I saw Florida host Vanderbilt on Saturday under the broiler at McKetchan Field, and Florida's top three draft prospects for this year all played well, led by catcher Mike Zunino. He is one of the top two college position players in this draft, along with Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero; both play premium positions in the middle of the field and project to stay there in pro ball while providing above-average offense for their positions.
Zunino's swing isn't entirely conventional, but it works. He has a slight drift but keeps his weight back enough to drive the ball; his real asset at the plate is his hands, strong and quick, giving him the ability to go to all fields, and, combined with good leverage from proper hip rotation, at least future-average power. Vanderbilt didn't have the baserunners to test Zunino's arm, but his throws in infield practice and warm-ups showed enough strength for him to stay behind the plate, and he had no trouble receiving the heavy diet of off-speed stuff served up by Brian Johnson. It also looked as if Zunino and Johnson were calling the game themselves -- Zunino didn't look into the dugout to get the signs -- which would be a positive for both players if correct. Zunino's approach is sound, and even if he ends up with average hit and power tools, that's an above-average major league regular behind the plate. He's a lock to go in the top five picks.
• Johnson, a two-way player for Florida, started and threw well, perhaps not as well as the linescore indicated but well enough to look like a first-rounder. The left-hander showed just an average fastball at 88-92 mph, sitting 89-90, but worked backward much of the day, throwing a ton of curves, sliders and changeups, with the true curveball his best pitch.
• Gators shortstop Nolan Fontana is a bit of a favorite of mine as a true shortstop with great instincts and plenty of arm, as well as a strong approach at the plate that has led to high on-base percentages both years at Florida. He bars his lead arm but is surprisingly strong, with a fairly linear swing that should produce doubles power to go with the high walk rates; the swing and eye remind me a little of Frank Catalanotto, although Fontana's a better runner.
In the field, Fontana is a clear long-term shortstop who gets great reads off the bat and has a strong, accurate arm. He's not Marrero, who has a superior hit tool, but Fontana's a better shortstop than Levi Michael, who was drafted late in the first round last year and would likely have gone top 20 if he hadn't had a leg injury that had him hobbling through the last month of North Carolina's season.
• Florida is loaded with underclass prospects, with Taylor Gushue, a first baseman who'll likely succeed Zunino behind the plate, as the most exciting. He has a simple, balanced swing with great rotation (just setting up his hands a little high) from both sides of the plate and showed a good eye in Saturday's game. Lefty Daniel Gibson threw in relief of Johnson, sitting 91-92 with a fringy slider but mediocre command. Senior Preston Tucker homered on a ball down from a left-hander; he's probably a fourth- or fifth-rounder on raw talent as a corner guy, probably a first baseman, with raw power but not the hit tool. However, the new collective bargaining agreement, which caps draft spending, could push him up to the third round when premium high school players start passing on the Reinsdorfian slot bonuses.
• Vanderbilt is at its weakest in ages, with both starter Drew VerHagen and reliever Sam Selman scuffling on Saturday. VerHagen was 90-93 with an 80-83 mph changeup but no breaking ball to speak of, and he only brought enough command to get him through about three innings, after which the changing-speeds trick stopped working. He's a relief prospect for after the third round. Selman was mostly 90-91 with a sloppy upper-70s slider, a herky-jerk delivery and no clue where it was going.
High school notes
• Hagerty H.S. right-hander Zach Eflin is establishing himself as a clear first-rounder with a good chance to go in the top 20. Eflin was 90-94 in a seven-inning complete game, mostly 92-94, and he got on top of the ball extremely well, working midthigh or below for much of the night. His changeup was plus at 78-79 and he had good feel for it, getting deception from arm speed with very mild fade. His knuckle-curve at 77-83 was very inconsistent -- it's a new pitch for him -- and better at 83, where it had some tilt like a hard slider but often lost its shape at the low end of its range. That's a nearly impossible pitch to command or throw consistently anywhere but in the dirt, and given his high three-quarters slot, I'd like to see what he can do with a traditional grip on the pitch.
Eflin stays over the rubber well with a high leg kick and moderate stride, finishing well over his front side with a clean, repeatable arm swing. He reminded me a lot of Shelby Miller, another top high school prospect who had all of the essential elements but just needed time and professional coaching. Miller threw a little harder with a better breaking ball, but Eflin has a much better changeup and better command than Miller did at this age, and he should add at least 10-15 pounds as he matures. He's committed to Central Florida, which is just a formality at this point because he's going too high in the draft to ever be a Knight.
• Olympia H.S. in Orlando has two top prospects in right-hander Walker Weickel and outfielder Jesse Winker, with Weickel the first-rounder and Winker more of a sandwich/second-round talent if you like the hit tool. Weickel wasn't great on Wednesday night, pitching at 87-91, a grade below his normal velocity, although the curveball had its normal sharp 12-to-6 break; he commanded the breaking ball better than he did the fastball, and even his control wasn't great on that night, particularly to his arm side. He showed good arm speed on a 79-91 mph changeup as well. Weickel's arm action is very easy; he's got a big -- dare I say Lincecum-esque? -- shoulder tilt, finishes well over his front side and appears to expend very little effort. He's an extreme projection guy -- you could easily see him picking up 3-4 mph as he fills out that frame -- and already has enough of a breaking ball and changeup to make him at least a strong first-round pick, likely to go top 15-20 and thus to never reach the University of Miami.
Winker also didn't show well in Olympia's game against Apopka (Zack Greinke's alma mater), failing to make a basic adjustment against a fellow left-hander who kept flipping breaking balls at him. Winker has good rotation and some natural power, but his front side is very soft, pulling his hands away from the ball and causing him to start to turn his wrists over too soon. Several scouts have praised his overall feel for the game, from fielding to baserunning, and he has a plus arm to handle right field in pro ball, but the bat may not be as advanced as advertised.