Over the summer, Cobi Johnson established himself as a prep arm most teams wanted to follow this spring.
Johnson threw well on the showcase circuit, showing decent stuff and even better pitchability. At 6-foot-4, he appeared to have some projection to him. Being the son of former big leaguer and current pitching instructor Dane Johnson was icing on the cake.
Things haven't gone entirely according to plan. Some hoped to see a leap forward in terms of pure stuff, but that hasn't really happened. Johnson didn't start for about a month with elbow soreness, but he was back on the mound for a Florida 6A regional quarterfinal playoff matchup against King High School.
Johnson was just "OK," according to a scouting director on hand to watch the game, one Johnson's J.W. Mitchell team lost, 4-2, thus ending its season. He threw his fastball in the 87-90 mph range, which is not far from where he was during the summer.
And that might be the issue for Johnson. The Florida State commit hasn't moved in the direction many hoped or expected to see. Even with the caveat of this being his first start back, combined with how he threw before his time off, his early stock (he was ranked No. 29 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 50 Draft prospects list in the fall), may have been based on projection that scouts are now wondering if it will come.
"He might've been one of those guys who was a little overhyped," the scouting director said. "He's a likeable kid, but he's not had the kind of year certain people expected. You thought when you saw him last summer -- the son of a big leaguer, the dad's a pitching coach -- you thought there was some projection there. When he came out he was the same guy, maybe a lesser guy."
Could the elbow that shelved Johnson been a problem? Even if the injury was not overly serious, could Johnson have been holding back, not willing to let it fly, out of worry?
"Maybe that has something to do with it," the scouting director said. "He has a commitment to Florida State. With his dad as a pitching coach, they were probably erring on the side of caution."
Shortstop Turner thriving for NC State
This past weekend, a North Carolina State star who was expected to be a very high pick but got off to a slow start performed up to expectations.
No, we're not talking about lefty ace Carlos Rodon, though the description certainly fits the potential No. 1 pick. While Rodon has been starting to dominate on the mound once again, shortstop Trea Turner also raised the level of his play.
Turner won Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week and ACC Player of the Week honors thanks to his weekend performance in a sweep of Coastal Carolina. The Wolfpack's leadoff hitter wreaked havoc in all three games, going a combined 9-for-11 with 11 runs scored, three RBIs and six stolen bases. Turner's performance on Saturday was a sight to behold, as he went 4-for-4 and finished a triple shy of the cycle. He scored three runs and stole four bases.
The explosion raised Turner's season line to .330/.424/.523 in 45 games. After a slow start on the basepaths, he's used his plus speed to go 21-for-23 in stolen-base attempts. In other words, Turner is looking more like the player some thought was a certain top 10 pick before the year began.
"He's getting it going," said one scouting director who was on hand for Turner's performance this past weekend. "Maybe the Draft pressure has worn off a little, or he's just getting used to it. He came in as a very high-profile guy. Most think he and Nick Gordon are the best middle infielders in the Draft. Maybe he's just relaxing a little. The last two weekends, he's played really well."
If that continues, Turner has the chance to reclaim most, if not all, of his Draft stock, though some were unsure if he could catapult back into the top 10 conversation. Teams picking in the back half of the first round that at first probably thought they didn't have a shot at Turner, but then were hopeful due to his slow start, may have those dreams dashed if he continues playing this well.
Not everyone is convinced, even with Turner's resurgence. The biggest question is his bat and whether it will play at the next level.
"It's a scary bat," an area scout said. "He has an elite tool with his speed and he can play shortstop, he'll stay there. But he might be a bottom-of-the-order bat with little pop. Will he bat first or will he bat eighth? He has a long swing and needs strength. He has good discipline and makes contact, but there's no pop."
Excellence Tournament showcases Puerto Rican talent
Back in 1996, scout Jorge Posada Sr. (yes, that Jorge Posada) started the Excellence Tournament to bring all of the talent in Puerto Rico together before the Draft. It was an effort that allowed evaluators a chance to see all of the island's talent in one setting as close to the start of the Draft as possible.
Many players have helped themselves tremendously at the tournament. In 2012, Carlos Correa was the headliner, and he lived up to billing. But right-hander Jose Berrios really stood out and threw three outstanding innings on the opening day of the tournament. He parlayed that into a supplemental first-round pick (No. 32 overall) by the Twins. Back in 2009, it was Reymond Fuentes who opened eyes, especially with his speed, and he went in the first round to the Red Sox (No. 28 overall).
This year, there is no first-round talent coming out of Puerto Rico, so attendance by the scouting industry was relatively light. The trend started last year, when Jan Hernandez was the top pick from the island, going in the third round to the Phillies. No other Puerto Rican high schooler went before the 11th round.
"I don't really know what it is," a crosschecker said. "It's been declining each year."
Still, the Excellence Tournament gave several young Puerto Rican players the chance to improve their Draft stock. No one made a Berrios or Fuentes-like impression, but a few did have some tools on display. Jonathan Oquendo ran well in the 60-yard dash in the Major League Scouting Bureau workout and showed good defensive skills at shortstop.
The award for closest to a Berrios impression may have come from Jan Carlo Cosme, just in terms of his performance in Game 1 (Don't expect to hear his name called before the seventh round). Cosme struck out six in three innings and featured a fastball up to 93 mph.
Outfielder Marco Rivera and shortstop Alexis Pantojas, perhaps the top two names in Puerto Rico for much of the spring, didn't particularly wow onlookers. Rivera has some bat speed, but he didn't produce much offensively. Pantojas showed excellent defensive skills at short, but questions about his bat weren't necessarily answered at last week's tournament.
There aren't a ton of marquee matchups this coming weekend, either on the high school or college end of things. Decision-makers may split up on Thursday, with many heading to Gainesville, Fla., to watch Vanderbilt's Tyler Beede face the University of Florida. Others with toolsy high school hitters on their mind will travel to Missouri to check out high school multisport standout Monte Harrison.
With the Vandy-Florida series starting on Thursday (many college series switch to Thursday-Saturday series next week as teams prepare for conference tournament schedules down the road), directors and crosscheckers can still see a Friday night starter of their choosing. One destination might be San Diego State to watch UNLV ace Eric Fedde take the hill against hitters like Greg Allen. If they're lucky, San Diego State flamethrower Michael Cederoth will make an appearance out of the bullpen.