Judge, Bryant are college hitters to watch

Despite a pitching-heavy class, particularly in the college ranks, a couple of power bats have a shot to crack the top half of the first round, perhaps joining North Carolina's Colin Moran in that range of selections. Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge, among the most intriguing prospects regardless of position, has created some buzz early in the season, and the sky is the limit in terms of his potential.

Judge, a 6-foot-7 center fielder for the bulldogs, entered the season with some questions to answer about his game power. The bat speed has always been there, but despite batting .308 with a .453 on-base percentage as a sophomore, he hit just four home runs. Judge, who has two home runs in his first six games this season, has made a strong early impression on some scouts.

"You're seeing really good at-bats from him," said an area scout of a National League club. "He's turned around some good heat and for such a big, long player, he works his hands well and stays back."

What's more encouraging is that he isn't selling out his swing to hit for more power.

"I haven't seen that from him," said one crosschecker. "He's looked like a hitter first and a power hitter second. He's not a slugger. The kid can hit."

Judge's future position is likely in right field, but the fact that he's handling center field for a major Division I program says a lot about his athleticism. He's built like an NFL tight end at about 250 pounds, but has good feet and tracks balls well.

A consistent spring mixing his natural approach with more power could produce a first-round grade on the right-handed hitting Judge, perhaps even a place him in the top half of the round. The class lacks high-quality college hitters, so a club looking for a quick turnaround on a first-round pick could pop him early.

Judge will get a crack at the USC Trojans this weekend.

USD's Bryant drawing raves

Another power hitter with a chance at being taken in the first round is San Diego's Kris Bryant, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound third baseman who had a big year as a sophomore, smacking 14 home runs and batting .366 with more walks (39) than strikeouts (38). Through seven games, Bryant is off to a bit of a slow start in the stat deparment (.261 average with one homer), but he's working counts well (.485 OBP) and hitting for decent power (.485 slugging).

Bryant's swing has been long in the past but one area scout sees a quicker load and maybe even better plate coverage during the first two weeks. "Maybe he's putting up an effort to simply square it up, but the swing is the same, just maybe a little quicker, a little shorter," the scout said.

It's not uncommon for a swing to be shorter to the ball in abbreviated stints but when the tough get going, the swing reverts back. Whether that occurs with Bryant remains to be seen, but even with his natural swing length, scouts like Bryant plenty.

"I didn't see much wrong with it last year, to be honest," the scout added. "He was getting to everything and hitting the ball hard."

Bryant is another potential high pick, though some question his future position. If clubs see him as a first baseman, his bat may not carry more than a late first-round grade. As a third baseman, or even right fielder, it's difficult to believe Bryant will make it beyond the first 20 picks.

Bryant's Toreros play Gardner-Webb, UNC Wilimington and Stony Brook at the Hughes Brothers Challenge in Wilmington, N.C., over the weekend.

Weekend watch

• At the prep level, there will be what one scouting supervisor terms "some serious heat" at the LaGrange Toyota Invitational in LaGrange, Ga., to scout a handful of strong prospects. Among those in action are Grayson (Ga.) HSl center fielder Austin Meadows, a potential top-10 pick, as well as right-hander Keegan Thompson from Cullman (Ala.) HS and Russell County (Ala.) HS outfielder Anfernee Grier. Grier will play Thursday while Meadows is slated to face Thomspon head-to-head on Friday evening.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Meadows is among the very best prep prospects in the class, perhaps threatening to go in the top five. He's a right-handed hitter with above-average to plus raw power, 60 grade speed and arm strength that plays in corner, though there is a chance he'll play center field in pro ball.

• If you're near Surprise, Ariz., you can see two of the best college pitching prospects in this year's class at the Coca-Cola College Baseball Classic. On Thursday, Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek faces Arizona State, and on Friday Gonzaga left-hander Marco Gonzales will fact Arkansas. Both guys are potential first-round picks, and Stanek has received top-five buzz since last summer. Keith Law will be there and will file a full scouting report on both.

• Stanford's Mark Appel will take on power-starved Texas, a team that has yet to homer in eight games and nearly 300 plate appearances. Appel is coming off a dominating outing last weekend drawing some wows from scouts. "That was a very nice performance," said one west coast crosschecker. "Three big-league offerings, mound presence ... he's better right now than at any point last year." If the right-hander is on his game again this week, it may be a long evening in Palo Alto for the Longhorns.

• Another pitching matchup drawing attention will occur in Norman, Okla., where Sooners southpaw Dillon Overton will take the mound against Pepperdine and right-hander Scott Frazier. Overton went eight shutout innings last Friday against Iowa and struck out nine. In two starts and three overall appearances, Overton has walked just one batter, allowed one earned run and punched out 16. Frazier has been solid-to-sharp in both of his starts, pounding the strike zone with above-average stuff and repeating his delivery well.

Sean Manaea, the top college left-hander and candidate to be the No. 1 overall selection, will look for his second straight solid outing after a mediocre first start two weeks back. He did rebound last week, fanning 10 of 22 batters faced and surrendering just three baserunners in six frames against College of Charleston. Manaea has battled an inconsistent release point in both starts -- he walked three batters in the season opener along with two more last week. He also hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and was called for two balks, so clearly there's some rust for him to shake.

• Florida right-hander Jonathon Crawford will look to bounce back from a lackluster showing a week ago as he faces an undefeated Miami (Fla.) club. Crawford's fastball was lacking velocity last weekend and to avoid falling out of the first round he'll need to get back toward the mid-90s.

• Ole Miss right-hander Bobby Wahl struggled with his control last Friday, walking six batters in five innings against Rhode Island. Wahl picked up the win and scouts say the raw stuff was there, but if he's to stave off more and more buzz on his future role, avoiding six-walk efforts is probably a good idea. He'll face Florida International this weekend.

Matt Krook of San Francisco's St. Ignatius Prep has made headway in the eyes of area scouts with average to above-average velocity and two effective breaking balls, a plus slider and a curveball that could be a legitimate plus-plus pitch down the line. One area scout called him "a left-handed Zach Lee, but with a great curveball instead of the changeup." He struck out eight in four innings last Saturday.
Krook is projectable at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds and is a solid athlete. He's scheduled to go again Thursday afternoon