PBR Florida Preseason Classic Highlights Potential First-Round Prospects
BRADENTON, Fla. — A year ago at Prep Baseball Report’s 2018 Florida Preseason Classic, a large contingent of scouts, national crosscheckers and scouting directors huddled around Merritt Island High School and watched a pair of future first-round picks in righthanders Carter Stewart and Mason Denaburg.
A year later at the 2019 version of the event—this time hosted by IMG Academy—multiple prep players who could go in the first round showed off their skills in a three-day preseason event.
As an added bonus for evaluators who made the trip to Bradenton, Fla., the 2019 PBR Florida Preseason Classic featured several junior colleges as well, with one switch-hitting middle infielder in particular putting on a show and boosting his draft stock. We’ll touch the notable junior college players in a separate notebook, but below you can find video and reports for several Top 200 Draft Prospects, including righthander Brennan Malone (No. 10), infielder Rece Hinds (No. 24), righthander Kendall Williams (No. 41) and righthander Joe Charles (No. 67).
There were also many other interesting prep prospects from the four high schools who participated—Central Pointe Academy (Kissimmee, Fla.), IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.), Palm Harbor (Fla.) High and TNXL Academy (Altamonte Springs, Fla.)—all of whom are mentioned below.
Brennan Malone | RHP | IMG Academy
The top-ranked player at the event, Malone got the start for the Ascenders in the primetime, heavily scouted game Thursday night against TNXL Academy. In three innings of work, Malone struck out four batters and allowed just one hit (a single), while also hitting a batter.
Malone’s fastball was mostly in the 92-94 mph range in this outing, though he did touch 95-96 mph early. His fastball control was average at best, and while he used the pitch effectively to get a pair of 1-2-3 innings in his first two frames, the control took a step back later in the outing. His most common miss was to the glove side, but he still generated four swings and misses with his fastball.
The North Carolina commit used two distinct breaking balls, a 74-78 mph curveball with 12-to-6 shape and a more firm, tighter 81-85 mph slider that he used just three times. The slider was the better pitch in this outing, as it was tougher to pick up out of his hand and featured impressive late-biting action. He generated two whiffs on the three sliders that Baseball America tracked, finishing off two of the four strikeouts he compiled.
Malone’s curveball had solid shape and spin, but he casted the ball at times and it was easier for hitters to read out of his hand. He used the pitch to induce one groundout on a low breaking ball below the zone, but the sole hit he surrendered came against the curveball as well.
Kendall Williams | RHP | IMG Academy
Williams piggybacked off of Malone’s start and got two innings of work before IMG beat TNXL in five innings. His fastball was 89-92 mph in the first frame before ticking down to 87-89 mph in the second inning. Williams had the best control of the three ranked high school arms in this game, and he finished with three strikeouts and one walk while surrendering three singles.
Williams’ best secondary was a 78-81 mph changeup that showed solid fading action at times and forced one batter to wave over when Williams spotted it down in the zone. He’ll need to improve the consistency of the offering, though, as it would flatten out at times and become hittable when left up and over the plate.
Williams also threw a 74-76 mph curveball that had three-quarter shape, but it seemed like the tall righthander was getting around the ball and cutting it, instead of getting completely on top and snapping the pitch down through the zone. His feel to spin the ball was solid and it had good depth, particularly when buried below the strike zone. He did get a pair of swings and misses with the pitch against his last batter, who he struck out.
Standing at 6-foot-6, 190-pounds, Williams works out of a half-windup and has a long, hooking action in the back of his arm stroke, but his fastball comes from a tough angle for hitters because of his height. He also toys with the timing of his windup at times, which further disrupts hitter's timing.
Joe Charles | RHP | TNXL Academy
It was a short outing for Charles on Thursday night, though the hard-throwing righthander made quick work of IMG in a 1-2-3 first inning. Charles opened with a leadoff walk, but then struck out back-to-back hitters before the inning ended on a caught stealing at second base.
Charles opened up the game with a 95 mph fastball and stayed in the 92-95 mph range throughout his two-plus innings of work, and he managed to strike Hinds out with a 95 mph fastball in the biggest hitter/pitcher matchup of the event.
His leadoff walk to start the inning was a sign of things to come, however, as Charles struggled heavily with his control. That’s been the consistent knock on the North Carolina commit dating back to last summer, and it was again an issue as he walked three batters and hit two more.
Outside of the fastball, Charles frequently went to a 76-79 mph curveball that flashed some late bite, with shape that ranged from 12-to-6 to a more horizontal breaking ball to his glove side, and backed up at times when he tried to land it on his arm side. Charles has the makings of two above-average pitches, but he’ll need to refine his control moving forward to make the most of them.
Rece Hinds | 3B | IMG Academy
The top-ranked hitter at the event, Hinds is playing shortstop for IMG Academy this spring, though no evaluators believe he’ll stick at the position at the next level. Instead, they hope he can improve enough defensively to profile as a third baseman in the future. He had a few routine chances at shortstop during games, however, and he converted them.
The bat is the main event with Hinds, though, and over two games the Louisiana State commit went 1-for-4 with a hard hit ground ball through the pull side of the infield and a well-struck, deep fly ball to center field that was robbed of becoming a home run with a great defensive play. Hinds also struck out twice and walked twice. The powerful, 6-foot-4, 210-pound slugger is regularly fed a heavy diet of breaking balls. He showed plenty of swing-and-miss on the offering and also swung through the aforementioned mid-90s heater from Charles.
When he does make contact it’s loud, but scouts are still waiting for him to show he can consistently put the barrel on the baseball. As usual, during batting practice, Hinds showed off easy plus power to all fields.
Will Bartlett | 1B | IMG Academy
Bartlett was the most impressive hitter at the tournament this week, and, like Hinds, brings plenty of power to the table. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Arizona commit tapped into that power more regularly than Hinds during games this week, however.
Bartlett tripled to deep right field during his first at-bat on Tuesday, and in his second trip to the plate, pulled a no-doubt home run to left. He showed that he could barrel up high-end velocity on Thursday as well, taking an inside, 95 mph heater from Charles and lining it right back up the middle before being pitched around in his next two trips to the plate—walking on both occasions.
Bartlett played first base in both games this week but has also played catcher in the past. Scouts that Baseball America talked to who had seen Bartlett behind the dish said there’s a lot of work to do in that regard, so he might be a better fit on a corner, where his power could still profile if he keeps hitting.
Ranked Prospects To Note
— No. 63 ranked prospect Hylan Hall didn't play this week for TNXL and is currently suspended from the team. Hall is a toolsy outfielder with athleticism, plus speed and a strong arm, but missed a good opportunity to showcase those skills this week.
— IMG third baseman Joshua Rivera, currently ranked No. 110 on BA's Top 200 Draft Prospects list, had a knee operation over the offseason and is still recovering. Rivera was the co-MVP of Perfect Game's National Classic last fall, when he helped lead his Florida Burn travel team to a championship. While he's still waiting to play in games, Rivera did take ground balls at third base and swung the bat in batting practice.
2019 High School Preseason All-Americans
Shortstops Bobby Witt Jr. and C.J. Abrams—the two top-ranked prep players in the 2019 draft class—headline the 2019 team.
Team by Team Notes
— Righthander Jimmy Starnes: A 6-foot, 170-pound West Virginia commit, Starnes started the first game of the week for IMG against Central Pointe, throwing five innings with six strikeouts, five hits allowed (all singles), one walk and two hit batters. Starnes throws from a low, three-quarter slot and has some drop and drive in his delivery, with a low finish on the mound and slight cross-firing action in his lower half, falling to first base at times in his finish. Starnes pitched off of an 87-90 mph fastball that showed occasional arm-side life, an upper-70s breaking ball that featured early break and slurve-like shape and he also infrequently threw a changeup in the low 80s.
— Catcher Jax Cash: The South Carolina commit showed a solid throwing arm behind the plate, picking a tough pitch low near the dirt and showing impressive foot speed for his size (6-foot-4, 205-pounds) to get into throwing position and catch a runner trying to steal second.
— Outfielder Kyle Westfall: A 6-foot, 175-pound Texas Tech commit, Westfall didn’t do much with the bat Tuesday, but he showed plus speed in the outfield with quick jumps on multiple fly balls in the gaps. He’s a smooth runner who looked confident going in any direction and covered ground well.
— Righthander Kevin Melendez: Melendez might not draw much attention from pro scouts just yet thanks to his size (5-foot-11, 154 pounds) and a fastball that sat in the mid-80s, but the Bethune-Cookman commit could become an effective college arm quickly. He showed good feel to land a low-70s curveball for strikes and also used the offering as a chase pitch out of the zone—particularly low and away to righthanded hitters. He throws out of a three-quarter arm slot, with a long hooking action in the back of his stroke as well as plenty of coil in his leg kick. At times, he would speed up his delivery to disrupt the timing of batters. He’ll need to add strength in the future to improve his currently well below-average fastball, but his feel to both spin and locate his curveball is promising for his college career.
— Righthander Jackson Nezuh: The 2020 Florida commit got the ball for TNXL in its first game of the week against Palm Harbor Tuesday night. Nezuh threw an 86-89 mph fastball that touched 90 mph in the first inning, and he struck out eight batters in four innings of work. A lanky, 6-foot-1, 170-pound rightnader, Nezuh has room to fill out his frame and is easy to project on with a clean and easy delivery. He threw his fastball to both sides of the plate effectively, but frequently left the pitch up in the zone—which worked in this outing but might have to be spotted better against hitters at the next level. As for secondaries, Nezuh threw a 74-78 mph curveball that showed potential to be a solid offering, with late tilt on one 74 mph offering down below the strike zone that drew a whiff to finish a strikeout. At times, however, the pitch hung up in the zone and lacked bite. Overall, there’s a lot to like about what Nezuh brings to the mound, but there is still plenty of refinement remaining.
— Catcher Doug Kirkland: Kirkland is a 2019 Florida State commit who showed off a big-time arm from behind the plate, though he needs to refine the receiving aspect of his game. At the plate, he went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout on Tuesday.
— Righthander Hunter Mink: Mink got the nod for Palm Harbor on Tuesday against TNXL and threw four innings with three strikeouts. Committed to Florida, Mink is listed at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, but he looks a bit shorter than that on the mound. He throws from a very low slot, which ventures into a full side-arm delivery at times. That arm slot, combined with his crossfire delivery, can be quite deceptive against righthanded hitters, although he does set up on the first-base side of the rubber. Mink’s fastball ranged from 89-91 mph early in the outing, and he paired that with a slurvy curveball in the 74-76 mph range that had solid depth and late cutting action at times. He also threw an 84 mph changeup that had slight fading action and induced a groundout from one batter, but he also hit a batter with the same pitch during the next plate appearance. His three-pitch mix should give him a chance to start, but there’s reliever risk with Mink thanks to his slot, as well as the length and stabbing action in the back of his stroke.