Draft : : Top Prospects
Friday, January 27, 2012

Draft Focus: Lance McCullers

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Perfect Game
Every weekday leading up to the 2012 MLB Draft, Perfect Game will be providing a scouting profile on a notable draft-eligible prospect.  Stay tuned to Perfect Game and be sure to visit the Draft Page for all of the latest info and reports pertaining to the draft.

Lance McCullers Perfect Game profile

Position:  RHP/SS
Height:  6-1
Weight: 190
Bats/Throws: L/R
Birthdate:  October 2, 1993
High School:  Tampa Jesuit
City, State:  Tampa, Florida
Travel Team:  Tampa Warriors
Commitment:  Florida
Projected Draft Round:  1

McCullers was ranked No. 1 in the 2012 high school class according to Perfect Game when those rankings originally came out two years ago. As such, he’s received huge amounts of attention from the baseball community. He now sits at No. 3 in the Perfect Game class rankings going into the spring before the 2012 draft. It’s certainly worth noting that McCullers has done nothing negative to move down a couple of spots, it’s just that RHP Lucas Giolito and SS Carlos Correa have got that much better. In fact, neither Giolito nor Correa were ranked on the original 2012 list.

Coming out of his freshman year at Tampa Jesuit High School, McCullers was more of a two-way prospect as a shortstop/right handed pitcher, and in fact rarely pitched. His father, former Major League reliever Lance McCullers, made sure that his trips to the mound were kept a bare minimum until he was physically mature. Dad had good reason, as he threw 70 games and 136 innings as a 22-year old with the San Diego Padres in 1986, then added 78 games and 123 innings more as a 23 year old, hurt his arm at 26 years old and was out of baseball completely at the age of 29.

What McCullers could do even as a 15-year old in 2009 was come in from shortstop and throw up to 94 mph as well as his signature nasty curveball. And it should be remembered that McCullers was and remains a top infield prospect, with legitimate power from the left side of the plate. His batting practice at the 2010 PG Junior National Showcase still resonates after he put balls in the stands and graded out as a perfect 10/10. Needless to say, McCullers' arm strength from shortstop, or anywhere else on the field, grades out at the top of the grading scale as well.

But McCullers professional prospect status is due to his abilities as a pitcher. And for scouts, he’s a surprisingly controversial topic for discussion. That discussion usually boils down to his future role, Starter vs. Closer. The scouts who like him the best think McCullers will be able to start at the professional level, those who think the effort in his delivery and his overall command will relegate him to a bullpen role prefer other pitchers in the 2012 class at the highest levels of the first round.

There is no questioning McCullers overall stuff. He can sit consistently at 94-96 mph on his fastball and famously touched 100 mph on the scoreboard at the East Coast Professional Showcase at Tigertown in Lakeland, Florida last summer, although most scouts behind the plate later said that pitch registered 'only' 98 or 99 on their guns. As exciting as those radar gun readings are, when he learns that 94-95 at the bottom of the zone is better than 98 up or out of the zone, he’ll instantly become a better pitcher.

Despite his high end velocity, McCullers' best pitch would be his 82-84 mph power curveball. Never call it a slider despite its velocity, as it is a true curveball with outstanding spin and bite at times. McCullers buries the pitch frequently trying to overthrow it, but when everything comes together you can almost hear the spin. His third pitch, a changeup with nice diving life, is a surprisingly good offering that he will learn to throw more at the next level.

Let the record show that the Perfect Game scouts, including myself, feel that McCullers future is as a starter. The adjustments he needs to make to become a more effective pitcher are mental/emotional adjustments, not dramatic changes to his delivery or arm action. He is a well above average athlete who should be able to maintain his mechanics and strength over a season and already has three quality pitches, two of them potentially dominant offerings.

I’ve seen McCullers play perhaps a dozen times over the past three years but the most impressed I’ve ever been with him was when he wasn’t even wearing a baseball uniform. He received the 2011 Jackie Robinson Award on August 13 in San Diego, the night before the Perfect Game All-American Classic. After the award was presented by all-time pitching greats Trevor Hoffman and Tommy John, and speaking in front of about 250 people, including his All-American peers, McCullers spoke extremely eloquently and emotionally, with no notes, about how important Robinson was not only to baseball but to society as a whole and how honored and humbled he was to receive the award. It was a “Wow” moment for everyone in attendance, and we received some insight into what the young man was made of off the baseball field.

Perfect Game events attended:

    2008 BCS 18U Florida Qualifier
    2008 WWBA 2008 Grads or 18u National Championship
    2008 15u BCS Finals
    2008 15u BCS Finals
    2008 WWBA Florida Qualifier
    2008 WWBA Underclass World Championship
    2008 WWBA World Championship
    2009 16U WWBA Florida Memorial Day Classic
    2009 WWBA 2010 Grads or 17u National Championship
    2009 WWBA Underclass World Championship
    2009 WWBA World Championship
    2010 18U WWBA Memorial Day Classic
    2010 Jr National Showcase
    2010 WWBA 2010 Grads or 18u National Championship
    2010 WWBA Underclass World Championship
    2010 WWBA World Championship
    2011 18U WWBA Memorial Day Classic
    2011 National Showcase
    2011 WWBA 2011 Grads or 18u National Championship
    2011 WWBA 2012 Grads or 17u National Championship
    2011 17U BCS Finals
    2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic Presented by Rawlings

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