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Prep hitter Almora impresses with bat

3/16/2012

A scout is always in search of the best game to attend, and the ones that match up multiple high-profile prospects will always draw big crowds. The Selective Recruiting Invitational this week in Miami was home to nearly every notable prospect in the area with the opening games Monday drawing nearly 150 scouts. I headed south to see each of these four players.

The headliner of this group was Mater Academy center fielder Albert Almora. Almora is ranked 27th on Keith's most recent top 50 draft prospects ranking and has been a known quantity for years as a top performer in showcases and for travel teams and Team USA.

Taking batting practice in front of the assembled masses on Monday, Almora put on a power show, depositing pitch after pitch well over the wall in left field. His raw power is above-average now, carries over to games and projects to be plus as he fills out his upper body. He hit a ball to the 400-foot sign Monday on a pitch where he was jammed and rushed his swing. Tuesday, he hit an opposite field home run despite leaking his hips open way too early. Wednesday, Almora hit a mammoth bomb over 400 feet.

As Keith has noted, Almora's hands get deep, barring or nearly barring his left arm in almost every swing in an effort to squeeze power out of his wiry 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame. He also has a notable leg kick which will, at times, cause him to get off balance. He might need to tone those down as he rises in pro ball, but they aren't fatal flaws and the key thing is that Almora still squares the ball up in games even when both of these things work against him. I saw only two batting practices and three games, but given this look and the track record, I'm sold on the bat and the power.

Almora has an above-average arm that will play anywhere and solid-average speed that some think will diminish as he fills out, moving him to right field. His speed plays up in center due to his instincts, first step and ball skills, but his ultimate power ceiling and position depend on how his body matures. It's just an educated guess, but I don't think Almora will put on much weight other than some natural maturity in his upper body. I project him to play an average center field along with an above-average bat that has a higher probability than most elite prep bats.

Other 2012 draft prospects

• In the night cap, Archbishop McCarthy right-hander Nick Travieso took the hill and came out of the gates sitting at 93-94, touching 95 mph. He lost two ticks in the fourth and fifth innings but was still effective, backing up his heater with an above-average to plus slider at 82-85 mph with sharp bite and 11-to-5 tilt. Travieso was especially good at locating the slider to his glove side but had trouble maintaining the bite and command to his arm side.

He threw only two power changeups at 87-88 mph that were below-average but unnecessary at this level. Travieso has a husky 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame with a thick lower half. So, unlike many prep arms, you'll be getting essentially what you see, with some similarity to Brad Penny. Travieso uses a simple, deliberate delivery and has a clean arm action that he hides well behind his body.

• Coral Springs center fielder Lewis Brinson consistently turns heads with his defensive play. On Tuesday I tweeted about a play where Brinson ranged deep into right-center and leaped to grab a liner, eliciting a giddy response from a scout sitting in front of me. I clocked Brinson as low as 4.08 from the right-handed batter's box -- plus-plus speed created by quick-twitch athleticism and long limbs on a rail-thin 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame.

The speed plays in center as he effortlessly moves in every direction and his arm is above-average. Brinson shows some pull power in batting practice, yanking a couple out to left field. He also exhibits real bat speed and, given the projection on his frame, could develop into a five-tool monster. That said, his rawness at the plate likely will make him a two-year rookie ball player. Brinson will flinch and flail at offspeed stuff and didn't pull the ball in play in the three games I saw after pulling almost everything in batting practice. His leg kick also varied at-bat to at-bat; there's some work needed here but the sky is the limit.

• Westminster Christian slugger David Thompson got national attention as a junior when he broke Prince Fielder's Florida state high school record for career home runs, with 44. He isn't as beloved by scouts as Fielder was because Thompson has a long, uppercut swing path that helps create power but figures to hold him back against good velocity later in his career. That's why I was surprised to see Thompson get around on Travieso's best 95-mph fastball multiple times on Monday even when set up with good sliders away.

There's some real power here and some bat speed to compensate for the long path, but as an average-sized (6-foot-1, 195 pounds), right-handed hitting, below-average runner with OK hands and a fringy-at-best arm, Thompson is likely a left fielder and thus has the odds stacked against him. He has played third base in the past, but Thompson was in center field all week while a freshman played third base. Thompson won't be a premium pick, but there's something here, and he's the kind of gritty performer that often beat scouts' projections.