NHSI showcases some of 2013's top Draft talent
CARY, N.C. -- The second annual National High School Invitational is now in the books, with Mater Dei High School from Southern California winning for the second consecutive year. And once again, scouts flocked to USA Baseball's National Training Complex to see some of the best high school talent in one place for a four-day period.
There were six members of MLB.com's Top 50 Draft prospects list competing in this year's NHSI, and while there weren't necessarily any "wow" performances from that half-dozen or other members of the Class of 2013, scouts undoubtedly leave here with a lot more information about potential draftees.
They also may have been able to get a leg up on 2014. While the scouting directors who were in attendance were honing in on this year's class, some of the juniors turned in outstanding performances that will make them worthwhile to follow next year.
One of the more interesting things about this tournament is it gives scouts the opportunity to do something they can't normally do: See a player repeatedly on successive days. And high school players don't typically have to play four days in a row in the spring, so seeing how they react to that provides some interesting insight. Here's what scouts had to say about the top names at this year's NHSI.
Austin Meadows, OF, Grayson (Ga.): Meadows, No. 3 on that Top 50, faced off against No. 27 Stephen Gonsalves in the opener on Wednesday. While there wasn't a huge moment in that confrontation, some felt Meadows showed he can stay in against a lefty with good stuff. He had some good at-bats over the course of the tournament, going 3-for-3 in Grayson's finale and driving in his team's lone run in its 1-0 win on Saturday. He played good defense in center field and generally used his speed well. He did, though, have a moment where his exuberance on the bases showed a certain lack of baseball instincts. After he popped up with a runner on second, to his credit, he ran hard, making it all the way to second. But the popup was dropped and because he wasn't looking, he ran his teammate off of second, who was then thrown out at third. It's not the kind of thing that will hurt his status, but scouts watching definitely noticed. Overall, though, he didn't do anything to hurt his very high stock.
Stephen Gonsalves, LHP, Cathedral Catholic (Calif.): Gonsalves was better in his previous start, against fellow Top 50 lefty Ian Clarkin back in Southern California. His command was better in that start, though he did show some good raw stuff here. The fastball was plenty good enough, and at 6-foot-5, he has room to fill out and there's projection scouts can dream about. He'll need to refine his breaking ball, but one scout said that it's easy to look at Gonsalves and think that he could be just like Sean Manaea, now the top college lefty in this Draft class, in a couple of years.
Nick Ciuffo, C, Lexington (S.C.): Several scouts came away impressed with Ciuffo's overall game, and the left-handed-hitting backstop was the person mentioned by more than one as the guy who stood out the most at the NHSI. The No. 33 prospect is a solid hitter with some strength who had a good approach in most of his at-bats this week. He also impressed with his catch-and-throw skills, though one scout felt his overall receiving still needed some work and he did tire a bit by the end of the tournament (catching four games in four days isn't something any high school backstop has done much of).
Chris Okey, C, Eustis (Fla.): Depending on what scout you ask, you'll get different opinions about which high school catcher they liked more, both at this tournament and overall. Okey has a better defensive reputation for some and, at times, he threw very well this week. At other times, he wasn't as strong. He went 2-for-14 at the plate, but largely had a solid line-drive approach.
Jordan Sheffield, RHP, Tullahoma (Tenn.): One of the bigger disappointments of the tournament is that Sheffield, No. 47, didn't pitch as planned, as the forearm tightness that had kept him off the mound since March 12 came back as he warmed up for his Thursday start. He was shut down and will see a doctor, possibly Dr. James Andrews, when he gets back home. It is unclear when he might be able to get back on the mound, but Sheffield will want to make sure that the forearm issue isn't because of an elbow injury first.
Jeremy Martinez, C, Mater Dei (Calif.): Opinions differ on the catcher, ranked No. 50, who's been known as a prospect since his freshman year, but one thing is certain: He likes to play, and win, here. A member of the 18-and-Under team that won gold for Team USA last summer, he's now gone 8-0 with Mater Dei in two NHSI appearances. He went 4-for-13 in the tournament, and while he may be a shade behind the top high school catchers in the class, he's still a solid all-around backstop.
Some other 2013 Draft prospects who performed well here are Mater Dei outfielder Ryan McMahon, who went 5-for-11 with seven RBIs; right-hander Thomas Hatch from Jenks (Okla.), a tough-luck loser against The Woodlands who was up to 92 mph over seven innings; and Ryan Burnett, the lefty from The Woodlands who beat Hatch, mostly with an 88-89 mph fastball and solid breaking ball, though he dialed it up to 91 mph in the game's final inning.
The Class of 2014 represented extremely well at the NHSI. Jack Flaherty from Harvard-Westlake continued to set himself up as one of the better two-way players for that Draft class, going 3-for-10 with a pair of doubles and playing a very good third base while striking out 15 in his complete-game victory against Eustis. Right-hander Dylan Cease from Milton (Ga.) was up to 94 mph consistently during his start. He also went 7-for-17 at the plate. And Gonsalves' teammate, fellow lefty Brady Aiken, lost, 2-1, to Ciuffo and Lexington, but struck out 14 and was up to 93 mph.