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The Sooner State producing top talent

3/18/2013

The more things change, the more they stay the same. College pitching continues to dominate the 2013 draft-season, although a new name has worked its way to near the top of the list. Meanwhile, a trio of talented right-handed arms in the SEC continues to struggle, and a prep catcher is making his case to do something that hasn't been done since 2008.

• He may have started the year as the second most talked about pitcher on his own staff, but Oklahoma's Jonathan Gray has usurped Dillon Overton -- and almost every other collegiate pitcher -- by putting up crazy numbers in 2013. The Sooner right-hander was once again dominant on Friday, giving up just five hits in a complete game shutout of Northwestern State, striking out 12 and walking none. With a fastball that's been clocked consistently in the high-90's and occasionally reaching triple digits and a slider that will flash plus, Gray has put himself into first-pick consideration for the upcoming draft.

"He's definitely in that group" an AL West scout said. "He ranks behind (Appel) for me just because I'm not sure if the changeup is going to be anything more than an average pitch, but he's got the size and stuff that you look for in an ace. He's one of the more pleasant surprises of the spring."

• Gray and Overton aren't the only arms in the Sooner State that have caught the eyes of teams. Oklahoma State righty Jason Hursh has also been impressive this season, showing plus-plus arm strength and improving -- if inconsistent -- secondary stuff. The draft-eligible sophomore struck out 10 in a complete game shutout of Iona, giving up just four hits and zero walks.

"(Hursh) is not afraid of anyone" the same AL West scout said. "He challenges hitters and the arm-strength competes with anyone in this year's class. I'll be very curious to see how he does once he faces some decent competition, but you can't teach what he has."

Gray and Hursh are currently scheduled to face each other when Oklahoma takes on the Cowboys in Stillwater on April 12.

• After some less-than-stellar results over the past two weeks, Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek was moved to the Sunday spot in the rotation, and the response was less than spectacular. Stanek didn't make it out of the fifth inning again in his start versus Ole Miss, walking three and striking out four in a 6-4 loss to the Rebels. He struggled from the get-go, walking two in the first and never really finding his release point before being pulled with two outs in the fifth.

Before the move, Stanek was scheduled to go against Ole Miss right-hander Bobby Wahl on Friday night, and once again, the Rebel right-hander didn't look like the potential top-10 pick many believed him to be coming into the year. Wahl only gave up one run in a 7-1 victory against the Razorbacks, but he put five men on base via walks and struggled to command anything, particularly the breaking-ball.

Another SEC righty, Florida's Jonathon Crawford was also relieved of his Friday duties, and Saturday brought the same results we've seen since February. Crawford walked four in his six innings, sitting in the low 90's and once again relying heavily on a slider that hasn't looked like a plus pitch for most of 2013.

"Wahl would be the one I'm the most concerned about" An NL area scout said. "I think Stanek just has some mechanical tweaks he has to work through and he'll be okay. I have always thought Crawford was a reliever candidate, but Wahl is just flat-out a reliever to me until he shows some semblance of control. All three have been disappointing, however."

• Keith Law was in Houston and got a first-hand look at why Kohl Stewart is clearly the best high school right-handed pitcher in the class. The battle for No. 2 is a bit muddled, though two hurlers from the Mid-Atlantic have risen from relative obscurity to put themselves into the discussion.

Connor Jones of Great Bridge High School (Chesapeake, Va.) was solid again on Friday, striking out seven in his six innings of work while allowing just one run. Jones' fastball sits in the low 90's -- with projection for more -- and also has a very good slider with late bite. The Virginia commit has a good feel for pitching, and repeats his delivery well.

Not far south from Jones is Bandys High School (Catawba, N.C.) and Hunter Harvey, who has been dominant in his work this spring. Harvey -- son of former closer Brian Harvey -- struck out 13 over his five innings of work on Friday, with a fastball that reached 96 mph. Few pitchers in the class can match the right-hander's athleticism, and with some fine-tuning in his mechanics and off-speed stuff he could easily go on Day 1 come June.

Hitters

• It's been over four years since a prep catcher was taken in the top 10 -- Kyle Skipworth in 2008 -- but Yukon High School (Okla.) catcher Jon Denney has a chance to break that drought.

Over his last five games, Denney has nine extra-base hits -- including three homers -- and has put up an OPS this year of over 1.500. He also has impressed scouts with his improving defense, and most believe that the right-handed hitting backstop will be able to stick behind the plate.

"He can really hit" an AL Central scout said. "The ball jumps off of his bat and he can hit the ball with authority to all fields. He'd be a Day 1 guy for me at first base, but as a catcher? I don't see 10 guys better than (Denney).

Colin Moran didn't put up impressive power numbers to begin the season, but has come on strong lately. The North Carolina third baseman belted a homer over the 370-foot fence against Miami left-hander Andrew Suarez Sunday, and now has four on the season. Considering he had only one extra-base hit in the first two weeks, that's a pretty marked improvement.

• Going in the opposite direction, unfortunately, is Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge. The right-handed hitting Judge had just two hits in his series versus San Diego State, and still hasn't shown the power one would expect with his size (6-foot-7, 255 pounds) and strength, particularly in weekend series. Contact rate continues to be an issue for the Bulldog center fielder as well, posting a strikeout to walk ratio of 21-to-9 for the season thus far.

• The prep infield class is down again for a second consecutive year, but one name to keep an eye on is James Madison High School's (Fairfax, Va.) Andy McGuire. McGuire has one of the prettiest swings from the right side in the class, and has started the season strong after having hip surgery in the fall, hitting a mammoth home run in their scrimmage last weekend. He's more likely to play third base than shortstop, but still looks to be a first-day talent thanks to his swing and strong hand-eye coordination.