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Last summer, Collegiate Team USA was loaded with talent and produced ten first round picks in the 2014 MLB Draft, along with at least one underclassman that should become a first rounder in the 2015 MLB Draft. This year’s group is less talented, but that was likely, given the historic talent on last year’s club. Here are some observations from my scouting of Team USA for five games over the July 4th weekend against the collegiate national teams of Chinese Taipei and Japan.
New Power Arm Joins Expected Standouts
If you look at my 2015 MLB Draft college rankings (written just before the 2014 MLB Draft), many of the top arms ended up on Team USA, though some of their rankings will get shuffled in the August class re-ranking.
Of this group, Eshelman's stuff wasn't that special and he'll move down, Lemoine regained his peak arm speed from early this spring and will move up, while whispers of Tate hitting 97 mph this spring were confirmed with a 99 mph reading that will also move him up this list. These known prospects formed the draft-eligible backbone of the Team USA staff, with Fulmer still holding the crown as the best pitching prospect on the staff.
Also see my video of Fulmer from high school
Fulmer was a big prospect out of a central Florida high school in 2011, but a violent head whack scared most teams off, though the Red Sox were rumored to offer him $1 million as a late round pick, which Fulmer turned down. He became a shutdown closer for the Commodores in his freshman year and stayed in that role until late in his sophomore year when he was moved to the rotation. I saw one of his first college starts and Fulmer had a much improved delivery, sitting 93-96 mph in a complete game 4-hit shutout of the Gators, hitting 95 mph on pitch #123 to end the game.
For Team USA it was much of the same, sitting 93-96 and hitting 97 mph with above average life and aggressively attacking hitters with an above average to plus 81-83 mph curveball and little used 84-85 mph changeup that flashed above average potential. Fulmer's delivery isn't as low-effort as you like to see in elite prospects and he's listed at 5'11/195, but the arm is elite and he hasn't been injured despite throwing this hard since back in high school. He fits in the top half of the first round right now and if he keeps this up all spring, he'll likely go in the top 10.
Jay isn't big, listed at 6'1/170, but his arm is huge, sitting 94-97 mph in the outing from the video above. Jay didn't throw his changeup in this short outing, but showed a changeup that was outstanding in warmups, despite throwing it with only about 75% of his arm speed. Scouts that saw his other outings for Team USA agreed with my assessment, saying his changeup is even better than his 79-83 mph curveball, which flashed plus potential. Jay's curve has 3/4 tilt with hard bite, sweep and depth, which when teamed with his changeup and fastball in longer outings, could help him rack up huge strikeout numbers.
The obvious concern is if his size and delivery will allow him to have the stamina and command to one day be in a big league rotation, which is a good question since Jay hasn't started a game in college yet, either. It's worth noting that Jay's velocity dipped into the low 90's when Team USA used him multiple times in a short period, though that doesn't mean he couldn't hold his velocity late into games. Jay is obviously pitching to his short relief role right now, but he's a good athlete and may be able to tone things down and show more starter traits, with an obvious kindred spirit in Royals 2014 first rounder Brandon Finnegan from TCU.
Hitter Group Is Talented But Lacks Elite Prospects Like 2015 Class
The hitter group also had a solid core of known prospects from my 2015 MLB Draft college rankings:
Bregman and Stewart continued their long track records of success and held their positions while Ward and Swanson probably will flip in the August re-rankings and Trahan and Stewart should maybe flip as well, but both have some things to work on. Cincinnati 2B Ian Happ is the only other elite college hitting prospect in the class right now and early reports on him from the Cape are neutral to negative. It's still very early, but the trend of disappointing college hitter classes is continuing, with scouts having trouble naming five prospects that look like first rounders right now.
Team USA leaned on four 2016 draft prospects from major programs, C/1B Zack Collins from Miami, OF Bryan Reynolds from Vanderbilt, OF Nick Banks from Texas A&M and C Chris Okey from Clemson. Three of those prospects looked about the same as they looked in high school and as freshman and remain elite prospects, but Banks looked to have considerably improved in the past year: he has the same to better foot speed, more power and the same smooth stroke, making him a legit threat to go in the first round in 2016.
Of the rest of the bats, only Mark Mathias (IF, Cal Poly) and Tate Matheny (OF, Missouri State) were 2015 prospects and both fit in the 3rd round or lower, but both are solid prospects. Swanson was the prospect that may have made the biggest impression, looking even better than when I saw him in a late-spring weekend series versus Florida.
Swanson is deceptively quick, consistently getting out of the box fast and turning in at least plus run times to first base, though he looks awkward at times. He's widened his stance since the spring and that seems to have helped his timing and leverage to create power. Swanson made a lot of contact in the games I saw, and leads the team in hitting, though the sample sizes are small. He has the pop in his bat for 12-15 homers a year, though Swanson could produce even more if his swing wasn't so geared for line drives from gap-to-gap.
Swanson played second base for Team USA and at Vanderbilt in deference to Bregman and Yankees' 2014 9th rounder Vince Conde, respectively. Swanson was considered one of the best defensive shortstops in the nation coming out of an Atlanta-area high school in 2011 and if Conde turns pro as expected, Swanson will get a chance to show his ability as Vanderbilt's regular shortstop this spring. While I and most other scouts haven't seen him play short anytime recently, he still appears to have to tools to be average at the position, which would make him another potential 2015 first rounder for Vanderbilt.
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