The draft continues to approach and as is always the case, players are moving up and down draft boards. Today I’ll tackle rumblings I am hearing about two high school left-handers, two high school infielders and several college relievers that are moving around draft boards.
Eflin and Smoral Holding Steady
After weeks of subpar performances and lower velocity readings, Florida prep product Zach Eflin seems to have steadied the waters and kept himself in the first round. As scouts continued to report only upper-80s velocity over the last few weeks, Eflin’s once soaring draft stock was falling out of the first round.
In his most recent outing, Eflin’s fastball was back into the low-90s as he regained his form and consistently showed the first-round stuff he had been lauded for earlier this spring.
“That start might have saved him for me,” said an NL crosschecker. “I’ve seen him a lot and if he was down again this outing, I couldn’t call it a fluke any more. I think he saved his first-round status, at least in my report.”
While Max Fried will almost certainly be the first high school left-hander off the board, Eflin will be in the mix with Ohio high school product Matt Smoral to be the second prep lefty taken next month.
Smoral has missed a large chunk of his 2012 season after a surgery on his right foot sidelined him in early April. His expected rehab following the operation was 12 weeks which would put him on target for a return to action in early July, just weeks before the new earlier signing deadline.
Despite missing much of the season, Smoral still has teams interested in him as high as the mid-teens. At 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, Smoral offers a tantalizing physical package to go with raw stuff that can flash a 94-mph fastball and potential above-average slider.
Scouts I have spoken with in recent weeks believe Smoral will be signable if taken in the top two-thirds of the first round. While he has a strong commitment to North Carolina, scouts that are familiar with his and his family’s wishes believe they understand the draft dynamic and that he can be pulled away from college.
High School Hitters Rising
Sticking with the prep players, two high school hitters have been making serious noise throughout scouting circles over the last few weeks.
Led by Northwest Cabarrus (SC) shortstop Corey Seager, the class of high school bats is gaining a little momentum down the stretch. The younger brother of Seattle Mariners infielder Kyle Seager, Corey is committed to SEC-power South Carolina.
Seager is one of the surer bets among high school bats. He has an extremely advanced approach at the plate, actually rivaling that of the best approaches featured by high school players three and four years his senior. That, combined with the simplicity of his swing, physicality and easy power projection, leaves Seager with middle-of-the-order upside and the potential to go as high as the first 20 picks in the draft.
Another high school shortstop, Addison Russell, has also improved his stock recently. After playing above his normal weight last summer on the showcase circuit, Russell has gotten back to a weight that leads scouts to believe he has at least a slim chance of sticking at shortstop long term.
Sticking at shortstop is critical for Russell’s draft stock. His line drive bat with surprising juice plays up even more at a premium defensive position and with just average defense he could be a very nice prospect.
While he doesn’t have quite the helium of Seager, Russell is moving into the back of the first round where he should get a big enough pay day to steer clear of his commitment to the Auburn baseball program. The team that takes him in the first round will have to be convinced that he can stick at shortstop, as a move down the defensive spectrum to an infield or outfield corner makes him a bit of a tweener.
While out watching Marcus Stroman last week, I stumbled across Boston College reliever Matt Brazis. A 6-2, 200 pound senior with some funk in his delivery, Brazis raised some eyebrows among scouts in attendance by sitting 90-92 and touching 94 a few times in his first inning of relief work.
Brazis doesn’t profile as more than a middle reliever in pro ball and likely won’t go any earlier than rounds 15-20, but he could be a mildly interesting senior sign that puts up solid numbers in a short-season league this summer.
Back in the Midwest, Xavier right-hander Seth Willoughby has been moving up draft boards, possibly into the third or fourth round on the back of his solid two-pitch arsenal.
Willoughby’s fastball can get to 94-95 mph when he needs it and he also mixes in a filthy cutter that sits about 89-90 mph and can be a “true out pitch” according to one area scout. Willoughby’s raw ability and approach could leave him profiling in the seventh or eighth inning as a pro, and he could move quickly through a minor league system.
One final reliever worth noting, albeit for different reasons, is Virginia Commonwealth’s Blake Hauser. With a definitive reliever profile as a pro, Hauser has intrigued scouts this spring by flashing 93-95 mph heat early in the season. His velocity has dipped recently, sitting around 90-91 mph in recent outings, but he is still getting outs thanks to his willingness to throw as much as 50% sliders during his outings. Hauser is a potential 8-10 round guy that should sign quickly and help a short-season club.