In my travels this spring around the southeast, there has been one consistent theme: disappointing draft-eligible SEC pitching. Florida RHP Jonathon Crawford's stuff is down a tick, Ole Miss RHP Bobby Wahl's command and consistency have been all over the place and Vanderbilt LHP Kevin Ziomek's stuff hasn't been as sharp as his command. Last week I detailed how LSU RHP Ryan Eades was inconsistent in a rocky outing and this weekend I saw Arkansas RHP Ryne Stanek look downright awful compared to the power stuff of his sophomore year and the previous summer.
Stanek had shown a power fastball and slider most of his career in Fayetteville. Many scouts graded his mid-90's fastball as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale and his slider as a future 65 or 70 pitch. That in combination with a solid arm action, delivery and some projection left in his 6'4, 190 pound frame is why he was considered a likely top ten pick heading into this spring, with some publications putting him in the top three. He's now slid down the board a good bit and could be moving to the bottom of the first round where his slide should stop only because of his strong history of power stuff.
On Saturday against a weak Georgia lineup, Stanek worked 92-94 with his four-seamer, hitting 95 mph and mixing in a two-seamer with life to his arm side at 89-91 mph. His heater was flat and up often, sometimes on purpose, but hard enough to keep Georgia hitters off balance. His go-to offspeed pitch was an 82-85 mph slider which most of the outing looked like a soft cutter with some extra length to its break. It flashed 55 a couple times with some late bite but was a 45 or 50 pitch almost every time. Stanek mixed in a curveball at 77-79 that was a more vertical version of that pitch and threw just a couple changeups at 80-82 mph that could be average or slightly better but he didn't seem interested in using.
Stanek had solid control (throwing strikes) but below average command (throwing good strikes) and his fastball-slider combo was enough to perform well against UGA and this season against the SEC in general. From talking to scouts, it sounds like I saw Stanek on a bad day (his velo is normally a tick better as well), but this isn't the first outing where he hasn't thrown even one 60 slider, much less the 65 or 70 slider he used to have. Scouts have passed along that Stanek is in head coach Dave Van Horn's doghouse and the junior righty's body language was less than enthusiastic on Saturday. There's some buzz that a club in the mid first round will pounce on Stanek, thinking that his situation is less than ideal and it's a chance to grab a power arm at a discounted price. I couldn't pick him there based on this look and it's telling that only a handful of scouts were at this outing, with the crosscheckers in attendance from clubs picking in the 20's (who likely hadn't seriously scouted him earlier in the spring). It's tough to imagine Stanek falling out of the first round, but pitchers with cleaner deliveries have had stuff magically disappear to never return, so it isn't slam dunk that he'll regain his prior form.
Arkansas junior RHP Colby Suggs became famous this summer on the Cape as a squatty power reliever that sat in the mid 90's after hitting 98 mph for me last spring. He had a very tough start to the season, having trouble locating anything and getting his mechanics out of sync while his fastball sat in the low 90's. This weekend he looked solid, sitting 92-95 mph with a hard curveball at 81-84 mph that flashed above average potential. There's no physical projection on a 6'0, 225 pound frame that will need to be monitored along with some effort, heavy hip torque and tilt to his torso at release, so Suggs is what he is and his command will be never be great. That said, a plus heater and solid curveball puts him in the 3rd-5th round range and a team may like him at the top end of that range if they think he can be a starter. There was some talk of this after Suggs showed an average changeup in longer outings on the Cape, although he seems unlikely to stick long-term after his command issues in short stints this spring.
After checking with some scouts for their take on LSU RHP Ryan Eades, it sounds like I didn't get a representative look of an up-and-down Saturday SEC starter two weeks ago, either. I saw typical velocity for Eades at 91-94 mph and saw a crisp curveball that flashed 60 potential but that pitch has been inconsistent other outings. Eades only threw a couple changeups that I graded as a 40 but scouts passed along that he's flashed a 55 pitch in other outings, including this past weekend. It's confounding in a down draft class that even the pitchers local to me that I've seen recently seem to be very inconsistent start-to-start. Eades sounds like a late first round to sandwich round option with a chance to be a mid-rotation starter and should land just behind Stanek on draft day.
The bottom line for these SEC arms is that the conference tournament a few weeks from now will be key. That is typically the last weekend that the high-level scouts are on the road before retreating to their draft rooms to start stacking the board. A late, good look on an arm that's been inconsistent can go a long way to boosting draft stock. I'll actually being seeing Ole Miss' Bobby Wahl this weekend at Auburn before heading back to Tampa to do my own version of stacking the board for a few weeks.
SEC Team Breakdowns
I posted breakdowns of the talent and coming recruiting classes for Mississippi State and LSU last week. Those teams are loaded with high-level draft talent while some of the clubs I saw this week have the level of draft talent more in line with a quick breakdown.
The Tide have a young team that should be better next year but a lineup with no regulars even batting .285 couldn't get much worse. Freshman SS Mikey White is the clear best prospect even though his .245/.342/.289 line isn't real exciting. White has a chance to stick long-term at SS, but shouldn't move further down the defensive spectrum that 2B in the pros. He has below average power that will never be a strength, but his frame can add some bulk, he has some power to the gaps and fluidity to his swing. If White would load his hands a little lower, I think he could really break out and has top three round potential in the 2015 Draft. I didn't see him but have heard good things about sophomore RHP Spencer Turnbull as a power arm eligible in the 2014 draft that could also go in the top five rounds but is still raw. The top recruit is Tampa-area prep RHP Nick Eicholtz, who should go in the top three rounds and isn't likely to get to campus. The recruits with a good chance to have an impact in Tuscaloosa are Nashville-area prep 1B Will Haynie (6'5, 225 pound righty hitter with power) and Alabama prep CF Hunter Webb (5'11 righty-hitting top of the lineup spark plug). The rest of the current roster is filled out with solid college players with limited pro potential (save for a few sophomores that have shown flashes of higher level talent) that I can break down in more detail on the Alabama premium message board.
The Hogs are a historically strong program that has had one 1st rounder (3B Zack Cox/STL) and five 2nd rounders (OF Brett Eibner/KC, RHP Drew Smyly/DET, C James McCann/DET, 3B Matt Reynolds/NYM & RHP Nolan Sanburn/OAK) in the past three drafts and figures to lose Stanek in the first round and Suggs and junior RHP Barrett Astin (who I missed last weekend) in the top 5-6 rounds. There were high hopes for junior 1B Dominic Ficociello but he's yet to fill out his lanky frame to add power or figured out how to corral his long limbs into a consistent contact stroke. He should return as a senior to boost his stock and would join a handful of solid current sophomore bats as mid-round possibilities in the 2014 Draft. Arkansas has a solid freshman class of talent and I've heard the most from scouts about RHP Trey Killian, who's been up to 93 with some feel to pitch and a three pitch mix. The top recruit is Oklahoma prep C Jon Denney, who will go in the first round and won't get to campus. The rest of the class is full of solid talents that should get to campus with Texas prep RHP Dominic Taccolini headlining the group with his power stuff, though still having some chance to turn pro.
The Tigers have had a rough go in SEC play with 7-14 mark in the league, but have a potentially electrifying recruiting class with a good chance to get it's top talents on campus. The current roster is underwhelming from a draft perspective with junior LHP Connor Kendrick and his solid-average fastball-curveball combination from the left side slightly more attractive to scouts than junior center fielder Ryan Tella's grinder-type game. Freshman OF Sam Gillikin hasn't been on the field much this season but has the most draft potential of the underclassmen, with sophomores RHP Rocky McCord and LHP Dan Koger showing some now stuff with projection. The exciting part for Tiger fans is, after losing the top of their 2012 recruiting class to the 1st round of the draft (Birmingham-area prep CF David Dahl #10 overall to COL & Florida Panhandle-area prep SS Addison Russell #11 overall to OAK) the 2013 class is headlined by three Alabama prep talents that now look very likely to get to campus. CF Anfernee Grier is a top-notch athlete that hasn't hit enough for scouts to get a bonus offer worth accepting, RHP Kevin Davis has a high-effort delivery that will get him to campus but power stuff that could dominate in college while RHP Keegan Thompson is the best of the group as a solid athlete with a three pitch mix and fastball that hits 93 mph. Scouts have indicated Thompson hasn't even thrown out a big signability number--he just wants to go to school. Look for him to be one of the top players on next year's club.
Much like Auburn, Georgia has had a tough 2012 campaign with a team that isn't teeming with pro prospects, but have a potential huge recruiting haul coming their way to supplement a solid young core. The best draft-eligible prospect in Athens is senior SS Kyle Farmer, who projects as a 3B with some hitting ability but not enough power to profile. He looks like a likely double-digit round draft that should produce in the lower minors but may become a role player at higher levels. Freshman RHP Sean McLaughlin was outstanding this weekend when he faced Stanek, sitting 89-92 and hitting 93 mph with some life down in the zone along with an above average 77-78 mph changeup and fringy 73-74 mph curveball. He showed top three round potential for the 2015 Draft and the roster could get a much-needed infusion of similar level talent next season. Two of the top five players in loaded Georgia prep class that I broke down earlier this week (Atlanta-area center fielders Clint Frazier and Stephen Wrenn) should both sign in the top two rounds of the draft but SS Wesley Jones, RHP Robert Tyler and LHP Connor Jones all have a solid chance to be impact guys on campus next spring. Jones has a knack for hitting good pitching but is a 2B or 3B professionally that lacks the tools or projection for a big bonus while Tyler has hit 95 mph and shows three pro pitches at times but his arm action is long and his consistency is lacking while Jones is a 6'3 lefty with some projection that has been up to 94 mph and will flash an average curveball but the delivery and command need some work .