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Draft : : State Preview
State Preview: Kentucky
Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In the weeks leading up to the draft, Perfect Game will be providing a detailed overview of each state in the U.S., including the District of Columbia, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico. These overviews will list the state's strengths, weaknesses and the players with the best tools, as well as providing scouting reports on all Group 1 and 2 players as ranked in Perfect Game's state-by-state scouting lists.



Contributing: David Rawnsley

Kentucky State-by-State List
2011 Kentucky Overview

Kentucky Overview:
Kentucky, Louisville Drive Impressive Talent Surge in State Ranks

Kentucky has witnessed a significant upsurge in baseball talent in recent years—and, by extension, growing widespread interest in the game at the grassroots level—and most of it stems from vastly-improved college programs at Kentucky and Louisville. Beginning in 2006, both schools set and subsequently tied school records for wins in a season over the next three years, and the Cardinals then eclipsed their own mark with 50 wins in 2010.

But no season has electrified the local fan base more than 2012 as the Wildcats are easily on pace, with a 41-11 record in mid-May, to shatter their existing record of 44 wins in a season, and possibly shoot for 50 themselves. It would be just the latest record to fall this season for the resurgent Wildcats, who went a mere 25-30 (8-22 in Southeastern Conference play) in 2011, only to open the current season with a school-record 22 straight wins (one shy of the SEC record for consecutive victories) on their way to posting the best record in the conference entering the final weekend.

Kentucky’s record streak included three straight close wins over defending College World Series champion South Carolina to open SEC play, which elevated the team to No. 1 in the country in select college-baseball polls, an unprecedented accomplishment for the school—though it may have been overshadowed a bit at the time by the run towards a national championship that the Wildcats hoops squad was making. Nonetheless, the South Carolina series attracted record crowds to UK’s Cliff Hagan Stadium, and capacity crowds have been the norm much of the season.

Not only have Kentucky and Louisville been winning at a steady clip on the field, but they are impacting the draft in ever-increasing ways—and are chiefly responsible for Kentucky producing easily the greatest number of draft picks in state history in the last two years alone (28 in 2011, 31 in 2010), compared with just six selections overall as recently as 2005. Neither school is expected to produce a first-rounder like the Wildcats did a year ago with righthander Alex Meyer, just the fifth college first-rounder in state history, but the two schools could produce as many as six or seven picks between them in the first 10 rounds this year, most of them pitchers.

This year’s haul, though, may pale in comparison to the impact that Kentucky and Louisville are expected to have on the next two drafts as both clubs, especially the Wildcats, have been fueled this season in large measure by underclassmen. Sophomores Corey Littrell (8-0, 2.22) and Jeff Thompson (9-2, 3.64) lead the Wildcats and Cardinals, respectively, in wins, while sophomore closer Trevor Gott (3-0, 2.79, 9 SV) tops the Wildcats in saves. All are potential first-rounders a year from now. Additionally, freshman outfielder Austin Cousino (.343-9-38) leads Kentucky in hitting, while lefthander/first baseman A.J. Reed (.298-3-39; 4-1, 3.00) has been one of the nation’s top first-year two-way players.

Buoyed by the surge in baseball popularity at the college level, the Kentucky high-school ranks have been gaining in stature at an ever-increasing rate, too. This year’s talent may not quite match a historically-rich and deep 2008 Kentucky prep crop, but the state has two contrasting high-end arms in Henry Clay’s 6-foot-1 righthander Walker Buehler and Bourbon County’s 6-foot-9 lefthander Chase Mullins. If signability was not a significant obstacle, for Buehler in particular, he could work his way into the back end of the first round (and may still do), and Mullins wouldn’t be far behind him. The prep crop overall, while impressive, may not end up having a player that signs a pro contract this year if Buehler and Mullins are deemed too risky from a signability standpoint to warrant being drafted in the early rounds.

A year from now, Kentucky could produce the best prep talent in state history in Woodford County High’s fireballing righthander Clinton Hollon, who could conceivably challenge former Morehead State lefthander Drew Hall’s 28-year-old state record as the highest draft pick ever in the state. Hall was the fourth player selected in the 1984 draft.

Kentucky in a nutshell:

STRENGTH:
Pitching.
WEAKNESS: Signable high-school talent.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 4.

BEST COLLEGE TEAM:
Kentucky.
BEST HIGH SCHOOL TEAM: Lexington Catholic.

PROSPECT ON THE RISE: LUKE MAILE, c/1b, University of Kentucky.
Maile topped Kentucky in homers as a sophomore with nine, but it barely registered with scouts as he was generally viewed as a player without a position. No player has fueled Kentucky’s electric 2012 season more than Maile, though, and he not only leads the Wildcats with 11 homers and 46 RBIs, but he has done a lot to change the perception scouts had of him. He has been a better defender behind the plate, and such a force to reckon at the plate that he has emerged as a legitimate prospect.

WILD CARD: Brian Adams, of, University of Kentucky.
Easily the player with the greatest upside on the Kentucky roster, Adams has never devoted his energy to baseball as he is a wide receiver on the Wildcats football team. Through Kentucky’s first 52 games this spring, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Adams found regular playing time tough to come by as he had just 28 at-bats. But in a late-spring workout for scouts, he ran 6.3 seconds in the 60, showcased a powerful arm from the outfield and blasted numerous tape-measure shots (with wood) in an impressive round of BP. If he can secure more playing time down the stretch, especially in the Southeastern Conference, and carry his depth of tools into game conditions, Adams could surge up draft boards. He has also indicated he would forego playing his final year of football at Kentucky if the right baseball offer came along.

BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Kentucky Connection:
Zach Isler, rhp, University of Cincinnati (Attended high school in Union).
Top 2013 Prospect: Clinton Hollon, rhp, Woodford County HS, Lexington.
Top 2014 Prospect: Austin Cousino, of, University of Kentucky.

HIGHEST DRAFT PICKS

Draft History:
Drew Hall, lhp, Morehead State University (1984, Cubs/1st round, 3rd pick).
2006 Draft: Ryan Strieby, 1b, University of Kentucky (Tigers/4th round).
2007 Draft: Ben Revere, of, Lexington Catholic HS, Lexington (Twins/1st round, 28th pick).
2008 Draft: Christian Friedrich, lhp, Eastern Kentucky University (Rockies/1st round, 25th pick).
2009 Draft: James Paxton, lhp, University of Kentucky (Blue Jays/1st round, 36th pick).
2010 Draft: Thomas Royse, rhp, University of Louisville (White Sox/3rd round).
2011 Draft: Alex Meyer, rhp, University of Kentucky (Nationals/1st round, 23rd pick).

2011 DRAFT OVERVIEW

College Players Drafted/Signed:
20/15.
High School Players Drafted/Signed: 8/3.

BEST TOOLS

Best Athlete:
Brian Adams, of, University of Kentucky.
Best Hitter: Luke Maile, c/1b, University of Kentucky.
Best Power: Luke Maile, c/1b, University of Kentucky.
Best Speed: Brian Adams, of, University of Kentucky.
Best Defender: Richie Rodriguez, ss, Eastern Kentucky University.
Best Velocity: Walker Buehler, rhp, Henry Clay HS, Lexington.
Best Breaking Stuff: Walker Buehler, rhp, Henry Clay HS, Lexington.
Best Pitchability: Justin Amlung, rhp, University of Louisville.

TOP PROSPECTS, GROUPS ONE and TWO

GROUP ONE
(Projected ELITE-Round Draft / Rounds 1-3)

1. WALKER BUEHLER, rhp, Henry Clay HS, Lexington
Buehler wasn't considered a potential early-round draft candidate before the 2012 season started. At a very slender 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, Buehler’s delivery and over-the-top arm stroke had plenty of effort prior to release, and while his raw stuff was firm with a fastball that touched 92 mph and a nasty downer curve, it wasn’t seen as nasty enough for teams to tempt buying him out of a Vanderbilt scholarship. The temptation factor has largely changed over the past two months, however, as Buehler’s stuff has improved across the board and his pitchability has gained new-found appreciation. Buehler has topped out at 96 mph on a number of occasions this spring, and generally pitched in the 91-94 mph range. His curve has also evolved into one of the best breaking pitches in the 2012 draft class, with power velocity at 79-81 mph and a tight 12-to-6 break. Buehler’s fading changeup is a solid third pitch, and his ability to repeat his delivery adds deception without hurting his command and ability to mix pitches. Buehler had some of his best stuff in a heavily-scouted May 1 faceoff with 2013 top prospect Clinton Hollom, throwing four shutout innings in a game that was eventually cancelled by rain. He has also benefitted this spring from scouts trekking to Lexington to see fellow lefthander Ryne Combs, the third-ranked prep talent in the state, not to mention all the talent assembled at the University of Kentucky. It’s safe to say now that the early-season dismissal of Buehler as an unsignable talent has been significantly revised to a point where he is a potential late first-round/supplemental first-round candidate, where he would most likely be signable—though a team in that range may have to exceed its assigned cap value to get him under contract.


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