High-SchoolFlorida: Zach Eflin

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.

Baseball has been a lifeline for Zach Eflin

May, 11, 2012
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Zach EflinCliff Welch/Icon SMIAfter taking up baseball as a kid to escape a difficult home life, Hagerty (Oviedo, Fla.) senior pitcher Zach Eflin is now a top MLB draft prospect.


As Hagerty (Oviedo, Fla.) coach Jered Goodwin scanned his bench for relief pitching options in the middle innings of the district title game two years ago, he kept coming back to Zach Eflin.

With the game on the verge of being put out of reach by a powerful Oviedo (Fla.) team, asking a sophomore to stop the bleeding was daunting. Asking a sophomore who had only recently been called up to varsity and who had quit the team a few months earlier was downright crazy. But with future MLB draft pick A.J. Cole on the hill for Oviedo, Goodwin knew he needed more than just strong relief pitching -- he needed a miracle.

He signaled for Eflin to warm up.

"I was a little nervous in the bullpen," Eflin recalls. "I mean, knowing A.J. Cole would be a high draft pick, I'm looking at going up against a full-grown man."

Thing is, Eflin had done plenty of growing up himself -- mostly against his own will. That’s why he looked unfazed on the mound that night, retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced to open the door for his team’s triumphant comeback win. It also explains why two years later, the right-handed pitcher is the No. 14 senior prospect in the ESPN 100 and a likely early-round pick in the June MLB draft.

It was the type of growing up that no kid should be forced to endure. But the resilient Eflin has managed to turn the burden into a blessing.

Like most baseball players, Eflin's love for the sport stemmed from a game of catch with his dad. But the pastime that evolved into his passion was as much an opportunity for bonding as it was a distraction.

"My mother was an alcoholic, so my dad thought baseball was a good way to do some father-son bonding and give me a break from that environment," Eflin says.

Some days it worked. When he had a little league game, Eflin could take refuge on the field, forgetting about his problems at home. But on other days, when he came home to see his mom passed out on the floor, Eflin was reminded of his nightmarish circumstances.

"As a kid, it put me in a bad mood to see her like that," says Eflin, who currently has little contact with his mother. "My dad was working two jobs to support us. But when he was gone, it was just me and my two sisters living off each other. I would look forward to baseball so much because it was the only thing that got my mind off it all."

At home, Eflin learned what he never wanted to be. On the baseball field, he began to positively channel his anger and discovered what he could be instead.

"On the positive side, it helped push him to want to go to the next level," says his father, Larry. "It taught him that when you work hard for something, make it mean something so you don't sit back and let it go to waste. That's why his original goal going into high school was to be good enough to go to any school of any size on a baseball scholarship."

In his coach’s eyes, it didn't take long for Eflin to reach that level of talent. After sizing him up as an eighth- and ninth-grader, Goodwin knew he had a star on his hands. A star batter, that is.

"We actually thought he was going to be a hitter," says Goodwin, who also coached Eflin on the FTB Mizuno travel squad. "He had soft hands in the field and while he had a good arm and could throw a ton of strikes, he would short-arm his throws a little bit. So the impression was he was going to swing the stick for us.

“But then he hit this growth spurt and started improving his velocity and mechanics as a pitcher. He made some strides where his pitching surpassed his hitting."

Eflin's evolution, however, came to screeching halt in the fall of his sophomore year, when he suddenly got fed up. Fed up with the conditioning and seemingly endless training. Baseball was his safe place, where he could escape the pain at home. But with fall workouts taking place four days a week and little actual baseball in between, Eflin began to resent the sport he loved.

"It was like two months of hell and I didn't want to be out there," Eflin says. "I didn't have a passion, so I left for a week. But then I started to miss the game so much."

When Eflin returned to practice, he immediately focused on regaining the trust of his teammates and coaches, all while taking his passion for training to another level. He embraced the team's weightlifting program, worked on his arm trajectory and subsequently settled into his imposing frame, which now measures 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds.

With Eflin's renewed commitment came a gradual rise in his velocity. As a sophomore, his pitches only peaked in the mid-80s, but he got by thanks to his pinpoint control. After a couple intense offseason workout programs, which included early-morning sessions of long toss and mechanical work, Eflin now has scouts drooling over his 96 mph fastballs and nasty changeups.

"He's made consistent strides throughout his whole career," Goodwin says. "One of the things that separates him from other players is he's still got so much projection. He dominates the strike zone, can put on a show in batting practice and still has so much potential."

His senior campaign only added to this belief, as Eflin went 5-2 with a 0.55 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 38 innings. This all while having 50, sometimes 60, big league scouts evaluating his every throw and movement.

In a few weeks, one major league team will draft Eflin and offer him hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars to pass on his commitment to Central Florida. And though Eflin’s dream has always been to one day reach the majors, he admits that going to UCF is just as enticing.

"Family is the biggest thing," Eflin says. "I can go to UCF for a lot of reasons, like both of my grandparents live within five minutes and it's close to my dad. I've never known what it's like to have a real mother, so I'm a big family man. And I thank God every day for blessing me with these opportunities."

Eflin has plenty of reasons to forget his difficult past, what with his future gleaming so bright. But oftentimes, just as he did on that fateful night two years ago when his number was surprisingly called, Eflin draws back on this pain for perspective. For every strike he throws, he knows life can throw something greater.

"Zach does a great job of winning the next pitch," Goodwin says. "If something bad happens, he could always still go compete, even as a 15-year-old. So when I put him in that game, I knew he could go make it happen.

"Zach knows baseball isn't the hardest thing he'll have to do.”

Brandon Parker covers high school sports for ESPNHS. Follow him on Twitter @brandoncparker or email him at brandon.c.parker@espn.com

MLB Draft Stock Watch: High School Look

March, 16, 2012
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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 their 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.)

STOCK UP

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 consideration.

Eflin
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
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," said an area scout. "He could be an absolute horse. The sky's the limit."

STOCK DOWN

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.

Fried
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
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.

INJURIES

On top of Giolito's injury, there have been two others that may weaken the prep class and drop the stock of the player 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 pre-game 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.

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