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Player Player Game Report: Kevin Jordan, OF, Northside HS (GA)

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Having already planned to head to South Georgia on Saturday, I planned a side route to Columbus, Georgia to be able to catch a possible first-day draft prospect in Northside High School outfielder Kevin Jordan. Jordan is a tall, lanky center field prospect with plus tools in the power, speed, and fielding departments, and he holds a baseball scholarship to Wake Forest. A late-bloomer in terms of national prominence, Jordan came onto the bigger stage with strong performances in the Area Code games in August, followed by a good showing at the World Wood Bat World Championship in Jupiter, Florida in October. I currently rate him as a 2nd-4th round prospect, and his upside is immense. I recorded notes on most players in the matchup between Northside and Northgate High School, but this will simply be a writeup on Jordan, the only high-level draft prospect on the field on Saturday. Here’s a look at what I saw.

Jordan was the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter for Northside, and he was easily the best player on the field, both in terms of current production and tools. He didn’t have a great day when I saw him on Saturday, but the tools are definitely in there. To begin, his raw size makes him stand out. He’s listed at 6’1’’, and that’s about right, though he may be closer to 6’2’’. He has lean, wiry strength that’s already solid, and he definitely has the look of someone that will fill out with solid muscle as he matures. There’s tons of potential in his body, though relying on physical projection is only one step in the grading process.

Let’s start with Jordan’s skills at the plate. He hits with a fairly simple load, and he gets set early enough to be prepared. I only say that part because that’s sometimes a problem with more inexperienced prep hitters, and Jordan’s high-level experience with baseball is pretty lacking. However, Jordan has some good fundamentals at the plate. He shouldn’t have to adjust much with a wooden bat in terms of hitting mechanics. The only glaring thing I see is how much he moves his front elbow down when he gets into his load, and that messes with his timing a little. He pulls that elbow out a little early on offspeed stuff, and while he keeps most of the rest of his body in line, that elbow moves the bat enough to make it essentially without pop if he makes contact. It’s kind of a scramble to put the ball in play rather than waiting on the pitch and driving it. That’s all correctable with pro coaching, though, and the mechanics themselves are strong. He even has a little Junior Griffey in him in terms of the load when he gets a pitch to drive. His bat speed is above-average when he’s not fooled by his somewhat weak pitch recognition, and he projects to hit for a solid average, and I gave him a future 55 grade on his hit tool, though with only four at-bats to judge. His raw power gets a future grade of 55 or 60 depending on how you see him filling out.

I didn’t get a very good opportunity to clock his speed. I was running the stopwatch continuously, but he either hit a weaker fly ball, a grounder that got into the outfield or he got lazy at the end of a routine grounder. I didn’t get a single sub-5 second time for him down the line, a clear indication that he wasn’t running close to full speed, since he’s been clocked at 4.1 seconds down the line as late as October, which is true plus speed from the left-handed batter’s box, and he’s been given anywhere from 60 to 70 grades for his raw speed by scouts. The fastest I saw him run was from center field back to the dugout after a third out was recorded by his team.

In the field, I got a chance to see Jordan’s arm in pre-game outfield/infield practice. That’s what I love about the college and prep level. They still take infield. In general, the arm didn’t impress me. He also got a chance to try and throw out a player at the plate in the first inning on a single, when the runner was trying to score from second. Not only did he not charge the ball with any sort of urgency, he then came up with a horrible throw that was cut by the first baseman in the middle of the diamond, and the runner scored easily. I gave the arm a 40 grade, which is easily below-average, and I’m hoping he was simply stiff in the high-40s windy weather, because it was simply bad. He throws right-handed, and his throwing mechanics aren’t noticeably bad, but there’s no life on his throws.

Looking simply at his fielding and range in center, I only had minimal looks. He glided for one ball in left-center late in the game, and he got under the ball easily enough to call off the nearby left fielder and make the catch. I have to note that the field was 331 feet to each foul pole, but only 352 feet to dead center, so Jordan was understandably playing a very shallow center field for any sizeable pro park, so judging his range at that field is fairly skewed. With his speed and the instincts I saw him show on that fly ball, I don’t see any reason why he can’t be an above-average center fielder if he keeps that speed after filling out. If he loses that extra bit of speed, then he could be shifted to left field and be a plus fielder there. I don’t think his arm plays in right field at all, so he would absolutely have to shift to left if he outgrew center field.

Having looked at his five tools, let me give you a quick wrap-up on the little things I saw about Jordan. In short, he’s a low-energy player, and I mean that in a bad way. Besides the lackluster effort on the single to center field where his throw came in pretty badly, he pretty much dogged it in every other aspect of his game. He didn’t back up throws, didn’t run out hits, and he looked like he absolutely didn’t care about the game of baseball. Even knowing about his good tools, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he looked completely bored out of his mind. Like I said above, the most effort I saw him put out was running back to the dugout. At the plate, he seemed timid, and he didn’t even get fired up by a pair of horrible calls by the home plate umpire, including calling a strike on a ball that bounced between home plate and the catcher’s glove. He simply stepped out of the box, stepped back in and proceeded to continue his at-bat. If he had shown any sort of effort in any other part of the game, I would have said it was mature of him to not let the umpire get to him, but I wanted to see some sort of life from him. I didn’t even see him smile. It looked like someone was forcing him to play.

Here are two more things that bothered me the most. Let’s start with the thing that bothered me most. Jordan had reached base on an error by an infielder, proceeded to steal second with another runner on 3rd without a throw, and then made it to third on another grounder. He didn’t take much of a lead at third, and he almost looked afraid of being picked off, a surprise for such a high-level athlete. While he was at third, the four-hole hitter for Northside hit a soft, looping liner to short right field. Jordan did the right thing by heading back towards third to tag up in case the right fielder caught it, but the ball fell in front of the fielder for an easy single. Jordan, seeing the ball drop, started heading home for what should have been an easy run. However, he did what I can best describe as jogging, though jogging is probably faster than he got down the line. The right fielder had time to get the ball to the first baseman on the inner grass of the infield, who relayed it home at the same time Jordan arrived there. Jordan didn’t bother to slide, instead just putting his foot right next to where the catcher was trying to block the plate, while at the same time shielding his face from the ball possibly hitting there with his hand and tilting his batting helmet that way. He scored on what was essentially a tie at home plate, and he was extremely lucky not to be thrown out or completely miss home plate with his foot. If I was coaching, he would been riding that bench for the rest of the game after that, but he stayed in, which I thought was strange after later seeing the same coach benching a kid for not getting to second on a borderline routine double down the third base line, even though the kid stumbled out of the box. The coach even publicly chewed him out in his face on his way back to the dugout. Talk about mixed messages.

The other thing that bothered me most about Jordan was his approach at the plate, specifically in his third at-bat in the fourth inning. Northgate decided to pull their starter just as Jordan was coming up to the plate. The reliever showed some interesting secondary stuff, and I expected Jordan to do what any responsible leadoff hitter should do. He should have had an extended at-bat that allowed him and his teammates to see what sort of live pitching that pitcher had to offer. Instead, he lunged at the second pitch of the at-bat for a weakly-hit ground ball for an out, the groundout where he dogged it down the line to a 5+ second clock time. It was too immature for a hitter of his draft caliber, and the effort out of the box didn’t help.

All in all, it was easy to see why scouts are attracted to Jordan and his tools. There were about half a dozen area scouts in attendance, most of which had been at the Georgia-Stetson matchup the night before. They were all there to see Jordan, and none even used a radar gun or moved from their spots up the left field line, with four staying put beyond the third base dugout for the entire game until Jordan’s last at-bat, when they promptly left. All had stopwatches in their hands and only paid attention when Jordan was involved with the action. I generally liked what I saw from Jordan in terms of the physical tools, but he’ll have to prove to me that he can actually show some effort before I think of him as a first-day prospect. For now, I peg him personally as a fourth-round or later guy, and his makeup was a big negative. Not knowing him personally, I’m not sure if his overall makeup is a minus, but his live game makeup was a big drawback for me.

Here are a couple other notes on some other players:

-Northgate’s best player is Conner Kendrick, who played center field for them in Saturday’s contest. He’s mainly a prospect as a pitcher, and he brings high-80s heat from the left side on the mound. He has a Georgia Tech commitment for next year, and he’s probably a late-teens to mid-twenties pick on talent, though I completely expect him to land at Tech for the 2011 season. During Northgate’s outfield throws during warm-ups, as soon as he let go of the ball, the area scout standing next to me said, "Wooo…Conner Kendrick!!" He hadn’t even noticed anyone else on the field, but Kendrick’s plus arm in center certainly got his attention.
-I love the education you can get from parents in the stands at high school games. Having forgotten that Columbus had a very successful Little League World Series team a few years ago, I was reminded of that with a particular player on Northside. Brady Hamilton, a junior on Northside, was the kid that had to get his head stitched up after jumping on a bed, then went out and played in the Series. He’s now a pretty big kid with what looks like good strength potential, but he has a huge head tug that happens early in the pitch sequence, and then follows that with a foot squarely in the bucket. In other words, he can’t even see clearly what’s coming his way. However, that’s a great example of the stories you pick up at games like this.
-I’m planning on catching Jordan and company again later in the season, and next weekend I’ll be back in Atlanta to catch the series between Georgia Tech and Rutgers. I’m looking forward to seeing Rutgers hitter Jaren Matthews faced off against Deck McGuire on Friday, and unless it’s too cold, I’ll once again be Tweeting throughout.