Sometimes it pays off to be patient, especially with the Major League Baseball first-year player draft.
St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong, a 2008 Kamehameha graduate, is living proof of that.
That year, the Minnesota Twins drafted Wong in the 16th round, offered $75,000 as a signing bonus, and didn’t budge an inch.
He declined the offer, went to the University of Hawaii, and changed not only the program’s fortune but his future as well.
Wong became an All-American, played on Team USA, and was the MVP of the Cape Cod, the summer circuit’s top collegiate league.
Then in 2011 as a UH junior, Wong was drafted 22nd overall by the Cardinals, and signed a $1.3 million bonus. Wong was fast-tracked through St. Louis’ minor league system, and reached the big leagues last year, playing in the World Series.
“His influence on the draft for Hawaii kids has been tremendous,” an MLB scout said. “It changed the landscape for people scouting in Hawaii. Then he produced at different stages and shined a light on the state of Hawaii.
“Then his brother Kean came around and now Kodi Medeiros. Those three are among the best high school prospects ever out of Hawaii. Those three really opened the eyes of scouts, to pay attention to Hawaii. Before a lot of scouts punted Hawaii. Kean is doing fantastic. There’s no doubt he’ll be an MLB player as well, like his brother.”
If Medeiros is drafted in the first round, he would be the first from the Big Island to be picked that high out of high school. MLB scouts watched Medeiros and also took interest in recent Hilo graduate and outfielder Jodd Carter, and Kamehameha catcher Makoa Rosario.
“The earliest we have heard Kodi might be selected is 12th overall ($2,805,700 assigned slot value), and don’t expect him to get past 28th overall ($1,815,500 slot),” Perfect Game USA scouting supervisor Todd Gold said. “That arm slot (low three-quarter) is part of what helps him generate so much movement on his pitches, which is one of his biggest assets. On the other hand, it’s an unusual, though not unprecedented arm slot, for a starting pitcher. Pitchers who are projected as relievers long term have significantly less perceived value in the draft.
“He has the best raw stuff in the draft. The fastball velocity alone would grab attention as he sits in the low-mid 90s with his fastball, but when paired with tremendous movement it is one of the best fastballs in the class. His slider is even more devastating, and the changeup is better than you’d expect from a high school pitcher.”
Gold added that Medeiros’ composure gets a high grade as well.
“He has also pitched on all of the biggest stages available to a high school prospect,” Gold said. “Over the course of his four outings pitching in front of hundreds of scouts each time out last summer and fall he threw a total of eight shutout innings against some of the best hitters in the country. As a scout, it’s reassuring to see a player with his level of talent thrive under that kind of pressure.
“I have never scouted a pitcher quite like Medeiros before, he’s unique. I have seen a handful of high school left-handers over the years with similar velocity on their fastball, but none that combined his velocity and movement with a knockout breaking ball, let alone the ability to control them at such a young age.”
Scouts look at physical tools first, and assign a grade to each skill. For hitters, it’s a five-tool chart: arm strength, running speed, fielding ability, hitting ability, and hitting with power. The checklist for pitches includes not only a strong arm, but a grade for pitching arsenal, control, and delivery.
Production, especially for high school prospects against weaker competition, is far down the priority list. Carter (.484 batting average/1.472 on-base plus slugging) and Rosario (.419 BA/1.139 OPS) were productive in their senior seasons, but they also grade out with MLB tools.
An MLB scout said Carter has been clocked at 6.5 seconds in the 60-yard dash for a grade of 7, well above MLB average, on the 2 to 8 scouting scale, while Rosario’s throws to second base have been timed at 1.85 seconds for a grade of 6, above-average.
Carter has signed with UH while Rosario will play ball at Central Arizona. Baseball America ranks Carter as the draft’s No. 473rd prospect. Rosario is unranked for the 40-round draft.
“Carter has tools and he can run,” the scout said. “He might need to hone his skills and get stronger with the bat. He’s got tools to play with, but it might take longer to develop. I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody pops him in the 15 to 40 round range in the draft.
“Makoa has shown pretty good pop times to second base in workouts, 1.85 to 2.0 seconds. He’s got raw power. The consensus from most scouts is we’d like to see him go to school and develop for another year. A lot of people feel the same way about him and Carter, to go to school, develop and get stronger.”
Gold watched Medeiros as well as Carter and Rosario at the state tournament last month.
“Carter and Rosario have been scouted by nearly every organization, and will at least get some consideration,” Gold said. “Whether or not they get picked out of high school remains to be seen.”
Gold said there are no pro prospects at UH-Hilo, which suffered its 22nd consecutive losing season, but that the statewide depth is impressive.
“This is the second year in a row that Hawaii has produced an unusually strong draft crop,” he said. “Last year’s class (seven draft picks) was regarded as one of the deepest in the state’s history, and this year has a lot of impact. We’re not that far removed form Kolten Wong being taken in the first round in 2011, and Hawaii has been making strong contributions to the draft in recent years.
“Each significant prospect helps pave the way for the next generation of prospects. The more frequently an early round draft prospect comes out of Hawaii, the more visible the subsequent classes become. Kolten being a first-round pick helped elevate Kean’s profile, which in turn helped his Waiakea High School teammate Kodi Medeiros.”