Thursday, May 20, 2010

More High School Pitching

Steve Bernhardt ProfileSteve Bernhardt: Draft Report

Continuing with the same topic as the last draft report, let’s discuss a few more high school pitchers that have a chance to hear their name called early during the draft. While the first group of RHPs that we highlighted have cemented themselves as first round talents, the consensus on this next group of right-handers is not quite as clear. While they have all flashed the stuff to make them worthy of a top-round selection, some questions still linger.

The first RHP in that group is DeAndre Smelter out of Georgia. Smelter has a mature, strong frame and is one of the best athletes in this year’s draft. Had he continued to pursue football, he would have ended up playing on Saturdays in the SEC. Instead, he chose to hone his craft on the mound under the tutelage of his high school pitching coach and former MLer, Kevin Brown. Though his performance has been inconsistent at times, the results of concentrating on baseball are beginning to show through. His delivery has some deception (like Brown’s did) and he throws a heavy, sinking low 90s fastball that occasionally touches higher. Hitters in last year’s Under Armour All-America Game did not look comfortable in their at bats against him. His secondary stuff is developing with flashes of a tight slider and tumbling split. Good athletes with a strong frame and quick arm have a history of succeeding on the mound, so expect someone who feels they can refine Smelter to select him early.

Another young right hander with a high ceiling is Kevin Gausman out of Colorado. Gausman has battled the usual spring weather issues in Colorado that have made it more difficult to find a consistent rhythm, but as the weather has warmed up, he has too. His fastball velocity has crept back into the consistent low 90s and his delivery seems to be back in sync. If he shows the consistency with his secondary stuff that he flashed last year at the Under Armour All-America Game and other prominent events, he will once again be in teams’ conversations that are picking later in the first round.

A few other RHPs whose final spring outings will strongly influence exactly where they are selected are Drew Cisco (SC), Andrew Smith (GA) and John Barbato (FL). Cisco is the most polished of the group with command of three pitches and the track record of mowing down top hitters like he did at last year’s Tournament of Stars and the Under Armour All-America Game. Equally as impressive at the All-America Game was Andrew Smith’s performance. He mixed a low 90s live fastball with a hard downer curve ball to breeze through his inning. Glimpses of that type of stuff late this spring will move him up boards. Finally, John Barbato has been overshadowed a bit by Whitson and Cole in Florida this spring, but he has quietly displayed a three-pitch mix that warrants early round consideration. His fastball has touched 94, he has a feel for a change, his curveball is a potential out pitch and he is a quality athlete on the mound – a pretty solid combination.

With all the depth of high school righties, finding quality left-handers this year has been a little tougher. While they may not push themselves all the way into the first round, two deserve mention. First is one of the highest risers on draft boards this spring. Evan Rutckyj from Canada was a big, strong raw lefthander when he pitched at Wrigley Field in last year’s Under Armour All-America Game. He showed glimpses of his quick arm and a sharp breaking ball, but needed quite a bit of refinement. I don’t know that anyone expected the changes so soon. An off-season without hockey and with a lot of work in the weight room and on the indoor mound has reaped rewards this spring. Rutckyj has cleaned up his mechanics, improved his command and pitched very effectively as a part of the Canadian National Team. It is now easier to envision this physical lefty reaching his ceiling, which may make him the first high school LHP taken next month.

The other young left hander that should be mentioned is Kevin Ziomek. Like Rutckyj, Ziomek is from up north (MA) and has the “fresh arm” that scouts covet. He has a 6’3” lean frame and delivers a FB that sits comfortably in the upper 80s from a low-effort delivery. His best secondary offering is a slider with good tilt. He shows a feel for his change and also mixes in a curve, though his slider should remain his out pitch. Ziomek’s strong commitment to Vanderbilt will concern some teams, but he has the look of a future middle-of-the-rotation starter who should be selected early.

We could continue to discuss many other high school arms that could sneak into the first round, but next time we’ll shift our focus to the guys that handle these pitchers – the catchers.

Steve Bernhardt is quickly becoming known on a national level as one of the top authorities on high school baseball prospects. Steve was chosen by as a special consultant for their 2008 and 2009 Pre-Draft coverage. In addition, over the past three years Steve has been the liaison with Baseball America providing thousands of scouting reports on players from the 200+ Baseball Factory and Team One events nationwide that he oversees.

Steve has also chosen the Top 36 High School Baseball Players each year for the Under Armour All-America Game, powered by Baseball Factory. From the 2008 game 29 of the All-Americans were selected in the 2009 MLB draft including seven in the first round.

Currently, Steve oversees the Baseball Factory Top 100, presented by Under Armour which ranks the top high school prospects in the country. Steve has also been featured on the nationally syndicated Diamond Gems Baseball program that airs in thirty cities across America. Steve has also made appearances in the last year on the following programs: Mark Viviano Show – ESPN Radio, 1300 AM, John Thompson Show – 980 AM, Anita Marks Show – ESPN Radio, 1200 AM/MASN TV, Jeremy Kahn: “Playermakers” – 105.7 FM, Bob Harvey: “WNST” – 1570 AM, Grant Paulsen Show – XM Radio

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