Feature Photo: Austin Bergner, RHP
Windermere Prep (Windermere, FL)
Welcome to week four of 2080’s Perfect Game Draft Pack Series. This week, PG’s David Rawnsley compares a Georgia high school outfielder to Jayson Heyward, and Jheremy Brown profiles a North Carolina Tar Heel right-hander who pairs pinpoint command of his fastball with a true swing-and-miss cutter, and projects to go as high as the second round. Enjoy the latest profiles from PG evaluators as the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft draws near.
Will Benson, OF/1B, The Westminster Schools (Atlanta, GA)
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/225 | B/T: L/L | Age (as of draft date): 17y, 11m
Projected Draft Round: 1S-2
Every year there are a couple of top baseball prospects that look, in physical appearance and tools, like they missed their calling as a future football standout. With apologies to Kansas shortstop Nonie Williams, who looks and tests out like a future NFL safety, the top NFL body in the 2016 class belongs to Georgia outfielder Will Benson.
Notably, neither Benson nor Williams has any background in football. If they had, we may not be hearing about them today as baseball players.
Benson’s 6-foot-5, 225-pound build and raw physical tools look like what every SEC football team wants in a developing tight end or defensive end. Combine that present size and projectability with 6.5 speed in the 60-yard dash and you have a high-level athlete.
Benson’s baseball tools aren’t limited to his physicality and speed, though. Although he has played extensively at first base in his development, Benson has pure right field tools on defense, including a present plus throwing arm on the pro scouting scale.
Offensively, Benson’s raw strength and quick-twitch nature create the ability to impact the ball very, very hard. A squared up Benson line drive to the pull side is one of those things where the ball will just carry and carry well beyond where you originally think it will end up. He physically overpowers the ball as much as swings and hits through it.
The issue that keeps Benson from being a first round consideration, at least in this scout’s evaluation, is that Benson’s left-handed swing is almost unnaturally short and has a severe cutoff out front. That lack of extension will create issues with Benson in the future with both his power potential and his plate coverage if it can’t be corrected. The bat speed and strength at contact are unmistakable, however.
The completely natural and understandable comparison for Benson is to fellow Atlanta area native Jason Heyward, another NFL body type prospect at the same age with a first base background and outstanding raw athleticism. Like Benson, Heyward had some stiffness to his swing at the same age but was able to work through it better with distinctly more extension through contact. It’s worth mentioning that Benson, like Heyward, has played with East Cobb Astros since a young age, is extremely young for his graduating class and is a plus makeup young athlete with a scholarship to Duke. –David Rawnsley
Austin Bergner, RHP, Windermere Prep (Windermere, FL)
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/180 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 19y, 1m
Commitment: North Carolina
Projected Draft Range: 1S-3
In October of 2014, roughly two months into his junior year of high school, Austin Bergner put on a show at the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter that is unlikely to ever be forgotten. He worked 93-95 mph with his heavy fastball, threw a consistently plus curveball and worked in an above average changeup in addition to commanding everything.
That outing certainly vaulted Bergner to the very top of the 2016 draft conversation at the time, and now roughly 18 months later, he’s still widely considered a top talent. This spring he’s been more 90-94 mph with his fastball, still with solid sinking life at times, and overall solid ability to throw strikes with the pitch. His super-short arm action isn’t especially conducive to starting long-term, but that’s a mechanical change that could easily be undertaken at the next level, be it in pro ball or at North Carolina. The curveball and changeup are both still quality secondary pitches, and it’s very easy to be intrigued by his physical presence, athleticism and projectability.
When the fastball is located down in the zone and he’s consistently on top of the curveball, he still flashes the potential for two plus pitches and a solid third in the changeup, all with a great body and projection to throw even harder at maturity with mechanical adjustments.
The 2015 Perfect Game All-American is still one of the top right-handed prep arms in this draft class, to be sure and could continue to progress at the next level. His draft status is somewhat clouded by his commitment to North Carolina, which has a history of prying their recruits away from professional baseball, at least initially. –Brian Sakowski
Luis Curbelo, SS, Cocoa (Cocoa, FL)
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/185 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 18y, 7m
College Commitment: Miami
Projected Draft Round: 2-4
Curbelo had an extremely strong summer last year, which began with a sterling performance at the Perfect Game National Showcase in June. At the PG National, Curbelo displayed an intriguing set of tools and feel for hitting that piqued evaluators’ interest.
He continued to hit well at the 17u WWBA National Championship, showing quality bat speed, rhythm and a fluid, loose swing with the ability to extend through contact and hit the ball with authority. While he owns good hands and solid athleticism, most see Curbelo moving off of his current shortstop position, with third base the consensus among scouts as the most likely defensive home. At the East Coast Professional Showcase in late July, Curbelo performed well both offensively and defensively, where he made a couple of nice plays to his glove side while patrolling second base.
He further stood out in San Diego in mid-August as he was named a Perfect Game All-American and had a chance to participate in the Classic as a member of the East team along with fellow Puerto Ricans Alexis Torres and Mario Feliciano. In October, Curbelo impressed onlookers at the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter as a member of the Mets Scout Team/Orlando Scorpions, as he appeared to have further toned his physical, athletic 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame and displayed good bat speed.
The spring has been more of a mixed bag for Curbelo—who is now playing at Cocoa High School in Florida rather than the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy—as he’s been a bit more inconsistent at the plate than one would have expected given the strong summer/fall performances. While the hitting elements and tools are still present, Curbelo has been off-balance and not in rhythm nearly enough, and the result has been some swing-and-miss issues.
Regardless of the up-and-down production and performance at the plate this spring, the Miami commit could still garner some draft interest this June, as the tools are intriguing and teams may be willing to be on the upside and the successes of their player development systems to iron out some of the inconsistencies in Curbelo’s game. –Andrew Krause
Zac Gallen, RHP, Univ. of North Carolina
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/191 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 20y, 10m
Projected Draft Round: 2-3
When dissecting what the Tar Heels ace brings to the table there isn’t necessarily one pitch that knocks your socks off, but as a collective whole Gallen is one of the more polished arms in all of the country when looking at the bigger picture. After finishing strong to end his sophomore campaign at Chapel Hill, the previously undrafted Gallen took his talents to the Chatham Anglers in the Cape Cod League during the summer where he thrived against some of the top bats college ball has to offer, serving as a springboard for a big 2016.
Listed at 6-foot-2, 191-pounds, Gallen is capable of running his fastball up to 93 mph with difficult angle which is created from a slightly closed front foot landing, but it’s the command of the fastball that’s even more impressive than the raw velocity. Staying short and fast through the backside of his delivery, Gallen is able to show near pinpoint command of his fastball that typically sits 88-to-92 mph from a high three-quarters slot while generating solid downhill plane to the bottom of the zone more often than not. When located down the pitch shows some sink and running action to his arm side but the fastball and command are just the beginning points for the New Jersey native.
A teammate of Virginia’s Matt Thaiss on the summer ball circuit during his high school days with the Tri-State Arsenal, Gallen has continued to improved his own arsenal since then with the most notable addition being a cutter. The cutter is a pitch he’s thrown throughout his time with Coach Mike Fox and it’s another big part of the reason why Gallen has found so much success in 2016. His strikeout numbers are way up through seven starts this spring as he’s averaging 10.15 punchouts per nine, and the low- to mid-80s cutter has served as a true swing-and-miss offering. Mimicking the arm action he shows with his fastball, Gallen’s cutter is an offering he possesses the comfort to throw in any count and it’s a pitch he can lean on whenever he’s in trouble as it reads fastball out of the hand. The life isn’t huge on the pitch as it’s rather subtle, but it’s late and Gallen has proven he can get the best of hitters either out front or to swing emptily at the pitch.
Working mostly off of his fastball/cutter combo to this point in the spring, Gallen shows feel for a low-80s slider and it’s a pitch that features different distinctly different shape from his cutter. Thrown in a similar velocity band, Gallen’s slider showed more tilting action and 10-to-4 shape with harder life away from right-handed hitters. Both his curveball and changeup were both readily on display throughout the summer and the changeup is a quality fourth pitch, a low- to mid-80s pitch that comes from the same chute and shows late tumbling life with fading action out of the hand.
Of everything that Gallen brings to the table, it’s his ability to pound the strike zone and consistently work ahead that has helped him climb the draft boards throughout the spring. With just eight walks in 47 innings Gallen shows confidence in working to either side of the plate and is more than capable of doing so with precision. –Jheremy Brown
Anfernee Grier, OF, Auburn Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/180 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 20y, 8m
Projected Draft Round: 1-1S
For those who saw Anfernee Grier compete at the 2012 Perfect Game National Showcase the talent and high-end athleticism was evident; 6.64 60-yard dash, high-level arm strength from the outfield with a top velocity of 94 mph, and a right-handed bat with lightening quick hands and whip to the barrel. In other words, there was a lot to dream on when looking at Grier’s overall profile, and now in 2016, the vision that many saw during his prep days is coming to fruition right in front of our eyes.
A 39th round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers coming out of an Alabama high school, Grier will certainly blow past that mark this spring and should go a handful of rounds higher than his father, Antron, a sixth-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987. Even though he was coming off a sophomore season in which he hit .323 from which he earned an invitation for the USA Collegiate National Team, Grier still had work to do as the swing-and-miss was evident in his offensive profile with 61 strikeouts to just 22 walks. The good news is that the ultra-athletic center fielder has made those adjustments over the first 7-8 weeks of the year as it’s now a near 1-to-1 ratio which has allowed him to open up other aspects of his game.
Rather than playing to the pitcher after falling behind early in counts, Grier has been able to control the at-bats this spring and it’s his willingness and ability to use the whole field that has help lead to an offensive outburst. A plus athlete who’s added noticeable strength during his three years at Auburn, Grier has seen a significant uptick in his power numbers as he’s already connected for seven home runs, five more than his first two years combined. If a pitcher tries to beat him in he’s shown no problem turning on the ball with strength. Work him away and he’ll go to the opposite field, all while showing a loose and fluid swing with natural extension and strength out front.
There might not necessarily be room for another high-end collegiate outfielder in this year’s first round, but Grier is forcing his way into the conversation and has cemented himself among such company. Younger for the junior collegiate class than lefthander Jason Groome is for the high school class, Grier is still climbing towards his ceiling with every rep he takes.
Profiling as a center fielder at the next level, Grier’s speed is an exciting tool that not only allows him to cover ground to either gap, but generate a quick first step and maintain easy, low effort gliding strides once en route. The arm strength is there and serves as an additional weapon from center field as it shows above average, though the footwork and speed are more than noteworthy. With that same speed Grier is a threat on the bases where his instincts kick in and his 14 stolen bases are just two shy of his total from the previous two seasons. –Jheremy Brown