I posted a podcast yesterday covering the top three players I saw this past week in North Carolina (it's embedded above). In part two of the podcast coming tomorrow, I come to the conclusion that two prep players I saw this week may be better than some or all of these college players, but that's something to cover in another article. For now, I'll give some text describing what I saw from these three elite college players who were once candidates to be the top three players in the draft but have all regressed this spring.
The two above videos of RHP Jeff Hoffman of East Carolina are from his breakout Cape Cod League performance (bottom) and last Friday versus UMBC (top). On the Cape, Hoffman was 94-97 with plus life, flashed a 65 or 70 curveball on the 20-80 scale and a 55 changeup that he just started throwing while also flashing above average command. He was eliciting comps like Justin Verlander and Adam Wainright and was a consensus close second to Rodon entering the spring.
Hoffman's spring has been up and down, but the velocity is still there, working 93-96 and hitting 97 mph this past Friday with a changeup that was consistently above average. The problems were with everything else, as Hoffman's rushed his delivery, flying open at times, which affected the life on his fastball, the sharpness of his curveball and his command. He flashed a couple 60 curveballs, but threw mostly 50s and 55s while his fastball had just average life and he left a lot of pitches up, with a weak UMBC team squaring up mid-90's velocity way more than they should.
I'm not worried long-term as Hoffman actually was snapping off that 65 curveball consistently on flat ground while he warmed up before the bullpen, but then I saw his delivery wasn't as clean as it was on the Cape, which affected what came out of his hand on a mound. ECU's defense has been bad this season and Hoffman has already thrown to four different catchers, with scouts specualting that the poor receiving is affecting his pitch selection. The guy from the Cape is still in there and could come out at any point, but it's hard to say what I saw this Friday is a slam dunk top 5 pick at this point. I would still look at him in that range and I have him in my top 5 right now, but it sounds like clubs have him anywhere from 2 to 10 depending on how often/when they've seen him and their preferences on pitching prospects.
The two videos of N.C. State LHP Carlos Rodon are from his dominating outing for Team USA versus Cuba (bottom) and last Friday versus Miami (top). At his best, Rodon will sit 93-95 late into games and hit 97 mph with a slider that's anywhere from a 70 to 80 on the 20-80 scale, depending on who you ask. Peak Rodon's command is at solid-average and his changeup is above average, also giving him ace upside; all of this was on display in his heavily scouted summer start vs. Cuba.
I saw Rodon last spring and he was 94-96 for the first inning, then 89-91 the rest of the way. Last Friday, he was 90-94, hitting 95 mph in the first, then 90-92, hitting 93 when he needed it the rest of the way. In the most recent start, Rodon's slider flashed 65 or 70 a few times, but it was mostly 55 or 60 and he had very good command of it at 87-90; he has an amazing ability to throw his slider with above average command and at the same speed regardless of how hard he's throwing his fastball. Rodon's changeup wasn't used much, but was average to above in a short look.
Rodon's stuff was down from last summer's peak, but it's basically the same as it was at this point last year, so it's possible that peak Rodon comes back. What has me worried is that he isn't a great athlete, has had real back problems for years and his delivery is not easy, which is in turn making his command fringy when he has to effort to keep his stuff above average. He may throw mid-90's again, but scouts know he won't be throwing that hard in his late 20's; the question is when he settles in as the low-90's pitcher that he was last week. That future Rodon has a solid average fastball and changeup and a plus to plus-plus slider, hopefully with average command after some adjustments to his delivery.
That guy is a solid #3 starter and is definitely in demand in the top 10 picks, but isn't even really a candidate for the #1 pick anymore. It will be much easier in a few more weeks to stack up how the top prospects (which happen to all be pitchers right now) fall in order. As I say in a soon-to-be-released podcast, this class doesn't have anyone right now that would crack the top 3 picks last year. So, if I told you that players 4-10 in last year's class could be put in almost any order, people wouldn't blink. This year, that part you can shuffle starts at the very top.
The two videos of N.C. State SS Trea Turner are from last spring versus Maryland (below) and last Friday/Saturday versus Miami (top). If you watch closely, you can see what's happening to Turner's swing in the videos. He is getting too spread out and loading his hands to far from contact. This is something a big-framed power hitter can do, but Turner doesn't have the leverage, size or strength to make this type of swing work for him. He can occasionally get out on his front foot and put a charge into a ball, but for every time he does that, he'll be out in front of an off-speed pitch or weakly ground out a number of times.
Turner had posted 80 grade speed times as a freshman and before his foot injury as a sophomore, but has never given me pure run times to first better than 70, mostly around 60 or 65. I don't know if he's still bothered by an injury or if the reports of 80 speed were exaggerated. It isn't a huge deal, but when you see a guy that you're told is an 80 runner and you see he can play short and looks like a 55 or 60 bat, shaving a couple notches off of both of those grades can really affect the projection. Turner still has an above average arm and the ability to stick at short as a league average defender.
I think he fits anywhere from picks 6 to 30 depending on how a club interprets this information and how much their scouts saw peak Turner in his first year and a half in Raleigh. He's athletic enough to make adjustments, so I think this is a low point for him and would look at him in the 10-15 range if I were making the picks.