High-SchoolWashington: Must See

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
3/16/12
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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."

FAB 50 Offseason Primer: Bellevue (Wash.)

February, 8, 2012
2/08/12
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Bellevue FootballTed S. Warren/APBellevue (Wash.) will be going for its fifth consecutive state title this year.
During the offseason, we’ll check out one team per week that looks like a sure bet to be among the best in the nation for next fall.

FAB 50 Offseason Primer Archive

This week’s team: Bellevue (Wash.)

2011 Season: 14-0, Class 3A state champion for fourth year in a row, No. 11 in final POWERADE FAB 50.

Projected 2012 Preseason Ranking: Top 20. If quarterback and cornerback Tyler Hasty, who is headed to Oregon State, was coming back along with everybody else who is returning, the Wolverines would be a lock to be in the top 10 and contending to be the top team in the West. It’s been a rankings duel the past few seasons in Washington between Bellevue, the perennial champion in Class 3A, and Skyline of Sammamish, the perennial power in Class 4A. Bellevue won when the two powers played in 2011, so no guessing was needed.

Team Strengths: Coach Butch Goncharoff should have several running backs he can go to in his vaunted Wing-T offense. John Nguyen (5-9, 180) has had the most experience and is great at breaking tackles; Myles Jack (6-2, 215) has already received Pac-12 offers for his power and speed; while Ari Morales (5-10, 175) is versatile and can consistently get past the first line of defense. Another team strength is the return game, which was on display in the 35-16 win over previously unbeaten O’Dea of Seattle in the state final when Bishard "Budda" Baker (5-10, 170) ran back a kickoff for a score while Scott Whiting (5-9, 165) scored on a punt. On defense, linebacker Sean Constantine (6-2, 220) also is getting Pac-12 offers and is part of a potentially dynamite front seven. That unit includes Darien Freeman (6-0, 270), who should be one of the state’s top nose guards, along with defensive end Nick Santa (6-3, 225). The secondary features defensive backs Michael Carlson (6-2, 195) and Dakota Jones (5-10, 160).

Another Washington team to watch: It would be too easy to write up Skyline as a team to watch. Instead, we’ll try to think outside the box by choosing Eastside Catholic (Sammamish, Wash.). Sure, the Crusaders were only 7-4 last year and they lost 42-0 to Bellevue in the opening-round of the Class 3A state playoffs. But Bellevue is the class of the state and earlier in the season Eastside Catholic lost by just one point to the same O’Dea of Seattle team that played in the state final this past season. The Crusaders also figure to be a better team with most of their starters coming back, including quarterback Trey Reynolds (6-1, 185), who passed for 1,555 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Another plus is that coach Jeremy Theilbahr will be in his second season at the helm of the program, so the players should be more familiar with his methods and schemes. Theilbahr’s other top returnees are expected to include offensive lineman Christian Shigley (6-4, 230); defensive end David Hurdle (6-1, 215); linebacker Zane Allen (6-0, 195) and defensive back Markell Sanders (6-1, 175).

Elite 11 Watch: Skyline star Max Browne

February, 2, 2012
2/02/12
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Max BrowneTom Hauck for ESPN.comSkyline (Sammamish, Wash.) junior signal-caller Max Browne threw for 4,034 yards and 45 touchdowns last season while leading the Spartans to a Class 4A state crown.
Throughout this offseason, we’ll spotlight Class of 2013 quarterbacks who have a shot at making the Elite 11 finals in July. This week we profile Skyline (Sammamish, Wash.) standout Max Browne.

Elite 11 Watch Archive

Skyline (Sammamish, Wash.) junior Max Browne prides himself on being a cerebral quarterback. As the conductor of the Spartans’ no-huddle aerial attack, the junior’s brain must act like a microprocessor, calling plays at the line, evaluating what scheme the defense is in and whether to audible — all at a feverish pace.

The ESPNHS Underclass All-American was masterful under center this past fall, completing better than 70 percent of his passes and tossing 43 TDs to lead the Spartans to the Class 4A crown. Browne’s success and poise in that demanding role has led some scouts to compare him to Peyton Manning.

But Browne would be fine just reaching the level of his predecessor, Jake Heaps, an Elite 11 alum now at Kansas who captured multiple state crowns at Skyline.

“We’re similar in our ability to command the offense,” says Browne. “He started the championship streak at Skyline, and I’m kind of continuing it.”

Browne took another step toward matching Heaps, wowing scouts with his downfield accuracy and ability to complete a variety of throws at last spring’s Elite 11 Regional at Stanford. He is hopeful an invite to the finals will kick off his final season on the gridiron.

ESPNHS: What was the environment like at last year’s Elite 11 Regional at Stanford?
Browne: At that event, you really see that there are a lot of good quarterbacks on the West Coast. Those guys had good accuracy and arm strength, so you have to bring your “A” game. And the coaches were top notch. There’s a lot of good competition and everyone wants to be on the Elite 11 Finals show.

ESPNHS: What did you learn at Regionals that helped you on the field last season?
Browne: Just when I roll out to keep my shoulders level and to make sure I point my toes where the receiver is going to be. I got away with that stuff at times as a sophomore, but I won’t be able to at the next level.

ESPNHS: What would it mean to you to be selected to the Elite 11 Finals?
Browne: It would be a huge honor to know I’m one of the best QBs in the nation. Ever since I was in middle school, I used to watch Elite 11 stuff, and there’s so many NFL guys that have been there.

ESPNHS: Washington all-state QB Jeff Lindquist competed in the finals last year. Did he offer you any advice on how to succeed there?
Browne: He said to make sure you know your playbook. You should know it in and out. He also just told me to play my game. Make sure I do it my way.

ESPNHS: What changes did you see in your game in 2011?
Browne: I had better command of the offense and I didn’t let my team get rattled. I was a better leader and my team rallied around me.

ESPNHS: Skyline has a tradition of winning and a growing number of haters. Do opposing players talk trash to you?
Browne: Oh, yeah. Kids know all about Skyline. We don’t lose to a whole lot of teams, but if we do they let us know. This one kid posted on Facebook said, “Max, I’m coming for you.” He got a couple licks on me in the game, but I still completed the throws.

ESPNHS: It seems like every season either Skyline or Bellevue is ranked in the POWERADE FAB 50. Which team really runs Washington?
Browne: Even though they beat us this year, Skyline runs football in Washington. They play in Class 3A and that’s a lower division. We have a harder road to state each year. After we both won state titles this year, people joked we should’ve had a rematch. The way we played at the end of the year, we could’ve beaten anyone.

MAX BROWNE
School: Skyline (Samammish, Wash.)
Position: QB
Ht/Wt: 6-5/208
2011 Team Record: 11-3 (Won Class 4A state title)

2011 Stats
Passing yards: 4,034
Passing TDs: 45
INTs: 7

Coulter catching up quick behind the dish

January, 24, 2012
1/24/12
4:32
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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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