Prep Baseball Report

Eyes On I-10: Texas Spring Break

Shooter Hunt
Vice President, Scouting


Each year, Texas’ three week run of “Spring Break Tournaments” across the state provides a pristine scouting ground for an initial spring evaluation. Whether mega matchups or inter-city rivalries, no state matches the jam-packed action of six games in three days for three straight weeks as coaches and programs look to evaluate talent while planning for district play and the road to State. 

This year, On the Hunt found its way to Houston where some of the most intriguing MLB Draft talent resides, and a blossoming set of underclass superstars was apparent.

Draft Notes:

Braylon Payne OF / Elkins, TX / 2024

Elkins High is hardly a new Houston-area prospect hub having won a 2002 National Championship, and produced a slew of future MLB players including Matt Carpenter and James Loney with Tristan Gray making his debut this past September. So when OF Braylon Payne, a Houston recruit, first emerged as an ultra-intriguing outfielder last summer, area scouts were likely very familiar with the Knights’ program.

The high-waisted, 6-foot-1, 185-pound true center fielder is the epitome of functional athleticism with a pristine frame and plus-speed that he gracefully utilizes as a premium weapon on both sides of the ball. This quick, two-game viewing saw nearly TEN chances for the dynamic defender as he demonstrated the unique ability to combine his innate tools with exceptional attention to detail. Crisp routes on some difficult plays ranging deep to both gaps saw him erase extra-bases with ease. Beyond the speed and routes, his glove-work stands out thanks to soft, confident hands, and his willingness to charge balls without fear provided for a look at his plus-arm that shows impressive carry with outstanding accuracy. He is truly the premier outfield defender in this prep class, and one whose present level of play has not been seen at the prep level since Pete Crow-Armstrong (1st round, Mets ‘20).

But the bat is what will dictate Payne’s ceiling with regards to this year’s draft. Going 3-for-7 across two games including FIVE stolen bases in one, Payne displayed much of the same with regards to his steady progression over the past year. Squared with an athletic base from the left side, his hands rock down and back, slightly, with a short stride as the body drifts forward, some, as the hands remain back. There was some inconsistency to the path with swing-and-miss present early, as the lower-half appeared to cut off at times, but then lightning would strike at other moments with a more powerful guide of the bottom hand in delivering a more accurate barrel. There are clearly ingredients to building a quality gap-to-gap approach, and the talented outfielder displayed a willingness to utilize the whole field, and is most definitely aware of his speed when hitting with two strikes showing a willingness to keep the ball on the ground. Blazing to a 3.95 home-to-first time at his best, he was routinely below a 4.1, even when stutter-stepping to the bag. His hardest hit ball came off a 90+ mph fastball for a lined single that included a hard 4.25 turn. In fact, everything that he did on the diamond throughout this look was done at an effortlessly full-tilt style with keen interest in winning.

There is clearly more seasoning needed at the plate, but the brief glimpses of his elite upside is sure to have decision makers trickling in throughout the spring, especially given the emphasis (and value) that speed has taken in the professional game. While this look did not quell every question about the bat, the foundation for the upside remains intact, and his present tools are likely to be discussed at length between scouting departments and player development within organizations as to how much risk can be mitigated. It is worth noting that Payne’s makeup appeared quite strong in this look and he exhibited leadership qualities that are sure to garner affection from the scouting community with regards to his willingness to get better. In closing, this look was not a slam dunk 1st round statement, but rather a hovering rounds 2-3 with a chance to catch helium throughout the spring.

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