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MLB Draft Scouting Notes On Nick Kurtz, Jonathan Santucci And Other Top Prospects


Image credit: Duke's Jonathan Santucci (Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)

Last weekend’s Wake Forest-Duke series was one of the most anticipated matchups on the calendar for the scouting industry and more than 40 scouts descended on Winston-Salem for a three-game set that had five or six first-round talents on display. 

Wake is largely responsible for one of the best years for North Carolina talent in history thanks to Nick Kurtz, Seaver King, Chase Burns, Josh Hartle and Michael Massey, but Duke southpaw Jonathan Santucci has been climbing boards early this spring and faced his toughest test yet against the then-ranked No. 1 team in the country. 

Below are scouting notes and video from the weekend:

Nick Kurtz, 1B, Wake Forest (2)

Kurtz entered the year as the No. 2 player in the class thanks to his precocious hitting ability but he’s gotten off to a slow start this spring and has slashed .220/.466/.380 with two home runs. He went hitless during this series (0-for-8) but displayed the sort of hitting traits you would expect to see. He brings an advanced approach that helps him get on base even when balls in play aren’t falling for hits. 

Kurtz walked twice in each game of the series and has 22 walks compared to 12 strikeouts—good for a 30.1% walk rate (one of the highest in the country) and a 16.4% strikeout rate. Now the focal point of Wake’s lineup with Brock Wilken’s departure in the 2023 draft, Kurtz is seeing fewer strikes (56% in 2022 and 2023 compared to 50% in 2024) and he is happy to stay within the zone and take his walks.

In batting practice Kurtz shows an easy and natural usage of the entire field and shoots hard-hit line drives and towering fly balls to all areas of the park. It’s a pro looking batting practice that doesn’t sell out for the plus raw power he has in the tank, and his strong and snappy hands get the barrel moving through the zone quickly with a more compact swing than you might expect given his 6-foot-5 frame.

Kurtz had two plate appearances against Santucci. He struck out looking on a borderline 95-mph fastball on the outer third in a 2-2 count and in his second matchup he drew a four-pitch walk. Kurtz’s ability to pick up Santucci’s slider out of the hand early was impressive. After getting ahead 1-0 in his first plate appearance, he hammered an 83-mph slider in on his hands hard down the right field line foul.  

Despite a lack of results this weekend, Kurtz consistently put together quality at-bats and his approach and swing decisions stood out as strong traits. His misses were generally “good misses” where he was firing and looking to do damage in hitter’s counts, and he walked six times compared to four strikeouts while seeing 4.6 pitches per plate appearance.

Defensively, Kurtz wasn’t as slick at first base this weekend as his reputation suggests, and he missed a few picks on low throws that you would expect a plus defender at the position to come up with. He tends to drop down and throw from a sidearm slot on his throws, but he has above-average arm strength for the position. He turned in below average run times throughout the weekend from home to first.

Seaver King, CF/SS, Wake Forest (7)

King was one of last summer’s most prominent draft risers, but like Kurtz he entered this series still looking to put everything together at the plate. He had a loud weekend and went 5-for-14 (.357) with a home run and three doubles while showcasing his impressive athleticism and natural tools.

King has a vastly different hitting approach compared to Kurtz—which is potentially tricky for opposing pitchers since they bat back-to-back in the Wake lineup—and is ultra-aggressive in the box and looking to swing early. His bat speed jumps out immediately as plus, though King’s batting practice rounds were much more inconsistent with a pull-heavy approach and iffy timing especially in Friday’s session.

That held true in games as well. King swung at the first pitch in six of his 14 plate appearances throughout the weekend and saw just 3.1 pitches per plate appearance. This approach can lead to King getting himself out early in counts with bad swing decisions on pitches out of the zone, and his bat-to-ball skills are more than good enough to create issues for him on these instances. 

Conversely, that approach and those snappy hands allow him to get to pitches that other hitters either wouldn’t bother swinging at and couldn’t get on plane with if they tried. His most impressive hit of the weekend was in his first plate appearance against Jonathan Santucci. After a couple bad swings against Santucci’s slider, King found himself in a 1-2 count where Santucci attacked with a 95-mph fastball above the zone looking for a chase and strikeout. Santucci executed the pitch perfectly, but King was able to put his barrel on an above-average heater at his eyes and drive the ball hard to the left-center gap for a double.

It was a tremendous piece of barrel manipulation and showed how quick and explosive King’s hands really are. A second at-bat against Santucci also provided a glimpse at King’s aggressive approach. In the third inning, King observed two of his teammates draw back-to-back walks against the southpaw. However, he stepped to the plate and delivered a huge cut on the first pitch he saw—an 83-mph slider left up—and smashed a three-run homer to left field.

King has the physical tools to be an above-average hitter, but his approach could hold him back and how that develops at the next level will be key in determining his consistency.

Perhaps the most obvious tool that King has is his plus-plus speed. He’s consistently a high-effort runner out of the box who accelerates rapidly and turned in multiple 70-grade run times from home to first. His stride is athletic and easy, and he makes a tremendous turn around the bag when he’s looking to stretch a single into a double. My run times on him during the weekend ranged from 4.07-4.12 seconds and also included a 4.3-second time on the turn—which you can lop .2 seconds off to figure out where he’s at on the scale. That speed should allow him to become an above-average defender in center field, though his routes looked just OK on the few defensive chances he had this weekend.

King moved to shortstop halfway through the series after Marek Houston left a game with a hamstring tweak, and he impressed at the position. He does a nice job fielding balls up the middle and his range allows him to get around balls other shortstops might have to backhand in the hole. He had one impressive play where he did just this and made a strong throw while off-balance and on the run. King’s hands looked just OK in this brief look—his backhand efforts could use some work and he had a few odd drops during BP that could have simply been due to a lack of focus—but he has the actions and arm strength for the position if a team wanted to draft him as a shortstop. 

Chase Burns, RHP, Wake Forest (15)

Burns was far and away the most impressive arm of the weekend despite being Wake’s Saturday starter. He struck out 14 batters and walked two over six innings of work while allowing just two hits (one a home run) and one earned run on 99 pitches. The 14 strikeouts were a career best. 

Burns’ velocity is almost three ticks higher on average so far in 2024 compared to his 2023 season. He averaged 98 mph and touched 101 mph multiple times on Saturday. The fastball has some ride and cutting action that make it at least a 70-grade pitch and it would be unsurprising for some scouts to throw an 80 on it. Likewise his upper-80s slider is a real double-plus offering that features elite pure spin rates in the 2,900-3,000 rpm range with excellent tilt and biting action. 

Unsurprisingly Burns pitched heavily off the fastball/slider combination and he finished 10 of his 14 strikeouts with the slider and three with the fastball. Burns does have a low-80s curveball that offers a different speed and shape to his slider and he has slightly upped its usage this spring while occasionally mixing in a low-90s changeup. The curveball could be another average or tick better offering and the changeup could give him a fourth average pitch if you wanted to project on it though I had it as a fringe-average pitch in this look after he threw it a handful of times.

Burns is a standout athlete with a great pitcher’s frame who brings tremendous energy and competitiveness to the mound. His delivery will be the one significant question mark for teams debating how high to take him in the draft. He works from the third base side of the rubber and features plenty of depth in the back of his arm stroke before firing with tremendous arm speed from a higher arm slot and finishing with plenty of violence. He has an aggressive head whack and lots of recoil in the delivery which typically points to a reliever role. 

Burns has outlier stuff, however, and he could be a strong enough athlete to make this operation work in a starting role at the next level. He’s a control over command pitcher, but was consistently around the zone with his fastball if not precise with its location and showed a strong ability to locate both his breaking pitches. His walk rate is a bit higher than the norm for him so far this year (11.4%) but in 175.2 college innings he has posted a perfectly respectable 7.9% walk rate.

Scouts are currently debating whether Burns or Arkansas lefthander Hagen Smith are the top pure pitchers in the class. Burns feels like a safe bet to get taken inside the first 10 picks at the moment. 

Jonathan Santucci, LHP, Duke (28)

Friday’s game, which saw Santucci facing off against Hartle, was expected to be a tense pitcher’s duel with two of the better left-handers in the country. However, it turned out to be more of a hitter’s affair. I believe both Santucci and Hartle will receive some leeway here because rain delayed the game, and conditions weren’t ideal for pitching.

Santucci shoved in his first three starts of the season and didn’t allow a run. But Wake Forest hit him around a bit over 2.2 innings. He allowed six hits (including a Seaver King homer), five earned runs and struck out four batters while walking three. 

Santucci works from a half windup on the bump and throws with a solid delivery that features a three-quarters arm slot, slight crossfire landing and relatively balanced head throughout his finish. There’s a tick of head whack at times as well as some fall off to the third base side but ultimately he doesn’t have much effort in the delivery.

The Duke ace entered the game with an extremely high slider usage and Wake hitters seemed to be sitting on the pitch throughout his start because of that. He still generated nine whiffs on 18 swings with the pitch, but it was hit hard and left over the plate too frequently and ultimately looked less sharp—both in location and movement—than his first three starts of the season. When he throws a good one the slider is a plus pitch that generates whiffs against both lefties and righties but in this outing it was just a bit more inconsistent.

Santucci’s fastball sat comfortably in the 94-96 mph range and he flashed a solid ability to land the pitch on the edges of the zone—most notably when he dotted up on the outer rail to get Nick Kurtz looking at a strike three call—but quickly in the game he began pitching off the slider more frequently and the fastball control backed up.

Santucci also has an 86-88 mph changeup at his disposal, and the gradual fading life of the pitch gives it solid-average or better potential but he only used the offering a handful of times in this look and missed with it to his arm side. 

Josh Hartle, LHP, Wake Forest (14)

Hartle entered the year as one of college baseball’s most well-established starting pitchers and has been solid but unspectacular through his first four games of the season. Like Santucci, Hartle struggled in Friday’s game. Duke hit him around for 11 hits and six earned runs in 3.2 innings of work where he struck out four batters and walked two. 

Hartle has an up-tempo pace on the mound and throws with a fairly clean delivery that features some length in his takeback and a lower three-quarters arm slot. He has a deep pitch mix that includes a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cutter, slurvy breaking ball and changeup though none of those pitches looked plus in this look and arguably none looked above-average. 

Instead of overpowering hitters and missing bats, Hartle relies on mixing and matching, attacking the zone with above-average command and relying on weak contact since all of his pitches come in with a bit of wiggle. That means he relies more on defenders taking care of the ground balls he induces at a high rate (62% groundball rate in his career). His defense certainly hurt him multiple times in this look.

Hartle threw his fastball in the 89-92 mph range and touched 93, though he seemed most comfortable with his upper-80s cutter. It’s his best pitch to attack the zone against hitters of both handedness and looks similar to both his fastballs out of the hand.

His best swing-and-miss offering in this game was a low-80s breaking ball that he calls a slider but often blends in shape between a curve and a slider with gradual two-plane shape and some ability to manipulate the pitch depending on the situation. It was a solid chase offering when he threw it to the backfoot against righties below the zone but he’ll need to add a bit more power and late-biting action for it to become a true weapon and consistent in-zone swing-and-miss offering at the next level.

Because of that Hartle’s changeup will be a key piece of his arsenal to help him against righthanded bats at the next level. He throws the cambio in the mid 80s and it features soft tumbling action at times, looking at least average when he located it at the bottom of the zone. The pitch was inconsistent in this look—he yanked a few in the dirt and let a couple fly out of his hand, resulting in misses above the zone. 

Hartle is a high-probability starter because of his command and deep pitch mix, but there will be teams wondering what sort of upside he’ll be able to provide as a first round pick.

Michael Massey, RHP, Wake Forest (34)

After transferring to Wake via Tulane for the 2023 season Massey established himself as one of the most electric relievers in college baseball. In 2024, he transitioned to a Sunday starter role and entered this series with 22 strikeouts and just three walks in 12.2 innings, gradually getting stretched out. 

He struggled in this look, pitching just two innings before getting pulled. He allowed three runs (just one earned) on three hits and four walks to three strikeouts. 

Massey primarily worked off a fastball/slider combination out of the bullpen, though he has introduced a slower, mid-70s curveball with more 12-to-6 movement in a starting role. Both his fastball and slider velocity have been down a few ticks as a starter this season, and that was the case in his two innings of work Sunday as well. He opened up in the 92-95 mph range but his velocity fell to 89-91 in the third inning before he was pulled.

The heater has an excellent movement profile and is thrown from a deceptive delivery where Massey hides the ball well and he gets plenty of swing and miss at the top of the zone and above it—no matter the velocity. Massey’s slider pairs well with the fastball because of that and is much better when he’s able to establish the fastball for strikes in the zone early in at-bats. He did that early in this look but the fastball control quickly backed up in the second inning.

Massey’s mid-70s curveball feels like a solid addition to his repertoire given its shape, his feel for spin, his fastball quality and his arm slot but the pitch was hit hard in this look and was solidly behind the slider. It had a tendency to pop out of his hand a bit which probably helped hitters ID the pitch sooner.

Massey’s fastball traits and pure arm talent should still give him room to try and establish himself as a starter in pro ball, but he’s got some work to do this season to prove it despite solid peripherals and results through four games. 

AJ Gracia, OF, Duke (Class of 2026)

Scouts were focused on the 2024 day one prospects in this series, but it was impossible to not be impressed by what Duke true freshman AJ Gracia showed. He went 5-for-11 (.455) with two home runs and a double and had a four-hit game on Friday that included both of his homers—one against a Josh Hartle 81-mph breaking ball and a titanic blast later in the game against an 89-mph fastball in on his hands from righthander Ben Shenosky.

The latter was a titanic blast deep into the trees behind Wake’s right field fence and illustrated just how strong and powerful he is already with a 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame that has more room for strength gains.

After his first 15 games Gracia is hitting .367/.515/.735 with five home runs, three doubles, a 22.7% walk rate and a 15.2% strikeout rate. Gracia has an upright stance at the plate with a high back elbow and takes a big stride to the ball with a swing that is steep and can get lengthy. Despite a swing that looks like it would create some swing-and-miss issues, Gracia has seen the ball well and made plenty of contact so far this spring. He hit the ball hard throughout the weekend and showed an ability to adjust to spin and get his hands inside against velocity. 

He’s definitely a name to watch for the 2026 class.

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