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2020 Draft Preview No. 12: High School Hitters

Rounding into the home stretch with a group of prep hitters ready to take off.

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Only one day left ‘til the draft, everybody. I’ll have my final favourites and wish list type post up tomorrow morning, then either an evening open thread right before the draft or we could just use that preview thread as draft discussion central. Either way is fine by me; just let me know what everybody prefers to do. I’ll also do my usual writeups on the players drafted by the Cardinals as soon as possible after they make those selections; I have a little time off from work this week, so I’m actually looking to be around for the draft itself as much as I can.

With that said, let’s look at a few high school hitters with really intriguing futures. It’s especially important to get these guys out of the way now, since one of them will appear on my wish list tomorrow...

Jordan Walker, 3B, Decatur HS (GA)

6’5”, 220 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 22nd May 2002

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Jordan Walker can hit a baseball a very, very long way. No, that’s the not the only thing he does well, but it’s probably the thing he does best. Certainly it’s the thing which jumps out the most upon initially watching him play the game.

Walker is tall and lanky, with long arms even for his height, and those long levers give him phenomenal leverage when he connects with the ball. The downside is his swing has some natural length to it, and it seems like he might end up in that category of hitters known as ‘slider-speed’ bats. He can get overmatched with velocity at the top of the zone, but he crushes balls down and anything offspeed that catches too much of the plate. Call him a mistake hitter if you want, but that’s a bit too cut and dried for me. At present, though, it’s undeniable he has some holes in his swing where pitchers can work.

On the other hand, Walker is also extremely bright, and understands what pitchers are trying to do to him. Long term his best bet, and the path I think he’ll take, is to simply ignore everything he doesn’t want to swing at, embracing a three true outcomes approach and focusing on damage, particularly early in counts.

Defensively, Walker has a big arm, having been clocked up to 93 off the mound, making him a good fit for third base. He doesn’t have great quickness on the infield, but foot speed is pretty overrated when it comes to the sorts of plays guys are asked to make at the hot corner 90% of the time anyway. He has the hands to play on the infield, either third or first if he’s asked to move, but I see no real reason why that should be the case anytime soon.

The upside with Walker is very significant, based on a power-heavy profile and an ability to hold down a premium defensive position at a solid-average level. He has some filling out still to do, and probably ends up more in the ~240 range at full strength, at which point he could probably one-hand a slider over the left field fence. If asked for a long-term comp, I would point toward former Angels stalwart and short-term Cardinal Troy Glaus as a walks-and-homers offensive force who also played a solid third base en route to a very good, and probably pretty underrated, career.

via 2080 Baseball:

Pete Crow-Armstrong, Harvard-Westlake HS (CA)

6’1”, 180 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 25th March 2002

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Pete Crow-Armstrong might be the most famous high school player in this class, having been on the national radar now for about four, maybe even five, years at this point. He was very much an early bloomer, with a precocious feel for the game on both sides of the ball and a knack for playing very well when the lights were brightest. The fact he attended Harvard-Westlake, a baseball powerhouse among baseball powerhouses (Jack Flaherty, Max Fried, Lucas Giolito, and Austin Wilson are all alumni), certainly didn’t dampen his notoriety any.

Here’s the thing about early bloomers, though: they are subject to not only the usual vagaries of player growth, the standard ups and downs of a teenager, but also to that vague and mysterious phenomenon known as ‘prospect fatigue’. In case you don’t know, prospect fatigue is what happens when scouts and industry mavens simply look at a player too long, particularly if the player in question isn’t really changing or improving all that much. A guy who blossomed early might not look all that much better at seventeen than he did at fifteen, but that’s only a problem if he wasn’t head and shoulders better than everyone else at fifteen. If he was, it might very well look as if he has stagnated, but that’s really a function of the competition simply catching up to someone who got good earlier than the rest, and the player may, in fact, still be very good, just underappreciated due to the fact he doesn’t look much different than he did a couple years ago.

Crow-Armstrong has a little of that going on, I think. If there was a draft for high school sophomores, he would have been taken first overall, and it probably wouldn’t have been much of a debate. Since that time, though, there hasn’t been another big jump in talent or performance for Crow-Armstrong; rather, he’s just very gradually grown up, filled out, gotten stronger, and improved slowly. He didn’t hit especially well on the showcase circuit the summer after his junior season, but he also didn’t hit especially poorly, either. He was once a slap hitter only with unbelievable bat control; he now looks to have roughly average power, and has tried to adjust his hitting approach to take advantage of that extra strength. In other words, this is a player who has made all the normal adjustments along the way, it’s just hard to remember he’s only now eighteen years and two months old when the industry has been buzzing about him since 2017.

Here’s the good on Pete Crow Armstrong: he’s a plus center fielder, maybe the most naturally skilled defender in the class. His arm is above average for the position. He’s a very good hitter, cut in the leadoff mold, and has both contact ability and patience on his side. He has a good two-strike approach, even, spreading out his stance and spoiling pitches to make the pitcher work or wait for a mistake. He’ll probably never be much of a power hitter, but there’s enough natural strength here he can plug the gaps with line drives and put a reasonable number of balls over the wall. He uses all fields and rarely gets too far outside his approach. He’s a very strong baserunner, both quick and smart, and he should add real value with his legs. In other words, Pete Crow-Armstrong has a whole lot of very good, very Lenny Dykstra-esque qualities on his ledger, and should be a lead pipe lock for the top 20-25 picks.

via Baseball.:

Drew Bowser, SS/3B, Harvard-Westlake HS (CA)

6’3”, 205 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 2nd October 2001

So, what’s so great about this guy?

You may notice that Bowser shares a high school with Pete Crow-Armstrong; yes, I did purposely hold these two players together to get them in the same post for that reason. They make an interesting pair, particularly from the standpoint of one player who has been known for years, and one who has steadily come on the last two years as he’s grown into a draftable product.

First off, a spoiler alert: I said at the beginning of this column that one of these players will appear on my wish list for the Cardinals’ draft. Drew Bowser is that player. I think this is one of the highest ceilings available in the 2020 draft, and if Bowser doesn’t end up going to school (more on that in a moment), I think he’ll end up high in the first round come 2023.

Up until this point, Bowser has mostly played shortstop in high school, but his frame very much suggests he’ll be a better fit at third long term. He has a plus arm and very good footwork on his throws, but he’s not the speediest player already, and the range at short just won’t be good enough down the road, I don’t believe. The good news is that, where I think Jordan Walker could turn his plus arm and reasonable athleticism into an average profile at third base, I think Bowser has the tools to be a plus defender at the hot corner. He’s a little over 200 pounds right now; give him three years and I think he goes 220-225 and is a step slower, but not so much I worry about him really losing much in the way of athleticism.

The bat is really exciting to me with Bowser. He has plus power potential, maybe not quite as much as Walker or a couple of the other real loft monsters available this year, but there’s still serious power upside in his swing. He won the home run derby at the All-American Classic last August, but when he really tries to aggressively air out a swing he tends to lose his path and goes out and around, it looks like to me. The good news is he doesn’t really need to overswing to make an impact on the ball.

Bowser is also one of the smartest hitters amongst the high school class this year, taking a remarkably cerebral approach to the craft. The only concern I really have with his swing is a sometimes inconsistent hand load; there are times when he’ll load his hands starting up, and his bat path gets too steep down into the ball, but this spring it seemed like he had improved that, and was loading down into his chest, creating a better swing path in general.

He’ll flash roughly average speed, but is never going to make much of an impact one way or the other on the bases. He’s not slow, exactly, but he’s not fast. Basically, you won’t really notice Drew Bowser running, which is generally fine. He has the potential to make an impact in every other facet of the game, so we can probably overlook a lack of foot speed.

Funny thing about Bowser: he’s a Harvard-Westlake graduate committed to Stanford University, which is his mother’s alma mater. Maybe that rings a very faint bell back in some dusty corner of your mind. If so, it’s because that is exactly the story of Austin Wilson, the uber-talented high school outfielder the Cardinals drafted and failed to sign in the twelfth round of the 2010 draft. (Actually, I believe both of Wilson’s parents attended Stanford, as opposed to just one.) Wilson ultimately attended Stanford, got drafted in the first round by the Mariners, and then flamed out in High A ball when long-time contact issues caught up to him. I thought Wilson would be better suited to making adjustments, but it never really happened. In the case of Bowser, I don’t know exactly how tough a sign he will be, but considering the limitations on teams this year, he could very well end up on campus, despite anyone’s best efforts. (And you all probably know how I feel about the hitting coaches at Stanford...) Nonetheless, this is one of my favourite players in the whole draft, and one of the guys I would most like a team with some flexibility in the budget to take a swing at. Looking at you, Cardinals, and that #54 pick.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

See you tomorrow, everyone. Not much longer now.