High-SchoolWashington: High School Baseball

Hollon is nation’s top junior right-hander

March, 23, 2012
3/23/12
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Clinton HollonCourtesy of Perfect GameWoodford County (Versailles, Ky.) star Clinton Hollon is the nation's top right-handed pitcher in the Class of 2013.
Each week from now until the end of April, we’ll take a look at the elite Class of 2013 baseball prospects by ranking the Top 5 players at each position. This week, we get things started with the Top 5 right-handed pitchers led by Clinton Hollon of Woodford County (Versailles, Ky.), a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder who can throw in the high-90s.
1. Clinton Hollon, Woodford County High School (Versailles, Ky.)
Hollon, a Kentucky commit, has bumped 97 mph on the radar gun. And despite some red flags with his delivery, he has the best arm in the prep class of 2013. He's just 6-foot-1, but he's well built at 195 pounds and offers an upper-80s curveball, a mid-80s slider and a changeup. His slider may be his best shot at an out pitch at the next level.

2. Jordan Sheffield, Tullahoma High School (Tenn.)
Sheffield is a two-sport star and is headed to Vanderbilt, a school that usually keeps its commits rather than losing them to the baseball draft. Sheffield has hit 94 mph with his fastball thanks to terrific arm speed and the pitch has late life. He also employs a power curveball and a slider. Like Hollon, Sheffield is a bit undersized at 6-foot-1 and is just 175 pounds -- great size for a slot receiver on the gridiron, but not ideal for a starting pitcher.

3. Trevor Clifton, Heritage High School (Maryville, Tenn.)
Clifton offers projection from his 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame and a fastball that is in the 89-92 mph range entering his junior year. He complements the four-seamer with a mid-70s slurvy breaking ball and an upper-80s changeup. He’s started this season 2-0 and tossed his first career no-hitter this week.

4. Thomas Hatch, Jenks High School (Okla.)
Hatch has grazed 93 mph with his fastball, pitching mostly in the 89-90 range, and pitches downhill with arm-side ride and a cutter-like slider. His release point is consistent and he repeats his delivery. He's considered a mature arm with a good feel for pitching and above-average command.

5. Matt Vogel, Patchogue-Medford High School (Medford, N.Y.)
Vogel, committed to South Carolina, possesses good arm speed and a fastball up to 92 miles per hour. His secondary stuff includes a curveball and slider -- of which he will likely have to choose one as a pro -- and works both sides of the plate well. Despite the average velocity upon which to build, the pitch is true, which means his lack of ideal height -- he's 6-foot-1 -- makes it difficult to create downward plane. He may need college to work on his delivery.

Others to Watch
Cheyne Bickel, Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.)
Trey Cobb, Broken Arrow (Okla.)
Dustin Driver, Wenatchee (Wash.)
Steve Farinaro, Head-Royce (Oakland, Calif.)
Sheldon Neuse, Fossil Ridge (Fort Worth, Texas)
Keegan Thompson, Cullman (Ala.)
Andrew Zapata, Poly Prep (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

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.

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.

The Starting Nine: Preseason look

February, 29, 2012
2/29/12
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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.

ON DECK
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.

The most punishing position in sports?

February, 17, 2012
2/17/12
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Clint CoulterDustin Snipes/ESPNHSUnion (Camas, Wash.) senior catcher and Arizona State recruit Clint Coulter was an all-state selection last year after batting .400 with four homers.
From foul tips to collisions at the plate, there’s a reason catchers are the only baseball players who need to wear body armor. We checked in with Clint Coulter, the No. 2-ranked catcher prospect by ESPNHS, to find out exactly how punishing the position really is. The Union (Camas, Wash.) senior only began catching a few years ago, but he's already experienced his fair share of excruciating moments behind the dish.

On collisions at home plate:
“It’s illegal to run into the catcher in high school, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I remember one collision a guy came in hot and slid headfirst and his braces tore into my arm. It was deep, almost down to the bone.”

On dealing with foul tips:
“I’ve taken them in the crotch, off the thigh and off the mask. But you can’t worry about it. It’s not humanly possible to react (in time).

On the grind of the position:
“Doubleheaders will eat your lunch pretty good. I was catching one over the summer in Georgia and it was 100 degrees and humid. I remember stepping into the batter’s box and then stepping back out and I could see my wet footprint in the dirt. I had literally sweated through my cleats. You have to be pretty crazy to handle days like that, but I love it.”

On blocking balls in the dirt:
"I wasn't the best at blocking balls when I started out because I was trying too hard to catch the ball instead of just keeping it in front of me. I'd come home from practice with bruises up and down my arms and jammed fingers. When I learned to use my chest to block the ball, that saved me a lot of pain."

On getting hit by the bat:
"A lot of times, batters will get into the box and set up on in one spot, but then as the pitcher winds up they'll move back in the box an inch or two. There have been a couple times where that's happened and the ump has been right on my back so I can't move back at all and I end up getting hit in the glove by the bat. That doesn't feel too good on the fingers."

On the overall strain of the position:
"Baseball is a grueling sport to begin with, and being a catcher is like grueling times two. Not just physically, but mentally you're really tuned in hard to your pitcher on every pitch. But I love it. I love being in control of the pitching staff. Like anything else in life, if you don't enjoy it then you're not going to be the best. I love being back there, and I want to be the best."

Coulter catching up quick behind the dish

January, 24, 2012
1/24/12
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Clint CoulterDustin Snipes/ESPNHSUnion (Camas, Wash.) senior catcher and Arizona State recruit Clint Coulter was an all-state selection last year after batting .400 with four homers.

If you were to ask a scout or front-office member the most difficult position to develop, the overall consensus would likely be catcher.

The position is demanding both physically and mentally, and the attrition behind the plate is undoubtedly the highest in baseball. Plus, most players struggle to pick up the position for several years.

That’s why what Union (Camas, Wash.) senior Clint Coulter has done in his short period of time behind the plate is all the more impressive. Last year was the first season the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder focused solely on baseball.

“I wouldn’t have guessed that he was new to the position,” said a West Coast Conference coach. “We saw him quite a bit last spring, and he really impressed us with his instincts back there. It is always a work in progress when you’re seeing a 16- to 18-year-old kid catch, but the athleticism and size was really impressive.”

That athleticism and size has served Coulter well in multiple sports. As a sophomore, he was the Class 3A state wrestling champion at 189 pounds, but he ended up giving up wrestling last year to concentrate on the diamond.

Last spring, the right-handed hitter delivered an impressive junior campaign to earn a spot in both the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game and the Area Code Games, where he was selected to the New Balance All-Area Code Team.

“Those events were a lot of fun,” Coulter said. “At the Area Code Games, those events are typically dominated by the South, so for us (the Northwest-region-based Royals) to come in and go undefeated was awesome. And then getting a chance to be in the same locker room as Ernie Banks at Wrigley Field for the Under Armour game and how well they catered to us and getting to participate in the home run derby, all of it was a blessing.”

After the big summer, Coulter is being included on many analysts’ top 100 for the 2012 draft. Coulter says his dream is to play professional baseball, and working towards the draft is one of his biggest goals, but he did admit that the new draft rules could have an impact on whether or not he goes the pro or collegiate route.

While he may not be enthralled with the new rules, Coulter did light up when talking about his college commitment to Arizona State.

“I was just so impressed with the competitiveness of the practices,” Coulter said. “I’ve never seen anything like that. Coach Esmay has them working so hard, and it’s more intense than most games I’ve seen or been a part of. They truly are committed to winning.”

Just how high Coulter goes in the draft will depend on whether or not talent-evaluators believe he can stick as a backstop. But the bat should also play well at a corner infield position, just like a current MLB star.

“I like to pattern my game after Mike Napoli,” Coulter said, referring to the Texas Rangers standout catcher who also plays first. “I love how he goes up looking for that fastball middle in, and if he gets, it he lets it rip.”

But if he ends up strictly behind the backstop, Coulter has shown he has what it takes to succeed at the demanding position.

Christopher Crawford is a regular contributor to Prospect Insider and the founder and executive editor of MLB Draft Insider. Follow him on Twitter @CrawfordChrisV.

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