.1 mph, with an exit velocity a tick harder against breaking balls, specifically. Defensively, teams are likely split on his eventual destination. He has an above-average arm that’s likely plus and he showed impressive glove work at the hot corner with Team USA, making plays on the run and while off-balance. However, the increased stiffness he showed this spring won’t help encourage those who already believed he would eventually move to first. While his hit tool is more difficult to project now than teams would have liked, his power is 70-grade or better and that should still get him taken somewhere in the middle of the first round.

3. Gage Canning, OF, Arizona State (BA Rank: 90)
4YR • Jr. • 5-11 • 178 • L-R • Never Drafted

After leading Arizona State in most offensive categories as a sophomore, Canning has taken steps forward across the board during his junior season with career-highs in doubles, triples, home runs and walks while hitting .387/.436/.672 through the first 43 games of the season. At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, Canning will likely never be a huge power threat, but he does bring some strength to the table with a line drive approach that should net him plenty of extra-base hits. Canning does have some swing and miss concerns, as he struck out 30 percent of the time as a freshman before cutting that rate almost in half during his sophomore campaign. That rate was back up to the 21 percent range after 43 games, but he has walked more frequently as a junior. Canning played right field as a freshman and sophomore but has made a strong transition to center field this spring, running down balls in the gaps and continuing to improve his jumps and route-running ability. There aren’t too many holes in Canning’s game, aside from his proclivity for strikeouts and lack of a wood bat track record, and his spring season is among the best of the 2018 college draft class.

4. Jake Wong, RHP, Grand Canyon (BA Rank: 96)
4YR • Jr. • 6-2 • 185 • L-R • Never Drafted

Wong has excelled over the last two years as Grand Canyon’s ace. This spring, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound righthander took advantage of pitching in the Phoenix area during spring training, when many high-ranking executives were easily able to see him pitch. Wong has a heavy fastball that last summer reached 97 mph when he was used out of the bullpen in the Cape Cod League, but typically sits in the low 90s when he starts. His sharp slider is his primary offspeed pitch and the further development of his changeup will be key to his success as a starter. Wong has a repeatable delivery and pounded the zone with his fastball. He hasn’t piled up as many strikeouts as some would like to see, but his combination of stuff, size and track record is enough to make him the highest drafted player out of Grand Canyon in 25 years.

5. Cody Deason, RHP, Arizona (BA Rank: 113)
4YR •  6-4 • 205 • R-R • Never Drafted

Deason has thrived as the Wildcats’ Friday night starter after spending his first two years in Tucson as a reliever and spot starter, with the highlight being a complete game shutout of UCLA in early May. His 2018 season follows an outstanding Cape Cod League performance in 2017, when he posted a 1.19 ERA while pitching out of the bullpen for Orleans. Despite his success as a starter this year, Deason is viewed by most talent evaluators as a likely reliever in pro ball. His delivery has effort, and while he has a four-pitch mix, he is most effective when using his fastball/curveball combo. Deason’s average fastball sits in the low 90s, touching 94-95 mph. His best out-pitch and most consistent offering is a 12-to-6 curveball that he can really spin, but it could be even more effective if it was a bit firmer than its current 72-75 mph velocity. Deason is expected to go off the board early on day two of the draft.

6. Alfonso Rivas, OF/1B, Arizona (BA Rank: 123)
4YR • 5-11 • 184 • R-L • Never Drafted

Observers have no doubt that Rivas will hit, with most evaluators putting a plus future grade on the hit tool. He followed a strong 2017 season—when he was a first team all-Pac 12 player and second team All-American—by getting himself into better shape and this year has been the anchor in the Wildcats lineup. Rivas is a lefthanded hitter with outstanding makeup. He has excellent knowledge of the strike zone and a short swing, giving him the ability to handle offspeed pitches and regularly hit the ball to the opposite field. The biggest question is whether Rivas will develop enough power to profile at either first base, which is his best defensive position, or a corner outfield spot. He doesn’t project to add much more strength to his frame, but he currently has average raw power. In games, he shows more doubles power than over-the-fence pop. Rivas played right field during his sophomore year in deference to J.J. Matijevic before moving to first base this spring. He’s an above-average defender at first base with above-average hands. While he feels comfortable in the outfield and flashes an above-average arm, Rivas is a below-average runner and doesn’t profile well, defensively, as an outfielder. His pure bat-to-ball skills should get Rivas drafted early on day two.

7. Brennen Davis, OF, Basha HS, Chandler, Ariz. (BA Rank: 136)
HS • 6-4 • 175 • L-R • Miami

Davis has been a tough one to scout this spring, as he has struggled with a hamstring problem for much of his senior year. He was already more of a projection, having come to baseball late after spending more time playing basketball early in his high school career. Davis was a key contributor when Basha (Chandler, Ariz.) captured the Arizona 6A state championship in his junior year before he started focusing strictly on a baseball career. An above-average or better runner when healthy, the 6-foot-4, 175-pound Davis uses easy, graceful strides in the outfield and on the bases, an his above-average arm gets good carry. The big question with Davis is the development of his bat, as he is still very raw at the plate. He has good, quick hands, but doesn’t yet understand how to adjust them to the pitch or leverage his body, resulting in current below-average power. He showed improvement last fall at the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., and scouts more recently have noticed more fluidity in his swing. Davis is your typical high-risk, high-reward prospect who would likely require two years of Rookie ball before advancing to a higher minor league level if he signs. He could go as high as the third round, but Davis is an outstanding student who could choose to honor his commitment to Miami if he drops too far in the draft.

8. Jonathan Ornelas, SS, Kellis HS, Glendale, Ariz. (BA Rank: 143)
HS • 6-0 • 160 • R-R • Tennessee

Ornelas made big strides in the offseason, when the righthanded-hitting shortstop added strength and started showcasing the ability to turn on pitches with hard contact. The looming question—which has received varying answers from scouts—is whether Ornelas will be able to stay at shortstop in the future. His plus hands and above-average to plus arm are enough for the position, but his limited range and tick below-average speed may push Ornelas to second or third base. Regardless of where he winds up defensively, Ornelas projects to have enough bat for any infield position. He has an aggressive but short swing with surprising power for his size, and shows the ability to use the whole field. Ornelas has also been clocked in the low 90s from the mound, but it’s not likely any team will take him as a pitcher. He is committed to Tennessee, but if he’s singable, Ornelas will likely not get past the fourth or fifth round.

9. Michael Flynn, RHP, Arizona (BA Rank: 193)
4YR • Jr. • 6-3 • 210 • R-R • Never Drafted

Flynn has had more draft helium in the last month than nearly any other Four Corners prospect, showing enough improvement on the mound that he may go off the board early on day two. After pitching primarily out of the bullpen with the occasional midweek start during his first two years at Arizona, Flynn moved into the Saturday slot this spring and has impressed scouts with an improving array of pitches. He missed the fall season due to elbow soreness, limiting looks at him until the spring and possibly causing a few minor concerns on draft day, but there is no mistaking the results thus far. He was especially dominating in an early May start against UCLA, when he struck out 12 hitters in 6.2 innings. His 89-95 mph fastball has good life and he locates it well to both sides of the plate. Flynn added a changeup last year and the pitch, which has late movement, was his best offering earlier this season. But the real difference maker lately has been adding more separation between his curveball and slider, giving him another weapon to make it through lineups a third time. The recent improvements give Flynn a better chance to stick in a starting rotation as a pro. He shows advanced feel and throws all of his pitches for strikes. His delivery is a little rough as he strides short and throws downhill, but he’s able to repeat it.

10. Cesar Salazar, C, Arizona (BA Rank: 277)
4YR • 5-9 • 188 • R-R • Never Drafted

Salazar first came to the United States from his home in Hermosillo, Mexico for high school alongside Javier Medina, who was the third-round pick of the Rockies in 2015. While eligibility issues limited playing time for both Salazar and Medina in high school, Salazar has spent most of the last three years serving as Arizona’s starting catcher. He has made big strides at the plate this year by adding strength, but he is still regarded as a defense-first catcher. He blocks and receives well and knows how to manage a pitching staff. His fringe-average arm plays up because his quick hands and feet allow him to get rid of the ball quickly. Salazar improved offensively in 2018 with solid bat-to-ball skills, but he is still more of a singles hitter who doesn’t impact the baseball consistently. He has a short, compact swing, however, and could grow into more power. Most importantly, Salazar’s intangibles allow all of his tools to play up. He’ll be drafted in the top 10 rounds, primarily because of his leadership and skills behind the plate.

11. Lyle Lin, C, Arizona State (BA Rank: 322)
4YR • De. So. • 6-1 • 205 • L-R • Mariners ’16 (16)

A native of Taiwan, Lin played scholastically at JSerra High in Southern California with 2017 No. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis. He was drafted in the 16th round by the Seattle Mariners in 2016, but instead chose to head to Arizona State. He’s a draft-eligible sophomore who could go in the top 10 rounds this time around, although observers are mixed about whether Lin has the skills and athletic actions to stay behind the plate. He’s a below-average defensive catcher, but he throws well and has an average, accurate arm. At the plate, Lin has good hands and is a contact hitter with a line-drive approach. Because of his approach—and his lack of balance at the plate—Lin has below-average power. The lack of pop means that he is going to have to improve defensively since he won’t have enough bat for a move to first base. Lin may return to campus for another year if teams remain lukewarm on him in this year’s draft.

12. Keegan McCarville, RHP, South Mountain (Ariz.) JC (BA Rank: 335)
JC • So. • 6-1 • 195 • R-R • Never Drafted

McCarville, who played high school ball in the Phoenix area with likely first-round pick Nolan Gorman, raised his profile with a statistically outstanding second season at South Mountain CC. In 2018, McCarville led all Arizona JC hurlers with 112 strikeouts while walking only 18 in 96 innings. His short delivery can be stiff and there’s not a lot of projection in his 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame, but he’s an effective strike-thrower who gets swings and misses from a low-80s curveball. McCarville’s fastball sits 88-91 mph with life, but it doesn’t project to add much more velocity. The Santa Clara commit will get drafted by an organization that values his performance and pitchability.

13. Nick Iverson, RHP, Central Arizona JC (BA Rank: 350)
JC • So. • 6-1 • 175 • R-R • Never Drafted

Iverson jumped on scouts’ radars early in 2018, when the sophomore touched 96 mph in the first weekend of the season. For most of the year the Ontario, Canada native’s fastball velocity has sat in the low 90s, however, touching 93 mph. Because of his smaller, 6-foot-1, 170-pound stature, Iverson doesn’t project to add more zip to his average fastball. He has good feel for all four of his pitches, with his curveball, slider and changeup projecting to be average pitches. Scouts noted that Iverson’s stuff backed up as the season progressed, likely due to his lack of size. He competes well and has feel for the game. He could get drafted late on day two, although a team that saw the potential in his early season performances could jump on him before then. Iverson is committed to Gonzaga, but he is considered signable.

14. Tylor Megill, RHP, Arizona (BA Rank: 396)
4YR • Sr. • 6-6 • 230 • R-R • Never Drafted

Like his older brother, Trevor, who is currently pitching in the Padres’ farm system, Tylor started his college career at Loyola Marymount. He stayed there for only one year and then had a one-year stint at Cypress (Calif.) JC before heading to Arizona for two seasons. Listed at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, Megill has a power arm and is a huge presence on the mound—two attributes that will help him get drafted in 2018. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and he repeats his delivery well. His hard, 82-85 mph slider is an average pitch at its best, but it’s inconsistent and often flattens out. He could go in the back half of the top 10 rounds as an affordable senior sign.

15. Jayce Easley, SS, O’Connor HS, Phoenix (BA Rank: 452)
HS • 5-10 • 150 • R-R • Oregon State

Easley received plenty of coverage during his senior year of high school thanks to the presence of teammate Nolan Gorman, who is a likely first-round pick. The son of former big league infielder, Damion Easley, Jayce was a spark plug for the Arizona 6A state championship team. He’s a plus runner with a strong, line drive swing despite his small, 5-foot-10, 150-pound stature. He has good balance and a solid approach at the plate. An average defender with good instincts, Easley’s above-average arm should be enough to handle shortstop at the next level. He’s committed to Oregon State with the opportunity to replace either Nick Madrigal or Cadyn Grenier at one of the Beavers’ middle infield positions if he doesn’t sign.

16. Sean Roby, 3B, Arizona Western JC (BA Rank: 477)
JC • So. • 6-2 • 205 • B-R • Never Drafted

Roby boosted his stock with strong performances during the Arizona JC playoffs, which might have been enough to put the righthanded slugger in draft consideration late on day two. He was leading all Arizona JC hitters with 20 home runs, 70 RBIs and a .755 slugging percentage going into the district tournament. He gets good bat speed from a strong frame. Primarily a pull hitter with a hitch in his swing, Roby gets the barrel to the inside half of the plate but struggles with breaking balls away. A below-average runner, Roby moves well enough at third base and can be an adequate defender with just a tick below-average range. He’s considered signable, despite his Texas Wesleyan commitment.

17. Mick Vorhoff, RHP, Grand Canyon (BA Rank: N/A )
4YR • Sr. • 6-1 • 205 • R-R • Never Drafted

Vorhof could be one of the more intriguing senior signs from the Four Corners this year. What stands out most for the Antelopes closer is his outstanding 43-4 strikeout-to-walk rate heading into the last week of the regular season. He has a clean delivery that closes a little on the front side, and he throws strikes. His fastball sits 92-93 mph, touching 94, but he primarily gets batters out with an above average curveball that flashes plus to get batters out. A fierce competitor, Vorhof is more of a finished product who could move quickly through the lower levels of the minor leagues.

18. R.J. Dabovich, RHP, Central Arizona JC (BA Rank: N/A )
Dabovich, a native of Pueblo, Colorado, put up a fine first season with perennial juco powerhouse Central Arizona, posting a 9-3 record and a 1.81 ERA. His average fastball sits around 92 mph, touching 95, and unlike some juco hurlers who struggled with the long season Dabovich maintained his velocity all year. He has a projectable frame that could add strength with age. His secondary pitches are behind the fastball, with both an inconsistent slider and changeup that flash average. Dabovich may get picked late on day two by a team that likes the projection.

19. Ian Mejia, RHP, Sahuarita (Ariz.) HS (BA Rank: N/A)

20. Alex Isola, C, Yavapai (Ariz.) JC (BA Rank: N/A)

21. Darius Vines, RHP, Yavapai (Ariz.) JC (BA Rank: N/A)
JC • So. • 

22. Jake Vander Wal, OF, Central Arizona JC (BA Rank: N/A)
JC • R-So. • 

23. Antoine Mistico, OF, Scottsdale (Ariz.) JC (BA Rank: N/A)

24. C.J. Schauwecker, 1B, Pinnacle HS, Phoenix (BA Rank: N/A)

25. Chase Webster, RHP, Mesquite HS, Gilbert, Ariz. (BA Rank: N/A)

26. Avery Weems, LHP, Arizona (BA Rank: N/A)
4YR • Jr. • 6-2 • 205 • -L • Never Drafted

27. Eli Lingos, LHP, Arizona State (BA Rank: N/A)
4YR • Sr. • 6-0 • 192 • L-L • Never Drafted

28. Ian Evans, 1B, Grand Canyon (BA Rank: N/A)
4YR • Sr. • 5-11 • 185 • L-R • Never Drafted

29. Holden Bernhardt, LHP, Mesa (Ariz.) JC (BA Rank: N/A)
JC • So. • 6-0 • 170 • R-L • Never Drafted

30. Over Torres, OF, Yavapai (Ariz.) JC (BA Rank: N/A)
JC • So. • 6-0 • 195 • L- • Never Drafted

31. Connor Higgins, LHP, Arizona State (BA Rank: N/A)
4YR • Jr. • 6-5 • 240 • -R • Rangers ’17 (35)

32. Jordan Rathbone, OF/C, South Mountain (Ariz.) JC (BA Rank: N/A)
JC • So. • 6-0 • 210 • L- • Never Drafted

33. Leonardo Palacios, LHP, Carl Hayden HS, Phoenix (BA Rank: N/A)
HS • 6-3 • 180 • -L •

34. Chaz Montoya, LHP, Arizona State (BA Rank: N/A)
4YR • DE-So. • 6-0 • 170 • L-L • Never Drafted

35. Seth Beckstead, C, Basha HS, Chandler, Ariz. (BA Rank: N/A)
HS • 6-0 • 175 • L-R • Grand Canyon

36. Miguel Cirino, RHP, Ottawa (Ariz.) (BA Rank: N/A)
4YR • Jr. • 6-2 • 180 • R-R • Never Drafted

37. Jonathan Nunnally Jr., OF, Arizona Christian (BA Rank: N/A)
4YR • Sr. • 6-2 • 195 • R-R • Blue Jays ’13 (38)

38. Robert Milacki, RHP, Arizona Christian (BA Rank: N/A)
4YR • Jr. • 6-2 • 215 • R-R • Never Drafted

39. James Gamble, OF, Greenway HS, Phoenix (BA Rank: N/A)
HS • R- • UNLV

40. Hayden Durkiewicz, LHP, Ottawa (Ariz.) (BA Rank: N/A)
4YR • Jr. • 6-0 • 175 • -L • Never Drafted

41. Marcus Skundrich, C, Mesa (Ariz.) JC (BA Rank: N/A)
JC • R-So. • 6-1 • 200 • L-R • Never Drafted

42. Ethan Evanko, LHP, Grand Canyon (BA Rank: N/A)
4YR • R-Sr. • 6-4 • 195 • R-L • Never Drafted

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