FORT MYERS, FL- The Bud Roth Tournament at Terry Park kicked off on Monday. All the games were rained out on Tuesday, but I was able to watch Bishop Verot third baseman Bobby Borchering (PGX #29), Mariner HS catcher Mike Zunino (#152), and Pendleton Academy catcher J.R. Murphy (#264) on Wednesday. Borchering and Zunino played each other on Clemente Field, while Murphy’s Pendleton club played against Eustis right next door on Brett Field. It was quite a scene as I joined a group of pro scouts who were rubbernecking between the two fields.
It was an opportunity to see two members of a very impressive Florida high school catching class. I’ve never seen this or any other state so loaded with high school catchers. Along with Zunino and Murphy, you have backstops like Steven Baron, Austin Maddox, and Mike Ohlman who each have the potential to go in the first two rounds next June.
Murphy is a 5-11, 180 righthanded hitter with a nearly mature, medium-sized frame. There’s slope to his shoulders and he’s well-built in his hips and lower-half. I can see him upwards of 200 with maturity and further weight training by the time he’s 23.
Two things stood out the most about Murphy: his bat and his very quick release behind the plate.
Murphy has jumped up a lot of Florida area scouts’ draft lists this spring because he’s such a polished hitter; it’s possible now that he goes in the first two rounds. I had only a brief look at him in the fall, so I was curious to see what the buzz was about. Murphy showed a very mature approach at the plate. While his projection and upside as a hitter will be questioned by scouts (as compared to, say, Bobby Borchering), he can hit in the present with just about anyone in high school.
Murphy went 3-3 with a double, a homerun, and a walk against mostly 80 MPH pitching. From the right side, he has a square stance and short stroke to the ball. During the homerun derby, he was much longer and his trigger had a wrap in it. But during the games, Murphy is compact with good reactions to the ball.
In his first at-bat, he stayed on a pitch out over the plate and drove a single to center field. In his second at-bat, Murphy jumped on a first-pitch inside fastball and hit a 400-foot homerun over the left field fence. In at-bat #3, he jumped on the second pitch and hit a double to the left-center field wall. In his last at-bat, Murphy took all six pitches and earned a walk.
I didn’t see him swing at one bad pitch. I didn’t see him swing and miss, come to think of it. And he never looked off-balance. His approach is quite advanced and he’s a guy who should adjust to rookie-ball quickly.
Scouts will question the bat projection because he’s nearly mature with his body and his hitting actions are not smooth or loose. Murphy swings with effort (much like a pitcher who throws with effort) and his body is relatively stiff as a hitter. It doesn’t look pretty. Of course, it’s the results that matter in the long run but smooth, loose actions are considered an indication of a high school hitter’s potential to improve. If he keeps hitting all the way up, no one will care.
Murphy has played in numerous Perfect Game Tournaments and at the 2006 Underclass Showcase, our scouts were already impressed with his polished approach at the plate. So it seems he’s been a pure hitter for a long time.
Defensively, I graded Murphy’s hands as average but his crouch as below-average. He didn’t seem real comfortable and a few times he was out of position to block balls. I do believe that with hard work he can make himself an adequate or average major league receiver.
Murphy has a true catcher’s throwing motion, releasing the ball right from his ear. He also has quick feet and what I graded out as 60 arm-strength from the pregame. His only pop-time in the game was a 2.08 where he got caught up and took an extra step (still throwing the runner out). I believe he can and will do better than that in the future and I’m not shy to project him as a plus thrower down the road.
My only running time on Murphy was a 4.64 on a turn in which he pulled up. Watching a stolen base attempt, I would have graded him as a 40-45 runner. It’s enough to make the outfield a possibility if his receiving doesn’t come around in the long run, but I think just about everyone will want him first as a catcher.
Murphy has signed with Miami.
Zunino, playing on the next field over, is a more polished receiver and I can project him as solid-average major league. Though he lacks Murphy’s plus arm-strength, his quick feet and accuracy make him a better present thrower. I pop-timed Zunino at 1.86 seconds during the game, though the runner was safe at second. He’s clearly well-schooled and I believe he’ll be a solid-average to plus major league catcher defensively.
The righthanded bat for the 6-2, 195 Zunino (I would have eye-balled him at 6-1, 190) is not polished. He showed easy raw loft power during the homerun derby, where he put on a show by hitting a series of bombs over the left field fence and across the street. Zunino doesn’t swing hard, but has a natural lift that sends the ball a long way. It reminded of when I watched B.J. Upton put on a BP show at Dolphin Stadium last summer. Zunino doesn’t have that kind of bat-speed, but his homerun balls have a similar path.
In the game, Zunino swung and missed a lot. He ended up going 0-4. He hit the ball hard in his first at-bat, flying out to left field after adjusting well to a curveball. In at-bat #2, Zunino moved a runner from second to third by flying out to right field on a low-and-outside pitch. He then grounded out to shortstop (4.44 time home-to-first) and in his last at-bat struck out swinging at three pitches, two of which were out of the strike zone.
Zunino has the tools to become a solid-average hitter. He projects for average bat-speed and plus raw power. And though he swung and missed at two curveballs, he took good swings and made adjustments on the next ones he saw I n that at-bat. I think he’ll be able to hit a big league curveball good enough. What he needs work on is his pitch selection and discipline, which can be improved with repetitions and effort.
At our PG National Showcase in Minneapolis last June, Zunino showed similar throwing ability and also ran a nice laser-timed 60 yard-dash (6.76). That speed and arm-strength would allow him to play other positions, namely third base and the outfield, if needed down the road If he doesn’t go pro this summer, Zunino has committed to the University of Florida. We have him projected in the first five rounds and I still see that as a good possibility if Zunino is signable there. His father, Greg, is the local area scout for the Cincinnati Reds.
This was my third time watching Bobby Borchering, who may be the best hitting prospect in the entire high school class. He’s not as polished as J.R. Murphy, but he’s exciting with plus present bat-speed and plus raw power from both sides of the plate that scouts can really dream about. There’s no effort in his swings, he just lets the bat fly. Borchering is well-balanced and has a sculpted 6-4, 215 build that looks great in a uniform. There is no good body comparison in the big leagues; he reminds me in proportion like Chipper Jones, but Borchering is stronger and will surely weigh in at a lean 240 or better by the time he’s physically matured.
He went 2-3 with a hits-batsmen batting righthanded all four times against Zunino’s Mariner HS team on Wednesday night. In his third at-bat, Borchering jumped on the first pitch, an inside fastball, and sent it over the left field fence for a homerun. He drilled a single to left field in his last at-bat.
Defensively, he made all the routine plays and one fairly difficult one in the hole. He showed the ability to right his feet and make an accurate throw to first. Borchering has gotten a little bit better at third base every time I’ve seen him. His reactions are a tad quicker and his glove-to-hand transfers are more crisp. Borchering has always had plus arm-strength, but he took a long time to get rid of it. Eventually, I think it will play out as plus at the big league level. I believe that most scouts see him as a future solid-average defender at the hot corner.
Borchering might be able to play the outfield, but he’s a below-average runner who’ll likely have below-average range. Some have thought of him as a catcher as well; a possibility, but it will take a lot of repetitions and a conversion would slow the development of his bat which has #3/#4 upside.
Borchering also came into pitch the last inning. Though his arm-strength is plus at third base, he was mostly in the mid-80s off the bump. He showed a big downward bite on his curve. Had Borchering always focused on pitching, he’d be a prospect but his future is much brighter with the bat.
Committed to the University of Florida, Borchering has a real shot at becoming a first-round pick this June.
Check back the next few days, I’ll stay in Fort Myers towatch Lipscomb University lefty Rex Brothers (#162) pitch at Florida Gulf Coast University on Friday night. Brothers has entered into early-round consideration with an impressive spring.