Over my spring break, I took a trip to Missouri. This gave me a chance to see multiple games at Missouri. The big draw was the Friday match up of Tanner Houck vs. Sean Hjelle. Houck has been talked about as a potential top 10 prospect this year. Hjelle is a 6’11” right hander, who will be a top three round pick next year.
I will start with Houck, as he was the biggest name in this matchup and the only player I will see this year who has been a talked about as a top 15 player. Houck has been on the radar as a top pick since his freshman year. He starting hitting 97 as a freshman and began posting strong numbers, highlighted by strong walk rate numbers.
In the game I saw, the highest velocity I had on Houck was 93. He was sitting 88-91 for the first half of his outing. His velocity climbed as the game went on and he was sitting 90-92. Still, the velocity was a big dip for Houck. His stuff didn’t seem all that impressive or nasty at any point. While he did strike out seven batters, in half of the innings he pitched, a run scored.
His off speed offerings were not strong. His slider was in the mid 80’s and his change was high 70’s to low 80’s. He was throwing all three and the change was the most effective in game. He struggled to record strikes on his slider. He only walked two batters, but struggled with command throughout. He hit three batters, including back to back batters in the 6th to load the bases. In addition Houck had a balk before those back to back hit by pitches.
I have seen dominant performances from college players many times. While the numbers were ok for Houck in the game, it was not a good performance in person. He looked like a potential back end starter. His mechanics also seemed off; if you think you can fix Houck, there is a lot of potential, due to his youth, control, velocity, and athleticism. This game has Houck trending down, for me.
I will comment on Hjelle, who was the most impressive pitcher during the game. As I mentioned, he is a huge sophomore. When I see a kid that big I always am concerned about mechanics and how much consistency they have, in terms of release point. Hjelle was incredibly clean in this game and, while he didn't throw hard, the length gave him a late release point, which made it harder for hitters to pick up on the ball. He is a name to watch for next year.
Evan White is another player who has potential to go in the first or second round. He is a Columbus, Ohio kid who ended up at Kentucky. The state of Ohio tends to get divided up amongst Louisville, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt. He has had an injury, which kept him on the bench for long parts of the year and has limited his appearances.
White has always been viewed as a good athlete with a good eye for the zone. The good eye for the zone part of it was always interesting to me, as he never walked much and struck out a lot.
This year, he has appeared in 25 games for a total of 119 plate appearances, which is less than half of the plate appearances he had as a freshman or a sophomore. He has already set a career high in home runs, with five, and is just two walks behind tying his career best. While he has been hurt, his performance has not been affected; as a matter of fact, he is in the midst of a career year.
There has been talk that White could be able to move to the outfield or be a plus defender at first, if he stayed there. From what I saw in the game, I would agree with both these points. He made quick reads on the ball, and moved fluidly. In the first, he made a leaping grab and tag that looked easy. His athleticism was on display throughout the game.
In terms of at bats, White lived up to the report. He showed a strong eye, working every count, taking multiple pitches, and walking once against Houck.
I still would like to see more from White, but I would be comfortable with a team taking him late in round one. I would give him a second round grade, as I think he will continue to grow into his 6’3” frame, which will allow for more power potential.
The top hitter for Missouri was Trey Hayes. He hit four home runs during the course of the weekend against Kentucky. I managed to be in my car for all of them. I left early and missed the Friday home run and was in my car driving back to Ohio for his three home runs on Saturday.
Hayes caught my eye before the series, as he lead Missouri in home runs, but had walked more than he had struck out on the year.
Hayes was a utility player for Missouri his first two years. He appeared in every game, but had under 200 at bats each year. The offensive production those years was not strong, and there was nothing that would have lead anyone to believe a breakout was coming. I doubt he was on many, or any, draft lists heading into the year.
Harris has stepped into the role as the everyday right fielder for Missouri this year and, as stated before, has performed strongly in terms of power, walk to strikeout ratio, and ISO.
In the two games I saw, Harris did not show much range in the outfield. He spent some time on the infield his first two years at school, but I am unsure what his future position will be. His arm looked strong enough for right and maybe, as he plays the outfield more, he will get better breaks on the ball. In both games, I saw miscues from Harris in terms of breaks and just little range in general.
From a traditional scouting point of view, Harris is going to have some issues. The first is his height. The fact that he is a 5’10” corner outfielder is less than ideal. Then, when you add in his thicker build, it will lead to more concern. He has a Tony Gwynn build, basically, and it’s going to cause him to slip.
Harris’s numbers show a player who should be drafted this year. The issue with build and position, though, could cause him to return to Missouri for another year. I would bet on him being drafted, as the numbers are too good to ignore.
Other Player Notes
Tristan Pompey is the brother of Dalton Pompey, of the Blue Jays. He played right field for Kentucky, but I bet he will be in center next year as a junior. His athleticism was plain to see all throughout the game. He looked like a plus runner and, every time he reached base, Houck would lock onto him and throw over to first multiple times per at bat. He hit the ball hard, including a line drive that I had an exit velocity of 100 mph on. He is just a sophomore, but looks like a potential five tool center fielder for next year’s draft. Pompey is a potential top pick, thanks to his size, production, and athleticism. He was the best draft prospect I have seen this year.
Marcus Carson is a senior center fielder and the reason that Pompey is in right field. What stood out from his stats was the 13 hit by pitches. This is an ability we have seen directly translate. Carson should go in the top ten rounds as a senior sign.
Riley Mahan is another Ohio kid playing for Kentucky. Mahan has played short and second for Kentucky. He gave Houck problems, including hitting a solo shot in the game. He is a big kid, at 6’3”, so second is his likely home. He strikes out too much and doesn't walk enough. His ability up the middle and performance in a top conference should see him go in the top ten rounds.
Zach Reks is another senior sign candidate. He started at Air Force, back in 2013, which makes this his fifth year of college baseball. He walked on at Kentucky and this is his first season as a regular. He has hit well the last two years and showed a strong eye for the zone, with over a two to one walk to strikeout total. He has struck out just 7% of the time he has come to the plate this year. He is older, due to the time he has spent in college but, in a way, is a player just starting to scratch the surface, with high level performance in the top conference in the country.
Lastly, I drove 10 hours through four states to get to Missouri and the last pitcher I saw in both games was Missouri sophomore, Ty Shoaff. This is notable, as Shoaff is from Akron, which is where I am from. I just found it particularly funny how things ended up, especially since Shoaff has pitched just 16.1 innings over the last two years for Missouri.