I don’t typically get into rankings this early in the process because doing it the right way as a research/writing staff of one takes me literally hundreds of hours. Realistically putting together what I feel is representative of my better stuff just hasn’t been possible in the past unless I pushed other micro baseball projects — for the site and elsewhere — aside and instead looked took the time to cover a nation’s worth of prospects on the macro level. Having a draft site that spends more time on players on the fringes who may or may not wind up drafted at all while failing to address the prospects at the top of the food chain seems a bit silly, so I’m trying to balance things out a little bit better this year. There will still be lots of the usual draft minutiae I enjoy so much, but a rededicated focus on the draft’s first day just makes sense. With all of this in mind I put other baseball duties on hold for the last ten or so days to put this list together. It’s imperfect, but I like it as a starting point. Some notes on what you’ll see below…
*** I didn’t include any non-D1 players at this point because I haven’t yet had the time to go as deep into other levels of competition and junior college ball just yet. Nick Shumpert would have made the top fifty for sure. Lucas Erceg likely would have been considered. After a quick skim of my notes, I’d say Kep Brown, Tekwaan Whyte, Ryan January, Ethan Skender, Liam Scafariello, Jesus Gamez, Curtis Taylor, Willie Rios, Shane Billings, Brett Morales, Hunter Tackett, Devin Smeltzer, and Tyson Miller would be just a few of the names also in the mix for me right now. I said it a lot last year, but it bears repeating: I’d love to find the time/energy to go deeper with non-D1 baseball this year. The finite number of hours I have to devote to this site might get in the way, but I’m going to try.
*** This is going to sound bad and I apologize in advance, but I don’t believe I left anybody off that I intended to include. It’s possible, of course, but I don’t think that’s the case here. A ton of really, really good prospects, many of whom will be future big league players, didn’t make the cut as of yet. It’s not personal, obviously. I would have loved to include any player that even remotely interested me, but I had to have a cut-off point somewhere. If you think I whiffed on somebody, I’m happy to listen. Reasonable minds can disagree.
*** There is no consensus top player in this college class. The hitter at the top could wind up out of the first round by June. The top pitcher listed has medical red flags reminiscent of Michael Matuella last season. And — SPOILER ALERT — the top overall player in this class isn’t included on the list below. There are players ranked in the twenties that may be in your top five and there are players in the thirties that may not crack somebody else’s top seventy-five. It’s a fun year that way.
*** If I had to predict what player will actually go number one this June, I’d piggy-back on what others have already said and put my vote in for AJ Puk. The Phillies are my hometown team and while I’m not as well-connected to their thinking as I am with a few other teams, based on the snippets of behind the scenes things I’ve heard (not much considering it’s October, but it’s not like they aren’t thinking about it yet) and the common sense reporting elsewhere (they lean towards a quick-moving college player, preferably a pitcher) all point to Puk. He’s healthy, a good kid (harmless crane climbing incident aside), and a starting pitcher all the way. Puk joining Alfaro, Knapp, Crawford, Franco, Williams, Quinn, Herrera, Altherr, Nola, Thompson, Eickhoff, Eflin, and Giles by September 2017 makes for a pretty intriguing cost-controlled core.
*** The words that go along with the rankings are a bit more positive than what long-time readers might be used to. My early take is that this appears to be an above-average draft, but a friend who saw an early draft (no pun intended) of this told me that 2016 must be an incredibly talented group of amateurs. He said that reading through led him to believe that every pitcher is a future big league starter and every hitter is a future above-average regular. Guilty. I admit that I generally skew positive at this site (elsewhere…not so much) because I like baseball, enjoy focusing on what young players do well, and believe highlighting the good can help grow the college game, but being fair is always the ultimate goal. That said, there will be plenty of time to get deeper into each prospect’s individual strengths and weaknesses over the next seven or so months. In October a little extra dose of positivity is nice.
With no further ado, here are the 2016 MLB Draft’s top fifty prospects (with a whole lot more names to know beyond that)…
(Fine, just a bit more ado: A very rough HS list and maybe a combined overall ranking will come after Jupiter…)
- Mercer JR OF Kyle Lewis
The popular comp for Lewis has been Alfonso Soriano (originated at D1 Baseball, I believe), but I see more of Yasiel Puig in his game. He’s an honest five-tool player with a rapidly improving approach at the plate. There’s still some roughness around the edges there, but if it clicks then he’s a monster. There’s obvious risk in the profile, but it’s easy to be excited by somebody who legitimately gets better with every watch.
- Oklahoma JR RHP Alec Hansen
Hansen would rank first overall (college, not overall) if not for some recent reports of forearm troubles. His injury history probably should have been enough to temper enthusiasm for his nasty stuff (huge FB and chance for two plus offspeed pitches), but the upside is just that exciting. The popular Gerrit Cole makes sense as Hansen is a big guy (6-7, 235) with outstanding athleticism who holds his plus velocity late into games.
- Florida JR OF Buddy Reed
Reed’s relative newness to playing the game full-time makes his already considerable upside all the more intriguing. More reps against quality pitching could turn the dynamic center fielder (plus range, plus speed, plus arm) into the top overall pick.
- Oregon rSO LHP Matt Krook
This may be a touch more speculative that some of the other names on the list since Krook missed the 2015 season after Tommy John surgery, but I’m buying all the Krook shares I can right now. He came back and impressed on the Cape enough to warrant consideration as a potential 1-1 riser. There’s no squaring up his fastball and there’s more than enough offspeed (CB and CU) to miss bats (12 K/9 in 45 freshman innings). He’s not as physical as AJ Puk, but the more advanced secondaries give him the edge for now.
- Florida JR LHP/1B AJ Puk
Extension, deception, and power would be three words that come immediately to mind when describing Puk. He’s every bit of 6-7, 225 with a delivery that hides the ball damn well. His power comes both with his left arm (92-96, 98 peak) and at the plate (he’d quickly be among the better hitting pitchers in the game), so it’s no big shock that some guy on the internet (that’s me) sees some similarities between him and the prospect version of Madison Bumgarner.
- Wake Forest JR 1B/RHP Will Craig
Do you like power? How about patience? What about a guy with power, patience, and the athleticism to pull off collegiate two-way duty? For everybody who missed on AJ Reed the first time around, Will Craig is here to give you a second chance. I won’t say he’ll be the first base prospect that finally tests how high a first base prospect can go in a post-PED draft landscape, but if he has a big enough junior season…
- Louisville JR OF Corey Ray
If you prefer Ray to Lewis and Reed, you’re not wrong. They are all different flavors of a similar overall quality. Like those guys, Ray can do enough of everything well on the diamond to earn the much coveted label of “five-tool player.” The most enthusiastic comp I got from him was a “more compact Kirk Gibson.” That’s a thinker.
- Arkansas JR RHP Zach Jackson
We’ll know a lot more about Buddy Reed (and other SEC hitters) by June after he runs the gauntlet of SEC pitching. In addition to teammate AJ Puk, I’ve got three other SEC arms with realistic top ten draft hopes. Jackson’s chance for rising up to the 1-1 discussion depends almost entirely on his delivery and command. If those two things can be smoothed out this spring — they often go hand-in-hand — then his fastball (90-94, 96 peak), curve (deadly), and change (inconsistent but very promising) make him a potential top of the rotation starting pitcher.
- Georgia JR RHP Robert Tyler
Just about everything said about Jackson can be said about Tyler. The Georgia righthander has the bigger fastball (90-96, 100 peak) and his two offspeed pitches are flip-flopped (love the change, still tinkering with his spike curve), so getting his delivery worked out enough to convince onlookers that he can hold up over 30 plus starts a year could make him the first college arm off the board.
- Mississippi State JR RHP Dakota Hudson
Hudson is the biggest mystery man out of the SEC Four Horsemen (TM pending…with apologies to all the Vandy guys and Kyle Serrano) because buying on him is buying a largely untested college reliever (so far) with control red flags and a limited overall track record. Those are all fair reasons to doubt him right now, but when Hudson has it working there are few pitchers who look more dominant. His easy plus 86-92 cut-slider is right up there with Jackson’s curve as one of the best breaking balls in the entire class.
- Tennessee JR 2B/3B Nick Senzel
Arguably the safest of this year’s potential first round college bats, Senzel has electric bat speed, a patient approach, and as good a hit tool as any player listed. His defensive gifts are almost on that same level and his power upside separates him from the rest of what looks like a pretty intriguing overall college group of second basemen.
- Notre Dame JR 2B/3B Cavan Biggio
Without having seen every Notre Dame game the past two years — I’m good, but not that good — one might be confused as to how a player with Biggio’s pedigree and collection of scouting accolades (“line drive machine; born to hit; great pitch recognition; great approach, patient and aggressive all at once”…and that’s just what has been written here) could hit .250ish through two college seasons. I say we all agree to chalk it up to bad BABIP luck and eagerly anticipate a monster junior season that puts him squarely back in the first round mix where he belongs.
- Nebraska JR OF Ryan Boldt
World Wide Wes said it best: “You can’t chase the night.” Of course that doesn’t stop me from trying to chase missed players from previous draft classes. Nobody was talking about Andrew Benintendi last year at this time — in part because of the confusion that comes with draft-eligible true sophomores, but still — so attempting to get a head-start on the “next Benintendi” seems like a thing to do. As a well-rounded center fielder with a sweet swing and impressive plate coverage, Boldt could be that guy.
- Vanderbilt JR OF/1B Bryan Reynolds
CTRL C “Ryan Boldt paragraph”, CTRL V “Ryan Boldt paragraph.” Reynolds also reminds me somewhat of Kyle Lewis in the way that both guys have rapidly improved their plate discipline in ways that haven’t yet shown up consistently on the stat sheet. If or when it does, Reynolds could join Lewis as a potential future impact big league outfielder.
- Virginia JR RHP Connor Jones
Jones, the number one guy on a list designed to serve the same purpose as the one created over seven months ago, hasn’t actually done anything to slip this far down the board; competition at the top this year is just that fierce. I like guys with fastballs that move every which way but straight, so Jones’s future looks bright from here. His mid-80s splitter has looked so good at times that he’s gotten one of my all-time favorite cross-culture comps: Masahiro Tanaka.
- Stanford JR RHP Cal Quantrill
A case could be made that Quantrill is the most complete, pro-ready college arm in this year’s class. The fact that one could make that claim even after losing almost an entire season of development speaks to the kind of mature talent we’re talking about. Pitchability is a nebulous thing that isn’t easy to pin down, but you know it when you see it. Quantrill has it. He also has a plus changeup and a fastball with serious giddy-up.
- Virginia JR C Matt Thaiss
Comps aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I’ve always defended them because they provide the needed frame of reference for prospects to gain some modicum of public recognition and leap past the indignity of being known only as soulless, nameless abstract ideas on a page until they have the good fortune of reaching the big leagues. Matt Thaiss played HS ball not too far off from where I live, so I saw him a few times before he packed things up and headed south to Virginia. I never could find the words to describe him just right to friends who were curious as to why I’d drive over an hour after work to see a random high school hitter. It wasn’t until Baseball America dropped a Brian McCann comp on him that they began to understand. You can talk about his power upside, mature approach, and playable defense all you want, but there’s something extra that crystallizes in your mind when a player everybody knows enters the conversation. Nobody with any sense expects Thaiss to have a carbon copy of McCann’s excellent professional career, but the comp gives you some general idea of what style of player is being discussed.
- Clemson JR C Chris Okey
Okey doesn’t have quite the same thunder in his bat as Thaiss, but his strong hands, agile movements behind the plate, and average or better arm give him enough ammo to be in the mix for first college catching off the board. The days of the big, strong-armed, plus power, and questionable contact catcher seem to be dwindling as more and more teams appear willing to go back to placing athleticism atop their list of desired attributes for young catching prospects. Hard to say that’s wrong based on where today’s speed and defense style of game looks like it’s heading.
- California JR RHP Daulton Jefferies
To have Jefferies, maybe my favorite draft-eligible college pitcher to watch, this low says way more about the quality at the top of this year’s class then his long-term pro ability. Jefferies brings three potential above-average to plus pitches to the mound on any given night. I like the D1 Baseball comparison to Walker Buehler, last year’s 24th overall pick. Getting Jefferies in a similar spot this year would be something to be excited about.
- LSU JR OF Jake Fraley
In a class with potential superstars like Lewis, Reed, and Ray roaming outfields at the top, it would be easy to overlook Fraley, a tooled-up center fielder with lightning in his wrists, an unusually balanced swing, and the patient approach of a future leadoff hitter. Do so at your own discretion. Since I started the site in 2009 there’s been at least one LSU outfielder drafted every year. That includes five top-three round picks (Mitchell, Landry, Mahtook, Jones, and Stevenson) in seven classes. Outfielder U seems poised to keep the overall streak alive and make the top three round run a cool six out of eight in 2016.
- Vanderbilt rSO RHP Jordan Sheffield
It’s a lazy comp, sure, but the possibility that Sheffield could wind up as this year’s Dillon Tate has stuck with me for almost a full calendar year. He’s undersized yet athletic and well-built enough to handle a starter’s workload, plus he has the three pitches (FB, CU, CB) to get past lineups multiple times. If his two average-ish offspeed that flash above-average to plus can more consistently get there, he’s a potential top ten round guy no matter his height.
- Wright State JR C Sean Murphy
Watching Murphy do his thing behind the plate is worth the price of admission alone. We’re talking “Queen Bee” level arm strength, ample lateral quicks on balls in the dirt, and dependable hands with an ever-improving ability to frame borderline pitches. He’s second in the class behind Jake Rogers defensively — not just as a catcher, but arguably at any position — but with enough bat (unlike Rogers) to project as a potential above-average all-around regular in time. I expect the battle for top college catching prospect to be closely contested all year with Thaiss, Okey, and Murphy all taking turns atop team-specific draft boards all spring long.
- Texas A&M JR OF Nick Banks
If you’ve ever wondered what the right field prototype looked liked, take a gander at the star outfielder in College Station. The combination of speed, strength, power, and one of the country’s most accurate and formidable outfield arms make taking the chance on him continuing to figure things out as a hitter well worth a potential first round pick.
- Tennessee JR RHP Kyle Serrano
Serrano is the second guy on this list that reminds me of Walker Buehler from last year, though I still like my own Jarrod Parker comp best. He’s transitioned into more of a sinker/slider pitcher as he’s refined his breaking ball and lost some feel for his change over the years, but as a firm believer in the idea that once you have a skill you own it forever I remain intrigued as to how good he could be once he learns to effectively harness his changeup once again.
- Kentucky JR 2B/OF JaVon Shelby
In yet another weird example of an odd comp that I haven’t been able to shake all year, there’s something about JaVon Shelby’s game that takes me back to watching Ian Happ at Cincinnati. Maybe the offensive game isn’t as far along at similar developmental points, but Shelby’s odds at sticking in the dirt have always been higher.
- Miami JR 1B/C Zack Collins
If I had more confidence that Collins could play regularly behind the plate at the highest level, he’s shoot up the board ten spots (minimum) in a hurry. He’s a fastball-hunting power-hitting force of nature at the plate with the potential for the kind of prodigious home run blasts that make Twitter lose control of its collective mind. I stand by the Travis Hafner ceiling comp from last December.
- Arizona JR 3B Bobby Dalbec
The good popular comp here is Troy Glaus. The less good comp that I’ve heard is Chris Dominguez. The truth, as it so often does, will likely fall in the middle somewhere.
- Georgia JR OF Stephen Wrenn
Wrenn is a burner who has looked good enough in center field at times that you wonder if he could handle all three outfield spots by himself at the same time. He’s an athletic outfielder who remains raw at the plate despite two years of regular playing time — making him seemingly one of forty-five of the type in this year’s top fifty — so you’re gambling on skills catching up to the tools. The fact that his glove alone will get him to the big leagues mitigates some of the risk with his bat.
- Winthrop JR LHP Matt Crohan
Premium fastball velocity from the left side is always a welcomed sight. Crohan can get it up to the upper-90s (sits 90-94) with a pair of worthwhile offspeed pitches (mid-80s cut-slider and a slowly improving change). He’s got the size, command, and smarts to pitch in a big league rotation for a long time.
- Louisville SR RHP Kyle Funkhouser
Much electronic ink was spilled on Funkhouser last season, so I’ll be brief: he’s good. It’s unclear how good — I’d say more mid-rotation than ace, but reasonable minds may disagree — but he’s good. Of the many comps I threw out for him last year my favorite remains Jordan Zimmermann. If he can up his command and control game like Zimmermann, then he could hit that mid-rotation ceiling and keep pushing upwards.
- Louisville JR RHP Zack Burdi
Of all the rankings outside of the top ten, this is the one that could make me look dumbest by June. Burdi is a really tough evaluation for him right now because even after multiple years of being on the prospect stage it’s unclear (to me, at least) what role will eventually lead to him maximizing his ability. I’m reticent to throw him in the bullpen right away — many do this because of his last name, I think — because he’s shown the kind of diversity of stuff to stay in a rotation. Whether or not he has the command or consistency remain to be seen. Still, those concerns aren’t all that concerning when your fallback plan means getting to go full-tilt in the bullpen as you unleash a triple-digit fastball on hitters also guarding against two impressive offspeed pitches (CU, SL). It’s almost a win-win for scouting directors at this point. If he has a great spring, then you can believe him in as a starter long-term and grade him accordingly. If there’s still doubt, then you can drop him some but keep a close eye on his slip while being ready to pounce if he falls outside of those first few “don’t screw up or you’re fired” picks. You don’t want to spend a premium pick on a potential reliever, clearly, but if he falls outside of the top twenty picks or so then all of a sudden that backup bullpen plan is good enough to return value on your investment.
- Samford JR OF Heath Quinn
Just what this class needed: another outfielder loaded with tools that comes with some question marks about the utility of his big-time power because he’s still learning how to hit against serious pitching.
- Miami JR OF Willie Abreu
Nick Banks gets a lot of deserved attention for being a potential early first round pick — somebody even once called him the “right field prototype,” if you can believe it — but Willie Abreu’s tool set is on the same shelf. There’s power, mobility, arm strength, and athleticism to profile as a damn fine regular if it all clicks.
- TCU rJR RHP Mitchell Traver
Traver was featured plenty on this site last year as a redshirt-sophomore, so that gives me the chance to rehash the three fun comps I’ve gotten for him over the years: Gil Meche, Nick Masset, and Dustin McGowan. Based on years of doing this — so, entirely anecdotal evidence and not hard data — I’ve found that bigger pitchers (say, 6-6 or taller) have an equal (if not higher) bust rate when compared to the smaller guys (6-0ish) that are typically associated with being higher risk. There are always exceptions and years of scouting biases has created a flawed sample to choose from, but pitching seems like a chore best done for smaller bodies that are easier to consistently contort into the kind of unnatural throwing motions needed to withstand chucking balls 90+ MPH over and over and over again. Maintaining body control, tempo, and command at a certain size can be done, but it sure as heck isn’t easy. Like almost everybody, I see a big pitcher and get excited because with size also often comes velocity, extension, and the intangible intimidation factor. Maybe it’s time to start balancing that excitement with some of the known risks that come with oversized pitchers.
- Maryland JR RHP Mike Shawaryn
A long draft season could change this, but Shawaryn looks all the world to be a rock solid bet to wind up a mid-rotation big league starting pitcher. Never a star, but consistently useful for years going forward.
- Louisiana JR RHP Reagan Bazar
Bazar is one of the bigger gambles to grace this list. He hasn’t done enough yet at Louisiana to warrant such a placement, but when he’s feeling it his stuff (mid- to upper-90s FB, promising low-80s SL) can suffocate even good hitting. Yes, I realize ranking the 6-7, 250+ pound righthander this high undermines a lot of what I said directly above. I’ll always be a sucker for big velocity and Bazar hitting 100+ certainly qualifies.
- Rice rSO RHP Jon Duplantier
Athleticism, projection, and wildness currently define Duplantier as a prospect. Key elements or not, those facets of his game shouldn’t obfuscate how strong his big league starter stuff is. That’s a mixed bag of qualities, but there’s clearly more good than bad when it comes to his future.
- San Diego SO 2B/SS Bryson Brigman
Middle infielders are always a need for big league clubs, so it only makes sense that the better ones at the amateur level get pushed up ahead of where you might want to first slot them in when simply breaking down tools. The extra credit for Brigman’s smooth fielding action is deserved, as is the acclaim he gets for his mature approach and sneaky pop.
- Vanderbilt JR LHP John Kilichowski
Vanderbilt pumps out so much quality pitching that it’s almost boring to discuss their latest and greatest. Kilichowski (and Sheffield and Bowden and Stone) find themselves sandwiched between last year’s special group of arms and a freshman class that includes Donny Everett and Chandler Day. The big lefty has impeccable control, easy velocity (86-92, 94 peak), and the exact assortment of offspeed pitches (CB, SL, and CU, all average or better) needed to keep hitters off-balance in any count. It’s not ace-type stuff, but it’s the kind of overall package that can do damage in the middle of a rotation for a long time.
- Oklahoma State JR LHP Garrett Williams
The scene on Friday night for the Hansen/Williams matchup is going to be something special for college ball. Scouts in attendance will likewise be pretty pleased that they can do some one-stop shopping for not only a potential 1-1 guy in Hansen but also a real threat to wind up in the first round in Williams. Continued maturation of Williams’s curve (a weapon already), change (getting there), and control (work in progress) could get him there.
- Nevada JR OF/LHP Trenton Brooks
Brooks is a two-way athlete good enough to play center field or keep progressing as a lefthanded reliever with a plus approach and an all-out style of play. How can you not like a guy like that?
- Coastal Carolina JR SS/2B Michael Paez
Our first college shortstop, finally. Paez hasn’t yet gotten a lot of national prospect love that I know of, but he’s deserving. He can hit, run, and sneak the occasional ball over the fence all while being steady enough in the field that I don’t know why you’d have to move him off of shortstop. I wouldn’t quite call it a comp, but my appreciate for Paez resembles what I felt about Blake Trahan in last year’s draft.
- Oklahoma JR 3B/RHP Sheldon Neuse
Neuse could still fulfill the promise many (myself included) saw in him during his excellent freshman season back when he looked like a potential Gold Glove defender at third with the kind of bat you’d happily stick in the middle of the order. He could also get more of a look this spring on the mound where he can properly put his mid-90s heat and promising pair of secondary offerings (SL, CU) to use. Or he could have something of a repeat of his 2015 season leaving us unsure how good he really is and thinking of him more of a second to fifth round project (a super talented one, mind you) than a first round prospect.
- Wake Forest JR 2B/OF Nate Mondou
Second basemen with power, feel for hitting, and an idea at the plate are damn useful players. The comp I got a few weeks ago on Mondou is about as topical as it gets: Daniel Murphy.
- Kent State JR LHP Eric Lauer
I loved Andrew Chafin as a prospect. Everybody who has been around the Kent State program for a while that I’ve talked to agree that Lauer is better. I can see it: he’s more athletic, has better fastball command, and comes with a cleaner medical history.
- Florida JR 1B Pete Alonso
The Gators have so much talent that it’s inevitable that even a top guy or three can lay claim to getting overlooked by the national media. Alonso, with plus bat speed and power to match, is that guy for me. The burgeoning plate discipline is the cherry on top. I’m not in the national media, but maybe I’ll look back and see how I overlooked him as he rises up boards next spring.
- Duke JR RHP Bailey Clark
Poised for a big potential rise in 2016, Clark has the kind of stuff that blows you away on his best days and leaves you wanting more on his not so best days. I think he puts it all together this year and makes this ranking look foolish by June.
- Louisville JR 2B/OF Nick Solak
The day you find me unwilling to champion a natural born hitter with a preternatural sense of the strike zone is the day I hang up the keyboard. Solak is a tough guy to project because so much of his value is tied up in his bat, but if he build on an already impressive first two seasons at Louisville in 2016 then he might just hit his way into the draft’s top two rounds.
- Ohio State JR OF Ronnie Dawson
You could say this about almost any of this year’s upper-echelon of college outfielders, but I saved it specifically for Ronnie Dawson: he’s a big-time prospect from the minute you spot him getting off the bus. He looks more like a baseball destroying cyborg sent from the past to right the wrongs of his fallen brothers who fell victim to offspeed pitches and high fastballs on the regular. Few of his peers can quite match him when it comes to his athleticism, hand-eye coordination, and sheer physical strength. As a member of this year’s college outfield class, however, he’s not immune from having to deal with the open question as to whether or not he can curb his overly aggressive approach at the plate enough to best utilize his raw talents.
- Kentucky SR RHP Kyle Cody
As an outsider with no knowledge of how Cody’s negotiations with Minnesota actually went down, I’m still surprised that a fair deal for both sides couldn’t be reached last summer. The big righthander (here we go again…) is what we thought he was: big, righthanded, erratic with his command, and an absolute handful for the opposition when his three pitches (mid-90s FB, average 76-82 kCB that flashes plus, hard CU with average upside) are working. There are no real surprises left in his amateur development, so the leap to the pro game seemed inevitable. Maybe he’s got a trick or two up his sleeve yet…
Best of the rest position players…
- Austin Peay JR SS/3B Logan Gray
- College of Charleston JR OF/SS Bradley Jones
- Oklahoma State JR OF Ryan Sluder
- Ohio State JR OF Troy Montgomery
- Virginia JR SS/3B Daniel Pinero
- Vanderbilt SO 3B/SS Will Toffey
- Auburn JR OF Anfernee Grier
- Tulane JR SS Stephen Alemais
- NC State JR C/3B Andrew Knizner
- Pacific SR OF Giovanni Brusa
- Hawaii JR 2B Josh Rojas
- Wisconsin-Milwaukee rJR SS/3B Eric Solberg
- Murray State JR C Tyler Lawrence
- Miami JR OF Jacob Heyward
- Louisville rSO 3B/SS Blake Tiberi
- Florida State JR OF/SS Ben DeLuzio
- Illinois SR C Jason Goldstein
- Texas JR C Tres Barrera
- Oregon State JR SS Trevor Morrison
- Missouri JR SS/3B Ryan Howard
- Mississippi State rSO OF Brent Rooker
- Stony Brook JR OF Toby Handley
- Virginia Commonwealth JR OF/2B Logan Farrar
- Belmont JR SS Tyler Walsh
- Southern Mississippi SR 1B Tim Lynch
- Old Dominion JR SS/OF Nick Walker
- Maryland JR C/1B Nick Cieri
- Coastal Carolina SO OF Dalton Ewing
- St. John’s JR OF Michael Donadio
- Stanford JR SS/2B Tommy Edman
- Arizona State JR SS/2B Colby Woodmansee
- Tulane JR C Jake Rogers
- Texas A&M JR 2B/OF Ryne Birk
- Mercer JR C Charlie Madden
- Saint Louis SR 3B Braxton Martinez
- UC Santa Barbara rJR OF Andrew Calica
- South Alabama rJR OF/LHP Cole Billingsley
- USC JR C/1B Jeremy Martinez
- Texas State JR OF/1B Granger Studdard
- Bradley JR 3B Spencer Gaa
- Long Beach State JR SS/2B Garrett Hampson
- Gonzaga SR 1B/RHP Taylor Jones
- NC State JR 1B Preston Palmeiro
- Mississippi State rJR OF Jacob Robson
- Jacksonville JR OF Austin Hays
- Louisiana Tech rSR SS/2B Taylor Love
- Oral Roberts JR C Brent Williams
- Southeast Missouri State JR OF Dan Holst
- Dallas Baptist SR OF Daniel Sweet
- St. John’s SR OF Alex Caruso
Best of the rest pitchers…
- Vanderbilt JR LHP Ben Bowden
- Central Michigan JR LHP/1B Nick Deeg
- Auburn JR RHP/1B Keegan Thompson
- Georgia JR LHP Connor Jones
- Illinois JR RHP Cody Sedlock
- Florida JR RHP Logan Shore
- Florida JR RHP Dane Dunning
- Florida JR RHP Shaun Anderson
- Sacred Heart JR RHP Jason Foley
- Michigan JR LHP/1B Carmen Beneditti
- Air Force JR LHP Jacob DeVries
- St. Mary’s JR RHP Corbin Burnes
- Albany JR RHP Stephen Woods
- Indiana rJR RHP Jake Kelzer
- Oregon JR RHP Stephen Nogosek
- Connecticut JR LHP Anthony Kay
- Oregon rJR LHP Cole Irvin
- Mississippi State JR LHP Daniel Brown
- Liberty JR RHP/OF Parker Bean
- Pacific JR RHP Vince Arobio
- Pittsburgh JR RHP TJ Zeuch
- Loyola Marymount JR RHP JD Busfield
- Washington State JR RHP Ian Hamilton
- Michigan State rJR LHP Cameron Vieaux
- Michigan JR LHP Brett Adcock
- Gonzaga JR RHP Brandon Bailey
- South Carolina JR RHP Wil Crowe
13 – Andrew Benintendi
93 – Logan Allen
95 – Austin Rei
122 – Marcus Brakeman
135 – Tate Matheny
241 – Tucker Tubbs
259 – Mitchell Gunsolus
265 – Kyri Washington
268 – Kevin Kelleher
353 – Travis Lakins
368 – Yomar Valentin
399 – Nicholos Hamilton
I’m not sure what to say about OF Andrew Benintendi (13) that hasn’t already been said. His sophomore season was insane. His pro debut was phenomenal. Literally everybody who has seen him play at Arkansas, Lowell, and Greenville in the last calendar year has walked away raving about him. I like the lefthanded AJ Pollock comp I threw on him before the draft as it pertains to his all-around game. Additionally, the fact that as a native Philadelphian I threw out a Chase Utley swing/body comp is serious business. I had somebody recently tell me that they think Benintendi is the best college bat since Anthony Rendon, a player (minus handedness) that he felt Benintendi could approximate in terms of total value as a hitter. So, if you’re scoring at home, that’s Pollock, Utley, and Rendon as possible comps with names like Mark Kotsay, Eric Byrnes, and David Dellucci (Baseball America) also mentioned as starting points. Not bad. Here’s a quick note from during the season just days before Benintendi’s stock began to soar in the public’s eye…
I never went back and mentioned Andrew Benintendi as being draft-eligible in 2015, but he is. That’s good news for me because Benintendi is awesome and getting him one step closer to pro ball makes me happy. He’s more ballplayer than tools freak, so teams that value big amateur production will have him higher than others. That said, he’s plenty talented: above-average or better hit tool, above-average or better speed, solid pop, enough range for center, and a disciplined approach at the plate. He’s really damn good. Baseball America has compared him to Austin Cousino in the past, but Benintendi’s huge sophomore season (.370/.475/.733 with 30 BB/24 K in 146 AB as of this edit) should vault him past Cousino’s 2014 draft spot (80th overall). I’ve heard from some that think I’m too rich on Benintendi’s tools and that’s fine, but I’m buying him as a prospect all the way.
Interestingly enough, I was able to dig up some older stuff on Benintendi in the archives. This was his quick HS scouting bio…
OF Andrew Benintendi (Madeira HS, Ohio): good speed; CF range; average arm; really smart player; above-average hit tool; FAVORITE; 5-10, 180 pounds
Hey, he was a FAVORITE back then! Always good to see.
I’m not a big fantasy guy — mostly out of the seemingly contradictory combination of general laziness and the fear of letting my over-competitive self getting sucked in too deep — but the one league I’ve been in forever allows the twelve owners to roster three minor league players at any given time. Having only thirty-six minor league prospects floating around the league at a time doesn’t exactly incite the most compelling post-draft scramble for new professional talent each June, but it always surprises me to see how long recent draftees sit around waiting for more casual minor league fans to buy in. Since I’m all about “drafting” my own hitters and figuring out pitching on the fly, I’d put Benintendi at or near the top of the 2015 MLB Draft in terms of fantasy value. Boston’s crowded outfield picture complicates things a bit and strong arguments could be made for others (Alex Bregman for sure, maybe Trenton Clark if you want to get crazy), but Benintendi could be on the Michael Conforto path to the big leagues. He’s really good at hitting baseballs. Pick him up in fantasy if you can.
The pre-draft stuff on C Austin Rei (95)…
I still think Rei gets picked way higher than anybody thinks because he’s coming into pro ball at the perfect time with plus pitch framing skills that match what teams want to see most in catching prospects. I’m a really big fan of Rei and think he’s one of the draft’s “safest” prospects with both a high ceiling (above-average regular) and high floor (elite defensive backup). Barring additional injuries, I don’t see how he doesn’t have some sort of big league career.
His defense is enough to keep him employed for a very long time and the flashes of above-average power could give him a chance to play regularly. I was hoping to see his approach take a step forward in 2015, but the torn thumb ligament made judging his actual progress at the plate this spring tricky. His free-swinging ways would still keep me from ranking among the minors best catching prospects, but there’s enough here to see him as a major league mainstay even if he doesn’t reach what some (like me) once considered his above-average regular ceiling.
Of all the players in this class, I might have been most surprised at the early pro struggles of OF Tate Matheny (135). Matheny, valued far more for his his patient approach as a hitter and well-rounded overall game than his raw tools, wasn’t able to do much offensively (9 BB/52 K) in his debut season. It’s only 213 PA, but the lack of raw power (body and swing) could prevent him from reaching an offensive ceiling heavily dependent on on-base skills. I was more willing to overlook the average at best power upside as a college player when he was racking up those .400+ OBPs, but time will tell if he’ll figure out away to adjust to how pro pitchers attack hitters like him at the higher levels.
The rise of many of this class’s toolsier players finally putting it together, especially among the outfield group, has taken some of the shine off of the more solid than spectacular types like Missouri State JR OF Tate Matheny. Matheny still looks like a good bet to fulfill his destiny as a fourth outfielder who won’t kill you in a starting role at times (especially if deployed properly), but teams in the market for upside plays will likely look elsewhere. Such is the life of a guy with no tool worse than average, but no carrying tool either.
OF Jagger Rusconi was called out as an outfielder on draft day, but was primarily a second baseman in high school and in his pro debut. His best offensive skill right now is his legs as the plus runner can wreak havoc on the base paths when given the opportunity. The rest of his offensive game is intriguing — feel for hit, sneaky pop, all kinds of athleticism — though understandably raw. I was set to call this an overdraft (if such things existed) to a degree, but I could see an alternate reality where Rusconi would have turned into a slam dunk top three round pick — maybe like an Andrew Stevenson? — if he had enrolled at USC instead of signing. A friend in Boston who knows me all too well told me that the hope within the Red Sox scouting staff is that Rusconi can be their version of Roman Quinn. Consider my interest piqued.
This was written here about 1B Tucker Tubbs (241) last December…
If SR 1B/3B Tucker Tubbs can rediscover his lost power stroke, he’s got a chance to get popped as a potential four-corners minor league bench bat.
Fast-forward six months and we see that Tubbs did exactly that. The Memphis slugger and the aforementioned Benintendi were two of the eight players that hit the 600 SLG and BB > K benchmarks at the D1 level back when I checked at the end of May. Tubbs wound up just short by the end of the season (.305/.393/.601 with 26 BB/27 K), but that’s still a heck of a senior season. Or, in other words: “He has power and doesn’t strike out much,” said Rikard. “That’s a pretty good formula for some level of success.” Straight from the Red Sox amateur scouting director’s mouth! Lefthanded hitting 3B Mitch Gunsolus (259) could form the other half of a fun platoon with Tubbs one day. While Tubbs missed out on the 600 SLG and BB> K Club by just one walk (or strikeout if you look at it that way), Gunsolus was just a few extra base hits off the mark (.556 SLG with 33 BB/32 K). I love watching Gunsolus hit and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the tenth rounder did enough at the plate to advance all the way up to the big leagues.
Even though the Red Sox went heavy on hitting with their top ten round picks, they found a way to really make it count with the three pitchers they selected in rounds six, seven, and eight. Getting LHP Logan Allen (93) in the eighth round is just silly value. Fast-rising high school arms who see a big uptick in stuff in a short amount of time typically scare me off, but Allen’s plus pitchability, really strong command (I’d go plus), and willingness to throw any of his four potentially average or better pitches (88-92 FB, 94 peak; mid-70s CB that flashes average or better; upper-70s cut-change thing that works; hard slider that might wind up the best of them all) in any count make him a fascinating potential big league starter who really had no business falling out of the top three rounds. RHP Travis Lakins (353) is an athletic young arm with less miles on it as a draft-eligible sophomore than many of his peers. I view him as a really good potential reliever, but I can see why one would look at his athleticism, frame with some projection left, and fastball command and think otherwise. RHP Ben Taylor lives 88-92 and can get it up to 93-94 with nice deception in his windup. Everything — the heater, his breaking ball, even a rarely used changeup — plays up in short bursts. His gigantic senior season (14.23 K/9 and 1.47 ERA in 42 IP) positioned him very nicely for a spot in the top ten rounds and the Red Sox wisely were the ones to give him a shot. Look out for him pitching the sixth innings at Fenway sooner rather than later.
I don’t know quite what it is about RHP Marc Brakeman (122), but something intuitively gives me pause when it comes to his long-term future. He’s got the stuff (88-93 FB, 95 peak; plus to plus-plus sinking low-80s CU; average or better mid- to upper-70s CB) and pedigree to start, but I always walk away from seeing him thinking the sum of the whole doesn’t quite add up. It’s especially hypocritical for me to not like him all that much because his best pitch — seriously, his changeup is as good as any in this class — just so happens to be my offspeed offering of choice. I touched briefly on the intuition thing before the season…
Stanford JR RHP Marc Brakeman is more of a two-pitch prospect (like Twomey) that I’ve referenced above. Armed with a nice albeit inconsistent heater (88-94, 95 peak – though I’ve seen him sit more on the low end of that range at times) and an outstanding low-80s changeup, Brakeman could move up boards quickly once he gets healthy again. I’ve been the low man on him in the past, but that’s more due to an intuition thing than anything I can reasonably express.
A part of me sees his stuff playing up in a big way out of the bullpen; that’s his most likely direct path to the big leagues. In that role, I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest he’s got legitimate late-inning upside on the continuum of Francisco Rodriguez, Tyler Clippard, or Kelvin Herrera, depending on how the fastball works in short bursts. If that’s the outcome, that’s a gigantic victory considering Brakeman’s 16th round standing (overslot bonus or not).
RHP Kevin Kelleher (268) had a slightly auspicious pro debut: 0.1 IP 0 H 4 ER 7 BB 0 K. Ouch. Now you, Mr./Mrs. Negative, could choose to focus on those four earned runs and seven walks, but I, uplifting soul that I am, think Kelleher should be lauded for getting an out. I mean, that’s one more than 99.9999% of the human population ever got, right? It’s also impressive that he’s literally never given up a pro hit yet. We’re all about the silver linings here.
I kid about Kelleher because I really do like him as a prospect. Wrote this about him before the year…
With a dominant FB/SL combination New Orleans JR RHP Kevin Kelleher has big league closer upside. That’s a bolder prediction that I intended to make, but the stuff seems in line with what we’ve come to expect out of late-inning relievers. Players who can get it up to 98 with a hard mid- to upper-80s slider to match aren’t easy to find.
Upside might be a bit rich there, but I don’t think it’s totally crazy. Even without working out the kinks needed to reach his considerable ceiling, I think he’s a big leaguer and surprisingly quick mover. Great pick in the twelfth round.
I almost always kick of my college draft coverage by writing about the ACC because I’m a creature of habit and the ACC is the first conference listed in my running draft Word document. As such, I tend to have more in the archives about ACC players. LHP Brad Stone (NC State) and RHP Trevor Kelley (North Carolina) both were “lucky” enough to get fairly extensive ramblings from me last spring. Here’s Stone…
JR LHP Brad Stone seems poised to take over the mantle as top pitching prospect, but, no knock against him, his stuff (upper-80s heat, usable change, pair of interesting breaking balls) is many steps down from Rodon on his worst day. He’s still the best of what’s around, and an arm worthy of serious draft consideration going forward.
And here’s Kelley…
On the opposite side of the spectrum there’s a guy who is so much what is great about the sport. SR RHP Trevor “Everyday” Kelley has more than lived up to his name this year. Kelley has appeared in 28 out of 39 games (72%) this year. That would come out to around 115 appearances in a 162 game season. To further put that into context, Kelley has more innings pitched right now than all but two Tar Heels pitchers. Guys with six (Hunter Williams) and seven (Moss) starts have significantly less innings than Kelley. One of the secrets of adulthood that I feel qualified to share with younger readers now that I’m a wizened old man less than seven months away from turning thirty is that just showing up is a huge part of getting by in this world. Trevor Kelley clearly has that covered. Some people prefer to do more than just get by, so it should be noted that it turns out you can get ahead by actually making a positive difference (or, you know, at least an effort) after you’ve shown up. I’d say pitching almost two innings per appearance (note: it’s closer to 1.2 innings per outing, but we can round up) with an ERA of 2.36 while striking out close to 7.5 batters per nine is a pretty strong impression to leave after each showing. Kelley’s stuff is more solid than spectacular (86-91 FB with sink, CB flashes plus) and he’s never truly dominated in a relief role, but I’d like to think there’s some draft value to be squeezed out of a reliable rubber-armed reliever who attacks hitters at a funky angle.
Kelley had an excellent senior season (8.19 K/9 and 2.31 BB/9 in 77 [!] relief innings) before doing more of the same upon joining the Red Sox organization. I’m frankly stunned that a player like him could fall to the 36th round. The Rob Wooten comp is easy and maybe even a bit lazy, but it fits. If anything, I think he could wind up having a better pro career thanks to a separating pitch (CB), rubber arm, and funky arm action. It’s a nice middle relief profile. Stone did not have an excellent senior season (7.80 K/9 and 10.80 BB/9 in 15 IP). That’s no reason to write him off as a viable prospect, of course. He changes speeds well and has always missed his fair share of bats. If the control gets in check and he continues to fill out, there could be something there.
On the opposite end of the physical spectrum, LHP Matt Kent, LHP Bobby Poyner, and LHP Logan Boyd are all undersized lefthanders with enough stuff to keep things interesting as they progress through the minors. Kent is a nice organizational arm, Poyner is a little bit better than that, and Boyd falls somewhere in between. I know little about RHP Danny Zandona except for the fact he put up eye-popping numbers (14.18 K/9 in 39 IP) in his senior year at Cal Poly. I’m similarly bereft of information on RHP Adam Lau, a two-way player at UAB who walked the effectively wild tightrope (11.81 K/9 and 5.06 BB/9 added up to a 1.69 ERA in 31 IP) in his junior season. RHP Nick Duron is the third player ever drafted out of Clark College and the first since Randy Myers (!) in 1982. RHP Max Watt, Trent Steele’s oldest and dearest friend, is another pitcher I don’t know much about. Wouldn’t bet against a name like that, though.
Much was written about OF Kyri Washington (265) on this site this past calendar year. Here’s one such excerpt…
JR OF Kyri Washington has as much a claim to the top position player spot in his conference as just about any prospect in the country. Evaluating amateur talent is sometimes only as hard as we make it. Your eyes eventually settle into seeing predictable patterns in the players you see and you find yourself getting unusually adept at recognizing the kind of ability that will become universally lauded as pro-caliber. “Always bet on ______” is more than just a snappy one-off line, but a mantra that serves those who watch a disproportionate amount of baseball well as they assess a prospect’s future. In Washington’s case, his athleticism and raw power qualify as abilities that stack up against almost any current big league player. If those are the traits that you value highly – and, really, who doesn’t? – then Washington is just about as good as it gets in college ball this year.
Conversely, anybody who watches a ton of amateur ball can quickly realize the holes in a mega-talented player’s game. If you’re an “always bet on the hit tool, including the consistent ability to make contact, the capacity to make adjustments within an at bat (or at least a game), and a seemingly innate overall feel for the strike zone and resourcefulness to spit on sometimes-strikes that he can’t do anything with,” well, then you might have some trepidation in championing a player who otherwise has first round tools. I’m on the fence as to whether or not how much of what we consider to fall under the plate discipline/approach to hitting umbrella can be taught, but I do believe that Washington is at the age in his baseball development when figuring it out – maybe not completely, but certainly to a degree – is well within the realm of possibility. That possibility on top of the prodigious raw power and plus athleticism is what makes the prospect of gambling on Washington so appealing. I get it. A comparison that I’ve heard and liked – though it admittedly stretches the limits of my personal firsthand baseball watching days – has stacked up Washington favorably to a young Richard Hidalgo.
I’m not sure I have much to add beyond that. Washington has huge raw power and loads of athleticism, but so many questions about his bat that it’s unclear if it’ll ever matter. “You remember Kentrail Davis? Kinda like that,” was how one scout put it to me when asking about Washington.
They don’t get much rawer than OF Nicholos Hamilton (399), a plus-plus running high schooler out of New York who is incredibly far away from what he’ll eventually be. I had somebody tell me rather prophetically that they’d rather take a chance on going overslot with Hamilton (Note: the Red Sox got him for $100,000, so they didn’t have to dip into their pool money) in the eleventh round than on risking a first round pick on Garrett Whitley.
OF Tyler Spoon, drafted just 1034 spots after his Arkansas teammate Andrew Benintendi, has long been mentioned as a potential professional second base project, but the Red Sox took the idea one step further by having him get some work in behind the plate a little in his debut season. If that experiment works, then Spoon might be a name worth keeping in mind. We’re talking the deepest darkest recesses of your mind, but at least he’d be in there. OF Jerry Downs hit really well in his pro debut. I don’t know much about him, but I’ll be rooting hard for him to become only the eighteenth big league player born in Colombia.
2B Yomar Valentin (368) is a steady glove up the middle with sneaky pop and a high baseball IQ. He was also a really young HS senior (18 this December), something that can also be said for Nick Hamilton. Could be a coincidence or could be that Boston wisely gives extra credit for guys who excel at a young age. 2B Chad De La Guerra has more pop than most middle infielders and picks his spots really well on the base paths. The approach leaves something to be desired, but if he can fake it at short then he might have a shot at working himself into a bat-first utility guy.
C Andrew Noviello is a fascinating player to close on. The local product from Bridgewater-Raynham HS (located just under an hour from Fenway) was a primary second baseman until his senior year of high school. That’s when he began giving catching an honest try in an attempt to make himself more appealing to pro and college teams alike. Good thinking. I also have him in my notes as capable of playing third base and being more than able to hold his own on the mound as a righthanded pitcher. The best part about this is the pick is far more than a team hooking up a local kid and getting some positive PR; Noviello can really hit. If he can show some growth behind the plate in the early going, he’s a real prospect.
22 – James Kaprielian
48 – Kyle Holder
83 – Drew Finley
89 – Jeff Degano
112 – Jeff Hendrix
220 – Kolton Mahoney
228 – Ryan Krill
307 – Isiah Gilliam
397 – Garrett Mundell
403 – Chance Adams
408 – Brandon Wagner
419 – Kane Sweeney
I really liked what the Yankees did in the first few rounds to restock their minor league pitching. RHP James Kaprielian (22) looked for all the world to be a “quick-moving mid-rotation arm who still might have a bit of upside left in him beyond that” before the draft and nothing in his pro debut suggests otherwise. Slick pick. New York could have done a few different things and come out just as well (Walker Buehler and Jon Harris as comparable college arms, Brady Aiken or Ashe Russell or Beau Burrows or Mike Nikorak as higher boom/bust guys, Nick Plummer or DJ Stewart as patient yet unexciting corner outfielders) and it’s always fun for me to speculate about what package a team with two early picks (16 and 30 in this case) might have preferred in hindsight (Kaprielian and Holder or Kevin Newman and Kyle Funkhouser?), but getting a talent like Kaprielian in the middle of the first is something to be pleased about no matter the what-ifs. Stuck a Michael Wacha comp on him a few months ago that I stand by today…
This all brings me to the guy I think Wacha compares to on some level, UCLA JR RHP James Kaprielian. Draft people like me who sometimes try to get too cute for own good have fought it in the past, but there’s no denying that Kaprielian warrants a first round grade this June. Well-built righthanders with four pitches (ding!) and consistently excellent results in a tough conference profile as big league starting pitchers more often than not. I’m going to just go with an excerpt of some of my notes on Kaprielian because they are among the longest running that I have on any player in this college class…
JR RHP James Kaprielian (2015): 87-92 FB, 94-95 peak; potential plus 79-84 CB, commands it well; potential plus 80-85 CU with serious sink; above-average 79-85 SL; good athlete; excellent overall command; 2014 Summer: 88-92 FB, 93 peak; above-average to plus or better 75-79 CB with plus command, still gets it up to 85 depending on situation; average or better upside with 79-82 SL; FAVORITE; average or better upside with mid-80s CU with splitter action; UPDATE: 83-85 SL, flashes above-average; average 78-80 CB with above-average to plus upside; good athlete; commands both breaking balls well; 2015: 89-94 FB; above-average 78-81 CB flashes plus; above-average 83-85 SL; above-average mid-80s CU, flashes better; 6-4, 200 pounds (2013: 12.39 K/9 | 5.09 BB/9 | 2.20 FIP | 40.2 IP) (2014: 9.17 K/9 – 2.97 BB/9 – 106 IP – 2.29 ERA)
The UPDATE and 2015 sections give the most pertinent information (88-94 FB, 95 peak; above-average 78-81 CB, flashes plus; average 83-85 SL, flashes above-average; above-average mid-80s CU with drop, flashes plus; good athleticism; commands both breaking balls ably; plus overall command), but I like including the whole thing (or as much as can be published) to highlight the growth he’s made. Kaprielian is damn good and smart team picking in the latter half of the first round will get a quick-moving mid-rotation arm who still might have a bit of upside left in him beyond that.
Fun with small samples featuring RHP Drew Finley (83). Finley’s pre-draft blurb on this very site mentioned a fastball ranging from 85-90 (early in the scouting season) to 88-92 later (94 peak) with “plus sink” that he commands quite well. It also mentioned that he throws “nothing straight” with a delivery that provides both “good deception” and “good extension.” Knowing that and only that, would you have had Finley pegged as being one of this draft class’s pitchers most prone to fly ball outs? I, for one, would done no such thing. In 32 innings (just 32 innings, mind you), Finley only got 33.7% of his batted ball outs on the ground. Finley is a good prospect, by the way. Really like that fastball (velocity + movement + command = winning pitch), really like his curve, and really like the delivery. He’s a little older than his peers and he likely won’t ever top the output of Rancho Bernardo High’s most famous baseball alum (Cole Hamels!), but I like him as a potential mid-rotation workhorse.
You an see where I ranked LHP Jeff Degano (89) right there in the parentheses. The Yankees took him with the 57th pick. After thinking it over the summer, my own pre-draft rankings be damned, I think they got a steal. He’s older (23 in a few weeks) and raw (Canadian and injured), but the flashes of brilliance are enough to sell you on his upside. I known for a fact that New York is thrilled about landing him where they did. I’ve even heard it floated that some within their developmental staff would like to see him move to relief because they think he could be their homegrown version of Andrew Miller. That’s pretty damn intriguing, but, as always, I’d give the big young lefty a chance to keep starting as long as he can do it. With a mechanical tweak or two, some honest innings under his belt, and more work on the changeup (a pitch I believe in for him), I think there’s sneaky top of the rotation (more two than one) or shutdown closer upside here. That’s not upside that is thrown around lightly here.
RHP Kolton Mahoney (220) could currently be what Drew Finley will be in a few years. There’s less upside (as one would expect) and a higher probability of pitching in relief, but the talent is significant. Brilliant pick and sign at this point in the draft. I also really, really like RHP Garrett Mundell (397). Guys like Mundell, a senior-sign, should not be available outside of the top ten money-saving rounds let alone free to take all the way down in round twenty-three. It’s far too easy an obvious a comp to make, but there’s some shades of former Bulldog Doug Fister in Mundell’s game…
7.40 K/9 – 2.59 BB/9 – 93.2 IP
8.36 K/9 – 3.64 BB/9 – 116.1 IP
7.43 K/9 – 4.70 BB/9 – 45 IP
7.82 K/9 – 3.10 BB/9 – 61 IP
Top set is Fister’s final two seasons at Fresno State, bottom set is Mundell’s final two seasons at Fresno State. Both are big, long-limbed pitchers (as if he “hands ball to catcher” is in my Mundell notes) who rely on keeping the ball down and getting outs on the ground. Even if you put the odds low (25%) that Mundell does anything approaching Fister’s big league work (overrated by advanced metrics in my view, but that’s besides the point), isn’t that somebody worth taking a shot on as a money-saver in rounds nine or ten? Getting Mundell this late is a coup for the Yankee front office.
I’m always stunned when a fairly straight-forward looking prospect (to me) becomes a very divisive one to others, so seeing SS Kyle Holder (48) get roasted as a major reach who can’t play after his disappointing pro debut fascinated me. This is a more complex issue than I have time to cover in my self-restricted state (time to worry more about the 2016 draft and leave 2015 behind), so I’ll do my best to be brief (note: this is not a personal writing strength). Off the bat, I’ll acknowledge that my pre-draft take on him could have been off the mark and those who have seen him more recently are on top of things in a way I am not. I could be wrong about Holder. I’ve been wrong before, I’ll be wrong a lot in the future. That said, I do have some conviction in my pro-Holder opinion that I’m far from ready to back away from.
Holder had a bad debut from a performance perspective. There’s no hiding from that. Typically in these instances, I’d assume that those critical of him would be the type that saw how badly he struggled and opted to pile on from there. In this specific case, however, I noticed very early on that people — smart people! — were underwhelmed at Holder’s game. So how does a guy go from a first round pick of the New York Yankees to (as some have claimed) overmatched org guy who only gets talked about because of his status as a first rounder? Are there legitimate concerns or is something else going on?
We’ll hit the latter point first. I maintain that the Yankees (and myself and many other teams and many other publications) didn’t completely whiff on Holder. Again, it’s certainly possible that he doesn’t have the kind of career many envisioned but that’s true of literally every player drafted each June.
I also think that part of the change in perception about Holder is who is now doing the evaluating. There’s plenty of crossover between amateur scouting and pro scouting — not enough, but still lots — yet I think the higher standard that comes with being a professional colors the evaluation of recent draftees in what is often too unfavorable a light. There’s some “THIS is pro ball and not some piddly little amateur conference now, kid” attitude among some evaluators who take odd pleasure in tearing down the draft’s best players as they enter pro ball. More kindly, I think there’s an attempt at over-correcting the occasionally too optimistic forecasts pushed by amateur scouts — a big part of the job is salesmanship, after all — to provide a necessary counterpoint and give the bosses a fuller picture of the player as they head into the offseason.
As for the former point, yes, there are legitimate concerns about how Holder’s game will translate to pro ball. The biggest concern pre-draft that persists today is his power. We talk a lot about how not every player needs to be a double-digit home run guy to be a successful big league player, but it’s undeniably important that the mere possibility of putting one over the seats every so often changes how a batter is pitched. Power is king, but the threat of power can be almost as important for certain players. Holder will need to show he has at least a little in-game pop before pitchers will realize they need to change how they attack him. Holder’s chance at being a non-zero offensively hinges on his ability to keep getting on base at a solid clip and stealing some bags along the way. There’s often an inverse relationship between a player like Holder’s on-base ability and the amount the opposing pitcher has to worry about the threat of power. I can’t say with absolute certainty that he’ll hit enough to start at shortstop, but, even in the face of his early struggles, I lean toward thinking he’ll make it work. This was the pre-draft take…
San Diego JR SS Kyle Holder is a special talent with the glove. He’s a fantastic athlete with everything you’d want to see out of big league defender: his range, hands, feet, instincts, arm, and touch are all exemplary. There might not be a lot of power to come, but he’s a smart, balanced hitter who works deep counts and battles in every at bat. With a very real clear strength and no obvious weaknesses, the well-rounded Holder could be a dark horse first day candidate. If you shoot for the moon with an all-upside first pick, then going for what could be a quick-moving rock solid big league shortstop with your second pick makes a lot of sense. The comps I have on Holder are among my favorite for any player in this year’s class: Mike Bordick, Walt Weiss, and Orlando Cabrera. I don’t know why, but that strikes me as a fun group of possible outcomes. Bordick and Weiss both feel fair in a plus glove, good command of the strike zone, enough power to keep pitchers’ honest kind of way.
The defense is going to play. I’m personally certain of that, though I’ve read many who have claimed his glove as being overhyped. That, far more so than those concerned about his bat, feels like the kind of amateur/pro scout pettiness that I described above. To paraphrase what I’ve heard: Yeah, he’s a good defender…for a college guy. In the pros he’s just one of many decent gloves. I stand by his defense at shortstop 100%. That tool alone is enough to make him a potential big league player. If the threat of power is enough for him, then the Mike Bordick/Walt Weiss comps will begin to look pretty good. We’ll see.
OF Jeff Hendrix (112). like Holder, had the kind of pro debut you spend all winter trying to forget. On the plus side, he swiped 17 of 18 bases. On the less plus side, well, there’s pretty much everything else. There’s no reason to overreact to a bad few months, though it should go without saying that an impressive debut beats a debut like this any day. Still, I remain a Hendrix fan and think he has as bright future in pro ball as I did many months ago…
Oregon State JR OF Jeff Hendrix is a fine looking prospect who hasn’t gotten much (any?) national attention just yet. If you’re starting to pick up on a trend with the Pac-12 this year, then you’re smarter than you look. On paper, Hendrix sounds damn good: above-average to plus raw power, average to above-average speed, and great athleticism. He’s made steady improvements on the field with little sign of slowing down. It’s rare that an honest to goodness potential top five round gets overshadowed like this – perhaps it has something to do with being teammates with the extremely impressive freshman KJ Harrison – but he’ll get his due before too long.
2B Brandon Wagner held his own in his debut, splitting time between 2B and 3B while getting acclimated to the rigors of the pro game. The Jersey native has presumably been followed by the Yankees for years even after winding up in Texas at Howard College. Nice get in the sixth. 1B Isiah Gilliam (307) had an even better debut season while splitting his time in between the outfield corners. I think he should settle in as a good enough glove in left field to allow his potentially above-average all-around offensive game to get him in the lineup. Getting him signed as a twentieth round pick should get raises for all the individuals who helped convince the higher-ups that he was signable. I’ll do my part to keep expectations in check by referring to him as 29th Round Pick 1B Kane Sweeney (419), but it’s hard not to be a little excited about a .320/.437/.562 debut run. There are strikes against him (age, too many whiffs, 1B only), but I like him enough that an aggressive double-jump in 2016 feels like a fair sink-or-swim assignment.
OF Jhalen Jackson has some swing-and-miss (not good) and some interesting tools to work with (good!). There are miles between where OF Terrance Robertson could wind up and where he is now, but as an overslot high school pick he’s worth knowing. OF Trey Amburgey had an outstanding debut that puts him on the map for me now when I didn’t know a ton about him a few months ago. OF Zach Zehner, the most recognizable name out of this particular subsection of new Yankee outfielders, has a weird amount of fans (at least among people I know) despite never quite solving the riddle that is the strike zone. He has power, speed, arm strength, and size, but he lacks time (24 next August) and the aforementioned plate discipline (18 BB/52 K as a senior). If nothing else, I like how New York diversified their assets here: they went Division II, high school, junior college, and Division I with these respective four outfield picks.
3B Donny Sands was not a name I was familiar with before the draft and for that I’m pretty downtrodden about. I know I’m a one-man show here, but I can’t help but kick myself over whiffing on him. It’s very early yet obviously, but his pro debut is quite encouraging. Perhaps I should temper some of that enthusiasm by pointing out that he’s one of the older players I’ve noticed in his class (19 this past May). Bryan Hoch had a cool story about Sands on MLB.com that included this bit…
The way the game worked, as the 19-year-old recalled Tuesday, was that his mother would set a clock for five minutes and begin tossing the beans. Sands would have to hit each one without missing any for the session to end; if he whiffed, the clock restarted at zero. The idea was his mother’s, cribbed from her experiences living in Mexico.
The beans in question were pinto beans. That’s phenomenal. New favorite prospect.
RHP Chance Adams (403) was the highest drafted reliever by the Yankees, so it’s no shock he’s the best of the bunch. Armed with a low-90s fastball and above-average command, he’s got the chance to pitch late in games as he keeps improving. It stands to reason he feels right at home in the pro game considering he’s basically coming from what amounts to college ball’s closest 2015 facimile: including Adams, the Dallas Baptist staff included five pitchers (Brandon Koch, Cory Taylor, Joseph Shaw, Drew Smith) that went in the first dozen rounds. Not bad.
With a solid one-two fastball (88-92) and slider punch, LHP James Reeves is a fine looking middle relief prospect. His last year of college (10.89 K/9 and 2.65 BB/9 in 95 IP) and his first year in the pros (9.23 K/9 and 4.10 BB/9) both look good from here. The signing of LHP Josh Rogers is an impressive bit of investigative work by the New York scouting staff.
rSO LHP Josh Rogers gets swallowed up by the FUNKHOUSER hype, a perfectly understandable yet unfortunate matter of fact that happens when you share a the top of a rotation with a potential top ten pick and one of the nation’s top freshmen (LHP/1B Brendan McKay). Rogers, a Tommy John surgery survivor, has decent velocity for a lefty (85-90, has been up to 92-93 in the past) and a workable breaking ball. He’s always gotten results when called upon (8.13 K/9 and 2.08 BB/9 last year, 7.65 K/9 and 2.18 BB/9 this year), so, if signable (non-stars with two remaining years of eligibility don’t always jump at the first pro offer they get) there’s really no reason why he shouldn’t be drafted and tried as a pro starter this summer.
Interesting to note that the Yankees chose him to pitch a few late-season innings in Low-A. Little moves like that don’t necessarily mean much more than that’s how the ebbs and flows of the minor league season work (31st round pick RHP Hobie Harris also got some Charleston innings, for example), but they can sometimes clue us outsiders into the what insiders think of the players we spend so much time thinking about ourselves.
RHP Will Carter is more of a ground ball guy than a strikeout specialist. His sinker has some serious juice (87-94, up to 95), but it’s tough to get ahead as a minor league reliever without that put-away pitch in your back pocket. RHP Bret Marks has a fastball (88-92) with similar sink (plus an average or better slider and interesting split-change) with a better history of missing bats. RHP Brody Koerner takes the ground ball thing to the next level (78.8 GB%) with a very slider heavy approach. The fact that the Yankees had an area scout stick with Koerner and a progressive enough front office willing to overlook some ugly run prevention (7.55 ERA in 62 IP at Clemson this year) to see the raw talent the young right possesses. The peripherals remained good (9.15 K/9 and 3.19 BB/9), so, at the risk of speculating irresponsibly, it would seem to me, based on the pro data we have, that much of Koerner’s 2015 problems at Clemson were related to him pissing off the BABIP deities. For that reason and much more, I like Koerner a whole lot. The Yankees drafted Carter, Marks, and Koerner in that order; I happen to like them in the opposite direction.
RHP Josh Roeder has an absolutely electric slider that seriously ranks as one of the best in the class. Paired with good heat (88-92, 94 peak), good command, and a good track record at Nebraska, and you’ve got yourself a pretty good relief prospect. I swear I’m not intentionally trying to be this positive (it’s the YANKEES, after all), but grabbing guys like Roeder and Koerner when the Yankees did is really good work.
RHP Mark Seyler has a good arm (88-92) and a solid track record. RHP Cody Carroll can crank it up to 95 at times (sits low-90s). It’s an odd universe where RHP Paddy O’Brien gets selected by New York and not Boston. RHP Icezack Flemming should become friends with Christian Turnipseed if he’s not already. RHP David Sosebee spots his upper-80s fastball seemingly wherever he likes. I saw RHP Chad Martin at Delaware where he looked like a decent mid-round minor league reliever. RHP Christian Morris has the stuff to start (FB/CB/CU) but not the command.
(Quick scheduling note: due to the fact I’d really like to get going with some 2016 MLB Draft content while also wanting to finish draft recaps for all teams for the first time in site history, I’m attempting to scale back the draft reviews just enough to get everything done without going insane. Thanks to the many team sites and message boards that have linked to these over the summer…and apologies to fans of the teams that are getting the condensed versions now.)
26 – DJ Stewart
78 – Gray Fenter
105 – Ryan Mountcastle
130 – Garrett Cleavinger
150 – Ryan McKenna
263 – Jason Heinrich
267 – Seamus Curran
376 – Cedric Mullins
Seven of Baltimore’s top eight picks (25, 36, 68, 102, 133, 163, 193, 223) fell in my top 267 (26, 78, 105, 130, 150, 263, 267) with many of them lining up really well. The one pick not in my top 500 was RHP Jonathan Hughes, who couldn’t agree to terms with the O’s and will give pro ball another shot in a few years after playing at Georgia Tech. Let’s tackle the early round players first for a change…
Despite a disappointing pro debut, OF DJ Stewart (26) still looks like a solid pick at that point in the draft with big league regular upside. I stand by my February report on him…
Stewart’s build evokes the same kind of bowling ball vibe that has garnered comparisons to a pair of intriguing hitters: Matt Stairs and Jeremy Giambi. Physically those both make a lot of sense to me, but the comps go even deeper than body type. I could very easily see Stewart having the kind of career of either player. If we split the difference with their 162 game averages, then we get a player who puts up a .260/.360/.450 yearly line with 20 HR, 25 2B, 70 BB, and 100 K. A career that mirrors that of Billy Butler feels like a reasonable ceiling projection, though I could see that bumping up to something closer to Carlos Santana territory with a big final college season. Those are all really good hitters, so take the “reasonable ceiling projection” phrasing to heart.
RHP Gray Fenter (78) has some clear strikes against him — he’s an older, slighter high school righthander than you typically see go so high — but he can really pitch. With a fast arm (90-94 FB, 97 peak) and feel for multiple promising secondaries, he looks like a future mid-rotation or better arm with continued improvement. That kind of improvement shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially for a 6’0″ guy who enjoyed the perks of pitching against younger competition throughout his amateur career, but Fenter is so new to pitching that it stands to reason there’s unseen upside left once he figures out some of the heretofore hidden nuances of the craft.
Like Stewart, SS Ryan Mountcastle (105) had a rough pro debut; also like Stewart, I still believe in his bat and the value of the pick. If it works, it’s an average or better big league regular profile. Quite honestly, sorting out this year’s group of high school third basemen was as big a chore as ranking any one singular position player group this. After Ke’Bryan Hayes and Tyler Nevin, you could rank the likes of Austin Riley, Travis Blankenhorn, Trey Cabbage, Mountcastle, Bryce Denton, and Ryan Karstetter in almost any conceivable way and not come up with an indefensible order. Those six players ranked between 88th and 114th on my overall pre-draft board. With a grouping that bunched up, it comes down to personal preference in player archetype as much as anything. In Mountcastle’s case, the fact he was announced as a shortstop and has played the vast majority of pro innings a the six-spot should indicate what the O’s think of his glove; even if he doesn’t stick at short, that’s a vote of confidence for his defense at the hot corner or perhaps second base. I liked Mountcastle less for his glove than his bat, so we’ll see.
LHP Garrett Cleavinger (130) going in the third round blew up my market correction on college reliever theory that I touted at various points in the spring, but I still think the pick is fair value for a potential quick-moving late-inning reliever with closer stuff. His control will have to be watched closely as he progresses, but there’s no need to worry about his ability to miss bats. At Oregon he went 12.16 K/9, 13.78 K/9 and 14.85 K/9 in three seasons. There’s velocity (up to mid-90s), a breaking ball (above-average 78-84 MPH), and deception, so add all that up with his track record and handedness and you’ve got a keeper.
OF Ryan McKenna (150) is a really well-rounded athlete that does everything well (for lack of a better word) but nothing exceptional. I’m not cool with hanging a fourth outfielder ceiling on a high school prospect from a cold weather state (seems needlessly limiting), but the profile kind of fits. I feel as though we’ve seen an uptick in supposed “fourth outfielder types” who grind their way into everyday duty, so maybe that’s where McKenna’s career path takes him. Either way, quality pick at this point. The long-term outlook on OF Jason Heinrich (263) looks a lot better as an outfielder than as a first baseman (the position I thought he’d be limited to), so maybe he has more of a chance than I think. 1B Seamus Curran (267), the rare Baltimore prospect who could be considered young for his HS class, young, held his own as a 17-year old in the GCL. I think the comparisons to Boston College star and San Francisco pick Chris Shaw are apt. It’s a much higher risk profile grabbing a player like this out of high school rather than college, but it could pay off big time down the line.
I went out on a bit of a limb on junior college transfer OF Cedric Mullins (376) back in February…
JR OF Cedric Mullins (Campbell) is a highly speculative pick on my end. I’ve never seen him, though, as I’ve said many times before, I’m not sure how much utility such a viewing would even bring. What I’ve heard about him, however, has been thrilling. Mullins has the chance to show premium tools as a defender in center (both range and arm) and on the base paths (plus speed and a great feel for the art of base stealing led to him going 55/59 on his career junior college attempts) this spring. He also brings a patient approach to hitting, both in how he happily accepts free passes (a walk doesn’t feel like such a passive thing when you know you’re taking second and maybe third once you are there) and works pitchers until he’s in counts favorable for fastball hunting. The only tool he ranks below Washington in is raw power, but, as covered above, the emphasis on the raw cannot be taken lightly. In terms of current functional power, the battle tightens quite a bit. It’s an imperfect comp for an imperfect world, but I can see Mullins approximating the value of another former junior college guy like Mallex Smith, though with a bit more pop and a fraction less speed.
Even though he didn’t quite hit like I expected this past spring — only in the warped world of scouting would a .340/.386/.549 college season be viewed as unfulfilling — the scouting reports remained top notch all spring and summer long. I finally got a chance to see him up close after his pro debut and the experience was as magical as I imagined. I like that switch-hitting Mallex Smith comp and think Mullins has a long, productive big league career ahead of him.
RHP Jay Flaa and LHP Reid Love are both on the older side, but deserve attention as top-ten round picks (money-savers or not) who put up impressive numbers in their pro debuts. Flaa has middle relief upside while Love has a chance to keep starting thanks to a solid heater (86-91), above-average changeup, excellent control, and heaps of athleticism.
I think RHP Ryan Meisinger needs to be taken seriously as a potential future contributor in a big league bullpen. He followed up his huge draft season with a huge pro debut. Don’t believe me? Not cool…when I have ever lied to you before? You’ve got trust issues, man. Here’s the proof if you really aren’t convinced…
College: 15.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 37 IP with a 1.70 ERA
Pro: 13.7 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 23.2 IP with a 1.90 ERA
He’s not a junk-baller getting by without stuff, either. It’s not knockout closer stuff, but it’s solid (88-92 FB, above-average SL). If non-closing relief prospects are your thing, then Meisinger should quickly become a favorite.
RHP Rocky McCord has long been a favorite despite less than stellar collegiate results. The pre-draft report…
Despite coming to the close of what surely has not been the kind of college career he once dreamed of, I’m still all-in on SR RHP Rocky McCord. McCord, who has only thrown 45.1 innings in three years at Auburn, seems destined to be a quality big league reliever thanks to impressive now-stuff (mid-90s FB peak, excellent CU, rapidly improving SL) and a cool name.
He had a solid yet wild debut. I still think he has what it takes to pitch out of big league bullpen, though I admit the lack of a college breakout season (not even in his senior year!) tempers my enthusiasm some.
LHP Robert Strader gave up his final two seasons of eligibility at Louisville to give pro ball a shot. He’s debut went well, though he kept up his wild ways (8.1 BB/9 in college, 5.1 BB/9 as a pro). I’ve got little to nothing on junior college LHP Nick Vespi, but he’s a lefty with size and youth on his side coming off an intriguing debut run. LHP Will Dennis may not miss enough bats to keep advancing, but as a lefthander with some funk to his delivery (“submariner” in my notes) who piles up ground ball outs (67.8%) he’s worth keeping a distant eye on.
Baltimore took my advice (just kidding!) and spent a thirtieth round pick on RHP Andrew Elliott. Here was the pre-season take on him…
We really need to talk more about rSR RHP Andrew Elliott (Wright State). His is a name that you’ll never hear mentioned when talk of the best relief prospects in college baseball comes up. All the man does is get outs. I’ll admit that Elliott’s first season as a pitcher at Wright State (2012) didn’t go quite as well as you’d like to see. He kept guys off the board (3.17 ERA), but didn’t show the kind of bat-missing stuff to sustain it. By 2014, however, he transformed himself into a strikeout machine. If you can put down 13+ batters via strikes per nine while spotting four pitches (FB, SL, CB, CU) whenever and wherever you want them, then you’re a prospect. He’s undersized (6-1, 200), overaged (23), lacks a true plus heater (upper-80s mostly, can hit some 92s, 93s, and 94s), and can be viewed as a one-year wonder as of today, but I’d still happily snap an arm like this up in the mid-rounds and watch as he continues to mow down batters in the minors.
His 2015 didn’t quite match his 2014, but it was still damn good. Then he went out and tossed 26 very effective innings in his first pro season. I like Meisinger a hair better now — it was a coin-flip pre-draft, though I gave Elliott the edge then — but both are my kind of mid-round deep sleeper relief prospects worth loading up on. Even if these guys top out as up-and-down last man in the pen types, that’s money saved on going out and spending stupid money on volatile middle relief help.
LHP Will Shepley fits the mold as another late-round reliever with strong college peripherals and better than you’d think stuff. The game is in such good shape when lefties who can hit 93 with nice curves fall this late (reasonably so) in the draft. RHP Steven Klimek had a rough debut. He’s got an above-average breaking ball, so that’s cool. LHP Xavier Borde can get wild, but, not to sound like a broken record, he’s missed bats in the past and has solid stuff from the left side (88-92 FB, average or better CB). That’s good enough to place you as one of the most promising 1100 amateur players in the country these days.
There aren’t too many top ten round picks that I completely whiff on, but I published nothing about OF Jaylen Ferguson on my site this past year. Asked about him recently and got back the following: “young, raw, promising.” Not particularly helpful considering how generic that is, but it’s all I’ve got.
C Chris Shaw and C Jerry McClanahan and C Stuart Levy and C Tank McSturdy (guess which one I made up) all shared in their struggles this summer as they got their first taste of pro ball. Of the trio, I was easily the highest on Shaw this spring…
I’m still holding out hope that we see Oklahoma JR C Chris Shaw get going on the big stage, especially after the tremendous power displays he put on after relatively slow starts the past two seasons in junior college. Truthfully, the question as to whether or not he’ll hit for power isn’t a debate; Shaw’s success or failure going forward will be determined by the adjustments in approach he is able to make. He’s always been a touch too aggressive for his own good, but his power could mask some of the deficiencies he’s shown at lower-levels. More experienced arms will keep exploiting the holes in his approach unless he makes some changes. The power alone still makes him a high follow, but much of the optimism I felt in January has eroded under the rocky shores of reality.
I’ll be honest: I’m not really holding out much hope any longer. Stranger things have happened, but it doesn’t look great for him right now. His disappointing (to me) year at Oklahoma combined with early pro struggles (not that I’d ever overreact to those…) concern me. His power made him worth a shot in the fifteenth round, but the approach really holds him back as a hitter. McClanahan looks like the org guy that he’s always been…
On the other end of the spectrum is the reliable yet unexciting profile of UC Irvine rSR C Jerry McClanahan. The veteran Anteater’s patient approach at the plate is my kind of prospect, but his lack of power and advanced age make him more organizational depth than future big league backup. Of course, the former can become the latter in certain cases, and there are all kinds of unseen advantages in bringing in quality workers like McClanahan to work with your minor league pitchers.
1B Steve Laurino hit a bit at Marist and could do a little bit of hitting in the pros. 2B Drew Turbin had a big senior-sign type of season (.349/.490/.521), so I’m cool with taking a shot on him in the fourteenth even though he’s almost certainly locked in at second base. SS Branden Becker is intriguing as a surprise sign who flashes a little bit of pop and a whole lot of defensive versatility. 3B Kirvin Moesquit gives you that same kind of defensive flexibility with similar upside with the stick and a massively underrated name. As you can read right here —> UT Frank Crinella was announced as a utility guy on draft day, but played mostly third base with a little second mixed in during his solid debut as a pro.
I grouped this top-ten round prospects, then the rest of the pitchers, and then the rest of the hitters. That means I really shouldn’t close with a pitcher, but I’m a rebel bad boy who breaks all the rules. I mean, sometimes you just have to follow your heart, you know? The world really needs more exposure on this: Baltimore drafted a guy named Christian Turnipseed from Georgia Gwinnett College in the 28th round (pick 853) this year. Turnipseed didn’t allow a single run in 28.1 professional innings in his debut! Only 11 hits allowed with 30 strikeouts and 7 walks! That’s after a final college season where opponents hit just .100 off of him (12 hits in 36 innings!). He struck 15 batters per nine with an ERA of 1.50. And his name is Christian Turnipseed! I vow in writing here to buy myself a shirsey and then ten more for charity if/when such a glorious garment exists.
After a .188/.345/.217 junior season, I was ready to stick 1B Jared Walsh back on the mound and embrace him as a potential lefthanded middle reliever prospect. Maybe I should have paid closer attention to the 15 BB/8 K ratio as a sign of a potential senior season breakout instead. Walsh did just that and then kept hitting upon entering pro ball. It’s a tough profile to get behind as Walsh doesn’t have the usual strength and power associated with first base, but he deserves credit for at least getting a mention here as a 39th round pick. Hitting .325 in your debut season will do that. 1B Nick Lynch didn’t hit .325 in his debut and is older than you’d like in a recent draftee (24 next February), but he flashed enough power as a college slugger to earn himself at least another season of trying to see if he can make it.
2B Tim Arakawa is a nice addition to the franchise in round 23. He’s not the biggest nor the fastest nor the most powerful, but he grinds out professional at bats and puts himself in good situations in the field and on the base paths. It’s a nearly impossible profile to make it as a second base only prospect, but you never know. 2B Hutton Moyer is toolsier than most college second base prospects and it shows. Those tools — above-average speed, average power, average or better glove — got him selected earlier than I would have guessed (7th round) and should continue to give him chances over the next few seasons. Like Arakawa, it’s very likely second base or bust for Moyer, so getting to the highest level will be a challenge.
3B Michael Pierson, another older than you’d like prospect (24 next May), hit like the man among boys in short-season ball that he was. It was the kind of performance that gets your name on the map within an organization, perhaps even leading to a double-jump promotion (right to A+?) heading into next season. The former Appalachian State star has the early edge on some of the previously mentioned 2015 MLB Draft infielders not only for what he did with the bat (.395/.467/.528 with 22 BB/30 K) but also for his slightly more versatile defensive utility (second and third).
Speaking of defensive versatility, I’d love to see 3B Kenny Towns make the long rumored switch to catcher in instructional league this fall. Having watched him play a fair amount of third base over the years, I think it’s fair to say he’s got the hands, arm, and athleticism to potentially pull it off. More to the point, catching is probably his one and only true shot at ever advancing past a certain level in pro ball. If that switch is made then there will be a good bit of competition behind the plate to come out of this draft class. C Izaak Silva is decent organizational depth, but C Dalton Blumenfeld and C Tanner Lubach each have a chance to be more. Blumenfeld, the overslot twelfth round pick, fits the big-bodied, plus arm strength, plus raw power archetype that has recently fallen out of favor some among most teams; their loss could very well be the Angels gain. Lubach is more of a modern catcher — big enough but not huge, hit over power, reliant more on athleticism and smarts defensively — so Los Angeles gets a little bit of variety out of two second-tier backstops. I’ve anticipated a breakout season for Lubach for way too long now, so it might be time to accept the fact it’s not going to happen and readjust expectations. If LA gets a backup catcher out of this group, they’ve done well for themselves.
The man they’d be backing up looks like a really safe bet to be C Taylor Ward (65). My final pre-draft ranking had Ward as more of a second round value than a first rounder, something I wish I hadn’t hedged on. Should have stuck to my mid-season guns…
Sometimes I get so wrapped up into doing things for the site that I forget that there is a great big baseball world outside my tiny corner of the internet. As such, I’m way behind on checking in on a lot of the mainstream draft coverage that has been put out since the college season in February. Help me out here: Fresno State JR C Taylor Ward is a first round pick, right? People have caught on to that? He’s pretty much Max Pentecost without the Twitter approved cool guy name. If Pentecost could go eleventh overall, then surely Ward can find a fit in the first day, right? He’s a really good athlete who moves exceptionally well behind the plate. His arm is an absolute howitzer with easy to spot plus to plus-plus raw strength. Offensively he does enough of everything – average or a tick below speed underway, about the same raw power, and a disciplined approach that consistently puts him in good hitter’s counts – to profile as a well above-average regular when both sides of his game are considered.
“The best true catcher is probably Pentecost,” a club executive said. “He’s going in the first round for sure. He doesn’t have a lot of power, it’s more alley and extra-base hits than pure power, but he’s a good hitter, a good athlete and he can run. He can throw and he will get better as a receiver. I think it’s a solid overall player at a tough position to find.”
Sub out Pentecost’s name for Ward’s and you’re all set. His closest competitors for top college catcher in this class (pre-season) for me have all slipped enough that I think there’s real separation between Ward and everybody else. Shaun Chase (Oregon) still has the prodigious raw power that will keep him employed for years to come, but the approach has shown little to no signs of improving. My former top guy, Ian Rice (Houston), has been up and down (to put it kindly) in his first season of D1 baseball. Austin Rei (Washington) seemed poised to have a breakout season and challenge Ward for the top spot, but a torn thumb ligament stalled his season after only 17 at bats. There’s still a question as to whether or not he’ll be back before the end of the season. I could see a scenario where a team would prefer Rei, who I still think goes higher than anybody thinks because of his pitch-framing abilities alone, but the injury obviously makes him one of the draft’s greatest unknowns heading into June.
I don’t actually know where Ward will go in the draft and without having my entire board lined up just yet it is premature to say he’s a no-doubt first round pick for me personally. I do find it hard to imagine that a player with his upside will fall past the first forty picks or so into the second round. This kind of logic doesn’t always hold because it takes but one team to select a player, but if Pentecost, who, I liked more than loved as a prospect, went off the board at eleven last year then I don’t see why Ward would fall multiple rounds past that in what many (not me, but still) consider to be a weaker draft.
At least the last part came to pass after the Angels popped Ward with pick 26 in the first round. The most important takeaway here is that Ward is a really good player, both offensively and defensively. I think we all knew about his upside as a catcher, present plus to plus-plus arm strength, and well above-average athleticism for the position. The bat, however, was a revelation as a pro: .348/.457/.438 with 39 BB/23 K. He’s hardly coming out of nowhere with a performance like that: those numbers are fairly consistent with what he did in his last two seasons at Fresno State. He was called a future “well above-average regular when both sides of his game are considered” on this site during the season and his play since then has only helped sway some of the last remaining doubters. Nothing against any of the other catchers taken at the top of the draft, but Ward is clearly the best blend of upside and polish…and it’s not even close. Tyler Stephenson is still an excellent prospect, but he’s the only other catcher you’d consider taking over Ward out of this class. This is a great pick made even better by all the insta-hatred it caused on Twitter back on draft night.
(Would I throw that last dig in if Ward struggled rather than excelled in his first 250 or so professional PA? There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I honestly believe that I would. Let’s be real, though: it obviously doesn’t hurt any. I certainly didn’t expect Ward to hit quite like he did, but the Angels drafted a really good prospect with the 26th pick in the first round and the majority of prospect “experts” took turns lining up to lambaste the selection. That’s crazy to me. Everybody is entitled to an opinion, but having an informed one doesn’t really cost all that much extra. At minimum, I’d throw out the idea that opinions about something you might not know everything about be made a bit more quietly and with a little less know-it-all venom. I guess the best way to get noticed in the online scouting world these days is being as loud as possible with your opinions since the bad ones all have a way of getting forgotten over time. Still, there’s a big difference between “I’m not sure about this pick based on what I know about the player and I would have rather had [blank], but it’ll be fun to see where it goes.” and “OMG LOL WORST PICK EVER THIS GUY IS A WALKING BUST DRAFTED TEN ROUNDS TOO SOON I SHOULD BE THE NEW GM OF THE ANGLES JET FUEL CANT MELT STEAL BEEMS!!1!!1”)
I like how this pre-draft piece on SS David Fletcher (133) sounds today…
Loyola Marymount SO SS David Fletcher would be the top shortstop in many conferences across the country. He does a lot of the same things that Holder does well, especially on the defensive side. I’m a tiny less sure about his bat going forward, so consider that my admittedly thin rationale for having him behind both Holder and Sullivan. Being the third best shortstop behind those two guys is still a really, really good thing. He’s stung the ball so far this season, and I’ve heard from those who have seen him often that the improvements are real. Slowly but surely his ceiling has risen with some now willing to make the move from glove-first utility player to potential big league regular. I’m not quite there yet, but I get it. All the shortstops are great.
All The Shortstops are Great! That would be the name of my video yearbook for this year’s draft. Swanson, Bregman, Rodgers, Newman, Martin, Holder, Trahan, Miller, Jackson, Fletcher all selected within the draft’s first two hundred picks…what a group. I talked a lot throughout the spring about how the depth of this year’s shortstop class could help some teams with front offices split on taking a shortstop early pass on the top-tier talents and wait it out. There’s obviously no way of knowing if the Angels FO had those internal discussions — maybe they were hoping either Newman or Martin fell to them, maybe they considered taking Holder but opted to wait — but it’s something to think about. The fun hindsight game gives you two options: Ward (first round C) and Fletcher (sixth round SS) or Holder (first round SS) and Francis Christy (catcher taken one pick after Fletcher in the seventh). Early pro returns there make the Angels look like geniuses!
In more seriousness, Los Angeles found themselves a real keeper in Fletcher. Like Ward, we knew he could do it all defensively, so the strides he’s made as a hitter over the last calendar year are almost icing on the cake. The lack of power is something to be monitored, but if he can just do enough to keep opposing pitchers on their toes, he’s a potential regular at short. Even if that doesn’t happen, he’s got a high-floor as a rather valuable potential utility guy.
I love the pick of Ti’Quan Forbes to Texas in the second round last year. The Angels selection of OF Jahmai Jones (37) in the second round this year gives me a very similar warm and fuzzy feeling. Jones has electric bat speed and plenty of natural raw power. Few, if any, high school players smoked the ball as consistently as he did in my admittedly limited views of the cream of the crop of this year’s class. Maybe my appreciation for him as a prospect is too heavily influenced on my “not a scout” personal observations — it’s human nature to do so and I’ve been guilty of it in the past — but the overall offensive tool set that includes a potential plus hit (could see him hitting .300 one day), above-average or better raw power, and above-average or better speed is exciting even if you haven’t seen him up close. I threw out a tentative Cameron Maybin comp on him before the draft that I think works from a raw ability standpoint but is hard to draw much meaning on beyond that considering Maybin’s generally underwhelming — though, in the real world, projecting a second round pick to ever have a 4.0 WAR season like Maybin once did is generous — career to date.
OF Brendon Sanger (63) was on my short-list of FAVORITES going into the draft, so seeing him go above where many of the expert sites had him ranked makes me very happy for him.
JR OF/2B Brandon Sanger (Florida Atlantic) is a lot of fun to watch as a hitter. He’s a high-contact bat with above-average raw power and average or better speed. Beyond that, Sanger is the kind of player that is tough for me to write about because he’s just so darn well-rounded that his game borders on boring at times. He gets on base so often that you begin to take for granted his outstanding plate discipline. He wears out the gaps as well as almost any other hitter in the country. If he could be counted on playing average or better defense at second base professionally – and I’m not ruling this out, but hedging my bets with the corner outfield projection because that’s what people who have seen him more than I have recommended – then he’d be at or near the top of my list of “Why are we not including this guy among the nation’s best position player prospects?” players. As a corner outfielder he’s a little less exciting, but still one of my favorite bats to watch this spring.
I still don’t think it’s crazy to want to see him get an honest shot at playing second base this fall. It’s a bit of a played-out comp, but I think there’s enough Jason Kipnis to Sanger’s game to make attempting the conversion worth a shot. If it doesn’t work, you move on. I still think the bat is big league regular quality in an outfielder corner. Jones, Sanger, Ward, and Fletcher give the Angels a really impressive quartet of hitting prospects to be excited about from this draft.
OF Jeff Boehm (292) played 1B in his debut season, but I think he has enough athleticism to man an outfield corner again if that’s what the Angels want out of him. He’s got a cannon for an arm, so right field makes sense. Boehm’s always showed some feel for hitting and has flashed some interesting power in the past, so don’t rule out the thirteenth round pick from potentially growing into a useful bench piece. That’s the most realistic ceiling I see for him now, though I was once a bit more bullish about his future…
Boehm flashes all five tools and enough at the plate to potentially profile as a regular in right field. The Kentucky transfer’s arm strength is his best current attribute while his other four tools all have a shot to play average or better as he continues to develop as a position player.
Perhaps one day Boehm will share a big league bench with OF Sam Koenig (281). Koenig’s swing has a lot of moving parts, so inconsistent contact figures to always be an issue to some degree. Thankfully, he has more than enough raw power packed into his 6-4, 220 pound frame to remain an intriguing potential bench bat or platoon option. The fact that he has experience at all of the four-corner spots (1B-3B-LF-RF) makes him appealing in that way. As a fifth-year senior (24 this March) and 27th round pick who didn’t exactly light the world on fire with his pro debut, he’ll have to get hitting quickly to keep getting chances.
rSR OF/3B Sam Koenig (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) is an old favorite who has plenty of raw power, but inconsistent contact skills. He’s even bigger than Timm and Mahoney – listed at 6-5, 220 pounds compared to their measly 6-5, 200 frames – but not nearly the defender at the hot corner as the two more natural infielders. That’s why he’s now listed as an outfielder first. It feels like he’s been on the verge of bursting out since mid-way through his sophomore season and just last year he was off to a blistering start (.424/.500/.667 with 5 BB and 6 K in 33 AB) before going down with an injury. It would be silly to suggest that such a small sample is the smoking gun that will lead to a breakout senior season; no sillier, however, then prematurely dismissing the progress any young, still developing player makes. There’s no need to overreact to Koenig’s aborted 2014 season, so the best (and most obvious) course of action is to keep a close eye on him in 2015 to see if he can finally put it all together.
OF Jared Foster (439) and OF Trever Allen winding up with the same pro club feels right. Both are outstanding athletes who can run, throw, and hit the ball out of the damn stadium if you make a mistake. Both are also senior-signs who never really had that one true breakout season to give you the confidence that they’d grow into anything more than tooled-up backup outfielders with perpetual promise. That’s not to say both didn’t have very good senior seasons…
Foster: .294/.352/.533 – 13 BB/31 K – 7/7 SB – 180 AB
Allen: .345/.387/.505 – 13 BB/33 K – 4/7 SB – 200 AB
Pretty similar production, right? Those raw lines are super and both were key bats at upper-echelon college programs, but the underlying plate discipline numbers are less than ideal. Those rough BB/K ratios carried over to the pro game as one might expect. Still, there are many ways to wind up a successful pro ballplayer. I like my guys to exhibit the kind of strike zone awareness that has the ballpark questioning an umpire’s call when a 50/50 pitch goes against the batter — blame watching 162 games a year of Bobby Abreu (and later Jayson Werth) during my formative baseball watching years for that — but hitters like that who can also do other things at a high-level are rare. You’ve got to embrace imperfect players at a certain point. Foster’s pre-draft blurb sums him up pretty well, I think: “raw, but as much upside for a senior sign as you’ll find.” If the light bulb ever comes on for Foster, he’s an above-average regular. That “if” is pretty gigantic considering we’re talking about a soon-to-be 23-year old prospect and not a teenager out of high school, but you never know. Allen is about a half-step down from Foster in certain physical areas (arm, speed), but if you tried to sell me that he’s better prepared for the pro game than Foster based on the idea that Allen actually started all four years at Arizona State while Foster, when not serving as the reserve QB on the football team, was consistently crowded out of a stacked LSU outfield then I wouldn’t argue.
In the end, I think both players have that one fatal flaw that will make advancing to the big leagues very difficult. Foster will get more chances as a fourth rounder (Allen went in the 25th), so he’ll get the leg up when the politics of promotions comes into play. He’d be my bet to go higher up the chain, but I think toolsy up-and-down reserve outfielder is the most realistic best case scenario. I can’t blame the Angels for going big on tools, though.
A trio of college outfielders picked later by Los Angeles caught my eye for various reasons. OF Kyle Survance was a surprise top ten round pick to me (8th), but his athleticism, speed, and CF range all play. The pre-draft take…
JR OF Kyle Survance is the best of the trio. His power is limited, but his speed and defense should keep him employed for at least a few years. If it clicks for him, it’s a big league skill set.
I saw OF Jordan Serena up close a lot this spring for Columbia. Besides sporting an impressive beard, he ran well, showed good athleticism, and could drive a mistake to the gaps. I like the Angels taking the approach of moving him around the diamond (2B, 3B, SS) while also keeping the knowledge that he can play a mean CF in their back pocket. He’s a solid org player.
Then there’s OF Josh Delph. Delph is weird. The guy has a strange knack for getting on base. I don’t really know how to explain it beyond that. For a corner outfielder with an iffy hit tool and minimal power to put up the kind of consistent on-base figures he has…there’s really no figuring it out. Look at some of his weird lines while at Florida State…
.261/.465/.342 – 34 BB/14 K
.268/.385/.351 – 34 BB/32 K
.279/.410/.358 – 38 BB/42 K
He kept it up as a pro by hitting .313/.441/.354 with 8 BB/8 K. Come on, that’s weird. I really think he was created in a lab somewhere by Mike Martin in an attempt to create the Platonic ideal of a Florida State hitter. Or maybe Delph was drafted because he’s almost this year’s draft exact counterpoint to Jared Foster. Either way, for as much as I value plate discipline, Delph will have a tough time moving up relying on that one awesome skill. I’ll be rooting for him all the same.
My pre-draft rankings cease to mean a whole lot the second the draft ends, if they ever meant anything to anybody else at all. I can admit that. Prospect rankings are merely snapshots in time as real life living breathing players improve, stagnate, and generally evolve in ways that no one person could ever hope to accurately predict with real precision. Still, rankings serve an organizational purpose. Less so on straight prospect rankings, but draft rankings can literally be used to determine who gets picked and when. Every team makes some kind of list before the draft and sticks to it for as long as feasible (in some cases, you’d be stunned how quickly the list is abandoned…though it’s often replaced by smaller positional lists, so I guess it’s all the same thing in a different wrapper), so there is at least some utility in a pre-draft ranking. This is all a long way of saying that the Angels somehow managed to draft only one pitcher off my personal pre-draft list of 500 names. They grabbed seven of my position players, but only one pitcher. More of a weird quirk than an attempt to denigrate the work done by the Los Angeles front office, but an interesting note all the same.
That one pitcher is RHP Grayson Long (62) from Texas A&M. I love that the Angels managed to get Long with pick 104…
Long hasn’t progressed quite as much as I was expecting back then, but that’s not to say he hasn’t progressed at all. It’s been a slow and steady climb for him, and the results so far this year indicate that real honest improvements have been made. Long lives 88-92, but can climb up to 94-95 when needed, though those mid-90s figures are an admittedly rare occurrence. The fact that the long and lean high school version of Long, thought for all the world to be full of projection and potentially of capable of eventually lighting up radar guns once he filled out, hasn’t added much to his fastball can be taken either as a negative (for obvious reasons) or a positive (he’s pitched damn well even without the big fastball and there could yet be some more in the tank coming) depending on your world view. All of those other extras that made me fall for his heater in the first place remain, and I’d call his fastball a plus pitch still even without the knockout velocity. There still isn’t one consistent offspeed pitch that he can lean on from start to start, but there are enough flashes of his change and slider that you can understand what the finished product could look like.
I really believe in Long; he’s one of those players I’d go out on a limb for and really push my team to draft if ever put in such a position of power. I think he’s as good a bet as almost any college pitcher in this class to have a long career in a big league rotation (high-floor!) while still retaining some of that upside we’ve seen over the years to be something even more (high-ceiling!).
Even though I only ranked Long, I did reference a good number of pitchers selected by the Angels this past year. RHP Nathan Bates out of Georgia State had a solid junior year. He’s big (6-8, 200) and throws hard enough (low-90s) to deserve a long look. I saw LHP Ronnie Glenn start as many games at Penn than just about any human not affiliated with the team, school, or his family. He’s a good one. Glenn throws three pitches with a chance to be around average (88-92 FB, 76-78 breaking ball, 78-80 change) with a nice amount of deception in his delivery that figures to give lefthanded hitters fits in the pros. RHP Aaron Rhodes was a stalwart performer in the Florida bullpen over the past few seasons. He’s a tough player to figure out going forward because he plays with his delivery so much that you don’t know which pitcher the real Aaron Rhodes is. The more traditional delivery can give you low-90s sinking velocity (up to 96) with the occasional above-average slider. The sidearm action is more low- to mid-80s, but no less effective. RHP Jacob McDavid out of Oral Roberts has some projection left and a good low-90s heater.
I won’t pretend to know any more about RHP Adam Hofacket than you do, but I’ve heard he throws bowling balls and his pro debut (63.3 GB%) seems to back it up so far. He’s got my attention. I like what little I know about LHP Nathaniel Bertness, a long and lean lefty out of junior college. The 6-5, 185 pound pitcher was a standout basketball player in high school who has only really focused on baseball full-time within the last year or two. Needless to say, I’m intrigued. RHP Samuel Pastrone is an intriguing overslot HS arm out of Nevada who can throw four pitches for strikes who has reportedly made a big leap forward with his velocity over the past calendar year (from 88-92, 94 peak to 90-94, 96 peak).
RHP Travis Herrin is a blank canvass with some upside. RHP Aaron Cox was worth a draft pick even without his fun backstory (though, as an aside, I personally think it’s awesome that his sister/Mike Trout’s girlfriend was [maybe still is?] a teacher…didn’t know that until this year’s draft). RHP Taylor Cobb is a decent arm strength shot in the dark. I thought RHP Cody Pope might have been the first pick ever out of Eastern New Mexico, but he’s not even the first pick drafted out of Eastern New Mexico this year! Whoops. I knew LHP Connor Lillis-White wasn’t the first pick ever out of the University of British Columbia because Jeff Francis was a first rounder back in 2002. LHP Winston Lavendier has a name that just needs to be on a baseball card one day. RHP Jonah Dipoto is off to San Diego to play college ball, a really good decision made even better by what transpired in the Angels front office shortly after the draft in June…
Here are the 2015 Los Angeles draft picks that slipped into my pre-draft top 500…
37 – Jahmai Jones
62 – Grayson Long
63 – Brendon Sanger
65 – Taylor Ward
133 – David Fletcher
281 – Sam Koenig
292 – Jeff Boehm
439 – Jared Foster
I don’t typically put a ton of thought into the organization of these pieces, but this one was a no-brainer. We need to talk about C Nick Dini (407) first. I’d talk about him first, second, third, and forever, but a paragraph or so will have to suffice for now.
Nick Dini hit .392/.489/.625 in his senior season at Wagner. He walked 30 times and struck out only 7 times. He stole 14 bases in 15 tries, a total that boosted his career mark to 33 of 35. He’s relatively new to catching (played it off-and-on throughout his college career), but has taken to it in a full-time role as well as one possibly can. He’s a really good athlete who has experience catching high velocity arm, so the learning curve should continue to be quite manageable for him. At the plate, he’s shown a consistent feel for hitting that puts him years ahead of his peers. His approach is as good as it gets and is power, while not nearly as impressive as his senior season spike suggests, is enough to keep opposing pitching honest enough to let him keep getting on base at a high clip even against better arms. On the downside, he played at Wagner and…he’s short? I guess those are negatives for some, but I don’t care. He’s Austin Barnes 2.0 with a realistic floor of Tucker Barnhart. Just a really good all-around player who will become a fan favorite (and statistically-leaning prospect analyst favorite) sooner rather than later.
(I’m glad we had a chance to do that. People I know in real life are tired of me initiating conversations with “Hey, how about that Nick Dini?” and “Whoa, did you see what Nick Dini did last night?” and “We need to decide on a good nickname for Nick Dini – is ‘Who’ too corny? It works on two levels!”)
1B Taylor Ostrich is a fine senior-sign get in the 34th round. He he can hit, he’ll take a walk, and there’s average or better thunder in the bat. He’s also a strong yet nimble 6-3, 220 pound athlete who has posted average run times underway and fields the position extremely well. With reasonable platoon or bench bat upside (and maybe more…), I’m not really sure what more you could ask for in a pick this late.
Here’s where I was at with C Alex Close before the season…
SR 1B Alex Close (Liberty) has been a favorite for some time – not a FAVORITE, but a favorite – because of his playable present power. If an area guy can sell his bosses on Close as a potential 1B/3B/C hybrid, then he could go higher than even I think.
I stand by the assertion that a 1B/3B/C hybrid is best for his long-term pro future. Even with the defensive versatility, there might be too much swing-and-miss in his approach for him to lock in on his considerable power upside thus negating what he does best as a hitter as a professional. I’m not sure how good his stuff is, but I’ve heard from at least one contact that they’d put him on the mound. That belief was based on his strong senior season as a pitcher, his raw arm strength, and the unfortunate reality that he likely won’t make enough contact to have a real future as a pro hitter. OF Colton Frabasilio gets a lot more interesting when you look back at his college track record (catcher!) and then realize he split time between catcher and left field in his pro debut. The bat isn’t thrilling, but the bar isn’t all that high for a catcher. If he can stick behind the plate, consider him a super deep sleeper to follow.
It appears that the Royals identified outfield as a position group of need heading into the draft. Either that or the board just happened to shake out a whole bunch of outfielders they liked in rounds that made sense. My favorite before the draft was OF Tanner Stanley (67). Stanley does many of the things that I personally like very well: he’s a patient hitter who has a plan at the plate with every at bat, he’s instinctual in the outfield and on the base paths, and he’s got enough physical ability (arm, speed) to make a difference even on days he’s not hitting. As so often is the case in players like Stanley, the transformation of raw power to in-game production is an open question. I put Stanley in the group that has “enough pop to keep opposing pitchers honest” before the draft, but that aspect of his game remains my biggest concern going forward.
Keeping all that about Stanley in mind, I have to admit that I don’t really know why I ranked him quite so highly relative to some of his peers. I’ll wear it, of course, but his was an overly generous ranking that I would scale back if I could do it all again. For example, I’m not sure he’s all that different from OF Cody Jones (495). If anything, Jones runs and defends on a higher level than Stanley. I prefer the latter’s all-around offensive game, but the two are close enough that almost 400 spots on the pre-draft ranking seems silly. The Royals obviously preferred Jones, the sixth rounder, over Stanley, their thirty-sixth rounder.
An argument could also be made for OF Anderson Miller (145) as the top outfielder taken by the Royals. Heck, in terms of draft position he’s it. Miller shares a lot of the same positive traits as Stanley, but comes with more upside and uncertainty. The former two-way star has a chance to really break out now that the shackles of pitching are off. He leads the way in raw power (average or slightly above) of any Kansas City outfield pick. His chief competitor there would be OF Ben Johnson (238). Johnson is a really neat prospect. I’ll allow past me to explain some…
The outfield is where things get really interesting in the Big 12. I know I say this about so many prospects that it probably renders the distinction meaningless, but Texas JR OF Ben Johnson has to be one of this year’s draft’s most fascinating prospects. Johnson’s name has come up over and over again so far this season as a tooled-up prospect finally turning into a deeply skilled player. Or so I thought. All of the chatter over Johnson excited me because I had assumed he was finally doing the things that he’ll need to do to be a better pro. Full disclosure: I haven’t gotten any updates about him this season (since the fall) from anybody I know who has seen him and (I’M NOT A SCOUT) I’ve only personally seen him twice this year on the tube. So I’m not working with all the needed info to make any overarching statements that should be taken as fact. I’m just theorizing that maybe college analysts (and perhaps certain pro scouting staffs that weigh projection significantly ahead of production [they aren’t wrong for this, by the way]) are getting a little ahead of themselves in proclaiming this to be the start of Johnson’s ascension to day one of the 2015 MLB Draft. Johnson has been absolutely phenomenal this season by most every measure: .432/.463/.659 is damn good work in 88 at bats. Maybe he’s made adjustments as a hitter that the public will hear about as some of the best prospect writers begin doing some digging. Maybe (hopefully) I’ll hear something from one of my contacts sooner rather than later that brings some good news on his outburst. Until then, however, I think Ben Johnson is just doing Ben Johnson things. I won’t say that I anticipated this kind of start, but his numbers aren’t out of line with what you’d expect from a player with his kind of tools at the college level. It’s not crazy to say that he, like about a dozen or so players in this and every class, is too physically gifted for the college game. Johnson is a pro-level glove in center with an average or better arm, average or better raw power, and, most interestingly, the kind of jaw-dropping athleticism and game-changing speed that puts the whole package over the top.
Again, Johnson is putting up a ridiculous .432/.463/.659 line so far this year. That’s really great. With only 2 walks to 12 strikeouts, however, I’m not sure how all his considerable offensive gifts will continue to play as he climbs the ladder. For all the positives he brings to the table he still looks like a very high potential pick since athletes like him often provide value well beyond what they do at the plate (running, defending, you get it). That relatively high floor makes Johnson extra appealing; using a supplemental first, second, or third round pick on him is not likely to completely blow up in your face simply because he’s almost too damn athletic to do nothing. On the off chance he puts it together, watch out. If that paragraph reads like I’m hedging my bets on him, then you’re on the right track.
I’m obviously glad I hedged my bets on him, especially after seeing him fall to the eleventh round. Overslot or not, he was outstanding value there. As was written in his pre-draft blurb: “approach remains a mess, but the raw edge to his game, grinder mentality, and outstanding defense make him intriguing despite his flaws.” That’s the kind of guy to gamble on for a little extra dough in round eleven. A quick prospect-to-prospect comparison could work if you’re willing to buy he’s a more talented version of sixth round pick Cody Jones. An even easier comparison would be to former Longhorn Drew Stubbs. I’m sure others have connected those dots elsewhere.
I really liked the pick of the underrated (including here) OF Roman Collins in the fifth. It’s much earlier than I thought he’d go, but he’s a good player and who knows how the rest of baseball viewed him. Before the year I said…
Collins is a guy who falls out of bed ready to hit each morning. I don’t doubt that his big raw power will continue to play against more advanced arms.
His pro debut was outstanding, though presumably he’s figured out a more palatable sleep schedule. I mean, I like to get up at the last possible second before work as well, but I couldn’t actually suggest somebody try to roll out of bed and hit a 90 MPH fastball. Sounds like a great way to get hurt. Lame jokes aside, Collins can hit. I think he was slept on (no pun intended, I swear…but I’m keeping it) by many because of only playing one year of D-1 baseball. He got on my radar before his one and only season at Florida Atlantic after hitting a decent .435/.512/.766 in 209 at bats at junior college in 2014. Then he more than held his own (.296/.394/.481) at FAU while showing off an impressive display of power and speed (above-average in both areas) on a weekly basis throughout the spring. He would have been ranked much higher by me heading into the draft if I had caught on to how smooth his transition was this year; such is life as a one-man operation. The nice thing is by writing this, I can begin to make up for the error. Roman Collins is really good. You should like him too.
OF Luke Willis can really run and defend in center. I’m sufficiently intrigued by the thirtieth rounder out of George Mason (by way of Coastal Carolina). Like many of these outfielders, he’s a very Royals type of player.
For as much as I like and appreciate what the Royals did in the outfield, I can’t quite put my finger on their infield strategy this year. 2B Jonathan McCray is an intriguing junior college talent who has shown some of the pop/speed combo needed to keep advancing as a second base only prospect.
SS Trey Stover can play any infield spot, but doesn’t have the bat to keep going at the moment. Same could be said for SS Brian Bien. SS Austin Bailey has the most advanced stick of this trio of college senior-sign shortstops, but seems like a better fit at second base over the long haul. Maybe you hit on one of the three as a future utility guy, but I don’t love the odds here.
I do love SS Travis Maezes (169) even though I don’t think he’s a shortstop professionally…
I’ve written about Michigan JR 3B/SS Travis Maezes already, so I’ll just give the short version here: his skill set reminds me of the 25th pick of last year’s draft, Matt Chapman. The biggest noticeable difference in their games comes down to arm strength. Maezes has an outstanding arm, but it’s not in the same class as Chapman’s; that’s how crazy Chapman’s arm is. Besides that, the similarities are striking. I think Maezes has a chance to put an average hit tool with average power (maybe a half-grade above in each area) to good use as a professional ballplayer. Even if he doesn’t hit as much as I’ll think, his defensive value (good at third and playable at short, with intriguing unseen upside at 2B and C) should make him a positive player. It’s not the typical profile we think of as “high-floor,” but it works. I’ve talked to a few people who think I’m overstating Maezes’ upside as a pro. That’s fine and it’s relevant and I’m happy to hear from dissenting viewpoints.
Weird doesn’t have to be bad, so I have no problem being the high man on Michigan JR 3B Travis Maezes for now. His hit tool is legit, his power should play average or better, and he has the athleticism, arm strength, and instincts to be a really strong third baseman in the pros. Real life work commitments and frustration at the death of College Splits put me way behind on writing about last year’s draft. If I had written all that I wanted to, I assure you that many glowing pieces on Cal State Fullerton 3B Matt Chapman would have been written. I absolutely loved Chapman as a draft prospect and think he’ll be an above-average pro player for a long time. I don’t bring him up just to relive the past, of course; from a skills standpoint, Maezes reminds me a lot of Chapman. I swear that’s a comparison that I came by honestly through watching them both, hearing from smarter people than myself, and reading whatever has been written about them from the comfort of my couch. Then I looked at the numbers (top Maezes, bottom Chapman) and…
.307/.403/.444 with 54 BB/64 K in 530 PA
.295/.391/.443 with 73 BB/84 K in 702 PA
…whoa. That’s pretty good. Another player comparison that I’ve heard for Maezes that takes me back to my earliest days as a baseball fan is former Phillies 3B Dave Hollins, he of the 162 game average of .260/.358/.420 with 18 HR, 27 2B, 76 BB, and 113 K*.
Maezes’s down junior season (not included in the statistical comparison above) didn’t quite reward my pre-season faith, but he hit well enough to remain a solid top five to ten round prospect in my eyes. Getting him in round 13 is excellent value for Kansas City. I look forward to seeing what they decide to do with him defensively going forward. The thought of his bat waking back up and him being able to handle the move to catcher is quite appealing, though I acknowledge how difficult getting those two things to go right at the same time can be.
I also kind of like SS Gabriel Cancel even though I know of him more than I know him at this point. Still, when looking at the shortstop group drafted by Kansas City this year (Cancel, Emmanuel Rivera, Bailey, Bien, Stover) from a more detached view, I’d be surprised if they got even one big league contributor five years from now.
Since I love to bury the lede, a few words on RHP Ashe Russell (17). Russell is pretty close to an ideal version of pitching projection personified. He has the size, arm action, delivery, and present fastball (90-96, 98 peak) that all just scream first round high school righthanded pitching prospect. I happen to love what he’s doing with his fastball (not just the velocity*, but the life) and his breaking ball (78-84 and a little bit of a hybrid SL/CB for now, but best when thrown more as a true slider) already, so you don’t have to sell me on him needing to grow leaps and bounds ahead of where he presently is. There’s obviously still stuff to work out — commanding that darting fastball, gaining more trust and consistency with the breaker, improving the nascent change — but what’s already there is damn impressive. He’s more of a future two than a three for me if it all comes together. Dayton Moore compared him to Garrett Richards immediately after the draft and that sounds about right to me. I think a younger Shelby Miller also fits.
* I ranted on this once in the very early days of the site, but it always bothered me some that “velocity” is the word used when discussing what’s almost always meant to be “speed.” Velocity is speed and direction, so it should imply movement. So often, however, it’s written (I do it all the time) that a pitch is impressive both for it’s velocity AND it’s movement. That’s redundant, right? I realize language is fluid and different words can have different meanings in different contexts, but if I could go back and change one ultimately inconsequential fundamental thing about baseball writing/scouting, that might be it.
The Royals stayed in the great state of Indiana to nab another top high school prospect in RHP Nolan Watson (90). Watson joins Russell as a potential long-term fixture of what could be a loaded Kansas City rotation one day. He jumped out at me early in the draft cycle because of the Vanderbilt commitment attached to his name; it’s become almost a chicken and the egg thing where you can argue what comes first, but if the Vandy staff puts their seal of approval on you as a young pitcher, the scouting community takes notice. Watson is easy to like because he’s one of those guys who seems to get better with every start. He may not have quite the same upside as Russell, but the well-rounded pitching arsenal he brings to the mound each outing (88-94 FB, 96 peak; average or better 76-80 CB; average or better low-80s CU; low-80s SL with promise) makes him an excellent bet to remain a sturdy starting pitcher into the future. If Russell and Watson are two-fifths of a future KC rotation, as I think they’ll be, I wish the rest of the AL Central luck.
Calling a player your favorite doesn’t necessarily make him the best. We’re clear on that, right? Well RHP Josh Staumont (76) might be my favorite player (apologies to BFF Nick Dini) in this class. He’s just so damn authentic. He takes his huge fastball (93-99, 101 peak) that he holds deep into starts, dynamic breaking ball (80-84 CB with plus upside), and a difficult to control because it moves so much low- to mid-80s split-change, and just does what he does. At Azusa Pacific, he struck out 14.38 batters per nine in almost 70 junior year innings pitched. He kept up with that as best he could (13.05 K/9) as a pro. Unfortunately, all those missed bats came with a price. Staumont walked 7.18 BB/9 at Azusa Pacific. Staumont walked 7.20 BB/9 between the Royals AZL team and Idaho Falls. Miraculously, his ERA at Azusa Pacific was 3.67…and his ERA as a pro is 2.48. That’s the definition of “effectively wild” if I’ve ever seen it. I’m not sure there’s precedent for a pitcher this wild this early in his pro career to climb the ladder all the way to the top (first thought was Randy Johnson, but I’m not going to touch that one…), but I’m not betting against Staumont, his awesome stuff, and his competitive demeanor. I think he can keep advancing even with his wild ways and if he can ever gain even a semblance of control…damn. If you argued on Staumont’s behalf for highest upside pitcher in the entire class, I wouldn’t get in your way.
(A fun/imperfect comp I got for Staumont recently: former Blue Jay minor leaguer and one half of the Phillies return in the Ben Revere trade, Alberto Tirado. Also: Staumont’s GB% in his first 40 professional innings is 70.89. Not a typo! 70.89 GB%!)
Kansas City went pitching with four of their first five picks. We’ve covered Russell, Watson, and Staumont, so let’s meet lucky number five. LHP Garrett Davila was a very slick pick for the Royals in the fifth round. Considered a tough sign by many all spring, KC did their HW on him and knew just what it would take to get his signature on a contract. What they got for their due diligence is a possible lefthanded starter with average-ish stuff (88-92 FB, 93 peak; mid-70s CB) across the board. A little bit of growth and a more refined third pitch and you might be looking at a back-end starting pitcher in a few years.
I think it’s good club policy to target college relievers with solid stuff (86-92 FB, really good 82-84 kCB) and dynamite results (8.50 K/9 to 10.04 K/9 to 11.00 K/9 in three healthy seasons) past round fifteen or so. By that point you’re out of the top ten rounds and you’ve given yourself some time to target potential overslot prospects in the first few double-digit rounds. The Royals did just that this year in waiting until round 16 to make a play for one of college ball’s most accomplished relief pitchers. As noted above, RHP Matt Ditman (402), has had great success with a quality on-two punch of pitches and good control. He’s no spring chicken (23 already), so he’ll have to move quickly, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem for a guy ready to pitch in AA at the start of next season. Love this pick.
I also like the 27th round shot on RHP Jacob Bodner. The Xavier product flashes wipeout stuff at times, but the three C’s (command, control, consistency) have kept him from much more than marginal collegiate results.
I’ve stuck with Xavier rJR RHP Jacob Bodner through the good (flashes of dominance in 2013) and the bad (consistently inconsistent control, 2014 season wiped out due to injury), so might as well stick it out to the end. At his best he has the look of a really good big league reliever, flashing a mid-90s fastball and an above-average slider. His stature (5-11, 180 pounds) will turn some teams off, but he more than makes up for his lack of physicality with some of the best athleticism of any pitcher in his class. He’s an arm strength/athleticism gamble at this point, but one I feel comfortable with considering the lack of relative upside among his Big East pitching brethren.
If he can get one of those C’s under control, he’s a prospect to keep in mind. If he fixes two, he’s the real deal. All three and he’s a no-doubter big league reliever. Easier said then done, naturally, but the talent is there.
RHP Alex Luna is identified in my notes as a “ground ball machine” thanks to a sinking fastball and impressive extension coming out of a 6-5, 200 pound frame. The pro data so far (59.15 GB%) backs it up, but he’ll have to start missing more bats to be taken more seriously as a pro prospect. LHP Andre Davis matches Luna in stature (6-6, 230 pounds), but outstrips him when it comes to velocity (upper-90s when right). It’s a beautiful thing when a SWAC player gets taken this early (8th round), so I’ve got nothing but love for Davis as a pro. If he can begin to harness his newfound crazy velo, he’s one to watch. LHP Joseph Markus matches Davis and Luna in stature (6-7, 220 pounds…and perhaps we’re seeing the start of a theme) with big stuff but little idea where it’s heading. I like that the Royals double-upped with lefthanders with big projection even though the odds of these types of college projects working out aren’t great.
RHP Daniel Concepcion has a little middle relief upside with solid stuff (88-92 FB, good CU), good size (6-4, 225), and a strong track record. LHP Mark McCoy does much of the same, but from the left side. LHP Matt Portland offers similar strengths to McCoy, but with a curveball as his primary secondary offering. LHP Jake Kalish has the goods to start for a bit, but that has as much to do with his decent yet diverse repertoire of pitches as it does with his advanced age (24 already).
One thing that jumped out to me about the Kansas City draft as I wrap this up is the willingness to look past a player’s geographical location in order to find talent. The Royals drafted players from seemingly everywhere. Whether this was a stated mission from within the front office or a happy coincidence, consider the following. The Royals first two picks were pitchers from Indiana high schools. That bit of weirdness set the tone. From there, they drafted players out of Azusa Pacific, Delta State, St. Joseph’s (IN), Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Wagner, and Hartford. Slightly more traditional baseball schools like Xavier, Old Dominion, Liberty, Florida Atlantic (two), and George Mason (two) were also on the menu. Sure, they hit up bigger universities like Rice, Texas, Northwestern (I’m stretching), Rutgers (still stretching), TCU, Michigan, Richmond, San Diego, and VCU, but they also selected seven junior college players including one straight from a Puerto Rican juco. Maybe you could do this with more teams than just the Royals — I’m far too lazy to do an exhaustive search of what team drafted the “weirdest” — but it’s an impressive collection of talent found from places big and small. That scouting staff earned their keep this year, Mike Farrell especially.
Some of the players drafted from all over that wound up on my pre-draft top 500 prospect list…
17 – Ashe Russell
67 – Tanner Stanley
76 – Josh Staumont
90 – Nolan Watson
145 – Anderson Miller
169 – Travis Maezes
238 – Ben Johnson
402 – Matt Ditman
407 – Nick Dini
495 – Cody Jones
I’m pretty sure I’ve made this (obvious) observation before, but there’s a big gap between the college game, especially at the non-D1 level, and pro baseball. The example of C Austin Allen (219) stands out. For me, there’s no surer way to convince somebody of the difficulty of pro ball than to point to the sometimes comical discrepancies between collegiate draft numbers and pro debuts. Allen went from hitting a somewhat decent .421/.473/.728 at Florida Tech to a less impressive .240/.315/.332 in the Northwest League. That’s not a knock on Allen in the slightest, by the way: though those raw stats don’t blow you away, it’s still fair to say he held his own while making a really big transition (on and off the field), plus any and all of his offensive production should be viewed through the prism of a hitter also starting 51 games behind the plate at a position he’s still learning the finer points of how to play. The defensive part is key, as getting as many reps donning the tools of ignorance should be the biggest point of emphasis early on in Allen’s pro development.
A second (obvious) observation: Allen’s upside (average or better hit, plus power, adequate catcher defense) is monstrous. There’s obviously a large gap between what the D-2 catcher/first baseman is and what he could be, but it’s a pretty clear all-star ceiling if it all works. There are worse ideas than bringing in such a boom/bust prospect in the fourth round.
Remember what I said about pro ball being trickier than college ball? C AJ Kennedy begs to differ. Kennedy went from hitting .171/.263/.217 (17 BB/42 K) in 152 junior year at bats at Cal State Fullerton (and .178/.268/.205 the year before) to hitting .276/.337/.345 (7 BB/16 K) in 100 PA against professional pitching. Does that make any sense to anybody out there outside of the San Diego front office or am I the crazy one? Either way, the bat doesn’t matter nearly as much as his outstanding defensive promise behind the dish. When the name Austin Hedges begins getting thrown out as a reference point for a guy’s all-around defensive game, you take notice. Kennedy could reach the big leagues as a backup backstop exclusively on his glove, arm, and mobility alone. I knocked the Danny De la Calle (a somewhat similar profile) pick by Tampa, so highlighting the clear difference in draft resource expenditures (30th round for Kennedy, 9th round for De la Calle) should clear up why I could not like one pick and approve the another. You take the defense-first potential backup in the thirtieth round all day.
(My pre-draft blurb on Kennedy: “plus defender; plus pitch-framer; strong arm; bag is a major question.” Probably one of my finer typos to date. I, for one, still have pretty major questions about Kennedy’s bag. Though now that I think of how that could be interpreted, I rescind my questions and hope only that he keeps his bag safely ensconced behind properly fitting protective gear. Also of note, his HS scouting blurb: “true plus arm; defensive tools are there, but needs reps; questionable upside with bat; swing needs work as it gets too long.” Typo aside, I love it when those things sync up over time.)
It’s cool to see the Padres give C Kyle Overstreet a shot behind the plate as a pro. Even if the Alabama second baseman doesn’t wind up a catcher full-time, the added defensive versatility will give his overall professional outlook a boost. I still think the bat might be a bit too light to call him much more than an org player at this point, but it’s a creative path for a player that many considered a worthy positional swap candidate while still a member of the Tide.
JR 2B Kyle Overstreet is the third Alabama position player with a shot to get drafted. He’s got decent power, a decent approach, and the chance to be a useful bench bat if used properly, especially if he can occasionally handle work behind the plate as speculated.
1B Brad Zunica is a big boy with big power and more feel for hitting than most big boys with big power. Getting a teenager with his pedigree in the fifteenth round is robbery. The fall of 3B Ty France (365) is equally odd. Getting a player as talented as France (365) in the 34th round confuses me, but I highly doubt the San Diego front office minds. As I mentioned pre-draft (below), few under-the-radar college players elicited as many unsolicited responses as France this spring. People who love hitting just wanted to talk about the guy.
San Diego State JR 3B Ty France has one of the draft’s most underrated bats, especially when his natural feel for hitting and functional strength (and subsequent power) are considered. Guys who really get excited about watching a young player swing at bat well come away raving about what France can do at the plate. I haven’t seen enough of him to get that feeling (also: I’m not a scout), but hearing it as often as I have from people who have been around the game forever definitely gets my attention.
The Padres played him almost exclusively at first base this summer (all but one start), so I’m unclear of their long-term intentions with his glove. I admittedly don’t have much to add to the conversation of his defensive future, but, man, getting a guy who can swing it like him with pick 1017 is a major scouting win. And he’s a local product to boot! Maybe one day we’ll see a Zunica/France platoon at Pecto.
Many of the pre-draft worries concerning OF Justin Pacchioli (304) — mainly that his questionable power would push his hit tool down against better pitching — seem to be showing up in pro ball so far, but the speedy, patient, and smart native of beautiful Allentown, Pennsylvania does enough well otherwise to stick as a big league prospect for years to come. I think there are some similarities between his game and that of 2012 Padres supplemental first round pick Travis Jankowski, who played his high school ball less than 90 minutes away from Pacchioli in the great city of Lancaster.
Topping him as a prospect is his own teammate at Lehigh, SR OF/C Justin Pacchioli. I stick the C in front of his name because he has seen some time behind the plate in the past and some think he could move back there as a pro, but since he’s athletic enough, quick enough, and instinctual enough to play average or better defense in center field then that’s probably the smartest path for now. As a hitter, I really like what Pacchioli can do going forward, so much so that I’ll be making the 90 minute trek without complaint to see him this year. His swing and feel for hitting check off all the boxes of what a “hitter” should look like for me, and his track record of success (especially from 2013 onward) is rock solid. I’m not sold on how much functional power he’ll ever hit for and lacking in that area can often cause a hit tool to play down once the competition improves, but I think there’s enough here to call for a steady organizational player with the ceiling of a useful backup outfielder at the highest level.
I’d personally like to see Pacchioli get converted to catcher because then he, Austin Allen, and Kyle Overstreet could race to see who could get improve the most defensively the quickest. That would be fun.
In some respects OF Josh Magee (332) brings a similar skill set to Pacchioli. He’s fast, above-average or better in center, and has a chance to be a high-contact hitter as he climbs the ladder. He also shares Pacchioli’s potential fatal flaw: a very low power ceiling. I tend to think of players like this as easy to like but tricky to love. The offensive margin for error is slim, but there’s more wiggle room for big league utility because of the speed and defense. A pet theory of mine that applies at least somewhat to Magee and Pacchioli (and circles back to Allen, Zunica, and France, all of whom fall under the first category: bat-first players get rewarded the most if they make it to the promised land, but advancement is difficult because it’s all-or-nothing; speed and defense players get more chances along the way, but have less ultimate ceiling (and are paid/generally valued accordingly) since, you know, hitting big is always going to be king. It’s worth pointing out that Magee was a multi-sport star in high school, so some of his rougher edges could get sanded away more quickly than assumed if he takes to the full-time baseball grind as hoped.
OF Aldemar Burgos is a well-rounded prospect with some pop who will take some time. The same could be said for OF Alan Garcia. That’s all I’ve got on them and I won’t pretend to know more.
SS Kodie Tidwell (296) is a good player. Getting a sure-handed middle infielder coming off a .300/.400/.500 (more or less) draft season in the 26th round shouldn’t happen. Some times I don’t really understand the MLB Draft process.
Louisiana-Monroe JR SS Kodie Tidwell is a patient, balanced hitter with all of the requisite defensive tools to stick at shortstop over the long haul. While Trahan was good from day one at Louisiana, Tidwell has slowly yet surely improved in all offensively phases since entering college.
I don’t know what the future holds for Tidwell any more than I do any other player, but the majority of his most favorable outcomes (in my view) feel realistic enough to make him a real prospect worth following as a pro. Maybe he winds up a capable enough shortstop to keep advancing as a utility infielder, maybe the bat plays enough that he’ll end up as an offensive second baseman, or maybe it doesn’t work much at all above AA. Even if you won’t give me equal odds on those outcomes and weight the last possibility more heavily, I’ll take my chances with that kind of player with his kind of track record. Huge steal in the 26th round.
On a similar note, I liked SS Peter Van Gansen (464) back in April…
As if this class needed another shortstop with the upside to one day start in the big leagues, here comes wildly underrated Cal Poly SS Peter Van Gansen and his steady glove, strong arm, and patient approach. He’s on the thin line between future utility player and potential regular right now, though his increased pop in 2015 could convince some teams he’ll hit enough to hold his own at the bottom of a lineup. I’m admittedly higher on him than most, but he checks enough of the boxes that teams like in potential backup infielders that I think he’ll wind up a valuable draft asset.
…and, wouldn’t you know, I still like him today. Relatively high-probability potential utility infielder with a little more upside than that if you believe in the bat, as I kind of do. Nice grab in the twelfth round.
LHP Nathan Foriest (60.3 GB%) is on the older side as a redshirt-senior out of Middle Tennessee State, but he’s missed enough bats in the past (10.41 K/9 his final college year) to have San Diego look past some of his run prevention flaws (9.00 ERA and 6.19 ERA his last two years of school) and believe his iffy control could be fixable with pro instruction. LHP Corey Hale checks both the big (6-7, 255) and ground ball inducing (50%) boxes that San Diego apparently was looking for.
Getting LHP Christian Cecilio back on the mound will be a nice boost for the Padres next season. The 22nd round pick brings a really strong college track record and enough stuff (upper-80s FB that looks faster thanks to a sneaky delivery) to track as a potential lefty reliever as a pro. Likewise, LHP Will Headean intrigues me as a potential back-end starting pitcher and/or middle reliever going forward. He fits the mold as a big (6-4, 200 pounds, slimmed down from 225ish) ground ball inducing (60.5 GB%) college arm. I had his fastball peaking at 89, but in short bursts it stands to add some real velocity, especially as he figures out how to better manipulate his “best shape of his life” body. His curve is already good enough to project as big league average, so you can see the pieces for a useful reliever coming into focus. LHP Jerry Keel has a similar story of getting himself into better shape as he’s now down to a fit and trim (such things are relative, right?) 6-6, 240 pounds. Brace yourselves: he also got a ton of ground ball outs (60.6 GB%) in his pro debut. Said ground ball outs fit in nicely with the scouting reports (86-92 FB with plus sink, good diving low-70s CB he keeps low in zone), so forecasting him as another potential middle relief piece only seems fair. RHP Phil Maton joins AJ Kennedy as a player who has made a mockery about the supposed difficulties of pro ball. That’s what a 16.0 K/9 (46 K%!) and 1.4 BB/9 in 32.2 IP (1.38 ERA) does. Maton had a solid track record to begin with (9.20 K/9 and 1.94 BB/9 in 88 senior year innings), so add him to the potential middle relief pile. RHP Braxton Lorenzini and RHP Elliot Ashbeck both could join the fun as sinker/slider relievers, though only the former has the early returns (54.8 GB%) to back up the reputed ground ball ways.
RHP Lou Distasio has his fans, but having seen him twice (one each the past two seasons) I don’t necessarily count myself as one of his bigger supporters. I’m not a scout, so consider that just one baseball fan’s take and nothing else. I only really bring it up to mention that, yes, he really does have his fans. Many more informed people than me think he could even keep starting as a pro. I guess I also bring it up as some kind of meta-commentary on the internet’s new weird obsession with seeing a player once (in this case twice, but still) and then declaring that what you saw is exactly what the guy is. There’s a reason why the real scouts make it a point to see a player multiple times across many months, internet. I’ve literally seen an internet scout argue with a quoted velocity figure from one of the reputable industry leaders because when he saw the guy he wasn’t throwing all that hard. Maybe instead of arguing and assuming nobody but yourself could possibly have accurate information, you ask questions and try to figure out why the pitcher wasn’t throw as hard as reported elsewhere on that given day? Anyway, I see Distasio as a big fastball-reliant future reliever who flashes big league stuff and, fan or not, is really nice value in the 32nd round.
RHP Blake Rogers in the 37th round (pick 1107!) feels like a steal. It also feels like another smart gamble for San Diego in grabbing a quality arm with control issues and having the confidence in their developmental staff to coach out the wild. Getting a college righthander with a fastball that can hit 94-95 this late (90-94 mostly) is worth it. Also: 65.5 GB% so far. RHP Nick Monroe (377) also falls under the legit stuff (88-92 FB, 94 peak; advanced CU; used to throw a nice CB, but ditched it in favor of a SL), but iffy control (4.83 BB/9 his junior year) player archetype. He also fits the “best shape of his life” type as he’s now down to 6-4, 235 (from 250ish).
I love the pick of RHP Trey Wingenter (139) in the 17th round; heck, I would have approved even if it was ten rounds higher. My stubborn insistence that big things are coming from him will now extend from before his junior year of college (below) to his first full pro season starting next spring…
Put me down as believing JR RHP Trey Wingenter is in store for a monster 2015 campaign. All of the pieces are there for a big season: legit fastball (88-94, 95/96 peak), a pair of breaking balls ranging from average (mid-70s CB) to better than that (mid-80s SL), an average or better CU, a very low-mileage arm (only 36 innings through two college seasons), and an imposing yet still projectionable 6-7, 200 pound frame.
His short-season debut was rough, but his peripherals were fine and he still managed to get those key ground ball outs (51.6 GB%) at a pace I’m sure the Padres liked to see. He’s still a baby when it comes to game experience on the mound with less than 100 innings on his right arm as a collegiate pitcher. Give him some time, coach him up, and let his natural talent shine through. Easy enough, right?
RHP Brett Kennedy is a personal favorite because it’s a law that I have to rep any pitcher born and raised in and around one of the finest beach towns in Jersey (Brigantine). It also doesn’t hurt his personal favorite status that I like him more today than I did pre-draft and I’m trying to make amends for underrating him then. The quick book on him: 90-94 FB, chance for above-average breaking ball, really good college track record (10.03 K/9 as junior), and good pro debut. Additionally, because I can’t resist keeping with the narrative, it should be noted that he’s one of the smaller guys drafted by the Padres (6-0, 200) and didn’t overwhelm with ground ball tendencies in his debut (46.7 GB%).
RHP Trevor Megill (227) is one of those just famous enough (been drafted and discussed before, high-profile Tommy John surgery survivor, brother also plays) college players that is easily identifiable to serious prospect fans as a draft sleeper. I get it: he’s big (6-8, 235…down from his college weight of 250, FWIW), throws a really tough to square up fastball (86-92, 94-95 peak) that he spots really well (especially for a big man), and has enough feel for a few secondary offerings (74-80 CB, 79-81 CU, 78-84 cut-SL) that you can see a starter’s future if it clicks. I think it adds up to a solid enough prospect that it’s fair value more than huge steal in the seventh round, but that’s not meant to take anything away from the promising big man. RHP Jordan Guerrero, the prospect drafted the round before Megill, is an arm strength pick that can miss bats with a heavy heater alone right now. He’s big (6-5, 260) and gets ground ball outs (57.8 GB%). Shocking, right?
We end with the two biggest names and best prospects selected by the Padres this year. While I’m not head-over-heels in love with either pick, both are damn solid additions and very fair values as second and third round picks. RHP Jacob Nix (75), the third rounder, is a sturdy, athletic potential mid-rotation workhorse who relies heavily on his 90-95 (97 peak) fastball. It’s a tad simplistic, but when he can command his best pitch, he’s very tough to hit…and when he can’t, fooling advanced hitters gets a whole lot harder. That’s true of any pitcher, but it’s more relevant for Nix than most. His fastball is lethal when on — enough smart people have said it elsewhere that I hesitate to call it underrated, but, man, fastball command is so damn important and so often breezed by when discussing pitching prospect futures — so he can almost (but not quite) get away with being a one-pitch starter. His fastball command is also really important to him at present because the big righty doesn’t have the kind of secondary stuff just yet to miss consistent bats, though I like his mid-80s changeup more than most neutral observers. I’m not sure what a potential plus fastball (with evolving command), an underrated but still underdeveloped changeup, and a chance for average breaking ball adds up to, but there’s enough natural talent here to dream on a solid number three starter or a late-inning relief ace.
San Diego’s first pick, RHP Austin Smith (84), set the tone for the type of pitcher the Padres seemed ready to target throughout the three day draft process. If you haven’t been beaten over the head at my subtle attempt at mentioning throughout, here you go: he’s big (6-4, 220) and capable of getting ground ball outs (56.5 GB%) at a premium clip. Much of what you’ve just read (hopefully) about Jacob Nix applies to Smith as well. Both guys have athletic, inning-eating frames that allow them to throw hard (88-94, 96 peak) while also showing off an impressive amount of feel for pitching. Smith has a a better breaking ball (77-81 CB with above-average upside), but not quite as polished a changeup at present. I’d hang similar ceilings on them as well, though there’s no trickier prospect for me to make guesses on than a young pitcher.
A full list of 2015 draft prospects selected by San Diego that fell in my pre-draft top 500…
75 – Jacob Nix
84 – Austin Smith
139 – Trey Wingenter
219 – Austin Allen
227 – Trevor Megill
296 – Kodie Tidwell
304 – Justin Pacchioli
332 – Josh Magee
365 – Ty France
377 – Nick Monroe
464 – Peter Van Gansen
This might make me look rather foolish, but the best position player drafted by Tampa was not the guy they took in the first round with the thirteenth overall pick. Nothing against Garrett Whitley (we’ll get to him soon enough), but my favorite pick by the Rays is 2B Brandon Lowe (24). Let’s see what past-me has to say about him…
I’ve noticed that I sometimes struggle when writing about players, hitters especially, that I really like. It’s almost like I don’t know what to say other than I just really, really like him. I just really, really like Maryland rSO 2B Brandon Lowe. His tools don’t jump out at you, but they aren’t half-bad, either: lots of tools in the 45 to 55 range including his glove at second, arm strength, and foot speed. It’s the bat, of course, that makes him an all-caps FAVORITE. Lowe’s hit tool is no joke
Watching Lowe hit is a joy. There’s plenty of bat speed, consistent hard contact from barrel to ball, and undeniable plus pitch recognition. His ability to make adjustments from at bat to at bat and his impressive bat control make him a potentially well above-average big league hitter. And he just flat produces at every stop. He reminds me a good deal of an old favorite, Tommy La Stella. One scout who knew I liked Lowe to an almost unhealthy degree threw a Nick Punto (bat only) comp on him. Most fans would probably take that as an insult, but we both knew it was a compliment. Punto, love him or hate him, lasted 14 years in the big leagues and made over $20 million along the way. Punto’s best full seasons (2006 and 2008) serve as interesting goal posts for what Lowe could do if/when he reaches the top of the mountain. In those years Punto hit around .285/.350/.375. In today’s game that’s a top ten big league hitter at second base. Maybe I’m not crazy enough to project a top ten at his position future for Lowe, but he’ll make an outstanding consolation prize for any team who misses/passes on Alex Bregman, the consensus top college second base prospect, this draft. I’m also not quite crazy enough to think Lowe’s draft ceiling will match that of another similar prospect (Tony Renda of Cal, who went 80th overall in 2012), but the skill sets share a lot of commonalities.
The draft ceiling comp (80) worked out pretty well with Lowe going 87th overall, though you might argue that Renda’s subsequent pro career is a cautionary tale about the difficulty of making it as a true second base prospect. If I had to guess, I could see Tampa attempting to stretch Lowe defensively some to see if he can handle shortstop in a pinch. That obviously would up his floor to a utility future, which would be nice especially to those who don’t believe in him as a future regular at second. I sure as heck do, as you can read from my pre-season take…
It should come as no shock to any long-time reader that rSO 2B Brandon Lowe is my kind of ballplayer. His physical tools skew closer to average than not (glove, arm, speed, raw power), but the man has a knack for consistent hard contact that can’t be taught. He also has a tremendous batting eye that often puts him in good hitting counts. It’s a really tough profile to get too excited about — offensive second basemen who can’t really run are not typically seen as prospects by anybody — but I believe in the bat (.348/.464/.464 with 34 BB/20 K in 181 AB last year) enough to think he’s got a real chance to make it. He’s obviously not the best position player prospect in the ACC this year, but he’s definitely my favorite.
My enthusiasm got the best of me as I completely spaced out on Maryland moving to the Big 10, but the rest of the analysis is what I wanted to get across. Lowe is a FAVORITE for a lot of reasons (clearly), but one of the things I like best is his ability to look good even on a bad night. He can finish a disappointing 0-3 in the box score, but still impress with how he battles throughout at bats, works deep counts, and makes the opposing pitcher reveal all of his secrets. That’s my kind of hitter. I’m anxiously looking forward to his pro debut next season.
While Lowe healed up, other “second basemen” had a chance to make their mark on the Tampa brass this summer. 2B Brett Sullivan (182) and 2B Jacob Cronenworth (208) both ranked among my favorite mid-tier college infielders in this year’s class. I had Sullivan way higher than his draft position (300+ spots) and Cronenworth right on the nose (208 and 208!). Technically announced as a second basemen on draft day, Sullivan actually wound up playing third base over 98% of his innings for Princeton. This further muddles the defensive picture that was already plenty muddled to begin with…
Pacific JR SS/OF Brett Sullivan is an all-caps FAVORITE of mine who compares favorably to Holder in many areas of the game. The one great big obvious difference between the two is defensive projection. I’m obviously confident in Holder being a damn fine defensive shortstop in the big leagues, but I can’t say the same with much certainty about Sullivan. I mean this literally: I can’t say it with certainty because I straight up don’t know right now.
I still don’t know enough about Sullivan the defender to make a knowledgeable claim about his long-term home. Maybe it’s 2B, maybe it’s 3B, maybe it’s in the outfield somewhere: I have no clue. Most likely, it’ll be a combination of all those spots as he attempts to hit his way towards a utility spot down the line. Cronenworth — who, thanks to the best show on television Rick and Morty, I now think of as Cronenberg — hit very well in his debut run in the NYPL. The two-way star from Michigan (he’s a legit prospect on the mound with three average or better pitches and all the expected athleticism) is another player that has enough bat and glove to profile as a really intriguing utility player (he’s played lots of 2B and some SS already). I actually think there could be even more than that, as putting the energy and attention formerly paid to pitching 50ish innings a year can now be applied towards improving as a hitter and fielder. Like Lowe and Sullivan before him, Cronenworth is an all-caps FAVORITE.
Sullivan played third base at Princeton while 2B Blake Butera manned the keystone. A few words on the BC product from late May…
I remain weirdly into Blake Butera as a late-round senior that could hang around pro ball a few years based on his glove, approach, and makeup.
I stand by that, though his lack of discernible pop will obviously impede his progress as pitching continues to improve around him. Despite his limitations, he’s still not a bad org player to land in the 35th round.
All credit to Tampa for correctly gauging the signability of C Chris Betts (36) and getting a deal done this summer. He joins Brandon Lowe and Garrett Whitley as first round offensive talents landed by the Rays with their first three picks. Is that good? It seems good. Betts slipped for reasons of signability and health, but he’s a potential impact regular if it all comes together.
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.
The obvious head-to-head comparison of Betts and Tyler Stephenson generated some strong opinions throughout the spring. Eventually, Stephenson claimed the top spot on draft day, on this site’s board, and the vast majority of pro boards. I made note of the debate back when it was at its peak…
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.
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.
As previously mentioned, the upside of Stephenson did eventually win the day. That doesn’t mean Betts is without considerable upside in his own right. Greg Bird as a catcher is a seriously valuable player, though the growing pains young catchers go through will mean we’re all going to have to be patient on this one.
I realize that C Danny De la Calle was a senior sign brought in on the cheap ($7,500!) in the ninth round, but I still don’t really get it. I love and appreciate defense as much as the next guy, but…
The high hopes I had for SR C Daniel De La Calle heading into last year were quickly dashed by his struggles at the plate (.224/.315/.241). He’s still so good behind the dish that a professional future can’t be ruled out, but even a pro backup has to hit a little bit.
Somewhat predictably, De la Calle’s 10 BB/57 K ratio as a senior in the ACC translated to a 3 BB/45 K in the NYPL. There’s no need to rush to judgment on a 134 PA sample (.164/.201/.258, by the way), but it’s hardly an aberration based on his larger track record. I don’t enjoy knocking the pick because a) I don’t ever enjoy knocking a pick, and b) I almost always jump up and down with excitement when discussing the intangible value of adding good people who provide veteran leadership (as Baseball America notes, De la Calle is bilingual) to younger minor league teammates, but the ninth round was just too early for a guy who won’t hit enough to get out of AA. Future manager? Sure. Future big league catcher? Highly doubtful.
I don’t know what to say about OF Garrett Whitley (38) that surely hasn’t already been said elsewhere, on this site or on the internet at large. Here’s the old stuff on him…
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 cover 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.
Taking Whitley at thirteen seems just late enough to be reasonable considering his ceiling, but there’s a reason why I was told he was “the most likely prospect to make or break an executive’s career” this spring. A quick look back through the archives confirms that he’s one of the rawest top twenty picks in recent memory. Reasonable minds may disagree, but I’d put him on the same level as guys like Austin Meadows and Tim Anderson (2013), DJ Davis (2012), Bubba Starling (2011), and Donavan Tate (2009). The last name is the one that intrigues me most because Tate was seen as a player “too toolsy to fail” in some circles. I don’t mean to suggest that anybody believed he’d be a slam dunk impact big league player, but he was so fast (plus-plus speed) and so graceful in center and so athletic and so confident that it seemed almost hard to believe he’d not at least stay afloat professionally as he worked on what needed to be done in the batter’s box. Nobody drafts a player with a top twenty pick hoping for a fifth outfielder/defensive replacement/pinch-runner, but that was the reasonable floor for Tate…and for Whitley. With that as a floor and an Adam Jones type as a ceiling, the pick begins to make more sense. Still, even with the acknowledgement that I’m perhaps more risk-adverse in the first round than I ought to be, I don’t think I could have pulled the trigger on Whitley this early, especially considering the talent still on the board. If you wanted boom/bust, there was Kolby Allard (I disagree with him being boom/bust, just passing along the narrative that stuck with him this spring for some reason) and Brady Aiken. If you wanted a HS OF with upside, there was Trent Clark and Nick Plummer. If you wanted an up-the-middle defender, you could have gone with Richie Martin or Kevin Newman. Years of watching the Phillies emphasize tools over skills with first round picks has scarred me for life. Grab the toolsy guys in rounds 2-40, but pass on the Greg Golsons and Anthony Hewitts of the world in round one; get me a little bit of security with a real ballplayer (I can’t believe I wrote that…I’ve become my father) in the first.
The obvious counter to all of this is that Whitley is a far more developed prospect than given credit for (Tampa loved him so much they took him 13th, after all) and much of the speculation about his rawness is based on dated information that has been slow to change because so few in the media were able to see him up close this spring. Furthermore, guys with big tools are awesome and far more likely to turn into game-altering superstars than the supposedly safer, often older, and almost always less exciting prospects I claim to prefer. Completely valid points. All of this things must be considered when drafting until a proper balance of risk/reward/upside/certainty is achieved. That’s how the Whitley pick can be defended even by somebody who may not love the player. Tampa managed to steal Brandon Lowe, Chris Betts, Joe McCarthy, and Devin Davis, all top 100 prospects according to this silly site, in addition to adding Whitley. That’s diversification in the form of bats: college second baseman, college outfielder, high school catcher, high school first basemen, and high school outfielder. If one of Lowe or McCarthy strike you as the type of safe-ish prospect I’ve described above, then think of Whitley as that second or third round lottery ticket that is needed to swing the draft but could absolutely do so if he pans out.
Short version: I wouldn’t have done it, but I’m glad a smart organization with a well-regarded developmental program — recent iffy results with hitters notwithstanding — saw something in him to give him a first round opportunity.
OF Joe McCarthy (73), a borderline first round talent in his own right, showed more functional speed than expected in his first crack at pro ball. After stealing 25 bases over his entire college career, McCarthy went out and stole 18/21 bags in his debut 49 game season at Hudson Valley. The strong success rate lines up with his college numbers (25/27) and his physical ability (above-average to plus times to first), so it’s less major shocker than one of those quirks that make following up on recent draftees fun. In more relevant news — not to say that McCarthy being a threat on the bases isn’t relevant — Tampa’s selection of McCarthy begins to make it seem like there’s some Moneyball-ish underlying thinking in this draft. Chris Betts, Brandon Lowe, and Joe McCarthy all arguably fell further in the draft than their talent warranted because of injuries. With none of the injuries looking like they’d cause long-term problems, Tampa’s approach is a textbook example of scooping up depressed assets at their lowest point.
McCarthy is a great athlete who can hit, run, and work deep counts. He’s a natural left fielder, a fact that is both good (since he’s damn good out there) and not so good (more pressure on the bat since he can’t play center). He has a ways to go towards figuring out how to unlock his power (swing and mentality, mostly), though his frame (6-4, 225) suggests the kind of natural strength that can put balls in the gaps and beyond if it clicks.
OF Landon Cray (493) walked 58 times the past two college season with just 22 strikeouts. I’m in. He played mostly left field in his pro debut in deference to Zacrey Law, but he’s more than capable in center with plus speed and keen instincts. I’ve comped him to an old favorite, Tyler Holt, in the past, so a fourth outfielder upside doesn’t feel out of reach. I thought OF David Olmedo-Barrera might return to Cal State Fullerton for a senior season, but the junior with just enough power, speed, and strength to remain interesting opted to sign.
1B Devin Davis (85) is a dude. He’s not yet THE dude — that’s taken — but I liked him a lot before the draft and I love the idea of signing him after waiting all the way until round 25 to take a shot. Here was the pre-draft take…
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.
Despite those nice words, I really don’t know what to make of Davis. I like him, sure, but my crystal ball is cloudy beyond that. Figuring out which way high school first basemen will turn out in the pro game remains the biggest mystery in scouting for me. If you’re good at it, contact your local big league franchise immediately and inquire about their willingness to have you volunteer and assist an area scout. Assuming you’re cool with being paid in swag, of course.
OF Kewby Meyer (390) was announced as an outfielder, but he’s a first basemen through and through. The gap between my view on Meyer (390!) and his draft position (1108) is as wide as any I can recall so far, but I stand by my belief that the Nevada product is a wildly underrated hitter with great feel for the strike zone and above-average raw power. He’s not the biggest, he’s not the strongest, and he’s certainly not the fastest, but if he can fake it some in the outfield corners he could make it as a lefty bench bat. That’s something.
3B Matt Dacey (338) split his time in his pro debut at first and third; needless to say, if he can hold his on at the hot corner then he goes from nice value pick as a 21st round pick to straight steal. Even as a first baseman, I like him. From before the season…
There are also an unusual number of potential power bats in the conference; arguably none are better than rSO 1B Matt Dacey (Richmond). His relative inexperience gives hope that he’ll make strides in terms of approach, which would in turn help him further unlock his prodigious raw power. He mashed last year even as he showed signs of that aforementioned raw approach, so the sky is the limit for him as a hitter as he gains experience.
The power is big and it plays. Like Meyer, a fair upside guess would be a platoon player or a bench bat capable of holding down both first and third. At pick 628, why not?
16.34, 10.10, 10.20, and 10.49. Those are the K/9’s of the four college relievers taken by Tampa in rounds four, eight, ten, and eleven. When last I looked at the best of that group, RHP Brandon Koch (129), he was striking out 18.98 batters per nine. And I said this…
There are a lot of good, quick-moving relievers in college baseball – there always are – but Koch might be the best of the bunch when it’s all said and done.
Pretty sure that holds up today. Koch could pitch in the big leagues next year if that’s the path Tampa wants to take with him. His stuff jumped up across the board last season (from 88-94 FB to 93-98; more consistently plus to plus-plus 82-90 cut-SL) and his control, the biggest concern many had in terms of his on-field skill set, showed some signs of improving as a pro.
RHP Reece Karalus (298) pitched in the same Hudson Valley bullpen as Koch after signing. His fastball velocity doesn’t quite match Koch’s, but the silly movement he gets on the pitch levels the playing field. Add that to a plus slider — not quite as good nor hard as Koch’s, but pretty damn good in its own right — and you’ve got a keeper.
Santa Clara JR RHP Reece Karalus is a classic sinker/slider arm that adds a fun wrinkle to the archetype with his plus command and plus control. He’s too good to call a sleeper, but between the way he misses bats, gets ground balls (presumably…would love to dig up the numbers on him), and limits walks he could be a shockingly quick mover once he hits the pro game.
Fastball, slider, command, control. What more can you ask for out of a reliever? RHP Sam Triece has the first two parts down (90-95 FB, above-average 82-84 SL) while he works on the last two. Then there’s RHP Ian Gibaut (421). I like Ian Gibaut.
Forgive me if I copy/paste that paragraph whenever Dillon Tate, Carson Fulmer, and Tyler Jay are brought up this spring. For now, the logic presented above applies to JR RHP Ian Gibaut, who has excelled as a college reliever since first stepping foot on campus at Tulane in 2013. There’s no reason to believe that Gibaut’s success as an amateur reliever would slow down in any way as he transitions to pro ball this summer. Still, I’d be tempted to stretch him out and see how his stuff holds up as a starter. My desire to see him work in a starter’s role isn’t so great that I’d kill a team for thinking he’ll be best in the bullpen as a professional; if anything, it’s more of a selfish curiosity to see what a college reliever with the build, arm action (in my amateur view), and diverse enough set of pitches (above-average 75-78 CB, upper-70s CU that flashes plus [others like it less and I’ll at least acknowledge it’s an inconsistent pitch at present], and hard mid-80s SL) could do in a more taxing role. I’ve heard but not seen firsthand that Gibaut’s velocity is the type that plays up in short bursts, so keeping him in the bullpen would seem to be a perfectly reasonable course of action. If that winds up being how it plays out, then don’t be surprised when Gibaut winds up as one of this year’s fastest moving college relief prospects.
I’m glad he stuck in the bullpen. Some guys are just better there. Let him pump his mid-90s heat in shorter outings and watch him climb the ladder quickly. Speaking of moving quickly, before the draft Koch (“quick-moving”), Karalus (“shockingly quick mover”), and Gibaut (“one of this year’s fastest moving”) were all identified as being particularly close to the big leagues. Much like the double-digit K/9’s quoted above, I think we might have a bit of a trend on our hands here. I love using non-premium picks — you could argue the fourth rounder spent on Koch was “premium,” but he’s really good so I can live with it — on players who have demonstrated a high probability of moving quickly through a system and helping out the big league club in a peripheral way sooner rather than later. Filling out the margins of one’s roster with young, cost-controlled talent at positions of lesser importance (bench bats and middle relief) allows for the big bucks to go elsewhere. And if one of those middle relievers turns into a shutdown closer, so much the better.
As much as I like the closer-upside of Koch, my favorite pitcher (by a hair) drafted by Tampa this year is RHP Benton Moss (136). Maybe he winds up in the bullpen in the long run, but he should be tried as a starter until there’s no doubt remaining that he should move to relief. It’s next to impossible to try to predict the next mostly unheralded arm to break out in a major way — I’m thinking of guys like Keuchel, deGrom, and Kluber here — but I’ll throw Benton Moss out there as a name that years from now people will look back and wonder how he got this good.
I’m shocked that I haven’t written much if at all about SR RHP Benton Moss on the site already because I really think the world of him as a prospect. Off the top of my head, I’d have him as the country’s best senior sign pitching prospect. Smart, athletic, competitive, dependable, and with an arm that can crank it to 95 when he needs to, Moss has all the components of a legitimate big league starting pitcher. He’s added to this repertoire over time (most notably two similar yet distinct pitches: a low- to mid-80s slider and a mid-80s cutter) and can now throw any one of four to five pitches (above-average mid-70s CB and upper-70s CU as well) for strikes in any given count. I have no feel at all for when he’ll be selected this June — his big senior season has to help boost his stock, though his recent arm woes (which he’s come back from, but still) could scare some teams off — but I have the feeling that he’ll wind up a really good value for a really happy team.
RHP Tyler Brashears seems like a guy who could see his stuff tick up a bit after moving to the bullpen as a pro. His success as a starter at Hawaii (1.85 ERA in 101 IP) might be enough to keep him in a rotation, but an extra tick or two to his 87-92 FB (93 peak) and a little added sharpness to an already above-average to plus 76-82 breaking ball could make him dangerous in short bursts. RHP Justin Marsden looks like a really smart overslot signing in round 22. He’s got two average or better pitches already (88-92 FB, 93 peak; mid-70s CB that flashes plus) and the frame to put on a bit more weight. RHP Bryan Bonnell is a big guy (6-5, 200) coming off such a disaster of a junior season (7.39 ERA in 28 IP) that you just know he’s got the kind of good stuff that can get that overlooked. He’s armed with a fastball that lives between 88-92 and a splitter that could grow into an out-pitch in time. His selection intrigues me because of how different his college track record (i.e., not good) is from the majority of the arms drafted by Tampa.
South Florida 2B/SS Kyle Teaf, personal favorite college infielder of mine, was also drafted by Tampa. He’s passing up his shot in pro ball to pursue a career in medical device sales. I’m not sure why I find that so cool, but I do. Whether he’s chasing his own unique dream or believing he’s making a pragmatic mature decision about his long-term future or something else altogether, best of luck to him going forward.
Here are the signed Tampa prospects that ranked on my pre-draft top 500…
24 – Brandon Lowe
36 – Chris Betts
38 – Garrett Whitley
73 – Joe McCarthy
85 – Devin Davis
129 – Brandon Koch
136 – Benton Moss
182 – Brett Sullivan
208 – Jacob Cronenworth
298 – Reece Karalus
338 – Matt Dacey
390 – Kewby Meyer
421 – Ian Gibaut
493 – Landon Cray
I’ve done all of this so far in a non-linear way, jumping from player to player with only the slightest bit of organizational thought spent on an attempt to go around the diamond by position at times. Minnesota’s draft has inspired me to actually take a closer look at their top ten round picks in order. I just like their top ten rounds that much.
1.6 LHP Tyler Jay
My only real question with LHP Tyler Jay (5) going forward is how Minnesota is planning on handling him. That’s a testament both to how confident I am in his ability to pitch effectively at the big league level (and soon) and how uncertain I am about how the Twins honestly perceive his long-term role. He’s currently on track to start next year in AA and I see no reason why he won’t be up in the big leagues by early to mid-summer, but the starter or reliever question remains an open one. Personally, I’m all-in on Jay as a starter as you can read about in my in-season take below; he wouldn’t be ranked as the fifth overall draft prospect if I thought he’d be a reliever professionally. The Twins, however, have yet to ask me what I think, so where I see him heading holds no bearing on reality. I’ll assume Minnesota also views him as a starting pitching prospect since they took him with the sixth overall pick. There is, however, a wrinkle. Read on and see (or skip past the quoted text and I’ll give the short version)…
Even though I included him in the tier with Fulmer, Funkhouser, and Bickford and ranked him in the seven spot on my “preseason” draft rankings, I still think I’ve given short shrift to Tyler Jay. It’s fairly stunning to me that so much was made before the year by many (Keith Law, most famously) about UCSB’s curious decision to leave Dillon Tate in the bullpen, but I haven’t heard one peep about Jay’s usage. We all know by now that a last minute injury opened the door for Tate to start and the script has more or less written itself since then. What I don’t understand is how quiet the internet has been concerning Jay, a wildly talented young lefthander left to pitch only in short, unpredictable outings as Illinois’ closer. I’m not particularly interested in getting into the moral debate about what is best for the player versus what will most benefit the team (fine, real quick here’s my non-morals, all-baseball take: it’s crazy not to start a pitcher like Jay if the pitcher can in fact start), but I’d really like to see a potential first round player play on a regular schedule that would more easily allow as many well-earned eyeballs on him as possible. It’s nuts that literally everybody I’ve talked to, most everything I’ve read, and my own dumb intuition/common sense hybrid approach to this kind of thing (four pitches? great athlete? repeatable delivery?) point towards Jay entering pro ball as a starting pitcher despite never getting an opportunity to take the mound in the first inning in three years of college. If he’s good enough to start professionally three months from now, then he’s damn sure good enough to start in the Big 10. (This is the part where I’ll at least mention that Illinois’ pitching staff is loaded and whatever the coaches want to do with their team is their call. Still, for both short-term [Jay is awesome, so give him more innings] and long-term [Jay getting more innings will show everybody he is awesome, he’ll go higher in the draft because of it, and you can tell recruits you had a guy go top five rather than top twenty-five] reasons, I’d think the decision to start your best pitcher would be a no-brainer. I won’t kill them because it’s quite possible that the Illini coaching staff has information about Jay’s ability to start [relative to his teammates, if nothing else] that we don’t know from the outside looking in. Either that or they are being irrational and buying into old school baseball tropes that will only make their team worse anyway. Where were we?) If Jay goes as high as his raw talent merits (he’s easily a first round pick), then we’re talking about a college reliever being drafted right into a professional rotation. Such a move feels unprecedented to me; a quick check back through the archives reveals only one other similar first round case in the six drafts I’ve covered in depth since starting the site. The only first round college reliever drafted with the idea of converting him to the rotation professionally was Chris Reed. More on that from back in November 2011…
As one of the most divisive 2011 MLB Draft prospects, Stanford LHP Chris Reed will enter his first full season of pro ball with plenty to prove. He could make me look very stupid for ranking him as low as I did before the draft (200th overall prospect) by fulfilling the promise of becoming a serious starting pitching prospect as a professional. I don’t doubt that he can start as he has the three-pitch mix, frame, and mechanics to do so; I just question whether or not he should start. Advocating for time spent in the bullpen is not something I often do, but Reed’s stuff, especially his fastball, just looks so much better in shorter stints. Of course, he might grow into a starter’s role in time. I like that he’s getting innings to straighten out his changeup and command sooner rather than later. Ultimately, however, Reed is a reliever for me; a potentially very good reliever, mind, but a reliever all the same. Relievers are valuable, but the demand for their work shouldn’t match up with the sixteenth overall pick in a loaded draft.
I swear I didn’t copy/paste that just because it’s one of my few predictions to have held up really well so far. I mean, that was a big part of it, sure, but not the only reason. I guess I just find the case of Jay continuously flying just under the radar to be more bizarre than anything. I’m almost at the point where I’m starting to question what negatives I’m missing. A smart team in the mid- to late-first round is going to get a crazy value when Jay inevitably slips due to the unknown of how he’ll hold up as a starter. Between his extreme athleticism, a repertoire bursting at the seams with above-average to plus offerings (plus FB, above-average CB that flashes plus, above-average SL that flashes plus, average or better CU with plus upside), and dominant results to date at the college level (reliever or not), there’s little doubt in my mind that Jay can do big things in a big league rotation sooner rather than later. There two questions that will need to be answered as he gets stretched out as a starter will be how effective he’ll be going through lineups multiple times (with the depth of his arsenal I’m confident he’ll be fine here) and how hot his fastball will remain (and how crisp his breaking stuff stays) when pitch counts climb. That’s a tough one to answer at the present moment, but the athleticism, balance, and tempo in Jay’s delivery give me hope.
It’s hard to mention Jay without also mentioning Tate (multiple times, apparently), the fastest rising of this year’s college group of starter/reliever question marks (Carson Fulmer being the third). Tate’s turn in the rotation this year has allowed him to begin to answer all of those questions emphatically in the positive. His fastball has dipped some late in games so far this year (95-98 early to 91-93 late), but that’s less of a problem when you’re already starting at easy plus to plus-plus velocities; we should all be so lucky to throw in the low-90s when tired. Jay has shown similar velocity to Tate so far out of the bullpen (mid- to upper-90s), so even knocking a few MPHs off his peaks in short bursts would allow his fastball to play at a more than acceptable level in the pros. Just because Tate has done it obviously doesn’t mean Jay is a lock to do it when he gets his chance, but it’s a nice parallel to draw from two fairly similarly talented prospects.
To reiterate (or to mention it to anybody who wisely skipped that wall of text): the only first round college reliever drafted with the intention of converting to the starting rotation since I began the site in 2009 is Chris Reed. I’ve long argued that draft precedent is overrated — factors that typically create precedent don’t really apply to the act of drafting, especially as more forward-thinking front offices take power — but the complete lack of recent historical successful attempt (or any attempt, really) to convert a reliever to a starter is striking. It might sound crazy, but I’m a little concerned that the Twins will give into peer-pressure (like managers who are afraid to go against “The Book”) and take the easy, safe way out with Jay in the bullpen.
A worthwhile recent example to consider, for better or worse, is Brett Cecil. Cecil came out of the pen in 66 of his 74 college appearances at Maryland including 28 of 30 times in his draft year. He then went right into the rotation as a pro and remained a starting pitcher through his first three big league seasons. After a disappointing third season in the rotation, Toronto opted to return him to the pen starting in 2012. That’s where he’s lived since. There’s a happy ending now that Cecil has established himself as one of baseball’s nastier lefthanded relievers — something I’m sure Jay could match if it came to it — but there’s a part of me that wonders if the Jays pulled the plug on him as a starter too soon. I know there are injury questions with him and the not insignificant matter of some guys having stuff that plays up above and beyond in the short bursts, but Cecil’s peripherals as a starting pitcher were decent. They weren’t anywhere as good as he is as a reliever, but an argument for more patience for a lefty with 6.45 K/9 and 3.13 BB/9 as a starter can be made.
That said, three years watching a pitcher up close get the ball every fifth day is ample time to come up with a decision on his future. I’d be thrilled if Jay got three seasons in a big league rotation to show everybody how good he really is. If that happens, I think he seizes a job and keeps it until he’s ready to hang ’em up. If it doesn’t happen, then I’m really not sure Minnesota had quite the long-term vision required for a team drafting such a unique prospect. Let him start. Watch him do number two starter things.
2.73 RHP Kyle Cody
I didn’t love the pick of Chris Paul, as you’ll soon read. I also don’t fully understand Sean Miller in the tenth, but questioning picks down close to anything that starts with a 3 and ends in multiple digits is nit-picky even for me. Those two aside, the Twins top ten rounds are a thing of beauty. They checked almost every box: quick-moving college arm, well-rounded high school standouts, a power lefty and a finesse lefty, a slugger with arguably the best raw power in his class, and a college bat off to as good a pro debut as even the most enthusiastic supporter could hope. It’s a diverse blend of talent — 2 college arms, 1 HS arm, 3 college bats, 3 HS bats — that shows exactly what a team can do with a little scouting creativity. The big bummer here is the math involved: 2 + 1 + 3 + 3 = 9. Signing nine out of your top ten isn’t necessarily a killer, but whiffing on your second round pick hurts a whole heck of a lot.
Missing out on RHP Kyle Cody (66, unsigned) isn’t so much about Cody himself, but about the wasted opportunity to add somebody. The Twins are on the verge of another nice long run of sustained success, so maximizing early picks while you still are in a spot to get them is more important than ever. As for the player in question, Cody will return to Kentucky for a senior season. It’s a lazy but unmistakable comp, but Cody reminds me of a less explosive Alex Meyer with a better shot to continue starting as a pro. He’ll give pro ball a try next June.
3.80 3B Travis Blankenhorn
4.110 3B Trey Cabbage
Getting 3B Travis Blankenhorn (99) and 3B Trey Cabbage (104) with back-to-back picks is really nice. Both struggled some in their pro debuts — less so Blankenhorn, both in terms of raw numbers and contextually (he was a level ahead) — but retain plenty of their pre-draft future big league regular sheen. I saw Blankenhorn this spring and had this to say…
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.
Neither Blankenhorn nor Cabbage profile as big power bats, but the well-roundedness fundamental to both of their overall games makes them very appealing prospects. I’ve long advocated for “stacking” at draft positions (e.g., following the selection of a HS catcher early with a mid-round college catcher) and the Twins took it to another level with two high school third basemen in a row. The one year age gap between the two — something to keep in mind now that I didn’t pay close enough attention to pre-draft — should help the two progress at different levels throughout the system, as will the positional versatility (Blankenhorn played 3B, SS, LF, and 1B; Cabbage played 3B, SS, LF, and RF) both men possess. You’d still want both to stay at the hot corner as long as possible, obviously, though getting them at bats at a level appropriate for their hitting ability should be the top priority at the moment. The expectation here is that both players could one day hit enough to be big league regulars; more realistically, by taking two similarly talented prospects this early, the Twins tilted the odds in their favor of getting at least one long-term keeper. Job well done.
5.140 LHP Alex Robinson
LHP Alex Robinson (213) in bad haiku form…
kind of young for class
northeast arm out of New York
so far, yeah, it shows
Robinson keeps with recent Twins history as a power-armed reliever who looks like a shutdown reliever when it all works. The problem with Robinson is that those times when it all works are too few and far between. Arm strength lefties with deception and his temperament (“pitches like a closer” was a remark I heard this spring) don’t grown on trees, so the thought process behind the pick is sound. If pro instruction can help Robinson find something in his delivery or approach that helps upgrade his control from dangerous to effectively wild, he’s a future late-inning reliever. Even improving his command a touch — he’s a classic case of a guy with a fastball that moves so much that it vacillates between a great pitch and a useless one — would make him a viable big league pitcher. I tend to think that’s what will happen here, but it’s going to take time and perhaps a few different organizations before it clicks for him.
6.170 OF Chris Paul
I’ve been the low guy on OF Chris Paul (273) for some time now, but it’s nice to see him get off to a nice start in pro ball. I still don’t see a big league future for him — he’s more senior season mirage than accomplished college bat and I question his patience and long-term defensive home as a pro — though he’s already exceeded my modest expectations for him, so who knows. I mentioned pre-draft that I would have loved to see his drafting team give him an honest shot at second or third before shipping him more permanently to first or a corner outfield spot. He dabbled at third (3 games), so maybe there’s hope for him as a funky utility player yet.
7.200 LHP Jovani Moran
The first of three high school prospects taken out of Puerto Rico, LHP Jovani Moran is a crafty young lefty with solid stuff (86-90 FB, chance for average mid-70s CB) and a little bit of growth left. You can debate the merits of the actual pick all you’d like, but I’m most excited by the Twins flexing their international scouting muscle beyond the scope of the international free agency period. Minnesota does international free agency exceptionally well (with not enough fanfare, I’d say), so it only makes sense to utilize some of the same personnel to potentially unearth some underscouted gems from outside the continental US during the draft.
8.230 1B Kolton Kendrick
Plus to plus-plus raw power with a questionable approach that might make it difficult for him to ever hit enough to tap into said power. That was the pre-draft Twitter-sized scouting report on the bat of 1B Kolton Kendrick (87). Then he went out and had one of the weirder debuts I’ve seen: .200/.371/.271 with 18 BB/24 K in 89 PA. So that’s surprising plate discipline with minimal power…got it. It should go without saying that 89 PA doesn’t render the scouting reports obsolete, so consider the preceding bit more amusing aside than cogent point about Kendrick’s professional future. Weird pro start or not, I remain high on him as a hitter. It took me almost all spring to get there, but power like his is so hard to find that I’m not sure why a team wouldn’t at least considering him in round three or so. Getting him all the way down in round eight is a major draft victory for Minnesota. It’s clearly a high boom/bust profile (not entirely dissimilar to Greg Pickett, taken just four picks later by the Phillies) to gamble on, but impossible to dislike as it was done at the perfect time.
9.260 OF LaMonte Wade
OF LaMonte Wade (134) is coming off as good as a debut as I’ve noticed so far, especially in terms of non-first round players. He consistently showed off all of what made him great throughout his run at Maryland in the Appalachian League: power, patience, speed, and defense. I thought before the draft that he profiled as somebody with enough ability to make it as an everyday player and nothing he’s done on the field since has changed my mind. At worst, I think you’re getting an elite fourth outfielder who tears up righthanders and is capable of playing all three outfield spots (and first base!) at a high level. I’m bullish on his future as a regular.
10.290 SS Sean Miller
As much as I value a good glove, I have a hard time using a top ten round pick on a player that will never approach an honest big league caliber bat. That’s how I see SS Sean Miller: big-time glove, small-time bat. The usual caveat that Miller hits better than 99.99% of the general population applies, of course, but that .01% represents his direct competition going forward. I get a little bit of an Emmanuel Marrero (7th round pick last year) vibe from him. I could be wrong, of course. John McDonald played 16 seasons and made over $13 million on the strength of a plus glove alone.
For as much as I praised Minnesota’s top ten selections (nine signed, technically), rounds eleven to forty were a bit underwhelming. There are a few hidden gems (hopefully), but anecdotally the talent here doesn’t match what other teams were able to pull. I realize the constricting rules of draft signing slots likely has something to do with it, but at the end of the day I only care about the talent brought in, however it may have been accomplished. It’s not a bad group by any stretch — I’d put the over/under on future big league players here at 2.5, which is pretty damn all right all things considered — so let’s get into it.
We’ll start off with some good news in the way of two power-hitting college guys who ranked in my top 500. 1B Zander Wiel (229) was a nice find as a 12th round pick (350 overall) with above-average to plus raw power, ample physicality, and a decent approach. Like Ziel, C AJ Murray (456) has big raw power. In fact, the two had very similar college numbers at big time programs (Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech respectively). Despite my pre-draft rankings, I think you could easily flip-flop Wiel and Murray as prospects; Murray’s pedigree intrigues me to no end and the Twins willingness to try him behind the plate again has me back on the bandwagon. He’s such a great athlete that I have a hard time betting against him.
OF Daniel Kihle has more swing-and-miss in his game for a player of his type, but his tools are impressive enough that he’ll have a long pro career even if he doesn’t clean up the approach. He has a plus arm, above-average speed, and average or better raw power. Not a bad set of tools for an 18th round pick. Speaking of toolsy mid-round college draft picks, come on down OF Jaylin Davis. Davis didn’t get a chance to make his pro debut this year due to his recovery from a torn labrum, so Twins fans haven’t had the chance to see him just yet. When they do, I think they’ll be impressed at what their scouting staff managed to find and sign with pick 710. His pre-season report…
Appalachian State JR OF Jaylin Davis has as many 55’s on his card as any outfielder here. He’s above-average or better in center, throwing, and in terms of raw power, and just a touch above average as a runner. I think he’s smart enough, athletic enough, and in possession of a quick enough bat to hit enough to make all those tools work, so don’t forget the name.
Unfortunately his labrum injury cut short his junior season (only 65 AB), so we really don’t yet know how far along he is when it comes to putting his considerable physical ability on display at a more consistent basis. There’s way more upside with Davis than your typical college 24th round pick. Just ask Carlos Rodon.
C Brian Olson was a pre-season favorite who didn’t have quite the breakout senior season needed to push him up into top ten round money-saving consideration. Still, he continued to show strong plate discipline, steady defense behind the plate, and enough power to be a threat on mistake pitches. Getting a potential big league backup catcher in the 34th round works for me. C Brad Hartong didn’t catch a ton after signing, so it remains to be seen what Minnesota’s long-term plan with him will be. He’s a good enough athlete to get real playing time in the outfield, but the bat looks a heck of a lot better if he’s a catcher. Bold take, right?
SS Alex Perez is a long shot — he is a 23rd round pick, after all — but you can see what Minnesota was thinking taking a chance on a middle infielder (he’s played 2B as a pro) coming off a monster senior season. There’s little to suggest in his skill set or overall track record that said senior year was the start of a new trend, but why not find out for sure firsthand at the low cost of pick 680?
Puerto Rican prospect C Kerby Camacho struggled mightily in his first pro season, but some of that is to be expected considering he’s one of the youngest players drafted (17 all season) this June. Puerto Rican prospect OF Lean Marrero struggled mightily in his first pro season, but some of that is to be expected considering he’s one of the youngest players drafted (17 all season) this June.
RHP Cody Stashak was a workhorse at St. John’s who has a solid track record of missing bats with average or better stuff (88-92 FB, usable CU and SL). LHP Anthony McIver is an older prospect (24 in April), but with good size and a history of missing bats (10.6 K/9 his senior year, 10.2 K/9 in his pro career) he’s worth keeping in the back of your mind. RHP Logan Lombana has missed bats (8.4 K/9 at Long Beach, 9.6 K/9 in Elizabethton) as well. RHP Rich Condeelis is a bit wild, but has maintained a reputation as a guy who can miss bats. RHP Max Cordy, unsigned as of MLB.com but clearly signed by the Twins (clear assuming you have any common sense and a willingness to Google as pitching in pro games is a pretty good clue a guy signed), throws hard (up to the mid-90s) with an average or better slider that flashes even better than that. Control is his biggest problem by far, but it’s the kind of stuff that has missed bats in the past and should continue to do so. Noticing a trend here? As I’ve said in other team draft reviews, I’d be surprised if any of these mid- to late-round picks even become factors at the big league level, but it’s admirable when a club puts an emphasis on production (not to mention solid stuff and strong, physical frames) to find a potential hidden gem.
Here are the pre-draft top 500 players selected by Minnesota…
5 – Tyler Jay
87 – Kolton Kendrick
99 – Travis Blankenhorn
104 – Trey Cabbage
134 – LaMonte Wade
213 – Alex Robinson
229 – Zander Wiel
273 – Chris Paul
456 – AJ Murray
Many enjoy connecting teams to local geographic areas (Braves and their home state) or universities or even high schools (e.g., the Phillies going with Shane Watson and JP Crawford in back-to-back drafts out of Lakewood HS). I think it’s time we add the Tigers and Michigan State to the mix.
OF Cam Gibson (152) is the headlining Spartan talent with obvious connections to the Tigers organization beyond his collegiate affiliation. Here’s the pre-draft take…
In this class I look at Michigan State JR OF Cameron Gibson and see a slam dunk top five round draft prospect with the chance to play his way even higher (round two?). Judged solely as a hitter, however, smart people I’ve talked to liken him more to recent college players like Greg Allen, Tyler Holt, Mark Payton, and Taylor Dugas. Those guys, all favorites of mine once upon a time, were drafted in the sixth, fifth, seventh, and eighth rounds, respectively. I’m not sure what that necessarily says about Gibson’s draft stock (if anything!), so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. The “as a hitter” qualifier above is not to be missed. Gibson’s range in center isn’t nearly on the level of any of those players, with one scout simply telling me he was “fine in center, better in a corner.” That corners figures to be left field as his arm is his one clearly below-average tool. Everything else could play average or better making the strong, athletic Gibson a potential regular if he can stick in center. If not, then he could make it work as a regular left fielder in today’s new world order of reduced offense. A plus glove with upside at the plate in left is a property worth investing in these days. An unexpected but amusing comparison I’ve heard for Gibson’s ceiling is Brady Anderson (sans 50 HR season). I like it, though I’m not sure if projecting Anderson’s plate discipline (remember it being good, but shocked how good) on any young hitter is fair.
The early pro returns have been interesting. Small sample size caveats apply, but Gibson’s raw power (average to above-average, held back largely by his swing) was thought by many as being more of a batting practice thing than true in-game present pop. His pro performance to date, however, is highlighted by an impressive showing of power (200+ ISO) and not quite as much plate discipline as his college production and general reputation as a hitter might have suggested. Whether or not it’s a short-season ball small sample anomaly or a indication of things to come remains to be seen. I still think of him of having the tweener profile that most likely ends in him working towards a fourth outfielder ceiling, but you never know.
I once compared Gibson’s teammate at Michigan State, 1B Blaise Salter, the 940th pick in this year’s draft, to the guy selected second overall, Alex Bregman. Stay with me here…
Michigan State SR C/1B Blaise Salter reminds me a little bit of Alex Bregman. I’ll pause for a second and let that ridiculous statement sink in. I’ve mentioned this before, but so many college-oriented analysts are quite vocal in their belief that Bregman will be able to stick at shortstop in the pros; pro guys, on the other hand, can’t wait to get him off the six-spot. As for Salter, most college guys you read and listen to will push the “hey, he’s improved a lot behind the plate and, sure, he’s not the most agile guy back there, but he’s a leader and pitchers like him, so maybe it’ll work” agenda. That’s cool and all, but then pro guys, literally to a man, respond with NOPE. I have him listed as a catcher for now because I think his drafting team will at least give it a shot. That’s because he might – and I can’t emphasis might enough – be playable back there, but also because it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine his bat playing anywhere else. It’s catcher or bust for Salter if he wants to climb the pro ladder. I actually like the hit tool more than most and think he’s a better athlete than given credit for, but it’ll come down to whether or not he’ll make enough contact to allow his plus power to go to use.
The Bregman part there reads funny today as we all know his defense just kept getting better and better as the season went on. Salter went the other direction — actually, that’s not 100% true: his defense remained his defense, but observers began looking him with a more discerning eye as draft day got closer — and the fact I deemed him “catcher or bust” then doesn’t bode well for his future. I still enjoy a team taking a local star with a later pick like this on the off chance you catch lightning in a bottle. It may not be the perfect way to build a roster, but give me a fun narrative in the 31st round any day. You need your fifth round pick (Gibson) to show you something, but why not go with what you know (at least as a tie-breaker) and boost a bit of local morale in round 31?
LHP Cam Vieaux was also drafted out of Michigan State by Detroit, but couldn’t come to terms. He’ll be one of the better returning veteran arms in the conference with a fastball that can hit 93 (88-92), an average or better breaking ball, and a quickly improving change. He’s also got size (6-5, 200) and a track record (two rock solid years) on his side. Good name to store away for 2016…and more on other unsigned Tigers pick to come.
Looking up the updated pro numbers on in-state college player (not a Spartan, but a Chippewa) 2B Pat MacKenzie (418) gave me a very fleeting yet disturbing Dylan Bosheers flashback. I really really really liked Bosheers as a prospect before the draft, but never really deducted enough points for being an older senior (23 this past May) in my overall evaluation of him. MacKenzie is even older (23 this past March) and locked into second base long-term, but damn if I still like him. His early season evaluation…
SR 2B Pat MacKenzie doesn’t have the raw tools of most prospects I’d personally rank him around, but there’s no ignoring his plus-plus plate discipline. How a player can put up a 46 BB to 17 K ratio while slugging just barely over .300 in a full college season I’ll never know, but it’s an impressive feat that earns my respect. If I’m selling MacKenzie to my boss, I’m highlighting his overall hard-working playing style with promises (fine, hopes) that maybe his outstanding mental approach to hitting will rub off some on his new pro teammates. He’s an underdog prospect to be sure, but I just plain like the guy.
That was written before his “power surge” as a senior. His final college season saw him hit a cool .348/.489/.435 in 207 AB. The increased pop looks nice, but most of the gains can be attributed to more singles as his ISO didn’t move as much as you’d think. Still, I stand by liking him as a patient, speedy, dependable middle infielder who is a wonderful addition to a minor league lineup as a 28th rounder.
Detroit also drafted a bunch of guys who didn’t play amateur ball in Michigan, if you can believe it. In fact, you could re-write that opening and come up with a theory that the Tigers love players from Tennessee. The biggest name of that group is OF Christin Stewart (118), formerly of the Volunteers. Here’s the pre-season take on him…
Stewart betrayed his patient, pro-ready approach last season in an effort to produce gaudier power numbers. It’s hard to blame him what with power being the most coveted singular tool in baseball these days, but the cost might prove to be greater than what it winds up being worth. On one hand, the change in approach worked as Stewart’s slugging percentage jumped about one hundred points from his freshman season. Unfortunately, the major dip in plate discipline — Stewart’s K/BB almost doubled from his first season to his sophomore year (1.48 to 2.80) — now creates a new question in his game that will need to be answered on the field before June. If all of that sounds overly negative, well, it’s not supposed to. Consider it more of a reality check for a really strong prospect than anything else. I’m still very much a believer in Stewart’s raw power (legitimately plus), hit tool (solidly above-average), and overall approach to hitting, past year production be damned.
And the mid-season update…
Tennessee JR OF Christin Stewart just keeps getting better and better and better as a hitter. With an above-average hit tool and honest plus raw power, his breakout season (happening right now!) was only a matter of time. I’ve been hard on him in the past because of my perceived disconnect between his consistently praised approach at the plate and below-average BB/K ratios (1/2 for most of his first two seasons), but I’m starting to buy in. When I hear this is a below-average draft, I think of players like Stewart who have emerged as worthwhile top three round picks – not just in this draft, but in any draft – and smile. If a down draft means a few pitching prospect have gotten injured and no stone cold mortal lock for 1-1 exists, then I guess this draft isn’t very good. If it means that there will be future big league regulars selected out of college as late as the fifth round, then I feel like we’re not on the same page. I try not to cheerlead, but the bad draft stuff is just laziness from paid professionals who really ought to try digging a little deeper.
Stewart’s season ended as an unmitigated success. Improvements were made in all areas of his game, most notably in his conversion of raw power to the real in-game stuff. I should have ranked him higher. Long-time readers know I enjoy comps because I think they can be both entertaining and informative so long as you aren’t the super literal type. I also like playing around with the constructs of what a comp is supposed to be in the first place. To that end, I share a prospect comparison so bizarre in the formation that it somehow feels right when it’s said and done…and yet I know I’d killed for it by some of the joyless comp-hating strawmen that exist elsewhere on the internet but haven’t yet realized this place exists. The comp is prefaced with “if you ignore body type, swing mechanics, and handedness…” so keep that in mind as I tell you that lefty hitting Christin Stewart (all 6-0, 200 pounds of him) reminds me of righthander Aaron Judge (6-7, 275 pounds). The two player are very different, obviously. Any multi-celled organism with functioning sight can see that. The comparison is meant to serve as a basis for what kind of professional results Stewart is capable of putting up. The two players go about things differently, but I see similar potential in each. It’s the rare case where I’m cool with focusing on results over process. If only I had passed the comparison on before the draft as I could have used the info to more accurately peg where Stewart (34th overall pick) might be drafted (Judge went 32nd).
Another Volunteer, SS AJ Simcox (302), fascinates me and I think you’ll see why in his pre-season report…
Though he hasn’t shown the kind of hitting acumen expected of him to date, all those I talked to can’t stop raving about his breakout potential for 2015 and professional upside. His defense is legit — range, hands, and arm are all average or better — and his as yet untapped offensive upside (above-average hit tool, average raw power, above-average speed, decent approach) is enough to give him a real chance to emerge as one of this class’ many shortstops that profile as regular players at the big league level. I write it often, but it bears repeating: I have no allegiance when it comes to college athletics, so I have no reason to prop up any particular program or prospect. Still, I find myself unusually bullish on all of these Volunteers and even I am curious if there’s some unknown reason why.
And then again from later in the season…
I haven’t heard a player get the “he’ll be a better pro than college player” treatment in a long time quite like Tennessee JR SS AJ Simcox. I’m not sure how to take that exactly. It almost sounds like a dig on the Tennessee coaching staff, but I find that hard to believe knowing what I do about the people they have in place there. I think it’s more likely explained by the differences in the pro grind – all baseball, all the time – versus the multitude of various interested parties pulling one’s attention away from the game in college. I don’t know anything specific to Simcox here, for the record. He could be as focused as can be and simply in need of an all-encompassing baseball environment because of personal preference.
I always take those kinds of bits of information with a healthy dose of skepticism, but hearing it multiple times from multiple people (none with an ax to grind re: Tennessee and their staff) makes you wonder. From a big picture perspective, I’d love to know how a belief like that gets started in the first place and whether or not there’s any legitimacy behind it as a general theory to explain why certain underachieving amateur players play better ball after signing pro contracts. It strikes me as something that can’t be “proven” one way or another, but could be sussed out for individual prospects by enterprising area scouts who still do the job of digging deep into getting to know a player’s entire backstory. Of course, it could also have no firm basis in reality and simply be used as a rationalization tool to prop up players that a scout still likes, be it personally or professionally, despite lackluster amateur performances. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, either: a big part of an area scout’s job once June comes is salesmanship, and any way that you can get a player drafted you believe in is all right with me.
Anyway, perhaps because I’ve been brainwashed by what I’ve been told, I like Simcox more than his college track record would suggest I might. If it all works, he has the chance to be an average all-around offensive player with a really good shot to stay at shortstop. The approach is still not where it needs to be, so projecting a utility future feels like the most logical realistic ceiling as of now. Interestingly enough, Simcox hit .293/.362/.378 in his draft year at Tennessee. So far as a professional he’s hit .310/.345/.370. I don’t know what that means (if anything), but there you go.
1B Tanner Donnels was announced as an infielder, but has predictably played the majority of his pro games thus far in right field. The former Loyola Marymount outfielder is a long shot, but his senior year production (.308/.401/.498 with 31 BB/24 K) makes him a reasonable gamble in round 21. 3B Josh Lester from Missouri is pretty much the infield version (.280/.363/.436 with 30 BB/30 K) while OF Cole Bauml (.350/.445/.663 with 22 BB/28 K) and OF Joey Havrilak (.347/.436/.507 with 32 BB/31 K) round out the outfield with Donnels. There aren’t big tools here, but Detroit deserves credit for putting a premium on college production with mid- to late-round picks. It’s very unlikely there’s a future big league player here, but adding individuals emotionally ready to handle the pro game can have an effect beyond the box score for minor league clubs.
I think the bat of SS Keaton Jones is too light to get him to the big leagues, but the glove remains pretty damn special. Not much has changed on his evaluation since the beginning of the draft season…
I also have to mention TCU rJR SS Keaton Jones, a player so good with the glove that he’ll get drafted almost no matter what he does at the plate this spring. The fact that he’s more than holding his own as a hitter for the first time collegiately is icing on the mid-round cake.
He finished the year “holding his own” to the tune of a .254/.333/.333 (20 BB/35 K) batting line. That’s…not great. So you can see what I’m saying about his glove considering he hit like that and still got himself drafted in the fifteenth round.
C Kade Scivicque (340) follows in the recent Tigers tradition of valuing defense and leadership ability in college catching prospects. I don’t think this is a bad way to do things: high-floor prospects like Bryan Holaday, James McCann, and now Scivicque that project to be quality big league backups at an important and historically difficult to develop position are net positives for your franchise. Guys like this also help give any minor league team a boost if you believe in the immeasurable positive impact of high-makeup players helping those around them grow and improve as I do (to a point). Additionally, paying backup catchers, utility infielders, fourth outfielders, and middle relievers the league minimum for three seasons is a great way to save some bucks to pay stars to fill out the top of the roster. It also goes without saying that the very idea of a player’s ceiling is something that we as fans of the game (evaluators, too) place on prospects. You draft enough high-floor future backup types and, who knows, one might just surpass expectations and turn into something real.
(A more negative view might be that drafting high-floor future backup types is fool’s gold because prospects like that often look better than their peers early on since they peak early for whatever reason. Or perhaps one might note that overdoing it with these types — and I’m not saying Detroit has done that — leads to a mediocre team of overextended backups incapable of playing winning ball together at the big league level, defense and leadership be damned. It’s almost as if taking a diversified approach to drafting is an important part of successful long-term roster construction. Crazy, right?)
It might be time to stop trying to figure out what makes LHP Matt Hall (270) work and just appreciate that it does. His fastball doesn’t lit up the gun (86-90), but he puts it where he wants it as consistently as any lefthander in the college game. He has three pitches that he can throw for a strike in any count and game situation (above-average 75-79 CB that flashes better and an average 80-82 CU) and an unimpeachable track record of success (12.67 K/9 in 108 IP of 2.17 ERA ball as a junior). He’s another player that I think I undervalued some (he was picked 190th overall), but I’m now on board. Nice grab by the Tigers pulling a potential quick-moving big league starting pitcher in the sixth round.
Even though I admitted to underrating Hall before the draft, I still had him fifty spots ahead of LHP Tyler Alexander (320). Detroit saw things differently and used a second round pick (65th overall) on Alexander. The two are actually pretty darn similar prospects with Alexander bringing in a bit more heat (87-92), a better change (87-81), and a breaking ball in need of refinement. Both guys are known for outstanding command — I wouldn’t call you crazy for preferring Alexander’s to Hall’s — while Alexander in particular has ridiculous control (1.00 BB/9 in 99 IP his freshman year, 0.92 BB/9 in 78 IP his sophomore year). Hall got the edge for me before the draft because of his history of missing more bats, but Detroit could very well be on to something with Alexander. Like Hall, he could be a quick-moving big league starter if it all keeps working with a realistic middle relief floor as a viable fallback.
There really should be an entire post devoted to RHP Trey Teakell (432). The TCU redshirt-senior might is one of this year’s most intriguing Rorschach test prospects. You can look at him and see whatever it is you’d like. The positive spin is that he’s a 6-5, 175 pound athlete with projection left, the ability to command four average or better pitches, and easy velocity (87-91, 93 peak) who steadily improved before his breakout final college season (8.31 K/9, almost two more strikeouts per nine than his previous best). The less positive look might counter with the reality that some guys don’t fill out and add velocity (6-5, 175 at 18 years old would be a different story), the lack of a clear put-away pitch, and a senior year spike in performance that can be explained by his advanced age (23) and/or success in a small sample (39 IP, the second fewest in his college career). The beauty of Teakell in my mind is that his draft position (9th round) almost perfectly splits the difference between the two possibilities. That first player sounds like an early pick while the second player is more of a mid- to late-round roster filling type. The ninth round is on the money. As for his future, I’d think getting a middle reliever out of the deal would represent coming out ahead.
The upside of RHP Mike Vinson exceeds that, as the redshirt-sophomore from Florida looks to have the goods to potentially pitch at the end of games out of the bullpen. The Tigers deserve a lot of credit for sticking with him despite his lack of work (under 30 innings total) since high school. Vinson’s upper-80s cutter is one of the best in this class and he’s able to combine it with a good fastball (88-93) to generate a lot of awkward swings. I really like this pick. The guy drafted one round earlier, RHP Ryan Milton, has similar swing-and-miss stuff (low-90s FB, good cutter) and has hit the ground running in pro ball. There’s some wildness with him, but he’s still a really nice get in round 23. Undersized RHP Dominic Moreno joins Milton as another solid senior sign relief option that put up big numbers in college (11.33 K/9 and 1.86 ERA in 58 senior year IP). He’s got that sinker/slider thing going for him that should help him to advance high enough in the minors to be one of those proverbial “one phone call away” types of AAA arms.
The college reliever with the highest upside is easily RHP Drew Smith (286). I’m not a wizened talent evaluator by any stretch and there’s plenty I haven’t seen and don’t yet know, so do try to hide your shock at the following statement, but seeing Smith throw is a really confusing experience. He has explosive stuff — 90-96 FB, 98-99 peak; average or better mid-70s CB; enough of a low-80s changeup that you can start imagining a future beyond the bullpen — and livable control, but rarely did college hitters appear fooled by what he threw up there. There’s enough noise with straight run prevention in small samples with unreliable defenses and scoring decisions and playing conditions and you get the point, but Smith’s two full seasons at Dallas Baptist resulted in ERAs of 5.79 and 4.39. That alone doesn’t bug me much, but a guy with his kind of stuff only striking out 7ish batters per nine is just hard to explain. I obviously still like him a whole heck of a lot as a prospect and could see him working himself into the relief ace that his physical talent suggests, it’s just that it might take some time for him to smooth out the delivery some and harness what he’s got. Of course, what do I know: Smith, in an effort to be as confusing as possible, has started his pro career with a pretty good ERA (0.29) with decent peripherals (11.0 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9) in 31 innings.
Finally we get to RHP Beau Burrows (18). I’ve said it before, but I really do find there to be almost an inverse relationship between a prospect’s talent and how much I’m able to write about him. First round no-brainers as talented as Burrows are hard to dive into it. He’s good, you know? I like his chances of being an above-average mid-rotation starting pitcher with a number two starter ceiling and a late-inning reliever best-case scenario floor (as always, any real floor is not escaping the minor leagues because baseball is a very hard game, but reading that over and over gets tiresome). Here were my pre-draft notes…
RHP Beau Burrows (Weatherford HS, Texas): 88-96 FB, 98 peak; FB moves a ton; 84-88 CU flashes above-average, moves it down to 81-85 at times; promising 78-82 CB, flashes above-average to plus; good command; good athlete; PG mechanics comp: Mike Mussina; PG comp: Grant Holmes; FAVORITE; 6-2, 200 pounds
I like Perfect Game’s Grant Holmes comparison a lot as a reference point. For fun, here are their debut seasons compared…
10.8 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 48.1 IP
10.6 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 28 IP
Top is Holmes, bottom is Burrows. On target so far. Burrows is a very easy to like prospect: big fastball that moves and he commands, breaking ball that could be a real weapon, more than good enough changeup, all with sound mechanics, athleticism, and the mound demeanor one would expect out of Texas high schooler who flirts with triple-digits. Now it’s just a matter of guiding him through the ups and downs of pro ball, tweaking and refining what needs polishing, and hoping he stays healthy enough to toe the rubber on a big league mound. I clearly like the pick for the Tigers (ranked him 18, drafted him 22), so we’ll see where it goes from here.
This might be a little unfair to pick on the Tigers and no other team so far, but it was definitely striking to see how much unsigned talent there was left on the table for Detroit after the signing deadline came and went. You could do this with a lot of teams and there are very logical reasons why some of these players didn’t sign that is of no fault at all to Detroit (losing Shumpert stings, but the rest were all fliers). Still, you could build a pretty strong team out of the ones who got away…
C Nick Dalesandro (346)
3B Daniel Pinero (98)
SS Nick Shumpert (101)
SS Trey Dawson (124)
OF Bryant Harris
OF Dayton Dugas (225)
RHP Cole McKay (74)
LHP Cam Vieaux
LHP Andrew Naderer
LHP Grant Wolfram
I don’t think it’s crazy to prefer McKay, Pinero, Shumpert, Dawson, and Dugas (the top five unsigned prospects by Detroit according to me) to Burrows, Stewart, Alexander, Smith, and Scivicque (their top five picks). It’s obviously a completely different risk profile and a moot point regardless, but it’s an interesting alternate timeline “what-if” that will never be resolved on this plane of existence. Pity. Here are the top 500 prospects that Detroit did manage to sign (again, according to me)…
18 – Beau Burrows
118 – Christin Stewart
152 – Cam Gibson
270 – Matt Hall
286 – Drew Smith
302 – AJ Simcox
320 – Tyler Alexander
340 – Kade Scivicque
418 – Pat MacKenzie
432 – Trey Teakell
No catchers. Minimal power. Lots of relievers. Extremely college-heavy. SEC bats. If you’re into brevity, there’s the 2015 Washington Nationals draft in about half a tweet. If you’re up for a few more words on the topic, keep on reading.
I appreciate what OF Andrew Stevenson (115) has done as a pro so far (.322/.373/.402 with 13 BB/20 K and 21/26 SB in 195 PA) not only because that’s a really solid line for any player but also because it validates my view on him from early spring. Prospect evaluation is all about the prospect evaluator and not the prospect, right? That’s what people pay the big bucks to read. Anyway, here is what I wrote then…
LSU JR OF Andrew Stevenson could step into a AA lineup tomorrow (just in time for opening day!) because his defense in center (plus-plus), speed (plus), and hit tool (above-average) are all professional quality right now. He’s one of those players that it would be very hard to imagine not someday carving out a big league role for himself on the basis of his defensive prowess and game-changing speed on the base paths alone. When you add in that hit tool, his emerging pop, and an improved approach at the plate, it’s easy to envision him maturing into a table-setting leadoff hitter guaranteed to give you years of positive defensive and base running value in the bigs. I was high on Stevenson before writing this paragraph, but now I’m more pumped about him than ever.
It’s not AA, but he’s at least one of the few — annoyingly few, in my view — 2015 college draft prospects getting a chance to play in a full-season league already. I compared Stevenson to the draft version of Ben Revere (.326/.383/.404 career minor league player) before the draft, and I’ll stick with that today. Revere has been a pretty valuable player to date and that’s without the ability to play an above-average center field; Stevenson could hit like Revere and wind up a top ten overall big league CF with the way he’ll provide substantial defensive and base running value. Think Brett Gardner or Michael Bourn if it works. Or Sam Fuld (.284/.371/.405 minor league hitter), a comp I got from a source who doesn’t love Stevenson like I do (“extra outfielder, but a good one”) if it doesn’t. I’m clearly bullish on his upside and the likelihood of reaching said upside, though I’ll stick with a Revere-like bat more than Gardner. The Nationals got a good one here.
Fellow SEC OF Rhett Wiseman (146) reminded me of a lefthanded Mikie Mahtook while at Vanderbilt. I’m sticking with that platoon corner outfield bat upside for now. Some pre-draft thoughts…
I’ve run into two interesting schools of thought about Wiseman while putting this together. The first, and I’ll admit that this was my initial view from the start, is that he’s still more tools than skills right now. The tools are quite strong, but the fact that they haven’t turned into the skills many expected by now gives some pause. Still, those tools that were clear to almost all going back to his high school days are still real and still worth getting excited about. The breakout could come any day now for him and when it does we’ll be looking at a potential first-division regular in the outfield. The opposing view believes that Wiseman’s development has gone as scripted and what we’re seeing right now is more or less what we’re going to get with him. He’s a great athlete and a far more cerebral hitter than given credit, but the tools were overstated across the board at the onset of his amateur career and now we’re seeing expectations for him correcting themselves based on what he really is. There really are no pluses in his game and no carrying tool that will help him rise above his future fourth outfielder station. I’m a believer that it’s always wise to bet on athletes having the light bulb turn on before too long, so count me in as still leaning closer to the former (and my original) position. I do understand the concerns about Wiseman potentially topping out as a “tweener” outfield prospect — he hasn’t shown the power yet to work in a corner, but that’s where he’s clearly best defensively — so going on the first day might be off the table. He’s still an intriguing blend of production (good, not mind-blowing) and tools (same) who could wind up a relative bargain if he slips much later than that. I could see him both being ranked and drafted in the same area that I had him listed (110th overall) out of Buckingham Browne & Nichols.
In any event, I don’t think Wiseman’s viewed by many as quite the prospect he was back in high school and a good part of that was the way many — me included — viewed his rawness, age, and relative inexperience as a New England high school product as positives. We all are guilty of assuming there are concretely meaningful patterns we can expect from prospect development and that all young players will continue to get better with age and experience. Development is not linear and can be wildly unpredictable. Some guys are as good as they are going to get at 17 while others don’t figure it out (unfortunately) until way after their physical peak. This speaks to the heart of what makes assessing and drafting amateurs so much fun. We’re all just trying to gather as much information on as many players as possible and then making the best possible guesses as to what we’ll wind up with.
OF Blake Perkins (283) is a really intriguing yet really raw second round gamble. It wasn’t a direct comparison by any means, but one informed source told me after the fact that he believed Washington is hoping Perkins can be another version of Michael Taylor. I can dig it. OF Phil Diedrick was a surprise pick for me, though I guess once you get down to round 29 getting a player selected is really a matter of needing just one area scout pounding the table for his guy. I admittedly don’t know much about Diedrick, but the flashes of college power weren’t enough to overcome the questionable plate discipline for me to rank him in the draftable range. Didn’t see him this year, didn’t talk to anybody who had, so…take my opinion on him with measurable skepticism.
1B David Kerian (216) admittedly has never thrilled me as a hitter, but there’s no denying his senior year production at the plate. Still, the key word there is senior as much as any other; I think we know enough about the importance of age/experience relative to competition that it’s fair to be suspicious about any college senior who puts up numbers out of line with their career marks. He’s more than fine value in the ninth round, but I think his realistic ceiling is more up-and-down bench bat than future regular.
2B Max Schrock (57) in round thirteen is flat robbery. Matt Chapman, Tim Wallach, David Freese, and Kyle Seager were all mentioned as possible comps for Schrock at one time or another on this site. I eventually settled on calling him a “Mark Ellis type of hitter capable of giving you more or less league average production at the plate while making up the difference as needed with smart base running and steady defense” before identifying him as a late-second/early-third round value back in March. My mind didn’t change between then and June. I’d be surprised if he didn’t have a long career in the big leagues, though whether it’s as an everyday second baseman or super-utility player is up to him. Saw him in HS and had this to say then: “[I] hate to resort to the cliché, but he’s a ballplayer – no crazy tools, not a premium athlete, not always aesthetically pleasing watching him play, but will do the things that help you win games…and, yeah, he can hit, too.”
2B Dalton Dulin (274) is a tricky player to love, but an easy player to like. He’s a lot of fun to watch — like Schrock, he’s a “gamer” — who does what he does well (make consistent hard contact, pick his spots on the bases, position himself defensively) really well. The tricky part is he’s also a player with limitations. There’s not a ton of power presently or on the way, and, steady as he is at second, there’s a good chance that’s his only viable long-term pro spot defensively. I still like the pick in the 17th round because Dulin is by all accounts a guy you want on your side between the lines with the acknowledgment that it’s a very tough road for a second basemen with little power. 2B Melvin Rodriguez (373) is like a more extreme version of Kerian in that his big senior year must be viewed through the prism of being an older (24 in Rodriguez’s case) college senior. I like the approach, pop, and potential defensive versatility (maybe 2B, 3B, and corner OF?), but starting your first full season as a minor league player at age 25 is less than ideal.
SS Ian Sagdal (474) was well liked by many I talked to as an offensive player, but his long-term defensive home was an open question. I had somebody compare him to Marcus Semien, so take that one any way you’d like. I thought the abbreviated and underwhelming final college season of SS Angelo La Bruna would cost him a shot to get drafted, but Washington gave him a shot in round 33. I had a guy in the Carolinas absolutely raving about La Bruna prior to the then Duke shortstop’s junior season. Injuries kept that from happening, though I think it’s also fair to speculate about how much upside La Bruna ever had in the first place. 2B Jake Jefferies has always intrigued me from an athletic standpoint, but hasn’t had even a good college season as of yet. Sometimes my notes are incomplete, especially for high school prospects. For 3B Dalton DiNatale, all I had back when he was in HS was “good arm strength.” That’s all well and good, but hardly enough information to do anything with on draft day. Such is the life of attempting to cover a country’s worth of amateurs with an unpaid staff of one. DiNatale took his strong arm to Arizona State where he enjoyed three eerily consistent years of decent but hardly thrilling college production. He’s a thirty-second round organizational player at this point, but I’ll always remember him for my lame attempts at passing off my knowledge of his arm strength as something meaningful.
If RHP Mariano Rivera (198) doesn’t wind up an effective part of a big league bullpen within the next three years, I give up. Some things are just meant to be. From the pre-season…
Bloodlines can be overrated, but I’m buying the potential benefits that Iona JR RHP Mariano Rivera has and will continue to reap as the son of baseball’s all-time best closer. Senior was known for many things such as piling up 652 saves, finishing his career with an inconceivable 205 ERA+, and throwing arguably the greatest singular pitch known to man; while awesome, none of those things (well, maybe some of that cutter magic could rub off…) will translate to helping Junior achieve success on the diamond. It is fair to believe that the insane work ethic and preternatural ability to make adjustments on the mound could be traits passed down from father to son. For now, Rivera is a nice looking relief prospect with enough fastball (88-92, 94 peak) and an above-average slider to compensate for his lack of size and middling track record to date. To a man, every person I spoke to remarked that they believed Rivera would be a better professional than college player.
That last sentence is what stands out most to me. Everybody had Rivera pegged as a better potential pro than a college player and that was before he wound up as a pretty damn good college player in 2015. His improved performance — from 3.50 K/9 in 2013 to 6.43 K/9 in 2014 to 11.96 K/9 in 2015 — not so surprisingly coincided with an uptick of stuff.
LHP Matthew Crownover (161) has reminded me of Adam Morgan for quite some time now, so I’ll stick with that as he enters pro ball. Morgan had to overcome shoulder injuries to reach the big leagues while Crownover is a high school Tommy John survivor who took some time to get back to 100%. There’s not much projection left, but the Clemson southpaw has the three average pitches and command to make a run as a potential fifth starter as is. LHP Taylor Hearn is a fun case as a prospect drafted four straight years. He’s relatively young for a senior, has always put up good numbers, and throws hard. That’s all I’ve got. The fastball of LHP Taylor Guilbeau moves almost too much for his own good at times. It’s a plus pitch even in the upper-80s because of the way it dances, but harnessing it within the strike zone has been a problem for him dating back to his freshman season at Alabama. LHP Grant Borne has similar stuff (FB at 88-92, best secondary pitch is changeup) and ultimate upside (middle relief).
RHP Koda Glover is a really nice looking relief prospect. He had a super junior year at Oklahoma State (10.50 K/9 and 1.88 ERA in 23 IP) and has the fastball (92-96) and slider (above-average at 82-84) to keep missing bats as a pro. I’m in. I’m also a big fan of RHP Andrew Lee (233) as the pre-draft ranking in parentheses indicates. Giving the two-way star from Tennessee a chance to concentrate fully on pitching could make him a surprisingly quick riser through the minor leagues. There’s size (6-5, 220), athleticism, arm speed (upper-80s FB, 93 peak), and a pair of intriguing offspeed pitches. Honestly, what’s not to like? Great pick. RHP Tommy Peterson is a Tommy John survivor (2013) that took some time to return to form, but did so with a bang in 2015 (10.23 K/9 and 2.05 ERA in 43 IP). With a fastball that gets up to the mid-90s, he’s a reliever to keep in mind. RHP Calvin Copping is a sinker/slider arm that could see his upper-80s fastball play up some now that he’s made the move to a professional bullpen. RHP Jorge Pantoja has good size (6-6, 220 pounds), athleticism, and enough fastball (90-93) and slider (average or better low-80s) to keep things interesting. I love SWAC prospects, so he’s a guy I’ll be following closely. It wouldn’t shock me if one of these three eventually wind up pitching in the big leagues one day.
RHP Kevin Mooney (459) can miss bats with his one-two punch of his sinking fastball (88-92, 94 peak) and upper-70s curve with plus promise, but is just too wild to be trusted at this point. Betting on arm talent is smart, so it’s easy to see why Washington liked the local product. RHP Matt Pirro has similar strengths and weaknesses. From earlier in the season…
SR RHP Matt Pirro has a good arm (88-93 FB, 95 peak) with a knuckle-curve that flashes plus, but his below-average control hasn’t gotten much better over the years. Feels like a late round flier on a guy with arm strength is his best bet. Wonder if his bad control stems from bad mechanics; if so, can it be fixed?
RHP Ryan Brinley has a legit fastball (92-94, 95 peak), but his results haven’t quite lined up with his stuff as of yet. RHP Mick VanVossen gets such high marks for his pitchability and baseball IQ that he’s got future pitching coach written all over him. Even with his smarts and average stuff, however, missing bats has never really been his thing. Still, as a 28th round organizational player that can at least hold his own on the mound while hopefully imparting some wisdom to teammates along the way, it’s a nice pick. The one signed HS prospect of note outside of Blake Perkins is LHP Tyler Watson, a very intriguing 34th round pick that the Nationals went above and beyond to work out a deal. The reports and the performance have been nothing short of outstanding to date. I’m sufficiently intrigued.
Nationals taken in my pre-draft top 500…
57 – Max Schrock
115 – Andrew Stevenson
146 – Rhett Wiseman
161 – Matthew Crownover
198 – Mariano Rivera
216 – David Kerian
233 – Andrew Lee
274 – Dalton Dulin
283 – Blake Perkins
373 – Melvin Rodriguez
459 – Kevin Mooney
474 – Ian Sagdal
OF Ian Happ (9) was a great pick. That is all. For more, here’s past-me…
A switch-hitting Michael Brantley with the chance to stick in the dirt. That’s one of the ways JR OF/2B Ian Happ was described to me recently. I like it. Happ is a really well-rounded player with no tool worse than average who is quick, strong, and athletic. He controls the strike zone well (career 79 BB/67 K), swipes bags at a high success rate (44 SB at 81% success), and has exposure to a variety of different positions on the diamond. That last point is a little bit of a spin job by me, but I think he’s a talented enough player to figure things out defensively at whatever spot his pro teams wishes to play him. That’s the biggest — only? — question surrounding Happ’s game. A guy with the upside to hit .280+ with strong on-base skills, pop to hit double-digit homers regularly (20ish as a ceiling?), and the speed to swipe 25+ bases every season through his prime strikes me as a very valuable offensive player at any position on the diamond. I’d trot him out at second base for as long as possible because I think he’s got the hands, instincts, and athleticism to stay up the middle. If that doesn’t work, my next stop for him would be center. Others think he could work at third, an outfield corner (why there and not center doesn’t make sense to me, but what do I know), or even shortstop if given enough reps. That kind of positional versatility (or uncertainty if you’re the negative sort) brings to mind a fairly obvious comp: Ben Zobrist. Zobrist’s unusual place in today’s game — players capable of playing well at so many different defensive spots are a rarity, plus he’s a really late-bloomer who has exceeded even the loftiest expectations scouts may have once had for him — make him a hard player to comp anybody to, but here we are. Feel free to stick with Brantley as a possible outcome if you find Zobrist objectionable.
I made a pre-draft statistical comparison between Happ and former Bearcat Josh Harrison that I’ve updated below.
.338/.463/.552 – 128 BB/116 K – 56/74 SB – 718 PA
.358/.439/.533 – 80 BB/56 K – 63/74 SB – 831 PA
Top is Happ and the bottom Harrison’s career numbers while at Cincinnati. I chalk the similarities here up more to coincidence than anything (if you like coincidences consider that Harrison was drafted by, you guessed it, the Cubs), but you have to admit the similarities are striking. Happ is bigger, stronger, faster, and more disciplined as a hitter. His offensive upside is still considerably more impressive than Harrison’s, outstanding 2014 season (which may or may not be an outlier when it’s all said and done) notwithstanding. Defensively, the comparison might have some merit has Harrison has defied the expectations of many by working himself into a solid second/third baseman and a passable corner outfielder. That’s clearly something for the athletic and capable Happ to aspire towards. Brantley, Zobrist, or a better Harrison?
Rizzo, Bryant, Russell, Schwarber, Soler, Baez, Alcantara, McKinney, Vogelbach, Almora, Torres, Jimenez, Zagunis, Happ, AND Dewees? That’s just unfair. I mean, we knew the Cubs would have a crack at a top bat with the ninth overall pick (it was bat or Allard at that point), but getting a mid-first round talent like OF Donnie Dewees (15) in the second is just unfair. Dewees has gotten off to a slow start as a pro, but that’s little cause for concern for the young outfielder who mashed his way to a .422/.483/.749 (30 BB/16 K) junior season. He’s going to hit and he’s going to hit some more, so the only real question on him is whether or not he’ll eventually wind up in center or left. I believe in the offensive profile so much that I think the difference would be star (CF) or above-average regular (LF).
OF DJ Wilson (189) is a fascinating prospect to play the comp game with. Perfect Game mentioned Brett Gardner. Baseball America said Adam Eaton. I had personally heard Dave Roberts. Something about that trio of players intrigues the hell out of me. Besides the Roberts comp, the most interesting thing I heard about Wilson — and I heard plenty because of some familial ties to the area — was how where he’d be drafted would trump when he’d be drafted. In other words, his success in pro ball will have a lot to do with the kind of instruction he receives at the earliest stages of his career. It’s easy to see how his speed, CF range, and sneaky pop could add up to a future impact leadoff type not unlike Gardner, Eaton, or Roberts, but it’s more molding clay than final form at this point. That’s not unusual for any high school prospect, but there are elements of Wilson’s game that really can go either way in pro ball. If he learns how to embrace his strengths as a player and worry less about being something he’s not, he’ll wind up a really good one. All of this may sound very obvious, but there it is. If nothing else, he’s landed in the right place to learn and grow. Now it’s up to him and the baseball deities.
OF Michael Foster was a pretty nifty pick in the 16th round. He’s made steady progress as a hitter, flashes big league speed and pop, and has the arm and athleticism that you’d expect out of a former two-way prospect capable of hitting the low-90s off the mound. I’m not sure if there’s enough bat to make it as a corner outfielder — I would have pushed him at second or on the mound, but there’s a reason nobody pays me big bucks to do this — so we’ll see how far he goes from here. I like him more than OF Daniel Spingola, the above-average running, defending, and throwing former Georgia Tech center fielder who I’m not sure has enough pop to keep pro pitching honest.
The Cubs couldn’t agree to terms with C Domenic DeRenzo (off to Oklahoma), but did get a deal done with one of my FAVORITE catchers in all of amateur baseball, Houston C Ian Rice (230). Much has been written about Rice here already, so the short version will have to suffice for now: he’s really good. Expectations will be low based on his draft position (29th round, 863rd overall pick), but Rice’s scouting profile reminds me quite a bit of Andrew Knapp’s from a few years ago. Rice doesn’t step up the plate without a plan and has the raw power to make pitchers pay when said plan results in a 2-0 or 3-1 count. He’ll never be an upper-echelon defensive player, but the physical ability and want-to should make him average (or slightly below-average) with continued practice. There’s enough to wonder about his in-game power — hope it’s not the case, but he might be the poster boy for big raw maybe not meaning actual extra base production — and his defense being slower to progress than a pro team can afford to wait to push his most likely outcome from “regular with above-average upside” (as I once thought) to “up-and-down third catcher,” but I remain bullish on the player I claimed to be “sky high” on (how corny was that?) before the college season began.
3B Matt Rose (127) is up there with Rice as favorite pick outside of the top ten rounds, not only with Chicago but perhaps even across the entire league. He’s not a perfect player, but I hope he gets a fair chance to show off his defensive abilities at third (so far, not the case) and big raw power (getting it done) in pro ball. The fact that he’s young for his class is just the cherry on top for me. How real his 2015 collegiate gains in approach are remains to be seen, but getting a guy this talented this late is worth taking the time to find out. As a pre-draft favorite it should come as no surprise that plenty was written about him before, so here we go…
In no way is this a direct comp by any stretch, but something about Rose’s profile reminds me former Washington star and current weirdly underrated Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb. I liked Lamb a lot in his draft year (“above-average big league starter upside”) and I don’t see how anybody can objectively look at Rose and come up with too different a conclusion about his future (above-average big league starter upside). The tools are big league quality: above-average to plus raw power, really promising defensive gifts, and enough arm strength to throw 90-94 MPH fastballs off the mound. What I might like most about Rose is the persistent claim that from those who have seen him closest that he’ll be a really good big league hitter. I can’t tell you how often I heard how his approach at the plate is beyond his years. Fair and balanced to the scouting reports and statistics to the every end, I’d then look at his BB/K numbers over the years (13/37 last year, for example) and wonder what they were seeing that I never did (literally never did, by the way: I’m no scout so it might not matter, but, full disclosure, I have not yet seen Rose play at Georgia State). Well, though it may be early, Rose’s .306/.420/.722 line through 72 AB (13 BB/11 K) is a pretty nice start for those that have been on Rose since the start. He was always one of those players that seemed like he’d be better professionally – in part because he’d be away from the mound – than he looked in college, which ties us back to something frequently said about Lamb back in 2012. I’ve underrated Rose too long in the past, but no more.
(I have to point out that there are some really smart people who prefer Rose as a pitcher. That just makes him an even cooler prospect in my book. I get the appeal, too: he’s 90-94 with his fastball, shows two offspeed pitches with promise already, and has premium size (6-4, 200) and athleticism. Stretching him out as a starting pitcher in the pros would be really tempting to me if I wasn’t so confident that he’d hit (and hit with power) at third base.)
3B Blake Headley isn’t on Rose’s level for me, but he can swing it a little bit and is a steady defender at both third and first. I wish I had more to say about him, but I don’t. Good luck in pro ball, Blake.
There are a lot of places to find reliable information on draft signings. Some are good, others less so. You’d think that MLB.com, only the website owned and operated by the actual league that these players are accepting contracts with, would be 100% accurate with their reporting, but that’s apparently not the case. 2B PJ Higgins has gotten over 50 professional plate appearances as of this writing. He is still listed as “unsigned” on MLB.com. Maybe somebody should double-check that stuff. As for the player in question, I like Higgins as a versatile chess piece (he’s played 2B, 3B, and SS already as a pro and he could also get work in the OF or even as a catcher before long) with a patient approach as a hitter and quick hands at the plate. SS Angelo Amendolare is another interesting plug-and-play minor league infielder who has seen time at second, third, and the outfield already.
I don’t typically throw stats at you in these draft reviews — I figure they are easily searchable on the site, so why clutter up another page with them — but look at what SS Vimael Machin (297) did at Virginia Commonwealth over his four years there (stats are park/schedule adjusted when applicable)…
2012: .309/.364/.408 – 21 BB/29 K – 1/3 SB – 223 AB
2013: .287/.389/.419 – 22 BB/31 K – 2/3 SB – 167 AB
2014: .307/.421/.417 – 30 BB/21 K – 2/2 SB – 199 AB
2015: .336/.393/.444 – 24 BB/24 K – 6/13 SB – 232 AB
It’s hard to be more consistent through the years than that. With Machin you’re getting a reliable defender with a playable bat that could work his way into quality utility infielder status before long. I’m a fan. There’s been some buzz that he’ll be tried behind the plate in instructional league this fall, so stay tuned for that. The likelihood of SS Sutton Whiting reaching a similar upside isn’t quite as high, but he’s a nice get in the 24th round as a senior sign who can run, throw, and play an effective “little man” offensive game. There’s always been too much swing-and-miss in his game for me, but I can understand the appeal. Here’s some relevant pre-draft stuff on him…
I’ve got nothing but love for SR 2B/SS Sutton Whiting, one of college ball’s foremost examples of how good things can happen if you keep grinding and play within yourself. Whiting can run, throw (though his arm is more accurate than strong), and spoil pitchers’ pitches. Ignore what you’re about to read about Zach Lucas (I really should plan these things better and stop skipping around…) because Whiting is the far better example of a senior sign that you can draft and develop with a clearly designed path to get him to (at least) the upper-minors. He’s a ready-made potential utility player right out of the box with almost all of the standard pluses (speed, patience, glove, arm accuracy) and minuses (power, requisite strikeouts that come with working deep counts, raw arm strength) that you’d expect. I can dig it.
Between Higgins, Machin, and Sutton, the Cubs have positioned themselves well to at least get one cheap, homegrown big league backup out of their double-digit round picks. Not bad.
I feel a bit of a kindred bond between myself and the Cubs — not because I’m also a lovable loser — since we both seem to love hitting and ignore pitching. The Cubs obviously don’t exactly ignore pitching — pretty sure that would be against the rules — but I think their emphasis on collecting position player prospects, less volatile than their pitching counterparts, is clear. That said, of the many pitchers drafted by the Cubs this year, the guy who would excite me most if I was a fan would be LHP Kyle Twomey (137). Here’s the pre-draft dirt…
On the other end of the spectrum (kind of) is USC JR LHP Kyle Twomey. Twomey has long been a favorite thanks to a fastball/changeup combination (just two pitches, gasp!) good enough to get big league swings and misses within the year. His fastball doesn’t have premium velocity (87-92, 94 peak), but the heaps of movement he gets on it make it a consistent above-average to plus offering. His change does a lot of the same things from the same arm speed, making the 78-82 MPH pitch above-average with plus upside. Those two pitches and room to grow on a 6-3, 170 pound frame make him a very appealing prospect. There are some issues that will need ironing out at the pro level – deciding on whether to further refine his cutter/slider hybrid or tightening up his soft curve, plus improving his overall control and offspeed command – but the pieces are there for him to make it as a big league starting pitcher.
Despite his disappointing draft season (strikeouts down, walks up), I’m still on board with Twomey as a future potential starter. It’s a longer shot now, I’ll admit, but arm talent is arm talent. The dip in velocity (85-90) is noteworthy; if it’s due to injury or a correctable mechanical flaw, then Twomey in the 13th round represents crazy value. If it’s the physical manifestation of his stalled prospect status (i.e., he peaked younger than most and will never fill out his lanky frame or improve his command or sharpen his breaking stuff), then that’s not quite as fun, though even in the upper-80s there’s enough there to give him a shot at making it as a lefty reliever with some funk.
The book on LHP Bryan Hudson (290) is pretty straightforward: 88-92 FB, 93 peak; good 77-82 CB; underdeveloped CU. That’s all well and good for a generic young righthander, but it becomes something much more for a 6-8, 220 pound athletic lefthander. Fellow LHP Ryan Kellogg (234) has a slightly more confusing profile as another big (6-5, 220) lefty with similar fastball velocity (85-90 FB, 92-93 peak) and more advanced offspeed stuff (CB, SL, and CU all could be average pitches) who hasn’t missed the kind of bats at the amateur level that one might expect. That’s the kind of arm that should be carving up jumpy teenage underclassmen. Still, Kellogg does enough well including impeccable control on those four aforementioned average pitches that he feels like a safe bet to log some back of the rotation innings as a starting pitcher in the big leagues. A comparison that didn’t occur to me during his college days that just hit me now: Matt Imhof.
RHP David Berg (496) and RHP Preston Morrison going to the same team is a beautiful thing. The two are both all-time greats as collegiate players who excelled through unconventional means. Berg did it with a low-80s heater with plenty of sink; in fact, his fastball was just one of three pitches (mid-70s slider, changeup) with consistent above-average or better downward movement. That movement could make him a potential righthanded specialist that is called upon to roll some of his bowling balls and get a ground ball out or two when needed. I called Morrison “college baseball’s weirdest pitcher” a few months ago, and the season he had only makes him weirder in my mind. The stuff ticked up across the board (from mid-80s to upper-80s with his fastball) and his changeup improved enough to use it more frequently with confidence. He still has the two weird breaking balls — I have it as a 72-74 CB and a 69-74 SL — so technically there’s enough in his repertoire to remain a starter as a professional. His path to the big leagues, however, has been and will always be through the bullpen. It’s not impossible to imagine a future where Berg is a righty specialist and Morrison is the long man in a Chicago pen somewhere down the line.
The Cubs went with back-to-back Hoosiers in rounds 14 and 15. RHP Jake Kelzer will go back to Bloomington to try to jump his draft stock ten rounds or so over the next ten months, but he’ll do it without old pal RHP Scott Effross (383). The first thing that jumps out about Effross’s time in Indiana is the slow and steady improvement made over the years: 5.03 K/9 to 6.55 K/9 to 7.55 K/9, all while keeping his walks down (just 1.45 BB/9 in 2015) and runs off the board. Despite being used as a reliever for most of his adult life, I think he’s got the three pitches (87-92 fastball with sink that’s been up to 94; average or better upper-70s breaking ball; really impressive change) and command to give starting a shot. There’s some fifth starter upside here if it works with middle relief probably a more realistic fallback option.
This was written about LHP Tyler Peitzmeier earlier in the year: “Cal State Fullerton SR LHP Tyler Peitzmeier is one of the country’s best relievers with the stuff (87-90 FB, plus CU) and deception to keep missing bats as a pro.” That’s not a thrilling profile, but it’s enough for a ninth round pick. The Cubs stayed in California (Cal Poly in this case) to grab RHP Casey Bloomquist, a sinker/slider pinpoint command guy who I think fits best in the bullpen long-term. I like RHP Kyle Miller quite a bit from a scouting standpoint. He’s never had the big year you’d like to see (6.99 K/9 in his best year), but he can run the fastball up to the mid-90s and he’s a much better athlete than most pitchers out there. RHP Jared Cheek is more of your standard 88-92 (93 peak) fastball and slider reliever. I only know about RHP Craig Brooks what you could also find through a quick Google search. If you happen to do that, you’ll see he sounds pretty promising as a future reliever. Nice mid-90s fastball, good athlete, crazy results as an amateur…it’s a fun lottery ticket and a real bargain at just $5,000.
LHP John Williamson was off my radar as a pitcher, so I full support giving his signing scout a nice raise for getting him on board. I had him as an outfielder only in my notes (plus speed, patient hitter, needs reps), so hearing him go off as a lefthanded pitcher was a pleasant surprise. We know he’s got a fresh arm and plenty of athleticism, so why not? RHP MT Minacci is another good deep dive find. Like Williamson he’s a relatively fresh arm, good athlete, and a hard thrower (low-90s FB in the case of Minacci). If things would have worked out for him at either Florida State or Chipola along the way, there’s no way he would have lasted to the 33rd round like this.
I don’t typically ding teams for guys that don’t sign and I’ll stick to that here, but I think 2B/OF Alonzo Jones is going to be a STAR at Vanderbilt and a first round pick in three years. Nobody was going to sign him at a certain point, so it’s not a knock on the Cubs for not getting a deal done. Even without Jones (or DeRenzo or Kelzer or John Cresto or Jared Padgett or John Kilichowski), I like what the Cubs did this year. Happ alone makes this a good draft. Dewees could make it a very good one. One or more of Rose, Twomey, Wilson, Rice, Kellogg, or Hudson doing things in the big leagues would make it great.
Top 500 Prospects drafted by Chicago per me…
9 – Ian Happ
15 – Donnie Dewees
127 – Matt Rose
137 – Kyle Twomey
189 – DJ Wilson
230 – Ian Rice
234 – Ryan Kellogg
290 – Bryan Hudson
297 – Vimael Machin
383 – Scott Effross
496 – David Berg
“If you like [Cornelius] Randolph, you’ll like Hayes.” That’s how 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes (49) was described to me in the days leading up to the draft. It was too late then to slip that head-to-head prospect comparison into any pre-draft post on the site, but there it is now. Despite some obvious issues (handedness for one), I can kind of see it. I prefer the bat of Randolph (ranked four spots ahead of Hayes pre-draft), but the defensive edge goes to Charlie’s son. Like his dad, a long, steady career without ever reaching the peaks of true stardom sounds about right as a prediction on his future. Here’s what I had on Hayes prior to the draft: quick bat; professional approach; average or better power upside; above-average to plus arm; strong; below-average speed, but improved; chance to be above-average defensively at 3B; arguably no carrying tool, but no glaring weaknesses either; 87-89 FB; R/R; 6-1, 210 pounds.
SS Kevin Newman (31), of all prospects, became a lightning rod player this past spring. Some loved him for his hit tool and dependable glove, others were concerned about his long-term defensive future, limited power ceiling, and how his age relative to his college peers (he turned 22 on August 4th) made his college production look more impressive taken out of context. Count me in as part of the latter group, unfortunately.
Newman’s feel for hitting is special, but, as a guy who will always believe the hit tool is king, it pains me to admit a hit tool alone is not enough to equate to future impact regular. Pro pitchers attack hitters with minimal power differently than amateurs. In no way should all hitters be expected to come into pro ball with 20+ HR/season ability, but the threat of extra base power is needed to get the pitches and favorable hitting counts that lead to good things. It’s considerably more difficult to hit .300 with minimal power at the highest level than it is in college and in the lower-minors. I’m not bold enough to unequivocally say that Newman can’t do it, but the odds are stacked against him. Of course, there have been successful infielders with similar offensive profiles that Newman could use as role models — Ben Revere, decidedly not an infielder but the first player to come to mind also qualifies (.291 career BA, .052 career ISO) — such as Placido Polanco (.297, .100), Marco Scutaro (.277, .111), Jose Altuve (.302, .100), Jeff Keppinger (.282, .102), and Ryan Theriot (.281, .069). So the odds may be stacked against him, but not in such a way that makes the Pirates silly for using a first round pick on him.
Defensively, I’ve flip-flopped on my view of Newman since last April. Back then I thought he was a shortstop with little doubt. Though his superior instincts, first step quickness, and quick release all give him a shot to stick at the six-spot, his lackluster arm strength and limited range make him a better long-term fit at second base. Part of my thought process changing had to do with seeing more of him on the field (with two caveats: I’m a fan, not a scout, and it was video, not live), part of it had to do with hearing from trusted contacts who did see him up close a lot more than I could have hoped to, and part of it was my own evolving view of how important arm strength is for a shortstop. We’ve become so accustomed to thinking that third base is the infield position where the biggest arm is needed, but after focusing more closely on some of the throws that big league shortstops are asked to make deep into the hole as their momentum carries them away from their target, I’d argue that shortstop is where ideally your strongest arm would go. That’s not Newman, and I think that the rest of the industry will realize that sooner rather than later.
A “bigger Johnny Giovotella” was one of the names quoted at me when asking around about Newman during the season. I put him on the Mark Loretta/Adam Kennedy continuum pre-draft and also mentioned that somebody smart I know threw out a Joe Panik comp. Let’s say Giovotella/Theriot is his floor and Panik/Polanco is his ceiling. That’s still an impressive range of outcomes — when your realistic floor is a big league player, as I honestly believe is the case for Newman barring injury, that’s something — and well worth a late-first round pick. The Pirates nabbed him a little earlier than that (pick 19), but it’s a minor quibble in the grand scheme of draft prospect valuation. I like Pittsburgh. I like Newman. I hope he ends up with a career a lot closer to what some other outlets have predicted (he’s a STAR!!!) than what I think. I just wouldn’t bet my non-existent job on it, that’s all.
I’ve listed all these players at the positions announced by the team on draft day, but that’s a tad troublesome when it comes to certain players. See my previous take on Newman as one data point here, though SS Kevin Kramer (96) is probably an even better example. Since being announced as a shortstop on draft day, Kramer has played 2B almost exclusively (34 of 36 games) as a professional so far. It’s not a big deal either way since his most likely successful path to the big leagues will be that of a utility infielder, but there you go. Kramer is the kind of player who grows on you the more you watch him. He’s a really good athlete with enough physical tools (average arm, average speed, average strength) to see a big league future ahead. His hit tool will be the separator for him as it’s above-average (think .270ish) with enough pop and patience to be around a league average bat at the kind of up-the-middle defensive spots he’ll play. I think the gap between him and Newman is closer than the majority think, though that probably says more about how I view Newman than how I see Kramer’s career turning out.
I thought I was going to look relatively low with my ranking of SS Logan Ratledge (155), but him falling as late as he did (397) suggests otherwise. If you like him, then the old Devon Travis comp on him has to be right up your alley. If not, then the best you could hope for is a utility infielder with range stretched a bit more than ideal at shortstop. Despite the higher personal ranking than his draft position, I’d actually line up closer to those who question his pro future. He’s a nice utility prospect to be sure, but it’s hard to get past his senior season breakout looking more like a mirage (that extra year of physical and emotional maturation means a ton) than his new normal. It’s nice value this late in the draft either way. A fourth college shortstop, draft-eligible sophomore Eli White, understandably couldn’t agree to terms as a 37th round pick and will head back to Clemson to try again this year. I’d be surprised if his stock didn’t jump thirty or so rounds before next June rolls around.
C John Bormann is a defense-first catcher. Well, more accurately he’s defense first, second, and third through tenth. He’s not a total zero with the stick, but it’ll be his glove that keeps him employed for years to come. As much as I value catcher defense I do like my catchers to hit a little as well, so I’m not quite as bullish on his pro outlook as others might be. He’s still a solid organizational player even if he doesn’t pan out as a big leaguer. My lazy (since it’s from the system I follow closest as a fan) best case comparison for him would be something like Tuffy Gosewich or Logan Moore.
1B Zach George (166) is a fifth-year senior coming off two torn ACLs who is potentially stuck at first base defensively without the type of power typically associated with the position. Doesn’t sound so hot on paper, does it? Even with all those negative marks on his ledger, I can’t help but love the guy. I mean, I did rank him almost one thousand spots ahead of where he actually got selected (1057) on draft day. It’s obviously a good thing I wasn’t in a draft room to convince a team to overdraft him thirty rounds, but my appreciation for his ability is grounded (I think) in logic. George is a switch-hitter with a fantastic eye (55 BB/28 K and a .548 OBP his senior year) and the ability to hit the ball with authority to all fields. He’s been an underrated glove at third in the past — though that’s based on what could be dated information, I admit — and his story of perseverance is one that not only speaks to his own willingness to stop at nothing to achieve his dreams in pro ball, but also serves as a tale of inspiration to pro teammates who sometimes need a friendly reminder to put how important the game is in perspective.
3B Mitchell Tolman (258) has an interesting offensive profile as an average pop/average speed third base prospect who might have quite enough bat to work as a regular in the long run. What’s interesting about that profile to me — you surely were wondering why average pop/speed is interesting when it’s close to the opposite of that in reality — is how well it fits into a potential utility role down the line. I don’t see why an average runner with a strong arm couldn’t make it as a four-corners utility guy eventually, but what do I know? It should also be noted that some think Tolman could hold his own at second with increased time at that position. If you’re picking up on some Matt Carpenter vibes here, you’re not wrong. That’s obviously a 95% percentile outcome, but you never know, right?
I saw OF Casey Hughston (306) as more of a fringe top ten round pick before the draft, but Pittsburgh felt comfortable gambling on his big offensive tools (power, athleticism, bat skills) helping him overcome his questionable offensive approach. We’ll see. I actually think OF Logan Hill (255) compares favorably to Hughston from a skills standpoint with a clear edge in plate discipline and an arguable edge in raw power. I liked (and still like, obviously) OF Ty Moore (113) best of all. Originally written in April, this still fits: “[Moore] is living proof that you can have average tools across the board so long as the best of said tools is the bat, whether it’s straight hit or power. Moore has as good a hit tool as you’ll find in this year’s class. The rest of his tools may be more or less average, but that hit tool will keep him getting paid for years to come. It’s a bit of a tricky profile in an outfield corner, but those with confidence in him as a hitter will give him a long look.” I’m buying. Meanwhile, Ryan Nagle, the fourth college outfielder selected by the Pirates, is more interesting than your usual 27th round pick. He’s a lefty hitter with decent power, speed, and some plate discipline coming off a nice junior season (.329/.395/.442 with 22 BB/25 K and 11/15 SB).
Getting a prospect with the kind of raw ability (90-96 FB, breaking ball with average or better promise) as RHP Jacob Taylor (317) in the fourth round is a good thing even when said prospect has serious control questions and no real present third pitch. At worst you’re getting a late-inning reliever starter kit; at best, assuming damn near everything goes right, he’s talented enough to be an above-average rotation staple for a long time. LHP Brandon Waddell (254) has managed to turn an upper-80s fastball (91 peak) and intriguing offspeed stuff (plus 75-77 CB, interesting low-80s cut-SL, and a 79-82 CU that looked better with every outing this spring) into something resembling a future back-end of the rotation big league starting pitcher. He was a horse in the Virginia rotation — 88.2 IP, 114 IP, and 75 IP in his three years there — who was good for around a strikeout per inning at his best. Taking a lefty from Virginia isn’t a bad strategy in general, so I’m into this pick. RHP JT Brubaker is a local-ish college product (RIP Akron baseball) who has been up to 94 in the past with a frame that suggests good things to come. I root for all players to succeed because I’m a great guy like that, but it would be extra nice to see Brubaker and the rest of his former teammates at Akron do well in pro ball considering the rotten way it ended there. RHP Seth McGarry has the look and feel of a future quality big league middle reliever thanks to a big fastball (92-95, 97 peak), plus breaking ball, and all the athleticism and deception you’d want.
RHP Bret Helton’s draft season results (4.72 BB/9 and 5.75 ERA in 61 IP) don’t exactly scream ninth round value pick, but he’s an athlete who has hit 94 in the past (88-92 mostly) with an above-average hard cutter and that’s worth taking a chance on here. His control is the biggest worry for me, but that seems to be a trend in many of the players selected by Pittsburgh. Maybe that’s a reflection of the confidence they have in their developmental staff to teach pitchers how to throw strikes. It is easier to improve a guy’s control than it is to magically find a way to add miles to his fastball or depth to his breaking stuff, after all. RHP Nick Hibbing doesn’t have any issues with control (0.44 BB/9 in 41 IP in his senior year), so the focus with him will be getting the most (he tops out at 93) out of his 6-6, 200 pound frame. RHP Tanner Anderson reminds me some of Helton as a prospect. The stuff is there (88-92 FB, 94 peak with usable CB and CU), but he never missed bats in the Ivy League so I’m incredulous he’ll suddenly start doing so against professional hitters. He never stood out to me in the few times I saw him over the years, but, let’s be honest, that really shouldn’t be held against the guy too much.
For a 36th round pick, RHP James Marvel has a ton written about him on the site already. Search around for a more nuanced take, but the short version is Captain Marvel could prove to be a major steal if healthy. Fellow ACC pitcher and 30-something rounder (33rd, if details matter to you) LHP Sean Keselica is another really impressive find at the end of the draft. Keselica has always had a good arm (87-92 FB, average or better mid-70s breaking ball), and the idea that his athleticism and the freedom from no longer being a two-way player (.313/.394/.374 with 13 BB/15 K in his senior season) will help continue to see the stuff tick up as a pro is not without merit. The Pirates kept hitting with the late picks (in my view) with the back-to-back closing selections of RHP Tate Scioneaux (round 39) and LHP Daniel Zamora (round 40). Scioneaux sits 87-93 with his heat while using an average change as an out-pitch while Zamora’s quick scouting notes (86-90 FB, average-ish breaking ball, emerging changeup) may remind you of the more famous lefty taken over 1,000 picks beforehand. To take that to the crazy conclusion, I actually had one contact tell me that he felt there was really little to no difference between the long-term pro outlooks of Brandon Waddell and Daniel Zamora; in fairness, he considered them both to be up-and-down relievers at best, but still. It’s worth noting that both Scioneaux and Zamora were big-time college producers (both in terms of traditional stats and the newer, better stuff) while at Southeastern Louisiana and Stony Brook respectively.
I do my best to cover as much amateur baseball across the country as possible. Somehow pro teams manage to do a much better job than a guy on the internet with a staff of one. Weird, right? The Pirates drafted pitchers from Tiffin, South Mountain CC, Columbia State CC, Bellevue, and Mercer County CC. I know I should do a better job trying to cover non-D1 college ball, but there are only so many hours in the day. Anyway, that’s all just a long way of saying I don’t have a lot of information on many of the pitchers selected by Pittsburgh this year. I could do some quick Googling and pretend like I’m more of an expert than I am, but that ain’t me. So here’s what I’ve got.
RHP Logan Sendelbach sounds good so far. The early returns on RHP Chris Plitt look interesting, especially the whole no walks in 28.2 innings pitched thing. RHP Scooter Hightower has performed well so far. RHP Stephan Meyer‘s had success in a small sample. LHP Ike Schlabach is a 6-5, 185 pound lefty, so that’s cool. I shouldn’t have whiffed so badly on RHP Nicholas Economos pre-draft considering he played his home games around 45 minutes from me, but it happens. RHP Nathan Trevillian has a cool last name AND I actually had pre-draft info on him (90 MPH fastball, 6-2, 160 pound frame). RHP Shane Kemp isn’t the ferocious dunker who played for the Sonics in the mid-90s. Same but better joke could apply to RHP Mike Wallace, but I’ll leave it to you to fill in the blanks there.
Top 500 Prospects drafted by Pittsburgh per me…
31 – Kevin Newman
49 – Ke’Bryan Hayes
96 – Kevin Kramer
113 – Ty Moore
155 – Logan Ratledge
166 – Zach George
254 – Brandon Waddell
255 – Logan Hill
258 – Mitchell Tolman
306 – Casey Hughston
317 – Jacob Taylor
Cleveland drafts in the middle of the first round pretty closely to how I’d draft in the horrifying alternate reality where an internet dude like me got that kind of power: lots of college players with long track records of success (with an emphasis on strong peripherals), a willingness to take calculated risks when the board allows for it, and tons of HS players with signability questions to help back up those risks. Let’s get to Mr. Calculated Risk himself…
LHP Brady Aiken (34) is kind of a big deal. I’m guessing if you’re here, you know his story. If 100% healthy, he would have easily been the top pitcher in this class and a top five overall prospect. Hypotheticals like this make my head hurt, but I think I would have had him as the top prospect for a second straight season. A mid-market club like Cleveland taking the gamble on Aiken tells us something about how teams view the draft. When everybody had teams like the Dodgers or the Yankees being the most likely franchises to take the Aiken risk, it was Cleveland of all teams to put all their mid-first round (17) chips in on a player with arguably the most upside in his entire class. Just another reminder that there’s no more frustrating place to be than in the middle. When you’re terrible, the sport does what it can to help you out., most notably through giving up top picks in the draft and the corresponding shot at the potential superstar players picked in the top half-dozen or so selections. When you’re great, you’re great. Simple as that. It’s nice that you have free agency (international and domestic) as an option to flex those financial muscles. When you’re in the middle, however, the best way to get the kind of game-changing talent you need is by taking mighty hacks and swinging for home runs when you get your shot. Aiken is Cleveland’s shot. So what are they getting with him?
My optimistic forecast for the pre-injury version of Aiken last season was a more physical Matt Moore. Ironically enough, that comparison was made just a few weeks after Moore went under the knife for his own Tommy John surgery. Aiken’s arm woes were revealed a couple of months later. It’s obviously very early in Moore’s return, but initial returns are a reminder that nothing is guaranteed when attempting a comeback from elbow surgery. Healthy, Aiken is an ace. I hope he’s healthy. Cleveland hopes he’s healthy.
I really, really like RHP Triston McKenzie (20), a mid-first round talent who fell to the Indians second pick at 42. Reaching out to get names on him after the draft produced some really impressive names: Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Wacha, and Vincent Velasquez. Each name was mentioned in the context of the draft version and not the finished product, but elements of each of those up-and-coming stars’s respective games (extension, smarts, ability to hold velocity, frame) can be found in McKenzie. In terms of a more contemporary comparison — because deGrom, Syndergaard, Wacha, and Velasquez are all soooo old — I’ve been reminded some of Grayson Long, third round pick of the Angels. Long managed to fill out physically, but his fastball velocity never made the expected jump along the way. Even if McKenzie follows that same path, he can still be an effective big league starter at his current velocity — presently 86-92, 93 peak — because of plus fastball movement and above-average offspeed stuff (the mid-70s curve is ahead now, but his 82-85 changeup could be plus in time). If he fills out and sees his fastball jump up like some of those names listed above…the sky’s the limit. If Aiken doesn’t make a full return to health, McKenzie has the raw talent, work ethic, and baseball IQ to make up for it.
LHP Juan Hillman (92) brings polish, pitchability, and deception not typically seen from high school pitching prospects. He has the requisite three pitches that go a long way towards making it as a rotation mainstay: 87-93 FB (95 peak), mid-70s CB with upside, and an easy above-average upper-70s CU that he leans on heavily. Too often he was seen on the lower end of that velocity spectrum (87-90) this spring with offspeed stuff not nearly as sharp as those who first fell for him the previous summer came to expect. Hillman is a nice example of how we really don’t know anything about how teams value certain players. On his best day, Hillman is a first rounder with mid-rotation upside or better. On his, shall we say, not best day, he’s more of a third to seventh round type with a back-end rotation or middle relief future. Teams that thought of him as a mid-round player were probably relieved to see Cleveland “reach” on him; obviously, the Indians front office is thrilled with getting him when they did. Consensus and the draft just don’t get along. RHP Jonas Wyatt (299) has a similar upside to the good Hillman if it all works. He’s pretty well physically maxed out for a teenager, but I like his fastball (88-94, 96 peak) and changeup (average low- to mid-80s with above-average upside).
If you want an early follow list for 2018 college pitching, look no further to the list of unsigned arms on Cleveland’s draft board. Check out these names…
RHP Chandler Newman (Georgia Southern)
RHP Daniel Sprinkle (Auburn)
RHP Austin Rubick (Arizona)
RHP Chandler Day (Vanderbilt)
RHP Andrew Cabezas (Miami)
RHP Braden Webb (South Carolina)
RHP Hunter Parsons (Maryland)
RHP Tristin English (Georgia Tech)
Day (39) and English (53) both are likely future first round picks in three years. Parsons (473) also made my top 500. And, for good measure, there are two unsigned college juniors going back for one more season…
RHP Lucas Humpal (Texas State)
LHP Jacob Hill (San Diego)
The best college arm taken and signed by Cleveland this year is attached to the body of RHP Justin Garza (156). The reasons for his drop to the eighth round are valid (5-11, 165 pound frame; TJ surgery about a month before the draft), but he’s exactly the kind of undersized righthander that deserves the chance to keep starting until he proves he can’t. Garza is a crazy athletic pitcher with three potential above-average pitches (90-94 FB, 96 peak; above-average to plus 80-86 cut-SL; average yet inconsistent 76-82 CU that flashes better) who held up well as a starter at Fullerton. In fact, he was remarkably consistent in that role: 7.67 K/9 and 1.33 BB/9 (2013), 7.40 K/9 and 1.73 BB/9 (2014), 7.34 K/9 and 1.94 BB/9 (2015) with ERAs/FIPs between 3.05 and 3.54 each year. The history of arm troubles — before the elbow, it was a sore shoulder — could make him remaining a starter a non-starter, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker. If he can stay healthy as a starter, I can see Garza as a mid-rotation arm; if not, he’s got the goods to pitch big innings late in games out of the pen. Not a bad gamble with pick 244.
The selection of RHP Matt Esparza is one of my favorite moves by the Tribe this year. He doesn’t overwhelm with his fastball (88-92, 93 peak), but his offspeed stuff is excellent (plus mid-80s splitter/slider hybrid, 76-80 CB with above-average promise), he has experience as a starter (7.36 K/9 and 3.18 BB/9 in 98 IP at UC Irvine), and he’s a fine athlete. It’s easy to imagine his stuff playing up further in a bullpen role — so far, so good as a professional — which is about all you could ask for in a fourteenth round pick. RHP Brock Hartson (428) is another favorite thanks to an excellent 82-85 changeup. His ability to throw three pitches for strikes makes up for his underwhelming college strikeout numbers some. A lesser version of former fifth round pick Nick Tropeano feels like a fair hope for Hartson’s pro future. RHP Devon Stewart (461) has stuff (87-94 FB, 96 peak; average or better low-80s SL; usable low-80s CU) that outstripped his college career numbers. A full-time move to the bullpen could give him a shot to keep moving up. RHP Chad Smith isn’t quite at his level athletically, but there’s some Justin Garza (undersized, big fastball, two useful offspeed pitches) in his scouting profile. LHP Billy Strode missed a lot of bats in his two years at Florida State (9.19 K/9 in 2014, 12.40 K/9 in 2015) and could have a shot as a lefty specialist if he can improve his control. I was pleasantly surprised to see him go as high as he did as a tenth round money-saving senior-sign. LHP Ryan Perez is more famous for his switch-pitching than known as a viable professional prospect, but his stuff from the left side (90-94 FB, above-average to plus 77-81 CB) could also make him a matchup guy with increased reps.
Cleveland didn’t sign a HS position player, but the college guys they managed to bring aboard are plenty intriguing on their own. C Daniel Salters (148) was a pre-draft FAVORITE who feels like a major steal as a thirteenth round pick. Arm strength, raw power, athleticism, and plate discipline add up to a dangerous hitter with a better shot than people think to stick behind the dish. I’ll admit that some patience might be required on the defensive side, but the potential pay day makes it worth waiting on. Interestingly enough, unsigned 33rd round pick C Garret Wolforth (179) will head to Dallas Baptist as Salters’s successor. Circle of life, I suppose.
1B Anthony Miller (423) hit .443/.556/.974 at Johnson County CC this past spring. He’s currently hitting .202/.288/.253 (give a take or two from when I wrote this to when I’ll post this) for the AZL Indians. Pro ball is hard. Power and a track record — junior college or not — like his are hard to come by, especially once you get down past pick 500. Nabbing Miller at pick 544 feels like a win no matter the outcome.
2B Mark Mathias (77) can flat swing the bat. It’s a risky profile as any bat-first second base only prospect tends to be (Tony Renda sticks out as similarly talented college guy I probably overrated), but snagging a potential regular at a key defensive position in the third round seems about right. I mentioned Mark Loretta as a potential comp pre-draft, so let’s stick with that for now. I thought 2B Sam Haggerty could be a tricky sign as a junior with three solid or better years with the bat under his belt as a college junior, so consider the steady fielding, fleet of foot infielder a potential utility infield sleeper. The Indians took four quality shortstops (signing two) that all ranked in my top 500 overall prospects. SS Tyler Krieger, the highest ranked (58) and highest selected (124) of the quartet, hasn’t yet suited up as a pro due to injury, so it’s unclear how the Indians development staff yet view him defensively. Shoulder surgery sapped some his formerly above-average arm strength, so second base seems like his most likely pro outcome. That puts him in direct competition with Mathias in a battle to man second in beautiful — not being sarcastic here, it’s an underrated town! — Cleveland. The two have actually been really similar hitters from a college production standpoint, so the edge to Krieger is more about speed, athleticism, and the glove. I still think both are future big leaguers. SS Luke Wakamatsu is an athlete who can run, throw, and field his position with the bonus bloodlines that teams love. Unsigned shortstops Nick Madrigal (102) and AJ Graffanino (239) head to the Pac-12 to square off at Oregon State and Washington respectively.
3B Garrett Benge (276) lived up to his reputation as a tough sign by announcing shortly after the draft his intention to honor his commitment to Oklahoma State. He should start right away to the right of returning senior Donnie Walton as part of one of the country’s best (on paper) left sides of the infield.
Between Salters, Miller, Mathias, and Krieger, the Indians did really well to interject some high probability big league players into the mix. I wish for their sake that they had added Belge, but now there’s one more interesting 2017 draft prospect to follow. The Indians then took a similar approach with the outfield prospects brought on board starting with Ka’ai Tom (313). Tom has played left field so far, but the pre-draft speculation that he could get a serious look at second base hasn’t died down as some have hinted that the Indians could give it a shot starting in the instructional league this fall. Such a switch would create an almost comical backlog of college second basemen to come out of this draft, but would fit his offensive profile better. Tom’s an average speed/average pop offensive player with the kind of feel for the game and makeup to play above his tools.
By my rankings both Tom and OF Nathan Lukes (478) were technically overdrafts, but you can see the logic what Cleveland was thinking in liking each guy. Like Tom, Lukes is more of an average all-around offensive player with his most appealing trait being his plate discipline and aesthetically pleasing well-roundedness. Same goes for OF Connor Marabell, the Jacksonville product with “good approach” as the first line on his pre-draft blurb. The safety of those three makes up some for the boom/bust potential of OF Todd Isaacs (316). Isaacs is a true burner with all that you’d want in a future above-average or better glove in center field, but the bat is going to take some time. I had Issacs all the way up as the sixth best high school outfielder in last year’s class. His up-and-down year at Palm Beach State (up: lots of contact and speed; down: approach and pop) knocked down his stock enough for the Indians to wait him out until the nineteenth round this year. It’s a pick that could pay off in a major way just as easily as it’ll wind up forgotten within two years. Analysis!
Top 500 Prospects drafted by Cleveland per me…
20 – Triston McKenzie
34 – Brady Aiken
58 – Tyler Krieger
77 – Mark Mathias
92 – Juan Hillman
148 – Daniel Salters
156 – Justin Garza
299 – Jonas Wyatt
313 – Ka’ai Tom
316 – Todd Isaacs
423 – Anthony Miller
428 – Brock Hartson
461 – Devon Stewart
478 – Nathan Lukes
Bregman, Swanson, Rodgers, Tucker, Jay, Fulmer, Tate. Those were the only seven players in all of amateur baseball that I liked better than LHP Kolby Allard (8) prior to the draft. And that’s with there being some fear about his injury history; on straight talent, he could have been even higher. Stress fracture aside, Allard’s scouting profile is that of a top of the rotation starting pitcher you’d want toeing the rubber on Game One of any postseason series. There’s a chance for three consistent above-average pitches — 88-94 FB, 97 peak; 77-82 CB that flashes honest plus to plus-plus (!) and ranks on the short list of pitches of its kind that I’ve personally seen up close; advanced 82-85 CU that should keep getting better as he is forced to use it more often — and his athleticism, command (he fits one of my favorite prep pitching archetypes here: command/pitchability arm who sees an uptick in stuff but doesn’t lose what originally led to success), and deception are all close to ideal. Mechanically the comparisons to Cole Hamels seem pretty spot on to this layman, which is truly high praise considering Hamels’s mechanics are just about as perfectly balanced as you’d want to see in a lefthander. Stuff-wise, I’d put him closer to lefties known best for awesome curves like Erik Bedard and Jose Quintana. I’d take Quintana in the top ten within thinking twice, so landing him at fourteen is a major win. Allard should be a star and sooner rather than later.
RHP Mike Soroka (194) is a strapping (6-4, 200 pounds) young (he’ll turn 18 tomorrow) Canadian (loves maple syrup…probably) who Atlanta took a shot on before any of the supposed experts (and me) expected. For a strapping young Canadian he’s a lot more advanced than expected with three average or better pitches and sharp command of both his fastball and breaking ball. Overdrafts don’t exist in baseball; Atlanta did well here.
I was a huge fan of RHP Patrick Weigel (287) before the season. I went so far as to call him a “top two round talent” last December. Now I have no idea what to make of him. Back then I had him pegged as a prototypical long-limbed righthanded pitcher with a plus fastball (easy mid-90s) and potential wipeout slider who would get hurt because of his struggles with both command and control. Once the games started this spring, however, Weigel showed a big jump in control (a reasonable 3.53 BB/9 in 50 IP), a modest jump in command (especially with his heat), and, inexplicably, less missed bats (a good but not great 7.94 K/9) than his power stuff would suggest. So much for that high strikeout, high walk narrative, I guess. Weigel’s raw arm talent is still significant, so getting a “top two round talent” (I’m sticking with that, though my pre-draft ranking indicates the risk involved with the overall package) in the seventh is a win, underwhelming junior season or not.
LHP Alex Minter (289) went much earlier than I thought, but I give credit to Atlanta for honing in on his talent rather than worrying about his injury past (thoracic outlet syndrome) and present (TJ surgery early in the spring). Considering Minter’s abbreviated 2015 season output (12.43 K/9 and 3.43 BB/9 with a 0.43 ERA in 21 IP), the Braves did well to go up and get their guy before having to sweat out another team poaching the highly athletic, hard-throwing (90-96 in 2015) lefty. I had in my notes that he had shown difficulty maintaining velocity when stretched out in the past, but after checking in with a contact from a team that had Minter as a top 100 or so prospect (I probably should have had him higher than 289, right?), this concern seems to be outdated. Minter has gotten strong enough (and smart enough) as a pitcher to give starting an honest try upon his return to good health. With his fastball, nasty cut-slider, and slow curve (not to mention a raw yet very intriguing changeup), he’s got the stuff to do so. I would have been too much of a wimp to take him as high as the Braves did, but I get it.
It’s a shame that RHP Josh Graham (435) looks like a future reliever — and a fine one at that — because, lackluster college results or not, he’s an exciting hitter with crazy power. Of course, selfish power-loving interests aside, it’s not really a shame that Atlanta managed to snag a fresh arm capable of throwing consistent strikes with an upper-90s (96-97) fastball in the fourth round. RHP Matt Withrow (434, one spot ahead of Graham) can also run it up to 96 and could settle in as a solid middle reliever before long.
Atlanta drafted a lot of pitchers. Too many for my tiny brain to produce coherent sentences on each, in fact. So let’s run through them blurb style and sort it out afterwards…
- RHP Anthony Guardado – undersized athlete who is young for class; 93 peak fastball
- RHP Ryan Clark – UNC Greensboro junior; 88-94 FB (96 peak) that is tough to elevate with ample sink, enough offspeed to start (CB and CU stand out as average or better future pitches); has the command, athleticism, and track record to suggest lots of good things to come; profile reminds me of many of the guys traded this deadline (e.g., Pivetta, Eickhoff) in packages that returned star big leaguers; underrated on my end before the draft, really nice pick
- LHP Ryan Lawlor – Georgia junior – 86-91 FB with a curve with some upside; likely reliever, but could sneak in as a pitchability lefty who gets some starts
- RHP Taylor Lewis – Florida junior – 88-93 FB, 95 peak; above-average 82 SL; sidearm delivery; doesn’t mean a ton of bats, but looks like a quick-moving bullpen piece with built-in big game experience
- RHP Stephen Moore – Navy senior – older (23) command pitcher with an above-average CU and legit plus control
- RHP Grayson Jones – remember how I described what I thought Weigel was before the season – that’s Jones (except Jones isn’t as large); big stuff, little control, interesting raw talent that could be molded into something
- LHP Chase Johnson-Mullins – velocity has trended upward from HS (87-92, 94 peak) to now (96 peak), but still fluctuates from outing to outing as he leans on the pitch heavily; upper-70s curve has been his best secondary pitch since prep days, it’s a good one; attended Bourbon County HS, which I’m assuming is as magical a place as my imagination suggests; once described to me as a “lefty Broxton”
- LHP Trevor Belicek – Texas A&M-Corpus Christi senior; 87-91 FB that he commands well; average or better SL; outstanding final college season (11.35 K/9 and 2.25 BB/9 in 87 IP)
- RHP Evan Phillips – UNC Wilmington junior; young for class; control has been his downfall, but stuff is legit (88-93 FB, 95 peak; average or better CB); another player I underrated out of a North Carolina college
- RHP Gilbert Suarez – up to 94 with his fastball, but don’t have anything beyond that; young for class; impressed they were able to sign him
- RHP Sean McLaughlin – Georgia junior; 89-93 FB, 95 peak; above-average 73-75 CB; CU has improved a lot, now an above-average pitch at 77-78; two-way athlete who was smart to give up center field for the mound; like Lawlor before him and Hellinger and Geekie to come, you have to figure Atlanta knew these local products better than anybody; definite sleeper potential here
- LHP Jaret Hellinger – good athlete who just kept getting better all spring; 85-91 FB, 93 peak; usable CB and CU already; plenty of upside left in his 6-3,170 pound frame
- RHP Dalton Geekie – great name, solid stuff, little wild…that’s all I’ve got and I won’t pretend to know more
- RHP Taylor Cockrell – Stetson transfer with an 88-92 FB coming off an impressive two-way season at the State College of Florida
- LHP Ben Libuda – tall and lanky (6-7, 185 pounds) and notable because the Braves left the south to find him all the way up in Worcester, Massachusetts
- RHP Matthew Custred – Texas Tech junior and teammate of Withrow; big guy (6-6, 240 pounds) who got on my radar for racking up the strikeouts this year (13.00 K/9) while also walking his fair share (7.00 BB/9)
On the whole you have to like what Atlanta did with adding pitching this draft. Many of the HS and junior college prospects they signed (Jones, Johnson-Mullins, Suarez, Hellinger) stand out as being real value picks that the Braves were able to land due to impressive leg work on signability and late-rising ability. I don’t really believe in calling any top ten round pick a “sleeper,” but the top ten round collection of Minter, Guardado, Graham, Clark, Withrow, and Weigel represents an intriguing blend of upside (Minter, Guardado, and Clark could all work in a rotation one day) and high-floor reliever certainty — it’s not sexy, but if they don’t get at least three middle relievers out of that group then I’d be stunned — that gives the system a great deal of depth at arguably the game’s most difficult to fill spot. Every team always needs pitching, so loading up via the draft is never a bad approach. Combine that with a top ten talent in Allard and a lottery ticket in Soroka (who the Braves like — and know — a lot more than I do), and life is good. Of course, loading up on pitching comes at a price. So about those bats…
C Lucas Herbert (79) will get the chance to catch his high school teammate Kolby Allard as a professional, which is a damn cool thing anyway you look at it. His bat is well behind his glove at the moment, but catcher is the one position that you can get away with that in a young prospect. C Trey Keegan (411) gave up his final two years of college eligibility at Bowling Green to get his pro career going, a smart move consider he’s already 22 years old. He checks just about all of my personal boxes as far as catching prospects go: bat speed, arm strength, athleticism, and plate discipline. C Collin Yelich is another college guy with an excellent arm (both accurate and strong) who makes a ton of contact as a hitter.
Unsigned 1B Liam Scafariello (264) was drafted as an infielder, but I’m hoping the big yet athletic guy gets a chance to roam the outfield some now that he’s off to Connecticut. 2B Kurt Hoekstra (324) is a great get as a twenty-first round pick (630) who can swing the bat better than most late-round picks. The pre-draft rumblings about him being athletic enough to give shortstop a shot have been realized, so reaching his utility ceiling now feels more attainable than ever. My preference was to see 3B Austin Riley (88) get a shot on the mound first, but there’s no reason to argue with Atlanta wanting to see the young (18 this past April), athletic, strong-armed, power-hitting (above-average to plus raw) at the hot corner first. So far so good on the power front, though his approach is understandably raw. The Braves might have a type — or I might be more wrong about prospects than I think — since their other third base prospect of note is a player I preferred on the mound pre-draft. 3B Robby Nesovic never wowed as a pitcher at Santa Barbara, but scouts liked his upper-80s sinker/slider combination enough to think he could get a look as a relief prospect. Instead the Braves are taking his plus arm and sturdy frame to the field and batter’s box. We’ll see if it works out for them…and him.
The best outfielder drafted by Atlanta is off to South Carolina. Bummer for them. That would be local product OF DJ Neal (200), a two-way standout that is likely to play both baseball and football for the Gamecocks starting this fall. It’s not a perfect comparison, but there are some shades of Brandon McIlwain, current Council Rock North star and 2016 MLB Draft favorite committed to play both sports at the very same school. Was that a gratuitous mention of a big-time future draft prospect that I wanted to slip in because I’ve otherwise been too lazy to write about how much as I’ve enjoyed watching him play this summer? Could be. As far as signed outfielders go, Justin Ellison and Brad Keller both offer some degree of the power/speed package needed to get an extended opportunity in pro ball.
Top 500 Prospects drafted by Atlanta per me…
8 – Allard
79 – Herbert
88 – Riley
194 – Soroka
287 – Weigel
289 – Minter
324 – Hoekstra
411 – Keegan
434 – Withrow
435 – Graham