Draft : : State Preview
Saturday, May 28, 2011

State Preview: Kansas

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Angie Plank

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.

Kansas State-by-State List

Kansas Overview:
Like Neighboring Oklahoma, It’s a Banner Draft Year in Kansas, Too

Just like the high praise we heaped on Oklahoma for the quality and depth of prospects in that state for this year’s draft, the same accolades apply to Kansas. At the risk of fanning the rivalry between the neighboring states, which already is excessive, the 2011 draftable talent in Kansas is every bit as good—and at historical levels for the state.

No conversation about baseball in Kansas in 2011 can start without mentioning Gardner-Edgerton High star outfielder Derek “Bubba” Starling. If Oklahoma prep sensation Dylan Bundy isn’t the first high-school player drafted this year, then Starling almost certainly will be.

But things don’t begin and end with Starling, as Kansas features an exceptionally-deep group of college power arms and a smattering of position talent which gives the state a realistic chance of having 6-8 players drafted in the top three rounds, and perhaps as many as 13-15 players in the first 10 rounds. By comparison, only two prospects from Kansas were selected in the top three rounds last year, prep righthander Ryne Stanek and Kansas State shortstop Carter Jurica, both third-rounders, and only five overall were tabbed in the top 10 rounds.

There was no one who came close to matching the exceptional raw talent of Starling, whose outstanding three-sport athletic ability has grown to near mythical status in the state.

Part of the Starling hype stems from the fascination of his being a big fish in a small pond as Starling’s hometown of Gardner is a community of less than 20,000, located just to the southwest of Kansas City. Starling’s boyish good looks and smiling personality also are part of the appeal, and makes him a media magnet with hero potential to many.

It also doesn’t hurt that Starling has signed on to play football at the University of Nebraska, which may have more fanatical followers than any program in the country—and football is the one sport that typically breeds that type of overzealous behavior.

To baseball scouts, Starling combines the two competing aspects of talent evaluation that they tend to love and loathe the most.

On the positive side, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Starling has such high-quality athletic ability, together with obvious baseball skills, that it’s reasonable to dream on him and picture an impact-level, perennial major league all-star. In every aspect of his game, he grades out as potentially above-average to well-above-average, and he does everything with athletic ease and grace.

On the flip side, Starling’s exposure to baseball scouts—and indeed, to the game itself—is so superficial compared to other top prospects his age that it calls into question just what his skills are, and what his baseball aptitude might be, especially with the bat.

Starling did get a brief dose of national exposure last summer, playing for USA Baseball’s national junior team, and accorded himself well by hitting .339-3-12 in 62 at-bats. He also participated in the Area Code Games in early August. But the late-spring baseball schedule in Kansas, plus a three-week trip to the disabled list with a quad injury, has limited him to just 27 at-bats for his high-school team this spring. In his brief action, he has hit .481 with four homers and stolen seven bases.

His limited duty has put scouts in a quandary as they simple don’t have the kind of track record on Starling this spring to make a wise, calculated decision on his draft value. Scouts need to look no further than outfielder Donovan Tate, the third pick in the 2009 draft, for evidence. Tate, currently at low Class A Fort Wayne (Midwest) in the San Diego Padres system, has shown very limited baseball aptitude at the professional level after a football-dominated prep career.

The over-riding variable with Starling, though, is his commitment to play football at Nebraska. With leverage unlike almost any other elite baseball talent that has passed before him, Starling could command an unprecedented bonus to steer him away from ever playing football. At the same time, the possibility of his playing football, and not baseball, is also very real, unlike fellow top 2011 prep prospect Archie Bradley, who has committed to play football at Oklahoma.

Starling is the nation’s seventh-ranked quarterback, according to one football scouting/recruiting service, and has Cornhuskers fans dreaming about his dual-threat ability in much the same way that scouts dream about his obvious potential as a five-tool center fielder.

For all of his obvious ability, Starling has not drawn an overwhelming number of scouts to his games this spring, even when he has been healthy enough to play. The simple explanation is there are only a handful of teams that are both willing and able to pay the kind of bonus Starling will undoubtedly demand.

While much of the buzz in Kansas has been about Starling, there has been plenty of other talent on display, especially a deep crop of hard-throwing college pitchers.

That pitching can essentially be divided into three categories: Wichita State starters, Kansas and Kansas State relievers, and a duo of hard-throwing, but raw arms at Johnson County Community College.

At Wichita State, injuries to reliable senior righthander Tim Kelley and talented sophomore Tobey Mateychick, along with the NCAA-imposed suspension of promising freshman lefthander Albert Minnis, ate into the Shockers pitching depth, but the slack was picked up by big, hard-throwing lefthanders Charlie Lowell and Brian Flynn, who themselves threw only 36 innings in 2010 due to injury and academic issues.

Lowell was so impressive this spring that he was named the Missouri Valley Conference pitcher of the year, and combined with the 6-foot-8, 245-pound Flynn to throw 180 innings. Lowell and Flynn both reached 94 mph, and with the improvement they showed in their sliders, could both factors into the top 2-3 rounds of the draft. Three more Shockers—shortstop Tyler Grimes (.298-5-32, 25 SB), catcher Chris O’Brien (.407-10-67)) and first baseman Johnny Coy (.275-7-57)—are realistic considerations elsewhere in the first 10 rounds.

Grimes is an excellent defender with clean actions and a strong arm, but still needs to make the routine play more consistently. He also has a knack for reaching base at an advanced clip, but tends to strike out at an advanced clip, as well.

O’Brien, son of former Shocker All-American catcher and long-time former big leaguer Charlie O’Brien, has easily been Wichita State’s chief offensive threat. But he hasn’t shored up enough weaknesses defensively, in his first extended exposure to catching, to be a draft consideration much before the sixth-eighth rounds.

Scouts expected a breakout year at the plate from the 6-foot-7, sophomore-eligible Coy, especially after he had a big season swinging with wood last summer in the MINK League. But it simply hasn’t happened for Coy, who has pressed after going undrafted in 2010. Coy was originally drafted out of a Missouri high school in 2008 in the seventh round.

Despite the efforts of those five players, Wichita State (38-24) may be forced to win the MVC post-season tournament to gain an NCAA tournament berth.

Kansas State (35-21) features one of the most effective, and talented relief tandems in the country in set-up man Evan Marshall and closer James Allen. The 6-foot, 210-pound Marshall figures to go significantly higher in the draft, perhaps as early as the second round, because his fastball touches 96 mph, while Allen’s typically peaks in the low-90s. The two have combined for eight wins and 17 saves, along with a combined ERA under 1.50.

A third Wildcat, outfielder Nick Martini, was the 2010 Big 12 player of the year and set an NCAA record this spring by reaching base in 93 consecutive games over two seasons. He could be picked from the 3rd- to 5th-round by a team looking for a leadoff type with advanced hitting skills.

Kansas closer Colton Murray (3-4, 3.79, 7 SV) has very similar stuff as Marshall, a 92-94 mph fastball and plus slider, and should be called about the same time in the draft. The Jayhawks face the possibility of having as many as four arms taken in the top 10 rounds, even as they struggled through a long season, finishing last in the Big 12.

It’s rare to see a junior college with two arms that can bump 96 mph (and higher), but that’s what Johnson County featured this spring in sophomore righthanders Jeff Soptic and Vince Spilker.

The 6-foot-6, 210-pound Soptic actually reached 100 mph on various occasions, though was mostly 95-97. A year ago, he was a customary 91-92, topping at 94, and suffered such major command issues that he wasn’t even drafted. He has thrown a lot more strikes this season, and added a slider. Though he still suffers from lapses in command, Soptic could very easily land as high as the third round as he has a very free, easy delivery—even when he’s touching triple digits.

Spilker missed all but the tail end of his freshman season at Johnson County while undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow. He showed excellent command on an 88-92 mph fastball this spring, even when he broke the pinky finger on his pitching hand late in the year.

After Starling, Free State High lefthander Cody Kukuk is the only other high-school prospect considered a sure thing to be picked in the top 10 rounds. The Kansas signee has a loose, projectable arm to go with a nice 6-foot-4 build and a fastball that can touch 92-93 mph.

The Jayhawks also signed talented outfielder Dakota Smith, who could end up a premium 2014 draft as scouts will undoubtedly put less emphasis on his being a 5-foot-11 righthanded hitter in college, and focus more on his tools and performance.

Kansas in a Nutshell:

Depth of talent across the board, especially college power arms.
WEAKNESS: Depth of high-school position talent (after Starling).
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 5

Kansas State.

Chris O’Brien, c, Wichita State. Sometimes the sheer weight of positive evidence can outweigh all other considerations. O’Brien is hitting .409-9-63 (more than 100 points higher than any other Wichita State player), with a 36:16 walk-to-strikeout ratio. It’s a vast improvement over a year ago, when O’Brien hit a soft .291-1-25 (with aluminum). He’s the son of ex-MLB catcher Charlie O’Brien, so it’s apparent he knows how to play, and scouts may no longer be able to overlook his marginal defensive skills.

Johnny Coy, 1b, Wichita State. The athletic, 6-foot-8 Coy was a seventh-round pick in 2008, and turned down an offer from the Philadelphia Phillies to play basketball at Arizona State. While basketball is long in his past and he’s been respectable this year at the plate (.282-6-55), Coy hasn’t hit with anywhere near the power scouts anticipated. He also turns 22 in July.

WILD CARD: Derek “Bubba” Starling, of, Gardner-Edgerton HS, Gardner.
The combination of Starling’s football leverage, his peerless high-ceiling talent but raw physical tools, and the almost mythical aura surrounding the small-town athletic hero, conspire to present a complicated scenario for scouts. He could easily be taken in the top five picks, or could go . . . who knows?

Cam Seitzer, 1b, University of Oklahoma (attended high school in Overland Park).
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Micah Green, of, Wichita State University.
TOP 2013 PROSPECT: Kaiana Eldredge, c/ss, University of Kansas

Draft History: Joe Carter, of, Wichita State U. (1981, Cubs/1st round, 2nd pick); Darren Dreifort, rhp, Wichita State U. (1993, Dodgers/1st round, 2nd pick).
2006 Draft: Kris Johnson, lhp, Wichita State U. (Red Sox/1st round; 40th pick).
2007 Draft: Derek Norris, c, Goddard HS (Nationals, 4th round).
2008 Draft: Conor Gillaspie, 3b, Wichita State U. (Giants, 1st round/37th pick).
2009 Draft: Garrett Gould, rhp, Maize HS (Dodgers/2nd round).
2010 Draft: Ryne Stanek, rhp, Blue Valley HS (Mariners/3rd round).

Best Hitter: Nick Martini, of, Kansas State University.
Best Power: Derek Starling, of, Gardner-Edgerton HS, Gardner.
Best Speed: Derek Starling, of, Gardner-Edgerton HS, Gardner.
Best Defender: Derek Starling, of, Gardner-Edgerton HS, Gardner.
Best Velocity: Jeff Soptic, rhp, Johnson County CC.
Best Breaking Stuff: Charlie Lowell, lhp, Wichita State.


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

1. DEREK “BUBBA” STARLING, of, Gardner-Edgerton HS, Gardner
Tremendous natural athlete (6-4/190), ++ speed/defense/power potential; battle looming with Nebraska FB.
2. CHARLIE LOWELL, lhp, Wichita State University (Jr.)
XL frame (6-4/245), workhorse; solid mechanics, consistent stuff, low 90s FB/T-95, sharp SL, 10-4, 2.68.
3. EVAN MARSHALL, rhp, Kansas State University (Jr.)
Set-up role at K-State (5-5, 1.64); + easy, but deceptive delivery, 6-1/205 frame; FB at 91-96 mph, + SL.
4. COLTON MURRAY, rhp, University of Kansas (Jr.)
Power arm in 6-0/195 frame; 91-95 FB, + sink when low in zone, power SL, 3-4, 3.79, 7 SV, + Cape 2010.
5. JEFF SOPTIC, rhp, Johnson County CC (So.)
XXL 6-7/225; easy arm at any velo; FB sits at 93-97/T-100, but straight; undrafted in 2010, now + command.
6. CODY KUKUK, lhp, Free State HS, McLouth
Classic projection (6-4/200), + athlete, loose actions; 88-91 FB/T-93, flashes +CU; 7-1, 2.89, 53 IP/103 SO.
7. TYLER GRIMES, ss, Wichita State University (Jr.)
+ speed/arm/range/on-base potential, but tools erratic; hit .298-5-32, 25 SB; 51 BB, but 60 K’s, 29 E at SS.

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

8. NICK MARTINI, of, Kansas State University (Jr.)
2010 Big 12 PoY, hit .338-1-42 in 2011; + hitting approach/skills, + runner, leadoff profile, + scrappy player.
9. BRIAN FLYNN, lhp, Wichita State University (So.)
R/S soph (academics, 2010), 6-8/240 frame, + downhill angle; 6-4, 4.63; 90-94 FB, added SL, more strikes.
10. CHRIS O’BRIEN, c, Wichita State University (Jr.)
Ex-3B, first year as starting C, fringy defender/arm; ++ improvement at bat (.409-9-63 vs .291-1-25 as SO).
11. JOHNNY COY, 1b, Wichita State University (So.)
High-level HS hoops star, R/S in 2009; long swing, hasn’t produced expected power, still has + projection.
12. VINCE SPILKER, rhp, Johnson County CC (So.)
Injured in 2010, starter in 2011 (6-3, 3.46); reliever profile, 92-96 FB in short stints, starred at PG pre-draft.
13. THOMAS TAYLOR, rhp, University of Kansas (So.)
R/S SO (TJ surgery, 2009); big frame (6-4/210), 90-94 FB, solid CU/CH; went 5-3, 4.74, 57 IP/13 BB/53 SO.
14. JAMES ALLEN, rhp, Kansas State University (Jr.)
Converted SS, 6-0/195, 88-92 FB with ++ sink, good SL, spots pitches well; 3-1, 1.42, 16 SV, + competes.
15. TANNER POPPE, rhp, University of Kansas (So.)
Age-eligible SO, + athlete (6-5/235), FB at 90-93, off-speed still raw; 3-6, 3.66, should see better in 2012.
16. DAKOTA SMITH, of, Leavenworth HS
5-11 frame, RH bat hurts scouting profile; + tools (6.55 speed, 92 off mound, surprising power), KU signee.
17. T.J. WALZ, rhp, University of Kansas (Sr.)
Bulldog/workhorse type, 6-5, 3.97, 90 IP/85 K; 88-92 FB, flashes +SL, may prefer med school over pro ball.

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