The 2013 First-Year Player Draft might seem far off in the distance, but there is a little more than three months remaining to evaluate the amateur talent available this year. With scouts scouring the country, MLB.com will talk to some of them after each weekend to see how the landscape is changing and evolving.
Top matchup: Astros Foundation College Classic
Reports from Houston, typically one of the more anticipated early-season college tournaments, weren't overwhelming. But the North Carolina vs. Rice matchup on Friday may have been worth the price of admission.
The pitching matchup was Rice's Austin Kubitza against North Carolina's Kent Emanuel. The duo put on an exhibition, more in terms of command than crazy radar-gun readings, in the Tar Heels' 2-1 win. Emanuel went seven innings, allowing one run on eight hits and a walk while striking out five. The left-hander isn't a big-stuff guy, with a fastball ranging 85-91 mph against Rice. Though armed with an average changeup and a fringy curve, Emanuel commanded the ball well and had good overall pitchability, though one scout worried about the lack of a weapon to get professional hitters out.
Kubitza also pitched into the seventh, allowing one run on four hits and two walks while striking out nine in 6 2/3 innings. His velocity was down a bit, mostly in the upper-80s, but that might have been by design. Kubitza can throw 92-93 mph when he needs it, but he's learned he doesn't often need it to get hitters out because has above-average control and command to go with a plus slider that has nasty movement.
The hitter most wanted to see at the tournament was North Carolina's Colin Moran. The third baseman went 4-for-10 with a double, two RBIs and five walks. He didn't wow the scouts, though most believe he'll hit just fine at the next level. Moran did show good patience at the plate, but one scout felt he's much too pull-conscious right now, with an open and wide base that forces him to give away the outer half of the plate too much.
While Indiana State's Sean Manaea is the top college left-hander in the class, a lot of eyes are on Gonzaga southpaw Marco Gonzales.
The Zags' ace was outstanding over the weekend, blanking Arkansas, which was the No. 3 ranked team in the country at the time by Baseball America. Gonzales went the distance in an eight-hit shutout, walking none and striking out nine.
There isn't a ton of projection with Gonzales, but what he is might be a back-end starter who will get to the big leagues quickly. He used three pitches to carve up Arkansas: a fastball up to 91 mph, a curve in the 74-78 range and a 77-79 mph changeup. Gonzales' outstanding changeup makes his fastball play up and seem bigger. He gets high marks for his mound presence and pitchability. Gonzales is also a very good athlete, one who hits (.343 in 10 games) as well.
While Mark Appel could be discussed every week -- he shut out Texas on a three-hitter with 14 strikeouts on Friday -- let's turn the focus elsewhere, to right-handers making early names for themselves.
It appears that Chris Anderson of Jacksonville University is doing just that. The big righty had a complete-game victory against Texas Christian over the weekend, striking out 13 and walking one while allowing seven hits. He gave up three runs, but just one was earned. Anderson has shown the potential for three plus pitches, with a fastball that has touched 97 mph and is consistently at least a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He has a nasty slider and a changeup that one scout said is as good as he's seen from this year's class. Anderson has the perfect athletic frame for a pitcher at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds.
Oklahoma State's Jason Hursh is another right-hander who's off to a solid start, if not quite as dominant. He beat UC-Davis on Friday after allowing two runs on eight hits over six innings. Hursh didn't walk anyone, but he also only struck out one. Despite that statistical anomaly, scouts like his arm. He was throwing his fastball in the 90-95 mph range with good plane and arm-side life. Hursh's secondary stuff isn't as good, with a slider that flashes average and a fringy changeup. But he worked quickly, threw strikes and served up a lot of early ground balls (11 groundouts).
Since the season began, scouts have been flocking to Samford University in Alabama to see outfielder Philip Ervin. At 5-foot-10, he needs to prove to people that size isn't an issue. So far, Ervin has done just that. Over the weekend, Ervin went 4-for-10, hitting two homers and driving in five runs on Friday. Scouts think he has the chance to be a five-tool player. He has surprising pop for someone his size, hitting six homers while slugging .809. Ervin gets 55s on the 20-80 scale -- a tick above-average -- for his speed, his bat and his power. He's a solid defender in center field with a 60 arm to boot.
High school pitchers
Louisiana lefty Garrett Williams was on the mound Monday for his Calvary Baptist team. If his name sounds familiar, it's because he starred in the Little League World Series in 2007. Williams is a two-way player, but the consensus is that his future is on the mound. Williams, who will throw his fastball into the 91-mph range, didn't have the strongest outing, one described as "erratic." His control and command were largely missing, but he showed plus action on his nasty curve, one of the best breaking balls of any high schooler in the class.
High school hitters
It's a fairly solid Draft group in terms of high school catchers and Jon Denney from Oklahoma is already standing out. Big and strong, he looked good on both sides of the ball on Saturday. Denney has leaned out and has the kind of durable frame scouts like to see behind the plate. He looked solid there defensively, with only minor work needed to help him on the receiving end. Denney is very aggressive at the plate and his power seems to be legitimate. He showed he can use all fields on Saturday, doubling to left, then homering twice, once to left-center and once on a line drive to right-center.