With the regular season having come to a close, a few lucky fanbases have the good fortune of participating in the excitement of postseason frenzy. However, for the rest of us — I'm a Tigers fan — the outlook has shifted to the 2018 season. Here at Minor League Ball, that means the upcoming Rule 4 Amateur Draft.
While it is still quite a ways away, there are some clear top performers in what has been called by many the deepest class in recent memory. While the players profiled here are not necessarily the top high school arms that will be draft-eligible, they are the ones who I found most interesting and there is information about.
Kumar Rocker, RHP, North Oconee, Bogart, Ga.
In a class with no clear top talent, no one would be surprised to see this high schooler separate himself from the rest of the top tier. Built like a linebacker, his appeal is obvious, and brings to the table some of the best present stuff in the class. His full arsenal was on display at Perfect Game's World Wood Bat Championship, with Baseball America singing his praises afterwards, saying this:
Rocker's fastball sat 94-97 mph in his first two innings before settling in at 91-95. He showed feel for an above-average slider, with late tilt and hard, mid-80s velocity. In case that wasn't impressive enough, Rocker busted out his changeup in the fifth inning, throwing it from a slightly lower arm slot than that of his fastball and generating heavy tumbling action to induce a swing-and-miss.
There isn't team that wouldn't jump at the chance to add such a player to their farm. Add that to his 6'1" frame and it isn't hard to picture him striking out scores of batters from a major league mound. His delivery isn't the smoothest, but it certainly isn't jerky, and his velocity seems natural.
There really isn't a lot of projection left in his already filthy stuff. The only question mark regarding his play is his ability to command his lively fastball. If he can prove that he has the ability to spot his high-octane heater where he wants it, his designs on going first overall may well become reality.
Ethan Hankins, RHP, Forsyth Central High, Cumming, Ga.
Scouting amateur baseball players is just as much about projection of the players being looked at as it is about the present skills of those players. While scouts dream on players like Rocker for their current skills that would take little refining, Hankins, on the other hand, appeals to evaluators because of what could be.
The most potent weapon in Hankins' arsenal is his fastball. He has a heater that sits in the mid-90s and occasionally touches 97 miles per hour. While many Tigers' prospects boast this ability, what separates this particular pitcher form the rest is his ability to harness the vicious offering. He is able to spot it on the corners, down in the zone, and challenge hitters up and in on the hands. It is often more than enough to overwhelm any who face him.
Unlike many pitchers who have such a devastating fastball, Hankins backs it up with a solid secondary offering in his curve. While it is a little bit behind his fastball, it is still a fantastic option. It has good depth and he locates it well. The mid-70s offering is still improving, and Perfect Game says that it "keeps inching forward in power and spin."
To these two very promising pitches, he adds a changeup that has good tailing action and is separated well from the fastball. Hankins recently added a slider to his repertoire, but it is in its nascent stages. While it adds depth and may be useful to give hitters a different look, but Baseball America suggests that it may shelved in favor of his curve and change.
His ceiling is that of a frontline starter, and even if he develops poorly, the combination of a good fastball and advanced command could make him a decent bullpen option. He is considered one of the best high schoolers available to teams this June and is a favorite to snag the top spot.
Baseball is a business, and as the business grows, the technology that is associated with it gets more and more sophisticated. Here in an era where advanced analytics dominates the decision-making process of many of baseball's most influential groups of people, technology is becoming more and more important. One thing that the advent of technology has produced is an appreciation for pitchers' ability to spin the ball.
Carter Stewart, one of the most interesting prep arms in the class, thrives off of this trait.
Many star pitchers have the ability to blow that ball by guys, getting them to fear the fastball and getting ugly swings on everything else as batter try to adjust. Stewart, on the other hand, is a true pitcher. The master of one of a curveball with the highest spin rate in the class, evaluators call his ability to use the offering elite and have bestowed upon it the title of the best breaking ball of anyone available to clubs this June.
The spin rate that he offers is not the only appeal of this special breaking ball. Baseball America noted that it is also improving in velocity. Averaging 74.6 mph across quite a few amateur events, he topped out around 80 mph. This is marked improvement over the season before, and it would be no surprise to see him up his average velocity next season yet again.
He pairs the curve with a changeup that has good life and is thrown with convincing arm action. His 6'6" frame offers projection and there could be more velocity ready to be unlocked by professional instruction. One scout who spoke to Bless You Boys, SB Nation's Detroit Tigers Community, said he believes that the projection and command that Stewart offers could make him a valuable prospect.
While he may not be surrounded by as much fanfare as other players, Cecconi is a very exciting player with a high ceiling. He's a speedy, natural athlete, but is a prospect on the mound. This athleticism transfers nicely to pitching. Perfect Game says that he possesses an "elite level arm," and he has done nothing to dispel that notion this summer.
Delivering his pitches with a fairly easy delivery and lightning arm speed, Cecconi has two offerings that register as having the potential to become plus. First and formost is his fastball. He can power it up to 97 mph at times, and though it lacks the life that is characteristic of many great heaters, it does have some armside run and sink and he ives down in the zone with it. The second of these is a slider/cutter. Perfect Game described it as being "his best secondary pitch, has power and bite at 84 mph."
Cecconi also will show batters a curveball with 11-5 break that will it in the mid-70s and a changeup that shows promise. However, these lag behind the fastball and slider. His changeup is inconsistent and while it is occasionally excellent, it needs refining. Also, Perfect Game noted that he lowered his elbow when throwing both of these pitches.
Both of these issues can be fixed with professional coaching an experience. If he can iron out the wrinkles in his game, he has frontline potential. Even if he can't, the stuff is there to make an effective transition to the 'pen.
Drafting a pitcher from high school invariably comes with risk, but there aren't any names on this list that come attached to more risk than Ginn. The most fastball-oriented high school pitcher I've read of yet, he was rated as having the best fastball of any pitcher at the 2017 Under Armour All-America Game. That's a remarkable feat — it required beating out such players as the aforementioned Hankins and Rocker, as well as fireballer Cole Wilcox.
He is able to crank his powerful heater up to 97 miles per hour, and it has good running action. It easily has the potential to reach double-plus status and is the bread and butter that it anchors his arsenal. The offering is able to incite ugly swings and plays well off his other deadly offering, his slider.
Ginn's slider is a weapon with sharp horizontal bite. The pitch has the potential to become plus and at times flashes better than plus. He struggles at times with control of his pitches, but when he is able to locate the slider, it is downright unfair. His command was on at the Perfect Game's World Wood Bat Association Championship, and the competition was unable to touch him.
Ultimately, Ginn may be a better fit in the bullpen than the rotation. He doesn't have the build of a starter — standing only 6'1" — and his dominant stuff plays down at times when his ability to hit the zone falters. However, the profile has been proven to work as a starter, and there is a chance he sticks in that capacity as well. His ultimate ceiling will depend on how well he refines his ability to locate his pitches and the development of his changeup.