TAMPA, FL- Every year, there are a handful of players in the draft with convenient problems. Should they pitch or should they hit? I’ve seen many player whom I wish I could have split into two so they could do both. I still wonder what kind of pitchers Josh Hamilton, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis, and Eric Chavez could have been had they been signed to stay on the mound. And what kind of outfielder could Scott Kazmir have been, with his plus speed, quick lefthanded bat, and plus-plus arm coming out of high school? Could Pirates’ closer Matt Capps have made it as a jumbo-sized power-hitting catcher?
H.B. Plant High School has another two-way star in RHP/SS Mychal Givens whom we’ve ranked #13 for the entire draft going into spring. My feeling from the showcases was that he was maybe a 2nd-round type talent as a shortstop but a 1st-rounder as a pitcher. But now it seems that area scouts are not so sure which one they want him to give up on.
Givens started on Tuesday against Hillsborough High School and pitched seven complete innings giving up one earned run, five hits, and a walk on nine strikeouts. He also went 3-4 at the plate with three stolen bases as their leadoff hitter. Reports from scouts say he threw consistently at 88-93 MPH.
During showcase settings, he’s thrown in the 92-96 MPH range for an inning or two. But what separates his fastball from other flamethrowers’ is that it comes out of a low three-quarter slot. Givens’ ball can really move when he gets behind it and he’s shown the makings of a solid-average to plus slider.
On Saturday, at rival Thomas Jefferson High School, Givens hit leadoff and started at short for the Plant Panthers. He was available to close, but with a five-inning mercy rule win, it was not necessary.
Givens led off the game jumping on a high fastball and punching it to left field for a single after going down 0-2. He promptly stole second base with ease. Givens ended the day going 1-2 with a sacrifice fly and an intentional walk thrown in.
Defensively, Givens made four plays without trouble. None of them exploited his range per se, but he showed what I’d seen over the summer and fall; very good reactions off-the-ball and the athletic balance to throw from any position. Not unlike from the mound, Givens has a low slot on his throws from shortstop and I worry that his ball will sail away from the first baseman. But he’s been accurate in the games I’ve watched.
From a tools perspective, it’s his defense at shortstop that stands out. Despite what’s been only average speed in 60 yard-dashes (7.0 range) and down the line (4.4 today, 4.45 on a turn), Givens has plus range defensively. His first step is outstanding and he’s quick going laterally. I’ve heard some scouts question him for shortstop (as they do for every amateur), but I believe he’ll have plus range and a plus arm for the position with the ability to make the routine plays consistently.
Tim Beckham was the first overall pick in last year’s draft, a high school shortstop from Griffin HS near Atlanta. Beckham was a lot flashier than Givens with the fastest hands I’ve ever seen on a prep infielder. But I watched him make three errors in a game last April and there’s always the concern that he can end up like fellow Tampa Bay Ray B.J. Upton as a guy who has plus shortstop tools but simply makes too many errors to stay there in the big leagues.
As a point of comparison, I believe Givens has a better chance to play a good major league shortstop than Beckham despite the relative lack of flash and the lesser speed in a straight line.
Givens is a pesky hitter who has a good approach and can handle the bat. His second at-bat sacrifice fly to right-center field was a good example not only of his bat-handling ability, but also his desire to help the team. I grade Givens’ bat-speed to a 40/50 and his raw power to a 35/45. Despite the less than overwhelming running times, Givens shows me a basestealing gear. He gets a very good jump off of first base and has good instincts.
I don’t see him as a power hitter, but perhaps he can turn into a .280-.300 hitter who steals 20 bases and plays plus defense at short. He is very polished all-around for a high school player, and I don’t rule out he moves quickly (ie. Within three to four years to the big leagues).
But will Givens be signed as an infielder? He brings tools on both sides that are precious to find. There aren’t many players who can play a plus big league shortstop just as there aren’t many pitchers who have the potential to win 15 or save 35. It remains to be seen where Givens’ career takes him after high school, but I wouldn’t dismiss shortstop just yet.
He has signed with Oklahoma State and one would think the Cowboys would use him both ways if he were to surprise us by not going pro.
OTHER NOTES FROM PLANT-JEFFERSON GAME: Tampa has produced numerous big leaguers over the years. Plant’s most famous alum is hall-of-fame third baseman Wade Boggs. Jefferson’s history is dotted with Tony LaRussa, Fred McGriff, Tino Martinez, and Luis Gonzalez among others who made it to the major leagues. It’s always a sight to see their names and numbers nailed up on the backstop…. Jefferson’s best prospect for 2009 is third baseman Tim Blackmon. At 6-2, 210, he’s a big-bodied kid who showed average speed down the line, a future average arm, and some mobility at third base. Blackmon also generates 40/55 bat-speed and has the extension in his swing to hit for power, but he’s way behind on hitting a curveball. An error at third base showed he isn’t polished there yet, either. But Blackmon clearly has upside and he’s a player I’d follow.