Draft : : State Preview
Monday, May 23, 2011

State Preview: Kentucky

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Kentucky

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.

Kentucky State-by-State List

Kentucky Overview:
Kentucky’s 2011 Draft Class Defined by Explosion Onto Scene of 6-9 Meyer

Kentucky’s college ranks have produced just four first-round draft picks in 46 years, but that surprisingly-low total hardly does justice to the state’s ever-increasing relevance as a baseball training ground. Kentucky’s overall impact on the draft in recent years has been growing by leaps and bounds.

A year ago, 28 players were drafted from Kentucky colleges, the most in state history. Louisville alone produced a school-record 10 draft picks. In all, 28 players were drafted that originally attended high school in Kentucky—nearly triple the annual totals from as recently as 2004 and 2005.

But if 2010 developments were revealing in terms of simply taking stock on the general state of amateur baseball in a state better known for basketball and horse racing, then this year’s draft could even better define Kentucky’s growing relevance. Everything stems on the fate of one player—University of Kentucky fireballing pitcher Alex Meyer and his meteoric rise up draft boards this spring.

Scouts have been waiting patiently for two years for the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Meyer to scratch through the surface of his top-of-the-rotation potential. He has largely done that this year, posting a 7-5, 2.94 record with 46 walks and a Southeastern Conference-leading 110 strikeouts in 101 innings as the Wildcats ace.

While those numbers alone don’t paint Meyer as being much different from the wealth of other elite college arms in this year’s draft, they do in the context of how fast Meyer has come as a legit, high-end prospect in a relatively short period.

A year ago, Meyer was frustratingly inconsistent for Kentucky, and went just 5-3, 7.06. In addition to a fastball that sat at 94-96 mph and touched 97-98 in every outing this season, he actually reached 100 in a February scrimmage. His slider is a second superior pitch and has been clocked in the mid- to high-80s.

All the heavy lifting has sent Meyer’s stock flying up draft boards this spring, faster perhaps than any other player in the country.

Though his season is now complete as the Wildcats failed to qualify for the Southeastern Conference tournament, Meyer is in position where he now might be one of the top 4-6 selections in the entire draft—and might even challenge Morehead State lefthander Drew Hall’s record as the earliest college pick in state history. Hall was picked third overall in 1984.

While Meyer’s overall stuff has improved only marginally from his sophomore to junior year, his turnaround this spring stems mostly from significant improvement in his overall pitchability, notably the command and feel for his slider and changeup. This has been the first season, in fact, that he has been able to throw his change for strikes in a game.

In what may have been the best outing of his three-year college career on April 23 against SEC rival Arkansas, Meyer earned conference pitcher-of-the-week honors by slamming the door on the Razorbacks in a complete-game three-hitter with 10 strikeouts. He threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the first 34 hitters he faced and gave up only one hard hit ball all game while pumping his fastball at a steady 94-98 mph. Most importantly, he threw both his slider and change for strikes.

That game was in marked contrast to a typical Meyer outing in his first two years at Kentucky, when he struggled to throw strikes, built up high-pitch counts by the middle innings and won infrequently. He was solid in every outing down the stretch this spring, so his dramatic overall improvement is not seen as an aberration. And yet, he still has untapped potential.

Prior to Meyer’s timely emergence, the top prospect in the state was University of Louisville closer Tony Zych, who cemented his own prospect status last summer when he was selected the official top prospect in the Cape Cod League. That was on the basis of a fastball that reached 97-98 mph. The pitch peaked at 99 in almost every outing this spring, and he complemented it with a mid-80s power slider.

Zych’s Louisville teammate, infielder Ryan Wright, also excelled last summer in a stint with Team USA’s college national team.

But neither player may have improved his draft worth this spring as there is continuing concern about Zych’s high-effort delivery and the lack of a true infield position for Wright, a blue-collar player who spent the first half of the 2011 season at second base for the Cardinals, before moving to shortstop. He overcame a slow start at the plate to lead a disappointing Louisville team in almost every offensive category, and would seem to project as an offensive second baseman.

Meyer’s upside is so significant that he blew right past both Zych and Wright when he went on his late surge, to easily claim the top spot among Kentucky players in this year’s draft.

Western Kentucky outfielder Kes Carter also came on fast down the stretch and may have emerged as the best hitting prospect in the state. He may have taken larger strides this spring than even Meyer, moving from a potential 4th-5th round pick in February to a possible sandwich selection.

But while Meyer and Carter improved their worth, their progress has been offset by the deterioration of a number of college prospects, notably Louisville sophomore righthander Mike Nastold, and the failure of even one of three caching prospects—Western Kentucky’s Matt Rice, Kentucky’s Mike Williams and Morehead State’s Taylor Davis—to made enough strides to land in the top 10 rounds. Nastold, who missed the 2010 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, went backwards after flashing a 94-mph fastball and considerable promise if the fall.

Most of the reason for Kentucky’s upsurge as a baseball state has come from vastly-improved programs at Kentucky and Louisville, which over the previous five years both set and subsequently tied school records for wins in a season. Louisville then eclipsed that mark in 2010.

Though both those schools experienced relatively poor seasons this spring—Kentucky finished at 25-30; Louisville was just 29-27 as it entered Big East Conference post-season play as a No. 6 seeds—the 2011 season is expected to be nothing more than a momentary lapse for the Wildcats and Cardinals.

Both schools have used first-rate new facilities as the catalyst to taking their programs to new levels. They have significantly broadened their recruiting efforts, and successfully enticed players from traditional baseball hotbeds like Florida, and more-distant locations, to come to Kentucky to play baseball. They have also done an excellent job of keeping most of the state’s best high-school talent at home. The top seven seniors in this year’s Kentucky high-school class have all committed to in-house colleges.

The consensus top Kentucky prep talent for this year’s draft is Lawrence County High righthander Chandler Shepherd, a Kentucky recruit. A standout as an underclassmen (he pitched his school to a state title as a freshman, and reeled off a state-record 46-inning scoreless streak as a sophomore), Shepherd missed his junior season with Tommy John surgery, though still hit more than .500 in a DH role. Healthy again this year, Shepherd has pumped his fastball back into the mid-90s, and added a cutter to his three-pitch mix.

There were three clearly-defined prep prospects in Kentucky at the start of the 2011 season, all righthanded pitchers. But Warren East High’s Mark Biggs, a Louisville recruit, may have jeopardized his chances of being drafted in an early round when he fractured a vertebra in his back after only one start. He has since resumed pitching, but failed to sustain the velocity on his 90-93 mph fastball and had limited feel for his breaking stuff.

The one other Kentucky high-school player given a shot at going in the top 10 rounds is St. Xavier’s Matt Spalding, the best arm on the state’s best prep team, and a Western Kentucky recruit. Spalding also has been clocked in the mid-90s, but his smaller frame and somewhat herky-jerky delivery may limit him to a short role at the next level.

Kentucky in a Nutshell:

Emergence of righthander Alex Meyer.
WEAKNESS: High-school position players.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 3.

Western Kentucky.
BEST HIGH SCHOOL TEAM: St. Xavier HS, Louisville.

PROSPECT ON THE RISE: Alex Meyer, rhp, University of Kentucky.
All the ingredients were there for the 6-foot-9 Meyer to blossom into a legitimate prospect, and he did so this spring with significantly-better command of all his pitches and the emergence of a third pitch, his changeup, that he was able to throw for strikes in any count.

PROSPECT ON THE DECLINE: Mark Biggs, rhp, Warren East HS, Bowling Green.
His chance of becoming the state’s top high-school draft may have evaporated when he broke a vertebra in his back after his first pitching appearance of the 2011 season.

WILD CARD: Ryan Wright, if, Louisville; Chad Wright, of, Kentucky.
They are not the Wright brothers (not related), but both have strikingly similar profiles as baseball players. They are primarily blue-collar players who led their teams in a number of offensive categories, and yet don’t have defined positions. If teams buy into their bats, they could rise up draft boards.

BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Kentucky Connection:
Nick Maronde, lhp, University of Florida (attended high school in Lexington).
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Brian Adams, of, University of Kentucky.
TOP 2013 PROSPECT: Clinton Hollon, rhp, Woodford County HS, Lexington.

Draft History: Drew Hall, lhp, Morehead State U. (1984, Cubs/1st round, 3rd pick).
2006 Draft: Ryan Strieby, 1b, U. of Kentucky (Tigers/4th round).
2007 Draft: Ben Revere, of, Lexington Catholic HS, Lexington (Twins/1st round, 28th pick).
2008 Draft: Christian Friedrich, lhp, Eastern Kentucky U. (Rockies/1st round, 25th pick).
2009 Draft: James Paxton, lhp, U. of Kentucky (Blue Jays/1st round, 36th pick).
2010 Draft: Thomas Royse, rhp, U. of Louisville (White Sox/3rd round).

Best Hitter: Kes Carter, of, Western Kentucky University.
Best Power: Braden Kapteyn, rhp/1b, University of Kentucky.
Best Speed: Logan Robbins, ss, Western Kentucky University.
Best Defender: Kes Carter, of, Western Kentucky University.
Best Velocity: Tony Zych, rhp, University of Louisville.
Best Breaking Stuff: Alex Meyer, rhp, University of Kentucky.


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

1. ALEX MEYER, rhp, University of Kentucky (Jr.)
Top-of-rotation size (6-9/215), raw stuff (95-98 FB, ++ SL); made huge strides in developing CH/command.
2. KES CARTER, of, Western Kentucky University (Jr.)
Potential 5-tool talent; best hitter in state (.348-7-38), emerging power, speed for CF, arm strength for RF.
3. TONY ZYCH, rhp, University of Louisville (Jr.)
Excels in closer role (2.84/12 SV as JR; 0.89/12 SV on Cape) with 97 FB, but has violent/funky arm action.
4. RYAN WRIGHT, ss/2b, University of Louisville (Jr.)
Solid, steady player with ++ approach; lacks power for corner; quickness in middle; ++ hitter (.343-11-44).

(Projected HIGH-Round Draft / Rounds 4-10)

5. BRADEN KAPTEYN, rhp/1b, University of Kentucky (Jr.)
Imposing figure (6-4/220) on mound (17 IP/27 SO), in batter’s box (.300-6-42); 90-94 FB, regressed as RHP.
6. PHIL WETHERELL, rhp, Western Kentucky University (Jr.)
6-5/210 RHP, used in a variety of roles (0-3, 3.88, 4 starts, 5 SV); + arm strength (FB 94-95), delivery issues.
7. CHANDLER SHEPHERD, rhp, Lawrence County HS, Louisa
Eastiest arm action/most-ready-to-pitch of 3 prep arms in state, FB at 89-93, OK break; + projectable frame.
8. LOGAN ROBBINS, ss, Western Kentucky University (Jr.)
Has all tools (++ range/arm at SS), 6.5 speed (16 SB), flashes power (.285-3-29); needs to refine technique.
9. MATT SPALDING, rhp, St. Xavier HS, Louisville
Size, head snap in delivery relegates him to short role in future; FB up to 96 in past, more 92-93 this spring.
10. STEWART IJAMES, of, University of Louisville (Jr.)
Stylish/athletic hitter, teases scouts with power potential (.250-11-45); no major flaws, other tools average.
11. CHAD WRIGHT, of, University of Kentucky (Jr.)
Can swing bat (.359-6-40), but tough call on profile position; lacks speed for CF, size for LF, big arm for RF.
12. TAYLOR BLACK, ss, University of Kentucky (Sr.)
Intriguing SR sign; true SS actions/+ arm, should remain at position; easy transition to new bats (.319-4-38).
13. MARK BIGGS, rhp/3b, Warren East HS, Bowling Green
Fractured vertebra after one start; + body/tools (90-93 FB); healthy again, could make a late pre-draft push

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