WILMINGTON, NC- Here are the Top-10 Prospects as ranked and evaluated by myself at the East Coast Professional Baseball Showcase.
Only 2002-graduating players are eligible and the rankings are based on my perception as to where these players would project for next Juneís draft.
The rankings and comments are ultimately my own, though I exploited the outstanding resources (ie. scouts, college coaches, David Rawnsley) available to me at the event for further guidance and expertise.
Without further ado, here are the Top-10 Prospects at the ECPBS.
1. B.J. Upton, SS, Greenbrier Christian (VA) HS R/R 6-3, 175
Upton was here as a rising junior last summer and many thought he ranked among the top prospects then. He has potential across the board, but his throwing arm is the best Iíve seen in a high school shortstop and was even mentioned in the same breath as Shawon Dunstonís by a veteran scout with whom I consulted.
His hands and agility at shortstop are already above MLB-average and he ran a 6.60 60 yd on a turf where most times were slow.
Upton has a little whip to his swing and can reach the fences with wood. He will have to quicken his hands at the next level to catch up to the heat, but the potential is there for him to become a plus-hitter. With his tremendous defensive tools, athletic ability, and speed, a shorter and quicker bat could really make him special.
2. Friedal Pinkston, RHP, Hart County (GA) HS R/R 6-2, 189
Pinkston had the best comfort velocity in Wilmington (89-92 MPH) and displayed a competitive edge that put him over the top. His off-speed stuff (78-80 MPH slider, back-up change) is already very close to major league-caliber and he comes after hitters aggressively.
What makes him scary in terms of projection is that one former minor league pitching instructor told me that Pinkston is still very raw in his delivery and isnít exploiting his leverage. ďHe has a lot more velocity in him,Ē said the former coach. ďIíd love to work with a kid like that. His back-side totally collapses right now and heís getting by on just arm-speed and heís still pumping it up there.Ē Pinkston also throws across his body, which may or may not be something to tinker with in pro ball.
Pinkston has a quick, loose arm and an energetic delivery. His fastball has a natural running movement, which should make it effective even at average velocities in the higher levels of pro ball. He loves to come from the side every once in a while to scare righthanded hitters.
Like Upton, Pinkston was here as a rising junior last summer. He was impressive, but not nearly like this.
3. Denard Span, OF, Tampa Catholic (FL) HS L/L 6-0, 170
Denard Span wasnít in Wilmington last year. He was a very good high school outfielder and did participate in the Team One East Coast Showcase, but I never would have predicted him to improve as much as he has in the past 12 months.
A slender but wiry strong, 6-0, 170, Span has quick legs, a quick bat, and an instinct for the game. His defense in the outfield has always been impressive. Span makes good reads and shows a lateral agility even more impressive than his 6.7 timing in the 60 yard-dash would indicate. He has the body control to change direction and make strong throws to any base, though his raw arm-strength doesnít project above-average.
Span stands with an open-stance and has the ability to switch-blade homeruns to right field. Heíll need a little more patience to be a leadoff hitter, but with his power, it might not be necessary. I donít recall seeing too many 170 lb hitters with his kind of pop in the past. Did Barry Bonds look a little bit like this when he was 17?
Span of course has a long way to go before comparisons like that, but he is looking every bit like an early pick next June.
4. Christian Madson, RHP, Bloomingdale (FL) HS R/R 6-8, 225
This pitcher may literally and physically have the highest ceiling of any in Wilmington. He hasnít been dominant in high school ball, but heís gifted with very good coordination of his big body, a clean arm-action, a consistent 88-90 MPH fastball, and the makings of a tilt-crazy curve.
There is clearly more to come from Madson from a physical standpoint. Not that I would dream to tinker with his mechanics now, but as he continues to grow into his body, heíll make better use of his tremendous leverage advantages.
His command of both pitches is improving start-to-start, but he isnít in the same league as Pinkston, Romanczuk, or Lalor as far as polish and pitchability. That might be the missing link to make him a first-rounder since there is little doubt about the physical potential.
5. Elijah Dukes, OF, Hillsborough (FL) HS R/R 6-3, 222
The ďMan ChildĒ was the #1 prospect at the Team One East and was every bit as impressive in Wilmington. A tremendous physical specimen, Dukes has rare five-tool potential with his arm being his weakest at the moment. Funny thing is, before a shoulder injury sustained last football season, Dukes was considered by many to be more intriguing as a pitching prospect and showed a near-MLB arm from the outfield. So if it heals as expected, look out.
Dukes is physically developed and very strong, producing one of the most violent high school swings Iíve seen. He has light-tower power, comparable to anyone in the country. Yet, he showed the ability to tone down his swing and even dumped a couple of opposite-field singles. Dukes took a lot of walks, too. There arenít too many hitters in high school with that combination of raw power and discipline. He was fooled on good curveballs, which he seems capable of adjusting to.
Defensively, Dukes has a sound radar and might have center field possibilities despite his size. He ran a 6.77 60 yd and was a disruptive force on the basepaths. If he doesnít get too heavy, heís a base-stealer.
Because heís so physically developed, itís hard to project much improvement in his tools. But he might not need to improve them too much other than to make refinements.
6. Mark Romanczuk, LHP, St. Markís (DE) HS L/L 6-1, 180
Romanczuk wasnít quite as dominating in Wilmington as he was in Tempe, Arizona, where he was rated the #1 prospect at the Team One National. But he showed the same kind of four pitch-polish and uncanny command. Romanczukís performance was hurt by missing a lot of calls on the corners where his effectiveness largely lies.
The lefty was regularly 88-89 MPH, with a big-breaking high-70 curveball, and a promising low-80s change. He shows more confidence in his breaking ball than just about any high schooler Iíve seen this year, striking out one hitter with it on a 3-2 count. He struggled when he kept it up early on, but once he regained command, it was a knockout punch.
The question with Romanczuk in the eyes of pro scouts is his projectability. I personally think heíll get stronger and throw more consistently hard, but heís not the Madson-like behemoth who jumps out at scouts. Heís more in the mold of normal-sized 2000 first-rounders like lefties Jeremy Sowers and J.P. Howell.
If he goes to college, heís a very possible freshman All-American.
7. Conor Lalor, RHP, Houston (TN) HS R/R 6-3, 195
Lalorís approach is very impressive. He pitches with aggressiveness and purpose, especially with his 87-90 MPH running fastball. His #2 pitch is a downer mid-70s curveball and his change-up also has big league potential.
Thereís nothing that absolutely stands about about him, only that the package as a whole gives him solid early-round consideration. Lalorís body looks the part of a major league workhorse and he shows one of the quickest and loosest arms around, coming from a three-quarter slot.
Lalor repeats his arm-slots well, though he can smoothen out his landing leg, which has a tendency to stutter. It doesnít seem to throw off his control though it may have accounted for velocity variations during his outing. Itís not an urgent matter right now, but you donít see many major leaguers with the same habit.
8. Brian Dopirak, 1B/OF, Dunedin (FL) HS R/R 6-4, 225
Dopirak has been inspiring pro scouts with his raw power for some time, playing in a well-exposed high school league in the Tampa Bay-area. Dopirak is very strong with tree-trunk arms, but still loose enough with his upper body to extend his swing gracefully. Some scouts thought his raw power was every bit as good as Casey Kotchmanís last year, who played at a rival high school and became the Angelsí first-round pick.
Dopirak also showed enough athleticism to be considered in the outfield, despite running just a 7.68 60 yd. He wonít be a gold-glover, but makes good reads and has an arm that may project to work at either corner. Despite his size, I donít think heíll slow down as he matures. Dopirakís lower-body is strong, but not at all thick or prone to excess weight. If the outfield doesnít work out, heís got plenty of bat for first base.
Dopirak has improved his ability to make adjustments, but it still has a ways to go before he can hit for average at the next level. He faces a lot of top competition so heíll have the opportunities to improve this aspect of his hitting.
9. Nick Starnes, RHP, Graham (NC) HS R/R 6-3, 170
Starnes has a slender, almost Satchel Paige/Bret Saberhagen-like build standing on the mound, but with a whippet arm and the makings of very good off-speed. Starnesís curveball was a mid-70s two-planer that ranks among the best in the country and projects above MLB-average. His change-up (splitter?) had a sharp downward tumble and also has potential as a strikeout pitch.
I donít expect Starnes will ever be physically intimidating, but he should get stronger and might be able to maintain start-after-start low-90s one day. He teased at 90-92 once in a while. By his last inning of work, Starnes appeared tired and his velocity dropped considerably. Scouts will be looking for signs of resiliency next spring.
10. Prince Fielder, 1B, Florida Air (FL) Academy L/R 6-0, 250
Who had the best raw power, Dukes, Dopirak or Fielder? Take your pick. Who has the most game-time power right now? Fielder definitely does in my book. His pitch recognition is the best of the group and he took two deep in his first game. Only Josh Hamilton and Casey Kotchman are in the same ballpark as far as high school lefthanded power-hitters whom Iíve seen in the past.
Fielder is very strong and already generates above-average bat-speed even by major league standards. His swing is very short-to-the-ball, much like his father Cecilís was during his glory days with the Detroit Tigers.
Fielder has been much maligned with his weight in the past, though he is more toned this summer than last. There is definitely an athlete in there as Fielder has shown while playing first base and running in the 7.2 60 yd range in the past (7.56 in Wilmington). With another 20 pounds off, he could have average speed.
Like Elijah Dukes, he is otherwise physically mature, but does he need to get any stronger?