Draft : : State Preview
Sunday, May 15, 2011

State Preview: Tennessee

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Vanderbilt
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 mini-scouting reports on all Group 1 and 2 players.
Tennessee State-by-State List
Tennessee Overview:
Talented Vanderbilt Squad Monopolizes State, Could Produce Record Draft
Over the 46-year life of baseball’s first-year player draft, no college teams have impacted the procedure quite like the 1994 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and 2008 Arizona State Sun Devils.
On a Georgia Tech team that finished second at the 1994 College World Series, the Yellow Jackets had a star cast that included shortstop Nomar Garciaparra (12th pick overall) and catcher Jason Varitek (14th), and produced four of the first 46 picks in that year’s draft. No individual team has ever had such a profound influence that early in the draft.
Arizona State had a draft-record 15 players taken in 2008, including first-rounders Brett Wallace and Ike Davis, both now starting in the big leagues. For all its obvious talent, though, that Sun Devils team didn’t even reach the College World Series.
All of which brings us to a 2011 Vanderbilt team that is so deep in talent that it could realistically threaten the draft marks set in the past by Georgia Tech and Arizona State. Led by projected early first-rounder Sonny Gray, the Commodores have nine players that could legitimately be drafted in the top five rounds. In Gray, third baseman Jason Esposito, lefthander Grayson Garvin and closer Navery Moore, the team conceivably could produce four picks by the time the 46th pick rolls around.
There’s an outside shot, too, that the Commodores could match ASU’s record total of 15 picks in one draft. Interestingly, Vanderbilt recruiting coordinator Josh Holliday (son of long-time college coach Tom Holliday, older brother of St. Louis Cardinals all-star outfielder Matt Holliday) was previously the recruiting coordinator at ASU three years ago, and prior to that served the same position for three years at Georgia Tech (2005-07).
Vanderbilt has been a mainstay in the draft in Tim Corbin’s eight-plus year run as head coach, producing the likes of lefthander David Price, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, and third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the No. 2 selection a year later. Altogether, the school has had five first-round picks in the Corbin era.
But no Vanderbilt class in the past comes close to matching the depth of talent in the current one, particularly all the hard-throwing arms on the team’s pitching staff. At least seven Commodore draft-eligible arms have been clocked as high as 93 mph this spring, with several peaking at 95. The 5-foot-11 Gray, who is expected to be one of the first 6-8 players drafted, has topped out at 98.
The lengthy list of Vandy power pitchers doesn’t even include lefthanders Sam Selman and Kevin Ziomek, who rank as Tennessee’s best draft picks in 2012 and 2013.
With such a motherlode of talent on one college team, it will be considered a major upset in June if Vanderbilt, which has been ranked in the top three all spring in the national polls, doesn’t move on to the College World Series. But that is hardly a given as Vanderbilt, for all the front-line talent it has fielded in recent years, has never reached Omaha. It was stymied, in particular, in 2007 when the No. 1-ranked Commodores bit the dust in stunning fashion in extra innings in regional play, with Price on the mound. It was his only loss of the year.
With the top nine-ranked college prospects in the state coming from Vanderbilt, the Commodores overwhelmingly dominate the list of prospects in Tennessee in 2011. The ninth of those nine players, 6-foot-5, fifth-year senior righthander Mark Lamm, has been clocked routinely in the mid-90s in his role as a middle reliever, and might have edged his way closer to the top 3-4 rounds had he not had a history of arm problems. He missed the 2010 season with Tommy John surgery.
The Commodores have also gotten unexpected mileage this spring from Moore, who has finally gotten healthy after four years of dealing with an arm injury, sustained prior to his junior year in high school. At the time, the then-16-year-old Moore was rated the best pitching prospect in the country in his draft class. He has fortified the back end of the Vandy bullpen as the team’s closer.
Moore’s re-emergence as a top prospect has essentially offset the disappointing season by Commodores 6-foot-7 righthander Jack Armstrong, who has flashed first-round ability at various stages of his Vanderbilt and summer-league careers. Armstrong was slowed by a strained back initially, but found meaningful innings hard to come this spring and never got untracked.
Led by Vanderbilt’s impressive array of talent, this is a banner year for college talent overall in Tennessee. On the accompanying 2011 state follow list, 15 college players have been identified as legitimate candidates to go in the top 10 rounds. That includes two players each from Tennessee and Memphis, though Memphis’ contribution is not expected to include junior shortstop Chad Zuercher, who has led the nation in batting average much of the 2011 season. Zuercher is hitting a resounding .457, but his power numbers are down significantly from a year ago (0 HR this year, six homers in 2010), a result of the new bat standards at the college level, and scouts say he lacks the arm strength to remain at shortstop at the next level.
Tennessee high schools will also be represented in a significant way in this draft as hard-throwing Science Hill lefthander Daniel Norris is expected to be taken in the first 15-20 picks, and hard-hitting Farragut High catcher Nick Delmonico could go before the start of the second round.
Norris has been clocked as high as 96 mph on multiple occasions this spring, while Delmonico, the third of three baseball-playing sons of former Tennessee coach Rod Delmonico, is one of the elite power-hitting prospects in the 2011 class. If teams were convinced Delmonico could catch on an everyday basis, at either the college or pro levels, he might wedge his way into the first round, alongside Norris.
Delmonico’s Farragut High teammate Philip Pfeifer, the winningest pitcher in Tennessee prep history, ranked alongside Norris and Delmonico as the third member of a prized Tennessee high-school class entering the 2011 season, but has been plagued by tendinitis and missed five weeks of the season. His draft stock figures to take a significant hit as he doesn’t possess above-average stuff anyway, and is heavily committed to attending college at Tennessee. Norris is a Clemson recruit, while Delmonico is earmarked for Georgia.
At the Tennessee junior-college level, 2006 national-champion Walters State has typically bludgeoned its way into the national limelight with a lineup full of power bats. This year, the team’s biggest bat belongs to first baseman Cody Stubbs, who spent his freshman season at Tennessee.
Stubbs ranked as the state’s top JC prospect through most of the season as his bat continued to heat up, but a lot of scouts were there recently when 6-foot-6, 245-pound Columbia State JC righthander Clint Wright neutralized Stubbs, and the entire Walters State lineup for the second time this year with a fastball up to 97 mph. That performance has likely elevated Wright past Stubbs, and possibly into the top 3-4 rounds of the draft.
Tennessee in a Nutshell:
STRENGTH: Vanderbilt talent.
WEAKNESS: Depth of high-school talent.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 5.
BEST HIGH SCHOOL TEAM: Farragut HS, Knoxville.
PROSPECT ON THE RISE: Clint Wright, rhp, Columbia State JC. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound righthander made a steady progression up the Tennessee prospect ranks this spring, culminating in a dominant performance over state JC power Walters State, when his fastball was clocked up to 97 mph.
PROSPECT ON THE DECLINE: Philip Pfeifer, lhp, Farragut HS, Knoxville. Pfeifer, the winningest pitcher in Tennessee prep history, ranked alongside LHP Daniel Norris and his Farragut High teammate Nick Delmonico, as top prospects for this year’s draft, but his stock tumbled when he missed five weeks of the season with tendinitis.
WILD CARD: Jack Armstrong, rhp, Vanderbilt. The 6-foot-7 Armstrong, son of former major league all-star Jack Armstrong, remains an enigma to scouts. At various stages of his college career, he has looked like a near-bet first-rounder with his combination of a projectable frame and superior stuff, including a fastball up to 97 mph. But Armstrong has worked only 12 innings this season, stemming mostly from a nagging back strain, and has pitched only sparingly on Vanderbilt’s deep, talented pitching staff. Even when healthy, his stuff and control have not been up to his past standards.
BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Tennessee Connection: Kes Carter, of, Western Kentucky University (attended high school in Nashville).
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Sam Selman, lhp, Vanderbilt.
TOP 2013 PROSPECT: Kevin Ziomek, lhp, Vanderbilt.
Draft History: David Price, lhp, Vanderbilt U. (2007, Rays/1st round, 1st pick).
2006 Draft: Bryan Morris, rhp, Motlow State JC (Dodgers/1st round, 26th pick).
2007 Draft: David Price, lhp, Vanderbilt U. (Rays/1st round, 1st pick).
2008 Draft: Pedro Alvarez, 3b, Vanderbilt U. (Pirates/1st round, 2nd pick).
2009 Draft: Mike Minor, lhp, Vanderbilt U. (Braves/1st round, 7th pick).
2010 Draft: Bryce Brentz, rhp/of, Middle Tennessee State U. (Red Sox/1st round, 36th pick).
Best Hitter: Aaron Westlake, 1b, Vanderbilt University.
Best Power: Nick Delmonico, c, Farragut HS, Knoxville.
Best Speed: Drew Martinez, of, University of Memphis.
Best Defender: Jason Esposito, 3b, Vanderbilt University.
Best Velocity: Sonny Gray, rhp, Vanderbilt University.
Best Breaking Stuff: Sonny Gray, rhp, Vanderbilt University,
GROUP ONE (Projected ELITE-Round Draft / Rounds 1-3)
1. SONNY GRAY, rhp, Vanderbilt University (Jr.)
Small frame, but lively 92-96 FB, T-99 in relief; ++ shape/velocity on CU; size, fringy command only issues.
2. DANIEL NORRIS, lhp, Science Hill HS, Johnson City
Top 2011 HS lefty, loose 6-3/180 body; fast arm, low 90s FB/tops 96, 2 types of CU, nice CH, ++ projects.
3. JASON ESPOSITO, 3b, Vanderbilt University (Jr.)
Hits to all fields with fluid/easy stroke (.354-5-46); gifted 3B, + arm, makes all plays; + instincts on bases.
4. NICK DELMONICO, c, Farragut HS, Knoxville
Strong build (6-3/215); injured wrist this spring, not shown ++ power, + hitting potential, raw catching skills.
5. GRAYSON GARVIN, lhp, Vanderbilt University (Jr.)
++ 6-6 frame; top arm on Cape (5-0, 0.74), ++ as JR (11-1, 2.08); throws ton of strikes with 89-92 FB/T-95.
6. NAVERY MOORE, rhp, Vanderbilt University (Jr.)
Breakthrough year (4-2, 1.05, 9 SV) for ex-TJ victim; ball jumps out of hand on heavy 93-96 FB, + 82-84 SL.
7. JACK ARMSTRONG, rhp, Vanderbilt University (Jr.)
Ultimate hi-risk/hi-reward; 6-7 RHP has peaked at 97 in past, bothered by back strain all spring, just 12 IP.
8. AARON WESTLAKE, 1b, Vanderbilt University (Jr.)
+ size/strength, best raw power in Vandy lineup (.363-11-39); consistent at plate for 3 years; settled in at 1B.
GROUP TWO (Projected HIGH-Round Draft / Rounds 4-10)
9. TAYLOR HILL, rhp, Vanderbilt University (Sr.)
++ low-risk SR sign; relies on pitchability for success (4-0, 3.17); + sink/run on 92-93 FB/T-95, 88-mph split.
10. CLINT WRIGHT, lhp, Columbia State JC (So.)
Fast-moving 6-7 LHP; delivery still raw, but arm works/throws strikes; FB 88-92 early, peaked 97 last start.
11. CODY STUBBS, 1b, Walters State JC (So.)
High-profile Tennessee transfer; got locked in at plate late (.411-12-64), but tended to feast on inferior velo.
12. COREY WILLIAMS, lhp, Vanderbilt University (So.)
SO-eligible LHP with + upside, overlooked on ++ Vandy staff (1-0, 4.82); FB at 93-94, but command issues.
13. MARK LAMM, rhp, Vanderbilt University (Sr.)
Fifth-year SR, missed 2010 with TJ surgery; effective in short role (4-0, 2.45) with 91-94 FB/T-95, avg SL.
14. MATT RAMSEY, rhp/c, University of Tennessee (Jr.)
Suited for pen role (FB 96-97), but slowed by strained elbow/catching duties at UT; limited feel for pitching.
15. BEN PAULLUS, rhp, University of Memphis (Jr.)
Breakout season as closer (5-3, 2.49, 3 SV), can also start; electric stuff with 92-94 FB, ++ swing/miss SL.
16. STEPHEN GRUVER, lhp, University of Tennessee (Jr.)
SEC Friday starter has average 3-pitch stuff; FB at 88-92, OK CH/cutter; fights mechanics/command issues.
17. DREW MARTINEZ, of, University of Memphis (Jr.)
Made-to-order leadoff man; tough out, sprays ball to all fields (.328-0-21, 20 SB); excels on bases, + in CF.
18. BRANDON ZAJAC, lhp, Walker Valley HS, Cleveland
6-4/205 LHP; loose arm, FB at 88-91/T-93, mid-70s CU; new to pitching, max-effort delivery needs work.
19. MOOKIE BETTS, ss/of, John Overton HS, Nashville
Small, athletic player; good bat speed, slashes to all fields; + speed/impact base runner; fringe SS arm/actions.
20. CODY GEYER, rhp/3b, Walters State JC (Fr.)
Small/physical frame (5-11/205); only 15 IP, but generated most new interest on team with + arm/93-95 FB.
21. CURT CASALI, c, Vanderbilt University (Sr.)
TJ surgery/bad hammy cost time behind plate in 2010; + handling Vandy arms, OK defender/bat (.309-3-38).
22. PHILIP PFEIFER, lhp, Farragut HS, Knoxville
State record 43 wins, 16-0 in 2010; out 5 weeks with bad shoulder; + deceptive, FB 88-90, + CU/command.
23. DeANDRE ALLEN, rhp/ss, Sequoyah HS, Madisonville
Lacks hands/actions for SS, but made big strides this spring on mound; FB at 86-91, CU/mechanics very raw.
24. WILL LOCANTE, lhp, Cumberland University (Jr.)
Lot of late heat on 2 small-college arms: Locante (93-94 FB), Tennessee Wesleyan RHP David Bergin (92).
25. MICHAEL GUNN, 1b/lhp, Christian Brothers HS, Wilson, Ark.
Arkansas product, attends HS in Tennessee; 2-way college talent, upside as LH bat, quick hands/feel to hit.
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