Draft : : State Preview
Friday, June 03, 2011

State Preview: New Jersey

Allan Simpson         David Rawnsley        

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 Jersey State-by-State List

New Jersey Overview:
New Jersey Looks to Thomore, Attempts to Recover from Barren 2010 Draft

There are historically-relevant draft years in every state, and then there are really historically-relevant bad draft years. For New Jersey, such a year occurred in 2010.

The draftable talent in the state was so lean a year ago that only three players were selected in the first 30 rounds, with unheralded Brookdale Community College righthander Kevin Menna the first player off the board in the 14th round. None of the top nine ranked high-school players in New Jersey was even drafted, and no prep player of any kind went before the 46th round.

To put that into perspective, Nebraska (8), Iowa (7) and Minnesota (5) all had significantly more players drafted in the top 30 rounds last year than New Jersey. Historically, New Jersey’s annual haul in the draft normally matches the combined total of those three states.

To put all that into New Jersey’s own historical perspective, the state averaged 11 players in the top 30 rounds over the previous five drafts (2005-2009), and produced premium first-round talents such as outfielder Mike Trout (Angels/2009, 25th overall), righthander Rick Porcello (Tigers/2007, 27th overall) and third baseman Billy Rowell (Orioles/2005, 9th overall) during that period.

In many years, some of the elite high-school players in New Jersey are passed over in the early rounds of the draft because they are deemed unsignable as they have near-binding commitments to major college programs. Players like former Louisiana State righthander Anthony Ranaudo, a supplemental first-round pick a year ago, and current college players like Florida righthander Anthony DeScalfani and Virginia third baseman Steve Proscia, come to mind. But last year, there just wasn’t any notable professional-level talent in the state.

Though the 2011 New Jersey college crop remains relatively barren, and the expectation exists again that a junior-college player will be the first college player taken, the talent pendulum at the high-school level has swung back closer to the middle, and cross-checkers returned to the state this spring with increasing regularity to evaluate the 10-12 players with the potential to be drafted in the first 10 rounds.

The source of most of the scrutiny was East Brunswick High outfielder Carl Thomore, who separated himself this spring from Seneca High righthander Kevin Comer and a pack of other players with designs on edging into the top 5-6 rounds.

Thomore is a physically impressive, 6-foot-2, 215-pound athlete who flashes above-average potential in all five basic tools, and wins additional points from scouts for his enthusiastic style of play and outgoing personality. He has also battled back from his share of adversity.

He lost his mother to breast cancer in 2005, and Thomore literally saw his own baseball career nearly end in tragic fashion last summer in Marietta, Ga., at Perfect Game’s World Wood Bat Association 17-and-under national championship. He slid hard into third base, catching his cleats, and both dislocated and fractured his ankle. The ankle was turned 180 degrees.

Recognizing that paramedics were backed up in traffic and wouldn’t reach the field for some time, an assistant coach for a team from Indiana that was waiting to play the next game happened to be an orthopedic surgeon, and quickly took matters into his own hands. He saw immediately that Thomore had no pulse or blood circulation in his badly-damaged foot due to the severity of the injury, and soon realized that Thomore could lose his foot if the injury wasn’t treated promptly. While Thomore gritted his teeth, the doctor popped his foot back into place on the field. Thomore has since made what appears to be a full recovery, but that heroic gesture probably saved his career. He has been clocked in the 60 in 6.4 seconds this spring, and shows no outward signs of any lingering issues when he runs.

Thomore remains somewhat crude in his approach to hitting, but has impressive power potential. And scouts have scrutinized his every move this spring as they feel they got somewhat burned two years ago when Trout, a five-tool outfielder from Millville High who has emerged as one of the elite prospects in the minor leagues, slipped slightly under their radar and lasted until the 25th pick in the 2009 draft. Thomore is considered the best talent in the state since Trout.

While Thomore is viewed as very signable in the upper rounds, scouts will have to carefully evaluate the signability of many of the state’s other top high-school prospects as most are committed to colleges that traditionally hang on to their top recruits.

The most difficult player for New Jersey-based scouts to get a read on this spring is Comer, a Vanderbilt recruit. Based on his athletic 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame, superior stuff with a fastball in the mid-90s and advanced feel for pitching, Comer showed all the ingredients last fall to become a first-round pick in this year’s draft, and many teams rated him the best pitching prospect in the entire Northeast.

But Comer has been a mystery to scouts this spring. By late May, he had thrown just 14 innings. He missed several starts for a variety of reasons, and when he did pitch, his stuff was nowhere near as good as it was last fall—or even in his first scrimmage of the 2011 season.

Every other top New Jersey high-school player also has a commitment to a major Division I program, but none, outside of Thomore, has the natural ability of Comer. It’s unclear how many players, but notably Comer, will tumble in the draft because teams have gotten a clear indication that college is their first option.

In addition to Comer, Seton Hall Prep outfielder John Norwood has committed to Vanderbilt. Westfield High catcher A.J. Murray is scheduled to attend Georgia Tech, South Plainfield High outfielder Brandon Downes is slated to play for Virginia and Hunterdon Central High shortstop Josh Ake has signed with North Carolina. Those players, along with Thomore, a Rutgers recruit, are regarded as the top half dozen players in the New Jersey high-school crop.

That drain of local high-school talent to high-profile, out-of-state schools is hardly a new phenomenon for New Jersey, although top prospects like former Rutgers shortstop Todd Frazier (Reds/2007, first round) and ex-Seton Hall righthander Sean Black (Yankees/2009, 7th round, but a high-school second-rounder) have stayed in state in the last decade. That has left the state’s two primary Division I college programs, Seton Hall and Rutgers, battling on a year-to-year basis just to maintain their talent levels.

Seton Hall (33-23) unexpectedly won its first Big East Conference title since 2001 this spring as a No. 5 seed, and earned a rare NCAA tournament appearance. Senior righthander Joe DiRocco was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player and is the only New Jersey college product given a realistic shot of getting picked in the top 10 rounds. DiRocco went 8-1, 1.68 on the year, a big step forward from his 5-7, 5.05 record in 2010.

Rutgers had high hopes for one of its better seasons in recent years, but suffered through a disappointing 20-30 campaign. Sophomore shortstop Steve Nyisztor, considered a potential first-rounder in 2012 after a .410-4-51 freshman season, missed all but 12 games due to illness, and was red-shirted. Top pitching prospect Charlie Law also was red-shirted after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010.

No team in the country may have been more negatively affected by the change in bat standards at the NCAA level than Rutgers, which went from 71 home runs in 2010 to 11 in 2011. The plummeting production was best exemplified by the team’s top 2011 draft prospect, senior outfielder Michael Lang, who hit .317-12-34 in 2010 and just .344-2-13 this spring.

New Jersey traditionally fields some of the top NCAA Division III teams in the country, and Kean College continued its strong showing on a national scale by advancing to the Division III College World Series for the fourth time in five years, while finishing the season with a 42-11 record. Six-foot-6 righthander Mike Russo, a transfer from North Carolina State, was the team’s best prospect and went 10-2, 1.98 on the season, although he walked 52 hitters in 88 innings. Russo can run his fastball up to 93 mph, but lacks polish and a reliable breaking pitch.

With only DiRocco given a realistic chance to squeeze into the top 10 rounds among New Jersey’s college talent, the state’s unappreciated junior-college ranks could once again produce the first non-high school draft selection in the state. Mercer County freshman righthander James Pugliese rung up a 6-1, 1.27 record with 71 strikeouts in 57 innings, with a fastball up to 93 mph.

Six-time national champion Gloucester County advanced again to the NJCAA Division III World Series, but came home empty-handed this year after winning the 2010 title with an impressive 43-2 record.

New Jersey in a Nutshell:

High-school hitters.
WEAKNESS: College prospects.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 3.

Seton Hall
BEST HIGH SCHOOL TEAM: Don Bosco Prep, Ramsey.

PROSPECT ON THE RISE: Carl Thomore, of, East Brunswick HS
. Thomore was a huge question mark heading into the 2011 season because of the horrific ankle injury he sustained last summer playing in a travel-league game. But he responded with an impressive spring (.493-3-22, 25 SB) and showed pro-quality tools across the board. His personality and attitude have earned him praise throughout the scouting community.

PROSPECT ON THE DECLINE: Kevin Comer, rhp, Seneca HS.
Comer has thrown a limited number of innings this spring and scouts have become resigned that his commitment to Vanderbilt is a done deal. He could re-emerge as a first-round talent after three years in college with normal development.

WILD CARD: John Norwood, of, Seton Hall Prep.
Norwood has the type of athletic build and raw skills that scouts can dream on. He could go much higher than projected if a team believes it can sign him away from Vanderbilt.

BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, New Jersey Connection:
Anthony DeSclafani, rhp, University of Florida (attended high school in Freehold).
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Steve Nyisztor, 2b-ss, Rutgers University.
TOP 2013 PROSPECT: Michael Zavala, c, Rutgers University.

Draft History: Jeff Kunkel, ss, Rider U. (1983, Rangers/1st round, 3rd pick); Willie Banks, rhp, St. Anthony’s HS, Jersey City (1987, Twins/1st round, 3rd pick).
2006 Draft: Billy Rowell, 3b, Bishop Eustace HS, Pennsauken (Orioles/1st round, 9th pick).
2007 Draft: Rick Porcello, rhp, Seton Hall Prep, Chester (Tigers/1st round/27th pick).
2008 Draft: Jason Knapp, rhp, North Hunterdon HS, Annandale (Phillies/2nd round).
2009 Draft: Mike Trout, of, Millville HS (Angels/1st round, 25th pick).
2010 Draft: J.C. Menna, rhp, Brookdale CC (A’s/14th round).

Best Hitter: Carl Thomore, of, East Brunswick HS.
Best Power: A.J. Murray, c, Westfield HS.
Best Speed: John Norwood, of, Seton Hall Prep, Orange.
Best Defender: John Norwood, of, Seton Hall Prep, Orange.
Best Velocity: Kevin Comer, rhp, Seneca HS, Shamong.
Best Breaking Stuff: Kevin Comer, rhp, Seneca HS, Shamong.


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

1. CARL THOMORE, of, East Brunswick HS
5-tool potential, 6-2/210, + speed, strong OF tools, + bat speed (.493-2-22, 25 SB, only 2 K’s), ++ makeup.

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

2. KEVIN COMER, rhp, Seneca HS, Shamong
Top 2/3-round talent, but Vandy ride is complicating factor; FB 90-92/T-94, potential + CU, + pitchability.
3. A.J. MURRAY, c, Westfield HS
D-I FB linebacker, ++ strong athlete, power bat (.568-9-50), 6.9 runner in 60, catch/throw tools only fair.
4. JOHN NORWOOD, of, Seton Hall Prep, Orange
+ athlete at 6-2/190, CF tools, 6.50 runner, + arm/++ range, flashes bat speed/line-drive plane; Vandy signee.
5. JOSH AKE, ss, Hunterdon Central HS, Flemington
Polished all-around skills, RH bat, surprising pop with short/quick swing, 7.0 runner, quick-twitch defender.
6. BRANDON DOWNES, of, South Plainfield HS
Loose swing in 6-3/170 frame; pull approach, 15 HR as JR, pitched around as SR, 6.8 speed, + arm strength.
7. ALEX DeBELLIS, c/rhp , Pope John XXII, Kinnelon
5-11/205, + strong; + bat speed, crushes the ball; + arm strength, T-92 off the mound, raw receiving skills.
8. JAMES PUGLIESE, rhp, Mercer County JC (Fr.)
18-year-old FR; + improvement, low 90s FB, solid CU, projectable 6-3/195 frame, raw mechanics/command.
9. JOE DiROCCO, rhp, Rutgers (Sr.)
Quality SR sign (8-1, 1.68, 113 IP/78 SO); has 4 solid pitches, mixes them well with 91 FB, ++ competitor.
10. JORDAN GROSS, lhp, Don Bosco Prep, Franklin Lakes
Polished lefty, upper-80s FB/T-90, nice cutting life; big/deep CU, CH a WIP, proven winner, Tulane signee.

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