A great deal of the scouting industry was in North Carolina last week checking out the action at the second annual National High School Invitational, held at the USA Baseball National Training Complex. MLB.com was there, too, seeing all of the top performers at the event.
Obviously, that wasn't the only amateur baseball to be seen over the past week. Many scouts -- and there were upwards of 100 scouts at the NHSI -- still had Carolina on their minds and checked out other high school and college talent. But this week's Draft Watch will start outside of the Tar Heel State.
Top matchup: Manaea vs. Petree
From this point until the Draft, scouts will undoubtedly be watching each of Indiana State lefty Sean Manaea's starts. The top southpaw in the class, Manaea's plus stuff from the left side will undoubtedly have him coming off the board in the early stages.
The added attention is something Manaea's opponents can also take advantage of. Missouri State's Nick Petree isn't at the same level as Manaea and the other top college arms in the class, but he showed on Friday that he likes to compete when the lights are on. Pitching against Manaea on Friday, the redshirt junior (he had Tommy John surgery in what would've been his freshman year in 2010) tossed a two-hit shutout, walking two and striking out 10.
There's no question Manaea has the better pure stuff, but he was saddled with the loss after allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits and three walks while striking out five over 7 1/3 innings. Petree's stuff -- fastball, curve, change -- is just fringy, but he really knows how to pitch with good command, and as he showed over the weekend, he loves to compete.
Other college arms
There will be plenty of other college arms taken up and down the Draft, not just in Manaea's territory. Case in point: Alex Gonzalez, the ace for Oral Roberts University. He certainly didn't hurt himself with his outing on Thursday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The 6-foot-3 right-hander had a six-hit complete game, allowing just one run while walking one and striking out eight. Gonzalez was successful using his cutter, thrown 90-94 mph, and his 85-87 mph slider, which he consistently threw with a tight break. Gonzalez had good command and kept both pitches down in the zone. He showed a changeup in the bullpen, but didn't use it in the game. Projected perhaps as a second-round type, Gonzalez might end up in the bullpen, where as a setup man or closer, he could move quickly to the big leagues.
Lefty Kent Emanuel is another college arm who might go in that neck of the woods. The University of North Carolina (told you we'd get back to Carolina) ace has been a tremendous performer all season. Several scouts went from the final day of the NHSI over to Chapel Hill to watch him pitch against Clemson on Saturday. The southpaw went eight innings, scattering nine hits and allowing just one run while walking one and striking out five. Emanuel throws his fastball in the 87-91 mph range, and while he mixes pitches well, his changeup grades out as average and his curveball is fringy, limiting his ceiling a bit. Emanuel's success in one of the better conferences in the country will certainly help his cause.
High school arms
At a certain point on Thursday afternoon at the NHSI, there was a bit of a mass exodus from the complex, with a scouting caravan of sorts forming to Bandys High School, about two hours away. The subject of such interest was right-hander Hunter Harvey, son of former big league closer Bryan Harvey.
Harvey has been flying up Draft boards as the spring season has gotten under way. Scouts had limited looks at him over the summer as he, at his father's direction, did not play summer ball. What scouts have seen, often against lesser competition and in far from ideal weather, has been impressive. Thursday's outing was no different. Despite cold temperatures and long waits between innings, Harvey generally threw strikes with his fastball and curve. His heater was in the 91-94 mph range and he threw his breaking ball 73-76 mph.
And finally, back out of state and across the country, Oaks Christian right-hander Phil Bickford is turning heads with his size and stuff. The 6-foot-6, 200-pounder has the ideal pitching frame and great arm action. In his last outing, Bickford was up to 96 mph with his fastball. His secondary stuff still needs work, but he has a decent slider. Bickford's dominance in his league is starting to get more attention.