Tigers draft watch: Could House be built to last at shortstop?

Detroit News

Editor’s note: This is the third in a weekly series of stories in which Detroit News freelance writer Lynn Henning will rank the top prospects in July’s MLB Draft.

One of the few mysteries within Brady House’s baseball portfolio is whether a man 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, who doesn’t turn 18 until June, can stay nimble enough through his adult years to stick at shortstop.

Brian Smith is head coach at Winder-Barrow High School in Winder, Georgia, 50 miles northeast of Atlanta. It’s the same school for which one-time Tigers outfielder Travis Demeritte once played.

Smith figures any big-league team who drafts House will have seen enough pluses to say yes to House settling in at short.

The tool-box begins with these 10-game numbers: .581 batting average, with a 1.827 OPS (.698 on-base and 1.129 slugging percentages). The breakdown includes four home runs, five doubles, 10 walks and three strikeouts.

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A coach understands teams probably won’t care as much about House’s position, long-term, as they’re interested in adding a right-handed bat — and person — so sturdy.

“He’s more than just a baseball player,” Smith said during a Monday phone conversation. “He’s an absolutely great kid with all the intangibles you want in a strong, fast, five-tool guy.”

Smith is onto something there. A team such as the Tigers, who will pick third overall in July’s MLB draft, isn’t drafting according to citizenship. But personal makeup factors into deciding whether a club is going to spend a blue-chip draft turn, as well as millions of dollars, on an investment as serious as an early first-round pick.

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What makes House’s case particularly interesting beyond his range of talents is that two other prep shortstops, Jordon Lawlar of Dallas Jesuit, and Marcelo Mayer of Eastlake High in Chula Vista, California, are — for now — considered by most national scouts to be a tick or two better than House.

But that evaluation is why scouts are keeping regular tabs on players during the next 3 ½ months. Much can change, particularly with bodies and youth, with House being a particularly keen example. Much can be revealed during a long spring schedule of games.

Winder-Barrow High is a school of about 2,000 students that may not regularly see pitching that’s college-bound, much less intriguing to MLB scouts. But don’t make assumptions.

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“Check out Buford High’s roster,” said Smith, speaking of a rival school, “and you’ll find out we’re dealing with five guys on that team who throw in the 90s, and two who are maybe in the mid-90s — no exaggeration.

“And our own staff has some good arms who compete against him, so he sees good pitching. I know college guys are easier to assess based on numbers. But whether he’s seeing good or bad pitching, he’s finding a way to square it up.”

That would be confirmed by a top exit velocity this season of 108 mph on one of House’s lasers.

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Some scouts aren’t convinced House has the feet — range — for short. They imply his baserunning might be closer to average. Again, his coach differs.

House has run the 60-yard dash in 6.65 seconds and the 40 in 4.57. He is 5-for-5 in stolen bases this month.

“He goes from first to third on singles, he even stole home once this year,” said Smith, who bats House leadoff, hoping to keep teams from pitching around him. “He’s proving he’s not a one-dimensional guy.”

House, who throws a 95-mph fastball, works as his team’s bullpen closer. He’s struck out nine of 13 batters faced.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” House said. “He’s actually hit 96, and not only does he throw hard, he knows how to pitch.”

House is en route to the University of Tennessee this fall. Supposedly. Unless something weird happens between now and July, it’s all but certain he’ll be signing a seven-figure deal with a big-league team.

“I try not to even discuss that with Brady, but I will say there has been attention, and a lot of important draft decision-makers coming to our ballpark,” Smith said. “We’ve had 30-plus scouts with video on him during batting practice.

“I’ll definitely do everything I can to help there. This kid deserves it.”

How top college and prep talents shape up following last week’s games and auditions for MLB scouts:

(UR denotes a player who was unranked the previous week.)

1. Jack Leiter, RH pitcher, Vanderbilt, 6-1, 205: Worked only five innings Saturday against Oklahome State, but it was the usual story: two hits, no runs, three walks, seven strikeouts. Such ease with his high-90s stuff. Last week’s ranking: 1.

2. Jordan Lawlar, SS, Dallas Jesuit High School, 6-2, 180: Had a weekend walk-off homer and hasn’t, officially, done anything to lower his draft capital. Talented young man who bats right-handed and plays the position teams view as the spot you want to lock up with premier talent. Last week’s ranking: 2.

3. Kumar Rocker, RH pitcher, Vanderbilt, 6-4, 255: Back on track Saturday against Oklahoma State, working eight innings in the first game of a doubleheader that left the Cowboys reeling after dealing with a Leiter-Rocker tag team. Rocker allowed two hits, while striking out nine and walking one. Fastball better, and that slider is vicious. Last week’s ranking: 8.

4. Henry Davis, C, University of Louisville, 6-1, 205: Tigers last June drafted an athletic catcher whose bat looked All-Star grade: Dillon Dingler. Dingler is talented enough to play elsewhere, which leads one to wonder if another right-hand hitter and catcher, with dimension and a heavy bat, could be Detroit’s pick in July. Davis in two weekend games against Boston College was 5-for-8, with a home run and a double. He had two other blasts that the wind probably kept from being at or over the fence. He also had zero strikeouts. Last week’s ranking: 5.

5. Marcelo Mayer, SS, Eastlake High School, Chula Vista, California, 6-3, 188: So talented that he seems destined to slide no lower than Top 5 status, no matter what happens through a pre-July inspection by MLB scouts. Last week’s ranking: 3.

6. Brady House, SS, Winder-Barrow High School, Winder, Georgia; 6-3, 212: Feel free to wonder if House doesn’t bypass Mayer, or even Lawlar. No soft spots in his profile. Hitting eye, power, better-than-advertised speed, glove, arm. He also throws 96 when he closes out a game. Not much chance House will opt for that University of Tennessee scholarship unless it comes with a few million dollars extra. Last week’s ranking: 9.

 7. Ty Madden, RH starter, University of Texas, 6-3, 215: Madden is one of those Friday night guys, which means he’s a staff ace. He looked the part Friday against a solid South Carolina team: seven innings, three hits, one run, three walks, five strikeouts. Last week’s ranking: 5

8. Gunnar Hoglund, RH pitcher, Ole Miss, 6-4, 210: He could push past Madden and crowd the Leiter-Rocker penthouse. Friday against University of Louisiana-Monroe, Hoglund worked six innings, yielding two hits, no runs, one walk, 14 strikeouts. On the year: 42 strikeouts in 23⅔ innings, with six walks. Last week’s ranking: 8

9. Jud Fabian, OF, University of Florida, 6-1, 180: Teams are deciding whether a guy with his gift for playing center field, and his right-handed pop, is worth the strikeouts that seem to be an equal game-day feature. In two games this past weekend against Jacksonville, Fabian was 3-for-9, with a home run, double, walk and four strikeouts. Last week’s ranking: 6

10. Jonathan Cannon, RH starter, University of Georgia, 6-6, 207: Just easing back after an illness layoff and will be entertaining scouts with his combo of size and heat. Cannon has worked a couple of short stints, spanning six innings, three hits, five strikeouts and no walks. Last week’s ranking: UR.

Dropping from Top 10: Ryan Cusick, RH pitcher, Wake Forest.

Pushing for Top 10: Mason Black, RH starter, Lehigh University, 6-3, 200; McCade Brown, RH starter, Indiana University, 6-6, 225; Sam Bachman, RH starter, Miami (Ohio), 6-1, 235; Jaden Hill, RH starter, Louisiana State, 6-4, 234; Matt McLain, SS, UCLA, 5-11, 180; Adrian Del Castillo, C, University of Miami, 5-11, 210; James Wood, OF, IMG Academy, 6-6, 230.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.

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