Area Code Games: Hitter Notes I

Kiley shares some notes from the five-day high school event in Long Beach, CA. The state of California, represented by two of the eight teams at the event, is loaded with some of the best bats in the entire prep class and Kiley breaks down the best of this group.

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Hitter Notes

California is loaded this year with elite prep hitters and atop that list are my top two prep hitters for the 2013 draft, C/RF Alex Jackson and SS Jacob Gatewood. I had Gatewood ranked #1 and Jackson #2 entering the Area Codes Games and am halfway through the event are seriously considering flipping them, among other rankings adjustments. I've had sources telling me since just after both players stood out at last year's Area Codes that Jackson would be moving from behind the plate like Bryce Harper did to speed up his time to the big leagues and avoid the wear and tear of catching every day. After injuring his thumb while catching at the PG National Showcase in June, I assumed we wouldn't see Jackson catch again...until he was catching the first game at Area Codes, still somewhat fresh off of the thumb injury. Jackson isn't a slam dunk to stay back there long-term: he's better than recent clearly below average catching prospects like Jesus Montero, Tyler Flowers and Gary Sanchez, for example.

That said, his quick release and plus arm help make up for his fringy at best hands and some adjustment he'll need to make with his technique. He has the skills to stick, but it may slow him down by a year or two to get everyday big league catcher ready defensively since his bat is clearly one of the top in the class. One scout put it in perspective, pointing out that a 6 bat and 6 power at this age and taken in the top 10 picks can't be held back very long, so his assumption is any team that picks him would move Jackson to right field before Jackson's preference even became an issue. As I said in my full report, Jackson has a Hunter Renfroe type ceiling as a hitter and considering Jackson is far more advanced at the same age (Jackson was first an elite prospect as a 16 year old while Renfroe became one at 21), even if he's just an outfielder, jackson should go considerably higher than Renfroe, who went 13th overall in June.

Gatewood's case is a little less cut and dry than Jackson's from an evaluation standpoint. While neither have set the world on fire at the plate in games this week, Gatewood has more of a concern on hit bat as the failure has been a little more obvious and harder to project into pro ball. Pitchers are clearly trying a little harder against these two as they know they're facing the top bats in the class and Jackson has been pitched around some and squared a few balls up, using a sound swing that easily hit line drives to all fields and yanked long flies in BP. Gatewood has had trouble changing his high effort BP swing into a more controlled, more contact-oriented swing in games and has swung through hittable pitches, often finding himself with more pitches to hit than Jackson and hitting less of them.

The tools are still insane and it's hard to see him getting out of the top 10-15 picks if he doesn't improve at all between now and the draft, as comparisons to Addison Russell and Carlos Correa, tools-wise, are pretty close. That said, the separation between Gatewood being a productive big leaguer and topping out at AA are in his ability to make some adjustments and tone down his swing, which some guys are never able to do. Every poor performance in a game lessens the odds every so slightly that Gatewood will ever make these adjustments, but as they say, it only takes on team and there have been plenty of scouts this week saying he's their top prep prospect even so.

As for the third best California bat at the event, it's an open competition between 3B Jack Flaherty, CF Derek Hill and CF Marcus Wilson. Flaherty has been performing fine at the event as he seemingly always does and offers and above average bat, average raw power, an advanced feel to hit and average defense at third base, though he can look awkward there at times. Hill and Wilson are both elite runners that will stick in center field, with Hill the smaller one with more speed, less power and more now polish but less upside and projectability. Hill ran a 4.02 to first on a grounder (4.00 is 80 speed from the right handed batter's box) and has been making hard contact and great defensive plays all summer while Wilson could still add 15-20 pounds and likely still be a plus runner. I think Wilson is the clear third of this group, though he could definitely move up this spring and I have a feeling the now skills of Hill may move him past Flaherty when I re-rank players after this trip.

Some other names from California at the event to look out for include 3B Sean Bouchard (who took BP and belongs in the above group but hasn't been at any of the games), CF Trenton Kemp, C Tim Susnara, OF D.J. Peters and SS Josh Morgan. Bouchard and Peters are the class of this group and belong with some of the names above. Bouchard has some similarities to Flaherty but is a little smaller and smoother with a similar upside, though I haven't seen a ton of game AB's from him yet. Peters is a 6'6/215 outfielder who may end up in left field (though his arm is average so right field could be an option) and the usual issues with contact exist due to his size, but he hits well in games and hits the ball to all fields with solid raw power. Kemp is a more raw version of Wilson and Hill, as an athletic plus runner with some projection that can play center field but has some work to do in games. Susnara and Morgan are two of the best defenders in the class, with Susnara showing flashes at the plate with his lefty bat but regularly showing off a plus arm behind the dish while Morgan has a chance to stick at shortstop long-term and can make contact but doesn't have elite power or speed.

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