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MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

Top prospects face off in Missouri tournament

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MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

The must-see high school game of the week, if not the month, takes place on Thursday when Lee's Summit (Mo.) West High visits Lawrence (Kan.) High in the opening round of the River City Baseball Tournament.

While the event is held annually, each of those teams has a talent that doesn't come around nearly as often. One area scout quipped that the stands will look like a convention of scouting directors.

In the last 10 Drafts, only one Missouri high school position player (Blake DeWitt, 2004) and two Kansas prep pitchers (Garrett Gould, 2009; Collin Wiles, 2012) have been taken in the first two rounds. This year, both Lee's Summit West outfielder Monte Harrison and Lawrence right-hander Bryce Montes de Oca could get selected that early.

Harrison could go in the first round as the best athlete in the entire Draft. He's a three-sport star who's committed to playing football (wide receiver) and baseball at Nebraska. He caught 13 touchdowns, rushed for 12 more, returned three kicks for scores and threw a TD pass in the fall while helping Lee's Summit West win the Missouri Class 5 state title.

During the winter, Harrison averaged 16.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game as a guard on a Lee's Summit West basketball team that finished third in the state. He won the dunk contest at the Greater Kansas City All-Star Challenge in April.

And yeah, Harrison can play some baseball, too. He's a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder who continues to get better as he spends more time on the diamond. He has above-average raw power and speed, and he was clocked at 97 mph making a throw from the outfield at the Perfect Game National showcase last summer.

Area scouts put Harrison's tools in the same class as those of Bubba Starling, the Kansas prep outfielder whom the Royals drafted fifth overall in 2011. Starling, who also had a football scholarship (quarterback) from Nebraska, has struggled to hit in pro ball. The right-handed-hitting Harrison has encouraged scouts by showing an improved swing and approach at the plate as a senior.

"His athleticism is ridiculous," a senior scouting official said. "The raw power/speed/athleticism combo, you're talking about elite level. Is he going to hit? That's the $2 million question. I feel a little bit better about Monte's bat than I did about Bubba Starling's.

"It's just that breaking ball/spin issue with pitch recognition. How do you know? How many times are you going to see him against a good right-handed slider? But his other tools are off the charts. He's explosive. You're talking about Adam Jones and guys like that."

Harrison will face his toughest test this year when he opposes Montes de Oca, who has made a stunningly swift recovery from Tommy John surgery. He blew out his elbow last spring and returned to the mound this April 11, one year to the day after his elbow reconstruction. In his first outing, he threw 35 pitches -- all fastballs clocked from 94-97 mph with some sinking and tailing action.

Montes de Oca continued to bring the heat in his second outing last week, working at 92-96 mph while throwing 45 pitches and mixing in a couple of curveballs. He's still raw and his secondary pitches and command will need a lot of work, but it's hard not to dream on his combination of size (6-foot-8, 265 pounds) and arm strength.

"He has a great arm," an area scout said. "I saw him up to 97 in his first start and he's really interesting. This is kind of a longshot, but he's similar to Jonathan Gray [the No. 3 pick overall pick in the 2013 Draft] when he was in high school. The delivery needs work but the ball jumps out of his hand, and he could be a No. 1 starter or a closer if it all comes together."

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"event":["draft_central" ,"prospect" ] }
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