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MLB Draft reports: Scouting Hagen Smith and other potential first-rounders

This week I watched the Friday night game between Kentucky and Arkansas and the Backyard Brawl between West Virginia and Pittsburgh on Tuesday at PNC Park. Both games looked at potential first-round picks in this year’s MLB Draft, including Hagen Smith, who could be the first pitcher off the board.

Hagen Smith continues to bring in the Ks

Smith was a potential 2024 first-round pick dating back to his freshman year at Arkansas, and he has improved over the past two seasons, peaking at just the right time this year, most notably with a 17-strikeout performance against Oregon. Listed in Week 2. The southpaw is a clear top-10 pick and could end up in the top five, as he is the best southpaw in the class with two 70s (on the scouting scale of 20-80) in his arsenal. I saw a strong performance from him on Friday night against Kentucky, but saw a few very small things that could cause me to rate him just a little lower than you would infer from the stuff and the stats.

Smith struck out 14 batters in six innings and gave up just one run, but it wasn’t as dominant as the stat line implies – certainly not as dominant as the historic start he made at Globe Life Field in February that put him in first place place came as a top-10 pick. Smith came out very strong on Friday, hitting 95-96 mph in the first three innings with an easy plus slider and an above-average changeup, favoring the slider over righties even on typical changeup counts. However, during his second and third time in Kentucky’s lineup, he started to work and began to have trouble getting to his glove side.

He works from the far side of the first base rubber, so while he is online at the plate from that point, the only pitch he can reliably locate inside the right wings is the slider, which is where he usually goes when a pursuit throw aimed at the batter’s back foot as he throws in. His pitches all lost a little speed in his last three innings; he didn’t throw a fastball below 95 in the first two frames, then dropped to 92 in the sixth, with similar dips in his changeup and slider. His throwing started to break down a bit, as in those later innings he didn’t finish in front on every pitch, almost throwing the ball more towards his arm and seeing the ball sail towards his arm more, although he did finish on enough pitches to get out . of problems.

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Smith takes a huge step towards the plate in his delivery and comes off the rubber quickly, with very quick acceleration once he gets his arm going, although his back elbow gets a little high and he pronates late from that front landing. Between that and the low three-quarter arm gap, Smith’s delivery and such have earned him some comparisons to Chris Sale as a rookie, when the White Sox adjusted his hand position to give him the wipeout slider that became his throwout. Smith’s slider isn’t that good, but it’s a clear out-pitch with tilt and a sharp downward break when he lands it, and he has enough arm speed on the changeup to keep some right-handers off the fastball.

He is clearly the lefty in the draft, in college or high school, and could be the only left-handed pitcher drafted in the top 20. The real debate is whether he’s the first college pitcher drafted or whether it’s Wake Forest’s right-handed Chase. Burns. I prefer Burns because he never had a serious arm injury when Smith underwent Tommy John surgery at age 16. Burns has shown better command this year, but there is an argument that Smith has a better record throwing strikes and he has the advantage of being left-handed. I’d be surprised if any of them were still on the board after the Angels’ pick at eighth overall.

Peyton Stovall healthy and impressive with the bat

Arkansas second baseman Peyton Stovall was a name coming out of high school but was considered unsignable because of his commitment to the Hogs. After missing this year’s start due to a broken foot, he was on a tear and was hitting .352/.422/.563 through Friday. It’s a very simple swing that produces a lot of contact, and he isn’t afraid to swing early as he sees fewer than four pitches per plate this spring.

He reached base three times Friday, including a hard-hit single to left center on a 90-mph fastball from Kentucky right-hander Trey Pooser and a harder-hit double to left field at 90 mph later in the game . What you see is probably what you get here – he’s not projectable, and I’d be surprised if he turned into a 55 power guy or a high-walk guy, while he’s adequate at second base and maybe averages with better instruction in professional ball. I also think he can really hit, and after his sophomore year was ruined (.253/.330/.393) by a torn labrum that ultimately required surgery, we are now seeing the real Peyton Stovall. He may not get in the first round, but I don’t see 30 better players right now.

Ryan Waldschmidt quickly stands up

Kentucky left fielder Ryan Waldschmidt has blown up this spring, going from someone who wasn’t even a third-round consideration to a likely first-rounder. He hit .364/.497/.643 during Friday’s game, hitting one hit and punching out twice.

He has a great swing for someone who starts with a very wide base and no stride, rotating his hips as much as possible given that restriction and showing above-average strength. In his second at-bat against Smith, he took a 90 mph fastball and hit it along the center field wall for his only hit of the night. Later, he struck out on a slider down and away from a righty, followed by a fastball in the zone, then whiffed at 95 before taking a slider for a called third strike.

He’s been hammering fastballs at just an 11 percent whiff rate for most of the spring, so this was an unusual night for him, and he rarely chases and swings only 19 percent of the time on pitches outside the zone. I think there’s a different level of production going on here: the lack of any step or other way to transfer his weight to his front cuts off some power and leaves him almost on his back knee when he fully rotates. There’s definite feel for hitting here, and the way everything else works, he might be one adjustment away from becoming a 25-homer guy.

JJ Wetherholt back on the field and continues to hit

I finally caught West Virginia infielder JJ Wetherholt on Tuesday in the Backyard Brawl at PNC Park, where the Mountaineers ran the Pitt Panthers, jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first and never looked back. Wetherholt couldn’t run beyond a jog, and WVU positioned the second and third basemen to minimize how much he would have to run to get a groundball, but the chronic hamstring problems didn’t stop him from hitting, as he had two . more hits in four at-bats before the Mountaineers pulled him from the game.

The first hit was a double the other way off a 90-mph two-seater in the outer third, and the second was a hard-hit single on a left-hander’s curveball that he ripped through the right side shift. Even with one functioning leg, he looked good at the plate, with a strong stride – seriously, someone show a Waldschmidt video of this guy – and great hip rotation, while his hand acceleration is excellent. He clearly has excellent hand-eye coordination and he gets his bat going so quickly that he can wait a little longer to recognize pitch types and locations, which is probably why he hardly hunts (14 percent) or smells (also 14 percent).

I haven’t heard anything about his defense, of course, but I’d take the bat as is.

Grant Hussey sets a power record for mountain climbers

West Virginia first baseman Grant Hussey set the school record for career home runs with 36, passing Jed Gyorko and Tim McCabe. He hasn’t even completed his junior year yet and won’t turn 21 until the end of June.

Hussey has a brutal approach, swings at half the pitches he sees and whiffs a third of the time, so he’s not a great draft prospect, but it’s probably 70 power – he hit two home runs at PNC Park, one to the opposite field on a two-seater, who can easily carry the bat – and that’s enough that at worst he’ll be a good senior sign in 2025.

(Photo of Smith from an April 26 start: Richey Miller/Cal Sport Media via Associated Press)