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High School | General | 1/1/2019

Finest in the Field: 2019 Class

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Nasim Nunez (Perfect Game)

2018 Perfect Game/Rawlings Finest in the Field, Class of 2019

Pitcher: Dawson Netz (Maranatha HS, Sierra Madre, Calif.)
It's almost impossible to evaluate a pitcher's defensive ability based on a handful of outings at this level but the common denominator that all top fielding pitchers have is athleticism. Netz stands out as a high-level defensive middle infielder when not pitching and has the type of directional and balanced delivery that leaves him in position to be a fifth infielder after the pitch leaves his hand. And part of team defense, of course, is limiting baserunners, especially by free pass, and Netz does this as well as any pitcher in the country, having walked only 14 hitters in 80 innings as a junior.

There are numerous two-way standouts and above average athletes who fit this description in the 2019 class but three who standout as well include Derek Diamond (Ramona HS, Ramona, Calif.), Bryce Osmond (Jenks HS, Tulsa, Okla.) and Jack Leiter (Delbarton HS, Summit, N.J.).

Catcher: Logan Tanner (George County HS, Lucedale, Miss.)
The distinguishing feature of the catchers in the 2019 class is that while there are a large number of very good catchers, there isn't a true standout like Will Banfield was, especially defensively, in the 2018 class. Mississippi's All-American, Logan Tanner, gets the nod here based on the strong overall set of defensive skills and tools he brings to a position that is increasingly hard to define and evaluate defensively. It's relatively easy to quantify arm strength, accuracy and release, but for a catcher one needs to consider hands, framing, blocking and range/athleticism as well, none of which quantify as easily.

Hayden Dunhurst (Pearl River Central HS, Carriere, Miss.) is another catcher who stands out in all areas defensively. Darius Perry (La Mirada HS, La Mirada, Calif.) and Raymond Torres (Providence HS, Charlotte, N.C.) are renowned for their plus throwing arms.

First Base: Mahki Backstrom (Junipero Serra HS, Los Angeles, Calif.)
Backstrom is a PG All-American based on his extreme lefthanded power potential and simply how hard the ball comes off his barrel (109 exit velocity in Jupiter, 101 in Diamond Kinetics drills), but he is also an outstanding defensive first baseman. Even at 6-foot-4, 215-pounds he's light and nimble on his feet and always on balance. Backstrom is especially adept at switching his base foot on throws depending where the throw is, an advanced skill that many first baseman never really learn let alone master. Backstrom is also a 6.9 runner with defensive range and has a strong arm for a first baseman.

Fellow Southern Californian Joseph Naranjo (Ayala HS, Chino, Calif.) also warrants mention, although he's a totally different type of athlete than Backstrom. Listed generously at 6-foot, 175-pounds, Naranjo is a very good athlete who has quick hands and feet and can pick anything. He'd probably be an excellent third baseman if he were righthanded.

Middle Infield: Nasim Nunez (Collins Hill HS, Lawrenceville, Ga.)
Nunez has the ideal physical tools to be a high-level defensive shortstop. He's a 6.28 runner with exceptional first-step quickness and has 95 mph arm strength across the diamond, all surrounded bouncy and balanced athleticism. And like most of the truly outstanding defensive shortstops, Nunez plays the position with imagination and flair and can make the highlight reel play along with making outstanding plays that are much more sublime but every bit as special. It's also unmistakable how much energy and joy he brings to the field on defense and that can't help but make his teammates better defenders as well.

Middle Infield: Bobby Witt Jr. (Colleyville Heritage HS, Colleyville, Texas)
Witt has all the requisite physical tools to be a high-level middle of the field defender, including 6.40 speed and 92 mph arm strength, but much of what makes him a special defender at all three defensive positions are his skills honed from playing as much baseball as any teenager in the country. For instance, Witt's tagging ability is without question the best that this scout has seen in 30 years of watching high school middle infielders. His footwork and first step is polished well beyond his years and ironically shows best at second base, a position that he probably really hasn't logged much practice time at. Witt's ability to toggle between positions is reminiscent of a young Alex Bregman.

Three other potential elite level defenders worthy of mention include Christian Cairo (Calvary Christian HS, Clearwater, Fla.), who just needs his father's bat to become a better all around player, Carter Young (Selah HS, Selah, Wash.), whose hands are just about as fast as Witt's, and Anthony Volpe (Delbarton HS, Watchung, N.J.), a supremely skilled defender who can make the athletic play as well.

Third Base: Cade Doughty (Denham Springs HS, Denham Springs, La.)
Doughty is listed in his Perfect Game profile as a shortstop/outfielder/righthanded pitcher/utility, which ironically leaves out his best defensive position; third base. Like many future third base standouts, Doughty plays shortstop during the springs but is a primary third baseman during the summer and he carries that middle infield quickness and athleticism to the hot corner. Arm strength isn't an issue at any position, as Doughty has thrown 88 mph from the infield and 91 mph from both the mound and the outfield at PG events. Overall, Doughty has a chance to develop into a Ben Zobrist-type utility player if he keeps improving and playing multiple positions.

Gunnar Henderson (John T. Morgan Academy, Selma, Ala.) is another present shortstop who may profile as a high-level defensive third baseman when he physically matures. There is some thought in the scouting community that the 6-foot-3, 195-pound lefthanded hitter is athletic enough to stay at shortstop, however, where his bat would be a potential plus.

Outfield: Corbin Carroll (Lakeside HS, Seattle, Wash.)
Carroll has risen to fifth overall in the 2019 class rankings, just not on the basis of his lefthanded bat and his dominating performances over the last year, but also for his defensive potential in center field. He is fearless going deep into the alleys to track down balls, and with 6.33 speed, including a 1.49 10-yard burst, he has the speed and quickness to get there. Carroll's throwing arm grades out right at Major League average, which is certainly more than playable for a center fielder with his range and instincts.

Another pure center fielder with top-level tools to consider, but who just hasn't been seen enough, is Hawaii's Shane Sasaki (Iolani HS, Mililani). He combines both plus speed (6.50/1.53) and a plus arm (94 mph) and likely just needs repetitions to become a plus overall defender.

Outfield: Jerrion Ealy (Jackson Prep, Carthage, Miss.)
Ealy is the fastest player in the class, with a 6.13-second 60-yard dash time to his credit, but he frequently played right field at major events this summer due to his outstanding arm. He threw 96 mph at the PG National Showcase and went on to throw out numerous runners who tried to test his arm the rest of the summer. Ealy's jumps and routes in the outfield are still developing but he has played less baseball than fellow outfielders like Corbin Carroll and Erik Rivera and is sure to catch up with experience.

Outfield: Erik Rivera (Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Caguas, Puerto Rico)
Rivera, the top-ranked outfielder in Puerto Rico and the fifth-ranked overall outfielder in the 2019 class, has classic right field tools on defense, with his arm strength being an obvious elite level tool. The lefthanded throwing Rivera has thrown up to 97 mph from the outfield and 92 mph from the mound and his throws are online lasers right through the cutoff man. Rivera isn't a burner speed-wise like his two outfield mates, but he's a 6.9 runner with very good overall athleticism and a quick release on his throws.

Utility: CJ Abrams (Blessed Trinity Catholic HS, Alpharetta, Ga.)
Abrams won the Rawlings Defensive Player of the Year Award at the PG All-American Classic as much for his all-around athleticism and defensive potential as for his current ability at shortstop. In fact, some scouts believe that shortstop might be Abrams’ third-best position. His arm action and release appear to work better at second base, although he has the raw arm strength for shortstop, and his top-of-the-scale speed and closing ability in center field could give him Billy Hamilton/Bryon Buxton type range at that position. Not surprisingly, Abrams did move around to all these middle-of-the-field positions on last summer's showcase circuit.

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