Harvey, Ciuffo flash first-round potential

Right-hander Hunter Harvey of Bandys High School near Charlotte, N.C., is the son of former big league reliever Bryan Harvey. But unlike his dad, Hunter projects as a starter -- emphasis on the word "projects," as taking him high involves a fair amount of projection on the stuff and the body.

Harvey pitched in Lenoir, N.C., against West Caldwell on Tuesday night, with a handful of pretty senior national scouts in attendance, showing solid stuff but struggling with command and control.

He was 90-93 mph with his fastball for five innings, with his 75-77 mph curveball his out pitch against hitters on both sides of the plate; he varied the shape of the breaking ball, although I'm not sure how deliberate that was, throwing some with real two-plane break and depth and others that were more vertical as he'd try to hit the inside corner to right-handers. He showed the willingness to work inside with his fastball to left- and right-handed hitters, but not the ability to locate it consistently, walking or hitting several batters despite the fact that he had a four-run lead before he took the mound.

There's no step-over to Harvey's stride -- he almost drags his lead leg forward, landing on the third base side of the mound, cutting himself off and limiting how much arm speed he can get from that forward motion. He gets way out over his front side when releasing the ball, and despite the landing spot his arm slot is high enough that he doesn't end up throwing across his body. Get him landing towards the plate and leading more with the front leg and his command and perhaps velocity will improve in short order.

Harvey is also very projectable physically, 6-foot-3 and about 180 pounds, with room to add 20 pounds over the next few years. He's declined to commit to a college, making it clear that he intends to sign -- a significant competitive advantage over other prep arms in a draft system that all but mandates that clubs strike predraft deals with their picks. (Even though such deals are illegal, MLB has never been all that great at anticipating unintended consequences.) I think he's a late first-round/early sandwich-round talent, but I expect him to go higher than that because of his signability.

Ciuffo rising

Lexington (S.C.) HS catcher Nick Ciuffo has entered the first-round equation as well, one of three prep catchers likely to go off the board in that range along with Reese McGuire (who has been throwing extremely well this spring) and Jonathan Denney (an offensive catcher who needs work to remain behind the plate). Of the three, Ciuffo is the best catcher to me, showing above-average power at the plate and demonstrating arm strength that is handcuffed somewhat by a longer throwing motion.

Ciuffo's swing is very simple, with very little stride and a consistent path. He rotates his hips well and has the hand strength to pull the ball, even when he rolls over his front foot through contact. His plate coverage on the outer half wasn't as good as it was on the inner half when I saw him on Saturday, as he kept his hands inside the ball well but his general pull-orientation made him a little vulnerable to stuff away.

Behind the plate, Ciuffo showed outstanding hands -- he caught nearly everything that was catchable and kept his glove very steady after receiving the pitch, the first step towards the ability to "frame" pitches. His arm strength is fine, but when throwing to second he wound up more like a pitcher, taking a step toward second and making his arm travel further than it needed to, resulting in average to slightly below-average pop times. Area scouts who've seen him more all answered my questions by saying Ciuffo has a 55- or 60-grade arm, so clearly I caught him on an off day.

High school catchers are a risky class of players in the draft because of historically high failure rates, with three primary reasons: They don't hit, they can't stay at catcher, or they get hurt. Ciuffo is a no-doubt catcher, with some upside remaining there, and at least has the power and hand strength to hit enough to profile as a regular there without a ton of improvement. That should get him picked in the back half of the first round.