West Coast Draft Notes: 2022 A Banner Year For Northern California
In the axis of California amateur baseball, the top talent tends to skew heavily toward Southern California.
That’s not the case this year. The 2022 season is shaping up to be a banner year for Northern California in the draft.
Stanford outfielder Brock Jones, Cal outfielder Dylan Beavers, Palo Alto High outfielder Henry Bolte, McClatchey (Sacramento) High catcher Malcolm Moore and fast-rising Rocklin High outfielder Payton Brennan have all established themselves as potential first-round picks through the first six weeks of the college and high school seasons, and all are sure to be gone by the second round barring injury or an unexpected turn of events.
Though Jones and Beavers haven’t hit for high averages yet, both are getting on base at high rates with nearly as many walks as strikeouts, hitting for power and showing enticing tools that have them firmly in first-round consideration. Jones has stood out for his exceptionally advanced approach given his two-sport background—he previously played safety on Stanford’s football team in addition to playing baseball—and is showing the tools to be an average hitter with 20-plus home run potential while playing smooth defense in center field. Beavers, meanwhile, is flashing some of the most upside in the draft class with his projectable 6-foot-4 frame, electric bat speed and easy plus power to all fields from the left side, even with a swing and setup that need to be adjusted.
Bolte and Moore have long been established on the showcase circuit, but Brennan’s rise has made the Northern California prep class especially strong. A physical, lefthanded-hitting center fielder, Brennan missed most of the major showcases last summer after having labrum surgery on his right shoulder but has come out with a vengeance this spring. In addition to physically looking straight out of central casting for a top teenaged center fielder, Brennan has shown flashes of all five tools with a fast, leveraged swing that allows him to hit for average and power, plus speed, above-average arm strength and the instincts to play center field. As long as his medicals check out, he has a chance to sneak into the back of the first round and be the first prep player taken out of Northern California.
Overall, the quintet makes this the strongest class for Northern California since 2017, when the region had five players selected in the top 50 picks: Cal Quantrill, Matt Manning, Dylan Carlson, Daulton Jefferies and Lucas Erceg. All but Erceg have reached the majors.
College Pitchers Start To Surface
The 2022 draft class has thus far been defined by its lack of college pitching.
Gonzaga righthander Trystan Vrieling and Cal Poly righthander Drew Thorpe are doing their part to help fill the void.
Vrieling has been one of the fastest risers in the class in recent weeks, to the point high-level decision-makers are altering their schedules to see him. Thorpe’s slider, meanwhile, has taken a jump to give him a needed third pitch and push him into top-two rounds consideration.
Vrieling worked out of the bullpen his first two seasons at Gonzaga and last summer in the Cape Cod League before moving into the starting rotation this year. He’s drawn immediate attention with his projectable 6-foot-4 frame, a fastball up to 96 mph he holds deep into his starts and a well-rounded collection of secondaries with a curveball, cutter and changeup that have all been effective. He has only made six starts and has to prove he can maintain it over a full season, but his early showing has evaluators buzzing.
Thorpe entered the year as a more established pitcher with a low-90s fastball, a devastating changeup and plus control. His slider was previously a distant third pitch, but it’s improved to become an above-average offering he now throws liberally. Relying primarily on his slider and changeup, Thorpe has put up video-game numbers this year with a 2.13 ERA, 66 strikeouts and only six walks in 42.1 innings. With his large 6-foot-4 frame, a fastball that’s been up to 95 mph at its best, exceptional feel to pitch and now two secondary pitches he can miss bats with, he is now a candidate to go as high as the compensation round.
There is depth in the region behind Vrieling and Thorpe, too. Gonzaga righthander Gabriel Hughes, Long Beach State righthander Luis Ramirez and San Diego lefthander Bryce Mautz have all pushed themselves into top-three rounds consideration with their early performances.
Melton Making Moves
College players from the Pacific Northwest tend to rise during the season, with the most recent examples including Oregon outfielder Aaron Zavala and Washington State first baseman Kyle Manzardo pushing themselves into the second round last year and Oregon State lefthander Christian Chamberlain and Washington righthander Stevie Emanuels rising into the top five rounds during the shortened 2020 season.
Oregon State outfielder Jacob Melton is on a similarly rapid rise this year. Melton, a lefthanded-hitting center fielder, has become a hot attraction for top decision-makers in recent weeks, showcasing power, speed and the contact skills to hit for average even with an unorthodox swing. He is batting .396/.422/.781 with nine home runs, 37 RBIs and eight stolen bases in only 22 games and is displaying power to all fields, including the ability to hit balls out the opposite way with little effort.
Melton has flashed plus run times and projects to stay in center field while checking every analytical box teams want in terms of swing metrics and exit velocities. Beyond his pure performance, he is 6-foot-3 and still has room to get stronger, enticing clubs with the notion there is more upside to come. Melton would go in the top half of the second round if the draft was today, and he has a chance to continue pushing himself up further as the season progresses.
Boras Classic Returns
The Boras Classic, annually one of the top high school baseball events in the country, is set to return for the first time in three years after being canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The North Classic takes place from April 11-14 at Army Depot Park in Sacramento. The South Classic will take place April 19-22 at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. and JSerra High School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
An intriguing subplot of this year’s Boras Classic is who will emerge as the top prep pitcher in California. Stockdale (Bakersfield) High righthander Austin Charles will pitch in the North Classic and Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) High righthander Kassius Thomas will pitch in the South Classic.
The two are presently considered the clear-cut top prep pitching prospects in the state, with the preference between the two depending on the evaluator. With a strong performance at the Boras Classic, each has a chance to separate himself.
Toutle Lake (Wash.) High righthander Jackson Cox and McQueen (Reno, Nev.) High lefthander Robby Snelling are two other high school pitchers rising fast in the west. Cox is sitting 92-95 mph with one of the best curveballs in the class and Snelling has been up to 95 mph from the left side with an innate feel to spin a breaking ball. Both are garnering consideration as high as the second round … USC shortstop D’Andre Smith has a chance to end an inauspicious drought for the Trojans. Once a top destination for draft talent, USC has not had a player drafted in the top three rounds since 2014. Smith is currently in third-round consideration for many clubs and could rise higher with a strong rest of the season … Fresno State third baseman Andrew Kachel and Pacific third baseman Thomas Gavello entered the year considered two of the most intriguing hitters out west, but both are off to slow starts against mid-major competition. Kachel is batting .226 with two home runs and Gavello is batting .260 and striking out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances.