High School | General | 1/2/2018

Finest in the Field: 2018 Class

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Perfect Game

2017 Perfect Game/Rawlings Finest in the Field, Class of 2018

Pitcher: Jonathan Gates (Nature Coast Technical HS, Brooksville, Fla.)
The best fielding pitchers historically (think Zach Greinke, Mark Buerhle or Greg Maddux) all have a few things in common, which are basic athleticism and a simple delivery that leaves them balanced and able to field their position when the ball reaches the barrel. Gates fits this criteria best in the 2018 class. He is a very good defender at first base, his secondary position, and is one of those pitchers who strongly wants to be out in the field when not on the mound. Gates also has a controlled delivery with an easy finish that will enable him to field comebackers and react quickly moving to first base to cover the bag. And it never hurts being a lefthander when holding runners on base.

Tennessee's Ryan Weathers (Loretto HS, Loretto, Tenn.) fits much of the same criteria as Gates does. Among righthanders, Mason Denaburg (Merritt Island HS, Merritt Island, Fla.) and Owen White (Jesse Carson HS, Mt. Ulla, N.C.) may be the two best raw athletes among the top primary pitchers and are likely to be high level fielders in the future.

Catcher: Will Banfield (Bookwood HS, Lawrenceville, Ga.)
Banfield received the Rawlings Defensive Player of the Year award at the PG All-American Classic dinner banquet and is one of the best defensive catching prospects of the last decade at least. He has the obvious and most easily recognizable defensive skill for a catcher in that he completely eliminates the running game, with accurate game throws in the 1.8's being the norm. But catching is far more than just throwing out runners. Banfield was been catching pitchers such as Ethan Hankins and Kumar Rocker and their mid-90s stuff for Team Elite for years and can stick and frame pitches with maturity. He is a enthusiastic and athletic blocker who still has some technique to master but will get there with repetitions. And no one who has watched Banfield extensively can fail to recognize that he plays the game with an edge and intensity that is a plus at the demanding catching position.

The 2018 catching class is both solid and deep, with many other deserving players. PG All-American Noah Naylor (St. Joan of Arc Catholic HS, Mississauga, Ont.) stands out for his athleticism behind the plate and will continue to grow defensively at the next level. Kameron Ojeda (St. John Bosco HS, La Mirada, Calif.) and Hayden Jones (Carroll HS, Huntertown, Ind.) also stand out for their defensive potential.

First Base: John Malcom (Detroit Country Day, West Bloomfield, Mich.)
Malcom checks all the boxes for a high level defensive first baseman. He's lefthanded, which gives him a tagging and throwing angle advantage at the position and presents a big target at 6-foot-4. Malcom has agile and athletic footwork around the bag and has shown an ability to scoop low throws due to that footwork and balance. He also a very good arm for the position and can get rid of the ball quickly when he needs to.

Perfect Game's other All-American first baseman, Triston Casas (American Heritage HS, Pembroke Pines, Fla.), is also a very solid defensive first baseman who is athletic enough to still play plenty of third base and is especially good at leaving his feet for line drives and ground balls on the right side of the diamond.

Middle Infield: Xavier Edwards (North Broward Prep, Wellington, Fla.)
For the second straight year, a diminutive athlete with incredible agility and imagination is the top defensive middle infielder in the country. Edwards doesn't have Nick Allen's arm strength, and may eventually end up at second base, but they share many other traits, with Edwards ability to get rid of the ball instantaneously is perhaps his most impressive skill. In addition, this scout has seen Edwards play upwards of 50 games dating back to when he was in the eighth grade and would be hard pressed to remember his making one inaccurate throw.

Middle Infield: Jeremiah Jackson (St. Lukes HS, Mobile, Ala.)
The 2018 class is full of solid and sometimes spectacular defensive middle infielders, but Jackson gets the nod on his high ceiling tools and potential. He can still get a bit careless on the routine plays, especially on his throwing accuracy, but that trait is easily overcome with repetitions and maturity. What Jackson can do now at the highest level is make the very difficult plays that big league shortstops make and make them look routine. The sheer athleticism and raw arm strength are present and Jackson has an already developing ability to slow the game down on defense and take the right angle through the ball and get rid of it quickly.

Two other very talented defenders that warrant mentioning are Nander De Sedas (Montverde Academy, Montverde, Fla.) and Ryan Bliss (Troup County HS, Lagrange, Ga.). De Sedas' tools and skills are very similar to Jackson's defensively and it would surprise no one if he doesn't end up as a prominent Major League shortstop. Bliss is more of a Xavier Edwards type player, with a smaller 5-foot-9 build and lots of quickness and agility with a likely second base future.

Third Base: Nolan Gorman (O'Conner HS, Glendale, Ariz.)
Like many future pro third baseman, Gorman is primarily a middle infielder in high school but played plenty of third base on the summer circuit and quickly showed an outstanding feel and athleticism for the position. He has the ability to charge the ball and get off accurate and strong throws while coming in at full speed and has also shown his quickness in making plays off his feet laterally. Gorman's raw arm strength plays well at shortstop and is a plus tool at third base when making deeper plays. There is a realistic chance that Gorman will stay at shortstop or perhaps second base at the next level. Corey Seager took a very similar path at the same age, playing shortstop in high school and travel ball but absolutely shinning at third base in showcase events. Gorman could well be on the same path.

Kendall Logan Simmons (Tatnall Square Academy, Macon, Ga.) is, like Gorman, a primary shortstop who can be spectacular defensively at third base and plays it more often that Gorman. Simmons’ big tool is his superior arm strength, which enables him to make plays deep down the line or in the hole that other third baseman at this level simply can't make.

Outfield: Joe Gray Jr. (Hattiesburg HS, Hattiesburg, Miss.)
Gray has never been a burner in the 60-yard dash and ran a 6.75 at the 2017 PG National Showcase. But that number is very deceiving as his long legs, aided by quick jumps and mature routes to fly balls, give him outstanding range up both alleys in center field. But where Gray really separates himself from other outfielders defensively is with his combination of elite level arm strength and outstanding accuracy. Gray throws online missiles, and runners, especially those trying to advance from first to third on a single up the middle, best be very cautious as Gray will not hesitate to charge aggressively and show off his arm.

Outfield: Jarred Kelenic (Waukesha West HS, Waukesha, Wis.)
Kelenic's full speed jumping catch against the right-center field fence at the 2017 Tournament of Stars would be on the short list of best defensive plays of the 2017 summer circuit and looked straight out of the Major Leagues in all aspects. In addition to his athleticism and instincts, Kelenic also has one of the best arms in the class and rivals Gray for his ability to make low, online accurate throws that won't only throw out runners at the target bases but enable cutoff men to make plays as well.

Outfield: Nicholas Schnell (Roncali HS, Indianapolis, Ind.)
Schnell is very similar defensively to 2016 PG All-American Drew Waters, who later was a second round pick of the Braves. He's a very projectable athlete who is already a plus runner with plus raw arm strength and has shown sound fundamentals in the outfield. As Schnell is nowhere close to physically mature and he already throws 95 mph from the outfield and in the low-90s off the mound, he may end up with an elite arm in addition to potentially being able to play center field.

Three players who could make up a second team defensive outfield include Max Marusak (Amarillo HS, Amarillo, Texas), Mike Siani (William Penn HS, Glenside, Pa.) and Elijah Cabell (TNXL Academy, Winter Park, Fla.). Marusak is still raw in his route running as a converted infielder but his extreme speed could give him elite range in the future. Siani is a Kelenic-type athlete with a high level combination of speed and arm strength, while Cabell's arm strength is a weapon by itself.

Utility: Anthony Seigler (Cartersville HS, Cartersville, Ga.)
Seigler's unique physical skills have been well documented and they fit the utility slot for the ‘Finest in the Field’ perfectly. Seigler can play every position on the field defensively, including pitching with both arms. Catching is his best position and he is a potential top three round draft pick in that role. But he routinely pitches (he generally pitches lefthanded to protect his right arm with all the catching he does), plays third base and the outfield. Like Carlos Cortes, the last dual arm PG All-American who is now a sophomore at South Carolina, Seigler throws lefthanded from the outfield.

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