January 2013

What to make of the Jonathan Singleton suspension

These days, I spend most of my time working on MLB.com’s 2013 Prospect Watch lists. Top 10 by position, Top 100 overall and, of course, Top 20 per team. The lists are more or less done and we’re in the content-writing stages now.

Any time there’s news regarding a prospect, I’m going to take notice. That’s true any time of year, as we try to keep things up to date. Now, though, I’m on hyper-alert for anything that could cause a change in rankings.

So when news came out about Astros first base prospect Jonathan Singleton’s 50-game suspension for testing positive for a “drug of abuse,” the alarms went off. I’m not exactly giving anything away by telling you that Singleton was set to be highly rated on the 2013 lists. He is, after all, currently No. 25 on the Top 100, No. 1 on the Astros’ Top 20 and the top-rated first baseman as well. He came in at No. 6 on my AFL Top 25. Here’s Singleton at the 2012 Futures Game:

I can, at this point, shift things around as needed for the 2013 lists. Nothing is set in stone as of now. So I sent out a quick survey to a number of scouts, the very ones I poll to generate the Top 100 rankings and asked a simple question:

Jonathan Singleton gets a 50-game suspension for a “drug of abuse.” What does that do to his prospect status?

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of response. This was by no means a thorough and scientific poll. But I did hear back from six, all of whom gave me some variation of “Not much.”

A couple said that the only way it would really impact him is if it turned out he had a truly bad addiction to something (most feel the “drug of abuse” was marijuana), and that it had a negative impact on his performance. One pointed out that had it been a suspension for a PED, that would be different, since it could be argued that use of that substance led to his placement as a top prospect.

Two said it would lessen his value a bit to other clubs, that perhaps other teams would be less interested in acquiring him as a result.

But, for the most part, even if they gave Singleton demerits for being stupid, it wouldn’t really impact his status as a prospect. Why? He’s only 21 and even after serving his 50 games, he’ll still spend more than half of the season in Double or Triple-A as one of the younger regulars at that level. Prospects have missed more than that much time with an injury, one scout pointed out, and came back just as good. With no injury here, there’s no reason not to think Singleton will be fine on the field once he comes back.

So, maybe it slows Singleton’s path to the big leagues a bit, one that wasn’t necessarily blocked by anyone long-term (Carlos Pena, Brett Wallace and Rule 5 pick Nate Freiman are the in-house options at first as Spring Training approaches). But other than that, assuming Singleton can avoid such tresspasses in the future, most think he’ll be just fine.

Highlights from the Perfect Game World Showcase

Over the weekend, Perfect Game held their World Showcase down in Florida. Over the years, a number of players have come through this event, a sort of kickoff to the new year on the amateur scene. Last year, Carlos Correa helped himself at the World Showcase, and we all know how that turned out.

I spoke to a scout who was in Fort Myers over the weekend to get the low-down on who stood out at the event. He gave his feedback along with the qualification that this is an event VERY early in the process. “It’s like a Spring Training game. When was the last time these kids played in a game?” he said.

He also pointed out that because it’s so early, the top-flight pitchers in the Draft class don’t tend to come anymore. Still, there were a number of pitchers who were 90+, a good sign considering it’s only early January.

The best player of the weekend, hands down, was Oklahoma-area catcher Jon Denney, currently ranked No. 36 on MLB.com’s Top 50 2013 Draft prospects. Especially given the time of year, Denney stood out. He swing the bat very well, showed power in batting practice and also looked good in his two games. He was solid behind the plate, again impressive since it’s not like Denney’s spent time recently in Yukon, Okla. catching top-notch pitching. Denney had looked really good at the Area Code Games, but hadn’t performed quite as well in Jupiter, at Perfect Game’s WWBA World Championship in October. So this was a nice move back in the right direction. He looked like a first-round pick candidate over the weekend.

Two of the top players from Puerto Rico were in attendance as well, though neither seemed to look their best, or as good as they’ve looked in the past. Both are shortstops. Jan Hernandez, from the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy, and Edwin Diaz, from Ladislao Martinez Otero, were both OK over the weekend. Hernandez is considered the better prospect. He played very well in October and has been on the showcase circuit and is still considered one to watch closely this spring, even if he didn’t do that much to stand out in Ft. Myers.

There were some international players at the event as well and some stood out. The first is LHP Jacob Constante. He’s 6-foot-4, 215 lbs and was 90-93 mph with a solid slider. He’s eligible to sign right now. There were some questions about his age/documentation that teams were looking into (teams always want to be sure on this front now before moving forward), but there was a lot of interest. If he’s legit, he’s going to find a deal somewhere soon.

And there was 3B/1B Rafael Devers. He’s eligible to sign this coming July 2 (the start of the international signing period) and he’s definitely one to watch. He swung the bat very well, showing an ability to drive the ball. And that’s at age 15 against more advanced arms.

Finally, a nod to 2014. There were some underclassman there and it was Nick Gordon who stood out the most. He’s the son of Tom “Flash” Gordon and, obviously, brother of Dee. He, too, is an infielder, but his future is on the mound. He’ll be one to watch in ’14.

5 from MLB.com Top 50 to attend NHSI

The participating teams for USA Baseball’s second annual National High School Invitational were announced today. It was a fantastic event that we covered fully in 2012, with stories, video and game broadcasts (some of which can be viewed in archive). The 2012 champions, Mater Dei, will be returning. Here’s the field:

Bingham High School (South Jordan, Utah)
Cathedral Catholic High School (San Diego)
Christian Brothers High School (Memphis, Tenn.)
Eustis High School (Eustis, Fla.)
Florida Christian School (Miami)
Grayson High School (Loganville, Ga.)
Hamilton High School (Chandler, Ariz.)
Harvard-Westlake School (Studio City, Calif.)
Jenks High School (Jenks, Okla.)
Lexington High School (Lexington, S.C.)
Mater Dei High School (Santa Ana, Calif.)
Milton High School (Milton, Ga.)
T.C. Roberson High School (Asheville, N.C.)
The Woodlands High School (The Woodlands, Texas)
Tullahoma High School (Tullahoma, Tenn.)
Venice High School (Venice, Fla.)

From the group of 16 schools, there are five members on MLB.com’s early 2013 Draft Top 50 Prospects list. They are:

3 Austin Meadows, OF, Grayson
12 Stephen Gonsalves, LHP, Cathedral Catholic
30 Chris Okey, C, Eustis
41 Nick Ciuffo, C, Lexington
50 Jeremy Martinez, C, Mater Dei

There are a number of other exciting high school prospects who will attend, many of whom will likely land on MLB.com’s Top 100 overall list in the spring. Some other “names to know” who will be in Durham, NC, March 27-30 for the tournament:

Jordan Sheffield, RHP, Tullahoma
Nick Longhi, OF, Venice
Ryan McMahon, 3B, Mater Dei

Looking forward to checking out this tournament for the second straight year.

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