Minors | General | 12/6/2019

PG in the Pros: NL Central

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Nico Hoener (Perfect Game)

As part of Perfect Game's recurring PG in the Pros series David Rawnsley will take a look at some of the top prospects in minor league baseball and their impact on the sport prior to their professional careers. This will be done in a six-part series, one feature for each division in Major League Baseball while identifying one of the top prospects for each team. Links are provided below to past installments of the PG in the Pros series for other reports on prospects, both past and present.

2019-20 PG in the Pros series:  AL West | AL Central | AL East | NL West

Chicago Cubs

Before They Were Pros, 2013-14 – Javier Baez, Albert Almora, C.J. Edwards, Dan Vogelbach
Before They Were Pros, 2014-15 – Kris Bryant, Billy McKinney
PG in the Pros, 2015-16 – Duane Underwood
PG in the Pros, 2016-17 – Trevor Clifton
PG in the Pros, 2017-18 – Dillon Maples
PG in the Pros, 2018-19 – Alex Lange

Nico Hoerner, SS

Hoerner grew up in Oakland, California, and was a regular on the summer showcase/tournament circuit during high school while playing for the Hoots Baseball travel organization. He was also an exceptional high school performer, hitting .523-10-103 with 36 doubles and 50 walks in 80 games over the course of his high school career.

Despite that resume, Hoerner was regarded as a solid college level prospect in high school and Perfect Game had him ranked 166th in the final 2015 class rankings. His running speed, measured at 6.86 in the 60-yard dash at the 2014 PG National Showcase, and his raw arm strength both graded out at Major League average, and while he had a simple high contact righthanded swing, there wasn’t much power projection. Add that to the fact that Hoerner was an exceptional student from a family where both parents were educators and had a Stanford scholarship in hand and it was easy to see why all 30 teams passed on him in the 2015 draft.

Hoerner won the Stanford shortstop job immediately as a freshman and had a solid three-year career in the middle infield for the Cardinal. Stanford strongly emphasized a hitting approach that favored contact over power in those years and Hoerner hit only three home runs in three springs, but only struck out 73 times in 167 college games as well. His defense in college, to no surprise, was extremely steady and reliable, although his modest arm strength always made scouts consider second base a potential professional position.

What made the difference in Hoerner’s prospect progression was spending the summer between his sophomore and junior years playing in the Cape Cod League. Swinging a wood bat with freedom to make some swing adjustments, Hoerner hit .300-6-28 over 40 games while maintaining his always high contact rates.

The combination Hoerner’s 80 grade makeup, solid defensive track record at a premium position and the hint of future improvement at the plate made him one of the safest top prospects in the 2018 class. That evidently fit exactly what the Cubs were looking for and they selected the Stanford shortstop 24th overall, signing him for a $2,724,000 bonus.

Cincinnati Reds

Before They Were Pros, 2013-14 – Robert Stephenson, Billy Hamilton, Jesse Winker
Before They Were Pros, 2014-15 – Michael Lorenzen, Ben Lively, Nick Travieso, Phil Ervin
PG in the Pros, 2015-16 – Amir Garrett
PG in the Pros, 2016-17 – Nick Senzel
PG in the Pros, 2017-18 – Taylor Trammell
PG in the Pros, 2018-19 – Tyler Stephenson

Jonathan India, 3B

India attended American Heritage High School in South Florida, played for the FTB Chandler travel team in the summer and fall and was one of the most regular and frequently seen players in the 2015 high school class. The report filed from the 2014 PG National Showcase, where India was selected to play in the PG All-American Classic, read:

Strong live bodied athletic build. 6.81 runner, fast feet on defensive, footwork a bit frenetic at times but has athletic balance, circles the ball well and can make strong throws on the run, very good raw arm strength, actions are more athletic than smooth but are effective, makes the plays, can play all infield positions. Righthanded hitter, calm and simple load, good shift into contact and creates leverage, good timing, explodes his hands at the ball, attacks the ball and pulls it hard, good extension and natural lift out front, high level hitting tools. Plays as hard as any player in the country and performs.

As a 6-foot righthanded hitter who projected to second or third base and without a plus run or throw tool, India wasn’t considered a top prospect for the 2015 draft, although Perfect Game had him ranked 70th in the final 2015 class rankings and the Brewers ventured a 25th round pick on him. He moved on to play at Florida as had been anticipated all along and started from the first weekend of his freshman year.

India’s first two years at Florida were solid but unspectacular, with combined offensive totals of .288-10-74 with 26 steals in 126 games. His performance in the Cape Cod League during the two summers were very similar to his spring performance. In short, there was no reason to believe that India would become a premium prospect for the 2018 draft and might even be back at Florida for his senior year.

The India that started the 2018 spring season was a completely different hitter, however, and scouts took immediate notice. His raw bat speed and production almost immediately put him among the best college hitters in the country and he ended up the spring hitting .350-21-52 with 60 walks and 15 stolen bases.

The Reds, who have always been a Florida centric draft organization, had the fifth overall pick and used it on India, giving him a $5,297,500 signing bonus.

Milwaukee Brewers

Before They Were Pros, 2013-14 – Tyrone Taylor, Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann
Before They Were Pros, 2014-15 – Devin Williams, Jorge Lopez, Tyler Wagner
PG in the Pros, 2015-16 – Kodi Medeiros
PG in the Pros, 2016-17 – Isan Diaz
PG in the Pros, 2017-18 – Monte Harrison
PG in the Pros, 2018-19 – Corey Ray

Mario Feliciano, C

The 2016 Puerto Rican class, led by shortstop Delvin Perez, was a talented one, with three premium position players being selected among the top 75 players in that year’s draft. Only one, however, was a Perfect Game All-American: catcher Mario Feliciano.

Feliciano attended the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy and played at PG tournaments with the FTB Mizuno team based in Puerto Rico. He was invited to the 2015 PG National Showcase and showed an outstanding combination of righthanded power and overall athleticism, especially for a young catcher. His report from that National Showcase read:

Medium athletic build with good present strength. Righthanded hitter, big leg lift trigger but gets his foot down in time for the most part, big lower half coil, can keep his hands back even when opening early, pull and lift approach, swings hard and has very good bat speed, gets extended well when timed, big power when squared and has a feel for the barrel, impressive hitting prospect. 6.83 runner, receives the ball well behind the plate, has athletic actions and good balance, makes accurate throws with good arm strength, sound fundamentally. Has the athletic ability to play other positions all around the field. The bat is his tool at present.

Feliciano was also perhaps the youngest player in the 2016 prospect class and would not turn 18 years old until late November after the draft. Given scouts long established hesitance about drafting and paying high school catchers, especially 17-year old ones, the fact that Feliciano was athletic enough to easily imagine playing other positions, especially third base, while also possessing plus raw power made his being a catcher easier to accept.

The Brewers liked Feliciano the most, picking him in the second round with the 75th overall pick and paying him a $800,000 signing bonus to pass on a scholarship at Broward CC.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Before They Were Pros, 2013-14 – Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, Josh Bell
Before They Were Pros, 2014-15 – Reese McGuire, Austin Meadows
PG in the Pros, 2015-16 – Tyler Glasnow
PG in the Pros, 2016-17 – Mitch Keller
PG in the Pros, 2017-18 – Cole Tucker
PG in the Pros, 2018-19 – Ke'Bryan Hayes

Calvin Mitchell, OF

Mitchell was a four-year starter at Rancho Bernardo High School just north of San Diego, one of the most successful programs in the rich Southern California baseball ranks. He hit .337-29-120 in 132 career high school games, including 12 home runs as a junior and 11 more as a senior. Mitchell was also a regular participant in both Perfect Game and at other national level showcases across the country, played in Jupiter with the Braves Scout Team and overall was easily one of the more thoroughly scouted players in the 2017 high school class.

Mitchell’s base run and throw tools matured early and he regularly ran around a 7.00-second 60-yard dash at showcases while showing a fringy average throwing arm from the outfield helped by advanced fundamentals and throwing accuracy. Scouting him over a multi-year period was basically a matter of zeroing in on his lefthanded bat and overall hitting approach and projecting that forward.

Having already played at the 2015 Underclass All-American Games at his committed school, the University of San Diego, Mitchell was an obvious choice to help represent the host city of San Diego at the 2016 PG All-American Classic. His report from the 2016 PG National Showcase summarized his strengths well.

Big and strong athletic build, broad shoulders, pretty mature physically. Lefthanded hitter, has a loose and measured swing with balance and consistency, outstanding barrel skills, hits to all fields with very good bat speed and can drive the left-center field gap with carry, works the middle of the field but can turn on the ball when given the right pitch, very high level hit tool with the strength to hit for power as well. 7.05 runner, has clean and polished actions in the outfield, works through the ball well and gets rid of it quickly, makes accurate throws, probable left field future. Bat has a chance to be a big tool.

The primary concern with Mitchell heading into the draft was more with his general athleticism and future position than with his bat, as it looked like he would eventually move from right field to left field, putting even more pressure on his offense to carry him. Perfect Game had him ranked 10th in the final 2016 class rankings but he slid a bit further than that, eventually landing with the Pirates in the second round with the 50th overall pick and getting a $1,357,300 signing bonus.

St. Louis Cardinals

Before They Were Pros, 2013-14 – Kolten Wong, Carson Kelly, Tim Cooney, Randal Grichuk
Before They Were Pros, 2014-15 – Rob Kaminsky, Charles Tilson
PG in the Pros, 2015-16 – Luke Weaver
PG in the Pros, 2016-17 – Alex Reyes
PG in the Pros, 2017-18 – Jack Flaherty
PG in the Pros, 2018-19 – Dakota Hudson

Dylan Carlson, OF

Carlson grew up in a baseball home, as his father, Jeff, retired in 2018 as one of the most accomplished coaches in Northern California, having won 450 games in 18 years at Elk Grove High School, including 14 league titles and eight sectional titles. Aside from his son, recent Elk Grove alumni include Mets slugger JD Davis and White Sox top prospect Nick Madrigal.

A four-year starter at Elk Grove, Carlson was exceptionally young for his class but still had very polished tools, including the ability to play all three outfield positions, first base and pitch at a high level. In addition, Carlson is a very rare switch-hitting lefthanded thrower.

Northern California prospects often don’t travel outside the state but Carlson did selectively, playing at the 2014 PG Junior National along with a handful of WWBA tournaments, including Jupiter in the fall of his senior year. Not close to physically mature yet, Carlson was a well-known prospect with skills but didn’t have the strength or athletic explosiveness yet to be considered a top prospect.

That all changed his senior year, however. A faster and stronger Carlson switched from playing mostly first base to center field, started working in the low-90s on the mound and, most importantly of all, started to drive the ball with authority, especially from the left side. In his previous 98 high school games, Carlson had hit just two home runs and 15 doubles. In 36 games as a senior Carlson hit .406-9-40 with 13 doubles, along with going 6-0, 1.44 on the mound.

Scouts took note and Carlson, who was also an outstanding student, went from being a potentially outstanding two-way college player at Cal State Fullerton to a potential 2016 day one draft. The Cardinals snuck the still 17-year old Carlson into the back of the first round, paying him a $1,350,000 signing bonus as the 33rd overall pick.

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