This year, MLB and USA Baseball teamed up to form the Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) League in order to make an official event to identify and help develop the top amateur players in the nation. Eighty of the best high school players from around the country were chosen to participate at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Here are some notes and evaluations on my standouts from the event in early July.
Austin Hendrick – OF, West Allegheny HS (PA)
Hendrick was perhaps the biggest name at the entire PDP event. Watching Hendrick hit, the first thing that jumped out to me was that he had rehauled his set up and entire lower half initiation-to-swing. He has replaced a triple toe tap with a simple leg lift and widened his base, now standing less upright. This is all for the better in my opinion; the less wasted movement the better. He most likely changed it at some point during the event, as you can see the older stance here from just a couple weeks prior at the PG National.
Other than the obvious new stance, the one thing that jumps of the page at you with Hendrick is his lightning-quick bat speed. It is special; a true double-plus. There’s not much to nitpick about his swing. There is a bat wrap but it doesn’t lengthen his swing as the position of his hands and bat stay generally in front of his head and body. Although it doesn’t lengthen the swing, it does sometimes cause timing issues. The pre-swing waggle, with the end of the barrel pointing at the pitcher, does sometimes lead him to him getting caught in between leaving his wrists locked up to an extent. When the waggle is on time, Hendrick has overall good rhythm with loose, quick wrists that generate tremendous whip. This could just be a minor adjustment thing that will click as he continues to get used to the rehaul of his lower half and timing mechanisms. He is also a very advanced hitter for his age, working every at-bat and picking up spin well.
As you might expect with the big-time power, Hendrick’s game does still come with a lot of swing and miss that he’ll need to sure up. He doesn’t get cheated, but I wouldn’t say he necessarily sells out for power. He looks to be a solid average runner and a corner may be his best future fit. Just looks different in the box and everyone on the field and dugout knows it. Hendrick will be one of the most tantalizing names over the next year and it will be interesting to continue to watch the adjustments he makes.
Ed Howard – SS, Mount Carmel HS (IL)
Perhaps the most impressive player I saw at the event. Howard has a very athletic build with already present muscle and strength. He’s high-waisted with tree trunks for legs. Howard has a slightly open stance with a medium-wide base. The swing is very sound for a prep player. Short, simple stride. Little wasted movement to go along with double-plus bat speed and a direct path to the ball. Very simple and repeatable swing mechanics. Laced balls to all fields. Howard is the perfect mix of being aggressive on pitches in the zone while not chasing.
He also showed plus range and at least average arm strength on a play in the hole. Has the tools to stick at short. Very exciting profile with potential for 60 power as a shortstop. I will have a keen eye on Howard this fall, as he has the potential to be a top 10 pick come next June.
Dax Fulton – LHP, Mustang HS (OK)
Imposing 6’6” 220-pound lefty. Long levers. Body looks like it already has strength with room for even more. Controlled his fastball on a hard downhill plane from a high over-the-top slot, operating from 90-92. Got away with missing spots at times with heater. Threw a curve with 12-6 shape in the 76-78 range. Tunneled and commanded breaker superbly. Fulton exhibited confidence with his curve and used it to start out the count and put Austin Hendrick in a 0-2 hole. He showed the ability drop it in the zone in any count. It is a potential future plus pitch that plays very well off of the fastball. Showed impressive pitch sequencing for such a young pitcher. Threw changeup very sparingly but flashed at least average. Repeated delivery well. Comes to a good point of balance prior to release. Stands rather straight up with little back bend during follow through which is not really a cause of concern for me at the moment. With continued improvement of command, I can definitely see Fulton being a major dude.
A.J. Vukovich – 3B/OF, East Troy HS (WI)
I would have loved to see more of Vukovich, but lightning delays prevailed. He physically looks like a man amongst boys, listed at 6’5” 210. Starts from a medium base with weight on backside. Vukovich times his swing with a high leg kick while maintaining good balance on back leg prior to swing. However, after front foot strike, the back leg collapses, leaving the upper half responsible for most of the power. Easy plus bat speed. Runs very well for size, clocking average run times. Hit a home run (right-center) and triple in my viewing. If he can get his lower half more involved and in sync, his already huge power could get better. Reminds me of an extremely young and raw Kris Bryant. He has played some third as well as centerfield. I will have my eye on Vukovich as he continues to grow into his body and develop.
Charez Butcher – RHP, Kokomo HS (IN)
Very athletic build with high waist and strong legs. The first thing you notice with Butcher is how effortless the delivery is. Has a loose, long arm action. Lifts leg to hip level. Sort of collapses/deaccelerates back leg after release. Could get a lot more power with some refinement. Gets good extension at release. Fastball sat 89-92 and was relatively straight. Missed arm side with location frequently. Did not throw much offspeed at all. Butcher was apparently up to 96 a couple weeks prior at the PG National. He’s a guy that is extremely raw and needs work, especially on his secondaries, but I can envision him being a guy that adds even more velocity as he grows as a pitcher and finds how to utilize his body completely, perhaps eventually sitting in the mid-90s. Always bet on the athlete.
Enrique Bradfield – OF, American Heritage School (FL)
Extremely slender, twitchy athlete listed 6’0” 155. Drove the ball the other way every time a pitch on the outer half was delivered. Very aggressive hitter. Starts from wide base with low and relaxed hands. Shifts weight to back leg and ends up in an even wider base during initiation of swing. Bradfield’s bat speed grades around average. Gets out front and slappy at times. Blazed a 3.78 to first on a bunt, 4.00 on a grounder, and 11.25 to third on a triple. Long strider that runs like a gazelle. True, easy 70 grade speed. Bradfield may not offer much in the power department, but he is a very exciting player that could be a spark plug at the top a lineup.
Liam Norris – LHP, Green Hope HS (NC)
Tall, strong frame. During the outing, Norris pounded the lower quadrant of the zone with his fastball sitting 88-91, touching 93. The lefty’s fastball was impressive enough, with heavy sink and run. I unfortunately didn’t get to see much of his offspeed during the brief outing, but he did flash a tight slider at 84 that graded at least average. Norris repeated his free and athletic delivery with plus extension. He also hid the ball very well before releasing from a high 3/4 slot. Would like to see more of Norris in future in a more extended outing to see how his secondaries plays off the fastball.
Alex Freeland – SS/3B, Mariner HS (FL)
Freeland was already on my radar after he caught my eye in October in Jupiter, showing impressive bat-to-ball skills from both sides of the plate. I was impressed enough to include him in my write-up amongst other 2019 eligible bats (https://www.prospectslive.com/mlb-draft/2018/11/13/live-looks-top-10-bats-jupiter-showcase). It was more of the same in my second viewing. The swing is a bit stiff, especially from the right side, but the consistency of barreling balls up is still evident.
At present, the swing from the left side looks more loose and relaxed in opposition to the right side. Should have considerably more pop from the left side with a barrel path much more conducive to power. There are some minor adjustments I would like to see. After load in his lefty stroke, everything comes crashing forward causing his head to move forward a good 8-12 inches, which could give the illusion of pitches having higher perceived velocity. Softer foot strike and less violent initiation to swing may benefit. From the right side, his swing is more line drive oriented with a shorter leg lift. There is little movement in the positioning of his hands before and after load.
Along with showing a good idea for the zone, Freeland showed the ability to make small adjustments with two strikes, shortening his stride and swing. Although Freeland did punch out a couple times in my viewing, he strikes me as a grinder and a tough strikeout that will always be able to hit despite not always having the most aesthetically pleasing swing. He does look to have below-average speed and has played a lot at third base during showcase events, with it looking like his most likely future home.
Drew Romo – C, The Woodlands HS (TX)
Romo is probably the best catching prospect in the class as of now. Good catcher’s build. Athletic with present strength. Looks natural behind the plate with soft hands and receiving skills. I didn’t get any pop times, but he did show some arm strength on snap throws behind runners. Romo is a patient, yet not timid hitter. Looks more relaxed from the left side. High back elbow. Clean weight transfer and load. Took a pitch that was a couple inches off the plate off the left field wall. Very aesthetically pleasing swing and short finish from left side. May not offer as much power from the right side but swing is shorter and more conducive for contact. Can get caught out front at times. Romo could be a very exciting player with a shining catching skillset as the bat continues to develop.
Brandon Fields – OF, Dr. Phillips HS (FL)
Short, but very muscular, athletic build. Medium base with toe tap timing. Does a sufficient job of keeping his weight on backside throughout swing. Excellent hip rotation. The thing that really impressed me with Fields was how short and lightning quick to the ball he is. The bat path is extremely short and packs a punch. Above-average runner (run times in the 4.2’s). Fields is an exciting profile with power bat that could end up sticking in center.
Kyle Harrison – LHP, De La Salle HS (CA)
A UCLA commit, Harrison had one of the most impressive outings at the PDP event. The lefty’s fastball sat 89-91, touching 92 with big time running life. Harrison does a great job tunneling his curveball off the heater. Operating in the high 70s, is his best pitch at present. Already a plus offering, it shows consistent 1-7 shape with tight spin and late, hard bite. Potential for a future 70 grade pitch. As if the the fastball-curve combo weren’t impressive enough, he also showed a changeup in the low-80s with fading life and sink. Harrison showed the ability to use both offspeed offerings as putout pitches.
He is more control over command at the moment, at times missing sides of the plate as many prep pitchers do. However, there were glimpses of utilizing his running heater to backdoor lefties and pound the corners. Harrison’s delivery shows moderate effort. His arm action aligns with his torso for the entirety of his delivery until his 3/4 release making it difficult to pick up. He has a knee-to-chest leg kick with the glove raising high and lowering simultaneously with leg as if attached to a string in a less-exaggerated Kershaw fashion. After release, delivery is a bit jerky and stiff with moderate head whack. Gets above-average extension to plate. Harrison should be one of the premier arms available in 2020 with the potential for three plus pitches.
Jack Bulger – C, Dematha Catholic HS (MD)
Stout, muscular build with visible strength in legs and forearms. Excellent frame for a catcher. Patient hitter although I would like to see him a tad more aggressive in the zone. Starts from a very traditional set up at the plate. Electric bat speed. Utilizes his strong legs and hips in swing. Gunned down four runners in a seven inning game. Pop times were in the 2-flat range with the best being a 1.97. Bulger has an above-average arm along with a very quick transfer. There’s really no question whether or not he will stick behind the plate. Bulger is very well-rounded for a prep catching prospect and should be dueling it out with names like Romo and Parada for top backstop in the class.