Feature Photo: Reggie Lawson, RHP, Victor Valley (Victorville, CA)
Welcome to the second installment of our Perfect Game Draft Pack, presented as part of 2080’s ongoing content partnership with Perfect Game USA.
This week’s Draft Pack features reports on three right-handers projected to come off the board in the first round of the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft, as well as OF Kyle Lewis and SS/3B Drew Mendoza, who also project as first-round candidates.
Reggie Lawson, RHP, Victor Valley (Victorville, CA)
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/190 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 18y, 10m
Commitment: Arizona State
Projected Draft Round: 1S-2
Lawson entered last summer as a well-known prospect whose size and obvious athleticism had marked him as early as his sophomore year as a potential elite level prospect. However, he’d spent the past two years pitching in the 87-89 mph range with his fastball and scouts were looking for him to take the next step in his raw stuff and physical development.
They got that improvement and more, as Lawson was one of the most impressive pitcher’s on the 2015 summer circuit and moved himself into the top 10 in the Perfect Game 2016 class rankings at No. 9 overall. Lawson’s performance at the summer opening PG National Showcase set the tone for his entire summer and fall. Here are PG scout Brian Sakowski’s raw notes from his outing.
“Extra long, lean frame with high level physical projection, wide receiver build, very quick arm, very long levers, whippy arm speed, downhill very well with excellent angle, high three-quarters slot, very easy arm speed, some hook in arm action but nothing violent, online to plate, picturesque mechanics, pounding the bottom of the zone at 91-93 with solid life, two-seamer at 87-89 with hard run and sink, so much life it almost acts like a CH, showing excellent feel for CB with excellent snap and depth, potential plus pitch, lots of whiffs and weak contact otherwise, just a very impressive outing.”
If anything, Lawson improved on that outing as the summer progressed and he gained more confidence in his abilities against high level hitters. He had an appearance at the Area Code Games that was as dominant as any outing I saw all summer, including an inning when he struck out three quality hitters on 11 pitches, just about every one of which was a plus big league offering. And he capped it all off by serving as the starter for the West squad at the 2015 Perfect Game All-American Classic.
Lawson is a humble, smiling and soft-spoken young man off the field, but as the summer went on you could see in his approach on the mound that he’d developed an edge and confidence in his actions and it showed in how he attacked hitters. He finished off his year by going 2-1, 2.70 with 16 strikeouts and only two walks in 13 2/3 innings for the USA 18u Junior National Team in September.
Aside from his confidence and performance, two other things stand out about Lawson. The first is that he’s a really good athlete. He’s hit .414-9-48 in his high school career and has the body and athletic grace to be a successful basketball player. Anytime a scout can describe a pitcher’s mechanics as “picturesque,” one knows right away that you are talking about a very good athlete as well.
Secondly, while Lawson already hits most of positive check marks for a top pitching prospect – throwing strikes with velocity with his fastball, spinning the ball, making his fastball move, maintaining his mechanics – he almost defines projectability in a young pitcher. He’s an 18-year-old pitcher who makes you very anxious to see how good he can be when he’s 22-years-old and 6-foot-4, 205-pounds with the same delivery and arm action. –David Rawnsley
Dakota Hudson, RHP, Mississippi St. Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/215 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 21y, 9m
Projected Draft Round: 1
It’s fitting to have both Kyle Lewis (detailed below) and Dakota Hudson in the same group of Draft Packs as Hudson used the Cape Cod League this past summer for as much of a springboard up the ranks as Lewis did. The only difference between the two is that Hudson didn’t enter the summer with as high of expectations simply due to the fact that he didn’t have the type of track record or success at the collegiate level that Lewis did. In fact, Hudson entered the summer with 34 career innings under his belt, a number he has already surpassed this year.
And don’t be mistaken, Hudson’s rise isn’t completely out of right field as he was up to 91 mph at the 2012 WWBA World Championship, participated in the East Coast Pro Showcase, was ranked No. 238 nationally and was ultimately drafted in the 36th round by the Texas Rangers in the 2013 MLB Draft. Having added roughly 15-20 pounds since stepping foot on campus, Hudson’s always shown the big raw stuff but he had trouble commanding it through the zone with an ERA around 4.50 for his first two years.
Fast forward to last summer however and things started to click for the 6-foot-5 righthander as he ranked among the top arms in the league and blew past his inning total from the previous two years, throwing 42 2/3 innings for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks. It was while on the Cape that he appeared ready to handle the transition from the bullpen, where he spent the past two years, to the starting rotation where he has flourished with success this spring.
Getting better start-by-start, inning-by-inning, Hudson’s pinnacle outing came last weekend at Vanderbilt in front a who’s who crowd and the ace righthander spun nine innings with a single unearned run for the Bulldogs. Not only did he keep a loaded offense in check, he pounded the strike zone, issuing just two walks, while showing the ability to miss barrels and carry his premium stuff deep into the outing.
Throughout last summer and into this spring it’s become customary for Hudson to work in the mid-90s with his fastball, bumping as high as 97 mph and showing the ability to carry that deep into an outing courtesy of his strongly built 6-foot-5 build. Any of those doubts about Hudson being able handle as starting role have quickly been erased.
He also much more than just a premium velocity guy as Hudson’s cutter was a particularly strong pitch last summer and he’s continued to add velocity to it, working in the 89-92 mph range with hard, late-biting life while proving to be a true present plus pitch. The fastball/cutter combo have helped Hudson see his stock rise to a potential top-10 selection, with the potential for higher, and he’ll also show both a changeup and curveball, though sparingly, to round out a full four-pitch mix. –Jheremy Brown
Kyle Lewis, OF, Mercer Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/210 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 20y, 11m
Projected Draft Round: 1
Heading into last summer Mercer’s Kyle Lewis was a name to know for the upcoming draft, though it wasn’t clear just what type of draft he was going to be. He definitely put up numbers for the Bears last spring as he was among the nation’s leaders in home runs despite being just a sophomore, but he also had a couple points to his game that would arise when his name was brought up. The two that may have been brought up most frequently was that there was swing-and-miss to the profile and the level of competition in which he faced during the spring.
The latter of those two questions could be thrown out rather quickly after the type of numbers he was putting up on the Cape while swinging wood against some of the best that college baseball had to offer. Lewis jumped off to a torrid start in Massachusetts, and though he slowed towards the end of the summer, he still finished with a .300 average connecting for seven home runs and left a lasting impression in the minds of everybody who caught a glimpse.
In terms of the swing and miss, Lewis has taken care of that this spring as he’s currently at a ratio of 2-to-1 for walks to strikeouts, just one of the numerous video game type stats he has put together 21 games into the year. His triple slash is absurd at .458/.579/.880 to go along with his nine home runs, and the physical tools are arguably more impressive than the statistics.
Beginning with the frame, Lewis stands at 6-foot-4, 210-pounds with a high waist, broad shoulders and just oozes athleticism. Simply put, it’s not a frame you see in college baseball. That athleticism translates between the lines too, and while he plays center field for Mercer, he profiles more as a right fielder at the next level where he performed just fine last summer.
It would be hard to find anybody in the country that could rival the explosiveness that Lewis shows in his hands and they’re a big factor in the plus bat speed he’s able to generate. And despite having some length to his swing he’s able to get the barrel to the ball with regularity while showing easy power to all parts of the field. With that aforementioned hand and bat speed he’s able to let the ball get deep in the zone while showing a direct and fluid bat path. Having already put on 20 pounds since last spring and still showing room to additional growth, it’s scary to think what he could end up becoming. –Jheremy Brown
Forrest Whitley, RHP, Alamo Heights (San Antonio, TX)
Ht/Wt: 6’7”/225 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 18y, 9m
Commitment: Florida State
Projected Draft Round: 1
Already at the start of last summer, Forrest Whitley had a big reputation in the scouting community. His fastball was regularly reaching the mid-90, and at the time he was listed at 6-foot-7, 250-pounds, adding the “everything is bigger in Texas” to his look on the mound. Whitley fit comfortably into the recent standard of XXL Texas high school righthanders that has included Noah Syndergaard, Tyler Kolek and Luken Baker, among others, in recent years.
Unfortunately at that size, Whitley didn’t have the athleticism to repeat his delivery well and throw either consistent strikes with his fastball or have any consistency with his breaking stuff. The velocity was huge but the rest of the package struggled.
Throughout the course of the summer, Whitley’s athleticism and delivery changed significantly. By the end of the summer he was one of the better 2016 pitching prospects in the country, regularly throwing 92 to 94 mph, but more importantly, showing the ability to pitch with a distinct four-pitch mix. The quality of his slider, curveball and changeup improved along with his confidence in using them. Whitley capped it off by going 1-1, 0.87 with 18 strikeouts and only two walks allowed in 10 2/3 innings with the USA 18u National Team in September.
During the rest of the fall and winter, Whitley continued to build on that improvement by going on a workout and weight loss regimen that has shocked and pleased scouts at the same time. By the time Whitley threw in a big preseason workout for scouts in January, he’d lost 30-40 pounds from his peak weight less than a year before and looked and acted like an entirely different athlete on the mound. His fastball also sat 94 to 97 mph for two innings at that workout, with one scout saying he didn’t throw a single pitch under 94 on his gun the entire time.
In a scenario that likely wasn’t possible a year before, Whitley had a small set back in early February when he broke a finger on his non-throwing hand when he slipped and awkwardly braced himself while doing box jumps during a 6:00 a.m. workout before school. He didn’t return to the mound until mid-March and was reportedly 90-94 during that first well-attended outing. With three months left to get back in game shape, after spending the better part of the year getting in athletic shape, there is plenty of time for Whitley to show his potential first round stuff the rest of the spring. –David Rawnsley
Drew Mendoza, SS/3B, Lake Minneola (Minneola, FL)
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/200 | B/T: L/R | Age (as of draft date):18y, 7m
Commitment: Florida State
Projected Draft Round: 1
Mendoza started playing in Perfect Game events for the Orlando Scorpions before he started his freshman year in high school and has been a highly regarded prospect ever since. Initially, the tall and lean two-sport athlete (Mendoza averaged 12.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this year in basketball) was thought to be a higher ceiling pitching prospect by many scouts, including this one. He regularly pitched in the 86 to 88 mph range in 2013 coming out of his freshman year and topped out at 91 mph the next summer. However, Mendoza has rarely pitched since then either for the Scorpions or for his Lake Minneola High School team.
Instead, it’s been Mendoza’s lefthanded bat that has developed. He has always shown power, with a loose and strong swing with very good extension through contact and memorably hit two home runs in a playoff game during the 2014 WWBA Underclass World Championship.
That power really started to come into play last spring. Mendoza was hitting .431-6-23 through 15 high school games, including two home runs in a very heavily scouted game against righthander Brady Singer, who would eventually be picked 56th overall in the 2015 draft by the Blue Jays. Immediately after that performance got the scouting world buzzing, Mendoza broke his left wrist when he was hit by a pitch and missed much of the next three months. Despite the injury, Mendoza was an easy choice for the PG All-American Classic.
When Mendoza did return in the middle of the summer it was obvious and entirely expected that he didn’t have full strength in his wrist and he wasn’t able to drive the ball with full authority. In many ways that handicap actually helped him in scouts’ eyes. Mendoza showed advanced barrel-to-ball skills despite the layoff and consistently drove the ball hard to both gaps the rest of the summer. The polish and maturity he showed at the plate was impressive and it was easy to dream about where those doubles would be going when he was fully healthy.
Mendoza has played primarily at third base defensively during the summers, both at showcases and tournaments, and even went through a period of playing first base for the Scorpions due to team positional needs. He does play shortstop in the spring, however, and scouts have been very intrigued this spring with the thoughts that he might be able to stay at shortstop despite his size due to his overall athleticism. One scout has pointed out to me that Mendoza’s basketball skills and background come into play at shortstop because of the way he’s able to move laterally to get in front of the ball, a very common action on the basketball court.
This brings up a very intriguing comparison from the recent past. The Dodgers’ Corey Seager was almost the exact same size in high school as Mendoza and was also a polished lefthanded hitter with lots of power potential. Seager, too, played third base almost exclusively on the summer circuit while in high school but has managed to stay at shortstop as a professional, thus making his bat all the much more valuable.
To take the comparison a step further, Seager went with 18th-overall pick to the Dodgers in the 2012 draft. The talk in the scouting community right now is that Mendoza should go just about in the same middle of the first round area as Seager was drafted in and might go even a couple of notches higher. –David Rawnsley