After such a talent-laden draft class last year, it is quite easy to feel a bit underwhelmed with the upcoming crop of players for the 2012 MLB Draft. That does not mean the draft class is bereft of big league talent or necessarily poor. It simply reflects just how good the ’11 group of draftees was largely thought to be. Plenty of quality players exist in the ’12 draft class.
Much of the talent lies within the high school arms. The hype surrounding prep pitchers tends to increase as we inch closer to June, as reports stream in throughout the high school baseball season regarding increased velocity, growth spurts, and improved control of offspeed pitches. Thus, the rankings will ebb and flow with unknown names climbing the list after stellar high school seasons, impressive private workouts, and well-established pitchers falling after mediocre seasons. It happens every single year.
Despite the fluidity of the overall rankings, certain names routinely top the charts. They will be the ones to watch this spring. Here are ten names (featuring brief scouting reports based upon online video and various online scouting reports) in no particular order with which to familiarize yourself prior to spring baseball:
RHP Lucas Giolito — Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, CA)
Giolito is largely considered the best prep arm — if not the best arm, period — in the draft. He sits in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball, but can reportedly run it up to 97 MPH (or higher) on a good day. His curveball is a legitimate out-pitch with two-plane break that can be thrown for strikes or spiked into the dirt, while his changeup remains a work-in-progress. Scouts love his 6-foot-6 frame and believe he has some room to fill out.
On Tuesday 2/28: Giolito threw 6.1 IP of one-hit baseball with eight strikeouts and no walks. He reportedly hit 100 MPH on the radar gun multiple times in the first and second innings.
LHP Max Fried — Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, CA)
A UCLA commit, Fried has been lauded as the best high school left-hander in the draft. His size (6-foot-4) and low-90s fastball have him atop many draft boards, and his changeup reportedly profiles to be a plus offering at the big league level. He will also show a slider that flashes average at times. A couple of scouting reports suggested that he could eventually sit 93-94 MPH with the fastball once he gains muscle.
LHP Matt Smoral — Solon (Solon, OH)
At 6-foot-8, Smoral is a monster on the mound. He throws 90-93 MPH with his fastball already and should increase his velocity a bit as he grows into his huge frame. He also features a solid slider. Little has been written about his changeup. While many believe Fried owns the title of the best prep left-hander of the upcoming draft class, some have opined that Smoral ultimately offers more upside. He is one of the arms that could wedge his way into Top 5 discussion with an impressive spring season.
RHP Walker Weickel — Olympia (Orlando, FL)
Weickel is an interesting young man because the hype appears to be mostly about projection. He currently throws 89-92 MPH with the fastball with good command on a nice downhill plane, which helps him generate a healthy amount of ground balls, but scouts believe he has more in the tank. His changeup is currently below-average, but he reportedly has good arm speed on the pitch and it could become above-average down the road. He also throws a curveball, which has garnered mixed reviews. Throw in a clean, athletic build, and he could jump up draft boards with a good spring.
RHP Lucas Sims — Brookwood (Lawrenceville, GA)
A right-hander who is committed to Clemson, Sims possesses one of the better fastball/curveball combinations from a high school arm in the draft. His fastball sits in the low-90s, and his curveball reportedly has good two-plane shape with late break that flashes plus potential at times. His command with the curveball is reportedly inconsistent, at best, but the pitch as a whole possesses significant upside. A couple of scouting reports talk up his arm speed and delivery.
LHP Hunter Virant — Camarillo (Camarillo, CA)
Virant has been dubbed a “projectable left-hander” by Keith Law this month. At 6-foot-3, he has a high-80s, low-90s fastball with some late life and a feel for two offspeed pitches, though the changeup is largely considered the more promising pitch as he gets older. He could eventually sit in the 91-93 MPH range once he adds more muscle to his large frame. Impressively, Virant is possibly the third UCLA pitching recruit that could be drafted in the first round this summer.
RHP Taylore Cherry — Butler (Vandalia, OH)
The right-hander is huge. He is 6-foot-9 and 260-pounds. As you would expect with that frame, his size could scare off some teams, but he is currently projected to be selected in the first round due to a 92-94 MPH fastball with good sink and a potentially plus changeup with good fade. Cherry also throws a curveball, though no scouting report that I read actually likes the overall potential for that pitch.
RHP Zach Eflin — Hagerty (Chuluota, FL)
Eflin throws an easy 90-92 MPH with the fastball and has a clean, projectable delivery. Scouts tend to like his 80-83 MPH changeup that features good arm speed and good depth. He also features a curveball, but reports suggest it is incredibly inconsistent and needs work. Eflin committed to the University of Central Florida for next fall. If a team drafts him high enough and offers enough money, though, he may never make it to campus.
RHP Lance McCullers Jr. — Jesuit (Tampa, FL)
The 6-foot-2 McCullers is one of the more divisive pitching prospects in the upcoming draft. He features a fastball that has touched 99 MPH and a knee-buckling curveball. Some scouts love the potential and see the right-hander as a top prep arm, while other scouts see a two-pitch guy without any semblance of a changeup and a future in the bullpen. It will be interesting to see how his spring unfolds and where he ultimately goes in the draft.
RHP Freddy Avis — Menlo School (Atherton, CA)
While not one of the elite prep arms in the draft, the young right-hander features a 90-93 MPH fastball, a curveball that has plus-potential, and a promising changeup. Scouting reports cite his loose, easy mechanics that are always desirable in a high school pitcher. He may fall out of the first-round, though, due to his strong commitment to Stanford University, and with the new CBA stipulations for the draft, teams may not be able to offer enough money to entice him away from his college commitment.