As the spring high school baseball season gets underway, we have a unique class of prospects to watch for June's MLB Draft.
It's arguably the deepest class of high school prospects we've had since 2011, when four arms from Massachusetts were picked -- including Lawrence Academy's Tyler Beede, 20th overall to the Blue Jays -- and another New Englander, Winnisquam (N.H.) righthander Jordan Cote, signed with the Yankees for reportedly the largest-ever signing bonus for a third-rounder.
What separates this year's class from others, however, is the amount of position players in the discussion. Two of the top three Massachusetts-bred prospects -- Springfield Central shortstop Isan Diaz, and St. Sebastian's first baseman Justin Bellinger -- play in the infield. With long winters limiting the amount of live at-bats for a position player in New England, more often we see pitchers selected, in part because of the easier projectability of their live, fresh arms.
With comments from an American League scout, here are the top area prospects to watch this spring, ahead of June's MLB Draft:
Austin DeCarr, RHP, Xaverian/Salisbury (Conn.)
Weight: 220 pounds
Hometown: Foxborough, Mass.
The Skinny: DeCarr has been in the limelight since he burst onto the scene as a sophomore at Xaverian in 2011, flashing a 91-mph heater out of the bullpen. The rest of his Hawks career was one marred by injuries, missing the first two months of 2012 season but earning a key save in their run to the Division 1 state title, then having an abbreviated 2013. That potential finally broke through last summer, though, committing to Clemson last July after showing 93 at a showcase in North Carolina. This spring in his post-graduate season for Salisbury, he’s showing consistent low to mid-90’s speed, and is fast rising on the prospect radar, currently ranked No. 86 in Baseball America's list of top high school prospects.
Scout’s Take: “Austin is probably right now growing into the top prospect out of this class. He’s come out of the gates really hot to start the year. He’s a guy who’s been on the radar since his sophomore year when he first got on the mound for Xaverian and was throwing 88’s, 89’s, 90’s across the board, and then struggled his way through the last two years of…arm issues, and kind of adjusting to being a pitcher, because he came into the position as kind of an arm strength middle infielder that was trying to pitch. Now, he’s growing into being a pitcher, and I think learning the nuances of it have taken some time. But you can see, he’s a driven kid who’s willing to put the work into it. He's been 92-95, touching 96, he’s got that breaking ball that can be anywhere from 74 to 79 with feel for adding and subtracting shape, he’s got a developing changeup, and obviously there’s physicality in that frame and a good delivery to go with it. There’s a lot to like there, and I think he’s really climbing up the boards quickly.”
Projection: First five rounds
Isan Diaz, SS, Springfield Central
Weight: 180 pounds
Hometown: Springfield, Mass.
The Skinny: One of the most naturally gifted middle infielders to come through Massachusetts in recent years, Diaz is a multi-tool prospect ranked No. 55 in Baseball America’s top high school prospects. He first exploded last spring, earning ESPN Boston All-State honors after hitting .435 with 23 RBI in 15 games for the Golden Eagles, then followed up with an excellent summer circuit. Last month, Diaz told ESPNBoston.com he will likely honor his commitment to Vandy if he’s not selected in the first five rounds.
Scout’s Take: “I think the nice thing with Isan is, every time he’s been presented with a challenge, he’s risen to it. Before, he was a smooth shortstop who kinda lacked technique at times, and then he started to understand the technique, how to field a ground ball properly, and added that into his flash, which made him that much more of a solid defender. He always could swing the bat from the left side, but it became more about having quality at bats on a consistent basis and developing a plan to handle more advanced pitching. I think he started to understand the mental aspect of playing the game of baseball, rather than just having loud tools and allowing them to showcase him. He started to dig in and become a baseball player, which is really what allowed him to flourish last year. I think his biggest upside lies in the fact he’s a left-handed bat with power from the middle of the infield. I think most scouts ultimately think he’s a second baseman at the pro level – and, you know, Robinson Cano is an easy comparison for him. His upside for an organization lies in whether he can stay at the shortstop position. It’s hard to find true shortstops who can provide an offensive component.”
Projection: First 10 rounds
Justin Bellinger, 1B, St. Sebastian’s
Weight: 237 pounds
Hometown: Weston, Mass.
The Skinny: Ever since he committed to Vanderbilt as a freshman, Bellinger – who has since switched his pledge to Duke –- has been in the spotlight, arguably the most high-profile of all of the Bay State prospects in the 2014 class. At times demonstrating power unparalleled for this area, last spring he backed up the hype by hitting .415 with 36 RBI, eight home runs and a 1.019 slugging percentage.
Scout’s Take: “Ever since people heard about him committing to Vanderbilt as a freshman, his stock was rising. He’s a physical specimen, about 6-6, 230, and a relatively good athlete for that frame. He’s got tons of raw power that he showcased over the last three years. With him, you’re finding a guy who might have 70 power on the 20-80 scale, and it’s hard to find that power from the left side.”
Projection: First 15 rounds
Joe Freiday, C, Bridgewater-Raynham
Weight: 225 pounds
Hometown: Middleborough, Mass.
College: Virginia Tech
The Skinny: Freiday was a pleasant revelation last spring, earning ESPN Boston All-State honors after hitting .425 with 31 RBI, five home runs and a .573 on-base percentage as the Trojans won their first Division 1 state championship. With a pop time in the low 1.8’s, Freiday has a cannon behind the plate. But after a rigorous offseason of weight training, Freiday is showing some impressive opposite-field power to start this season.
Scout’s Take: “Freiday is another one who has some projection to him. He’s got some loud tools, he’s got some power in the bat, he’s got a good arm, I think for him the question is what position is he at the next level? Does he stay behind the plate? Does he go to first base? Does he go to left? If he can stay behind the plate, his stock rises, because it’s hard to find an offensive catcher with tools like that. He just has to display that he can catch and block, and sure up all the technique that's associated with the catching position at the next level.”
Scott Manea, C, St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Weight: 205 pounds
Hometown: Shrewsbury, Mass.
College: NC State
The Skinny: Manea hit .320 with 20 RBI and close to a .500 on-base percentage last spring, but his stock really took off late in the summer at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., when he recorded a pop time of 1.9 and showed a great plate approach in front of a number of high-major scouts. NC State assistant coach Tom Holliday told ESPN Boston last November it was “a no-brainer” recruiting him.
Scout’s Take: “Scott kinda was lying in the weeds a little bit. People knew who he was, but weren’t sure what he was gonna be. When you look at that recruiting process -– when it boiled down, it was almost between Maine and New Mexico [State] –- and then all of a sudden he has a solid showing at East Coast Pro, Area Code, and some of these ACC schools came out of the woodwork, it was kind of right place at right time. He has a tool set that you can see having success in the ACC. He can catch and throw at a high level, and he’s got a little bit of a bat that you can use at that level. I think the question is which direction does the body go, because he’s a little bit stockier kid. But he’s put a lot of work into staying in shape, and he's definitely going in the right direction on that.”
Paul Campbell, RHP, Malden Catholic/Salisbury (Conn.)
Weight: 170 pounds
Hometown: Revere, Mass.
The Skinny: Yet another late bloomer suddenly on the rise, Campbell had a terrific senior season good enough to earn Catholic Conference All-Star honors. But as we have seen with several other prospects in this class, Campbell’s stock suddenly took off, and finished with a commitment to Clemson.
Scout’s Take: “Paul is probably a college guy right now, but he’s definitely a prospect in the long run, a slender righthander who’s a good athlete, great competitor. He’s probably in that 88-90 range, touching 91/92 on good days. It’s hard to project because he’s about 6-foot, 160 pounds, but I think for him he’s got a smooth delivery and an ability to spin the breaking ball. If he continues to add strength and show that he can repeat his delivery and sustain his velocity, then you really have something.”
Will Toffey, 3B, Salisbury (Conn.)
Weight: 200 pounds
Hometown: Barnstable, Mass.
The Skinny: There is some unique pedigree at work with Toffey, whose older brother John coaches Salisbury and was a Colorado Rockies draft pick out of high school back in 2001. Like his older brother, also a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick, Will is also a star on the ice, leading Salisbury to a second-straight NEPSAC Championship last month. With some unique athletic exploits, the ceiling is high.
Scout’s Take: “Will probably has as much upside out of any of these position players, just because he’s coming from being a multi-sport athlete who spent a lot of time playing hockey, so it’s cut into the repetitions you’d like to see out of a position player to get those swings and groundballs. Northeast guys in general have a hard enough time getting a healthy number of at bats, so when you split your time between playing competitive hockey and still trying to play a high level of baseball it becomes very difficult. And, that's where Vanderbilt Coach [Tim] Corbin has a tendency to look for New Englanders that have interesting intangibles like that. He’s got a nice tool set, because he’s got that good hand-eye coordination, he’s got some pop in the bat. I think as he continues to get more repetition and continues to refine his baseball skills, he’s got a lot to like both offensively and defensively, because he's got a good feel for playing the game.”
Jake Nelson, RHP, Hopkinton (N.H.)
Weight: 210 pounds
Hometown: Hopkinton, N.H.
The Skinny: It's been a whirlwind year for Nelson, who to this point in his high school career was strictly a catcher, with limited action out of the bullpen. But this past summer, Nelson moved from behind the plate to the mound, then wowed scouts in October with a fastball touching 93. As we speak, Nelson is on a visit to Vanderbilt, while North Carolina, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Indiana and Boston College have also shown significant interest. Nelson is also exploring prep school possibilities, but a selection on draft day could alter those plans.
Scout's Take: "He’s a guy that popped at the end of the summer, was a catcher primarily the last 2-3 years of high school. Always had a good arm, probably a little light with the bat, a little stiff behind the plate to be a prospect Division 1 catcher. He always had build in the arm, so when the recruiting cycle wasn’t working he turned to pitching in August and showed some arm strength in pitching. He got up to 93 in Jupiter [Fla.], and quickly put himself on the map as a physical righty with some good action and some life on his ball. Time will tell with him what he’s going to become. He’s got only about 6-7 innings in his career, so it’s hard to say what he’s going to be. He’s raw, but he’s probably somewhere between [Adam] Ravenelle and [Tyler] Beede as far as body type goes."
Zac Correll, RHP, Case
Weight: 223 pounds
Hometown: Swansea, Mass.
College: San Jacinto (Texas) Community College
The Skinny: After a strong first season of varsity last spring for the Cardinals (6-2, 54 K, 43.2 IP, 1.15 ERA), Correll picked up some momentum in the offseason with a fastball touching the low-90's. He's a bit under the radar right now, but could quickly rise with a strong senior campaign this spring.
Scout's Take: "Zac is a guy who popped up on the radar a little later than some of the others, but he's a guy you really have to consider, because of the physical frame and a fastball in the 88-92 range. He is a little bit more raw than some of the other guys in the area, but if he can begin to tighten up the breaking ball over the course of the spring, you've got an interesting prospect with that size and arm speed."