Feature Photo: David Hamilton, SS, San Marcos (San Marcos, TX)
Welcome to week six of our Perfect Game Draft Pack series, where our friends at Perfect Game USA provide expert insight and analysis of some of the top amateur talent in the country as we get closer to the June 9 MLB First-Year Player Draft. PG’s David Rawnsley, Jeremy Brown, Brain Sakowski, and Patrick Ebert take it from here!
Justin Dunn, RHP, Boston College
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/184 | B/T: B/R | Age (as of draft date): 20y, 8m
Projected Draft Round: 1S-3
Last spring we saw UCSB’s Dillon Tate move from the closer role and into the starting rotation which ultimately helped him climb draft boards exponentially, landing at his eventual No. 4 selection in last June’s draft. And though Dunn won’t necessarily go as high as Tate did last spring, if his first start in the rotation was any indication of things to come then the Boston College right-hander will continue to have up arrows next to his draft stock report.
With a lean and wiry, ultra-athletic frame that looks like that of a middle infielder, Dunn’s fast-twitch athleticism spills into his right arm, which in turn helps produce the big-time velocity. Used mostly as a reliever to this point of his collegiate career while serving as the closer throughout the early portion of this spring, Dunn made his first start of the year against the University of Virginia. And though the Cavaliers lineup featured several high ranking prospects Dunn twirled a gem going five shutout innings and allowed just a single earned run in 4 1/3 innings last weekend against Notre Dame.
Showing an electric right arm that needs minimal effort to produce the 93-95 mph fastball, frequently bumping 96’s late into his pitch count, Dunn’s arm action and delivery both suggest that starting is a strong possibility at the next level, especially as he continues to expand his pitch count. Listed at 6-foot-2, 184-pounds according to the Boston College website, Dunn has done a much better job this spring of working around the strike zone while drastically cutting down his number of walks, something that he began to improve last summer while on the Cape.
Aside from pure experience, a part of the reason Dunn has seen a vast improvement in command – which has in turn led to more swings and misses – can be attributed to the slight improvements in his mechanics. The most noticeable difference from last spring to this year is there is a lot less late acceleration towards the plate which has helped him stay on line better and fill up the strike zone with a full three-pitch mix consistently.
While the velocity is the biggest takeaway and what has helped spread his name among inner baseball circles, there’s more to the arsenal than just a big-time fastball. In my initial look at Dunn as a starter two weekends ago, and every other scouts’ for that matter, the right-hander flashed both a tight low-80s slider with sharp bite and a mid-80s late-diving changeup, both of which have potential to be above average offerings with solid present arm speed and deception. All three pitches are capable of eliciting swings and misses, and when given the relative “freshness,” Dunn will have scouts closely monitoring every pitch.
To peg an exact round on Dunn at this point might be more difficult than other prospects we cover as his ability to start will increase his value a good bit and he should be able to keep climbing with every quality start he spins for the Eagles. –Jheremy Brown
Lucas Erceg, 3B, Menlo College
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/205 | B/T: L/R | Age (as of draft date): 21y, 1m
Projected Draft Round: 1S-3
Lucas Erceg has been drumming up significant draft interest at the NAIA level this year after spending his first two years in college with the Cal Bears, hitting .303-11-42 during his sophomore year while routinely providing big hits for a team that nearly advanced to Super Regional play. Academic reasons forced him out of Berkeley to look for somewhere else to play, and after enjoying a big season at the plate a year ago he’s putting up even bigger numbers this year.
At 6-foot-3, 205-pounds, Erceg has a lean and long athletic build, with an overall physical presence similar to that of Blake Rutherford. Erceg’s frame also has the ability to add more weight and muscle, as he could maintain his loose, athletic actions with another 15 to 20 pounds.
Defensively at third he moves well laterally and displays good instincts with solid first-step quickness and reactions. Since he also serves as one of his team’s closing options out of the bullpen he has more than enough arm strength for any position on the field, including third base, but he may be a better fit on an outfield corner down the road with right field being the more likely destination.
At the plate Erceg has a smooth, rhythmic and overall good looking left-handed swing, incorporating a big leg kick to generate power from his lower half. He takes big boy hacks at the plate and does a nice job incorporating his BP swing into games. There’s a lot of movement between his lower half and in his hands pre-swing, but he gets all of those parts where they need to be on time and shows very good strength and extension in his swing.
With his big left-handed stroke most of his contact, and power, is to his pull side. He’s having a big year at the plate, with a .310/.351/.647 triple slash line, and 29 of his 58 hits (12 doubles, 17 home runs) have gone for extra bases. Additionally, he continues to make extremely good contact as he has only struck out 14 times in 187 at-bats, although he has also only walked 11 times, showing a desire to swing the bat, although he does exhibit the ability, and importance, of taking pitches while waiting to get something he can drive.
The level of play is a big question, and how well his talents will translate against higher level pitching, but the swing and overall offensive potential is legitimate. He was named Perfect Game’s top prospect last summer in the California Collegiate League and continues to draw big scouting crowds with some reports indicating that he could be selected in the first round of this year’s draft given his left-handed power, which is always a valued commodity. –Patrick Ebert
David Hamilton, SS, San Marcos (San Marcos, TX)
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/170 | B/T: L/R | Age (as of draft date): 18y, 8m
Projected Draft Round: 2-4
Something that hasn’t been discussed much about this draft class is that there are notably few true speed players in the 2016 high school class. There were only three 60-yard dash times recorded under 6.50 seconds at the 2015 Perfect Game National Showcase and outfielder Chase Creek’s (Orlando, Fla.) 6.40 was the top time. In some years a 6.40 wouldn’t have cracked the top 10 at the National.
Hamilton is one of the few premium 2016 prospects who can open your eyes with his speed. He ran a 6.43 at the National and watching him play, especially on defense, it’s easy to see how quick and light on his feet Hamilton is in his actions and athleticism. He moves with confidence to and through balls at shortstop with a distinct lack of urgency that defines the highest level athletes. His first step on the bases is instantaneous and his stride is smooth underway.
Before now, that athleticism has actually been most evident on the football field. After playing wide receiver as a sophomore, Hamilton switched to quarterback for his junior season and ran for 2,140 yards and 22 touchdowns while also throwing for another 1,080 yards. A broken collarbone ended Hamilton’s senior season during the sixth game last fall but has not hampered him this spring playing baseball.
Hamilton has performed at a similar level on the baseball field as well, starting since the beginning of his freshman year and hitting a cumulative .401-11-88 with 36 stolen bases in three seasons. Not surprisingly with his speed, Hamilton has hit more triples than doubles or home runs in two of his three high school seasons. He profiles as a top-of-the-order table-setter, as he is a high contact hitter who sees the ball well and hits to all fields with a slashing left-handed swing.
The one concern scouts seem to have about Hamilton is whether he will be able to stay at shortstop long-term, although moving him out of the middle of the field is not a question. While Hamilton has the raw arm strength for the left side of the infield, his arm action and release can be long and mechanical at times, lending some doubt as to whether he’ll be make able to make the difficult throws quickly enough when the game speeds up.
For now, though, the faster the game is, the more at home Hamilton is on the field. –David Rawnsley
Cole Irvin, LHP, Univ. of Oregon
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/203 | B/T: L/L | Age (as of draft date): 22y, 4m
Projected Draft Round: 2-3
Oregon has the advantage of rolling out three immensely talented lefthanded starters for their weekend rotation, with Matt Krook, David Peterson, and Irvin. All three have different profiles and varying levels of stuff, but it’s Irvin who holds the titles of “best command” and “most complete arsenal,” while also being the team’s Friday starter. While nothing is overpowering, he commands his arsenal of five pitches effectively and rarely walks anyone, all from an athletic, well-proportioned frame and build.
Irvin is a Tommy John survivor, having undergone the surgery in 2014, and has shown good durability in his return to the mound since last season. The delivery is easy and the arm action is clean for the most part, so while the injury history will always be a proverbial “red flag” for teams, there aren’t any apparent mechanical deficiencies to the eye that would lead one to conclude that he’s at greater risk for re-injury.
If his command of a multi-faceted arsenal and his minuscule walk rate are the two main positives here, the lack of a plus offering and subsequent lack of strikeouts are the two main negatives. He fits in the mold of the “safer” college starter, along with the “crafty” lefty designation, both probably lazy descriptors but suitable nonetheless. He throws five pitches – a fastball, curveball, slider, changeup, and cutter – each with varying levels of effectiveness and projection, but the overall ability to throw strikes with all five of those pitches helps mitigate the lack of a plus pitch to some degree.
The fastball has been a bit of an enigma in 2016, with some firsthand accounts having his fastball in the low-90s and touching 93 to 94 mph, while in my viewing the pitch was in the 85 to 88 mph range (albeit in 35 degree weather in East Lansing, Michigan). The curveball and slider are the two main complementary pitches, with the curve showing solid 1-to-7 shape and good depth in the low 70s and the slider being 6-7 mph quicker and sharper, mostly on the same plane though without the same depth. The curveball is more of a called-strike pitch, whereas the slider is closer to a bat-misser. The changeup, while not overwhelming with movement, is a nice change-of-pace pitch with slight fading action, and the cutter will flash some life to the glove side.
His draft stock will ultimately hinge on whether teams feels he’s a starter long term and/or if the stuff will play up eventually. While not overly muscled, there isn’t much projection remaining on his frame, so it remains to be seen just how much velocity he has in that left arm. For a team who feels he can start and sees him in the mold of a backend of the rotation starting pitcher, he could be taken as high as the second round. —Brian Sakowski
T.J. Zeuch, RHP, Univ. of Pittsburgh
Ht/Wt: 6’7”/225 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 20y, 10m
Projected Draft Round: 2-3
Despite a 4-5 record with an ERA just south of 4.00 as a sophomore, Zeuch was squarely on scouts’ radars as he was one of the top arms on Pittsburgh who would regularly go head-to-head with some of the other big arms the ACC had to offer. At 6-foot-7 Zeuch definitely has the size you’re looking for and his athleticism is readily on display as he’s able to handle his long limbs very well showing coordination in his delivery and a sound ability to repeat his mechanics on a regular basis. A quick look at his stat line from last spring confirms this as he walked just 25 in 88 1/3 innings while punching out 90.
Restricted to an innings limit last summer on the Cape with the Chatham Anglers, scouts, and myself included, made it a priority to see the Panther’s ace as he started just four games before hitting his 20 inning limit. Just as he did in the spring, Zeuch showed very well against some of the best college has to offer as he worked comfortably in the 89-92 mph range with his fastball showing a full and loose arm action with the ability to pound the ball to the bottom of the zone. Naturally with a pitcher of Zeuch’s height, he’s able to use his long levers and generate excellent extension out front which in turn results in late riding life with a second gear to the ball on its way to the plate.
Jump forward to this spring and Zeuch has reportedly shown an uptick in velocity at the beginning of outings, working in a very believable 91 to 94 mph range and touching higher, before settling into the velocity band he showed last summer. Part of the reason for the drop off in his earlier starts however can be attributed to the fact that Zeuch is only five starts deep into his season as a minor injury to his lower half cost him his first couple of starts to open 2016. Nevertheless, Zeuch is putting together another excellent campaign as he’s currently 4-0 on the year while averaging a strikeout per inning and has walked just nine batters in 33 innings.
Aside from the fastball, the Ohio native has three distinct off-speed pitches that, like his fastball, are anything but straight on the way to the plate. His changeup is a solid mid-80s offering with which he’s able to mimic his arm action, creating some deception as hitters read fastball only to be left out front on the late-diving pitch. Of his two breaking balls it’s the slider that shows the best potential as it’s a mid-80s offering with tilting life and has the potential to develop into a true swing-and-miss pitch. Zeuch’s curveball is a pitch features short depth to the bottom of the zone and 11-to-5 shape in the mid-70s to give him a fourth weapon in his arsenal.
It’s also worth noting that Zeuch is pitching his entire junior season at the age of 20 and won’t turn 21 for a full two months after the draft, putting him on the younger side for the college crop. With continued repetitions this spring and added strength to his long and lean build, there’s plenty of good reason to assume Zeuch hasn’t yet hit his ceiling and will certainly be an arm teams look at closely down the stretch. –Jheremy Brown