High-SchoolBaseball: Jesse Winker

Lance McCullersMike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesGatorade National Player of the Year Lance McCullers of Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.) slipped to the Astros in the sandwich round likely due to signability concerns.
High school prospects figured heavily into Monday night's MLB draft, with Puerto Rican prep shortstop Carlo Correa going No. 1 overall in a surprise pick by the Houston Astros and Georgia outfielder Byron Buxton going No. 2 to the Minnesota Twins. In all, 35 high schoolers were drafted out of the 60 picks on Day 1.

Correa became the first Puerto Rican player to be picked No. 1 in the MLB draft. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound native of Santa Isabel has a powerful bat and good speed. Given his size and position, some scouts couldn't help but compare him to a young Alex Rodriguez. Buxton also earned some pretty impressive comparisons throughout the draft process, with names like Justin Upton and Andrew McCutchen being thrown around. The 6-1, 175-pound outfielder burst onto the scene with a number of impressive showings last summer and held strong with his performance at Appling County (Baxley, Ga.) this spring.

Correa wasn't the only high schooler from Puerto Rico who heard his name called Monday, as the Twins used the first pick of the sandwich round on lanky right-hander Jose Orlando Berrios and the Los Angeles Dodgers used the 51st pick on Jesmuel Valentin-Diaz, a teammate of Correa's at the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy.

Many had Lance McCullers Jr. from Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.) pegged as a possible top-10 pick, but his slide into the second round was one of the biggest stories of the evening. McCullers, a 6-2, 205-pound right-handed pitcher, ended up being selected 41st overall by the same team that picked Correa -- the Astros. McCullers, the Gatorade National Player of the Year, may have slipped due to high signing bonus demands, and the $1.25 million assigned to the No. 41 pick surely won't be enough to sway him from his commitment to Florida. The Astros, who have $11.2 million to spend total among their first 11 draft picks, will have to do some creative budgeting if they want to sign both Correa and McCullers Jr.

High school teammates factored prominently into Day 1 of the draft. Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) pitching aces Max Fried and Lucas Giolito were both selected in the first round. Fried, a 6-3, 170-pound left-hander, heard his name called seventh overall by the San Diego Padres. Fried transferred to Harvard-Westlake for his senior year after his old school cut its athletics department, and after a dominant spring it's no surprise he went in the top 10 picks.

Giolito is a different story. Considered the No. 1 prep prospect entering the spring, the 6-6, 230-pound power righty was sidelined a few weeks into the season with a sprained ulnar-collateral ligament in his right elbow. He only recently began throwing again, and draft experts were split as to whether a team would take the risk and select him in Round 1. The answer to that question turned out to be yes, as the Washington Nationals picked him 16th overall. His pick is slotted at $2.1 million, but it may take more than that to sign him away from his commitment to UCLA, especially considering he was at one time projected to earn a signing bonus of at least twice that much.

Olympia (Orlando, Fla.) teammates Jesse Winker and Walker Weickel were both picked in the sandwich round, with Winker going 49th to the Cincinnati Reds and Weickel going 55th to the Padres. Winker, a sweet-swinging outfielder, had seen his stock surge of late. He hit close to .500 in his senior season with an OBP of .649. There was a time earlier this spring when it looked like Weickel was a sure bet to be picked higher than Winker, possibly even in the first half of the first round. But concerns about diminishing velocity pushed Weickel down draft boards.

In addition to Fried and Weickel, the Padres also grabbed prep right-hander Zach Eflin of Hagerty (Oviedo, Fla.) at No. 33. At 6-5 and 205 pounds, Eflin has a frame scouts love to go with a fastball that has been clocked in the mid-90s. A battle with triceps tendinitis earlier this spring may have hurt Eflin's stock slightly, but he could prove to be one of the steals of the draft. It may be a tough task for San Diego to sign all three of these high-upside selections, but inking even two of them would have to be considered a success.

A few other teams also went high school heavy Monday night. The Toronto Blue Jays used four of their five picks on preps, including first-rounder D.J. Davis from Stone County (Wiggins, Miss.) at No. 17. The Rangers grabbed a trio of prep prospects, with Lewis Brinson of Coral Springs (Fla.) leading the way at No. 29. The Chicago White Sox were doing flips over their draft, as they snagged Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas) outfielder/pitcher Courtney Hawkins 13th overall (he celebrated by doing a back flip live on TV). With their only other pick of the evening, they grabbed Keon Barnum of King (Tampa, Fla.) -- arguably the high schooler with the best raw power in the draft.

Stray observations

--Solon (Ohio) lefty Matt Smoral had injury issues his senior year — he missed most of the season with a stress fracture in his foot. When healthy, he was considered a potential top 10 talent. Toronto selected him with the No. 50 pick.

--Joey Gallo seems like a perfect fit for the Texas Rangers at No. 39 with his power. Gallo hit .509 with 21 homers and 80 RBIs in his final season at Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas).

--Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.) star Matt Olson played his best ball toward the end of the season in leading the Panthers to their second straight state title. Perhaps that played a role in him landing with Oakland at No. 47.

--Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.) third baseman Mitch Nay saw his numbers drop this season as he saw fewer good pitches to hit. But there’s no doubt the Blue Jays got a tremendous talent at No. 58 — Nay still impressed enough to earn Gatorade State Player of the Year honors this season.

MLB Draft Stock Watch: Olympia duo shines

May, 11, 2012
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Walker Weickel & Jesse WinkerMike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesOlympia (Orlando, Fla.) seniors Walker Weickel (left) and Jesse Winker have helped raise their draft stock while dominating for the No. 1 team in the FAB 50.
Each Friday from now until the end of May, Jason A. Churchill, who covers the MLB draft for ESPN Insider, will look at the high school prospects whose stock is up and whose stock is down heading into the draft, which begins on June 4.

The 2012 MLB draft is less than a month away and several top prospects are separating themselves from the pack, while others have seen their stock drop recently.

Prospects see their stock trend up or down in regards to the draft based on several key factors, including performance, signability and injury.

Then there’s the case of Nathan Kirby. We had mentioned this possibility last week, but the James River (Midlothian, Va.) right-hander is dead set on attending the University of Virginia and has told Major League Baseball that he will not be participating in the pre-draft program. Considered a Day 1 talent, Kirby is now virtually ineligible to be drafted, but could be a first-round pick in 2015.

Here’s an overall look at which prospects have helped and hurt their draft prospects since last week.

STOCK UP

Jesmuel Valentin, SS, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (Gurabo, Puerto Rico)
The son of former big-league infielder Jose Valentin has had a strong season and showed well recently, including at the Excellence Tournament in Puerto Rico late last week. He's a teammate of Carlos Correa, perhaps the No. 2 overall prep prospect in the entire class, so Valentin plays mainly second base. He's capable at short, however, and has enough arm to play there long term. He's a switch hitter, and though there are some questions about the lack of future power, there is bat speed to support a pro career.

Jesse Winker, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)
Winker has performed well down the stretch and early in the postseason for FAB 50 No. 1 Olympia, including a 2-for-3 effort last week in the quarterfinals. He went yard in that game, a three-run shot, and has been consistently productive over the past few weeks. Winker is a Day 1 threat.

Lance McCullers Jr., RHP, Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
McCullers’ domination – he didn’t allow an earned run during the regular season -- has continued during the postseason as he went all seven, fanning 13 and allowing just four hits. Amazingly, those were the most hits he’s allowed in a start all season. As one scout in attendance opined, “We got to see him really focus, and bow his neck today, and the results speak for themselves.”

Walker Weickel, RHP, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)
Weickel, who started the spring as a potential top 15 pick before sliding a bit due to a velocity plateau, tossed a two-hit shutout last week in the regional quarterfinals to support Winker's offensive efforts. Weickel's still sitting 89-92 mph, but is showing better command of his fastball and breaking ball and projects well thanks to ideal size. The Miami commit could still land in Round 1 and is unlikely to be on the board when the second round begins.

Others Trending Up
Paul Blackburn, RHP, Heritage (Brentwood, Calif.)
Chase DeJong, RHP, Wilson (Long Beach, Calif.)
Steven Duggar, OF, Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.)
Daniel Robertston, SS/3B, Upland (Calif.)
Shane Watson, RHP, Lakewood (Calif.)

STOCK DOWN

Wyatt Mathisen, C/SS, Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas)
Mathisen has played well this year, but coming into the season much of his draft stock was based on profiling well as a catcher. He's been used primarily at shortstop this season, which has robbed scouts the chance to see him behind the plate, where he could project as a first-round pick.

Addison Russell, SS/3B, Pace (Fla.)
Russell's stock doesn't appear to have taken a major hit, but a few area scouts have expressed their doubts on his future position more so than earlier in the year. He's still a potential first-round pick, but clubs will have to really like the bat if they aren't confident he will stick at shortstop.

Matt Smoral, LHP, Solon (Ohio)
Smoral has missed most of the season with a foot injury. And while that isn't likely to cost him first-round status, it may ultimately keep him out of the top half of the round. Scouts were unable to check the progress of his breaking ball and especially the changeup, and the left-hander has lost development time.

Others Trending Down
Clint Coulter, C, Union (Camas, Wash.)
David Dahl, OF, Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.)
Kieran Lovegrove, RHP, Mission Viejo (Calif.)

Jason A. Churchill covers scouting, player development and the MLB draft for ESPN Insider, as well as Prospect Insider, where he's the founder and executive editor. You can follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider and email him at churchill@prospectinsider.com.

The Starting Nine: May 10th Edition

May, 10, 2012
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Ty HensleyScott Kurtz/ESPNHSSanta Fe (Edmond, Okla.) senior standout Ty Hensley has dominated on both the mound and at the plate to move into The Starting Nine.
ESPNHS continues its search for the nation’s top high school baseball player, regardless of school year and based solely on on-field performance. Every two weeks, we’ll rank the nine players in order in The Starting Nine. And at the end of the season, whoever is in the top spot will be crowned The Diamond Gem, our award given to the nation’s most outstanding player.

Another installment of The Starting Nine means more of Byron Buxton and Lance McCullers Jr. leading the way. But with postseason play underway in most states, it’s a chance for some of the other players to make their move up in the group.

One player has already done that. Stuck in the On Deck spot in recent weeks, Santa Fe (Okla.) star Ty Hensley makes the jump into The Starting Nine after starring on the mound and at the plate. Taking his spot in the On Deck circle is a familiar face — Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) third baseman Joey Gallo, who started the year No. 2 in The Starting Nine before falling out after struggling early in the season.

The Starting Nine — May 10th Edition

Through games of May 6

1. Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
OF/RHP, Senior

Previous spot: No. 1
What he’s done: Buxton, No. 2 in the ESPN 100 and is No. 1 in Keith Law's Top 100 for the 2012 draft, continues to rake at the dish, hitting .545 with a .649 on-base percentage, 51 runs scored, 15 doubles, three triples, two homers and 22 RBIs. He’s fanned only three times in 88 at-bats and is 31-of-32 in stolen base attempts (he was thrown out trying to steal third. His pitching has been just as vital to the success of Appling County (27-1). Buxton is 6-0 with a 1.66 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 46.1 innings.

2. Lance McCullers Jr., Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
RHP/SS
Previous spot:
No. 2
What he’s done: McCullers gave up his first earned run of the season in POWERADE FAB 50 No. 2 Jesuit’s 9-2 win over Robinson (Tampa, Fla.) in the Class 5A, District 11 championship. He followed by fanning 13 in a win over Bayshore (Bradenton, Fla.) in the regional quarterfinals. McCullers is 12-0 with a 0.11 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 65.1 innings. He’s hitting .277 with two homers and 20 RBIs.

3. Wyatt Mathisen, Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas)
C/SS/RHP, Senior
Previous Spot:
No. 3
What he’s done: Mathisen continues to be a star at both the plate and on the mound for the FAB 50 No. 4 Wildcats. He’s hitting .453 with three homers and 38 RBIs and is 10-0 on the bump with 85 strikeouts in 65 innings. In a 5-0 win over Hidalgo (Texas) in the Class 4A bi-district round of the state playoffs, Mathisen went the distance and was 2-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs.

4. Kyle Carter, Columbus (Ga.)
OF/LHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 4
What he’s done: Carter has been equally strong at the plate and on the mound for the Blue Devils (25-3), who are No. 18 in the FAB 50. He’s hitting .370 with 14 homers and 28 RBIs and is 8-2 with a 0.72 ERA on the hill.

5. Gavin Cecchini, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
SS, Senior
Previous Spot:
No. 5
What he’s done: Cecchini is playing his best ball with Barbe now in the state tournament, hitting .406 with a .521 on-base percentage, seven homers, five doubles and 32 RBIs. He’s also been a terror on the basepaths — he’s a perfect 29-for-29.

6. Walker Weickel, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)
RHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 6
What he’s done: Weickel was dominant in helping FAB 50 No. 1 win Olympia to a 10-0 win over Boone (Orlando, Fla.) in the Class 8A regional quarterfinals. The Miami recruit allowed only two hits and fanned six in six innings, while teammate Jesse Winker, who could find himself in The Starting Nine soon, went 2-for-3 with a homer and four RBIs. Weickel is 12-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 87 strikeouts and has also hit six homers.

7. Courtney Hawkins, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
RHP/OF
Previous spot: No. 7
What he’s done:
Hawkins has helped Carroll get back into the top 10 of the FAB 50. He’s hitting .457 with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs and 16 stolen bases and is 3-1 on the mound with a 0.83 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 25.1 innings.

8. Max Fried, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
LHP, Senior
Previous spot:
No. 8
What he’s done: Fried, No. 5 on Law's Top 100, ran his record to 7-2 with a 2.25 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 59 innings. Opponents are hitting just .186 off the lefty, who's also excelled at the plate, batting .438 with a .510 on-base percentage.

9. Ty Hensley, Santa Fe (Edmond, Okla.)
RHP, Senior
Previous spot:
On Deck
What he’s done: Hensley has powered Santa Fe to the Class 6A state tournament and the squad is set to take on Stillwater (Okla.) in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Rated No. 35 in the ESPN 100, Hensley is 9-0 on the mound with a 1.59 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 48.1 innings. He’s also hitting .461 with 10 doubles, 10 home runs 42 RBIs.

Dropped Out

No. 9 Albert Almora, Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.)
OF, Senior

Almora had a phenomenal regular season, hitting .603 with six homers, 34 RBIs, 42 runs scored and 27 stolen bases. But a shocking loss to Hialeah-Miami Lakes (Hialeah, Fla.) in the Class 8A district playoffs ended the season of Mater Academy, which failed to qualify for the regional tournament. Meanwhile, the rest of The Starting Nine was still in postseason play through Sunday.

On Deck

Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
3B/RHP, Senior
What he’s done:
Gallo was hitting .382 with two homers and 19 RBIs following the National High School Invitational in March and fell out of the rankings. He’s been on a tear since and is now hitting .561 with a .660 on-base percentage, 14 homers and 62 RBIs. In a game against Clark (Las Vegas), Gallo went 5-for-5 with four homers and eight RBIs. He also tossed a no-hitter with nine strikeouts in a win over No. 50 Gloucester Catholic (Gloucester, N.J.) in the championship game of the Easter Classic.

Winker and Weickel talk Team USA

February, 28, 2012
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video This article appears in the March issue of ESPNHS magazine

Walker Weickel and Jesse Winker have been teammates on the Olympia (Orlando, Fla.) varsity baseball team for the past four years. This fall, they teamed up for the gold-medal-winning 18U National Team at the Pan Am Championships in Colombia. And as you can tell from this conversation, it was clearly the experience of a lifetime.

Winker: Wearing USA on your chest, that’s a huge deal. It gives you goose bumps every time you see it. Winning gold, bringing it home, that was awesome.

Weickel: Once I was able to hear my name called and Jesse’s name called, and we were able to put the colors on together, it was really just kind of a surreal feeling.

Winker: Two guys from the same school? That’s awesome. It was a true honor, and I’m glad we both got to do it.

Weickel: Going down to a foreign country like Colombia and being put in that environment of poverty and struggle and dealing with that off the field, it really gave you a sense of appreciation for what you play for here. Down there, when you’re from the USA, you’re kind of looked at like an outsider. We played Colombia. We played Venezuela. It’s a lot more boos and a lot more negative cheering in the crowd. At the same time, it kind of empowers you and gives you that sense of accomplishment — not just as a baseball player, but as an American.

Winker: It really was us 20 and our parents against Colombia. There were other countries there and every game everyone wants to beat you. That bus ride home after we won gold: There’s not a greater feeling.

Weickel: The coolest feeling of the entire trip for me was after the championship game standing on the podium. We all had our medals on and there were probably 15 or 20 thousand fans in the stadium for the ceremony. They started playing the national anthem, and the only people who could sing along were the 20 players and our families.

Winker: And the dog pile was awesome. We won on a walkoff hit, so we all came flying out of the dugout. And I’ll never forget it because I jumped on and I rolled off immediately, and I look over and I see Walker and he has the flag and he’s just running for the pile. He jumped so high; I’ll never forget that.

Weickel: After the game-winning hit, everybody just took off running. I stayed back for a second and undid the flag and made sure I was the last guy out on the field, carrying the flag. I was kind of the cherry on top of the dog pile.

Buxton headlines star-studded OF list

February, 24, 2012
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Byron BuxtonMike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesAppling County (Baxley, Ga.) senior Byron Buxton is the nation's top outfielder and a potential top-five pick in June's draft.

Each week from now until early March, we’ll take a look at the elite Class of 2012 high school baseball prospects by ranking our Top 10 players by position. This week, we unveil our list of the Top 10 outfielders led by Appling County (Baxley, Ga.) standout Byron Buxton.

Last season, Buxton established himself as one of the nation’s top overall prospects by hitting .594 with 10 homers and 48 RBIs. And this week, he was named by Keith Law as the No. 1 prospect for this year's MLB draft.

1. Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
Buxton is a two-sport star with plus speed and a steady setup and swing at the plate. He has the athleticism to play center field but scouts tend to believe he'll settle in right in a similar manner as Arizona Diamondbacks star Justin Upton. Buxton hits the low-90s off the mound, but his future is as an everyday talent, and he may hit for plus power down the road. He could be a top-five pick, but if he prefers college, the University of Georgia will welcome him with open arms.

2. David Dahl, Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.)
Dahl is a multi-talented athlete, but his best asset may be his eye for the strike zone. He can throw and run, projects to hit for average and power and should get on base with regularity. He's likely to end up in right field but could play some center early in his career. Dahl is an Auburn commit, but is a good bet for the first round and is a possible top-10 pick.

3. Albert Almora, Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.)
Almora , a Miami commit, may be the best prep center fielder in the class and projects to hit for average with a chance to add 10 to 15 home runs. He's a 55 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale and has tremendous instincts in the field and on the bases. Almora performs well in showcases and big games, which could get him selected in the top 20.

4. Courtney Hawkins, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
Hawkins, also a right-handed pitcher, is an enticing talent with plus power that he put on display at the Area Code Games, where he was one of just two players to leave the yard. Blair Field is rather cavernous, making the feat that much more impressive. He improved from the end of the spring into the showcase circuit, but scouts do show concern about his defensive instincts and how he handles soft stuff at the plate. Hawkins should hear his name called on Day 2, if not late on Day 1.

5. Lewis Brinson, Coral Springs (Fla.)
Brinson is quite the athlete, grading out above average across the board, including a 55 run grade and throwing arm. He has legit power that plays now, but he's raw in terms of plate discipline and pitch recognition. Florida could get a terrific corner outfielder with a bright future if Brinson passes on pro ball for the college game. Such a decision could put him in the first round conversation in 2015.

6. Billy “Nick” Williams, Ball (Galveston, Texas)
Williams could fit anywhere on this list and the argument for such a ranking would be legitimate and justified. He lacks polish and has big problems with offspeed stuff, which means his draft stock is based largely on his physical tools. He's a 70 runner with good raw power, but his mechanics at the plate need work and his defensive instincts are below average. If he maximizes his potential, he's a future star. Williams may benefit greatly from three years at the University of Texas.

7. Skye Bolt, Holy Innocents’ Episcopal (Atlanta)
Bolt has a chance to move up this list with some fundamental changes this spring. He's projectable at 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, is a 60 runner and thrower and can handle center field. The switch hitter's swing (he’s better from the right side) mechanics are poor — he was mostly upper body in 2011 — but that’s not irreparable and big power could come as a result. If he spurns North Carolina and signs, he might be a sleeper to keep an eye on.

8. Jesse Winker, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)
Winker is known for his sound swing and big power, but he may have to convert to first base down the line, erasing some of his value. He doesn’t run or throw all that well, but is a good worker who sets an example for teammates on and off the field. Winker is committed to Florida.

9. Rhett Wiseman, Buckingham Browne & Nichols (Cambridge, Mass.)
Wiseman brings a little of everything to the ballpark, including good feet, wrist strength and good bat speed. His swing is a mess, however, which keeps his stock down. He's a decent defender but lacks polish and does not make plays instinctually, but he's always played multiple sports, somewhat explaining the lack of natural baseball skills. He's a Vanderbilt commit, so he's not going to be easy to sign, and frankly he could use the time to develop anyway.

10. Anthony Alford, Petal (Miss.)
Alford may take his game to the gridiron — he's committed to Southern Mississippi to play quarterback as well as baseball — but he's a physical specimen at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds to go with above-average speed. He may have to play left in pro ball, and is still unrefined at the plate, but there's plenty to like athletically.

Jason A. Churchill covers scouting, player development and the MLB Draft for ESPN Insider, as well as Prospect Insider, where he's the founder and executive editor. You can follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider and email him at churchill@prospectinsider.com.

McCullers Jr. is top Florida diamond star

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
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Avery RomeroScott Kurtz/ESPNHSPedro Menendez (St. Augustine, Fla.) senior infielder and Florida recruit Avery Romero hit .458 and stole 13 bases as a junior.

Last June, the state of Florida's prep stars populated 10 of the first 90 selections in the draft, including three of the top 14 and two in the top 10. The Sunshine State is always a hotbed for baseball prospects, and the class of 2012 is likely to produce another strong set of talents littering the early rounds.

Here's a look at the Top 10 Florida high school prospects from the Class of 2012.

1. Lance McCullers Jr., RHP, Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)

The son of former MLB pitcher Lance McCullers Sr., McCullers has potential as a power bat, but his fastball has sniffed triple digits and he’s flashed an above-average breaking ball. Scouts are split on his future as the spring nears, but he’s a surefire first-round arm — and could break into the top 10 — for clubs that view him as a long-term starter. The Florida commit struck out 79 in 52 innings last year while hitting .422 with seven homers and 24 RBIs.

2. Walker Weickel, RHP, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)

At 6-foot-6, Weickel is a projectable arm who has shown a consistent low-90s fastball with good downhill plane. He's displayed depth with a slow curveball and a change that lacks sink but brings deception due to his arm speed. Weickel, a Miami commit, has first-round abilities and shouldn't stay on the board long come June.

3. Keon Barnum, 1B, King (Tampa, Fla.)

Barnum has plus raw power and a major-league frame at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds. He's a decent athlete but profiles best at first base, which will limit his value come draft day. But a better year hitting to all fields and making contact could put him into the top 30. Barnum, a Miami recruit, batted .491 last year with six homers and 27 RBIs.

4. Jesse Winker, OF, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)

Winker's strengths include above-average arm strength and good bat speed. Walker Weickel’s high school teammate runs well and shows good instincts in center field. But if his projected power develops, he could move to a corner, where he may be a plus defender long term. The left-handed hitting Winker, if he doesn't sign a pro deal next summer, is headed to Gainesville to play for the Gators.

5. Lewis Brinson, OF, Coral Springs (Fla.)

Brinson brings mixed reviews at this stage of the evaluation process, displaying plus athleticism and five-tool potential. At 6-foot-4, he may ultimately outgrow center field, but his arm should fit in right, provided his raw power plays in pro ball, too. Brinson has been timed in the 60 at 6.5 seconds, which is among the fastest in the entire draft class.

6. Albert Almora, OF, Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.)

Almora brings plenty of upside to the table, including plus speed and a plus throwing arm. He’s committed to Miami, but his strong, quick wrists and a consistent swing may be too much to pass up on draft day. He runs good routes in the outfield and may be able to handle center in the big leagues. Almora was named tournament MVP after leading the USA Baseball 18U National Team to a gold medal this fall in the COPABE 18U/AAA Pan American Championships.

7. Avery Romero, 2B/SS, Pedro Menendez (St. Augustine, Fla.)

Generally speaking, scouts believe Romero has to move off shortstop as a pro, likely sliding to third base where his plus arm and sound fundamentals should play well. His hit tool is his calling card at present and more power should develop as he improves his plate skills. Romero, a potential top 50 selection, is also committed to the University of Florida. He hit .458 last year with five homers, 18 RBIs and 13 stolen bases.

8. Addison Russell, SS, Pace (Fla.)

Like Romero, Russell appears to be a candidate to move to third base at the next levels, and there's enough arm strength and athleticism to warrant a shot in the outfield if necessary. He possesses well above-average bat speed that may turn into enticing power come draft day. Russell, who signed on to play at Auburn, starred with Almora on the USA Baseball National Team that won the Pan Am title.

9. Adrian Marin, SS, Gulliver Prep (Pinecrest, Fla.)

Marin is a plus runner with some quick-twitch actions that suggest he's got more pop in his bat than his 170-pound frame would otherwise suggest. He’s drawn comparisons to former first-round pick and Florida product Nick Franklin along the way. Marin has a good shot to stick at shortstop and if a club believes he will mature physically and hit enough, he could be a top 50 pick. If he doesn’t like his draft position, he's got a full ride to Miami waiting for him.

10. Hayden Hurst, RHP, Bolles (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Hurst had plenty of competition for the No. 10 spot, mainly from All Saints’ (Winter Haven, Fla.) right-hander Carson Fulmer. Hurst wins out due to the vast concerns that Fulmer's delivery will relegate him to relief work down the line. Hurst has touched 94 mph in the past and is projectable at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds. There's life and sink to the heater and he also offers a developing curveball. Hurst is committed to Florida State, but he has a chance to go early enough on Day 2 to warrant signing a pro contract.

On the Brink

David Thompson, 3B, Westminster Christian (Palmetto Bay, Fla.)
Tomas Nido, C, Orangewood Christian (Maitland, Fla.)
Nick Basto, SS, Archbishop McCarthy (Southwest Ranches, Fla.)
Brandon Lopez, 2B, Miramar (Fla.)
Zach Eflin, RHP, Hagerty (Oviedo, Fla.)
Carson Fulmer, RHP, All Saints’ Academy (Winter Haven, Fla.)
Alfredo Escalara, 3B, IMG Baseball Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)
Marcus Brakeman, RHP, Shorecrest Prep (St. Petersburg, Fla.)
Max Foody, LHP, IMG Baseball Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)

Jason A. Churchill covers scouting, player development and the MLB Draft for ESPN Insider, as well as Prospect Insider, where he's the founder and executive editor. You can follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider and email him at churchill@prospectinsider.com.

Team USA reflects on winning gold

December, 6, 2011
12/06/11
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USA Baseball 18U National TeamCourtesy of El UniversalThe USA Baseball 18U National Team outscored its nine opponents 88-8 en route to a gold medal at the Pan American Championships.
Gavin Cecchini didn’t mind the elbow to the face or three 180-pounders on his back. Carson Kelly wasn’t afraid of the bodies colliding on top of him or the headlocks that followed.

The USA Baseball 18U National Team teammates will never forget this dog pile.

“When I look back 10 years from now I will remember the dog pile more than anything,” said Cecchini, a senior at Barbe (Lake Charles, La.). “It was the best feeling. There is nothing like winning a gold medal.”

The 20-plus person tower in the infield featured some of the best prep baseball players in the United States, and it capped a week where Team USA dominated the field at the COPABE 18U/AAA Pan American Championships in Cartagena, Colombia.

The exclamation point was a 12-2 win over Canada in the gold-medal game last week to complete a perfect 9-0 record in the tournament that featured teams from all over the world.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Kelly, a senior at Westview (Portland, Ore.). “Every moment was incredible. It will be something I talk about for the rest of my life. I will remember it all.”

It won’t be hard to forget for the players and coaches who wore red, white and blue. Just check the box scores.

The American’s outscored their opponents 88-8, beating four of them by way of the mercy rule. On offense they combined to hit .353, and the pitching staff finished with a 1.00 ERA.

Between the chalk, they stole 45 bases, while defensively they only committed two errors.

“We absolutely demolished teams down there,” said Cecchini, an Ole Miss signee. “To tell you the truth, I thought the games would be much closer. But our hitters were awesome and our pitchers were unbelievable.”

Kelly was one of those pitchers. The Oregon signee earned the win on the mound in the gold-medal game and also had the ball when USA beat host country Colombia in front of a national TV audience and a sold out stadium of more than 13,0000 fans.

“It was a blessing for me and very exciting for me to get to pitch in those two games,” he said. “It’s not very often you get to represent your country. So I wanted to make sure we came out on top.”

Offensively, the Americans were paced by Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.) senior outfielder Albert Almora, who was named the tournament’s MVP. The Miami recruit and Team USA veteran hit .421 and led the team in extra-base hits (6) and RBI (11).

Cecchini was named to the all-tournament team along with Olympia (Orlando, Fla.) senior pitcher Jesse Winker, Albuquerque Academy (Albuquerque, N.M.) third baseman Alex Bregman and Pace (Pace, Fla.) senior shortstop Addison Russell.

“Everyone on are team was not good — they were great,” Kelly said. “I said to myself, ‘Wow, these guys know how to play baseball.’”

Team USA manager and three-time World Series champion Scott Brosius said he was impressed with the focus and talent level of his team, which consisted of many projected first-round MLB draft picks.

“It was definitely exciting to watch this group,” he said. “We hadn’t played a lot together, so we had a few question marks heading in. So to come in and win gold in a dominating fashion felt real rewarding.”

Away from the diamond, Team USA didn’t have it as easy. Cecchini said fans “were brutal” and felt that “everyone was against us and tried to throw us off our game.” When Team USA arrived in Colombia, they were given a different schedule that included an 8 a.m. game 12 hours after arriving in South America.

“That was just the first of many curveballs we were thrown,” Brosius said. “But we prepared to expect the unexpected, so we just rolled with what was thrown at us.”

The Americans were the only team who did not have a day off, Cecchini said. Plus, Team USA had to play four morning games in a row, where in some cases they were waking up at 6 a.m. to make hour-long bus trips.

“They tried everything to take us away from our game,” Cecchini said. “Cold showers, wet clothes, dirty water. They tried to mess with Team USA. We got the last laugh.”

And a memorable dog pile.

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