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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Four Top Shortstops at Rahal-Miller JUCO National Tournament 2/6-2/8

Anup Sinha        


MARIANNA, FL- Coming into the event, three shortstops were ranked in our preseason Top-250 JUCO prospects among the five schools.  They included Chipola’s Blake Newalu (PGX JC- #89), Walters State’s Sam Munson (#142), and San Jacinto’s Danny Hernandez (#165).

Another, Southern Nevada JC freshman Danny Higa, also proved himself as a solid pro follow and a likely addition to our future prospect lists.

Higa is a hardnosed 5-9, 170 righthanded hitting shortstop from Hawaii who wasn’t drafted out of high school in 2008.  I first noticed him in the pregame workout where he showed very good actions and solid tools across the board.  Higa has the athleticism to go to the hole and make the throw.  His glove-to-hand transfers were quick and his hands very soft.  Though Higa failed to show even average speed running home-to-first, his lateral agility is okay.  He can play shortstop in the low minors for sure and if his ranged is deemed too short, he should be a very solid third and second baseman all the way up.

Higa was batting down 8th in the order, but he had a very pesky approach that can play well.  He’s short to the ball with a no-stride swing and can use his hands to adjust.  Even though he lacks major league bat-speed and raw pop, I think he has a chance to become a solid-average hitter because of his smarts and that he can wait on a curveball.  He’s one of the very best competitors I saw this weekend.

If Higa could run, he’d be a first-five round pick in my estimation.  But he gets out of the box slowly and I don’t know that you can hope for more than 50 speed (on the 20-80 scale) down the road.  But I do think the agility will play on the infield.

I’d seen Blake Newalu the week before and he can run, registering 60 speed on the 20-80 scale.  Like Higa, he’s a machine at shortstop.  Newalu is not as smooth and doesn’t have Higa’s arm-strength, but he makes all the plays, even under pressure.  Newalu’s another contact hitter who handles the pitching at this level, but there’s reasonable doubt as to how far his bat will take him.  Just a little bit bigger than Higa, Newalu will get a lot stronger by the time he’s 23 or 24 and that will tell a lot.  The freshman began the year at the University of San Diego but transferred across the country to Chipola in mid-year.

Freshman Sam Munson from Walters State is the most physical of the four, with average raw power right now.  He plays what I call a power shortstop; he’s not smooth, but his actions are strong and forceful.  Munson is very strong in his lower half and core, and he has the body control to make difficult throws.  His hands and his arm both project as plus tools for me but I think his lack of sustained agility suits him best at third base.

Munson had a tough day one, making three throwing errors in the first game.  Two of them were on feeds to second base.  There’s lots of crudeness to his came.  Though he has a powerful stroke, Munson doesn’t have good discipline and his approach will need a lot of work.  Munson did hit two homeruns over the weekend off of mistake pitches, so he certainly flashed his potential.  Though never drafted, he has the most upside because of his physical strength (solidly built 6-1, 195) and the juice in his bat that makes him a power prospect.

While Higa and Newalu are out of the same mold, San Jacinto sophomore Danny Hernandez is actually quite similar to Sam Munson.  Hernandez is a large-framed 6-0, 195, who is a below-average runner but has good actions all over the field.  Like Munson, he is also quite crude.  Despite fluid actions at shortstop with very soft hands, Hernandez played the hops poorly and had an inaccurate (but solid-average strong) arm.  If lack of agility pushes him off of shortstop, he has the tools to be very good at third and second, but he must refine his defense considerably.

Same for his bat, Hernandez generates near-MLB bat-speed and raw power already.  He hit a homerun over the weekend off of a fastball in his kitchen.  But Hernandez does not recognize a curveball and gets way out on his front foot.  The approach is crude, but again, the tools are there to be a much better hitter down the road. 


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