Inside The Top 50: High School Players

Parkview HS CF & Georgia Tech signee Josh Hart

Kiley takes us behind the scenes with scouting tidbits on prep players in the Top 50. The top of the class hasn't changed much since showcase season ended in October, but a number of players in the late first to second round range have made loud early-season statements.

Also see:

Draft Top 50 Rankings

Inside The Top 50: College Players

- At the top of the prep class, things are steady; the only way to go is down and there haven't been enough games to change evaluations yet. #3 prospect Austin Meadows (Clemson signee) and #5 prospect Clint Frazier (Georgia) are the two elite center fielders in the Atlanta area from that group and I'll be seeing a lot of them later in the season to gauge their progress. Los Angeles-area prep bats and USC signees #8 prospect SS J.P. Crawford and #12 prospect 1B Dominic Smith have been good early. Smith is the steady bat that always produces and Crawford is the higher upside, higher risk shortstop that scouts love, but aren't sure just how much yet.

- The #6 prospect Oklahoma prep catcher Jon Denney (Arkansas signee) is new to the group as he moved up boards late in the fall as it became clear he had the rare combination of plus in-game raw power and an ability to stick behind the plate. I have him ranked 6th, which is the pick the Marlins own and their scouting decision makers are largely from Oklahoma, making this the earliest rumored team/player connection.

- Cold weather players such as #17 prospect C Reese McGuire (San Diego signee), #19 prospect CF Ryan Boldt (Nebraska), #28 prospect LHS/RF Trey Ball (Texas), #29 prospect LHP Rob Kaminsky (North Carolina) are waiting for the snow to thaw before they can start their seasons in an unusually cold spring. This spring will be especially important for Ball as scouts are still split as to whether the lanky 6'6 lefty is a better prospect on the mound or as a right fielder and they won't have many games this spring to help them make their decision. In addition to the cold weather players, scouts haven't been able to see Texas high school RHP and #26 prospect Kohl Stewart (Texas A&M signee) due to a shoulder injury, but he should be getting back on the mound in March.

- Tampa-area SS and #15 prospect Oscar Mercado (Florida State signee) , has been frustrating scouts with his inconsistency but it won't affect his draft status much. Mercado and J.P. Crawford are the only two potential everyday big league shortstops in the draft and two of the few prospects of this sort in recent years. So, scouts can give Mercado a long leash when his swing gets too top-heavy and doesn't incorporate his legs and he is lackadaisical in the field. He's still a solid mid-first round pick and scouts have openly questioned what he could do this spring to change that for better or worse.

- A Tampa area player that has been making the most of his early season opportunities is #24 prospect 3B Tucker Neuhaus, a Louisville signee. Neuhaus has missed the last few weeks after taking a grounder off the ear but will return this weekend for the Saladino Tournament where he'll play head-to-head against Mercado in the same event as the Morales-Danish matchup. Neuhaus may have missed the past few weeks but he made a lot of noise in the first few weeks of the season with a more polished game and improved tools since the fall. He compares favorably with Notre Dame 3B Eric Jagielo as a hitter and has a better chance to stick at third base.

- Two more players taking a step forward this spring are #46 prospect CF Billy McKinney (TCU signee) and #42 prospect RHP Connor Jones (Virginia). McKinney is a 55 or 60 runner (on the 20-80 scouting scale where 50 is major league average) which is just enough to stick in center, so he relies on his hitting ability for his prospect status. Scouts are really buying into his bat speed and contact ability, making him a possible option in the first round. Jones was known as a solid-framed righty with good command and an effective sinker-changeup combination over the summer and fall. His velo has ticked up a notch or two and he was sitting 91-95 mph in his season debut, giving him #3 starter upside and some helium.

- Clemson signee and #23 prospect catcher Chris Okey isn't an exciting prospect but in a draft with an unsettled group past the top 20 picks, he could be a first rounder. In describing the rise of Jagielo, I referenced two scouting directors telling me that in weak drafts they will take guys they are comfortable with over gambling and Okey fits the bill. He's the most advanced defensive catcher in a deep prep class and has a steady bat that scouts have seen perform for years. He's smallish for a catcher at 6'0, 185 pounds and he doesn't have big power, but everyday catchers are hard to find and Okey sure looks like one.

- Georgia Tech signee and #41 prospect CF Josh Hart is a steady prospect along the lines of Okey that could find himself steadily moving up boards into the late first round as well. Hart comes from a loaded Parkview High School program that produced Oakland's 2012 sandwich pick 1B Matt Olson and has produced big leaguers like Jeff Keppinger and Jeff Francoeur in the past. Hart developed strength later in the fall and went from a slap-hitting speed-oriented center fielder to one with some punch to the gaps that causes headaches for pitchers at the plate and on the bases. I'll be seeing him a good bit this spring as part of a historically-loaded Atlanta-area prep class.

- Lastly, two pitchers exploded from out of nowhere to become real prospects in October at the WWBA Championships in Jupiter, FL and both raised their standing again in the early season. Fresno State signee and #39 prospect RHP Carlos Salazar hit 96 with a good changeup in Jupiter and hit 97 with a good slider in MLB's Compton showcase in February. If he can consistently put those two versions together in the spring, he'll be a factor in the muddy late first round. Missouri signee and #40 prospect LHP Jake Brentz hadn't pitched but a handful of career innings before his Jupiter breakout and he followed it up with another standout performance in the Perfect Game Indoor Showcase in February. Brentz is a very athletic lefty with near ideal arm action and a solid delivery. He's been up to 95 with feel for above average off-speed that is rare to find in such a inexperienced pitcher.

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