Even just a few days after the posting of the Top 50 MLB Draft prospects ranking, I’ve already got some changes I’d make. I’ll expand to a Top 100 soon but one player that didn’t appear that should be pretty high on the list in Tennessee prep Wil Crowe, a 6’3 righty that’s been up to 94 with an above average breaking ball. Undoubtedly, I’ll come up with more names before the next list, but I wanted to take a step back and focus in on one state for this notebook. Since I’m based in Tampa, I see the most games here and know most of the scouts, so just a typical midweek high school game can yield a lot of information. Here’s a rundown on the sunshine state.
- If you thought scouts complained about draft classes not meeting expectations too much and specifically this year, you probably don’t want to talk to area scouts in Florida. 2012 was a banner year for the state, with 25 players going in the top 3 rounds and 3 rare talents (#3 overall pick C Mike Zunino/Mariners, #6 overall pick CF Albert Almora/Cubs and #11 overall pick SS Addison Russell/Athletics) headlining the class. There is no one in 2013 that can hold a candle to any of those three and it’s very possible only one player in the state (Jacksonville RHP Chris Anderson) goes in the first round. There’s some talk already about the comparatively stronger 2014 crop and speculation that Miami-area prep standout RHP Touki Toussaint (97 mph fastball & plus curveball) may be the best prospect in the state.
- There are three players with a chance to be the second Floridian in the first round: Gators RHP Jonathon Crawford, Gaither HS shortstop Oscar Mercado (FSU signee) and Eustis HS catcher Chris Okey (Clemson signee). Crawford looked like a possible top 10 pick as a sophomore hitting 99 with a wipeout slider, he started 2013 sitting around 90 and now has found a happy medium at 90-93 hitting 95 mph. He looks to be in the 25-40 pick range due to his shorter stature and less-than-ideal delivery. Okey has been a late first to early second rounder basically the entire draft process and won’t last past pick 50. Mercado looked like a mid first rounder before an awful spring full of weak contact and lack-of-focus inspired errors that came in bunches. All that said, Mercado is one of few shortstops in the draft that could be an everyday big leaguer and the hot rumor is that the Texas Rangers, who own picks 24 and 30 in the first round, are all over him for one of those picks.
- The junior colleges in Florida always have some talent and that’s no different this year. The two top prospects are Miami-Dade CC third baseman Victor Caratini (no college commitment) and Palm Beach CC righty J.D. Underwood (Miami signee). Both started well and have come on even harder down the stretch, with Caratini showing an advanced stroke from both sides while Underwood has been untouchable, no-hitting Miami-Dade CC with 10 K’s and baffling Broward CC with 17 K’s. Caratini has caught in the past and his below average raw power could make him into a super utility type. Underwood, whose father Tom was a big leaguer, has solid-average stuff, solid command and a smooth lefty swing that would allow him to standout both ways for the Hurricanes, though he isn’t expected to get to campus. Both have a chance to go in the third round and neither should last through the fifth round. The Tigers have shown a lot of interest in both and the Dodgers are known to be among the clubs interested in Caratini.
- In a down year for Florida as a whole, Miami has been hit hard. The Hurricanes program is in shambles and there’s a chance no one from the area will go in the top two rounds for the first time since 1987 when Jamie Navarro in round 3 at pick 71 was the first Miami-area selection. The aforementioned junior college prospects may lead the way, but the stars of the two top high school teams in the area, Mater Academy and American Heritage, have contenders as well, both Hurricane signees. Mater, which produced Almora last year, has RF Willie Abreu this year, whom I wrote about last week. Abreu should go in the 2nd to 3rd round this year although some clubs have him a few rounds lower based on concerns about his ability to hit high-end pitching. The Angels are known to be very interested in Abreu while it’s hard to find a team going out on a limb for American Heritage 1B Zack Collins. Heritage has produced first rounders Royals 1B Eric Hosmer and Red Sox prospect SS Deven Marrero in recent years and Collins looked earlier in his prep career to be the next in line. Unfortunately, scouts feel that Collins peaked as an underclassmen and his 55 raw power from the left side isn’t enough to warrant the price tag he’s allegedly floated to clubs. Ironically, this down year of prep talent in the area could be what’s needed to get an impact talent on campus in Coral Gables.
- There is one player trending up in the Miami area: Coral Springs Charter HS shortstop Luis Guillorme. The 5’11, 175-pound shortstop is a late developer that some scouts feel is the best defensive shortstop in the state, particularly with Mercado’s spring error totals approaching his weight. Guillorme swings from the left side, but as you might guess, he doesn’t have much power and isn’t an advanced bat, but is a signable 4th to 6th round prospect with a utility infielder profile that the Red Sox are known to be very interested in. Up the coast just a bit, the Elev8 Sports Institute (no, it’s not run by Avril Lavigne) has two interesting prospects that scouts need to bear down on for different reasons. SS Stephen Alemais moved down from New York in the winter and many Florida scouts hadn’t gotten full looks at him when I was in South Florida three weeks ago. The 6’0, 180-pound Tulane signee is a fluid athlete and switch-hitter with a chance to work his way into the top five rounds. Righty reliever Ronnie Healy also joined the team late in the process after he was kicked off his Jupiter HS squad. I don’t like reporting on player-coach-disputes or speculating about makeup, but multiple scouts indicated Healy is less than blameless in this situation. He had some tools with an above average arm and some pop from the left side, but his catching and contact problems have pushed him full time to relief. In some early appearances as a full-time pitcher, he’s hit 94 mph but Healy seems to have no idea where it’s going or have a second pitch. Guillorme and Healy are both committed to Florida community colleges.