TENNESSEE

Draft : : Follow List
       
Published: Monday, May 31, 2010

2010 FOLLOW LIST
 
COMPILED by ALLAN SIMPSON
 
STATE OVERVIEW
There isn’t a college team in the country that has impacted the baseball draft the last three years quite like Vanderbilt, which produced the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 (LHP David Price); the eighth pick that year (RHP Casey Weathers); the No. 2 overall pick in 2008 (3B Pedro Alvarez); and the seventh pick a year ago (LHP Mike Minor).
 
The Commodores are taking a year off this time. They don’t have a draft pick for 2010 that is expected to go in even the first four or five rounds. Though they’ve produced a solid 41-16 record and are a cinch to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament, the strength of Vanderbilt’s 2010 club clearly resides in its sophomore class. With three potential first-rounders a year from (righthanders Sonny Gray and Jack Armstrong, and third baseman Jason Esposito), the Commodores could profoundly impact the 2011 draft.
 
For this year, the best talent in Tennessee is two-way prospect Bryce Brentz, who plays just down the road from Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee State. With some of the best raw power in the entire draft, he projects as a mid- to late first-rounder.
 
Brentz was expected to be an elite pick entering the 2010 season, and he has preserved his first-round standing, even as he has not come close this season to duplicating his remarkable sophomore year, which vaulted him onto the national stage.
 
The 6-foot, 190-pound slugger led the nation in batting (.465) and slugging percentage (.930) in 2009, and shared the national lead with 28 home runs. He was also Middle Tennessee State’s No. 1 starter, and there was debate a year ago whether Brentz’ upside might even be higher on the mound than at the plate as he was heavily scouted as both a righthanded pitcher and outfielder. His greater upside is clearly with the bat now.
 
For all his fanfare, Brentz hit just .356-15-49 this spring, though he missed three weeks of the season with a hairline fracture of his ankle. Even as he was relieved of his pitching responsibilities so he could concentrate solely on hitting and mastering his outfield skills, Brentz did not produce home runs with nearly the frequency as he did in 2009. But as a marked man, he was obviously pitched around extensively.
 
Scouts wanted to see subtle improvement in Brentz’ plate discipline and ability to make adjustments on off-speed stuff away, and he at least essentially accomplished those goals.
 
Brentz’ primary challenge to become Tennessee’s first 2010 draft pick was expected to come from three University of Tennessee players—lefthander Bryan Morgado, catcher Blake Forsythe and first baseman Cody Hawn—but that competition never manifested as the UT players did not perform to the level anticipated, especially early in the season, and their stock collectively regressed through the spring.
 
With the rare, but noticeable absence of Vanderbilt players at the top of the draft board, and failure of Tennessee’s projected early-round picks to step up, as anticipated—and even the disappointing season by Brentz (at least, relative to 2009), there hasn’t been a lot for area scouts to get excited about in Tennessee this spring.
 
Brentz will undoubtedly carry the weight of the state on his back, as it’s possible there will be no other Tennessee player who will be addressed before the fourth or fifth rounds.
 
While a lean draft crop has taken some of the luster off the state at the college, junior-college and high-school levels, it has opened the door for several prospects from mid-level schools, and even the prep ranks, to showcase their wares, and many have done so in a very loud, attention-getting way.
 
Two power-hitting first basemen, East Tennessee State’s Paul Hoilman and Tennessee Tech’s A.J. Kirby-Jones, have pounded home runs at an accelerated clip this spring, and were tied for third in the nation with 24 (just two off the national lead) through the regular season. Scouts have clearly taken notice, particularly in the case of the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Hoilman, who may have elevated himself from a draft afterthought into a solid top-10 round selection. He has hit a number of tape-measure shots this spring.
 
Where power is concerned, though, no Tennessee college player may have helped himself more than hard-throwing Tennessee Tech righthander Stephen Pryor, whose power fastball has reached 97-98 mph on a frequent basis. That kind of raw velocity has propelled Pryor from being a passed-over player in last year’s draft to one who might end up becoming the second-best draft in the state behind Brentz. Few college players nationally rose through the ranks as quickly as Pryor did in the second half of the 2010 season.
 
Two pitchers, Brentwood High lefthander Robbie Ray and Bartlett High righthander Taylor Morton, have jockeyed with each other most of the spring to become the first Tennessee prep player drafted. Led by those two, the state high-school class has a fairly clearly-defined top seven, before the quality drops off.
 
One of those seven prospects is Farragut High lefthander Nick Williams, who remains unbeaten in his high-school career. But no one at the perennial state prep power, possibly even in the entire state, has made more attention-getting noise as Williams’ batterymate Ethan Bennett, who has slammed 27 home runs this season—just four off the national prep record.
 
Bennett blew past the state record of 24 homers in a season, and a second player, Goodpasture High outfielder Lance Jarreld also made a serious run at the mark, before falling just short. Neither player, though, has the overall tools to be considered a premium draft prospect.
 
At the junior-college level, 2006 national-champion Walters State has typically bludgeoned its way into the national limelight with a lineup full of power bats, while also producing a steady stream of draft picks. But most of its better prospects this year are pitchers. The Senators continues to monopolize the state’s list of the better JC prospects, though they failed to emerge from the Tennessee state JC tournament for the second straight year—despite another top-3 national ranking at the time of their demise. Upstart Chattanooga State is representing the state in the Junior College World Series.
 
If this year’s Tennessee draft class isn’t one to get excited about, just wait until next year. Not only will Vanderbilt be in its accustomed center-stage position as the talented twosome of Gray and Armstrong have both already reached 97 mph, but Science Hill junior lefthander Daniel Norris is so highly-rated that he might upstage all the Vandy players and be the top guy overall.
 

IN A NUTSHELL
STRENGTH: Power-hitting college players.
WEAKNESS: High-end high-school talent.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 2.
 

BEST COLLEGE TEAM: Vanderbilt.
BEST JUNIOR-COLLEGE TEAM: Chattanooga State.
BEST HIGH SCHOOL TEAM: Farragut HS, Knoxville.
 

PROSPECT ON THE RISE: Stephen Pryor, rhp, Tennessee Tech. Undrafted in 2009 after a poor year at Tennessee’s Cleveland State JC, the 6-4, 235-pound righthander has caught the attention of scouts with a 97-98 mph fastball.
PROSPECT ON THE DECLINE: Bryan Morgado, lhp, Tennessee. Passed on a third-round offer in 2009 in hopes of being a first-rounder this year. With a 2-7, 7.90 record, his stock has gone in reverse.
WILD CARD: Ethan Bennett, c, Farragut HS, Knoxville. How much stock will scouts put in his record-breaking 27 home runs?
 
BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Tennessee Connection: Drew Pomeranz, lhp, U. of Mississippi (attended high school in Collierville).
TOP 2011 PROSPECT: Daniel Norris, lhp, Science Hill HS, Johnson City.
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Cody Stubbs, 1b, U. of Tennessee.
 
HIGHEST DRAFT PICKS
Highest Pick, Draft History: David Price, lhp, Vanderbilt U. (2007, Rays/1st round, 1st pick).
Highest Pick, 2006 Draft: Bryan Morris, rhp, Motlow State JC (Dodgers/1st round, 26th pick).
Highest Pick, 2007 Draft: David Price, lhp, Vanderbilt U. (Rays/1st round, 1st pick).
Highest Pick, 2008 Draft: Pedro Alvarez, 3b, Vanderbilt U. (Pirates/1st round, 2nd pick).
Highest Pick, 2009 Draft: Mike Minor, lhp, Vanderbilt U. (Braves/1st round, 7th pick).
 

BEST TOOLS
Best Hitter: Cody Hawn, 1b, Tennessee.
Best Power: Bryce Brentz, of, Middle Tennessee State.
Best Speed: P.J. Polk, of, Tennessee.
Best Defender: Blake Forsythe, c, Tennessee.
Best Velocity: Stephen Pryor, rhp, Tennessee Tech.
Best Breaking Stuff: Bryan Morgado, lhp, Tennessee.
 

TOP PROSPECTS
Full scouting reports available on players ranked on national Top 250 list (click on National Top 300)
 

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

1. BRYCE BRENTZ, of/rhp, Middle Tennessee State (Jr.)                                       National Top 250 (Rank 24)
Ability to hit for average/power (.468, 28 HR) well documented, should override JR numbers (.356, 15 HR)


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