By Kiley McDaniel
We’re a little over a month past the 2008 draft and, if you think like we think, you can’t help but demand early rankings for the 2009 draft. You’re sick, but don’t worry, we’ve been talking to our scouting contacts, and we’re here for you.
I’ll be unveiling our top 30 high school players this week—the first five from that list will be unveiled in this article—and we’ll be using the same approach and style of content we had for the 2008 draft, but this time with a full year of momentum behind it.
We’ll soon follow with the balance of the high school list, a college list, in-person Cape Cod League updates from Frankie, and we will keep these lists updated continually, with links on the top of the site, and we’ll publish full update posts as soon as we get a hearty enough batch of updates to warrant a post.
As for the 2009 crop of high school talent, it is definitely early, but it appears to be a solid group. The top-end prep talent falls in between the extremes of the past two drafts: the relatively weak 2008 draft (9 first-rounders), following a superior crop of elite talents in 2007 (17 first-rounders, 11 of the top 18 picks).
The headliners of the 2009 class are a pair of power lefties: Texas-bred Matt Purke and southern California hurler Tyler Matzek. Another storyline is the extremely strong prep catching ranks, led by Florida prep talent Austin Maddox (pictured right), with six backstops in the Hot 30, and five in the top 20.
There’s also a tooled-up, dual-sport centerfielder with pro bloodlines in Georgia prep standout CF Donavan Tate, son of former-NFL running back Lars Tate, top football recruit, and owner of plus tools across the board.
In short (and you thought I couldn’t do that!), there’s a little bit for everyone, and I’ll include some graphics to spruce things up so long as no one says “market inefficiency” or “Moneyball” in the comments. Come on in and devour the obscenely early and irresponsible projections in a first look at the top 5 of the SaberScouting High School Hot 30, all after the jump…
Until I get some of my videos up of a few of these top guys from the Hot 30, these players are largely mysteries to you, the reader, despite all the information we’re reporting. Well, don’t worry, all of these top 5 players, and over half of our top 30 will be at the AFLAC All-American game on August 9th, at 3 PM Eastern on Fox Sports Net. Click here to see the full rosters and learn more about the event.
A note about the rankings: at this point, the top four players are all tightly packed and you could really put them in any order. Not to say Jacob Turner is chopped liver, but the top four players have separated themselves from the pack thus far.
This top 30 is populated mostly of players that are showcase regulars, as they are the ones that have been seen most often. So, when the full list comes out, you’ll see lots of California, Florida, Georgia, and Texas players, and almost no one that hasn’t been to some kind of showcase this summer; that’s just the way it is with scouts focusing almost exclusively on seniors this past spring.
Some players that go high in the draft (like 34th overall pick in the ‘08 draft, Zach Collier) don’t go to showcases at all and the only time it hurts them is in very early rankings such as these. Early apologies to such players.
Matzek was relatively little known entering showcase season, but has been at every major event and has been the biggest riser, as most of our top 10-15 were known elite players before their showcase performances.
Baseball America’s Dave Perkin compared Matzek (subscriber only) to the Royals sandwich pick (36th overall) in the recent 2008 draft, Mike Montgomery, and Perkin is certainly onto something there, with a lot of similarities between these two projectable, three-pitch, southern California lefties. That being said, Matzek is this high on the list (and at the top of some insider’s lists) because he has a notch better stuff, with three pitches that project for above-average, without lacking command or projectability.
Matzek works at 89-92, touching 94 with a heavy fastball and mixing in a knockout mid-70s curveball. His curveball is a two-plane bender that is regularly above-average now with a chance to be a plus pitch. He also mixes in solid slider and shows feel for a changeup that flashes above-average.
He’s projectable and athletic with a clean arm and simple delivery, throwing from a classic high 3/4 arm angle. That allows Matzek to work both sides of the plate effectively, pounding the zone with advanced feel. He’s got four pitches and command that project for average or better; there’s just a lot to like. One insider said Matzek reminded him of another lefty: the 4th overall pick of the 2008 draft, former U. San Diego hurler and Orioles draftee, Brian Matusz.
One scout that saw Matzek at the Perfect Game National showcase in Minneapolis said, “if his breaking ball develops like you hope, he could be Clayton Kershaw.” That might sound a bit optimistic, and that I’m using too many comparisons, but considering how under-the-radar Kershaw was entering his senior year, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched (Matzek photo: Perfect Game)
I’ve talked about Maddox a few times on the site, both in the 2009 draft preview on the podcast (near the end) and in a review of the Sarasota Classic. I’ve been able to see Maddox a handful of times during his junior season, including seeing his team win the state championship in Sarasota, and he brings his full toolbox to the yard every time out. I also have some video I’ll post soon.
Maddox’s stance (check the above picture for an idea) and swing are reminiscent of Mark McGwire due to his powerful, leveraged, yet compact right-handed stroke with serious bat speed. Maddox just squares balls up, hitting over .500 this year against top competition, and has flashed his plus-plus raw power in every game I’ve seen him play. The scouting community, who largely ignore juniors during the regular season, saw this power when Maddox hit multiple homers over 400 feet with wood bats in recent national showcases.
That being said, Maddox is the top position player on this list because of his defensive tools. He consistently uses his plus-plus howitzer to register pop times under 1.85 and has been under 1.80, while hitting 95 on the mound. He also has what I, and a few scouts I’ve talked to, feel is already big league average receiving and blocking skills. Maddox is also a hard worker that gets high marks for his makeup; he’s committed to Florida.
The only real question with Maddox is if his already extra-large frame will be able to stay agile enough to remain behind the plate. Some may knock his team’s schedule, as they are in the smallest classification (1A) in the state and play some cream puff teams, but intentionally schedule almost every other game against top competition, and Maddox is a showcase veteran that can hit with wood. A scout familiar with Maddox sums it up: “We have him as a top follow and I see a Mike Piazza package, except with a cannon behind the plate.”
As you might expect from a top player on this list, Purke has all the classic things you look for in a pitching prospect. He’s the next in a seemingly never-ending line of physical, aggressive power arms from the Lonestar State, hitting 94 in a recent showcase.
Working with a clean arm and near effortless delivery from a 3/4 arm angle, Purke pounds the zone with three solid pitches, good command, and an aggressive approach. He owns a present solid-average fastball that sits at 90-92 with some late life, but has hit 94 and projects to add a few ticks as his slim frame bulks up. Purke throws a two-plane slider with good tilt and late bite to gets funny swings from high school hitters now, and projects as an out-pitch. He also mixes in a solid changeup, though only sparingly as he relies heavily on his fastball/slider combination.
As for the downside, like many young power pitchers, he can lose his mechanics at times, and like many frequent showcase attendees, his velocity, breaking ball, and feel can vary from appearance to appearancde due to fatigue; but that’s about all.
Those aren’t huge concerns, and clearly doesn’t effect scouts perception of him: “He’s a projectable, velocity left-hander with a hard slider and just blows hitters away at these showcases. I’m a big fan.”
It’s easy to slap a Scott Kazmir comparison on him, given the similarities (skinny Texas prep lefty with a power fastball-slider combo), but Kazmir was a dominating showcase legend that Purke hasn’t yet proven to be, though he has shown flashes and is the class of this year’s pitching crop along with Matzek. (Purke photo: Perfect Game)
If you’re reading about the draft this early, you like tools, and if you want a suggestion for a new James Bond villain, let me suggest Donavan Tate as Tools Galore. He compares favorably to the 14th overall pick in the 2008 draft, the Twins’ Aaron Hicks, as a centerfielder, both for his pros and cons.
Tate is the son of former NFL running back Lars Tate and is a top football recruit, with Rivals.com ranking him as the 86th best recruit in the nation. To get an idea of his athleticism, Rivals lists Tate as an “athlete” for football purposes (no set projected college position, generally the most athletic guys on the field) and among the “athletes,” (again, the most athletic football players in the country), Tate was named the most athletic.
Tate uses his plus-plus arm (hit 95 from the outfield—that’s with no mound involved) and true 80 speed (6.3 to 6.4 in the 60-yard) to quarterback his high school team, and uses his 6′3, 200 frame to deliver big hits as a safety. Michigan and Georgia want him as a QB, while USC and Florida like him as a safety. So, he’s got a little bit of talent.
As far as baseball-specific skills, his speed and arm obviously play in center where he’s a developing defender that should be plus or more as a center fielder in time. Tate shows plus raw power and squares pitches up consistently when he makes contact.
The problem, as with the aforementioned Hicks, is if he will make enough contact, as Tate has rough plate discipline. In showcases, Tate produces, but not without some cause for concern. To put some numbers behind this general scouting consensus, BA’s Matt Blood reports that Tate slugged two HRs, a triple, and two doubles in 19 at-bats at the Tournament of Stars, but struck out six times with only one walk. Blood adds that one day, Tate made contact on seven of ten swings, while the next day he whiffed on six of seven swings.
That performance makes for an impressive line of .316/.350/.842, considering Tate is a high school junior using wood bats against top pitching; but almost any toolshed first-round bust has put up that kind of performance, so what did we really learn? Tate’s hitability will be a situation to monitor throughout the spring, but it will be something you can only learn about after talking to multiple scouts or after multiple viewings, and even then it will likely be heavily debated within each organization. Let the debate begin. (Tate photo: Rivals.com)
Turner has been on the radar screen for some time as a top arm for the 2009 draft, as a proven showcase veteran, and he did nothing to change that standing in the recent national showcases.
Owner of a prototypical power right-hander’s frame, Turner attacks hitters with three solid pitches, including a 90-94 mph fastball with solid sink. Turner’s velocity comes from a high 3/4 arm angle, and sneaks up on hitters due to a compact delivery and easy arm action.
Turner follows his above-average fastball with an above-average overhand curveball that can get slurvy with two-plane break. He also mixes in a solid changeup that shows some potential along with an aggressive approach to pitching, and solid command, made possible by Turner’s easy delivery.
There are a fair amount of scouts on the Jacob Turner bandwagon, as his lower-risk profile and outstanding showcase performances have some putting him ahead of Purke and even Matzek.
There’s also definite symmetry between Turner and the 2008 draft’s top Missouri prep arm, Tim Melville. Both are big-framed right-handers with three quality pitches, good feel, and a chance to be above-average to plus across the board. Melville is a little more projectable and athletic, but they have similar stuff, command, and lengthy showcase track records (Tuner photo: Perfect Game).