Scouting Notes from Nine Baseball’s MLK Invitational
This past Martin Luther King Day I had the opportunity to attend Nine Baseball’s invitation-only tryout for East Coast high schoolers at the Pocono Dome. I’ve included my notes on most of the notable young men in attendance below. I wanted to get these up sooner but a death in the family has prevented me from doing so until now. Amateur baseball in the northeast is generally poor because the weather only lends itself to favorable baseball conditions for maybe 5 months. As such, I have a tendency to be optimistic about even the most mediocre pro prospects in the area because there are so few of them at all. Keep that in mind as you read. Also, there were 60 players in attendance and I regretfully couldn’t write up every one of them. There were several players whose names are underlined and starred on my scouting sheet that don’t get mentioned here because of time and space, but they are noteworthy nonetheless. Kids like Luke Bonfield, Kyle Stinson, Gavin Sheets and Endy Sanchez, just to name a few, are all really interesting young baseball players who I liked quite a bit but decided not to include bulky reports on in the notes that follow. If you’re one of the players from the event and don’t see your name below I encourage you to bust your ass in school and at practice to make me look like an idiot. Until then, let’s discuss the kids that stood out to me.
Joey DeFloria – An outfielder from Hempfield High School in Greensburg, PA, DeFloria is a two sport athlete who’s getting more looks from college football recruiters than he is from baseball. According to him, Penn State and UCONN have already come calling with shoulder pads in hand. It’s not hard to see why. DeFloria has an athletic, strong build that has just a little bit of projection left in it. He’s a terrific athlete with good speed (he clocked in at 6.68 in the 60 yard dash) and average arm strength. I have some questions about the bat (bat speed was just alright and swings need some fine tuning which is normal for a switch hitter of his age) and tend to think football might be the better option here, but the present athleticism is too tantalizing for him to go undrafted in June. Someone will take a shot on him, stick him in CF and hope the bat comes along (if he signs).
Evan Holland – The Timber Creek (Erial, NJ) outfielder ran a fine 60yd dash (6.62) and he’s been clocked as fast as 6.36 in the past. He’s a stocky 6’, 185lbs and doesn’t have much projection left but there’s speed and strength in the wrists with which to work. Holland struggled with the defensive drills, muffing several ground balls in the outfield and displaying a below average arm. The fielding environment at the Pocono Dome was odd (funky turf and lighting) and so maybe Holland’s woes can be explained away by that, but he’s been to indoor events like this before and left something to be desired. The swing is odd, but quick and explosive. As of last August he had verbally committed to Florida International. I think he’ll end up there and have a nice college career.
Aiden McDermott – Aiden McDermott hurts baseballs. The South Plainview (N.J.) outfielder registered the event’s best exit velocity on a batted ball, 98mph. Off a tee. McDermott didn’t run well in the 60 and his arm is only fringe average, but unlike many of the other standouts at the event, McDermott offers a sizable amount of physical projection so there’s room for things to get better. A slender 6’3”, McDermott looked to be a bit less than his listed 200lb weight. If/when McDermott fills out, we could be talking about some impressive power and maybe enough arm strength to profile in right field. There are health questions here. McDermott missed the entire 2012 season with a bone infection in his knee that required seven surgeries and a heavy dose of anti-biotics. Some organizations may see that as a harbinger of things to come. It seems to me like a fluke. If anything, I think it can be viewed as a positive. This young man has already overcome a lot and his recovery from such ills shows he’s capable of replicating such triumphs when faced with adversity down the line. Also, one could argue that the lost year means he’s less polished than he should be and thus has more room to grow. I like McDermott quite a bit and, while he’ll probably have to go to college and show that he can stay healthy and get into professional baseball shape, I’ll certainly be watching. There’s potential in the bat.
Drew Landis – A catcher from Red Lion High School (PA), Landis impressed with pop times in the 1.99 to 2.06 second range for me though NineBaseball has him pegged at a below average 2.15. My times are hovering around Major League average. The arm strength is fine and Landis’ footwork and release are quick. I have questions about his receiving and I’d like to see him catch good velocity before labeling him a true catcher. I really like Landis’ bat path bat want to see him add strength in the wrists and forearms to better control the barrel. At 5’10”, 185lbs, there’s actually more room for physical growth than that second number would lead you to believe. I think he’ll be a fine college player with a chance for more if the bat improves.
Zach Jancarski – Another outfielder, Jancarski has athleticism and physical projection. The Chestnut Hill product ran a solid 6.75 60yd dash, showed a decent enough arm and livable bat speed. There are some issues with the footwork in the swing (he rolls that front foot over quite a bit) and he lacks an explosive tool, but is solid everywhere. He’ll make follow lists.
Liam Sabino – The #1 high school player in PA according to Perfect Game, Sabino came to the event as rocked up as anyone in attendance. He ran a 6.92 60, which is about average. Sabino showed an above average arm during the infield drills but the young shortstop’s feel for and footwork at the position are still a question mark for me. Not because he looked bad at the event, he was fine, but because scouting events like this one follow a uniform process during the infield drills. Fielders know where balls are going to be hit (one right at me, one to my left, one to my right, one in on the grass that I need to charge) and they can react accordingly. It isn’t possible to scout the quick twitch reactions especially needed for shortstop in this environment because the kids can anticipate where the ball is going. It’s something that needs to be done in person during actual games. In Sabino’s case I plan on doing just that. The Blair Academy (PA) product and Vanderbilt commit is just an hour northeast of me. I like the bat, too. Sabino is short to the ball and has an easy, athletic swing with decent bat speed. I wonder how much projection he has left since, at 6’1”, 185lbs, he’s already rather full figured.
JJ Matijevic – The future Arizona Wildcat showed one of the better hit/power potential combos on the day and has an enviable frame and build. He’s had significant weight/body type fluctuations in the past but he seems to be in terrific shape now (he’s 6’2”, 200lbs) and it shows in the stick as JJ’s exit velo off the bat was one of the top at the combine. Splitting time between 1B, 3B and OF, Matijevic’s arm is fringe average at present which might limit him to LF if it doesn’t come along a bit. I think he’ll go to college and be a “wait and see” on the defense, arm, in –game swing and body. There’s some explosive offensive potential here with at least average hit and power a future possibility. For me, however, there are also too many “ifs” to buy him away from such a good school. If JJ heads to AZ, I’ll see plenty of him out west. Perfect Game has him ranked #2 in PA. I like him but I think we need to be patient.
Frankie Jeziorio – Frankie clocked in at 6’59 on the 60, the best time of the day. That’s 65-70 grade speed and Jezioro is just a Junior. The switch hitting outfielder also showed decent bat speed in the cage. He’s got a lot to work on from a fundamental perspective and the arm might not play in CF, but Jezioro showed more than enough to get himself placed on follow lists for next year.
Dominic DiSabatino – Perhaps the most projectable body in attendance was that of St. Mark’s HS (DE) shortstop, Dominic DiSabatino. At 6’5”, 180lbs, it’s hard to imagine him staying up the middle as he fills out since he’s already a below-average runner. But the arm will play anywhere. Already present average with loads of projection, DiSabatino has seen his peak throwing velocities climb steadily since 2011 and should be comfortably plus sometime in the future. I liked the bat a bit, too, though he’ll have to overcome those long levers of his to hit in the pros. I wouldn’t mind seeing him on the mound, just to get a taste of what things would look like there.
Devon Fisher – Perfect Game’s #1 player in Virginia, Fisher was the highest profile player at Nine’s event and it was easy to see why. The burly, 6’1”, 200lb catcher was popped around 1.97-1.99 (and I had him at 1.92 once) with 88mph velocity behind his throws down to second base. Those are good pop times for such a large-bodied kid. The receiving and other aspects of the defense are things that’ll have to be evaluated in person, ideally at a national showcase event where Fisher will be forced to catch elite peer velo. The bat was also intriguing as Fisher showed fringe average pop and a nice swing plane in the cage. I’m not sure about the bat speed and there’s some noise in the swing that I’d like to see ironed out but Fisher stood out with his present skills. The future, however, is ambiguous for him as Fisher lacks any modicum of projection. Whatever player development personnel get out of him they’ll have to extract mechanically because this young man has already filled out considerably. There’s not much meft for the body to give. Fisher also tossed some from the mound (it’s a R/R profile, by the way) and touched 89mph with the fastball while mixing in some funky arm angles and breaking balls. It’s a longshot option if the everyday player route doesn’t work out for him but Fisher is a catcher. With the prep catching crop of this year’s draft thirsting for talent, Fisher will probably end up getting drafted anywhere from rounds 3 to 7. It remains to be seen whether or not that sort of money will be able to buy him away from his commitment to Virginia.
James Venuto – Venuto showed the best raw power of the day, enough that I felt comfortable putting a present 55 on it. It’s a high effort, left-handed swing with some violence and noise but the power is there, albeit without much projection. I think Venuto’s mighty hack can be tamed with some instruction without sapping too much of that coveted power, and think he can be an average hitter in time. Venuto’s body screams of first base condemnation but the kid put on his catching gear and was popping right around two seconds flat. He’ll need a boat load of instruction but there’s eye-opening pro baseball juice in that bat and left arm of his. He’s taking it to Elon this fall if someone doesn’t scoop him up in June.
Josh Ockimey – The body beautiful behemoth from Neumann Goretti High School in Philly displayed attractive power and hit potential. At 6’4”, 220lbs of steel and meat, Ockimey is probably a first-base only guy because of his well-below average arm but might hit his way into prospectdom. The bat speed and athleticism to succeed are present, though I’d like to see Ockimey’s lower half become more flexible. It’s stiff through his swing which causes him to alter his posture to get to balls low in the zone. Ockimey’s a long-legged, short-torso guy so I’m not worried about him being too big to get to balls inside because of long levers. He’s signed to play ball at Indiana and he’ll probably end up there and have to prove, every year, that he can hit and I think he will. I have to admit, I have a soft spot for Ockimey because he’s from Philly and I was smitten with him when he played at the Area Code games at Coca-Cola park in Allentown last year.
Colton Hock – The 6’5”, 215lb right handed pitcher from Bloomsburg HS (PA) touched 92mph on the gun and showed the makings of a bat-missing breaking ball and a little bit of feel for a changeup. Hock offers loads of projection and has already built considerable arm strength during the past year. It’s a near straight over-the-top delivery which produces less than ideal horizontal movement on the fastball and changeup and Hock doesn’t always get full arm extension when he throws. He doesn’t repeat very well, either. But the uncooked material is here for a legitimate pitching prospect. Hock is headed to Stanford, where they’ve shown willingness to tweak mechanics of all kinds with both good and bad results. It’s possible that, in three years, Hock might look like a totally different pitcher. He’s certainly a very enticing one now.
I’d like to thank NineBaseball and its staff for allowing me to attend the event, especially fellow BIS alum Ryan Smith for alerting me of it in the first place. You can find their website here and the results from the event I attended here and here. They’re building a very nice dossier for themselves at Nine and I look forward to attending more of their events as they continue to grow and expand.