- Brendan C. Hall, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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Baseball talent in New England tends to come in waves.
When I first started penning this annual column four years ago, it was an historic class of righthanders making the biggest splash, a class of power arms led by Tyler Beede, Adam Ravenelle and Pat Connaughton that will go down as one of the best ever. Flashing mid-90's heat, all three were chosen again last spring, with Beede earning the unique distinction as one of only a handful of players to be drafted in the first round twice in their careers.
This spring, a talented group of left-handed power bats -- Swampscott's Ryan January, Bridgewater-Raynham's Andrew Noviello and Agawam's Seamus Curran -- sit at the top of the local draft class. Several pitchers could make their way into this conversation, but for the most part those are the three names being spoken most frequently this spring.
Like St. Sebastian's Justin Bellinger last year and Boston College first baseman Chris Shaw -- a 2012 Mets draft pick out of Lexington High who could potentially go in the first round in June -- true power hitting from the left side of the plate is rare for this area, and so your attention is demanded. There is divided opinion on where players like January, Noviello or Curran ultimately project, which makes this 2015 high school season an important one.
With input from an American League scout, here are the most notable locals to keep an eye on this spring:
Ryan January, C, Swampscott
Weight: 195 pounds
Hometown: Swampscott, Mass.
The Skinny: A Northeastern Conference All-Star two years ago as a sophomore at Swampscott, January transferred to Salisbury (Conn.) last year and reclassified, then saw his stock blow up, culminating with a commitment to LSU last October. Then in December, he suddenly returned to Swampscott, subsequently returned his original 2015 class, and immediately shot up the draft boards. Already considered a gemstone of what’s expected to be an historic 2016 draft class in Massachusetts, January shoots to the top of many 2015 lists with his explosive left-handed power and above-average arm from behind the dish.
Scout’s Take: "I think Ryan January is probably the most intriguing prospect in Massachusetts this spring. He’s got really good raw power, decent approach at the plate that works himself to left-center real well for a left-handed hitter. It’s hard to find a left-handed power hitter that can catch, so from a pure offensive standpoint he’s a guy that you really have to pay attention to. On the defensive side, he’s kinda growing into his role as a catcher, where before he was always offensive-minded and catching was kinda secondary. Last year he came out for Area Codes when he was in the 2016 class, and really became a leader on the field and was picking up slack for the guys that weren't used to going at it everyday. I think for him he’s taken his game to another level and has been able to work towards becoming a more defensive-minded catcher to go along with the offensive prowess."
Andrew Noviello, INF, Bridgewater-Raynham
Weight: 205 pounds
Hometown: Raynham, Mass.
The Skinny: Universally regarded as the state’s best two-way player, Noviello scorched the landscape last year as the Trojans reached the Super 8 semifinals. He earned First Team ESPNBoston All-State honors with .465/.574/.746 totals, 33 RBI and three homers at the plate; and a 5-0 record on the mound with 67 strikeouts in 43 innings, a .223 opponents’ batting average average, and three saves. Opinion among scouts is divided as to where he projects at the next level -- some say he’ll move to second base, but we may also see him in the outfield this spring for B-R -- but with his uncompromising demeanor and explosive natural tools, we could be in for another great spring.
Scout’s Take: "The things that I’ve liked about Noviello is he’s tough and he’s got a really gritty game. He can swing the bat really well with left-handed power. If he continues to profile as a second-baseman, he becomes an intriguing prospect, because it’s a position you don’t necessarily always find offensive numbers from. You might get a guy who’s on base or really defends well at second base, but for him to have arm strength and have a little bit of power from the left side, he’s kind of a unique tool set. He could probably play third, but I think he shifts to that second base position at the college/pro level. He probably needs to show (this spring) that he can adjust his approach to different pitchers and also he probably needs to show he can defend at a high level – he may not play second base in high school, which is the challenge, so I think it leaves the scouts to figure out what position he’s ultimately going to profile at, while he’s at short or third or pitching in high school."
Seamus Curran, 1B, Agawam
Weight: 240 pounds
Hometown: Agawam, Mass.
College: Rhode Island
The Skinny: On the summer circuit he was generally regarded as a “late bloomer”, which is a bit of an unfair label when you consider the numbers he posted last season to earn a First Team ESPNBoston All-State nod. Despite missing the last five games of the season with mononucleosis, he still posted .462/.611/.785 totals with 15 walks, demonstrating extra-base power rarely seen from left-handed high school hitters in Massachusetts. Mono did wipe him out for two months, however, dropping his weight to 205 pounds and seeing his bat dip subsequently. But he’s up to 240 now after a rigorous offseason, which included a great hockey season in which he led the D3 state finalist Brownies in scoring as a defenseman.
Scout’s Take: "Seamus went a little under the radar because of where he’s from – Western Mass. doesn’t get as much exposure. But getting on the summer circuit, with East Cobb New England, I think got a lot of people to see…He’s a kid who you really have to look at from a power perspective, where it’s hard to find that left-handed power bat, and it’s at a premium. If he shows he can handle velocity this spring, he’s a guy that you’re gonna have to consider. But it’s also going to be hard in Western Mass, where he might not be facing a guy throwing over 82 every day. It’s a challenge to scout that. I’d say he compares to probably a Justin Bellinger or a Chris Shaw, in that same mold, left handed power bat that intrigues you. And then you want to see the game performances instead of just the BP, because all of those guys can wow you in BP, so you want to see how it plays in a game."
Jake Nelson, RHP, Hopkinton (N.H.)/Phillips Andover
Weight: 210 pounds
Hometown: Hopkinton, N.H.
The Skinny: One of the most intriguing stories of this year’s draft class, Nelson converted from catcher to pitcher a year and half ago, and last spring – with just a few innings of high school pitching to his resume -- topped out in the low 90’s. So far this spring, he’s been consistently sitting in the high 80’s and low 90’s, and rolling out what appears to be a sharper breaking ball. At this current rate, he could be one of the biggest stock risers this spring.
Scout’s Take: "Jake Nelson is a converted pitcher from catcher. He spent all of last year dedicating himself to his craft. He’s been a power arm up to 93, with kind of a lack of secondary offerings. That’s been the challenge for him, learning how to become a pitcher instead of a thrower, learning how to shape a breaking ball and spin a changeup properly. This year will be indicative for him, if he can come out and show an advancement in his secondary stuff to go along with the power right-handed fastball. He could be a power arm in the back of a bullpen if he shows an average secondary pitch, whether it’s a slider or a changeup to go along with a 90-93 mph fastball. You just want to make sure he develops enough and don’t just bite on the fastball. There’s a lot of guys that throw hard, but you need a secondary pitch to make it work."
Ryan McKenna, OF, St. Thomas Aquinas (N.H.)
Weight: 180 pounds
Hometown: Berwick, Maine
The Skinny: While he’s not the most physically-imposing kid, McKenna is one of the most talked-about prospects in New England after a terrific junior season last spring with the Saints, hitting .551 with 31 RBI and eight home runs. His stock really took a turn skyward after shining at the Area Code Games last August in Long Beach, Calif., demonstrating elite baserunning skills.
Scout’s Take: "Ryan McKenna kinda burst onto the scene when he broke into some of the pro showcase environments, whether it be East Coast Pro or Area Code. I think we knew a little about him from playing with North East Baseball, but to raise his game to the level he did against some of the best competition in the country was impressive. He’s kind of an undersized outfielder at 5-10, 180, and he showed that he’s got a little surprising power for his frame, and he runs the bases as well as anyone. The combination of tools where you can use the speed, use the power, play a solid defensive centerfield, there’s a lot to like there for a high school player out of Maine."
Jake Stephens, RHP, Choate Rosemary Hall (Conn.)
Weight: 220 pounds
Hometown: Darien, Conn.
College: Boston College
The Skinny: Another prospect who could see his stock take a big jump this spring, the Florida transplant has reportedly refined his game significantly over the last year. Perhaps he’s finally filling into his physically-mature frame, but we should expect to see his velocity in the low 90’s this spring.
Scout’s Take: "He really burst onto the scene in the last six months, down in Jupiter (Fla.), where before he was like a middle-tier prospect, 86-89 mph and had decent breaking ball. But over the last six months he’s turned himself into a legitimate prospect where he’s been 90-93, with a sharp breaking ball with decent depth 74-77, and shown average to below average professional changeup. With the profile being 6-3 220 and feel for the strike zone, he’s really come a long way in the last 5-6 months to turn himself into a guy that people have to take notice of, because he has a durable frame with an easy repeatable delivery, so if the stuff maintains itself over the course of the spring, you could be looking at a high-profile right-handed starter."
Jack Connolly, RHP, Bridgewater-Raynham
Weight: 205 pounds
Hometown: Bridgewater, Mass.
College: Notre Dame
The Skinny: Armed with one of the best breaking balls in New England, and some pedigree (his father and brother have both been drafted by MLB), Connolly was dynamite in his junior season last spring for the Super 8 semifinalist Trojans, going 9-2 with 94 K’s in 65 innings with a 1.51 ERA and .196 opponents average to earn First Team ESPNBoston All-State honors. Few high school pitchers in this region demonstrate a curve as refined as Connolly’s, but his draft stock this spring will depend on his fastball velocity, which typically sat in the mid-80’s last spring.
Scout’s Take: "You have to check in with a guy like that, who’s been a high-performance high school player committed to an ACC school. You want to see a little bit more fastball velocity out of Connolly to really consider him out of high school, but you know there’s pitch-ability there. He’s got an above-average breaking ball. So, it’s just a matter of, you know, how hard is he throwing? If it’s 84-87, or if it’s 88-91, that will dictate whether or not he’ll be a prospect out of high school."
Tim Salvadore, RHP, Phillips Andover
Weight: 185 pounds
Hometown: Hopkinton, Mass.
College: Virginia Tech
The Skinny: Another prospect who has been very productive at the high school level, with an ERA that sat around 1.00 last spring for the perennial prep school powerhouse. Similar to Connolly, his stock this spring will depend on how high his velocity climbs.
Scout’s Take: "He’s a lanky right hander who’s shown he’s always performed, whether it’s at East Cobb or Philips Andover or EvoShield. He’s been on the circuit for a while, so everyone’s seen him. He’s probably 88-90 with a sinker and a slider with feel for the strike zone. As long as he can keep his delivery together and stay on top of the ball, he’s really tough.
Thomas Lane, RHP, Phillips Andover
Weight: 250 pounds
Hometown: Georgetown, Mass.
College: Boston College
The Skinny: One of the more entertaining arms of this draft class, Lane is built like an offensive lineman and comes with about the same level of intimidation. So far this spring, he’s shown improvement on his fastball velocity.
Scout’s Take: "Thomas has done a lot for himself this winter to make sure he gets himself ready to perform himself this spring, working on his angle to the plate, where his tendency would be to just leave it a little flat and leave balls up in the zone and flatten out his off-speed. He spent a lot of time working on how to give himself a better down-angle fastball and spin a breaking ball a little tighter. I think he’s primed for a big spring, and it will just be a matter of if there's enough fastball to warrant a look out of high school."
Baseball talent in New England tends to come in waves.When I first started penning this annual column four years ago, it was an historic class of righthanders making the biggest splash, a class of power arms led by Tyler Beede, Adam Ravenelle and Pat Connaughton that will go down as one of the best ever.