High-SchoolBaseball: Matt Smoral

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
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.


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.)


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.
Solon (Ohio) senior left-handed pitcher Matt Smoral developed a stress fracture in the fourth metatarsal on his right foot and will be out for the season, his father, Steve, told ESPNHS.

Rated the nation’s No. 2 lefty and No. 6 overall prospect in the ESPN 100, Smoral injured his foot while at a tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., last week and X-rays confirmed what he and his parents suspected. This is the second stress fracture Smoral has had in his right foot and the doctor who treated it previously, Dr. Brian Donley, will perform surgery on Friday to correct the problem.

Donley wrote in an email to the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau that the expected recovery time is 12-to-14 weeks and that Smoral should make a full recovery.

Smoral was a potential first-round pick in this year’s MLB draft, but Steve Smoral said his son is in very good spirits, especially knowing he has a scholarship to North Carolina in case the draft doesn’t work out.

“He knows that it’s a bump in the road and that it’s going to get fixed,” said Steve Smoral. “There’s never a good time for this, but he knows there’s plenty of baseball left to play.

“Nothing has changed in Matthew’s ability to pitch. The unfortunate part is major league scouts won’t get to see him anymore (this year). But our approach has always been to focus on your grades, your play on the field and Carolina, and the draft will work itself out.”

Smoral is the latest star prospect to get injured this season, joining No. 1 Lucas Giolito (sprained ulnar collateral ligament in right elbow), No. 22 Rio Ruiz (blood clot removed from neck) and No. 61 Alex Bregman (broken finger).

MLB Draft Stock Watch: High School Look

March, 16, 2012
Mitch NayMike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesHamilton (Chandler, Ariz.) senior third baseman Mitch Nay has seen his MLB draft stock rise thanks to a strong start to the 2012 season.
Jason A. Churchill, who covers the MLB draft for ESPN Insider, looks at the high school senior baseball prospects who’ve either helped or hurt their draft stock early in the 2012 season.

The Class of 2012 high school baseball class is one of great promise. While it might lack polish at the top, it offers a lot of projectable, star-level athletes with high ceilings. This class, however, won’t sort itself out until late April and May. From our rough sketch of the top 20 high school prospects that was compiled during the preseason (see below), we’ll look at who’s improving his stock and who’s fading in the early going.

Preseason Top 20

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
2. Byron Buxton, OF, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
3. Carlos Correa, SS, Puerto Rico Academy (Gurabo, Puerto Rico)
4. Walker Weickel, RHP, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)
5. Max Fried, LHP, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
6. Matt Smoral, LHP, Solon (Ohio)
7. Stryker Trahan, C, Acadiana (Lafayette, La.)
8. Joey Gallo, 1B, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
9. Gavin Cecchini, SS, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
10. David Dahl, OF, Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.)
11. Lucas Sims, RHP, Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.)
12. Hunter Virant, LHP, Camarillo (Calif.)
13. Rio Ruiz, 3B, Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.)
14. Zach Eflin, RHP, Hagerty (Oviedo, Fla.)
15. Clint Coulter, C, Union (Camas, Wash.)
16. Courtney Hawkins, OF, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
17. Addison Russell, SS, Pace (Fla.)
18. Carson Kelly, 3B, Westview (Portland, Ore.)
19. Tanner Rahier, SS, Palm Desert (Calif.)
20. Corey Seager, 3B, Northwest Cabarrus (Concord, N.C.)


Mitch Nay, 3B/OF, Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.)
Nay, Arizona's top prep prospect, has a shot to shoot up the charts with more performances like this week's outing, when he went deep to right-center -- the opposite field for Nay, who’s a right-handed batter -- for a three-run homer.

Ty Buttrey, RHP, Providence (Charlotte, N.C.)
Buttrey touched 95 mph on the radar gun last week and sat firmly in the low-90s. He fanned 12 in 5.2 innings in one start and offers projection at 6-foot-6 and just over 200 pounds. He’s committed to Arkansas, but he could move up into first-day draft consideration.

In his latest start, Eflin, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound Central Florida commit, tossed six hitless frames and struck out 12. He has 29 strikeouts in 15 innings on the season, using a 90-94 mph fastball and a potentially plus curveball. He has yet to allow an earned run.

Weickel, already a potential top-10 pick and a Miami commit, whiffed 10 in his start last week and has scouts drooling over what might be in a few years. "Sometimes I get lost and imagine him four years down the line," an area scout said. "He could be an absolute horse. The sky's the limit."


Keon Barnum, 1B, King (Tampa, Fla.)
Barnum is hitting for average and power early on but is not showing a consistent ability to recognize and adjust to the breaking ball. Since he's already 19, Barnum has less developmental time ahead of him than most prep draft prospects and is limited to first base defensively, so he has to show even better at the plate than if he offered defensive value. He does possess plus bat speed, and the ball jumps off his barrel, but he's slumped a bit early this season.

Lance McCullers Jr., RHP, Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
While McCullers started this year 4-0, he lands on the Stock Down list because scouts hoped to see improvements in some key areas that have not yet been displayed. He's still inconsistent with his command and there are issues with his delivery, including a lot of effort, and the buzz is that he's headed for the bullpen as a professional.

After faring very well in his first few outings and impressing over the summer, fall and early winter, Fried has looked very pedestrian of late. He's sat 89-92 mph with his fastball and has not commanded his arsenal well in his last two starts, getting touched up in both. It's far too early to suggest this will ultimately impact his draft stock, but the trend isn't rosy.

Giolito lands here based solely on his elbow injury. It's been described as a UCL sprain -- I coined it a potential "UCLA sprain" for its impact on Giolito's decision to sign a pro deal or head to UCLA next fall -- but sprains too often turn up as tears, which generally require Tommy John surgery. The right-hander is my No. 1 overall prospect, prep or college, and will remain at the top of the prep list until more is known of his condition.

If Giolito returns and shows he's 100 percent, he's still likely to be selected in the top 5-10 picks, if not the top three.


On top of Giolito's injury, there have been two others that may weaken the prep class and drop the stock of the players in question. Albuquerque Academy (Albuquerque, N.M.) catcher/infielder Alex Bregman broke the tip of his middle finger and is expected to miss the rest of the season. Showing the toughness clubs want to see, Bregman hurt the finger in pregame yet played and had two hits.

Ringgold (Ga.) left-hander Matthew Crownover, the nation’s No. 8 lefty, recently had Tommy John surgery and will miss the rest of the season. He wasn't considered a first-round talent, but he has touched 95 mph and had a shot to sneak into the top 100 despite his lack of ideal height at 6-0. He's likely headed for Clemson and will be draft eligible in 2015.

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: Preseason look

February, 29, 2012
The Starting NineMike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP Images, Scott Kurtz/ESPNHS(From left to right) Byron Buxton, Lucas Giolito and Joey Gallo are the three top preseason candidates for The Diamond Gem, the title bestowed upon the nation's most outstanding baseball player based on on-field performance.

With spring right around the corner, ESPNHS has begun 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.

So to kick it off, we give you our preseason Starting Nine. Leading the way is Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) senior Lucas Giolito, the nation’s top right-handed pitcher who dominated opposing hitters last season and has looked very much like an early first-round pick in the early going this year.

The Starting Nine: Preseason

1. Lucas Giolito, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
RHP, Senior
Why he’s here: The nation’s top right-hander, Giolito went 9-0 last year with a 1.00 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. He also pitched four complete games, three of which were shutouts.

2. Joey Gallo, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
1B/3B/RHP, Senior
Why he’s here: The top player on the top team in the POWERADE FAB 50, Gallo hit .471 last year with 25 homers and 78 RBIs while leading Gorman to its sixth straight state title. He also was 3-1 on the bump with a 1.12 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 18.2 innings.

3. Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
OF, Senior
Why he’s here: The nation’s top outfielder and potential top 10 pick in June’s MLB draft flirted with the .600 mark last season (he finished hitting .594) and clubbed 10 homers while driving in 48 runs.

4. Lance McCullers Jr., Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
RHP/SS, Senior
Why he’s here: The hard-throwing right-hander (he’s hit 100 mph on the radar gun) went 5-2 with a 1.71 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 45 innings last season for the Class 4A state runner-up. He also hit .422 with seven homers and 24 RBIs.

5. Kayden Porter, Spanish Fork (Utah)
RHP/OF, Senior
Why he’s here: Porter picked up ESPNHS National Junior of the Year honors last year after leading Spanish Fork to its third straight state title. He went 9-1 with 85 strikeouts in 59 innings and hit .570 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs.

6. Gavin Cecchini, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
SS, Senior
Why he’s here: Leader of Louisiana powerhouse picked up Gatorade State Player of the Year honors last season after hitting .548 with 10 homers, 41 RBIs and 32 stolen bases.

7. Max Fried, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
LHP, Senior
Why he’s here: The nation’s top lefty, Fried went 7-3 with a 1.31 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 69.2 innings at Montclair Prep (Van Nuys, Calif.). He transferred to Harvard-Westlake after Montclair Prep cut its athletics program.

8. Kyle Carter, Columbus (Ga.)
OF/LHP, Senior
Why he’s here: Carter, who starred on the Columbus team that won the 2006 Little League World Series, set a single-season school record with 22 homers last season to help Columbus earn its second straight state title and 11th overall. He also hit .467 with 47 RBIs and went 9-4 on the mound with a 2.33 ERA.

9. Courtney Hawkins, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
RHP/OF, Senior
Why he’s here: The leader of the No. 4 team in the POWERADE FAB 50, Hawkins led Carroll to a state title as a sophomore and the state semifinals last season. As a junior, he hit .410 with 15 homers, 49 RBIs and 22 stolen bases and was 10-2 with a 2.35 ERA and 81 strikeouts.

Another 25 players we’re tracking to begin the 2012 season

OF Albert Almora, Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.), Sr.
RHP Freddy Avis, Menlo School (Atherton, Calif.), Sr.
1B Keon Barnum, King (Tampa, Fla.), Sr.
RHP Ryan Burr, Highlands Ranch (Colo.), Sr.
C Zach Collins, American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.), Jr.
C Clint Coulter, Union (Camas, Wash.), Sr.
OF David Dahl, Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.), Sr.
RHP Ty Hensley, Santa Fe (Edmond, Okla.), Sr.
3B/RHP Carson Kelly, Westview (Portland, Ore.), Sr.
LHP Nathan Kirby, James River (Midlothian, Va.), Sr.
C Jeremy Martinez, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), Jr.
C/SS/RHP Wyatt Mathisen, Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas), Sr.
OF/RHP Ty Moore, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), Sr.
3B/OF Mitch Nay, Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.), Sr.
1B/RHP Matt Olson, Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.), Sr.
3B Rio Ruiz, Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.), Sr.
SS Addison Russell, Pace (Fla.), Sr.
RHP Lucas Sims, Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.), Sr.
LHP Matt Smoral, Solon (Ohio), Sr.
1B/RHP Jake Thompson, Rockwall-Heath (Heath, Texas), Sr.
RHP/OF Keegan Thompson, Cullman (Ala.), Jr.
C Stryker Trahan, Acadiana (Lafayette, La.), Sr.
LHP Hunter Virant, Camarillo (Calif.), Sr.
RHP Walker Weickel, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.), Sr.
OF/LHP Jesse Winker, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.), Sr.

Max Fried leads Class of 2012 left-handers

February, 3, 2012
Max FriedCourtesy of Matt LaCour/Harvard-WestlakeHarvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) senior Max Fried, who transferred from Montclair Prep (Van Nuys, Calif.) after it cut its athletics program, is the nation's top left-handed pitcher.

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 left-handed pitchers, which has a familiar feel at the top with Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) southpaw Max Fried. Last week, we rated Fried’s teammate Lucas Giolito as the nation’s top right-hander.

1. Max Fried, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
Fried is a fastball—curveball--changeup southpaw with projection in his 6-foot-4, 170-pound frame and a present fastball that has hit 94 mph. He's part of UCLA's tremendous recruiting class but is a good bet to go in the top half of the first round.

2. Matt Smoral, Solon (Ohio)
Smoral is interchangeable with Fried for the top spot. While Fried is further along in his development, Smoral brings more upside. At 6-foot-8, Smoral's 90-94 mph fastball comes easy and his slider works well from his three-quarters arm slot. He's a North Carolina commit but could go in the top 10 come June.

3. Hunter Virant, Camarillo (Calif.)
Virant, who could join Fried and right-hander Giolito at UCLA next season, is a first-round talent heading into the spring schedule. He sits in the 88-92 mph range and has topped out at 93, and the pitch carries some late life. He has good arm speed, which bodes well for his changeup.

4. Nathan Kirby, James River (Midlothian, Va.)
Kirby’s fastball--breaking ball combination is first-round worthy. And despite the lack of size at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, the southpaw sits in the 88-91 mph range with his heater. The development of a legitimate changeup could be the difference on draft day. Kirby has committed to Virginia.

5. Max Foody, IMG Baseball Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)
Foody, a Florida State commit, is big and strong at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, but he remains athletic and showed toughness in coming back from shoulder problems prior to last season. He employs a fastball, curveball and changeup, and has hit the low 90s in 2011. He could pitch his way into the first round with a strong spring.

6. Jack Wynkoop, Cape Henry Collegiate (Virginia Beach, Va.)
Wynkoop lands at No. 6 mostly on projection. He's 6-foot-6 and 190 pounds and a solid athlete. He's pitched in the 84-87 mph range but touched 89 last summer and also offers a curveball, slider and changeup. He's a South Carolina signee, but could see his stock rise if the fastball becomes more firm and more consistently in the upper-80s to low-90s.

Brett Lilek
Scott Kurtz/ESPNHSMarian Catholic (Chicago Heights, Ill.) senior and Arizona State recruit Brett Lilek is the nation's No. 9 left-hander.
7. Kyle Twomey, El Dorado (Placentia, Calif.)
Twomey impresses with his ability to pitch, rather than throw, and his out pitch is curveball that flashes as a plus pitch. He's generally sat in the 85-88 mph range in games, but he has touched 91 in showcases. His fastball has also shown some arm side run. He's headed to USC if he doesn't sign a pro deal, but has a shot at a Day 1 selection, and the first round isn’t completely out of the question.

8. James Crownover, Ringgold (Ga.)
Crownover is a sturdy left-hander who has touched 95 on the radar gun. He uses his secondary stuff well, when necessary, and both his curveball and changeup has occasionally shown as above-average pitches. He lacks projection -- he's 6-feet tall -- so he's not likely a first-round talent, but the compensation round could be within reach.

9. Brett Lilek, Marian Catholic (Chicago Heights, Ill.)
Lilek offers a loose armed delivery that helps him get to the low-90s with his fastball. At times he looks the part of a first-rounder, teasing scouts in the process. The Arizona State commit also employs a curveball and change, both of which should eventually benefit from the top-end arm speed. But there are some concerns with the rest of the delivery, specifically his right leg, which lands a bit violently.

10. Austin Fairchild, St. Thomas (Houston)
Fairchild isn't built like the prototypical starting pitcher at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, but he reaches the low-90s with his fastball and also offers a curveball and changeup. He has good arm speed, too, but there is a lot of effort in his delivery, which could mean he's headed for the bullpen down the line. Fairchild is a TCU commit, and among the most likely of their better signees to actually get to campus next fall.

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.

Ohio southpaw Smoral one of nation's best

January, 31, 2012
Matt SmoralCourtesy of Smoral FamilySolon (Ohio) left-hander and North Carolina recruit Matt Smoral went 4-1 last year with a 1.82 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 34.2 innings.

This January hasn’t been typical in Ohio with more 50-degree days than those below freezing.

In the Northeast corner of the state on one of those sun-filled January afternoons this year, an atypical pitcher is having a long-toss session as if it were already spring.

And when spring actually hits Ohio, many eyes and radar guns will be fixed on that pitcher — Solon (Ohio) senior left-hander Matt Smoral.

One of the nation’s top prep pitchers, the 6-foot-8, 225-pounder has been working tirelessly this winter, planting the seeds for a successful spring and most likely a successful June as well.

“Right now we have a couple strength coaches we turn to,” said Smoral. “My family knows a trainer in Houston who was big on getting me on the meal plan, and locally I have been working one-on-one with a trainer five days a week.”

It was in Houston over his winter break where Smoral worked with pitching instructor David Evans. Evans has instructed several elite pitchers, most notably the 2010 MLB Draft’s No. 2 overall pick, right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon.

“He’s my guy,” said Smoral. “He’s in Houston but I can give him a call anytime I want, send him video and when I go down there I feel I become a better pitcher.”

Since returning from Houston, Smoral has taken advantage of the warm weather in Ohio. But while being able to long-toss outside breaks the monotony of indoor work, Smoral believes the Midwest winters provide an advantage.

“I do like to be down in the warm weather where it is a lot easier to get out and do stuff, but I feel like [the winter] is a good opportunity to step away, take a break, regroup and focus and get stronger.”

The continued desire to get stronger, to regroup and maintain focus is what he feels keeps him humble amidst all his accomplishments.

Last summer, he helped lead the esteemed Midland Redskins to the Connie Mack World Series title and pitched in the Perfect Game All-American Classic. And this fall, he signed with North Carolina.

But being rated among the nation’s top prospects holds little weight with Smoral.

“The rankings are great but at the end of the day, colleges are not recruiting by the rankings,” he said. “And in the draft, you’re not going to get drafted by your ranking. To me it’s just a number.”

But at some point this summer, Smoral knows he’ll need to decide between professional baseball and North Carolina.

“It is tough,” he said. “My dad has helped me out a lot, he handles a lot of the calls. I’ve just really tried to focus on getting better, getting stronger and getting ready for the spring and also keeping my academics up. When June comes around, we’ll see what happens. But as of now I have a scholarship to North Carolina and that is what I plan on doing.”

Smoral isn’t the only towering Ohio hurler with signed to attend North Carolina that is a strong draft prospect. Vandalia-Butler (Vandalia) right-handed pitcher Taylore Cherry has also signed with the Tar Heels and like Smoral is one of the nation’s top hurlers.

And the Midland teammates are scheduled to face off on April 21 on the Redskins’ field in Amelia, Ohio.

“We thought it would be a great idea to go against each other since we’re both in Ohio,” Smoral. “My dad and Mr. Cherry thought it would be a great idea, we talked to (Midland coach) Brian Hiler about it and he thought it would be awesome. It’s great for two guys that are great friends but who are also fierce competitors.”

Scouts, scouting directors and cross checkers have that day circled. But right now, Smoral is focused on improving his already considerable skills and building off last season’s campaign when he went 4-1 with a 1.82 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 34.2 innings.

“I know that every day I’m trying to get better because there are other kids working just as hard,” he said. “I want to become the best player I can possibly be.”

Prep arms the difference in class of 2012?

October, 11, 2011
Lucas Giolito, Area Code Baseball, UCLA, Harvard-Westlake, high school baseball, baseballScott Kurtz/ESPNHSLucas Giolito may be a first round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft.

Next June's draft class does not appear to be as deep as last year's crop. There are fewer blue chip prospects overall and fewer high-ceiling prep pitchers. Or are there?

One thing I have learned in eight years covering the scouting and player development world is that high school players change more between the ages of 16 and 20 than at any other time in their athletics lives. What this could mean is that a second-division talent gets bigger, faster and stronger and hones them into further advanced baseball skills that were not necessarily on display the previous spring or summer.

This is how the class of 2012 could make up some ground on its brethren of previous years, and that burden is likely on the backs of an intriguing crop of prep pitchers. Added velocity, the development of a breaking ball or changeup, significantly improved command or a combination of these attributes can change the profile of a pitching prospect and shoot him up the charts.

Right-handers Lucas Giolito (Harvard-Westlake HS, Calif.), Lucas Sims (Brookwood HS, Ga.) and Lance McCullers, Jr. (Jesuit HS, Fla.) offer big upside and project as first-round selections, but there are several additional prospects that could take a momentous step forward before draft day.

Max Fried, LHP -- Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood, Calif.)
Fried, who transferred from Montclair Prep (Van Nuys, Calif.) to join forces with Giolito, offers a fastball in the 89-92 mph range and a potentially plus curveball and changeup. He stays over the rubber well and is a good athlete, running sub seven-second 60 times over the summer. He's hit 94 on the gun in the past and his 6-foot-4, 175-pound frame offers plenty of projection to suggest he could sit in the 93-96 mph range down the road. Fried is committed to UCLA, but could perform his way into the Top 10 where the bonus money exceeds $2 million.

Taylore Cherry, RHP -- Butler (Vandalia, Ohio)
Cherry checks in at 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds and sits 92-94 mph with his four-seam fastball. The pitch generates sink, as does his plus changeup. He commands his pitches well, including a below-average curveball that tends to flatten out at times. His size may scare off some clubs and it could ultimately dictate his role, but there are no present red flags with his mechanics that would push him to the bullpen. He's committed to North Carolina but there's likely more velocity in the chamber and he may not be able to pass up first-round money.

Walter Weickel, RHP -- Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)
The Orlando product is one of the better athletes in the class, posting times in the 6.6 range in the 60-yard run, in addition to his potential for a top-of-the-rotation arsenal. Weickel pitches at 89-92 mph, but has threatened the mid-90s and with downhill plane. He also employs a below-average change (78-81 mph) and a curveball of varied speeds (69-75 mph) that shows some depth. He offers terrific arm speed which bodes well for the changeup. The University of Miami has received a verbal commitment from Weickel, but he appears to be well on his way to becoming a first-round pick, and a strong spring could land in the top half.

Hunter Virant, LHP -- Camarillo (Camarillo, Calif.)
Virant, like Fried and Giolito, has committed to UCLA but like his potential future college teammates could be a first-round pick come June. The southpaw sits in the 88-91 mph range but has visited the 94 mph neighborhood and offers projectability at 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds. He has a good feel for a mid-70s curveball and turns over a changeup for strikes. There is a bit of concern with his arm action -- it's a bit short -- but it's not likely to impact his future role and if it's mended he could add velocity.

Matt Smoral, LHP -- Solon (Solon, Ohio)
Smoral may be the pitching prospect with the most room to climb up the charts thanks to his 6-foot-8, 230-pound frame and low-90s fastball. Scouts believe there is more in the tank in terms of velocity and he also uses a fringe-average slider and is becoming more comfortable with his changeup. Smoral, a North Carolina commit, isn't likely to see Chapel Hill since left-handers with plus heaters and projectable bodies don't last long in the draft. Smoral could land in the top 10.

Giolito has No. 1 stuff, including a fastball that has touched 97 mph and power curveball. He's big and projectable at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds and has shown an average changeup. The velocity is easy and the delivery is clean. He'a also a UCLA signee, but he could end up as the No. 1 overall pick which means the chances the Bruins get him on campus are somewhere between slim and absolutely not.

Sims, who signed with Clemson, has also touched the mid-90s, but his best pitch may be his 81-83 mph curveball that draws "plus" grades from scouts. He's a first-round talent with a chance at the top 10.

McCullers, the son of former big leaguer Lance McCullers, has hit 99 mph on the radar gun and also offers a hard-breaking curveball with some slider traits. His delivery and lack of a promising third pitch suggest to some talent evaluators that the bullpen is in his future, which very likely keeps him out of the top 10-15 of the draft. He has next spring to change that assessment.

Freddy Avis of Menlo (Palo Alto, Calif.) is also a first-round caliber arm, but his strong commitment to Stanford could prevent a first-round selection. Avis sits in the 90-93 mph range and his smooth and easy delivery bode well for his future. His curveball is among the better offspeed pitches in the prep class and he shows good arm action on a changeup with fading action.

Others: Kayden Porter, RHP (Spanish Fork HS, Utah); Carson Fulmer, RHP (Lakeland HS, Fla.); Tyler Hensly, RHP (Santa Fe HS, Okla.); Cody Poteet, RHP (Christian HS, Calif.); Trevor Megill, RHP (Marina HS, Calif.); Shane Watson, RHP (Lakewood HS, Calif.); Ryan McNeil, RHP (Nipomo HS, Calif.); Felipe Perez, RHP (Fairmont Prep, Calif.); Michael Rucker, RHP (Auburn-Riverside HS, Wash.); Ryan Burr, RHP (Highlands Ranch HS, Colo.).

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. He's served in similar roles for numerous publications since 2003, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. You can find Jason's ESPN archives here and follow him on Twitter here.