Draft : : State Preview
Saturday, April 21, 2012

State Preview: Mississippi

Ben Collman        
Photo: Perfect Game

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 scouting reports on all Group 1 and 2 players as ranked in Perfect Game's state-by-state scouting lists.

Contributing: David Rawnsley/Allan Simpson

Mississippi State-by-State List
2011 Mississippi Overview

Mississippi’s 2011 prep class was labeled the deepest and strongest in the state’s draft history, and with every top prospect spurning an offer to turn pro immediately in favor of attending in-state colleges, that scenario could be repeated in 2014 at the college level.

This year, things are pretty much back to normal as the 2012 Mississippi draft class fits the state’s recent trends almost to a “T.” As usual, the state is strong in two areas: highly-athletic high-school outfielders, and college pitching.

The top college arm is Mississippi State righthander Chris Stratton, a potential third- to fourth-rounder at the start of the season who has rocketed up draft boards this spring and barged his way into the first round. He signaled his arrival as a prime-time prospect when he went head-to-head with Louisiana State’s Kevin Gausman in the opening game of the Southeastern Conference season and outpitched one of the draft’s leading candidates to go first overall by striking out 17. He has only cemented his top-round status since by ranking second nationally with 88 strikeouts 66 innings.

The two high-school outfielders earning high-round grades are Petal High’s Anthony Alford and Stone County High’s D.J. Davis, and they rank as two of the more-intriguing athletes in the nation’s entire prep class. Alford’s draft status is somewhat tentative as he is heavily-committed to playing football at Southern Mississippi, and he could fall right out of consideration as a result.

Davis, meanwhile, has been one of the draft’s fastest risers with his combination of blazing speed and power potential, and like Stratton had his own coming-out game this spring before dozen of scouts when he launched two mammoth home runs.

Mississippi in a nutshell:

Athletic high-school outfielders.
WEAKNESS: College position players.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 3.

BEST HIGH SCHOOL TEAM: Oak Grove HS, Hattiesburg.

PROSPECT ON THE RISE: D.J. Davis, of, Stone County HS, Wiggins.
It is difficult to find a review of Davis’ performance this spring that isn’t glowing. A little-known prospect before last summer’s East Coast Professional Baseball Showcase, Davis ran an event-best 6.38 seconds in the 60. He then showcased his blinding speed and reckless abandon on the bases by hitting .375 with a tournament-leading five stolen bases at the World Wood Bat Association fall championship in Jupiter, Fla., in October. From all reports, he has only continued to get better in all phases of his game this spring, and gave a graphic demonstration of his evolving power potential when he slammed a pair of long home runs in a game before the watchful eyes of some 50 scouts, including several scouting directors and prominent front-office officials.

WILD CARD: Anthony Alford, of, Petal HS
. While Davis’ name was virtually unknown until last summer/fall, both baseball scouts and football recruiters have been familiar with Alford for years. He led Petal High to Mississippi 6-A state baseball titles as both a sophomore and junior, and is even better-known as one of the top dual-threat quarterback prospects in the country. His football commitment to Southern Mississippi significantly complicates his chances of being an early-round selection in the baseball draft in June, and big-league clubs may ultimately determine he is too high a risk to warrant spending a premium pick. Alford’s chances of passing up football are considered all the more unlikely because his former football coach at Petal High is now an assistant at USM, and he’s also a close friend of the son of Golden Eagles baseball coach Scott Berry

BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Mississippi Connection:
Lex Rutledge, lhp, Samford University (Attended high school in Tupelo).
Top 2013 Prospect: Bobby Wahl, rhp, University of Mississippi.
Top 2014 Prospect: Connor Barron, ss, University of Southern Mississippi.


Draft History: Will Clark, 1b, Mississippi State University (1985, Giants/first round, 2nd pick).
2006 Draft: Chris Coghlan, 3b, University of Mississippi (Marlins/1st round, 36th pick).
2007 Draft: Wendell Fairley, of, George County HS, Lucedale (Giants/1st round, 29th pick).
2008 Draft: Lance Lynn, rhp, University of Mississippi (Cardinals/1st round, 39th pick).
2009 Draft: Billy Hamilton, ss, Taylorsville HS (Reds/2nd round).
2010 Draft: Drew Pomeranz, lhp, University of Mississippi (Indians/1st round, 5th pick).
2011 Draft: Conner Barron, ss, Sumrall HS (Marlins/3rd round).


College Players Drafted/Signed:
Junior College Players Drafted/Signed: 3/2.
High School Players Drafted/Signed: 10/1.


Best Athlete:
Anthony Alford, of, Petal HS.
Best Hitter: Alex Yarbrough, 2b, University of Mississippi.
Best Power: Matt Snyder, 1b, University of Mississippi.
Best Speed: D.J. Davis, of, Stone County HS, Wiggins.
Best Defender: D.J. Davis, of, Stone County HS, Wiggins.
Best Velocity: Chris Stratton, rhp, Mississippi State University.
Best Breaking Stuff: Chris Stratton, rhp, Mississippi State University.
Best Pitchability: Kendal Graveman, rhp, Mississippi State University.


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

1. CHRIS STRATTON, rhp, Mississippi State University (Jr.).
Stratton stamped himself as a legitimate first-round candidate when he went head-to-head with LSU righthander Kevin Gausman in the opening game of the Southeastern Conference schedule, and outpitched one of the top candidates to go No. 1 overall. Stratton struck out 17 in 8-2/3 innings, while walking two and allowing four hits. His fastball was a steady 92-94 mph, peaking at 95, but the difference-maker in his dominant outing was a nasty 85-87 mph slider, a pitch that he added to his repertoire in just the last year. Stratton has also resorted this spring to emphasizing a two-seam fastball vs. a four-seamer, and has responded by going 7-0, 2.71 with 88 strikeouts in 66 innings, while walking 16 and allowing just 49 hits. His performance to date has been a significant upgrade from his first two seasons at Mississippi State, when he served as a weekend starter but went only a combined 10-10, 5.25 with 152 strikeouts in 154 innings. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Stratton has an ideal pitcher’s frame. He also has a quick arm and a very easy, clean delivery that he repeats consistently. Stratton has always had a good feel for pitching and adapted well in the fall to changes in his style and approach to his craft. The addition of a slider not only provided him a second dominant pitch, but essentially solidified his case to be a starter down the road as he now has four solid pitches for the role, including a curve and changeup as his No. 3 and 4 pitches.

2. D.J. DAVIS, of, Stone Mountain HS, Wiggins.
Davis, who is from the same small southern Mississippi town that produced major leaguer Fred Lewis, has jumped up draft boards this spring with his combination of raw speed and power potential. His skills are still at an elementary stage of development, but his speed grades out as an easy 80 on the traditional scouting scale and enables him to run down balls in center field and steal bases at will; his power from the left side has evolved into a serious tool, as well. Davis showed quick hands and the strength to drive balls last fall, and that has translated into over-the-fence power this year as he has added more loft to his swing. Scouts envision the 6-foot, 170-pound Davis as a Kenny Lofton-type player with enough pull pop for 10-15 home runs and 50 stolen bases annually.

3. ANTHONY ALFORD, of, Petal HS.
Alford has all the athleticism befitting a top dual-threat quarterback recruit, and some scouts are even comparing his raw ability to a young Bo Jackson. He grades out as a well-above-average runner, but his 6-foot-2 and 210 pound frame is built more for power. He has very strong hands, and is short and quick to the ball. His athleticism is also evident in his outfield play. For all his talent, scouts are unsure of Alford’s pure baseball ability as he has never played many innings in his career against high-level competition. He was slowed by an injury in his junior year and has never been a factor on the summer showcase circuit due to numerous football camps and commitments. While Alford’s potential as a baseball player should be substantial if he decides to focus on that sport, the new draft system in place makes it unlikely that a team will lure him away from with the enticement of a substantial bonus.

4. ALEX YARBROUGH, 2b, University of Mississippi (Jr.).
The switch-hitting Yarbrough batted a modest .268-3-21 for Cotuit of the Cape Cod League last summer, but had the best approach to hitting on the team and excellent balance at the plate from both sides. The numbers he has posted in Southeastern Conference play the last two years (.350-7-38 as a sophomore; .417-3-34 thus far this spring) are more indicative of his ability as a hitter. Yarbrough’s bigger issues have always been his lack of speed on the bases and range in the field. He played mostly shortstop earlier in his college career and was utilized all over the infield last summer, to mixed reviews, but appears to have found a home at second base at Ole Miss as a junior. While committing just one error through games of mid-April, Yarbrough has impressed scouts with his soft hands and advanced instincts. He capably makes every kind of play that he can get to, and overcomes most of his limitations defensively with his understanding of hitters and where to position himself.

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

5. DYLAN CHAVEZ, LHP, University of Mississippi (Jr.)
A California product, Chavez didn’t particularly distinguish himself as a freshman at St. Mary’s (1-1, 6.45) or sophomore at American River JC (2-5, 4.80), but has been extremely steady as a junior for Ole Miss (3-2, 3.42, 26 IP, 4 BB/28 SO), working in a set-up role. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound lefty has brought virtually the same stuff—an 89-92 mph fastball, 79-81 slider and changeup—to the mound on a recurring basis this spring, and thrived with his advanced feel for pitching. He has just enough funkiness in his delivery to disrupt the timing of hitters, but not enough to raise any red flags about his arm action. Chavez is a solid competitor and profiles as a lefthanded specialist and/or set-up man at the next level.

6. WADE WASS, c/3b, Meridian CC (So.).
Wass, an Alabama recruit, is the premier catching prospect in the nation’s junior-college ranks. An offensive player first, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Wass has pounded the ball at a .449-18-55 clip through Meridian’s first 44 games—a significant upgrade from an impressive .370-11-39 freshman campaign, when he was primarily an outfielder. Wass has expanded his offensive production this spring, even as he has been on a crash course to learn the finer points of catching. By all accounts, he has taken well to the position and greatly improved his catching skills throughout the course of the spring under the guidance of Meridian coach Chris Curry, a catcher in his playing days.

7. ZACH IRWIN, lhp, Madison Central HS, Madison.
At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Irwin is a big, strong, physically-mature lefthander who comes from the same high school that produced 2010 first rounder Ryan Bolden, as well as Josh Laxer, a 20th-rounder last year who is now at Ole Miss. Irwin is also a Rebels commit, and could join Laxer in the Rebels rotation next year. Irwin has worked mostly in the high-80s, topping at 92 mph, and has shown good pitchability with his curve and change.

8. ZACHARY BIRD, rhp, Murrah HS, Jackson.
A long, projectable righty at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, Bird is young for his class as he won’t turn 18 until a month after the draft. Not only does Bird pass the eye test, but he is unusually athletic for a pitcher his size as he has run the 60 in as low as 6.83 seconds. He is long-limbed in his tall, lean frame and throws on a nice downhill plane. Bird’s fastball has touched 91 mph this spring and he’ll flash three off-speed pitches. An excellent student, Bird may be a longshot to sign with his strong college commitment to Southern Miss, but he could be an attractive arm in three years.

9. CHRISTIAN KEENE, of, Brookhaven Academy, Brookhaven.
Keene is a prototypical lean 6-foot-3, 195-pound athlete who does it all for his high school. He ranks as one of the best wide receivers in the state, has played basketball for three years and also both pitches as well as playing center field. Keene’s baseball ability never really surfaced until this spring, but he has been quick to impress scouts with his big, strong frame and superior athletic ability. He has solid-average speed and arm strength, but it is his raw power potential that most excites scouts. He has a smooth swing with strength and pop to the pull side, and should develop more power as his body fills out. With limited college options, he could end up becoming the second high-school player from Mississippi drafted—especially if Anthony Alford (No. 3) slides because of his heavy football commitment.

10. MATT SYNDER, 1b, University of Mississippi (Sr.)
Both Matt Snyder and his twin brother Mike have an impressive baseball background, as their dad, ex-big leaguer Brian, and their older brother Brandon, a former first-rounder, have professional experience.  At 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, Matt continues to show flashes of his huge raw power and ability to hit with authority over extended stretches. As a senior, he is hitting .374-7-41, and leads Ole Miss in RBIs. Though he has a shot to significantly improve on his draft standing as a junior, when he was selected in the 44th round by the Nationals, Snyder has never quite fulfilled expectations in college because of injuries. He dislocated his shoulder in 2010 as a sophomore and had surgery that summer, and his career nearly ended last summer when he was hit in the face by a pitch in a Valley League game and sustained a fractured cheekbone and shattered orbital bone.


R.J. HIVELY, rhp, University of Mississippi (Sr.).
By starting his career at Cal State Fullerton and subsequently transferring to a California junior college and on to Ole Miss, Hively has followed essentially the same career path as teammate Dylan Chavez (No. 5). After producing just a 1-2, 7.85 record in 18 innings as a junior, and going undrafted, Hively has thrived this spring as the Rebels’ Saturday starter, going 3-3, 3.35 with 11 walks and 62 strikeouts in 51 innings. But even as he has produced similar results and has relatively similar stuff as Chavez, it may be a stretch for Hively to join Chavez in the top 10 rounds as he comes from the right side, Chavez from the left. Hively’s fastball has been clocked up to 95 mph in the fast (in 2010, when he was drafted in the 26th round by the Yankees), but it has been a steady 89-92 mph this spring and he has relied extensively on his slider as his strikeout pitch.

CHASE NYMAN, ss, Pascagoula HS
A summer showcase and tournament veteran, Nyman was a steady top offensive performer for the Marucci Elite program for the last three years. His senior year at Pascagoula High has not been as productive as hoped, however, as he has been pitched around extensively, but the 6-foot, 185-pound, lefthanded-hitting Nyman profiles as an offensive second baseman. Nyman showed good pull pop in summer ball, and was equally content lining balls to both gaps, something he did consistently well against high-level pitching.

GEOFF THOMAS, rhp, Belhaven College (Jr.)
An unsigned 12th-round draft pick of the Astros out of a Georgia high school in 2009, Thomas appeared to be making significant headway as a pitching prospect at Southern Mississippi, especially after going 10-3, 3.09 as a sophomore. But he was declared academically ineligible after the season and ended up at Belhaven, an up-and-coming NAIA program that set a school record for wins in 2011. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Thomas has gone 3-4, 4.34 this spring, but has better stuff than his numbers may indicate.
Copyright 1994-2018 by Perfect Game. All rights reserved. No portion of this information may be reprinted or reproduced without the written consent of Perfect Game.