These are good outfielders. So good, in fact, that I don’t even know where to begin when trying to break them down. I mean, there’s always a good outfield group because we live in a big country with a lot of great, hard-working athletes who will always remain willing to pursue a potentially extremely lucrative position playing a game for a living. But, still: this is an unusually good group of outfielders, noticeable both for its upside at the top and depth throughout. I’m excited about this year’s high school outfielders and you should be as well. The rankings are more fluid here than at any other high school position player group, so bear with me as I skip around and try to touch on as many of the top guys as I can.
Mitchell Hansen (Plano HS, Texas) has been compared by Baseball America to both Brandon Nimmo and Shawn Green. The only comp I got on him was a cautionary one: Jeremy Hermida. Like all of my favorite bats in this year’s high school class, Hansen will likely shift from center to an outfield corner before too long in the pros, but the bat speed is legit and the swing works. Demi Orimoloye (St. Matthew HS, Ontario) is all upside. I’m a sucker for upside. Ergo, Orimoloye was one of the earliest high school players to earn the FAVORITE designation from me last summer. To say that he passes the eye test as a ballplayer is an understatement. I like him more than Gareth Morgan (74th overall pick) from last year’s draft and think his game shares many positive elements with Jermaine Dye’s.
OF Eric Jenkins (West Columbus HS, North Carolina) reminds me of Matthew Railey (89th overall pick) from last year’s draft. He has all the speed, athleticism, and center field range you could ask for, plus a surprising bit of pop that could result in double-digit home run power as he continues to fill out. Jahmai Jones (Wesleyan HS, Georgia) is a fantastic athlete with explosive bat speed. I try not to put too much stock in what I see up close, but Jones made a really big impact on me with how he hit just about everything hard in my looks. I think getting into baseball full-time could help take his game to the next level. Alonzo Jones (Columbus HS, Georgia) is my preferred speed option in a class with some good ones. He consistently reminds me of Roman Quinn, a player I know not many national writers have taken to but one I consider a potential first-division regular in center field. A Quinn comp from me is a mighty compliment. I really like Jones.
The Greg Pickett (Legend HS, Colorado) bandwagon has emptied quickly this spring, but I’m sticking with the big raw power, disciplined approach, and average all-around skill set elsewhere all the same. There’s some justified concern that he’ll have to move to first base sooner rather than later, but that’s not an outcome I’m sweating too much just yet.
It’s perhaps a silly distinction to make, but I appreciate those who have hinted at this over the past few months: Daz Cameron, while still an excellent prospect, profiles more as a player with “star” upside than as a potential “superstar.” Both are mostly meaningless terms made up by people with too much time on their hands (like me!), so take this any way you ultimately see fit. The earliest comps on Cameron, or, as he was once known, the third Upton brother, shine a light on the downside of player comparisons. Over the top comps created unrealistic expectations that paint really good players as “failures” in the eyes of those who only really follow the draft/prospects on the surface. Cameron’s game hasn’t taken off the way many thought based on the early promise he showed two plus years ago, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good player. He is who we thought he was, so to speak. Cameron is an exceptionally well-rounded player with no overwhelming strengths yet no noticeable weaknesses. In reality, his greatest strength is the fact he has no glaring weakness. I’m not sure he has a single tool that you couldn’t project to average or better if you wanted to and a player like that with little to no question (I say no) that he’ll stick in center (I’d say excel) for a long time to come has serious value as a prospect.
Somewhat similar prospects to Cameron that I can think of in recent years include Josh Hart (now with Baltimore) and Anfernee Grier (Auburn). Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs once described him as a similar player to Derek Hill. Cameron has a bit more raw power than all those guys, but I think all are reasonable starting points. The two former big league players that I think Cameron most closely resembles are Steve Finley and Marquis Grissom. Finley’s 162 game average stands out: .271/.332/.442 with 19 HR and 20 SB. I think that’s a fair guess at Cameron’s considerable upside (20/20 guys who can run down balls in center are no joke), though any comparison to Finley’s bizarre career should be made carefully. Finley isn’t quite Raul Ibanez (53 homers in his 40’s and 27 in his 20’s, with 225 in between), but he did manage to sock almost as many home runs in his 40’s (19) as he did in his 20’s (37) with 248 in between. That’s got next to nothing to do with Cameron, but I thought it was weird enough to mention. One other name I heard when asking around on Daz: Jose Cruz Jr. I’m not sure what to do with any of this at this point, so take it however you’d like. I do think that when added together, you’re looking at a player with the chance to be really good for a long time with potential spurts of greatness. The defensive value alone should get him to the big leagues and the development of the bat will determine his role from there. Admittedly, this relatively low ranking of Cameron doesn’t quite match with the preceding wall of text, but it’s that last point about his upside with the bat remaining an open question that keeps me from going all-in on him as a top half of the first round talent.
Comparing Daz to his father is lazy, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong. I mean, I don’t think it’s an ideal comparison – Daz is more polished at the same stage as his father, Mike was more athletic with arguably more natural ability – but it’s not wrong just because it’s lazy. Take this excerpt from a Cameron scouting report…
“Good tools, good make-up, must adjust bat little, has hands and bat speed to hit, centerfield type, long strider, glider, will become plus outfielder.”
Sounds like Daz to me, but that’s actually a report written on Mike by Rod Fridley back in the elder Cameron’s senior year of high school. Fridley graded Mike’s tools as all having average or better upside with the exception being power (40). Sounds a little like Daz to me. Still, the best comp I’ve gotten to date on the younger Cameron’s ceiling is Vernon Wells. Before his massive contract made him (unfairly) a walking punchline, Wells was regarded as an outstanding prospect and a young player capable of putting together consistently above-average seasons. Through his age 27 season he put up a .288/.336/.492 line (112 OPS+), averaging 28 HR, 40 2B, and 11 SB per 162 games. Through his six years of club control he put up 18.5 fWAR with above-average defense in center in all but one season. His bWAR (28.7) ranks as the fourth highest of any signed first round pick that year behind only Lance Berkman, Troy Glaus, and Jayson Werth, and it’s good for fifth overall (add Tim Hudson to the mix) of any player signed in the first ten rounds that year. Some of the scouting notes from Wells during his senior season of high school…
- “Polished player, who looks to be having a lot of fun playing.”
- “Has the foundation to be a regular at the major league level.”
- “Should be a five-tool player with bat leading [the] way. Line-drive stroke puts some ?? on power but think HRs will come naturally.”
All three reports were littered with future 60s and 55s for his tools, which might be a touch rich for Cameron in my view – I could see going 60 on his defense, but that’s it – yet still falls fairly close to how he’s viewed by many in and around the game. The comparison to Wells takes a fun and unexpected turn when you consider that Cameron, widely speculated to be in the mix for Houston with the fifth pick, could wind up being selected in the same spot as Wells eighteen years after Toronto took Vernon fifth overall. That’s a largely pointless coincidence, but I think it’s neat so there.
I’ve waited to get into too much detail on Garrett Whitley (Niskayuna HS, New York) because he’s at or near the top of the list of prospects that most confound me in this class. Quite frankly, I don’t have much detail to get into outside of what you, Mr./Mrs. Informed Reader, already know. His natural ability is obvious and there’s a chance he does enough outside of the batter’s box to contribute to a big league team one day even if he doesn’t hit as much as his peers, but the nagging doubts I have about him developing into the kind of hitter that winds up being a true difference-maker keep me from pumping him up as a potential top ten pick. That said, I’ve heard and read – and much of this is public info that you (yes, you!) might have read as well – that he’s made a huge leap as a hitter this spring. I haven’t had independent sources corroborate this – the geography of the situation is killing me here – but even just seeing the national guys talk him up is obviously quite encouraging. It certainly makes me feel as though my lukewarm opinion on his bat based largely on what I saw last summer (I’m not a scout, but I am a human who will have biases that seep into my evaluations) isn’t a fair way to judge him anymore, if it ever was at all (see previous parenthetical). That’s a long way of saying that I genuinely don’t know what to make of Whitley. One of the failings of trying to coverage a country’s worth of prospects by myself as a hobby means that certain players, even top guys like Whitley, can fall through the cracks.
Whitley is this class’s biggest mystery to me. He could wind up a star. He could wind up topping out in AA unable to hit anything but average-ish fastballs. Consider any attempt at my ranking him with his peers with a gigantic block of salt. The few responses I’ve gotten when asking about Whitley (all from guys working well outside Whitley’s area) haven’t helped me achieve increased clarity. One friend thought I was nuts for liking Plummer over Whitley, calling the latter a carbon copy of a young Adam Jones. That’s a comp I haven’t heard before or since, yet I don’t hate it. Another simply shared his own confusion about what to do with Whitley, calling him “the most likely prospect to make or break an executive’s career” in this year’s class. That actually made a lot of sense to me. Whitley has been such a tricky player to scout fairly this spring that hitting on him would be a tremendous victory for a scouting staff. Missing on him, however, would mean blowing an early first round pick. I think picking him at any point after the first few picks or so is justified, but still damn risky. Can’t wait to see which brave team takes the gamble.
(Preliminary ranking outside of the top three to come later in the day…I need a few hours to get my best guesses in order)
OF Kyle Tucker (Plant HS, Florida)
OF Nick Plummer (Brother Rice HS, Michigan)
OF Trenton Clark (Richland HS, Texas)
I wrote a whole mess of words on Kyle Tucker (and other things) yesterday, but didn’t get the comp I truly wanted for him until today: Paul O’Neill. Stylistically it works, and I think O’Neill’s production (162 game average: .288/.363/.470 with 22 HR, 11 SB, and 70 BB/92 K) is a reasonable ceiling for Tucker’s skill set. Toss in some above-average corner outfield defense and you get why I’d be so high on him.
Anyway, believe it or not, there are other non-Tucker outfielders to talk about. My favorite is Nick Plummer (Brother Rice HS, Michigan), which should come as no shock to any regular reader who knows how I feel about a player described to me as “so smart about the strike zone, umpires have waited for him to react before calling balls and strikes.” The two published comps on him that I’ve read (both from Perfect Game) are Jon Jay and Ray Lankford. The two that I’ve gotten are Raimel Tapia (love prospect to prospect comps) and Bobby Higginson.
Let’s unpack the Higginson comparison a bit because I both liked him as a player and like the specific comparison to Plummer. I was surprised to see Higginson, who in my memory had a strong compact build bordering on bulky (in a good way), listed at 5-11, 175 pounds back in 1992 after his senior season at Temple. One report had him up to 190 pounds, which puts him right around the same listed height/weight of what I have on Plummer (5-11, 200) as of now. That works as a good reminder for me to remember to compare players at similar stages of their development physically. This is still an imperfect player to player comparison since we’re talking about a HS senior and a college senior, but at least we’re not mixing in a guy in his mid-30s to confuse things further. For more on Higginson at that time I went searching for any old scouting reports on him. Here are the unedited excerpts from the five scouting reports at Diamond Minds written by Billy Blitzer, Ed Creech, Joe Frisina, Brad Kohler, and Phil Rossi about Bobby Higginson.
- “QUICK BAT, CAN REALLY TURN ON PITCH.” “OK ON BASES.” “EASY THROWING MOTION, ARM BIT SHORT BUT PLAYABLE.” “WILL GO AS FAR AS BAT TAKES HIM.”
- “GOOD STROKE, HEADY OF, IDEA AT THE PLATE AND ON DEF…NO GLARING WEAKNESSES.”
- “THIS KID CAN SWING THE BAT, KNOWS THE STRIKE ZONE…BAT BEST TOOL NOW.”
- “Live bat, quick short stroke, ball jumps from bat.” Line drive hitter to all fields.”
- “Generates bat-head ‘quickly’ thru hitting zone, w/ consistently hard-contact; Will have some power; Sl[lightly] below to avg. throwing arm, that has carry; Runs bases well.”
The Rossi report ended with this note that I think applies to Plummer: “Bat will carry to M.L.” I’d be remiss to not also mention the comps those scouts mentioned in their reports. Here I was thinking only internet hacks used comps, but guess I was wrong. Physical comparisons made included Johnny Callison, Jack Daugherty, Phil Plantier, and Mike Greenwell. That last one really caught my attention, so I asked around and got some emphatic support for a Greenwell/Plummer comparison. Mike Greenwell was an outstanding hitter when healthy (162 game average: .303/.368/.463 with 17 HR, 10 SB, and 59 BB/46 K), so that’s a lofty comparison but I can see it fitting for those who really believe in Plummer’s bat. Higginson’s 162 game average puts you in the same ballpark: .272/.358/.455 with 22 HR, 11 SB, and 77 BB/95 K. It’s hard to find a more modern comp that fits similarly with that kind of production in today’s game, but I could see some Denard Span with more pop to Plummer’s offensive future if things break right. That’s obviously a bat only comparison as Span’s defense and base running make him a different all-around player altogether.
As with Tucker, if you’re buying Plummer as an early first round caliber talent (as I do), then you’re going all-in on the bat carrying him to the big leagues. The rest of his tools are more good than great and I’d argue, like Tucker, that his long-term home is in a corner outfield spot (left field since his arm is his weakest tool) once he starts to lose a step as a runner, but his pitch recognition, disciplined approach, and ability to make pitchers throw his pitches that he can drive are unique for such a young hitter. One last name that he reminds me of a bit because I just can’t help myself: a slower Johnny Damon.
Almost all of the above can be applied to Trenton Clark (Richland HS, Texas). He’s another elite hitter with a great feel for the game and unparalleled baseball IQ. I think that last part is what has confounded some this spring, as, like Plummer, his non-hitting tools are all more good than great (other reasonable minds disagree, for the record), but his smarts can help literally every aspect of his overall game play up. I’d actually put his speed, arm (no doubt), and likelihood to stick in center ahead of Plummer, but his overall future contributions with the bat just a tick behind. As such, arguing for one over the other is fair game. In fact, the mention of Span as a potential bat comp for Plummer actually fits better for Clark – even more so when you account for other facets of his game – so let’s just go ahead and use that for now.
Or we can get into another comp I like for Clark that I’ve actually gotten for a certain SEC outfielder as well. Trenton Clark is Mark Kotsay is Andrew Benintendi, if you believe in the Transitive Property of Equality. I’ll spare you the bullet by bullet breakdown of this comparison, but go here and search for Kotsay and see for yourself. Though you could say he didn’t quite live up to all the expectations that his younger self once teased, Kotsay had a fantastic big league run. He put up 20.2 fWAR, was a near league average bat for a long time (95 wRC+, 96 OPS+), played parts of 17 seasons in the big leagues, and took home just over $50 million for his work on the diamond. Getting a player like him (forget the fact his last eight seasons were all below-average, focus on the 19.2 fWAR in his years of club control) with a top ten pick is a win by any measure, expectations be damned.
I currently have Kyle Tucker (Plant HS, Florida), Nick Plummer (Brother Rice HS, Michigan), and Trenton Clark (Richland HS, Texas) all in my unofficial tentative subject to change on a whim no good very bad top ten overall draft prospects. In terms of just looking at high school outfielders, I think after Clark there’s a drop, but not a particularly steep one to the next tier. That second grouping is probably the most interesting collection of players to discuss because it includes a greater variety of prospect types. There are speed guys, bat guys, big name guys, undervalued guys…you name it. We’ll get to them soon. After that, it’s a gigantic mashup of prospects that are truly “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” types. I say this a lot, but it bears repeating: there’s no such thing as a consensus draft prospect ranking. Every team values players, and player types, differently. It sounds so obvious to say, but when watching the draft unfold we actually learn a lot more about what the drafting teams are all about than how a given year’s drafted players are thought of. This logic can be applied just as easily to the internet experts (or wannabes, like me) who make pre-draft rankings. Clearly, my ranking Tucker, Plummer, and Clark in the first three spots says something about what I personally value in a high school outfield prospect in this particular draft. My preference for BATS over sure-fire center field tools doesn’t represent a baseball belief I hold in perpetuity. It exemplifies that in this moment of time, for a variety of contextual reasons, that’s where my preference lies. No more, no less. If Garrett Whitley, for example, winds up as the first high school outfielder selected, then I won’t feel any better or worse about this rankings. Reasonable minds can disagree on player value, after all. There seems to be more disagreement about the top of this high school class than any other spot and that in part is what makes this my favorite high school position group to discuss. And there’s arguably no more interesting player to talk about than the man atop the list, Kyle Tucker.
As of today, Tucker is my current second overall player and top high school prospect in this year’s draft. Coming to that realization got me was thinking about him the other day, specifically about who his game reminds me of on the pro side. That simple passing thought turned into a multi-day obsession with finding a reasonable comp for Tucker going forward. By now everybody has heard the swing comparisons to decent hitters of the past like Ted Williams and Ken Griffey Jr. Those are obviously lofty comps even when taken for what they are (swing only) and not what some fans might want them to be (Kyle Tucker = HOF LOCK!), but both make sense. I have a really hard time matching up Tucker’s unique upright approach with contemporaries in today’s game. The closest established big league player that I see in him is Adrian Gonzalez. I like the more powerful Jesse Winker comp (from BA, I think) that has been circulating for a few weeks. Ultimately, as a hitter and all-around prospect, he reminds me quite a bit of Christian Yelich with more power.
Yelich is a fascinating player to be compared to because, based entirely on anecdotal evidence, there doesn’t appear to be much of a consensus on what kind of player he is or will be just yet. That’s not atypical for a 23-year old player, but Yelich has already put up a 4.3 fWAR season so you’d think the dissenters wouldn’t have much to back up their anti-Yelich (as a star/future star) views. As a staunchly pro-Yelich loudmouth, I’ve argued on his behalf in real life more times than a so-called adult with a wife, job, and mortgage should admit that he’s a future batting champ capable of ripping off a string of seasons like his 2014 campaign with the chance to grow into more power as he fills out physically and makes a few slight adjustments to his swing. The argument against him has been based largely on favorable BABIP luck (counter: he’s the kind of hitter immune to that, as his minor league numbers indicate) and that burgeoning power being more theoretical than grounded in reality. I don’t have much of a counter to that last point, at least from a statistical point of view. In fact, the numbers suggest that Yelich has even more work to do in the power department than I would have assumed at first blush. The only player with a higher K% (22.3) and lower ISO (.111) since his debut is Michael Bourn. That ISO is also the 23rd lowest of all qualifying players (158 total) in that same span. Yikes. What side was I on again?
Thankfully, Yelich does a lot of other things really well and has plenty of time (he’s a relative baby at 23) to improve in the areas he’s short in. I’ll also continue to hedge my bets by calling Tucker a more powerful version of Yelich, so that covers my backside when it comes to guessing on long-term power upside. Still, even after all those ups and downs in Yelich’s game, in a first round only re-draft of the 2010 class, I have to imagine that he would go in the top five. I’d say he’s only clearly behind Bryce Harper, Chris Sale, Matt Harvey, and Manny Machado right now. You can’t really compare draft class to draft class, but it’s still comforting to have Tucker as high as I do knowing that Yelich, his closest comp as I see it, would have been justified being taken in a similar range in his draft year. Calling Yelich a top five talent in that class at the time would have been incredibly bold, but also incredibly smart in hindsight.
The twist in all of this is that I am Team Yelich now, but was actively rooting against my hometown team selecting him back in 2010. If that whiff makes you want to quit reading now, I wouldn’t hold it against you. Mike Trout will forever be my big miss of all big misses, but Yelich is up there. I really didn’t think he’d hit enough to play first base in the pros, a position I thought he’d be locked into because of average at best athleticism and a really wonky throwing motion. Shows what I know. Early on the process, I did write this…
Yelich is like the hitting version of Stetson Allie, an up and down prospect that can look like a late first rounder one day and a fifth round lottery ticket on the next.
…which felt like a fair assessment at the time and hasn’t aged too badly in the past five years. I mean, he was inconsistent at the time, and I at least acknowledged the possibility of him ending up in the first round fairly early on in the draft cycle. Ranking him 43rd overall that year, directly behind fellow high school bats Kris Bryant, Marcus Littlewood, Chevy Clarke, and Brian Ragira, is tougher to live down today. One out of four ain’t bad, I suppose.
I’ll turn thirty exactly six months from yesterday. While thirty as a number sounds older than I feel, there’s really no denying the inevitably of going from young and full of fresh ideas about the game (and life, I guess) to old and cynical and perhaps even untrusting of some of the new stuff being presented by those who came after you’ve already tried to make your mark. I’m obviously not a crusty old scout who thinks things were better in my day nor do I buy into the belief that there is any one right way to credibly assess a player’s future in this sport. I do my best to apply logic and reason, professional experience and firsthand accounts, and statistical analysis and new biomechanical studies into my analysis. There’s no one right way to do this. Still, I can’t help but get a little bit of a laugh out of the generation behind me – I’ve argued with others before about the need for changing the definition of a “generation”; I think technology moves too quick to stick to the old definition (a biological generation is considered to be 20-25 years), so I propose moving it closer to every graduating class or so (we can round it up to every 5 years to make it nice and neat) because that’s what most people mean when they talk about generations today anyway – that has made going to games and writing about them as technically as possible and full of baseball cant a “thing.” Unbelievably enough, this sells!
Jargon that isn’t used anywhere but the internet baseball community (i.e., not by actual baseball scouting departments) is held up with the highest esteem by certain editors, quick to scold any outsider who they’ve deemed unworthy of writing about baseball because they haven’t been to X amount of games on Cactus League backfields, at many of the biggest prospect outlets. You probably shouldn’t hire somebody to head your prospect coverage who is literally the type of person you’re complaining about – made-up scout quotes are so lame, at least try to mask them with a different voice other than your own, man — ruining your most special internet baseball club, but whatever. Going to games is massively important. Developing a network of people you trust in the game is massively important. Doing the total wannabe scout thing and breaking down every big of a player’s mechanics to the prove you really did see him up close enough to make a grand proclamation about his future (inconsistent frontward facing load with too much pronation and an unappealing bat wrap with fat hands that will give him trouble against better pitching even though he’s currently hitting .350/.500/.650 against the equivalent of A-Ball competition = NP!) is just not necessary. The arrogance of those who do it that way and demean anybody who doesn’t is breathtaking.
This brings me back to a hobby of mine. I watch baseball, I listen to baseball, I play baseball, and I write about baseball. When I’m not doing those things, I’m reading about baseball. No, I’m not Adam Jones, but the overarching impact this game has on my life is kind of funny now that I’m seeing the preceding few sentences in print and realizing how tight a grip baseball has on me. Still, I love reading about baseball with the specific focus on the history of scouting whenever possible. Everybody loves Dollar Sign on the Muscle (and rightfully so, it’s a yearly read that is as important and great as you’ve heard), but there are a ton of other books written in a similar vein including my personal favorite Prophet of the Sandlots, a book as interesting for the character study of the late Tony Lucadello as the baseball wisdom interspersed throughout. You can get it used for a penny on Amazon, by the way. Anyway, at no point in any old scouting report – you can also read a ton of old reports through the magic of the device you’re currently reading this very post on – have I ever read any of the stuff that sells as expertise on the internet today. I’m not saying that those who write in that style today are wrong for doing so – I kid about some of the technical jargon used to make baseball try to be more important than it is, but those that are good at it find a way to cut through the extra fluff and paint a great picture of what a player looks like while swinging or throwing that is almost as good as seeing the guy for yourself – but merely pointing out that those who fall on the side of believing that “this is how scouting reports are supposed to be written” couldn’t be more wrong. There’s no right or wrong way to write about prospects. There’s no right or wrong way to attempt to write a scouting report. Write what you see, hear, and think, and eventually the work you’ve put in (or not) will become evident.
All of this brings me back to Kyle Tucker, somehow. Tucker can hit. He can really, really hit. We can get deeper than that if we really have to, but I don’t personally find it necessary. I swear I had no idea of the HS connection at the time, but his feel for hitting instantly reminded me of Wade Boggs the first time I saw him. Obviously the extent of such a comp is quite limited, so just think bat control and the ability to consistently catch the ball with the fat part of his bat. The way he keeps his hands and head back is pretty special for a young hitter. The rest of the tools will all play, though I’m less bullish on his long-term future in center than most. Typically when the pre-draft chatter about an amateur is along the lines of “you know, he just might be athletic enough to stick in center,” then the opposite winds up being true. I think as his lanky frame fills out he’ll lose enough speed to make left field his primary home during his best offensive seasons. Even as a corner outfielder, I think he hits enough to be a well above-average regular with surges of stardom sprinkled throughout a long career. You know, a little bit like what I expect out of Christian Yelich (except with more power).
I’ve stalled on this piece for two reasons. The most honest reason is that it’s because I don’t feel like I have much to say about this year’s high school third base class that you can’t find elsewhere on the internet. It’s not that I don’t have any original insight – I saw three of the names below multiple times this spring, including one guy who played home games five minutes from the house I grew up in – but it’s more that the top few names on any ranking of this position are all so closely bunched that I don’t know how to cleverly come up with ways to separate them. That blends into the second reason for the delay. I’ve played a long waiting game over the past few weeks trying to hear from somebody – anybody – who could help shed a little light on the cloudy high school third base picture. Maybe an original take, maybe a comp or two, maybe something that differentiated what I could run from anything else you might read. No such luck. Everybody I’ve talked to has their own top guy in this class. No less than a half-dozen players were mentioned to me as the best high school third base prospect this year; interestingly enough, almost every time that a player was mentioned as a favorite it was quickly followed with a “but I still wouldn’t take him until late in the first, if that” sentiment. All in all, appealing depth with minimal consensus star talent sounds like a pretty fair descriptor of a group of players I once called “rough,” an adjective that qualifies as just about as mean as I’ll publicly get when discussing teenage athletes. Nobody has truly emerged since last summer, but nobody has drastically fallen off, either.
Cornelius Randolph (Griffin HS, Georgia) heads the class as a potential plus hitter with above-average power upside. He’s at or around average elsewhere (speed, glove, arm), so it’ll be the continued development of the bat that will define him. I threw out a weird and wild Gregg Jefferies comp on him last time his name came up. Recently I heard from somebody who said that there were aspects of his game (namely his stick) that reminded him of the high school version of Anthony Rendon. Both of those comparisons are bold and exciting, but I keep coming back to a lefthanded version of Edgardo Alfonzo. The issue with that comp is the difference in approach between the two hitters. I couldn’t unearth an old Alfonzo scouting report to make a direct comparison, but it stands to reason that his career BB/K ratio of 596/617 hardly came as a surprise after posting more walks than strikeouts as a quick-moving minor league talent. Even without the benefit of those old reports, it’s clear that Alfonzo was a preternaturally mature hitter from the day the ink dried on his first pro contract. Excellent plate discipline numbers like that are impossible to project on any high school prospect, but I’d be especially wary of expecting anything close to Randolph, a player who will have to answer many of the same questions of approach that I brought up in the recent Brendan Rodgers deep dive. Present concerns aside, I don’t think it’s crazy to believe that Randolph can be an impact big league hitter with average or better plate discipline in time.
Ke’Bryan Hayes (Concordia Lutheran HS, Texas) is in many ways a similar offensive player to Randolph right down to the shared concerns about his approach translating to pro ball. I’ve heard more positive things concerning Hayes’s approach – you’d think the bloodlines wouldn’t hurt in this area, though there’s hardly a direct correlation – and I prefer his defensive upside to Randolph’s, though I still give Cornelius the overall edge because of a stronger belief in the bat. Hayes was one of the guys I was hunting for a good comp for, but couldn’t think of anything worth making public. I suppose that makes him a fairly unique player, if you want to look at it that way.
I said earlier that nobody had emerged, but Tyler Nevin (Poway HS, California) qualifies as the closest thing to a breakout player in this group. Of course, that’s cheating because he hasn’t really broken out in terms of showing anything in the way of new and improved talent (that’s not a knock as he was damn good to begin with and has reinforced that belief with a good spring), but rather by getting and staying healthy this spring. I’m a huge fan of his game based on what I’ve seen and heard, and wouldn’t discount the idea that he’ll wind up the best overall player to come out of his position group. Everybody was waiting on to see and hear how his arm would bounce back after Tommy John surgery, but the current word is so far so good. That’s great news for a guy already with elite defensive tools and plenty of upside with the bat. Trey Cabbage (Grainger HS, Tennessee) is probably the better example of a player breaking out on merit in this group. He checks just about every box for me when looking at a high school prospect: chance to hit, average or better raw power, athleticism, knowledge of the strike zone, cool name, etc.
I said earlier that nobody had drastically fallen off, but John Aiello (Germantown Academy, Pennsylvania) qualifies as the closest to a player who might have slipped enough to be thinking more about college (Wake Forest) than professional baseball. Without going into too much detail – as I’ve mentioned before, I have to be a bit coy about the eastern PA, south Jersey, and Delaware prospects I’ve seen a bunch firsthand due to some part-time consulting work – the 2015 season has been a series of struggles for Aiello, who has been slow to get his timing back at the plate after Tommy John surgery last fall. It hasn’t helped matters that he’s one of the lone offensive bright spots on an otherwise disappointing high school team (7-15 regular season record). I saw a lot of Aiello this spring and only witnessed one extra base hit (a double) in well over thirty plate appearances.
On a happier note, competition and timing issues aside, Aiello still looked like the potential future quality pro that everybody took note of over the summer. He’s got a big league frame that balances current mature strength with enough lankiness (for lack of a better word) that you can still project future physical gains, surprising athleticism and speed (he improved in both areas since the summer, especially the latter), and an approach tailor-made for pro ball that stayed consistent (more total walks than strikeouts in the games I saw) despite teams pitching him very carefully all spring. Defensively, without seeing him play the field since last summer, it’s hard to apply some of the aforementioned athletic gains to his long-term positional prognostication. Like many, I’m inclined to believe he’s still a long-term pro third baseman, but I now can at least see a path where he sticks up the middle either initially at Wake or in pro ball, depending on which way he is leaning. To that point, without getting myself into trouble, I’ve heard some chatter that Aiello is destined for college almost no matter what goes down on draft day. When a high school prospect as prominent as Aiello attracts so little attention from the scouting community in his spring season it’s typically a sign that he’s made it fairly clear college is happening. There is the unusual wrinkle of Aiello being banged up and unable to play the field that could be keeping scouting heat away, but I think the combined number of pro guys I saw at his games this spring was less than what I saw at a single Penn-Princeton game. Maybe that doesn’t mean what I think it means, but time will tell.
We’ve hit Randolph, Hayes, Nevin, and Cabbage already, so it would be silly to touch on four of the top five and leave Travis Blankenhorn (Pottsville Area HS, Pennsylvania) hanging. Blankenhorn played home games about ninety minutes from where I grew up, so I saw him a fair amount this spring. Again, without giving too much away, I’ll say that I really, really like Blankenhorn’s game. It’s a bit of a lame hedge to rank a guy fourth on a given list and then call him a FAVORITE prospect (for what it’s worth, Nevin was the only other HS third basemen to get the all-caps FAVORITE treatment in my notes), but here we are. Blankenhorn is a favorite because of his athleticism, approach, and phenomenal feel for hitting. Perfect Game recently threw out a fascinating Alex Gordon ceiling comp. I’ll throw out the name he reminded me of: lefty Jeff Cirillo. If it all comes together I can see a high average, high on-base hitter who will wear out the gaps at the plate and play above-average to plus defense in the field.
3B/OF Cornelius Randolph (Griffin HS, Georgia)
3B/RHP Ke’Bryan Hayes (Concordia Lutheran HS, Texas)
3B Tyler Nevin (Poway HS, California)
3B/2B Travis Blankenhorn (Pottsville Area HS, Pennsylvania)
3B Trey Cabbage (Grainger HS, Tennessee)
3B Ryan Mountcastle (Hagerty HS, Florida)
3B/OF Bryce Denton (Ravenwood HS, Tennessee)
3B/SS John Aiello (Germantown Academy, Pennsylvania)
3B Ryan Karstetter (IMG Academy, Florida)
3B/SS Matt Kroon (Horizon HS, Arizona)
3B Cody Brickhouse (Sarasota HS, Florida)
3B John Cresto (Cathedral Catholic HS, California)
3B/C Willie Burger (IMG Academy, Florida)
3B Alec Bohm (Roncalli Catholic HS, Nebraska)
3B Zack Kone (Pine Crest HS, Florida)
3B Brendon Davis (Lakewood HS, California)
3B/RHP Julian Infante (Westminster Prep, Florida)
3B/RHP Parker Kelly (Westview HS, Oregon)
3B Brenton Burgess (Chamblee Charter HS, Georgia)
3B Ben Ellis (Briarcrest Christian HS, Tennessee)
3B LJ Talley (Charlton County HS, Georgia)
3B/RHP Tyler Wyatt (Liberty HS, Arizona)
3B Jake Franklin (Jefferson HS, Georgia)
3B David Chabut (Loganville HS, Georgia)
3B/SS Lucas Larson (Jefferson HS, Iowa)
3B/RHP Ty Buck (Red Wing HS, Minnesota)
3B Ross Dodds (Buchanan HS, California)
3B Jack Mattson (Chanhassen HS, Minnesota)
3B/SS Austin Pharr (Cherokee HS, Georgia)
3B Zack Quintal (Marshwood HS, Maine)
3B Jared Mang (Los Alamos HS, New Mexico)
3B/1B Greyson Jenista (De Soto HS, Kansas)
3B/RHP Ryan Mantle (Linn HS, Missouri)
3B/1B AJ Curtis (Amador Valley HS, California)
3B/RHP Blake Burton (Mater Dei HS, California)
3B/RHP Grant Sloan (Zionsville HS, Indiana)
3B/SS Jack Johnson (Roosevelt HS, Washington)
3B Graham Mitchell (Eastside HS, South Carolina)
3B Jacob Williams (Heritage Christian Academy, California)
3B Jared Melone (North Penn HS, Pennsylvania)
A guy named Rodgers is number one. We covered him. Beyond that, things at the high school level are chaotic (in a good way!) as any and all attempts at sorting through this year’s shortstop class are met with with general uneasiness one might feel when attempting to make ice cream for the first time ever. I actually don’t know if that makes a real, smart adult uneasy, but I, a fake, non-smart adult, was in that exact position last night feeling a bit anxious (and, yes, uneasy) about how things would turn out. Well it turns out that when mixing vanilla, sugar, whole milk, and heavy cream together, it’s really, really hard to make something that doesn’t taste good. It might not be ice cream as you know it (or it might!), but it’ll be sweet and cold and close enough to something you recognize as tasty and familiar that you walk away fairly satisfied that you’ve accomplished something worthwhile after eating some. Perhaps as importantly, you’re then forever emboldened with the belief that next time will be even better.
That’s more or less where I’m at with this updated shortstop ranking. There are enough interesting players to write about that I don’t feel too bad about excluding some quality names, but I hope that my eventual final rankings bring me closer to whatever “truth” there is and will be about the unwritten futures of these hard working young men. Rodgers is first and then…I don’t know. Nobody does. That’s what makes this fun. In fact, I’m not sure there are any “wrong” choices as you fill out a post-Rodgers ranking of the position. Of course, it wasn’t that long ago that you could argue for Kyler Murray and Lucius Fox as the second and third best shortstop prospects in this high school class. Those days are long gone, but there’s still an impressive group of talented potential regulars left behind. I’m going to write their names down on scraps of paper, toss them in a hat, and pick to get an expert quality order. Hold on, let me find a hat. Got it and done! We have an order. Let’s proceed.
High school statistics don’t mean a whole heck of a lot in the grand scheme of things, but they are still occasionally fun to look at. Cadyn Grenier (Bishop Gorman HS, Nevada) this year: .513/.636/.894 with 17 extra base hits in 107 PA and 25 BB/9 K. He’s also swiped 21 of 23 bags. He’s a career .532/.616/.859 high school hitter in 363 PA with 60 BB/28 K and 47/49 SB. Is that good? It seems good. Incidentally, Marty Cordova stands as the best Bishop Gorman alum to play pro ball to date, though Joey Gallo figures to change that within the next few seasons or so. Baseball Draft Report: come for the near-meaningless high school stats, stay for the pointless trivia!
More importantly (and on topic), Grenier’s scouting profile reminds me some of where Alex Bregman was back when he was coming out of high school in New Mexico. I think, like the current version of Bregman, Grenier has at least a 50/50 shot at sticking at shortstop for a few years as a professional due in part to a strong enough arm, good first step quickness/instincts, and athleticism to spare. Even if second base winds up as his eventual home, he has the bat to make him an above-average regular if it all works out. I’ve gotten a Howie Kendrick comp on his bat as he’s been described to me as one of those guys who can wake up in the morning ready to hit. He “can roll out of bed and get a base knock” is how that’s usually worded, I guess. You get the idea.
Jalen Miller (Riverwood HS, Georgia) put up eye-popping stats of his own this spring (.464/.562/.875…and, yes, I’m done mentioning HS stats now) and has an equally appealing skill set that almost certainly will be preferred by big league clubs this June. Miller’s calling card is his defense, which is a great thing made greater in a class of high school shortstops with bats generally ahead of their gloves. You take Miller and don’t worry one whit about his future position. The open question about his game has been his ultimate upside with the bat in his hands. I was one of those slow to embrace him as a hitter, but the amount of progress he’s made as a hitter this spring season is undeniable. That alone makes him a unique case for me because I typically weigh summer showcase performance more heavily than whatever transpires on the local high school schedule. That’s a bit counterintuitive maybe – shouldn’t real games that count in the standings take precedence over the manipulated matchups and workouts of the summer season? – but the more level playing field and all-in-one nature typified by the showcase circuit makes it pretty appealing for a scout (or “scout”) looking for some one-stop shopping.
Still, the rise of showcase baseball will forever make me anxious because of both the artificiality of the entire endeavor and the pay-to-play business practices that squeeze out prospects unable to cover the expenses associated with being seen by the right people in today’s modern game. To that point, I’d never hold it against a player for not playing in showcases and always remain open to seeing and hearing about new names or improved games in the spring. It’s still important to recognize that showcases aren’t going anywhere anytime soon – they are BIG business, after all – and I’ll admit that the logistical advantages of getting as many premium talents together in one place to square off head-to-head is of greater import to me “professionally” than any of my moral objections.
Where were we again? Right, Jalen Miller. The Georgia prep shortstop impressed both on the showcase circuit and during his high school team’s spring season. That’s a big positive. I’ve heard the Brandon Phillips comparisons, but I don’t see Miller as quite that kind of player. He’s a better bet to stay at short in the long run, but not as likely to hit for as much power (his pop was described to me as “sneaky”) as even a young Phillips was projected.
Nick Shumpert (Highlands Ranch HS, Colorado) is another high-level easy to like middle infield prospect. On straight tools alone, he might rank second only to Rodgers in this year’s high school shortstop class. If power upside is what you want, I’d say he’s pretty clearly second only to Rodgers. That average or better raw power combined with a fascinating mixture of athleticism, arm strength (average, maybe more), speed (above-average, plays up), defensive upside (love him at second, but think he could also excel at short in time), and bat speed (so hard to measure objectively, but whatever it is he has it) make him a pretty large personal favorite. He’s even got the big league bloodlines thing going for him, if you’re into that sort of thing. If there’s a player in this class I’d compare to Phillips, it would be Shumpert and his explosive hands at the plate.
I’ve written about Nick Madrigal (Elk Grove HS, California) and my rather optimistic comp for his future before. Here we go…
Nick Madrigal has a lot of Jose Altuve in his game, and not just because he’s a fellow vertically challenged middle infield prospect. I mean, sure, that has a lot to do with the comp, but it also has to do with Madrigal’s excellent glove, advanced bat control, instincts beyond his years, underrated athleticism, and an approach to hitting tailor-made for pro ball. This is obviously a ceiling comp, as Altuve has matured into a very fine player, but if you can’t project high school players to big league all-stars nine months before the draft, then when can you?
Only that last part needs amending, but that’s only because we’re now just one month out instead of nine. Between that post and this right very second I asked around quite a bit on Madrigal, receiving mostly favorable feedback along the way. There were some who questioned his size, more who questioned his power utility (a fair concern in my view), and most agreed that a utility ceiling with a chance for more in spurts was a fair projection going forward. I can’t say that’s wrong, but I’ll still bump him up a few spots on my rankings because of what I’ve seen firsthand. Whether you want to call that giving into personal bias or following an instinctual hunch, that’s where I’m at with Madrigal right now. One comp I got on him (bat only) that I enjoy for reasons both practical and personal: Tadahito Iguchi.
I mentioned in September that Xavier LeGrant (Phillip O. Berry Academy of Tech, North Carolina) reminded me some of Shumpert. I stand by that today. I’d also add that Jonathan India (American Heritage HS, Florida) reminds me some of Miller. Baseball America (I believe) has compared India to Avery Romero in the past, but that’s another one I’m not really seeing. India is a better bet defensively to stick at short than Romero ever was. Brandon Perez (Mater Dei HS, California) will be a fan favorite across minor league parks almost immediately for his defensive work. Trey Dawson (Hurricane HS, West Virginia), Logan Tolbert (IMG Academy, Florida), O’Neal Lochridge (St. Thomas More HS, Louisiana), and Kyle Datres (Loyalsock HS, Pennsylvania) stand out as particularly interesting players found a bit lower than the list than they arguably deserve. Daino Deas, like Miller, is a Georgia high school middle infielder, so of course he’s also received the popular Brandon Phillips comp that seems to come with the (literal) territory. Again, I don’t see it other than a few superficial similarities but everybody’s got their own opinions and that’s cool.
If your favorite high school shortstop (or son or cousin or neighbor) isn’t included here, it’s entirely possible that I goofed so let me know. Be advised, however, that these are pro projections (or my best attempts at such), so the high school shortstop you know and love today could be listed with the future pro second basemen and third basemen (coming soon!) of tomorrow.
SS Brendan Rodgers (Lake Mary HS, Florida):
SS/2B Cadyn Greiner (Bishop Gorman HS, Nevada)
SS/2B Nick Shumpert (Highlands Ranch HS, Colorado)
SS Jalen Miller (Riverwood HS, Georgia)
SS Nick Madrigal (Elk Grove HS, California)
SS/2B Xavier LeGrant (Phillip O. Berry Academy of Tech, North Carolina)
SS Jonathan India (American Heritage HS, Florida)
SS Brandon Perez (Mater Dei HS, California)
SS Trey Dawson (Hurricane HS, West Virginia)
SS/3B Logan Tolbert (IMG Academy, Florida)
SS/2B Daino Deas (Parkview HS, Georgia)
SS Chris Reid (St. Michael the Archangel HS, Louisiana)
SS/RHP Kyle Datres (Loyalsock HS, Pennsylvania)
SS/RHP O’Neal Lochridge (St. Thomas More HS, Louisiana)
SS/OF/RHP Daniel Neal (South Laurel HS, Kentucky)
SS Brody Cook (Riverdale Baptist HS, Maryland)
SS/2B Luke Wakamatsu (Keller HS, Texas)
SS Ramon Alejo (Boone HS, Florida)
SS Jake Mueller (Richland Northeast HS, South Carolina)
SS Grant Cox (Greenville HS, South Carolina)
SS David Posas (Valdosta HS, Georgia)
SS Jack Weiller (John Jay Cross River HS, New York)
SS/2B Beau O’Hara (Seven Lakes HS, Texas)
SS Deacon Liput (Oviedo HS, Florida)
SS Trevor Brown (Parkview HS, Georgia)
SS Gabriel Cancel (Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS/2B Nico Hoerner (Head Royce HS, California)
SS/RHP Dylan Doherty (Foothill HS, California)
SS/RHP Dylan Poncho (Kinder HS, Louisiana)
SS Nate Fisbeck (The Woodlands HS, Texas)
SS Jonathan Meola (Toms River East HS, New Jersey)
SS Christian Rivera (Cypress Creek HS, Texas)
SS/2B Jeremy Pena (Classical HS, Rhode Island)
SS Garrett Zoukis (Landon HS, Virginia)
SS AJ Graffanino (Northwest Christian HS, Arizona)
SS/2B Jade Salmon-Williams (Brampton SS, Ontario)
SS/3B Jeremiah Burks (Will C. Wood HS, California)
SS Branden Becker (Cajon HS, California)
SS Carter Hall (Wesleyan HS, Georgia)
SS/2B Tristan Metten (Prestonwood Christian Academy, Texas)
SS Ty Denzer (Chanhassen HS, Minnesota)
SS Kyle Isbel (Etiwanda HS, California)
SS Tyler Ankrom (San Clemente HS, California)
SS Nick Dunn (Shikellamy HS, Pennsylvania)
SS Jay Sanford (Pope John XXIII HS, New Jersey)
SS Brandon Janofsky (Jackson Memorial HS, New Jersey)
In what will probably the last one of these we do before draft day, here are some notable pitching prospects GB% through the most recent weekend of the college season.
Walker Buehler: 63.7%
Nathan Kirby: 64.0%
Kyle Funkhouser: 55.4%
Dillon Tate: 68.4%
Carson Fulmer: 46.1%
Phil Bickford: 53.2%
Kyle Twomey: 58.0%
I dropped Lemoine and Young out of laziness, but I can go back and do the math on either if anybody is curious. I didn’t include Matuella since he hasn’t thrown a pitch since the last update. In a shocking upset, his GB% (55.8) remains unchanged since then. Amazing how that worked out.
One of the interesting things about this list is the actual makeup of the players chosen. If you recall, I chose the names for this list by simply going down the rankings of my top college pitchers from before the season. The order then was Brady Aiken, Kirby, Matuella, Buehler, Tate, Fulmer, Jay, Funkhouser, Bickford, Lemoine, and Twomey. Tyler Ferguson was next, but his unpredictable usage made him too difficult to track. I haven’t gone back and updated my college rankings yet — that’ll come after I finish up the HS prospects, possibly as soon as mid-way through next week — but I think the original list has held up fairly well. I know there are questions about many of the top guys, but I’m still a pretty firm believer in Buehler (top ten or so), Kirby (mid-first), and Twomey (late-first/supplemental) despite some of the concerns. Everybody loves Tate (and rightfully so), I’m higher on Fulmer than most (but not all), and Funkhouser, despite my trying to talk myself into him a few weeks ago, remains a guy I’m lower on than most.
While I can defend the names on the initial list, there are a few omissions that I really would like to have back. In fact, I might go through and grab some data on these players later and update this one last time before June. I’m particularly curious to see the numbers of James Kaprielian, Cody Ponce, and Thomas Eshelman. If I had to choose just one name to have back, however, it would without a doubt be Jon Harris. I liked Harris plenty before the season…
Harris throws four pitches for strikes (88-93 FB, 95 peak; above-average upper-70s CB; plus mid-80s SL; sinking CU) with the frame to add a bit more velocity as he fills out. He’s also pulled off the trick of being a reliable starter at Missouri State since day one while also getting slowly but surely more effective along the way.
…but still feel like having him as low as I did (27th) on the aforementioned college pitching list didn’t do my appreciation for him justice. It’s a pre-season miss that will be rectified in the updated rankings.
I admittedly haven’t given this a ton of thought just yet, but I think Harris would crack my top five college pitchers with relative ease right now. My current working order would go Jay (top overall pitcher), Tate, Buehler, Harris, and Fulmer.
Like everybody else with two eyes, two ears, and a functioning brain, I like Brendan Rodgers (Lake Mary HS, Florida) a whole heck of a lot as a prospect. I’d even go so far as to say that I more than like him — not quite love, but certainly “like-like” — for many of the same elements of his game that everybody else does. His bat speed, power upside, feel for hitting, arm strength, and, most impressively to this layman, the ease at which his athleticism, instincts, and advanced baseball IQ allow him to move in the field and on the base paths make him a clear top ten talent in this year’s draft. The reason I’m not yet ready to proclaim my love for him as a prospect and make him the top player on my board (he’s in the 3-7 range for me as of this writing, likely on the higher end [near 3] when it’s all said and done) is the nagging doubts I have about his ability to control the strike zone and make adjustments at the plate, both from within at bats and from game to game. Those would be major concerns for a college prospect, but, due to the fact that making long-term projections on a high school player’s plate discipline is as difficult as consistently coming up with clever analogies, not nearly as troubling considering his age and experience. Still, it’s something worth further exploring.
To that point, I haven’t seen him enough to make my own ironclad judgments about his approach – and, for the millionth time, even if I had it would just be me giving an opinion as a fan and frequent observer of the game, not as a scout – but I’ve heard from enough smart people who have raved about the usual pluses of his game before getting to some variation of “…but I’m a little worried about his pitch recognition and how much he’ll swing and miss against better arms.” Some downplay his tendency to swing and miss as just another example of an outstanding all-around young hitter getting bored/frustrated/anxious at the plate against inferior competition afraid to challenge him. There is a ton of pressure, externally and internally, applied to star athletes tasked with shouldering the load for amateur teams made up of players that simply can’t match the star’s physical ability. It’s not unusual to see a big-time HS prospect do things his senior season that aren’t necessarily reflective of who he is as a player going forward.
Others have expressed concern about how quickly he changed his approach this spring (in comparison to how he handled his at bats on the showcase circuit last summer), becoming far more aggressive and expanding the zone early in the year despite not getting much to hit. From there, he didn’t do much to adjust to the fact that he wasn’t being challenged. Most of the other top HS hitters in this class (Chris Betts, Tyler Stephenson, Kolton Kendrick, Kyle Tucker, Nick Plummer, Trenton Clark), they reasoned, recognized early how they’d be pitched to as high school stars with bull’s-eyes on their back and tweaked their respective approaches. Recognizing that Rodgers was in a tough spot and excusing him entirely for were two very different things for these scouts. I get that.
It’s entirely possible all of this is much ado about nothing — again, making bold proclamations about any teenager’s plate discipline with such limited data is a losing proposition — but even if it’s something as small as a recently learned bad habit that needs to be undone with the help of professional coaching, that’s still one more thing to concern himself with (and divert his attention away from other parts of his game) as he transitions to dealing with a higher caliber of competition.
The Nature of Comps
Many — three qualifies as “many,” right? — have reached out to me over the years questioning my propensity for throwing around player comparisons. I understand that many disagree with me on the positive utility of comps. I’ve argued in support of them more times than I can remember, but the basic summation of my pro-comp argument is that a good comp can provide contextual shorthand that can help provide a tangible representation — stylistically, statistically, or just plain physically — to tap into the knowledge base of a fan of the game who might not have cared or even known about an amateur prospect otherwise. Ideally, at a site like this, fans checking in both know and care about these prospects, but still want to know more about the players who only exist as names typed on a computer screen. A good comp can make a prospect come to life, provided there is enough meaningful commentary surrounding the comparison.
It’s the same basic argument I’ve presented on behalf of mock drafts in the past. A mock draft by a non-insider like me won’t provide much in the way of actual reporting, but it can be a springboard for insightful conversation about specific draft day scenarios and the relative merits of the prospects projected therein. A list of teams and prospects is a shitty, worthless mock draft, but one with actual commentary can have merit even if every guess at a pick is wrong. Same goes for a player/prospect comp, I think. Just saying This Prospect is the next This Player isn’t very helpful; in fact, without providing any context around it, comps like that can actually be damaging in how they create false expectations for amateurs. A good scouting report should paint a picture of the player with words, and a well-considered comp can add something special — a splash of color, if you will — to said picture.
Rodgers and Comps
I think Brendan Rodgers is the “victim” of an unfair comparison. They are the “experts” and I’m just a guy with a free site on the internet, but the early Troy Tulowitzki comps floated by big-time draft outlets don’t fit Rodgers’s game at all. Now before I get too all righteously indignant — never a good look — I want to be upfront about how I got a comp on Rodgers from a scout who has seen him a lot over the past eighteen months or so that rivals and quite possibly tops the Tulowitzki comparison. It’s an ultimate ceiling comparison and the guy who shared it with me is literally the biggest Rodgers fan I personally know, so keep those things in mind when you read the name a bit later. I don’t think of Rodgers as a future Tulowitzki or the other comp equivalent, but maybe those that do aren’t as crazy as I make them out to be. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to projecting talent, after all. Before we get to that best case scenario dream world comp, I have a few comparisons of my own that I think fit Rodgers a bit better. Before I even get to THAT, it actually turns out I had some thoughts on this very topic back in September…
It’s only logical to compare the aforementioned Brendan Rodgers to Florida’s top shortstop and eventual fifth overall pick, Nick Gordon. Perfect Game has also throw out a Troy Tulowitzki comp (not knocking it, though I don’t see it, but it seems like there’s one of these every year these days) and a JJ Hardy comp (more on target, I think). I’d actually compare his skill set and potential professional future with a different Florida amateur from back in the day: Florida State’s Stephen Drew (except righthanded this time). Rodgers is unquestionably ahead of Drew at similar stages of development – check out the HS scouting report of Drew from Baseball America when you can; it’s rough – and doesn’t come with any of the makeup questions that have dogged Drew (fairly or not) throughout his career. Rodgers, in fact, garners some of the highest praise of any amateur athlete I can remember when it comes to makeup; read this interview on Baseball America for some insight of how he views the game and keep it mind scouts have said this is just tip of the iceberg when it comes to his baseball IQ and commitment to maximizing his natural talent. The words “above-average” litter any report on his future tools: raw power, speed, arm (flashes plus), hit tool, and range/hands/instincts/footwork all hit the mark. The cherry on top is his explosive bat speed, which ranks at or near the top of this year’s group of high school hitters.
I really need to stop plagiarizing myself. So as I apparently mentioned eight months ago, after I saw Rodgers up close last summer I had him pegged as a Stephen Drew type of player. I’d amend that today to say it’s more of a JJ Hardy/Stephen Drew hybrid package, which, my own previous negativity about his 1-1 prospects aside, is still pretty damn valuable. In fact, a fascinating and thorough study at Beyond the Box Score showed that the expected value of first overall picks from 1990-2006 was 11.8 fWAR through their six years of club control. Hardy put up 16.1 WAR in his years of club control while Drew wound up with 11.0 on the nose. In other words, if Rodgers turned into either of those guys (or something reasonably similar), he’d be a fine 1-1 prospect from a pure value standpoint. Maybe those aren’t the type of player futures that you’d rush to trade the number one pick for — the study differentiated between first overall pick value and best player (with the benefit of hindsight) to come out of the class, with the latter winding up an average 28.5 WAR player — but consistent above-average regular with All-Star upside is a pretty excellent outcome. That’s why, despite my reservations, I can’t imagine knocking Rodgers outside of this class’s top five overall talents. For fun, Tulowitzki finished at 22.3 fWAR in his first six full seasons. My “don’t compare him to Tulo because that’s unfair!” comp alternative clocked in at 29.3 fWAR through his six locked-in seasons. Whoa.
Out of all the mainstream comparisons out there for Rodgers, I like the Hardy comparison best. I could see Rodgers ultimately putting up similar big league numbers to what Hardy has accomplished to date. Hardy’s 162 game average: .261/.312/.422 with 21 HR and 45 BB/97 K (14.6 K% and 6.8 BB%). Rodgers could swipe a few more bags along the way — I know he’s not a good runner, but it still amazes me that Hardy’s career high in steals is two — but otherwise I think the two have many shared offensive and defensive traits. Digging deeper into this comp, however, makes me think that it serves a purpose more as a “potential big league outcome” comp than a “similar prospect at similar points of development” comp. Both have utility, but since I don’t love this as much as a comp in the more interesting to discuss latter category — frankly, I think Rodgers is a good bit more talented than Hardy at the same stage, and I give Hardy a lot more credit now than before for how he’s outworked his projections as a pro — I won’t dwell too much on it, especially with one final comp that I like better waiting just around the corner.
My Rodgers Comp
After far more thought than I’m comfortable admitting publicly, I think the best comparison for Rodgers is fellow Floridian Ian Desmond. Now this is a tricky comparison that might not make a lot of sense at face value, so bear with me. Desmond was a third round pick of the Montreal Expos (!) back in 2004. He was generally regarded as a glove-first prospect with a questionable enough offensive profile that led to some doubt as to whether or not he’d be an above-average regular down line. That version of Desmond isn’t much of a parallel prospect for Rodgers, but the 20-year old Desmond who made serious adjustments to his approach in 2006 after getting demoted back to Potomac begins to resemble the type of player that I think Rodgers could become. For Desmond, all of the defensive promise remained — Baseball America (which I can’t link to because their website is terrible, so I had to literally dust off old Prospect Handbooks from my bookshelf and there was a bug in one that crawled out onto my leg so you see the kind of things I go through for this site) wrote that “he [had] the tools to be an above-average defender at shortstop with plus-plus arm strength, plus range, and soft hands” — but getting him back closer to an age-appropriate path (he was moved very quickly initially through the system, in part because Washington’s player development staff believed he had the makeup to handle it) was what he needed to get the bat going. That consolidation year (2007) was when the proverbial light bulb went on for Desmond as a professional ballplayer. His 2008 was another sign of steady progress at Harrisburg (in his second shot at AA) before he took off for good starting that fall and continuing all the way through to his promotion to the big leagues.
That’s a particularly wordy way of saying that I think a) Rodgers and Desmond have fairly similar tool sets and physical gifts (above-average overall glove, average speed that plays up because of superior instincts, ample bat speed, above-average to plus raw power [19-27 HR potential], plus arm strength with occasionally erratic but generally solid accuracy), b) Rodgers will follow a developmental path more similarly to Desmond (and more similar to most top prospects historically) rather than the crazy quick and crazy success intros to pro ball of recent 1-1 caliber talents (to name just two examples that come to mind, he’s not likely to follow the Carlos Correa or even Addison Russell [a player he’s been comped to as well] path of demolishing pro pitching at just about every stop until the big leagues), and c) the most likely cause of Rodgers’s development requiring more patience than assumed will be similar to the reasons why Desmond needed to be slowed down as a prospect. Rodgers is wildly talented, but he’ll need to adjust his approach (like how Desmond gradually improved his plate discipline, stopped chasing quite so many low breaking balls, and improved with mashing inside heat for extra bases) to better fit the pro environment. By all accounts he has the drive and work ethic to do so, but that’s not really one of those things an outsider like me can fairly assess.
Rodgers will not be a clone of Desmond. He will not experience the same ups and downs, the same developmental path (I’m guessing it could be similar, but “guessing” and “similar” are key words there), or the same circumstances (teams, coaches, teammates) that anybody before him or after him will face. That’s not how comps work. I realize that’s obvious and I apologize if anybody reading is offended by me pointing that out (I think I might be if I read that…), but I like pointing it out all the same because I hate the idea of the only takeaway from this being RODGERS = DESMOND and anything else will make him a bust. Still, for reference’s sake here is Desmond’s 162 game average to date: .268/.316/.429 with 19 HR and 39 BB/148 K (22.3 K% and 6.0 BB%). I’m not sure Rodgers will experience struggles to the same extent as Desmond when it comes to swinging and missing at the big league level, but I could see him settling in as a consistent 18% K, 8% BB kind of hitter over the long haul. Something like Desmond’s post-2012 output (.275/.325/.450 with the chance for 20+ HR and SB and above-average defense) seems within reach as a realistic ceiling. That’s a player worthy of going 1-1 if it all clicks, but there’s enough risk in the overall package that I’m not willing to call him the best player in this class. Second best, maybe. Third best, likely. The difference in ranking opinion is minute, but for a decision-maker picking within those first few selections it can mean the difference between job security for years to come (and, perhaps eventually, a ring…) or an outright dismissal even before getting to see this whole thing through.
The Perfect World Everything is Awesome OMG I Can’t Believe Some Idiot Nobody on the Internet Ranked Brendan Rodgers Third in This Class When He So Obviously Should Have Been First comparison that I have gotten from a source I really respect: Hanley Ramirez. That’s such a tremendous bar to reach that I hesitated even mentioning it all, but it’s the internet and we’re all pals here, so there you go.
If recent history is any indication, just one high school second baseman should expect to be drafted by a MLB team within the draft’s first ten rounds this June. That’s incredible to me. I guess we know that big league second basemen are made and not born, but it’s still jarring to realize that there isn’t a current qualified second baseman in baseball that was drafted out of HS as a primary second baseman. Of the high school guys, Dee Gordon was a shortstop, Neil Walker was a catcher, Brandon Phillips was a shortstop, and Chris Owings was a shortstop. The rest are all American college/junior college players (many of whom played shortstop collegiately, for what it’s worth) or international free agents. The last group gives us our closest facsimile to a HS 2B with names like Jose Altuve, Robinson Cano, and Rougned Odor popping up. Altuve and Odor are as close to second base only prospects as you’ll find, and Cano ditched shortstop for good in Low-A as a teenager. I’ll go out on a limb and say that there isn’t a Cano or Altuve in this year’s high school second base class — though I did get an Altuve comp (in so much that you can compare anybody to Altuve…) on a prep shortstop to be named later — but I guess it’s within the realm of possibility that there’s a talent like Odor, who I’ve always been lower on than most, lurking somewhere out there.
The top three names on my initial list of high school second base prospects all seem unlikely to play second base over the long haul. Alonzo Jones seems best-suited for center field and Cornelius Randolph looks like a future third baseman. They’ve both been moved to their most likely pro positions in my rankings. Then there’s Kyler Murray, who…wait, never mind. We’ll revisit him in three years. If you remove those three (well, two now) from the second base prospect pile, then you are left with a fairly representative group of what we’ve come to expect from high school second base groups.
There are talented yet flawed prospects here. I don’t know what to make of any of them. Last year’s class had the star power at the top (Forrest Wall) and impressive overall depth that this year’s group appears to be missing. I’m not so sure on that last point because, quite honestly, I don’t know enough about a lot of these players to go into too much detail about the talent level. One of my biggest homework assignments over the next month will be to familiarize myself with these players better.
I think Ethan Paul (Newport HS, Washington) has the best all-around tools package, Pikai Winchester (Iolani HS, Hawaii) has the best hit tool, and Jagger Rusconi (West Ranch HS, California) and Josh White (Rock Canyon HS, Colorado) are among the best runners. I’m intrigued by Chase Fullington (Farragut HS, Tennessee) and Andrew Noviello (Bridgewater-Raynham HS, Massachusetts) because of their pop, as well as Duncan McKinnon (Redondo Union HS, California) for his disciplined approach.
2B Ethan Paul (Newport HS, Washington)
2B Pikai Winchester (Iolani HS, Hawaii)
2B/OF Jagger Rusconi (West Ranch HS, California)
2B/SS Josh White (Rock Canyon HS, Colorado)
2B/OF Chase Fullington (Farragut HS, Tennessee)
2B/SS Charlie Donovan (Westmont HS, Illinois)
2B/RHP Andrew Noviello (Bridgewater-Raynham HS, Massachusetts)
2B Duncan McKinnon (Redondo Union HS, California)
2B Ford Proctor (Monsignor Kelly HS, Texas)
2B Kody Clemens (Memorial HS, Texas)
2B/SS Luke Alexander (Belmond HS, Mississippi)
2B Ezra Steinberg (Harvard-Westlake HS, California)
2B Ethan Lopez (La Mirada HS, California)
2B Cobie Vance (Pine Forest HS, North Carolina)
Canadian sluggers who have drawn comparisons to Dan Vogelbach (Perfect Game) and Prince Fielder (everybody) because of a wildly impressive natural gift for hitting, easy plus raw power, and an uncommon body type (not small) tend to get the imagination going. It is very possible – by the odds, almost a certainty – that another player will overtake Naylor at the top of this list by draft season’s end, but, as a player that breaks many of the molds we’ve grown accustomed to as baseball fans, Naylor will remain a favorite.
Everything I said about Josh Naylor (St. Joan of Arc SS, Ontario) back in September applies today. He’s such a fun prospect and very easy to root for. His time on the Canadian Junior National Team has reinforced much of what was seen as good about his game last summer, enough so that I think it’s fair to say he’s beat the odds and will remain the top name on the prep first base rankings for many clubs. There are arguments for others, as you’ll see below, but Naylor’s blend of present ability, upside (young for class), and experience against high-level competition make him the current frontrunner to go off the board first.
You hear so often about that different sound off the bat that certain hitters are able to consistently produce. I’m not entirely sure about the consistent part just yet, but even the amateur amateur scout in me is sold that both Luken Baker (Oak Ridge HS, Texas) and Joe Davis (Bowie HS, Texas) have made that sound. The phrase “hard contact” is in my notes on both guys, repeatedly and enthusiastically (underlined, exclamation points, circled). Both guys have big league power.
Baker is typically listed as a primary righthanded pitcher who moonlights as a hitter, but I prefer him as the hulking slugger with plus to plus-plus raw power that whatever maker created his 6-4, 250 pound frame was hoping he’d turn out to be. I don’t know if he’s fleet of foot enough to handle even faking it as an outfielder over the long haul, but he’s a reasonably good athlete with the kind of plus arm strength you’d expect out of player ranked by most as a potential first-day pitcher.
Davis has a swing geared towards power (slight uppercut, but it looks natural), incredible physical strength (plus to plus-plus if you were to grade it as a tool) to muscle up balls he doesn’t completely get, and a patient approach at the plate. There’s a lot to like about his offensive profile. I’ve tried to think of a better comp for him than Perfect Game’s initial Billy Butler offering, but I think that one is really tough to top. Physically, it just fits. The closest I’ve come to an alternative is Dmitri Young, which I like because I think they share some similarities as hitters but also because Young was an underrated athlete and defender in his younger years. Davis might not have the ideal jeans salesman physique, but he’s lighter on his feet than you’d expect on first sight. That kind of underrated athleticism makes sense since he’s seen as a passable defender at both catcher and third base by some teams.
I ultimately prefer Baker out of the two Texas mashers for a few reasons. Two relatively easy to explain ones: Baker carries his weight better – the extra height helps, but he appeared to be in better shape on top of that – and he has the fallback of stepping back on to a mound where he can fire 88-94 MPH fastballs (95 peak) with a good low-80s breaking ball and interesting low-80s changeup. I also think he has a touch more power upside and is the better all-around athlete.
If pure uncut bat speed is what you’re looking for, then Devin Davis (Valencia HS, California) is your guy. He’s also a really slick defender at first – without too much thought I’d say he’s the best glove out of the top guys listed – with more than enough power to profile as a regular if it all works out. He also has a little bit of growth left (potentially), so an uptick in his existing physical profile, especially in terms of power, remains possible. Projecting high school first base prospects is a dangerous game because out of any HS position group what you see is what you get with the heavy hitters at first, but Davis could have a little bit left in the tank that could help him eventually overtake Naylor or Baker as the best long-term player in this class.
Michael Hickman (Seven Lakes HS, Texas) has comparable bat speed and loads of lefthanded power, so consider him right up there with the top of this class in both categories. Tyrone Perry (Avon Park HS, Florida) has his fans as a big, strong 6-1, 240 pound power-hitting mountain of a man. Brandt Stallings (Kings Ridge Christian HS, Georgia) is a little bit lost in the shuffle as a second-tier prospect at his position and in his loaded home state, but he remains a prospect I’m cool with liking more than most. The swing works, he’s got a loose, athletic build, there’s bat speed, and he’s arguably the best athlete (average or better speed, very fluid movements in all phases of the game) of the first base class. He might be too good an athlete to restrict to first base, but I think that’s his best long-term spot right now. He’s far too well known to be a sleeper, but he’d still be my pick for player who provides the most value relative to his likely draft position in this year’s class.
1B Josh Naylor (St. Joan of Arc SS, Ontario)
1B/RHP Luken Baker (Oak Ridge HS, Texas)
1B Devin Davis (Valencia HS, California)
1B/C Joe Davis (Bowie HS, Texas)
1B/C Michael Hickman (Seven Lakes HS, Texas)
1B/OF Brandt Stallings (Kings Ridge Christian HS, Georgia)
1B Tyrone Perry (Avon Park HS, Florida)
1B Chad Spanberger (Granite City HS, Illinois)
1B Curtis Terry (Archer HS, Georgia)
1B Cade Sorrells (George Walton Academy, Georgia)
1B/3B Kolton Kendrick (Loranger HS, Louisiana)
1B James Monaghan (La Plata HS, Maryland)
1B Chris Gesell (St. Augustine, California)
1B Christian Steele (Lebanon HS, Ohio)
1B/OF Jason Heinrich (River Ridge HS, Florida)
1B Seamus Curran (Agawam HS, Massachusetts)
1B Jaxxon Fagg (Williams Field HS, Arizona)
1B Jacob Corso (Lake Mary HS, Florida)
1B Brennan McKenzie (Walnut HS, California)
1B Nick Patten (IMG Academy, Florida)
I really wasn’t planning on doing another “let’s put so and so position in a recent historical draft context” post after hitting the catcher spot on Monday, but when I looked at my high school first board and only saw nineteen (!) names, I had to do a little homework on how prep first basemen have fared over the years. Then I figured that since I was doing the research anyway, why not share it with the world? The fact that it will hopefully be a relatively easy piece in what has turned into an unexpectedly busy real job work week is just a bonus. This is a bit disjointed since it’s as stream of consciousness as I get, so bear with me. Hopefully my fancy underlining will make it a little easier to follow…
Number of HS First Basemen Selected (Number Selected Within Top Ten Rounds)
2014: 12 (3)
2013: 14 (3)
2012: 13 (4)
2011: 15 (5)
2010: 18 (1)
2009: 21 (2)
Average: 15.5 (3)
I say it a lot, but one more time before I stop repeating myself: I use 2009 as a cut-off date because that’s the first year I covered the draft here on this site. Since then, just over 15 high school 1B have been selected in the draft each season. This is an imperfect figure because I’m trying to do this quickly and using the Baseball Reference criteria for who was a first baseman or not at the time of their selection. They went with first base as the position for a pair of Marlins star outfielders, Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich. I’m not sure if that’s how they were announced on the conference call or whatever, but I’ll agree to split the difference and pretend that Yelich thought of as a first baseman at the time. Considering that I had Yelich — one of my all-time biggest whiffs and a mistake that has made me reconsider a lot about what I look for in HS hitters — as a primary first baseman through at least October of 2009 (he was drafted in June 2010), I think that’s fair. Anyway, the point is that 15 high school first basemen isn’t a lot. And an average of three being selected within the draft’s top ten rounds is even crazier. We know why this is — as a position of last resort for a big bat that can’t handle any other defensive home, first basemen are made in college or the pros and not born — but it’s still important to keep in mind as we head into June. I know I have a tendency to overvalue the depth of just about every position in every draft, but the reality is that there are only a few top names worth knowing and that’s it. Knowing who to know, of course, is easier said than done. Good thing I enjoy the process of trying to identify those guys as much as I do.
Pick Number of First HS First Baseman Selected
The mean draft position of the first HS first baseman off the board since 2009 is equivalent to a late second round pick. The 2009 draft skews the data some; tossing it out moves the mean down twenty spots to around the 49th overall pick. Of course chucking out data points is a dangerous game, especially considering the asterisk you might have noticed on the 1.23 in 2010. That was the year Christian Yelich was picked. If we consider him an outfield prospect instead, then we have to go all the way to pick 11.341 to find the first real high school first baseman selected. That’s wild. Let’s swap out these numbers with some names to provide a little more context.
Names of First HS First Baseman Selected
2013: Dominic Smith
2012: Matt Olson
2011: Dan Vogelbach
2010: Christian Yelich
2009: Jonathan Singleton (Jeff Malm)
Interesting to me that in almost every draft since I started the initial first baseman off the board has turned out to be the best, and in many cases only, actual prospect of the class. The only exception (assuming we’re waiting to make such a call for 2014) appears to be my first year doing this back in 2009. Jeff Malm was first, but Jonathan Singleton turned out to be the best. Smith was the consensus top guy in his class, but I could hear arguments for others (Cody Bellinger, Rowdy Tellex, even Jake Bauers) overtaking him at this point. Olson, Vogelbach, and Singleton stand alone as the only viable future big league regular to potentially come out of their respective groups. Yelich saves his class from having nobody at all. It’s an ugly recent history, but the reality is clear: finding one worthwhile first base prospect (who signs) out of a high school class in any given draft year is plenty. Also notable: said worthwhile first base prospect is almost always the first taken.
Number of HS First Basemen Selected (Number Selected Within Top Ten Rounds)
2014: 12 (3)
2013: 14 (3)
2012: 13 (4)
2011: 15 (5)
2010: 18 (1)
2009: 21 (2)
2008: 22 (4)
2007: 25 (6*)
2006: 20 (5)
2005: 27 (1)
2004: 23 (2)
2003: 21 (2)
2002: 29 (8)
2001: 25 (6)
2000: 20 (5)
Average: 20.3 (3.8)
We did this already using just the 2009-2014 data, but I expanded it here to give us more info to work with. The asterisk in 2007 is for Stanton. I didn’t count him because I opted to count Yelich instead, but one extra first baseman clearly wouldn’t have impacted the overall picture here. There have been just about 20 HS first basemen selected in each draft (on average) since 2000. Just under four of those first basemen have been picked in the top ten rounds of the draft. What stands out to me is the change we’ve seen just in the last decade or so. It could be nothing, but look at the three-year splits…
The number of HS first basemen selected in the draft has steadily gone down since at least 2000. That’s noteworthy. We’ve talked a lot about quantity so far, so let’s circle back to quality…
Positive bWAR High School First Basemen Selected And Signed Since 2000
2008: Eric Hosmer
2007: Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo
2005: Logan Morrison
2004: Mike Carp
2002: Prince Fielder, James Loney, and Travis Ishikawa
2001: Casey Kotchman
2000: Adrian Gonzalez
Some really good names on that list, clearly. When you hit on a HS first baseman, you can really hit big. That comes out to just about one per draft, which fits nicely with our “one viable prospect is picked in each draft” point made above. The above first basemen sorted by bWAR…
Adrian Gonzalez (39.4)
Prince Fielder (23.6)
Freddie Freeman (12.7)
James Loney (12.6)
Anthony Rizzo (11.0)
Casey Kotchman (7.5)
Eric Hosmer (6.6)
Travis Ishikawa (1.6)
Mike Cartp (1.5)
Logan Morrison (1.2)
Drafted way back in 2008, Eric Hosmer is the last positive value HS 1B to make an impact on the big leagues. That means that the last six draft classes have yielded nothing to date. That’s hardly unexpected given traditional developmental curves — Jon Singleton, young for his class anyway, is still five months shy of his 25th birthday — but worth considering when you hear about potentially quick-moving potential high school bat-first prospects.
1) The first high school first base prospect should expect to be off the board somewhere between pick 50 and 70.
2) Said first high school first base prospect selected is historically the most likely of his class to contribute in a meaningful way professionally (obvious statement, but still); recent history suggest he will be the only future potential regular of the class.
3) Between fifteen and twenty high school first base prospects will be picked (around five in the top ten rounds); few will sign, fewer will do much in pro ball.
These are all very broad conclusions meant to impart some meaning on the macro-level. They shouldn’t be applied to any specific decision made by a team drafting this June. You don’t pass on Anthony Rizzo in 2007 because Freddie Freeman was already picked and that means the one good first baseman is already gone. Every class is different, every prospect is different. Just had to get out in front of that because I don’t want anybody thinking I view THE DRAFT as some kind of monolithic entity rather than the living, breathing, rapidly evolving organism that it is. Not literally, though. That would be terrifying.
As a player who has been famous in prospect circles for two plus years now, the draft stock of Chris Betts (Wilson HS, California) is currently suffering from a clear case of prospect fatigue (also known as Daz Cameron Syndrome). Teams have seen him so often that they are now firmly in the nit-pick stage of evaluation. Internet folk (like me!) have known about him for so long that they (we!) now worry if placing him at the top of the pile will be considered too boring, too safe, and too predictable a projection. Further complicating things is the “sudden” presence of Tyler Stephenson (Kennesaw Mountain HS, Georgia), a pop-up guy who isn’t really a pop-up guy — Perfect Game has been on him for months, though recent reports from Kiley McDaniel and Jim Callis are what have put him on the main stage for internet folk (like me!) trying to catch up with the spring high school season — but still has the right combination of limited information and clear physical gifts to potentially overtake Betts as the first prep catcher off the board.
When both McDaniel and Callis, two guys who are really good at their jobs, mention Matt Wieters as a comparison, it’s time to take notice. Evoking Wieters name when discussing Stephenson is an point in the favor of the utility of a good comp because it provides a little bit of context and a frame of reference to what kind of player Stephenson is and what kind of player he could eventually be. Stephenson isn’t Wieters, but the two share enough traits that thinking of the latter will help paint a clearer picture of what the former actually looks like. When you think Wieters — the most physically impressive amateur I’ve ever seen in person, for what it’s worth — you think big power, bigger arm, and biggest frame. That’s the overall package the 6’4”, 220 pound Stephenson brings to the field each time out. Compare Stephenson’s plus raw power, plus arm strength, and imposing physicality with what was written about Wieters’s high school days at the time of his selection out of Georgia Tech in 2007…
Wieters’ strong college commitment was the only reason he wasn’t drafted in the first two rounds in 2004. A talented two-way player who flashed 90 mph heat and plus-plus raw power at his suburban Charleston, S.C., high school, Wieters is well on his way to fulfilling the lofty projections on his bat.
There’s obviously enough vagueness in that report that it’s a tad disingenuous to cite it as concrete proof that Stephenson = Wieters (which obviously isn’t the point anyway), but you can see how the two could be compared at least in the abstract. Big power, bigger arm, and biggest frame. Any catcher with Stephenson’s bulk is a question mark to stay behind the plate over the long haul.
I think it’s fair (boring, perhaps) to like Betts more as a prospect because of his overall defensive edge. The belief that their bats will be close enough with Betts being the better bet to remain a catcher through his first contract of club control has merit. Close or not, Stephenson still has more upside as a hitter, but the lingering defensive questions mitigate some of the recent excitement about his offensive game. This is hard. The two are very, very close to me. I understand the desire to chase offensive upside with your first round pick, so Team Stephenson has a strong built-in argument that I wouldn’t debate against. If it all clicks, Stephenson should end up the better player — catcher or not — but the odds of it all clicking are a bit higher for Betts.
At minimum, I think it can be agreed upon that these are the top two high school catching prospects in the country without much current competition threatening to knock them off their perch. Both profile as average or better all-around big league catchers who stack up quite well with with any one-two catching prospect punch of the last few years. Asking around on each player didn’t give me the kind of comps I was hoping to hear — the old adage of “don’t force comps” applies to these two players, apparently — but I manage to get one name for Betts and two for Stephenson. Neither of the prospect to prospect comps that you’ll read were given with much confidence and I hesitate to even share them because they were very much “well, if I HAD to compare him to somebody I’ve seen…” kind of comps, so let’s all agree to view these for the entertainment value that they bring more than anything. The name I heard for Betts was Greg Bird (as a hitter only) and the name I heard for Stephenson was (a bigger) Clint Coulter. I mentioned earlier that I got two comps for Stephenson…yeah, the other was Wieters. I believe he was deemed the “Matt Wieters starter kit.” Don’t know why I expected to hear anything differently, but there you go. For the record, since I’m realizing while doing a quick edit of this that I’ve written mostly about Stephenson, Betts can really, really hit. The Bird comp feels a bit rich based on what we know Bird has done as a pro so far, but I think an average or slightly better hit tool and raw power combination could be the end game for Betts. Those abilities combined with a reasonably disciplined approach and a high probability of playing average or better defense behind the plate for years makes Betts a legitimate first round pick. Again, purely for fun, here are the scouting notes from this site on Coulter and Bird from their HS days…
C Clint Coulter (Union HS, Washington): good defensive tools, but a little stiff behind plate; may or may not stick at catcher long-term, but I’m a believer; little Jeff Bagwell in his crouch and swing setup; good athlete; plus arm, but needs to polish up footwork; pro body; loud contact; strong; big league caliber defensive tools for me, not all agree; above-average arm; really interesting power; fun player to watch who impacts the game in a multitude of ways; 6-3, 220 pounds
Bird came into the year a big prospect, but much of the hype that came with catching Kevin Gausman last year seems to have disappeared after Gausman went off to LSU. The Colorado high school catcher has a little bit of Cameron Gallagher to his game. Both prospects are raw defensively with impressive raw power that has been seen firsthand by area scouts at the high school level. That’s an important thing to note, I think. We hear so much about raw power, so it is worth pointing out when a player has plus raw power and average present power. That’s where I think Bird is currently at. There might not be a ton of projection to him, for better or worse.
To an extent, I can see how those comps came to be — and, if you’re willing to go down that rabbit hole, so can you through the power of Youtube! — but I think it’s notable that I confused the two comparisons in my head before actually going back to check my email. Coulter was an iffy defender for many coming out of high school, but I liked him enough behind the plate to want to see his defensive development through as long as possible. I can’t disagree with the Brewers decision to put him in right field — they have seen him more than anybody, plus getting the most out of his awesome bat should be the real priority at this point — but I’ll always feel like his all-around skill set behind the plate was underrated. Same goes for Betts, though now that his body is in better shape this spring there seem to be less willing to go on record as believing he’s not a catcher long-term. Bird struck me as closer to a Stephenson type since both guys were defensive maybes with advanced bats. The note about Bird’s impressive present power being as significant as his plus raw power applies to Stephenson as well. You could keep talking yourself into circles when it comes to trying to find similarities and differences between prospects — Betts and Bird share the pros/cons of being very heavily scouted for multiple seasons, for example — so we’ll just go ahead and quit while we’re almost ahead now.
Betts and Stephenson or Stephenson and Betts. Either way, you’re looking at two quality catching prospects worthy of mid- to late-first round draft consideration. I’m more comfortable with Betts right now, but the upside of Stephenson is not lost on me. Ask me again in a month and you may or may not get the same answer, but I’ll almost certainly have changed my mind a dozen times or so in the interim. I’m glad there’s a few more weeks to think this over.
We could end the conversation here because yesterday’s quick and dirty attempt at research indicated that there will only be two successful big league catchers out of this year’s high school class, right? No? Fine, let’s go a little deeper. Before we do, allow me to get on public record that my knowledge of any year’s group of high school prospects pales in comparison to what I know (or think I know) about a given year’s college players. I’ve actually seen more high school baseball this year than I can ever remember (probably been since my own HS days ten plus years ago) – been averaging around three games a week since mid-March with games today, Thursday, and Saturday morning on the docket – but that just means I’m a fraction more informed – and even that’s debatable since, again, I’m not a scout – about high school ball in a very small geographical footprint of the country than I’d otherwise be. I’m still largely at the mercy of whatever publicly available information finds its way to the internet, plus whatever bits of information I can procure from pals I’ve made in the game over the years. In other words, I’m going to be wrong a lot more than I’m right when it comes to high school prospects, so accepting that now is probably best for everybody involved. Anyway…
Lucas Herbert (San Clemente HS, California) looks to be the best of the rest thanks to his well-rounded set of defensive tools and mature approach at the plate. I’ve seen plus pop times out of him, an impressive feat for any young catcher but more so because I’d say his arm is more good than great. Times like that speak to his quick release and nimble footwork behind the dish. His swing is nice and quiet with just a little bit of jumpiness in his back right foot, but otherwise well-orchestrated coordination between his upper and lower halves. If any prep catcher has a chance to be a regular player outside of the draft’s first round, it’ll be Herbert.
Right behind him is the draft’s best young defensive catcher in Garrett Wolforth (Concordia Lutheran HS, Texas). Whether or not he’ll hit enough to ever profile as more than a defense-first backup at his best remains an open question – there’s some bat speed there, though he’s still raw at the plate – but his soft mitts and rocket arm should make him a popular guy on draft day.
If we go back yet again to yesterday’s findings, then we should be on the lookout for three more intriguing catching prospects that could crack the draft’s first five rounds. I’ll go with Justin Cohen (Riverview HS, Florida), Elih Marrero (Coral Gables HS, Florida), and Nick Dalesandro (Joliet Catholic HS, Illinois). I won’t pretend to know all that much more about these players than what most could ascertain through some good old fashioned internet sleuthing, but I am intrigued by Cohen’s bat, Marrero’s well-roundedness, and Dalesandro’s (who reminds me a tiny bit of Blake Hickman a few years ago) arm and athleticism.
I’ve had Wyatt Cross (Legacy HS, Colorado) higher than this in the past and was ready to keep him in the top five names or so, but I’ve heard what we can charitably call mixed things about him this spring. On the other end of the spectrum are Nick Fortes (Deland HS, Florida) and Joey Bart (Buford HS, Georgia), two players that I’ve heard good things about over the past few weeks. One name that I don’t know much about but would love to know more: Brendt Citta (Leland HS, California): I could see either Citta or Cooper Moore (Huntington Beach HS, California) finishing higher where I tentatively have them at the moment.
C Chris Betts (Wilson HS, California)
C Tyler Stephenson (Kennesaw Mountain HS, Georgia)
C Lucas Herbert (San Clemente HS, California)
C Garrett Wolforth (Concordia Lutheran HS, Texas)
C Justin Cohen (Riverview HS, Florida)
C Elih Marrero (Coral Gables HS, Florida)
C/RHP Nick Dalesandro (Joliet Catholic HS, Illinois)
C Dominic DeRenzo (Pittsburgh Central Catholic HS, Pennsylvania
C Wyatt Cross (Legacy HS, Colorado)
C Nick Fortes (Deland HS, Florida)
C Joey Bart (Buford HS, Georgia)
C Brendt Citta (Leland HS, California)
C Alex Webb (Columbia Central HS, Tennessee)
C Justin Glover (Dunedin HS, Florida)
C Cole Warken (Martin Collegiate SS, Saskatchewan)
C/1B Cooper Moore (Huntington Beach HS, California)
C Tyler Garrison (Mill Valley HS, Kansas)
C/3B Cody Roberts (Blessed Trinity Catholic, Georgia)
C Baylor Rowlett (College Station HS, Texas)
C Chris Cullen (West Forsyth HS, Georgia)
C Cal Raleigh (Smoky Mountain HS, North Carolina)
C Hunter Stovall (Pelham HS, Alabama)
C Cesar Salazar (Sahuaro HS, Arizona)
C Michael Curry (Gainesville HS, Georgia)
C Eric Jones (South Mecklenburg HS, North Carolina)
C Chase Smartt (Charles Henderson HS, Alabama)
C Sean Buckhout (Don Bosco Prep, New York)
C Carlos Reyes (Hialeah HS, Florida)
C Ryan Fineman (Agoura HS, California)
C Malik Brown (Birmingham Groves HS, Michigan)
C Cole Buffington (Kennesaw Mountain HS, Georgia)
C Kyle Schmidt (Smithville HS, Texas)
C Tyler Murray (Huntington Beach HS, California)
C Angel Lopez (Perkiomen HS, Pennsylvania)
C Noah Croft (Olathe South HS, Kansas)
C/RHP Brendan Illies (Puyallup HS, Washington)
C Gian Martellini (Bishop Hendricken HS, Rhode Island)
C Scott Kapers (Mount Carmel HS, Indiana)
C Ryan Sloniger (Punxsutawney HS, Pennsylvania)
C/3B Gabriel Garcia (Monteverde Academy, Florida)
C Dalton Blumenfeld (Alexander Hamilton HS, California)
C Tyrus Greene (St. Augustine HS, California)
C/RHP Kyle Davis (Miller HS, Alabama)
C Darren Shred (St. Roch Catholic, Ontario)
C Jacob Washer (West Stokes HS, North Carolina)
C Hunter Hearn (Crosby HS, Texas)
C Briggs Benson (Tift County HS, Georgia)
C Jackson Lueck (Orangewood Christian HS, Florida)
(If you left a comment in the past few days, my goal is to get back to it by the end of the day today. Thanks for reading, interacting, and being patient.)
The success rate for catchers drafted and signed out of high school in Major League Baseball is quite low. This article at Beyond the Boxscore outlines this idea well. The most interesting part, for our purposes at least, is this…
So if very few catchers in the majors are highly drafted high school catchers, where are they all coming from? Of the 33 catchers who have accrued 100+ plate appearances, fourteen were drafted out of college and thirteen were signed internationally. That means six were drafted out of high school.
That stat was true as of last June. I’m too lazy to update it for May 2015, but considering it’s only been eleven months, I think it is safe to assume it’s not too far off the mark today. Here are the catchers that produced positive value per Baseball Reference’s WAR (bWAR) that were drafted and signed out of high school since 2000. It’s set up as follows: year, draft position, name, and value of bWAR in parentheses.
2000: 4.113 Yadier Molina (28.9), 17.500 Mike Napoli (25.2)
2001: 1.1 Joe Mauer (46.8), 1s.33 Jeff Mathis (1.7), 2.49 Rene Rivera (2.5), 11.318 Geovany Soto (10.4)
2002: 2.64 Brian McCann (25.7)
2003: 1s.36 Jarrod Saltalamacchia (5.9)
2004: 4.122 Lou Marson (1.6), 27.803 Martin Maldonado (2.1)
2005: 13.389 Josh Thole (0.2)
2006: 1.25 Hank Conger (2.3)
2007: 1.15 Devin Mesoraco (4.0), 1s.37 Travis d’Arnaud (0.3), 4.130 Derek Norris (6.6)
2008: 9.292 Christian Vazquez (1.1)
2009: 2s.76 JR Murphy (0.6), 4.123 Max Stassi (0.3), 10.299 Tucker Barnhart (0.4)
First, it’s amazing to me to realize that the usual cutoff for judging players drafted doesn’t really apply at this position. I don’t like judging a prospect’s big league future for at least a couple seasons past his draft year, but you really can’t do that for catchers. Turns out catchers really do develop later. Take guys like Mesoraco and d’Arnaud. It took each player six full professional seasons to establish themselves as regular players in the big leagues.
Second, and this is probably one of those things interesting only to me and not all that relevant to this year’s draft class, there are definite value tiers that have established themselves since 2000 with these players. Mauer is all by himself at the top. Then closely bunched together are Molina, McCann, and Napoli. The next tier includes Soto, Norris, Saltalamacchia, and Mesoraco. Then you get a bunch of marginal talents like Rene Rivera, Hank Conger, Martin Maldonado, Jeff Mathis, and Lou Marson. Then there are some younger guys like Christian Vazquez, JR Murphy, Max Stassi, Tucker Barnhart, Travis d’Arnaud, and Josh Thole. The categories aren’t perfect — calling Conger a marginal talent and Thole a youngster isn’t ideal — but they work out nicer than I would have guessed.
Third, prep catchers are not a very good bang for your buck. My pen and paper math came out to an average of right around 56 high school catchers drafted per year from 2000 to 2009. Just under two per draft class turned into positive value big league players. Also interesting: the average draft position of these big leaguers was 183rd overall, which is the rough equivalent of a sixth round pick. That’s a bit of a case of numbers lying (or being massaged to make a point…) because Maldonado (pick 803) and Napoli (pick 500) throw everything off. A better way of looking at it is with a good old fashioned stem-and-leaf plot. My very lazy version, very condensed version…
1: X – X – X
1s – X – X – X
2: X – X
4: X – X – X – X
Or, including supplemental rounds with their parent round, we get this much prettier version…
1: X – X – X – X – X – X
2: X – X – X
4: X – X – X – X
Count those X’s. A whopping thirteen of the nineteen catchers drafted and signed out of high school to put up positive bWAR since 2000 were drafted by the end of round four. So if you want a prep catcher, get him quickly. It’s a particularly tough group to mine for diamonds in the rough. For what it’s worth, I think this trend will hold up with the last few drafts as well. Not a whole lot of actual signed prospects outside of the first few rounds.
Going back to 2000 gives some historical perspective often lacking when talking prospects. I know I’ve longed for the day that this site would have enough of a back catalogue of work to refer to when having these discussions. In the meantime, I still like putting things in the context of when I started the site back in 2009. I took a look back to see how many drafted high school catching prospects were selected in the top four rounds in each class since then. Since I’m only interested in trying to see how many high school guys we might expect to see drafted early this year, I didn’t bother with guys who didn’t sign (Brett Austin) nor did I knock anybody for recent position changes (Clint Coulter). Here’s what we’ve got…
So, really, we should only make a HS catching prospect list that goes seven players deep and call it a day, right? I kid, of course, since that presumes that a) historical drafting trends supersedes the specific talent level of any given class, b) outliers like Napoli, Soto, and Vazquez aren’t worth doing a little extra work to attempt to identify, and c) any draft “expert” is prescient enough to identify the exact top seven high school catching prospects prior to the draft. Here are the highest drafted high school catching prospects drafted (I included all first round or supplemental first round picks) since the site’s been around…
2012: 26 and 27
2013: 14 and 21
2014: 36 and 40
It’s a bit of a fortuitous end point because the year before I started the site, 2008, was the same year that high school catcher Kyle Skipworth went sixth overall (and one spot after Buster Posey) to the Marlins. I do think there is something to the lack of early interest in high school catching in recent years, perhaps even due in some small way to Skipworth busting like he did.
On the surface none of this is great news for guys like Chris Betts and Tyler Stephenson. I’d argue it’s less great for Betts, the more likely to remain behind the plate over the long haul of the two, but it’s probably less great for the group of catchers in the next tier down from the clear Betts/Stephenson potential first round pairing. We’ll talk about Betts, Stephenson, and that next group down in a little more depth tomorrow. Until then, a couple of quick conclusions from today. All of the caveats from above (historical trends aren’t more important than individual prospects being the most relevant and most important here) apply, but taking into everything else into account we can guess that the following will wind up as true in 2015…
1) The first high school catching prospect should expect to be off the board around the mid-20s in the first round.
2) There will be other quality catching prospects (perhaps up to five) off the board through round four, but not so much after that point.
3) Only two of said prospects should be expected to have meaningful MLB careers as catchers.
Here’s an unusually short post that would probably be best served via a tweet or three if I had the time management skills to maintain an active Twitter account and actually write worthwhile-ish longer stuff, an arguably not so difficult task that so many actual writers are able to do with seemingly relative ease. I’m not as good a multi-tasker as those guys apparently, which probably explains (in part) why they are where they are and why I’m quietly cranking out material in my teeny tiny little corner of the internet.
(I wrote that “introduction” before I started writing the body of the post found below. I should have known that this thing would go longer than a “tweet or three,” but I’m just that dense. This is why I’m not cut out for Twitter…)
College Shortstop Rankings for the 2015 MLB Draft (April 28, 2015)
- LSU SS/2B Alex Bregman
- Vanderbilt SS Dansby Swanson
- Louisiana SS Blake Trahan
- Florida SS/CF Richie Martin
- San Diego SS Kyle Holder
- Arizona SS Kevin Newman
- Virginia SS Daniel Pinero
- Kennesaw State SS Kal Simmons
I don’t know what it would take to knock Bregman off the top spot, but something pretty drastic would have to go down to get me to consider anybody but him. I’ll take it a step further and throw out there that I’m not unconvinced he’s the top overall prospect in this year’s draft. In fact, the entire impetus of this piece was to get that Bregman take out there for public consumption. Also, finally, I’m now one of the Bregman converts who believes he can make it work, at least long enough to make it worth his drafting team’s while, at shortstop in pro ball. Feels good to escape the dark side for a change.
Of course, this being the year of the college shortstop, it should be no shock that I can both love Bregman and realize that Swanson isn’t too far off his trail. What might surprise is that I think Trahan isn’t too far behind after that. There’s a bit of a gap after those three, so I reserve the right to shuffle those names hourly between now and June. Martin’s athleticism, defensive tools, and offensive approach have been buried a bit due to playing in the SEC shadow of both Bregman and Swanson, but he’s really, really good. Either Martin or Holder could make an honest claim to the third best college shortstop in this class right now, so big finishes to the season could easily put them in the mid- to late-first round mix.
I’ve talked at length about Newman in the comments section, but he’s worth discussing briefly here once again. In short, as many members of the national media have begun talking him up as a potential top ten (or two) player in this class, I’ve actually cooled on him, due largely to concerns about his long-term defensive future. In much the same way that I feel as though pre-injury Nate Kirby got a bum rap due to a below-average start (iffy velo, too many sliders, below-average command) with a lot of national prospect writing heat in the house (what a silly thing to actually type out), Newman seems to have gotten a sizable bump because of a good couple of games in front of some influential media members. I could be entirely wrong here (maybe these ranking changes were made with more behind the scenes intel than publicly divulged to this point) and I acknowledge that moving players up and down the board based on new information is an essential part of the process at this stage of the game. We’ll see. For now, I’ll say that I’d be pretty stunned if Newman is actually a top ten (or two) pick in this draft, barring some underslot pre-draft agreement shenanigans. More to the point, since draft position is secondary to actual on-field future professional performance, I’d be even more surprised if Newman had a career that would place him in the top ten (or two) of the signed members of the 2015 MLB Draft. Again, we’ll see.
I love that this draft class is so loaded with college shortstops that a draft-eligible sophomore listed at 6-5, 210 pounds with startlingly good defensive tools putting up impressive numbers for one of the nation’s best programs has gotten little to no national draft love. I have no clue how those in the game view Pinero as a prospect just yet, but I love the guy. I also now like Simmons a lot (he’s done all you could ask for him so far this year) and not just because mentioning him gives me the opportunity to crow about being the only person on the planet (probably) to publicly rank him as the A-Sun’s second best draft prospect pre-season. Any time I can slip in a Donnie Dewees mention is cool by me.
My next tier down includes about a dozen names, but I’ll limit it to these four for now: Drew Jackson, CJ Hinojosa (big pre-season miss on my end, really though he was set for a monster draft year), Kevin Kramer, and Dylan Bosheers. I also have to give a mention to Scott Kingery, who very well could have wait it takes to transition about two dozen big steps over to his right and play some professional shortstop when it’s all said and done. I tried to stay away from potential shortstop conversion projects for now — mostly because I’m a chicken and not willing to quite stick my neck out there just yet — but Kingery has as strong a case as any 2015 college prospect not currently playing shortstop to successfully make the move in the pros.
Time for little crowd-sourced assistance to help track down some of these prospects that I had on rosters, but no longer show up as active players in 2015. I imagine many are at junior colleges, some have given up the game, and others are sitting out the year while transferring to another D-1 school. Heck, some could be on the roster that I had them listed on originally, but I was too blind to see them. Any and all help is appreciated.
As for the rest of the week (and beyond), the goal is to get back into high school ball and go over a bunch of my older notes on this year’s underrated prep class. I’ve actually seen more HS ball than college ball so far this spring for the first time since my own high school days, so I’m pretty excited to take a pause from college coverage to get a closer look at some of the best high school athletes this country (and Canada and Puerto Rico…) has to offer.
EDIT: I couldn’t resist doing some more searching of my own on these guys. Made it as far as Alexander before getting distracted by something else. Will hopefully get to the rest later.
Clemson SO LHP Hunter Hill (2016)
Florida State SO RHP/INF MT Minacci (2016)
Louisville SO RHP Mason Richardson (2015) – USC Aiken
Miami SO 1B Bradley Zunica (2015) – State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota
North Carolina JR OF Zach Daly (2015) – Lander
Virginia SO OF Tyler Allen (2016)
Central Florida JR RHP Zac Favre (2015)
Central Florida SO LHP Vinnie Rosace (2015) – Seminole State College of Florida
Cincinnati rJR OF Will Drake (2015)
Connecticut JR LHP Christian Colletti (2015) – Indian River State College
Connecticut SO 3B/1B Ryan Sullivan (2016)
East Carolina JR RHP Justin Taylor (2015)
Alabama SO OF Hunter Webb (2015) – Chattahoochee Valley CC
Alabama rSO OF Matthew Goodson (2015) – Auburn-Montgomery
Kentucky SO RHP Logan Parrett (2016)
Vanderbilt rSO RHP Luke Stephenson (2015)
Florida FR 3B/RHP Hunter Alexander (2015) – St. Johns River State
Mississippi State JR RHP John Marc Shelly (2015)
Texas A&M JR LHP Hayden Howard (2015)
Texas A&M rSO LHP Rex Hill (2015)
Oklahoma SO LHP Octavio Rodriguez (2016)
Oklahoma SO RHP Tyler Gibson (2016)
St. John’s JR RHP Anthony Rosati (2015)
California FR 3B Denis Karas (2017)
USC JR LHP Sean Adler (2015)
Stanford JR RHP Andrew McCormack (2015)
Washington State FR C Alan Crowley (2017)
Washington State JR RHP Chris McDowell (2015)
Maryland FR SS Dominic DiSabatino (2017)
UC Santa Barbara JR RHP Hector Lujan (2015)
UC Santa Barbara SO SS Brody Weiss (2016)
Gonzaga JR 2B/SS Cabe Reiten (2015)
Loyola Marymount SO RHP Matt Gorgolinski (2016)
San Francisco SO LHP Jordan Haseltine (2016)
San Francisco JR OF Harrison Bruce (2015)
San Francisco rSO 1B/OF Dylan Parks (2015)
Charlotte rSO SS Matt Creech (2015)
Marshall JR C David Diaz-Fernandez (2015)
Marshall JR LHP Zachary Shockley (2015)
Old Dominion JR RHP Tommy Alexander (2015)
Illinois State SO Ben Hecht (2016)
Fresno State JR RHP Blake Quinn (2015)
San Diego State JR RHP Tyler Sapp (2015)
Abilene Christian JR RHP Stuart Patke (2015)
Stony Brook JR SS Austin Shives (2015)
UNC Wilmington JR William Prince (2015)
Louisiana-Monroe SO LHP Taka High (2016)
South Alabama rSO RHP Kyle Rovig (2015)
Florida Gulf Coast rSO RHP Brad Labozzetta (2015)
Stetson SO RHP Taylor Cockrell (2016)
Coastal Carolina SO LHP Dalton Moats (2016)
Gardner-Webb JR RHP Hunter Smith (2015)
Longwood JR RHP Blake Ream (2015)
Presbyterian JR RHP Brett Byrum (2015)
Alabama State JR SS/RHP Branden Castro (2015)
Southern SO RHP Brady May (2016)
North Carolina Central JR SS Nick Stoll (2015)
I’ve resisted writing about Louisville baseball for a while. It started months ago, but back then it wasn’t my fault: the Cardinals were one of the last teams in all of college ball to release their updated roster, so I had to wait anyway. Staying away even once the roster was published can be explained away to a point (even a patient guy like me has to move on eventually), but the most honest reason why I didn’t write about Louisville before today is because I didn’t know what to say about their star player and potential top ten pick, JR RHP Kyle Funkhouser. I still don’t.
I’ve personally seen Funkhouser twice. The first was way back in Louisville’s Big East days on 5/4/13. It was a blink and you’d miss it appearance with Funkhouser only pitching to two batters. He threw more balls than strikes that day while allowing a single and a walk. It wasn’t the kind of outing that had you walking away thinking you just saw a future lock first round pick, but there were indicators (arm speed, delivery, frame) that better days were ahead. Most of the scouts around me that day — and there were about a half-dozen or so, a pretty good crowd for any Villanova home game — didn’t pay much attention to Funkhouser’s appearance, busying themselves instead with their guarded chats about the starting pitchers they were here to say who just exited (Pat Young and Jeff Thompson) and the relief ace yet to come (Nick Burdi, who struck out two in getting his tenth save of the season). They also talked — far more openly and enthusiastically — about the forthcoming annual BBQ planned by one of the local veteran scouts in attendance. Thought long and hard about trying to angle for an invite to crash that party, but I would have been the youngest guy there by about thirty years so I opted to stay in my lane.
The next time I saw Funkhouser he was pitching for a team now in the AAC against Temple in one of the Owls last ever games. He was a little better this time out: 8 IP 4 H 0 ER 1 BB 12 K. The game also featured another shot at seeing Nick Burdi up close and personal (two strikeouts again) and an impressive complete game loss thrown by future Phillies ninth round pick Matt Hockenberry. I don’t recall if the scouts had a BBQ planned that weekend or not, but I do remember hearing from many that only a nasty injury would keep Funkhouser out of the 2015 first round. I also remember an older gentleman — not a scout as far as I could tell — refer to the pitcher having his way with Temple that day as Doogie Howser, so, all in all, it was a pretty good day.
Even for a prospect that I’ve seen multiple times (pro tip: multiple is almost always used to mean twice, at least when I use it) and have gotten a lot of feedback on from actual baseball men, I still don’t know what to say about him. He’s really good, obviously, but I’m not sure what I can add to the conversation beyond that. The fastball has a chance to be a plus pitch that he can lean on heavily when the offspeed isn’t working (and even when it is) due to premium velocity (90-95, 97-98 peak) and movement. The missing component there is command, an area of Funkhouser’s game that remains inconsistent despite the progress he’s made there this spring. He’s overall command has improved (fastball more so than offspeed, which I’d rather see if forced to choose), but it’s still not much better than average on his best day. I don’t see why he couldn’t make a jump in his command grade in the future because his delivery is clean and repeatable (I’m far from an expert, but I personally really like his motion — really well-balanced with outstanding tempo — minus the rushed finish), he’s reasonably athletic, and he’s already shown the capacity for improvement going back to his high school days in Illinois. The assortment of secondary offerings (SL, CB, and CU) speaks to the relatively high floor that a strapping four-pitch righthander with a track record of striking out a batter an inning at a big-time baseball school is expected to bring to the pro ranks.
I personally really like his slider (80-86) because it’s a pitch that he can throw down for swinging strikes and backdoor it to get guys looking and/or set up the next (better) pitch. It’s been consistently above-average for me and (reportedly) often gets better as the game goes on and he gets a better feel for it. His curve is still a pitch in progress, but I’ve been told that he’s firmed it up enough (73-77 when I saw him, 75-82 this year) that I should consider bumping up my average upside for the pitch (usable currently, but more of a “wasted” show-me pitch at the moment) to slightly more than that. His change ranged from 80-87 in my look and has varied this year from outing to outing (80-84 one week, 85-89 the next, then back to the low-80s again, etc.). I actually prefer his a little bit on the firm side because I don’t really see the pitch ever becoming a consistent swing and miss offering for him. The added firmness should encourage him to use the pitch earlier in counts when velocity separation isn’t as big a deal, and hopefully the pitch will help him get some nice, quick ground ball outs in the process. My 100% “not a scout, just a fan” observation after watching nine innings of him in person (and a bunch on video, but mostly just for fun) is that the arm action on Funkhouser’s change seems quite consistent with his heater, a fact that, again, could have something to do with the fact he can throw it close to as hard as where certain unnamed big league pitchers get their fastballs. I’m more bullish on it becoming at least an average pitch before too long with even more upside as he begins to use it more, which will hopefully be the case if he pumps it in there within the first few pitches of every few at bats.
Add it all up and you get a pitcher with a fine delivery, solid athleticism, inconsistent yet improving command and control, a clear plus fastball (with plus-plus upside if he learns to better command it), an above-average slider, and a raw curve/firm changeup combination that should produce at least another average or better pitch but should at least give him two additional usable pitches that hitters will have to at least mentally account for. A few pitching prospects came to mind when watching him that I feel are worth sharing with the group. In addition to my own potential comps, I also asked around and got two names from smart people. I like this because these guys are all peers of Funkhouser, so, hopefully, one of the bigger criticisms of comps that I hear (they create unfair expectations for players!) can be bypassed this time. One cautionary name that Funkhouser’s game brings to mind is Kyle Crick. Cautionary is perhaps a tad harsh sounding because there’s really nothing wrong with Crick, a fine pitching prospect with the Giants with the chance to be a very good big league pitcher. Check Kiley McDaniel’s report on him from earlier this month, mentally sub in Funkhouser’s name for Crick’s, and tell me they don’t share some similarities…
Crick has electric #2/3 starter stuff, is still only 22 and is in the upper levels of the minors, but his command has never been strong. Some guys with big stuff just take time to develop the feel and find consistency in their delivery, so the Giants will give Crick more innings to figure it out…At his best, Crick sits 94-97, hits 99 mph and will show heavy sink down in the zone. His mid-80’s slider flashes plus with hard cutting action, he mixes in an average curveball to change eye levels, and his changeup is above average when he throws it perfectly. Crick’s feel still wanders a lot, affecting the crispness and consistency of his off-speed stuff and command.
Again, Crick is really good, so getting a guy with his kind of talent in the draft is a wonderful thing. It’s just the uncertainty over a guy like Crick’s (and potentially Funkhouser’s) future role — many, as McDaniel alludes to in his full article, think of Crick as a potential closer — and his persistent control problems combine to make it a dicey gamble within the draft’s top ten picks. Another interesting comp (and I guy I completely whiffed on) is Jake Thompson. This would be another “cautionary” comp only because of the potential you’re drafting a guy too early that is destined to get stuck in the bullpen due to below-average command. I like this comp a little less because Thompson is more of a classic “whoa, this stuff is suddenly GREAT in short bursts” future reliever, and that’s an issue that Funkhouser simply doesn’t share. Joe Ross, formerly of San Diego and currently with Washington, came up as a point of comparison as well. Funkhouser and Ross share explosive fastballs, strong sliders, athletic builds, and a reputation for spotty command. That’s not a bad one (Ross is a little leaner and a better athlete), and I could see the two having similar pro ceilings. Finally, there’s Chris Anderson. Here’s what I wrote about him in his draft year…
Jacksonville JR RHP Chris Anderson: 88-92 FB; good breaking ball; Cape 2012: 88-92 FB, 93 peak; good 75-76 CB; SL; 79-81 split-CU; held velocity well; iffy control; FB up to 94-95 at times; 2013: 89-95 FB, 96-97 peak; above-average to plus 80-85 SL; 78-84 CU with above-average upside; average to good 77-80 CB; sinker; holds velocity late; Matt Garza and Andy Benes comps; 6-4, 225 pounds; (2011: 7.11 K/9 | 50.2 IP) (2012: .273/.346/.339 – 8 BB/28 K – 0/0 SB – 121 AB) (2012: 7.13 K/9 | 3.97 BB/9 | 4.36 FIP | 88.1 IP) (2013: 8.86 K/9 | 2.24 BB/9 | 3.64 FIP | 104.2 IP)
I don’t love how the Anderson report is organized with the most recent stuff (at the time) at the end, but if you look at the draft year (2013) update you see this: 89-95 FB, 96-97 peak; above-average to plus 80-85 SL; 78-84 CU with above-average upside; average to good 77-80 CB; sinker; holds velocity late. Again, not entirely dissimilar to the Funkhouser package. Funkhouser (9.04 K/9 and 4.39 BB/9 in 242 IP) has performed at a higher level than Anderson (7.71 K/9 and 3.73 BB/9 in 244 IP) against better competition, plus he gets bonus points (from me) for being a fairly well-known prospect for the better part of the past two seasons. Funkhouser has been picked apart by just about everybody with a vested interest in this stuff by now; Anderson was a bit more under the radar, so the newness of his prospect status engendered a feeling of untold possibility for dopes like me who can get fatigued by talking about the same old prospects for years on end. Here’s Kiley McDaniel again with an update on what Anderson has done since his draft days…
Anderson popped up in his draft year (2013) out of Jacksonville U. in Florida, going in the middle of the first round after delivering on his physical projection by flashing a plus fastball and slider with starter traits. Anderson’s changeup was average in most outings in his draft year, but it’s coming and going in pro ball. His command also wandered a bit and it showed in his numbers, but getting out of the hitter-friendly Cal League for 2015 should help in that regard. Anderson made a mechanical change late in 2014 to revert back to his pre-draft mechanics and it looked to help both issues. There’s #3 starter upside if it all comes together and a 2015 campaign in Double-A could be the place that happens.
Sounds about right for Funkhouser’s pro projection, though, now that he’s the “new” prospect to talk about (always funny how pro guys get excited about all the college/HS prospects we were once thrilled to cover at the start of their amateur journeys) it’s understandable and perhaps even reasonable to think there’s a little more ceiling to Funkhouser. When it comes to ceiling, I do like to talk in terms of big league comparisons. This is where those who hate comps for the unrealistic expectations they create — one of my favorite lines I heard on this is “Just let (Blank Player) be the first (Blank Player)!” Sure, sure. Thankfully, I don’t think that will be a problem here as there very clearly can be one, and only one, FUNKHOUSER — can tune me out. Crick, Ross, and Thompson are all tough players to compare to Funkhouser as prospects because a) they are themselves still prospects and comparing unfinished things to fellow unfinished things is a sure way to drive yourself mad, and b) comparing prospect peers currently on different developmental paths can be quite messy, what with attempting (and, in my case, failing) to define similar points of development and getting all turned around when looking at HS prospects (like the aforementioned group) with college guys (like Funkhouser). As the lone college product Anderson is probably the closest of the four previous comps (I think). Anderson was selected 18th overall in 2013, so it only makes sense that the superior Funkhouser would go higher in an inferior draft talent-wise.
Beyond the prospects we’ve covered, three big league stars (and all college guys) came up in conversations (both with real life talent evaluators smarter than myself and in my own head because, yeah, I sometimes talk to myself about this stuff) centered around trying to find an honest comparison for Funkhouser. The first mystery comp can be found below with his pre-draft (2009) scouting report excerpted from Baseball America as his only identifier…
He routinely sits at 93-95 mph with life on his fastball and touched 98 in a relief outing against Wichita State. He has a mid-80s slider with bite that peaked at 89 mph against the Shockers. And if that’s not enough, he has a power curveball and flashes an effective changeup. He has a quick arm, a strong 6-foot-2, 217-pound build and throws on a downhill plane with little effort…He has the raw ingredients to become a frontline starter, and on the rare occasions when he has command, he looks like an easy first-round pick.
Next we have a heavily redacted college pick from 2007…
[His] stuff was improving as the season went on, and he was consistently working in the low 90s and showing a quality slider as [his team] entered the [conference/division/league] playoffs. He also throws a changeup with promising action and uses a loopy curveball as a fourth pitch. [He] regularly touched 93-95 in the Northwoods League, and scouts expect him to show that velocity more often as he adds more strength to his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame.
And finally we have a player with a pre-draft scouting report that looks so goofy now that I won’t even quote it. Fine, fine…you’ve twisted my arm. Here it is…
[He] has pitched more at 91-92 mph, often peaking at 95. While he has one of the best pure arms in the draft, he doesn’t consistently have a second plus pitch. His slider is effective but usually rates as a 50 or 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He has added a wide-grip changeup and a two-seam fastball in the last year, and he’s still refining his secondary pitches. While he has toned down his delivery in college, he still throws with more effort than Joba Chamberlain or Luke Hochevar.
Ironically enough, the pitcher in question directly above was the highest (11th) player selected out of the three pitchers we’re talking about. Needless to say, he has surpassed the expectations that BA had for him pre-draft back in 2006 (they strongly suggested he’d be in the bullpen before long) by a healthy margin. I think we can more or less throw this one out because I think of him as a pretty big outlier in terms of player development. In other words, thanks for playing Max Scherzer. Comping anybody to the $210 million man is probably a mistake anyway, but it was largely based on Scherzer’s incredibly effective fastball/slider usage and slowly improving change that he’s relied on a bit more almost every year since hitting the majors.
The top scouting note from above refers to Garrett Richards. Richards is another fastball/slider pitcher, but what makes him most like Funkhouser (potentially) is the way he has overcome his command issues and while drastically improving his control. The notion of Funkhouser being all stuff with little touch is perhaps a bit unfair and outdated since, again, he’s improved his command in small measures every year since enrolling at Louisville, but it’s still his closest player archetype in my mind because, as much credit as I give him for improving this year, we’re talking going from below-average to average at times and not some miraculous leap just yet. Literally just had a conversation with the wife where she bragged about filling up the PUR water pitcher more than she used to. That’s all well and good, I say, but when filling it up more means doing it once a month instead of never, then I’m not sure how much love should be given for that improvement. In other words, both command and control are still issues for Funkhouser, though neither look like a potential fatal flaw. Or, alternatively, just sub out shoe shining for command and you get the idea…
I don’t love the Richards comparison for a few reasons (stylistically, the two couldn’t have deliveries that look more different to my eye), though statistically the two put up some interestingly close numbers. Take it with the same grain of salt you would whenever stats are used to compare amateurs, but Richards at Oklahoma did this (9.07 K/9 and 4.93 BB/9) compared to Funkhouser at Louisville doing this (9.04 K/9 and 4.39 BB/9) so far. Hmm. In terms of career path and ultimate value, maybe it’s a fit. Finally, there’s the man behind the second scouting blurb: Jordan Zimmermann. He’s yet another fastball/slider big league pitcher with little time for much else. He uses the curve as a de facto changeup because, quite honestly, like the other two stars mentioned, his change isn’t very good. I bring up Zimmermann not as a direct comp per se, but as a potential developmental path that Funkhouser could mirror once he hits the pro ranks. I think Funkhouser’s change should be given room to grow rather than ditched, but Zimmermann’s below average change was once said to have “promising action,” so what do any of us really know?
One last bonus comp came to mind as I was working my way through this piece. Before I get to it, an obvious disclaimer that I’d feel guilty leaving unwritten: these are all extreme ceiling comparisons and the likelihood of all but the surest of sure thing amateur prospects (Stephen Strasburg comes to mind) becoming a consistent above-average or better big league pitcher on the level of any of those star players isn’t all that high. This whole profile may not do a great job of getting this point across, but I like Funkhouser more than love him. That’s based on a nagging intuitive feel more than anything concrete, so don’t take it as too big of a knock. I still would strongly consider him with a top ten selection, but I don’t think he’s the slam dunk single-digit pick that many have made him out to be. A guy that was just compared to Richards, Scherzer, and Zimmermann should really be a lock to go 1-1, but that’s why I want it to be clear that I’m only trying to compare elements of his game (and, in some cases, potential best case scenario career paths) to those guys. No literal comps here today. Anyway, the last pitcher that jumped out at me when thinking about Funkhouser had this written about him pre-draft by Baseball America…
He pitches at 90-91 mph, touching 94, and his delivery is clean. The strong-bodied Texan has an intimidating presence on the mound, and he pounds the zone with four pitches. His slider is the better of his two breaking balls, and he features an average changeup.
Funkhouser has a little more present velocity, but otherwise the stuff matches up fairly well to a young Corey Kluber. This article makes plenty of interesting points, but what caught my eye was the mention that Kluber’s fastest and slowest pitches fall within a narrow range of velocity. That’s something I can see Funkhouser eventually doing as he finds his way and adjusts his arsenal to the pro gram. It isn’t something you’d typically consider a good thing for a pitcher, but certain guys can take this perceived negative into a positive. The smaller velocity gap allows the hard stuff to work without a major change of speed because so much of that hard stuff is moving every which way before it gets to the catcher. Timing velocity is one thing, but timing velocity that comes in various shapes is a whole other challenge for a hitter. Movement is paramount, and Funkhouser has the fastball movement and hard breaking ball (slider) to potentially pull off this trick. Like Scherzer, Kluber is a unique developmental case so convincing somebody that you’ve found the “next Kluber” is a justifiably challenging uphill battle. Other fine examples of articles well worth your time can be found here and here; the latter is the best one out there, I think, and reading about Kluber’s impossible to classify breaking ball is something I could do all day. There’s really only one Kluber, just like there’s only one Scherzer, Zimmermann, and Richards, but Funkhouser, at his best, shows elements of each that make him an undeniably intriguing prospect.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you. If you skimmed to the last paragraph to see if I made an attempt to wrap everything up with a pithy conclusion, you’re in luck. Kyle Funkhouser is a really talented young pitcher with the fastball/slider combination that rivals similar one-two punches thrown by some of the game’s best starters. Both his command and control will need to be closely monitored as he transitions to pro ball, but there appears to be no real indication that he is physically or mentally incapable of improving in those areas going forward. There are no concerns about his mechanics nor is their any doubt about his ability to mix his pitches to get through lineups multiple times, so a move to the bullpen doesn’t appear necessary. He’s a future big league two hundred inning workhorse with the ability, especially with improved control and feel for pitching, to one day pitch in a team’s postseason rotation. He should be off the board within the draft’s first dozen or so picks.