High School | General | 2/11/2014

Regional HS Preview: Florida

Jheremy Brown        
Photo: Perfect Game

2014 Perfect Game High School Baseball preview index

Big Depth Leads to Quality Matchups

Last year may have been a down year in terms of draft picks for the Florida high school class, but this year will be the polar opposite. In 2013 only one player was selected in the first round (Christian Arroyo, 25th
 overall), with Tyler Danish next off the board, 55th overall and the first Floridian high school arm selected.

The first pitcher shouldn’t have to wait until the 55th
 pick this year to hear his name called, and if so, that particular team could be getting the steal of the draft. The headliner of the 2014 class is the depth of arms, led by four Perfect Game All-Americans: Sean Reid-Foley, Touki Toussaint, Cobi Johnson, and Foster Griffin.

Aside from the All-American quartet, Florida offers other arms that have been making tremendous strides and have some serious helium heading into the spring. Atop of the helium group is Stanford commit Keith Weisenberg and two Florida commits who took full advantage of the on-looking scouts in Jupiter last October, Weston Davis and Alex Faedo.

Position players may be a step behind of the pitchers at this point in Florida in terms of depth, but two names that will be followed closely this spring will be middle infielders Nick Gordon and Forrest Wall. Gordon has been known for some time, participating in high-level events for the last couple of summers. The biggest difference for Gordon heading into his senior season is his physicality. Gordon has added noticeable strength to his frame, adding more pop to his lefthanded swing.

Wall has taken a different route to the top of the prospect rankings, but finds himself currently ranked 27th
 overall in the 2014 rankings. Making a big splash at the East Coast Professional Showcase, Wall continued his hot hitting in Jupiter and makes consistent, hard contact from the left side.

With the class being so deep, scouts are sure to see a quality matchup on any given day. For example, Gordon and his Olympia High School teammates host Orangewood Christian and Forrest Wall at 4:00 pm on February 14

Early season matchups have some of the state's top teams going head-to-head, lining up each other’s aces to square off. On February 3 there was a double-header at American Heritage Delray’s field, and the first game allowed scouts a chance to see lefthander Bennett Sousa and The Benjamin School against Broward Prep.

The following game, American Heritage Delray faced the battery of Touki Toussaint and Benito Santiago along with the rest of the Coral Springs Christian Academy team. That gave scouts a strong look at Heritage outfielder Todd Isaacs, who has emerged from Jupiter and shows plus tools in the outfield and on the base-paths.

Another early season matchup that brought a throng of scouts behind the backstop occurred on February 4 under the lights at Alonso High School. Alonso hosted Osceola in a preseason game and each team started a mid-90s righthander; Alex Faedo and Keith Weisenberg respectively.

West Orange is a team that will allow scouts a look into the future with three ranked 2016 players in the top 50, led by righthander Austin Bergner. Primed for a strong season, the Warriors will be able to see how they stack up, facing PG's 10th preseason ranked Lake Brantley, led by 2013 PG All-American outfielder Carl Chester and Ole Miss commit Tate Blackman. West Orange opens up the regular season against Lake Mary, which boasts Florida State commit and the No. 2 ranked player in the 2015 class, shortstop Brendan Rodgers.

Florida High School Dream Team
Based on present tools and position played for high school team

C – J.J. Schwarz, Sr. Palm Beach Gardens
Finding a catcher who projects to stay behind the plate at the next level isn’t always an easy task, never mind a defensive catcher that shows big potential at the plate. That’s exactly what you’ll find in Schwarz, who shows solid catch-and-throw ability behind the plate with a quick release and a strong, accurate arm to second base in game action. At the plate, the 6-foot-2 Schwarz uses his long limbs to create leverage in his easy and loose swing, repeatedly driving the ball to deep left field. He shows good bat speed and the ball seems to jump of his barrel and finds a second gear once in flight.

1B – Jeremy Vasquez, Sr. Martin County
Vasquez shows nice tools around the bag with soft hands and strong glove skills at first base. But what sets him apart from other first basemen are his skills in the box. A lefthanded hitter, Vasquez shows consistent hitting tools at every event he attends. Whether it is big-time velocity or quality breaking balls, the Florida commit uses loose, strong hands and an easy swing to barrel up the ball on a regular basis.

MIF – Milton Ramos, Sr. American Heritage
Ramos is one of the best defenders in the this years draft class and has drawn favorable comps to fellow Floridian and 2013 second round pick Oscar Mercado. His bat has made steady progression over the summer and into the fall and will be followed closely this spring, especially as he adds strength to his frame.

MIF – Brendan Rodgers, Jr. Lake Mary
Rodgers is the only underclassmen to make this list, but watching him play you wouldn’t be able to tell his age or class. A smooth defender who has a good chance of sticking at shortstop, Rodgers put on a show with the bat all summer. Jupiter was no different, as he showed an advanced approach at the plate against quality pitching with the pop in his bat to match. It will be fun to follow his progression as he has another year on the showcase circuit.

Much like the depth of this year's pitching, the position players made it difficult to cut it down to just two middle infielders. Forrest Wall was the most difficult to leave off after the way he ended the summer, showing off his very impressive lefthanded swing. Tate Blackman shows a very nice all around tool set at shortstop, as does Dalton Guthrie, a proven leader both with the Florida Burn and his high school team, the Venice Indians.

3B – Joe Dunand, Sr. Gulliver Schools
Although listed as a primary shortstop, the PG scouting staff has seen Dunand play at a very high level at third base for Marucci Elite on the travel ball circuit. A strong 6-foot-2, 210-pound athlete, Dunand has shown smooth actions around the third base bag with soft hands and enough arm strength across to make the deep throw. His bat steadily improved throughout last summer and into the fall, showing better fluidity in his swing. The strength and bat speed have always been there, consistently squaring up inside pitches to his pull side, creating hard and loud contact.

OF – Carl Chester, Sr. Lake Brantley
The 6.28 60-yard dash at the National Showcase can speak to Chester’s ability to run. That speed plays on both sides of the ball as he covers a lot of ground in center field (see below) and allows him to get down the first base line in the 4.0 to 4.1 area consistently. Once on base, Chester wreaks havoc and is very disruptive. The University of Miami commit shows a fluid righthanded swing with surprising pop and an advanced approach at the plate.

OF – Justin Smith, Sr. Bartram Trail
Another University of Miami commit, Smith has shown all five tools throughout the past couple of years. At 6-foot-2, 210-pounds, Smith is a strong, athletic outfielder with the tools to match the frame. He has plenty of arm strength to stay in right field and has showed the ability to make the big throw in game settings. He flashes big power with the bat as well and runs a 6.67 60-yard dash.

OF – Luke Bonfield, Sr. IMG Academy
Bonfield might be new to the state of Florida after transferring down from New Jersey for his high school senior season, but his reputation with the bat followed him. Bonfield has the ability to cover the entire plate and barrel up the ball with very good bat speed to all parts of the field. While he makes consistent, hard line drive contact to the gaps for doubles, don’t be surprised when those balls start making their way over the fence.

UT – Nick Gordon, Sr. Olympia
Gordon has been in the national spotlight for some time and continues to show high level tools every time he steps on the field. The multi-position standout will stick at shortstop at the next level, thanks to his superb athleticism and smooth fielding actions, but he also has a strong feel with the bat from the left side. Gordon is also a top round talent on the mound, working comfortably with his fastball in the low-90s and also shows feel for a hammer breaking ball. He has the MLB bloodlines – his father is former big-league coser Tom “Flash” Gordon – but Gordon is his own player and has added noticeable muscle to his frame, helping to develop power and show all five tools at an elite level. 

P – Touki Toussaint, Sr. Coral Springs Christian
Toussaint shows both big velocity and a plus secondary offering on the mound on a consistent basis. When you take into consideration how relatively new he is to the mound, scouts dream on what Toussaint may look like as a finished product. The first thing you notice when he delivers a pitch is how loose and quick his arm action is and how easy the ball leaves his hand. The 6-foot-2 Vanderbilt commit frequently touches the mid-90s, with a high of 97, and has one of the best curveballs in this year’s draft class.

P – Foster Griffin, Sr. The First Academy
The only lefty to crack this rotation, Griffin shows everything you’d want to see in a young pitcher: lefthanded, 6-foot-5 and projectable and a three-pitch mix. With a fastball topping out at 92 mph, Griffin is able to make that play up as he uses his long levers and creates excellent downhill plane. His curveball flashes potential and presently shows a very good changeup with fading action. Not only does he have a feel for three pitches, he knows how to use them with an advanced overall feel on the mound.

P – Sean Reid-Foley, Sr. Sandalwood
Reid-Foley had a strong summer, throwing well at most of the major events this year. Of the six events he threw at this summer, he touched at least 93 mph at five of them, topping at 95 at the East Coast Pro. On top of the big velocity, the fastball shows heavy arm-side run action, and it is his off-speed that sets him apart from some of the other power arms in this year's class. He works his slider into the mid-80s, a true slider with late bite, and he also owns a fading changeup which he can bring in on righthanded hitters, a devastating pitch against hitters at this level. When everything is working, Reid-Foley dominates the opposition and gets many empty swings.

P – Cobi Johnson, Sr. James W. Mitchell
Johnson brings a high baseball IQ on the mound, going out there with a game plan that he executes. It is easy to project the 6-foot-4, 180-pound Johnson to throw in the mid-90s one day and he is already throwing 93 mph, but he dominates his outings as though he was showing the big fastball velocity. He is able to carve up both corners of the plate with his fastball, showing the highest level pitchability and an advanced feel of a big 12-to-6 curveball that shows very good depth and break.

P – Keith Weisenberg, Sr. Osceola
Each time he takes the ball at a Perfect Game event it is as though Weisenberg takes another step forward. The Stanford commit regularly sits in the low-90s and uses his 6-foot-4 frame and high three-quarters arm slot to get on top of the ball and generate very sharp downhill plane. Velocity comes easy for Weisenberg, and one shouldn’t be surprised when he continues adding to his fastball, which also has plenty of sink and run down in the zone. He already throws an above average slider in the mid-80s and shows a feel for a changeup, a pitch that shows big potential in the future.

With only five spots to be filled, pitchers will inevitably be left off. In the 2014 class alone eyes need to closely watch righthanders Alex Faedo, Weston Davis and Cre Finfrock as well as lefthanders Carson Sands and Bennett Sousa.

Florida Region Best Tools

Best Hitter For Average: Luke Bonfield, Sr. IMG Academy
There are a few categories among the top tools that were extremely close, with this being one of them. Jeremy Vasquez is very advanced with the bat, as is Bonfield, who started his hot hitting at the National Showcase last June and didn’t stop all summer. Bonfield set the tone for what he would do the rest of the summer in one of his first at-bats in Minnesota, barreling up a mid-80s slider from PG All-American righthander Luis Ortiz. He consistently squares up top pitching, showing gap power with more on its way.

Best Hitter For Power: J.J. Schwarz, Sr. Palm Beach Gardens
Schwarz has shown the ability to impact a game on both sides of the ball, with his bat possibly being the loudest tool throughout the course of the game. He shows very good strength in his righthanded swing with major power and loud contact off the barrel. He is able to generate pull-side power and has also shown the ability to sting the ball to the opposite way. Even as a 2015, Brendan Rodgers garnered consideration for this category, showing easy power off of the highest level pitching.

Best Baserunner: Carl Chester, Sr. Lake Brantley
Chester turned in the top 60 time of the past year from all Perfect Game events, a 6.28 at last June's National Showcase. A plus runner, Chester uses his speed both in the outfield and on the bases, showing aggressiveness on the base-paths and is very disruptive to the opposing pitcher once he gets on. Todd Isaacs Jr. came bursting on the scene in Jupiter with the Atlanta Blue Jays, and made a strong run at this category, as did Nick Gordon.

Best Defensive Catcher: Dominic DiCaprio, Jr. Marjory Stoneham Douglas
Although a 2015 graduate, DiCaprio takes this category as he has shown high-end defensive actions behind the plate every time he suits up. With a strong 6-foot, 210-pound frame, DiCaprio has what you want to see in a catching prospect: no problem handling quality pitches, sound footwork, smooth and easy actions, and a strong arm that delivers accurate bullets in game action.

Best Defensive Infielder: Nick Gordon, Sr. Olympia
When you combine his plus athleticism, high baseball IQ, and cannon of an arm, he has the ability to make plays that shouldn’t be made. The added strength to his frame has done nothing to hinder him in the field, as he stills makes the play deep in the 5-6 hole. And while others may not have the arm strength to make the off-balance throw, Gordon has no problem firing an accurate strike to first base in such situations. He takes big, easy gliding steps to the ball with range to both sides and displays sound glove work.

Best Defensive Outfielder: Carl Chester, Sr. Lake Brantley
Carl Chester is the complete package in center field. Being a plus runner, Chester gets a quick first step on the ball, and is able to cover a vast amount of real estate. He glides easily to the ball with clean fielding actions. On top of those tools, Chester owns a strong arm, something not commonly associated with fleet-footed center fielders.

Best Infield Arm: Nick Gordon, Sr. Olympia
As stated above, Gordon has top of the line arm strength, recently throwing 94 mph across the infield at the World Showcase. His throws are accurate and show plus carry, but what is most impressive is how easy and effortless the throws are out of his hand.

Best Outfield Arm: Justin Smith, Sr. Bartram Trail
Smith has shown big arm strength from the outfield since the Junior National Showcase in 2011 and it plays very well in right field in game action. He gets on top of his throws, allowing the ball to travel in a straight line to the intended target with no tail.

Best Fastball: Touki Toussaint, Sr. Coral Spring Academy
As impressive as the reading on the radar gun is when Toussaint’s fastball crosses the plate, there are other factors that put him to the front of this group. With such an easy and loose arm action, it is easy to envision a few more ticks being added to his fastball that already tops out at 97 mph. The pitch is very clean out of his hand and shows explosive life in the zone.

Best Off-speed Stuff: Touki Toussaint, Sr. Coral Springs Academy
Toussaint claims back-to-back categories as his breaking ball is the pitch that he is most known for on the national scene. A true knockout pitch, Toussaint varies the velocity on the curveball, with a power curveball up to 80 mph and a knee buckling, mid-70s pitch with outstanding depth and break. In Jupiter his curveball registered 2800 RPM (rotations per minute) on the TrackMan radar, surpassing the MLB average of 2500 RPM.

Best Command: Cobi Johnson, Sr. James W. Mitchell
Johnson’s father, Dane, is a pitching coordinator for the Toronto Blue Jays, and he has passed his knowledge on to his son, Cobi. The younger Johnson has a knack for getting and staying ahead of hitters, and fills up the strike zone with all of his pitches. He shows plus control of his fastball in the lower half of the zone, which he is able to execute thanks to using his 6-foot-4 frame to generate sharp downhill plane. He also has a strong feel for his plus hammer curveball, which he throws in any count.

Best Pitchability: Juan Hillman, Jr. Haines City Senior
Despite only entering his junior season this spring, Hillman has shown some of the highest-level abilities on the mound. With a projectable frame and quick arm, Hillman comfortably sits in the high 80s with his fastball, often times touching 90, and controls the pitch very well. He is able to sit on both sides of the plate with downhill plane and has no problem coming in on the hands of righthanded hitters. To complement his fastball, Hillman features one of the better breaking pitches in the 2015 class with a deep 1-to-7 curveball.

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