Draft : : State Preview
Friday, June 03, 2011

State Preview: New York

Allan Simpson        
Photo: St. John's

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.

New York State-by-State List

New York Overview:
Top Prospects Panik, Jerez Prop Up New York’s Staggering Draft Fortunes

There was a time, early in the 46-year history of the baseball draft, when only one state (California) produced more draftable talent than New York. Those days are long gone.

In 1969, a total of 98 players were drafted that attended New York high schools—more than Florida, more than Texas. Twenty years later, that number had dropped to 47. Two years ago, it was just 30 (placing it 12th overall, and light years behind Florida’s accumulation of 173). No state has seen such a precipitous decline over the 40-year period.

The reasons for New York’s inability to develop baseball talent like it once did are many and varied, but it’s readily apparent that the state’s baseball demographics have changed. A quick look at the mixed bag of talent available in this year’s draft class reflects that.

Though New York has 21 Division I programs (more than any other state, and spread over 10 different conferences), St. John’s is the state’s only mainstream college factory. It was the only school to qualify for this year’s NCAA tournament as an at-large entry (a second team, Manhattan, qualified as the champion of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference).

Predictably, the best talent in this year’s draft, shortstop Joe Panik, is from St. John’s, and he was the heart and soul of the team. He led the Red Storm in hitting (.402) and home runs (9), and has continued to edge up draft boards this spring to a point where he may be a consideration late in the first round.

The New York prep ranks produced a rare first-rounder a year ago, when the New York Yankees stayed close to home and took Rochester shortstop Cito Culver with the 32nd pick overall, though it was the consensus of industry observers that Culver wasn’t a true first-round talent, that the Yankees reached a bit for a player with some local flavor.

That scenario could be repeated this year as Grand Street Campus High outfielder Williams Jerez has attracted the close scrutiny of clubs because of his superior athleticism and impressive raw tools; others are skeptical of his bat and background, and don’t have him rated as highly.

Beyond the obvious presence of Panik at the college level, and Jerez at the high-school level, the draftable talent in New York thins out quickly after those two.

New York-based scouts who have followed Panik since early in his high-school career have noted his year-to-year improvement, and that improvement was especially evident this year, particularly in his performance at the plate. He made a very easy transition to the new bat standards introduced at the NCAA level, hitting .402-9-56 vs. .374-10-53 with aluminum as a sophomore. He played a vital role in every phase of the game in leading St. John’s to an unexpected regional berth, topping the Red Storm in batting, homers, runs (59), stolen bases (21) and walks (42).

Scouts are impressed with Panik’s excellent feel for hitting, especially his polished, disciplined approach and strike-zone awareness. He earns high marks, as well, for his smooth, easy, compact lefthanded swing and ability to barrel up balls on a consistent basis. He flashes power, but it is mostly to the gaps.

The single quality, though, that scouts may most admire about Panik is his general approach to the game. He is a very steady, dependable player with an excellent work ethic and game awareness. He comes to play every day and goes about his job with no flash, just substance. He never gets too high, or too low.

Panik consistently plays above his tools as his power and speed, and range in the field are limited. Though he is not a burner, he more than makes up for his lack of raw speed with superior base-running instincts.

Scouts are impressed with his long, lean athletic frame, but aren’t convinced he will remain at shortstop as he climbs the ladder in professional baseball. He has the soft hands and quick feet to play short, but his range and arm strength may be better suited for second base. He had labrum surgery on his shoulder following his freshman season at St. John’s and has difficulty, at times, making the long throw from the hole at shortstop.

Because of the way he plays the game, Panik ranks as one of the safer, more low-risk players in this draft, and that quality alone will make him appealing to a number of clubs.

Panik was unquestionably the key to St. John’s success this season, but the strength of the club probably lay in its talented sophomore class, notably outfielder Jeremy Baltz, and righthanders Kyle Hansen and Matt Carasiti, all of whom could be significant drafts in 2012.

In almost every way imaginable, Jerez is a different kind of player than Panik.

Jerez grew up in the Dominican Republic, where as a 16-year-old he was scouted more aggressively as a pitcher than as a position player. He could have signed professionally at the time, if he was prepared to focus on pitching, but his father was determined to make him an everyday player and moved with Jerez to New York two years ago with the express purpose of developing his son’s hitting skills so he could pursue a career in professional baseball as an outfielder.

Jerez took a year to gain the attention of New York scouts. His breakthrough came last summer when he just showed up at a local tryout for the Area Code Games, and quickly opened a lot of eyes with his ability to sting balls with authority.

As his bat progressed, scouts began taking increased interest in the other aspects of Jerez’ game, particularly his lean, athletic 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame and ability to play center field. From his experience as a pitcher, Jerez obviously has impressive arm strength, and the ball comes out of his hand easily. He also runs well (6.7 in the 60), especially underway. Though Jerez remains very raw in most phases of his game, he could emerge as a front-line talent with refinement and added strength. With scouts watching his every move this spring, he hit a loud .692-5-36 with 26 stolen bases.

Panik and Jerez earned most of the attention in New York this spring, but Stony Brook righthander Nick Tropeano and Siena second baseman Dan Paolini also drew solid support for the fine junior seasons they authored. Tropeano went 12-1, 1.84 with 24 walks and 119 strikeouts in 93 innings for a 42-12 Stony Brook club, while Paolini hammered 19 homers while hitting .346 with 67 RBIs.

Neither player, though, is considered a serious candidate to go in the top 5-6 rounds as Tropeano simply doesn’t throw hard enough and Paolini is considered a liability in the field.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Tropeano made his mark last summer in the Cape Cod League, when he tied for the league lead in strikeouts, and then was masterful in the third and deciding game of the championship series, when he came on in relief in the third inning and threw 6-1/3 no-hit innings to lead Cotuit to the title. Tropeano succeeded against some of the top hitters in the country by throwing almost exclusively changeups.

He continued his backwards approach to pitching this spring in compiling his impressive record, and while some of the sabermetric-inclined teams will undoubtedly take special interest in him because of his impressive track record and uncanny feel for pitching, the more-conventional scouting organizations have kept a distance as Tropeano threw his fastball mostly in the mid- to high-80s, though he can touch 90-91 mph when he reaches back for a little more.

Paolini has hit 45 home runs over the last two years at Siena, but scouts tend to downplay his power somewhat as he played in a smaller park and doesn’t have the most fluid swing or refined hitting mechanics. Paolini has a way to square up balls and drive them with force out of the park on a steady basis, but he doesn’t do it very pretty and his combination of an unconventional swing, below-average tools and undefined position will limit his draft appeal.

Panik, Tropeano and Paolini are all solid bets to be taken in the top 10 rounds, but New York has a fairly deep college crop overall and more players should be taken in the middle rounds than normal. Among those position players on the fringe of cracking the top 10 rounds are outfielders Mike Gallic of Marist and Jerry Coleman of Division III Clarkson, shortstops Matt Marra of LeMoyne and Jon Schwind of Marist, and Long Island catcher Tyler Jones. Coleman looked like a good bet early on to crack the top 10, but was largely exposed this spring as more of a 6-foot-4 singles hitter.

Players at Army rarely make inroads on the draft unless they are seniors because of the restrictions put on them by U.S. Military Academy. Even as seniors, they are also required to spend a year in active duty in the first full year after they turn pro.

With the likes of righthander/closer Kevin McKague, lefthander/outfielder Joe Henshaw and three-year starting shortstop Clint Moore, all seniors and legitimate draft prospects, Army had high hopes for one of its better seasons in years. None of the three fully measured up as expected, though it was because of major injuries in the case of McKague and Henshaw. Predictably, Army limped home with a 22-26 record overall.

Had he remained healthy, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound McKague would have been a serious candidate to go as early as the second or third rounds in this year’s draft. His fastball was clocked in the mid-90s last summer in the Coastal Plain League, and again in the fall on Scout Day, but he sustained a back injury after just three appearances this season and missed the balance of the campaign. McKague should be granted red-shirt status for the 2011 season, and will almost certainly return to Army in 2012.

The 6-foot-7, 250-pound Henshaw was an early-round draft candidate as both a pitcher and hitter, with his own 92-93 mph fastball and impressive power potential. But he ended up as mostly a DH this season because of a bad elbow that will require Tommy John surgery, and his raw power simply never materialized in that role.

Moore tools are a little short in most areas. He also didn’t hit initially with the new bats that were introduced, though he came on to hit 11 home runs. Moore should still get a shot in the middle rounds as he is a personal favorite of many New York scouts, who are effusive in their praise of his impressive makeup.

Xaverian High catcher Elvin Soto appeared that he would challenge Jerez to become the state’s first high-school draft initially, but as Jerez improved his stock significantly this spring, Soto seemed to have regressed. Like Jerez, Soto grew up in the Dominican Republic. He remains a solid defensive catcher, but his bat and even his arm didn't look as strong as they have in the past.

New Rochelle corner infielder Matt Duran has impressive raw power potential, and he may have picked up where Soto left off. He should be the next high-school player taken after Jerez.

New York in a Nutshell:

Depth of college talent.
WEAKNESS: Depth of high-school talent.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 3.

St. John’s.
BEST JUNIOR-COLLEGE TEAM: Suffolk County-Selden.
BEST HIGH SCHOOL TEAM: Poly Prep, Brooklyn.

Joe Panik, ss, St. John’s University. One of the steadiest, most dependable college players in the country, Panik inched towards the first round this spring by hitting a resounding .402 and topping St. John’s in home runs and stolen bases. Outside of his bat, the remainder of Panik’s tools are modest by early-round standards, but he’ll get the most out of them with his no-flash, all-substance approach.

PROSPECT ON THE DECLINE: Elvin Soto, c, Xaverian HS, New York City.
He ranked alongside Williams Jerez as the state’s best prep prospect entering 2011 with his sound defensive ability and switch-hitting skills, but his bat and arm regressed over the spring.

WILD CARD: Nick Tropeano, rhp, Stony Brook University.
Few college pitchers amassed impressive numbers this spring quite like Tropeano, who will appeal to those clubs that place a priority on performance. The more traditional scouting-based clubs, though, will be less impressed with a pitcher with a mid- to high-80s fastball that throws a steady diet of changeups.

Brian Dupra, rhp, University of Notre Dame (attended high school in Rochester).
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Fernelys Sanchez, of, George Washington HS, Bronx.
TOP 2013 PROSPECT: Matt Vogel, rhp, Patchogue HS, Medford.

Draft History: Shawon Dunston, ss, Thomas Jefferson HS, Brooklyn (1982, Cubs/1st round, 1st pick).
2006 Draft: Glenn Gibson, lhp, Center Moriches HS (Nationals/4th round).
2007 Draft: Matt Rizzoti, 1b, Manhattan College (Phillies/6th round).
2008 Draft: Bobby Lanigan, rhp, Adelphi U. (Twins/3rd round).
2009 Draft: Steve Matz, lhp, Melville HS, East Setauket (Mets/2nd round).
2010 Draft: Cito Culver, ss, West Irondequoit HS, Rochester (Yankees/1st, 32nd pick).

Best Hitter: Joe Panik, ss, St. John’s University.
Best Power: Williams Jerez, of, Grand Street Campus HS, Brooklyn.
Best Speed: Williams Jerez, of, Grand Street Campus HS, Brooklyn.
Best Defender: Elvin Soto, c, Xaverian HS, New York City.
Best Velocity: No candidate.
Best Breaking Stuff: Nick Tropeano, rhp, Stony Brook University.


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

1. JOE PANIK, ss, St. John’s University (Jr.)
Long, lean SS with ++ LH bat (.402-9-56,); rest of tools are average, but comes to play, gets most of ability.
2. WILLIAMS JEREZ, of, Grand Street Campus HS, Brooklyn
2009 Dominican immigrant; ++ build (6-4/190), LH bat, big power potential, solid CF tools, + speed/arm.

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

3. NICK TROPEANO, rhp, Stony Brook University (Jr.)
Proven college arm, pitches backwards; dominates with ++ CH, rarely uses 85-88/T-91 FB; Moneyball draft.
4. DAN PAOLINI, 2b, Siena University (Jr.)
Heavy-hitting 2B; slugged 26 HR in 2010, 19 this spring with new bats; rest of tools are BA, LF in pro ball.
5. MATT DURAN, 3b, New Rochelle HS
Big frame (6-1/220)/big swing/big power, lets barrel fly, drives ball to all fields, limited on D, 1B in future.
6. ELVIN SOTO, c, Xaverian HS, New York City
Strong 6-0/190 build, switch-hitter, quick defensive actions; + arm/bat speed in past.

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