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As I noted on twitter from the Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis last week, the biggest early storyline about the 2014 MLB Draft is the obscene depth of the high school pitching class. My running tally at the event of potential top five round type arms nearly hit 60 and is sure to surpass that number as I discover more arms this summer/fall. Being that these pitchers will be under the microscope for the next year, I wanted to make the free preview of my subscription content for the 2014 MLB Draft the top pitchers from this very deep group.
I think these five guys have separated themselves a bit after the first major events of the summer, with the Tournament of Starts at the USA Baseball complex in Cary, NC happening right now, with some scouts sending me updates that I included below. That said, all of the prep players in this draft class are 17 or even 16 right now and even the most famous ones that have been seen the most still have limited looks in the scope of what scouts will know on draft day. So, as a I note below, these are the best of a deep group that will get shuffled a good bit from now to draft day, with a very strong second tier just missing this list that I'll get into next week.
It's too early to compare this class to previous year's classes as there's a whole year for guys to rise and fall and generally mature. That said, this class is so deep with premium arms, comparing them directly to the 2013 class today gives you an idea. After comparing notes with some people to make sure I wasn't crazy, it sounds like most scouts would take four if not all five of the guys listed below before the 2013 #22 overall pick Hunter Harvey. In addition, all of these guys are well ahead of where Harvey or late-rising #10 overall pick Phil Bickford were at the same stage and four of the five are over six months younger than #7 overall pick Trey Ball. (I think both Bickford and Ball were over-drafted for various reasons, so the #7 and #10 picks are not indicative of their talent, while Stewart and Harvey went where their talent dictated.) It's too early to tell whether any of the guys listed below will end up at the Kohl Stewart/Jameson Taillon/Dylan Bundy-level by draft day, but it's in play for more than one of them.
1. Tyler Kolek, RHP, Shepherd HS (TX)
6'5/240, Previous Rank: NR, Draft Day Age: 18.48, No college commitment
Scouting Report: Kolek was just a name area scouts knew until he blew up two weeks back when he hit 100 mph in an regional workout for the Area Code Games, an August showcase in Long Beach, CA. After talking with some sources, some JUGS guns (less reliable) clocked him as high as 102 mph, many Stalker guns (most reliable) had him hitting 100 mph, while others had him topping out at 98 mph. Regardless of where his velocity truly was isn't important, as this big Texan vaulted to the top group of prep arms in what is proving to be a very deep class. I was told in Minnesota last week (where all this video was taken) that Kolek and his younger brother Stephen (covered here) had to bale extra hay for their father at the ranch they live on to earn their trip. Some scouts were saying the elder Kolek reminded them of this month's #3 overall pick, former Sooner and current Rockies fireballer Jonathan Gray and this Texas cowboy type imagery isn't hurting.
As for his talent, Kolek isn't Gray or Stephen Strasburg right now and he didn't hit 100 mph at the PG National or this week's Tournament of Stars, so dial back the expectations a bit. He sat 93-95 mph in his two inning stint in Minnesota, getting as high as 97 mph on some guns and worked in the low 90's this week, hitting 95 mph at TOS, but dipping into the high 80's in the 4th inning of a longer outing. Kolek is still 17 and probably hasn't traveled or thrown this often or in these types of circumstances before, so the velocity dip isn't surprising or troubling, happening pretty often in showcase season. His breaking ball was very good, flashing above average at times and having plus potential, but still needs some work. Kolek's 79-81 mph slider and 75-77 mph curveball blended together at times, a problem that a similar prospect, 2012 Reds 1st rounder and former Miami-area prep righty Nick Travieso also had. Kolek threw a changeup in warmups in Minnesota that looked like it could be a useable, average pitch, but didn't throw it in the game in Minnesota. He threw one in a game at TOS at 82 mph in a longer outing, but it clearly isn't a big part of his repertoire right now.
Scouts were talking before Kolek's outing in Minnesota that he didn't look that athletic when he was taking some hacks in BP. This is important since a guy that's his size with a recent velo spike needs to be able to repeat his delivery to stay healthy and Kolek clearly hasn't grown into his body/delivery yet. The good news is this normally comes later for bigger guys and Kolek is still 17, so it's just something to monitor rather than worry about. His arm works well and his delivery is good, so all the elements are here for a top 10 pick if he continues progressing.
2. Dylan Cease, RHP, Milton HS (GA)
6'2/180, Previous Rank: 5, Draft Day Age: 18.44, No college commitment
See a different report & video on Cease in this 2014 MLB Draft Preview
Scouting Report: Cease is a guy that had a little buzz this past March when rumors that he hit 96 mph started to circulate. Luckily, his high school team was in the heavily-scouted NHSI tournament later in March at the USA Baseball complex in Cary, NC and Cease indeed did hit 96 mph before his velo dropped off. This was to be expected with his slight build, but Cease also flashed an above average breaking ball. If this wasn't enough, Cease also has a teammate in rising senior CF Dalton Ewing (Clemson commit) that could go in the top few rounds, so Milton HS looks to be the top scouting destination in the talent-rich Atlanta suburbs for the 2014 spring season.
In Minnesota, it was clear Cease had made some improvements since March, sitting 93-96 mph and hitting 97 in his two inning outing with an even sharper curveball and a solid changeup. His delivery was also cleaner and is synced almost impeccably with a clean arm action. Cease's arm stroke starts longer and slower than you'd like, but his tempo from balance point is very quick, reminiscent of Matt Cain in the way it maximizes velocity. Cease has some head violence at release and that affects his command a bit, but it isn't a huge issue right now as he's also still making little changes and becoming more athletic. His breaking ball also took a step forward since March, with the 74-77 mph breaker flashing plus potential, the best off speed pitch of the entire event for me. Cease still casts it, as you can see in the above video, so consistency of release point is an issue but one of his best curves comes around 40-45 seconds to show you what he's capable of. Cease also threw a couple changeups at 78-80 mph with good arm speed that should be average when he starts throwing it more often.
3. Touki Toussaint, RHP, Coral Springs Christian HS (FL)
6'2/190, Previous Rank: 1, Draft Day Age: 17.96, No college commitment
See a different report & video on Toussaint in this 2014 MLB Draft Preview
Scouting Report: Toussaint also had his buzz time in the scouting community, but it came even earlier than Kolek's or Cease's. Touki sat 92-95 mph and hit 97 mph with a devastating curveball in two outings last October in the WWBA Tournament in Jupiter, FL when Toussaint had just recently turned 16. He's been considered the top prep arm in the class since that day but I had actually seen him pitch the previous spring in his sophomore season as his name was already garnering buzz in scouting circles and he sat 88-91 mph. Many scouts were certain he was the best pitching prospect in the state this year and would've been an easy first round pick if he was eligible, something the Toussaint family looked into. Adding to the buzz, there are also incessant rumors Touki will move to high school baseball hotbed Atlanta for his senior season, as he plays for a travel team based there.
I spoke to a couple scouts who ran into Touki this spring and they said his velo was down a bit from Jupiter, sitting 91-93 with heavy life and a good curveball. Toussaint's appearance in Minnesota was more in line with his spring than with his breakout performance in Jupiter, as he worked 89-92 and hit 94 mph. His 75-77 mph curveball was more above average to plus rather than the 65 or 70 pitch (on the 20-80 scouting scale) that he showed in Jupiter. He didn't throw a changeup in Minnesota but has shown a solid average changeup in the past. He also added an 86 mph cutter that I saw for the first time in Minnesota with late bite but the break is a little short to be a weapon right now.
Why I Ranked The Top Three This Way
It's important to point out these five could be put in almost any order and the #2-#5 ranked players especially are all very similar. I went back and forth on Toussaint vs. Cease vs. Kolek before settling on this ranking. Touki is the most athletic, with a clean delivery, is about 6 months younger than the other two and has shown plus-plus stuff in the past. Cease is similar in size and stuff to Touki, isn't as obviously athletic and his off-speed stuff can be inconsistent but he showed much more present stuff in Minnesota with a very clean delivery and arm action. Kolek is by far the biggest, showed as much now stuff as anyone in Minnesota, has more projection and could be a monster when/if he grows into his frame. Ultimately, Kolek has more now stuff and I constantly harp on scouts for picking projectability over now stuff since projectability is sexier, looks better and is generally in the "selling jeans" box.
Touki's arm action and delivery are clean, but his whippy, athletic arm action creates velocity by putting a little more stress on his elbow than Kolek's or Cease's does, which is hard to see unless you slow the above video down to frame-by-frame speed. This isn't normally something I'd bring up, except when we're splitting hairs about super-high-end, super-young arms where projecting velocity/arm speed/health is the best tiebreaker. All that said, all three are still 17 and we're trying to pick which one will be better at 25, so stuff improving a notch in their next outing is enough to change the projection and, when it's this close, flipping this ranking.
4. Grant Holmes, RHP, Conway HS (SC)
6'2/210, Previous Rank: 2, Draft Day Age: 18.21, Florida commit
Scouting Report: Holmes is the only player in this top five to commit to a college already, but the Gators will likely never see him on campus. I heard from a couple scouts that ran into Holmes this spring to put him near the top of my early 2014 list: he sat in the low 90's with advanced command an a low 80's hammer curveball. Holmes hits left-handed and also showed some athleticism and feel with a gap-to-gap approach at the plate. Holmes sat 92-96 mph in his Minnesota outing, a tick or two higher than the spring and he had changed his hard curveball into more of a slider at 83-85 mph, but it still flashed plus potential. His fastball had some life down in the zone unlike most of the guys on this list but like most of the guys on this list, Holmes showed a solid changeup in warmups that he didn't throw in the game. There are a few things I didn't like so much about Holmes: he lost a tick or two of velocity from the stretch, he's maxed-out physically and he has some length to his arm action that harms his deception and undermines the command his athleticism and solid delivery should provide.
5. Luis Ortiz, RHP, Sanger HS (CA)
6'3/220, Previous Rank: NR, Draft Day Age: 18.70, No college commitment
Scouting Report: Ortiz was the only name on this list I didn't know before I got to Minnesota, but since I'm based in Florida and NorCal area scouts didn't mention him when I asked about top underclassmen, it makes sense that a late-rising high school junior from the Fresno area may fly under my radar. Ortiz doesn't blow you away out of the chute, as a maxed-out 6'3, 220 pound righty with some drop-and-drive to his delivery. On top of that, he can leave the ball up in the zone some, his fastball is pretty straight and he only pitches out of the stretch right now. On the other hand, there's plenty of positives as well. Ortiz sat 92-95 mph in Minnesota with an 83-85 mph slider than improved throughout the outing. Near the end, he had the best feel for the pitch, regularly showing an above average breaker with plus potential. He only threw one changeup in Minnesota but threw a number earlier today at TOS and a scout told me it's an average pitch going forward. Ortiz has an athletic, smooth delivery that checks all the boxes, and the scout noted he had a very good sequence at TOS against one of the top hitters in the class, 3B Jack Flaherty, mixing three pitches and hitting his spots. Ortiz is a late-riser and is the oldest of this top group, but the now stuff and feel is among the best in the class.