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Houston Astros 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Houston 2011 Draft Selections

Houston went a little college heavy for my taste, but that’s forgivable considering the interesting collection of college prospects they rounded up. The early round pitching additions and handful of high upside college position players make it a slightly above-average class on balance. Connecticut OF George Springer (23rd ranked draft prospect) is a favorite of mine who I’ve seen up close multiple times, so forgive me for being super annoying and going with the long quote from my most recent viewing. The cliff notes: Springer shows four big league tools (strong arm, big raw power, good speed, and good CF defense/great RF defense), a hit tool/approach that has been the subject of debate going on two years now, and all the intangibles (work ethic, passion for the game, high aptitude to learn) you’d want in a potential franchise cornerstone. The gap between what Springer is and what he’ll eventually be is quite large by college first round hitter standards, but you don’t need an amateur hack like me to tell you his upside is immense.

Good pro coaching will do wonders for him, though it will be really interesting to see how much tinkering his future employer will really want to do after investing a hefty bonus in the college version of Springer’s swing. He looks a little bow-legged in the photo above, but it isn’t a great representation of his swing setup because it captures him just as he started his stride. I had great video of him swinging the bat, but it disappeared into the ether during a file conversion. As for Springer’s swing, again, I’m not a scout, but I was really impressed with his balance at the plate, both in his approach and follow through. I didn’t like his collapsed back elbow, but found many of his flaws to be those decidedly under the “Coach Him Up and He’ll Be Alright” umbrella. This may be a cop-out, but the rise of so many other prospects could really be a boon for Springer’s career. Taking him in the top ten scares the heck out of me, but if he slips closer to the middle or end of the round, watch out. Lowered expectations + more stable pro organization, especially at the big league level (less need to rush him) = transformation from overrated to underrated almost overnight.

Another quick note I’ll pass along without much comment: George Springer cares. I realize this is a dangerous game to play because, really, how can we ever know such a thing, but George Springer (his name just sounds better when you use the first and the last) cares, or, at worst, is one heck of an actor. I’d never get on a player for not reacting to a strikeout with anger (and, by extension, showing that they care) because, as a quiet guy myself, I know demonstrative displays of emotion shouldn’t be the standard by which we judge effort and dedication. But the way Springer reacted to an early strikeout — pacing back and forth in front of the bench seemingly in search of a tunnel to pop into and blow off some steam (soon enough, George) until finally settling to the far end of the dugout, just off to the side, where he took a knee, closed his eyes, and started pantomiming his swing — really stood out to me. Probably nothing, but there you go.

None of that changes my view of George Springer the prospect, by the way. Just thought it was a relatively interesting tidbit worth passing along. I have to admit that I do kind of love the idea of a player with a wOBA approaching .500 getting that worked up over a bad at bat. Or maybe I love the way a player who is is clearly pressing at the plate has still somehow managed to put up a league/park adjusted triple slash of .386/.482/.667 (as of mid-April).

Two pro comparisons for Springer came immediately to mind. The first is 100% physical and in no way any kind of projection of future pro value. Something about Springer’s body, swing, and overall on-field demeanor reminded me a great deal of Florida’s Mike Stanton. Again, the two are very different players, but the physical similarities were interesting. A comp like that is probably why most people don’t like comps, but they’ll live.

The second comparison is much, much better, I think. Springer’s upside and overall tools package remind me so much of Minnesota minor leaguer Joe Benson that it’s scary. File that one away…

And now we get the run on early round pitching additions. Locust Grove HS (OK) RHP Adrian Houser (174th ranked draft prospect) stood out in a crowded Oklahoma prep pitching class due to his plus fastball and advanced curveball. So much can happen with a prep arm developmentally that I’d be making stuff up if I gave you any definitive take on his future, but I can say with confidence that two quality pitches often makes for a good base to build a successful career on.

The Astros gambled on the signability of Vanderbilt RHP Jack Armstrong (49th ranked draft prospect) and came out big winners. He’s big, he’s athletic, and he has a big league ready fastball/curveball combo. If the change comes around, he’s a potential mid-rotation innings eater with the chance to put together. Out of all the excellent Vanderbilt draft prospects, I liked him second only to Sonny Gray.

Vanderbilt JR RHP Jack Armstrong: 91-93 FB sitting, 94-97 peak; 80-82 flashes plus CU; 81-82 CB with promise but slow to develop due to injuries; clean mechanics; finally healthy, CB better than ever; 6-7, 230 pounds

Sometimes it really is as simple as throwing away the performance aspect and looking at raw stuff. Armstrong’s track record on the mound doesn’t make him a top 100 pick (or a top 50 prospect on my pre-draft list), but his raw stuff ranks up there with almost anybody’s. Injury concerns could have Houston looking at Armstrong as a future reliever, but I’d love to see the big guy get a chance to start.

Santa Fe CC (FL) LHP Chris Lee is a lefty with good present velocity and the body to grow into even more. He signed quickly and, though his control left something to be desire, he showed impressive strikeout and groundball numbers.

If you can’t love Stony Brook RHP Nick Tropeano (108th ranked draft prospect), then we can’t be friends. How can you not fall for a big righthander that throws much slower than his frame suggests, but gets incredible results due to movement, great secondaries, and a big league veteran feel for pitching? Tropeano’s upside is a solid big league starting pitcher; his stuff (FB/CU/SL) reminds me a little bit of what Kyle Lohse brings to the mound. To keep this from being too positive – who would ever want to read positive thoughts on the internet? – there is some concern that, without a proper fastball, Tropeano’s future is starting pitcher or bust (i.e. he lacks the safety net of becoming a reliever).

Stony Brook JR RHP Nick Tropeano: 87-88, tops out at 90-91 with FB; velocity up a tick this year; better sink on FB; very good CU; very good SL with plus upside; advanced feel for pitching; relies very heavily on CU; 6-4, 205 pounds

I really liked what Houston did when it came time to pick college outfielders. Bringing in three toolsy, athletic, and physically gifted prospects gives the organizational depth chart a nice boost as they attempt to remake their outfield at the big league level. San Diego State OF Brandon Meredith is, well, toolsy, athletic, and physically gifted. He also works deep counts and flashes enough power/speed/arm to make him a potential regular right fielder down the line. With most non-elite college prospects, his most realistic path to landing a big league opportunity is to put up unignorable (note: not a real word) numbers year after year in the minors until he finally gets the chance to contribute either after a trade leaves a hole in the lineup or he is needed to bolster the big league bench. From there, who knows?

San Diego State JR OF Brandon Meredith: good arm; plus bat speed; good raw power; solid speed; RF professionally; (388/490/547 – 29 BB/39 K – 9/13 SB – 201 AB)

King HS (FL) OF Javaris Reynolds is a lottery ticket who was taken at the right time (7th round) you’d like to see your team gamble on high upside/low probability type players. Forsyth Country Day HS (NC) RHP Brandon Culbreth is the pitching equivalent to Reynolds; raw, but with a pro frame and enough flashes of quality stuff that you can start your daydreaming. Baseball players at least five years away from the big leagues are what people daydream about, right?

Creighton RHP Jonas Dufek is a watered down version of Nick Tropeano. He’s big, has below-average fastball velocity, and reliant on his offspeed and command to keep himself in ballgames. As a senior sign, he also only cost one-fourth the price of Tropeano; I’d be pleasantly surprised if he can achieve one-fourth the success I think Tropeano will have in the pros.

I know certain allowances are made for lefthanders, but you have to admit that the selection of Kent State LHP Kyle Hallock officially marks an early round trend for Houston. Between Tropeano, Dufek, and now Hallock, that’s three college arms with fastballs that stay below the 90 MPH barrier more often than not. As a three-pitch lefty with a little bit of projection left, Hallock is my kind of senior sign.

Minnesota OF Justin Gominsky (Round 11) is a really, really nice addition this late in the draft. He fits the toolsy, athletic, and physically gifted prospect mold mentioned earlier. The arm, speed, and center field defense are all big league quality; the difference between getting a shot playing every day or being pigeon holed into a fourth/fifth outfielder role comes down to his hit tool, plate discipline, and ability to tap into his considerable raw power. I tend to believe in elite athletes figuring out the baseball side of things more often than I probably should, so take my hearty endorsement of Gominsky as a prospect with a grain of salt.

Minnesota JR CF Justin Gominsky (2011): good arm; very good defender; plus athlete; good speed; interesting hit tool; 6-4, 185

Mississippi C Miles Hamblin (Round 12) serves as a harsh reminder of why I shouldn’t get too excited about prospects based predominantly on their junior college production. That’s not to say Hamblin’s numbers at Howard JC were the only thing that drew me to him (his scouting reports have been fairly positive going on three years now), but it was the incredible statistics that had me touting him as a potential top five round pick (whoops) back in 2009. His so-so showing in the SEC and slightly less optimistic defensive projection has me a little nervous, but I’ll stubbornly cling to the idea that his plus arm/plus raw power combo gives him a shot to make it as a backup in the pros.

Hamblin has above-average power potential and a live bat, plus he has the added advantage of being close to a sure bet of sticking behind the plate as a professional. His outstanding performance this season for a dominant junior college team has scouts buzzing. Lefty power, a great catcher’s frame, strong throwing arm (mid-80s fastball in high school), and a mature approach at the plate…don’t let the lack of pedigree bother you, Hamblin is a good prospect;

Clemson 2B John Hinson (Round 13) turned down the Phillies twice including last year after talks got rather acrimonious when money couldn’t be agreed on after Philadelphia drafted him in the 13th round. He went back to school, had a nice season, and came out the other side as a signed 13th round selection of the Houston Astros. I think the pre-draft report on Hinson holds up pretty well: good athlete, good speed, good hit tool, raw defensively, most likely a versatile big league utility guy with the chance of being an above-average regular (with the bat) at second. That’s some serious value in the 13th round.

A plus hit tool combined with above-average speed and power will get you far professionally, but people smarter than myself have told me some teams question Hinson’s ability to play any one particular spot in the infield with the consistency needed of a regular. Based on my limited looks of him, I can’t say that I necessarily agree with that assessment, but his defensive skillset (good athlete, iffy arm) may make him better suited for second base than third. At either spot, he’s got the bat to make him a potential regular with a couple breaks along the way. He’s got a relatively high floor (easy to see him as a big league utility guy with pop) with the upside of a league average third baseman.

The Astros broke out of their college streak (3 of 13 including 5 in a row) by taking Lufkin HS (TX) RHP Gandy Stubblefield (Round 14). There really isn’t a ton of talent that separates Stubblefield from Houston’s second round pick Adrian Houser. Both pitchers have projectable frames, good fastballs, curveballs with upside, and the need for a reliable third pitch. The fact that one guy was selected in the second round and the other in the fourteenth just goes to show how messed up the current system (signability is king!) really is. Stubblefield is off to join an absolutely stacked (my early count has them with at least ten draftable 2012s) Texas A&M team.

RHP Gandy Stubblefield (Lufkin HS, Texas): 6-4, 190; 88-92 FB, 94-95 peak; CB with upside

The little scouting report below on Arizona State LHP Mitchell Lambson (Round 19) says it all. I make it a rule to always start with notes on the fastball because a) I think it is the most important pitch in baseball, and b) it helps keeps my notes organized and easier to peruse quickly. That said, Lambson’s change is so good and he relies on it so heavily, there really is no other way to talk about him without first mentioning the pitch. The Josh Spence isn’t really meant to be taken literally – guys as weird and awesome as Spence can’t be compared to mere mortals – but more of a funky lefthander with the chance to put up surprising results in an unconventional manner. In other words, don’t sleep on Lambson.

Arizona State JR LHP Mitchell Lambson: outstanding 72-74 CU with outstanding arm action that sometimes dips into upper-60s; uses the CU a ton; 85-87 FB, 88-90 peak; plus command; plus control; maybe a little Josh Spence in him; 6-1, 200 pounds

I have an irrational like of Tennessee 3B Matt Duffy (Round 20) that I can only attempt to explain in terms of relevant baseball skills by talking about his excellent defense at third and patient approach at the plate. Beyond that, I just plain have a good feeling about his pro prospects. If given the chance, I think he could have a season not unlike the one Jack Hannahan is currently having: slightly below league average with the bat, well above-average in the field. That might not sound super sexy, but, again, that’s value for a 20th rounder.

Duffy was a deep sleeper top five rounds candidate of mine heading into the 2010 season, so you know I’ve been irrationally high on his talent for a long time now. The Vermont transfer and current Tennessee standout has all of the defensive tools to play a decent shortstop professionally, but profiles better as a potential plus defender at the hot corner. For Duffy, a Jack Hannahan (with more raw power) or Andy LaRoche (with less raw power) type of career is possible.

Much like Miles Hamblin, North Carolina 1B Jesse Wierzbicki (Round 24) has been on the radar dating back to his days catching at junior college. The scouting blurb below was written back in 2010 when I thought Wierzbicki could play behind the plate as a pro. I still think he’s got the athleticism and enough catch-and-throw ability to play back there, but it appears I’m now in the minority. As a first baseman I don’t see how his bat will work at the pro level. Hopefully the Astros will be creative and try him in a utility role going forward. I can’t explain how he went higher in the draft than college teammates Patrick Johnson and Jacob Stallings.

Wierzbicki’s tools grade out as solid across the board, especially if you’re like me and willing to grade a catcher’s running speed on a curve. I tend to think of backup catchers falling into one of three general archetypes. The first group of backups are the sluggers (big raw power, capable of popping an extra base hit or two in that one start a week), the second are the defensive aces (nothing mesmerizes big league coaching staffs more than a catching with a plus arm), and the third are the players that do everything pretty well, but nothing great. Wierzbicki falls squarely in with that last category of player. He’s known for having power to the gaps, a consistent line drive generating swing, and a solid arm. He’s also a tireless worker who knows his own athletic limitations, two of those tricky intangible qualities that either mean a lot to a team or nothing at all.

For what it’s worth, I talked to one scout who preferred Central Catholic HS (CA) OF Billy Flamion (Round 25) to New York first round pick Brandon Nimmo. Flamion’s bat is universally praised, but his other tools (speed, arm, and defense) are met with skepticism. I think he gets a bad rap considering his football background and lack of experience on the diamond. He’s a better athlete than given credit for with enough foot speed and arm strength to become at least an average left fielder in time. If he hits as expected, you can live with that. I think the most interesting thing to watch as he heads to school will be whether or not his aggressive approach can be reined in enough to make him as prolific a slugger as he could be.

[plus bat speed; special sound; plus lefthanded pull power; above-average arm; average speed; average range in corner, likely LF; good athlete; lots of swing and miss]

Not signing Flamion hurts, obviously, but the consolation prize of signing Bishop Amat HS (CA) OF Wallace Gonzalez (Round 29) isn’t half bad. I’ve talked about this before, but sometimes teams will draft two questionable signs within a few rounds of each other with the intention of offering similar money and seeing if they can get one to bite. In this case, we know Flamion’s asking price was really high (first round money, reportedly) and Gonzalez “only” got six figures, so maybe my theory is off. Either way, Flamion is off to Oregon and Gonzalez is an Astro, so let’s focus on the new pro and leave the college guy until 2014. Wallace Gonzalez has tools you’d never expect to see out of guy a few pounds short of Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. His raw power, plus arm, and great athleticism are major strong points. Like the Lambson/Spence comp from before, here’s another comparison not meant to be taken too literally: Gonzalez and Astros 2009 third round 1B/OF Telvin Nash. Both Gonzalez and Nash are righthanded hitting first baseman/outfielders with enough upside to hit in the middle of a big league lineup someday.

We’re issuing a major upside alert with Wallace Gonzalez, a rare first base prospect that can lay claim to legit five-tool upside. Those tools run the gamut from “wow” (plus raw power and a bazooka – not literally, that would be a “WOW!” tool – attached to his shoulder) to “hmm, didn’t expect that” (watching a 6-5, 220 pound man with 45 speed is cognitive dissonance personified). With great upside often comes great rawness, however. Gonzalez is better known as a football star with intriguing upside as a tight end capable of developing into a dangerous downfield threat. His commitment to the gridiron makes his signability just murky enough that some teams could shy away on draft day. Years of football experience also means less time honing his baseball skills, so the onus will be on his drafting team to really coach him up. At this point in the rankings, a boom or bust prospect like Gonzalez makes a lot of sense.

Penn State 3B Jordan Steranka (Round 30) heads back to Happy Valley hoping to boost his stock leading up to the 2012 Draft. He’s a little bit like Matt Duffy, though probably not as strong as a defender.

Steranka gives just about what you’d expect from a player this far down the ranking: a strong arm and some power upside. He also has the advantage of being a steady glove at third, though there are some rumblings that he could be tried behind the plate as a pro.

Arkansas OF Jarrod McKinney (Round 31) is the last of our toolsy, athletic, and physically gifted college outfield prospects taken by Houston. He is similar to Meredith from a tools standpoint (power/speed/arm enough for right field), but an ugly pro debut (.182/.233/.231 in 121 at bats) is a reflection on his rawness as a prospect. McKinney has never been super productive at the plate and injuries have kept his overall at bats down. His talent, however, exceeds that of a typical late round pick.

Arkansas JR OF Jarrod McKinney (2011): line drive swing; power potential; good speed; great range; good arm; strong; missed most of 2010 with knee injury; catcher in HS; (190/346/270 – 9 BB/13 K – 2/5 SB – 63 AB)

Oklahoma State RHP Brad Propst (Round 38) doesn’t throw hard (topped out at 88 when I saw him), but has a dynamite changeup and the athleticism you’d expect from a former middle infielder. His time spent at shortstop has me wondering if there could be some hidden velocity that could be unearthed with 100% focus on pitching as a pro.

Oklahoma State SR RHP/SS Brad Propst (2011): 86-88 FB; plus 79-80 CU; SF CU developing

Georgia 1B Chase Davidson (Round 41) was once a symbol for all that was wrong with Houston’s cheap approach to the draft. Well, maybe Davidson himself wasn’t a symbol; he was more of the cherry on top of the disappointing draft sundae that was the 2007 MLBDraft. That was the year Houston couldn’t agree to deals with their top two picks (Derek Dietrich and Brett Eibner), as well as eighth round pick Chad Bettis. To go a year without bringing in a top four round pick (free agent compensation took care of the rest) puts a serious strain on the farm system. In 2008, the Astros signed their first rounder, comp rounder, and second rounder. Things were looking up, despite the fact they badly reached on Jason Castro with the tenth pick of the draft; I mean, at least they signed him, right? Then the third round came around and the Astros swung and missed with inking big-time slugging high school prospect Chase Davidson. The few Houston fans I knew were understandably apoplectic. I’m in no way defending Houston’s cheapness at the time, but it is fun to flash forward three drafts to the Astros drafting and signing Davidson as a 41st rounder in 2011. I don’t hold out a ton of hope for Davidson, but I also don’t see a ton of differences between him and last year’s fourth round pick of Milwaukee, Auburn 1B Hunter Morris. That alone makes Davidson a pretty huge steal this late in the draft. The bar is set so low for 41st rounders that even a career as a minor league slugger would count as a success story. Anything more is a bonus.

Davidson is all power all the time but with a hack at all costs attitude. Been a long time (three years to be exact) since we heard those Jim Thome comparisons…

Clemson OF Chris Epps (Round 45) gets a mention because it feels like he has been at Clemson for the better part of the last decade. Consider this his college hitter lifetime achievement award. Epps is a talented guy who gets hurt by his tweener status: probably not enough pop to carry him in a corner, but not a good enough defender for center. His approach to hitting is professional quality, but, much like Davidson the 41st rounder, I’d say a long career as a 4A star would be an impressive outcome for this 45th round pick.

Clemson SR OF Chris Epps (2011): leadoff hitter profile; average gap-style power; above-average speed; below-average arm; not a CF; 6-1, 195 pounds; (237/420/365 – 48 BB/49 K – 156 AB – 15/21 SB)

Westfield HS (NJ) C AJ Murray (Round 48) had a strong commitment to Georgia Tech that no doubt scared teams off, but I suspect they’ll be plenty of organizations kicking themselves once they realize the kind of player they let slip away. Murray is a great athlete with good speed and plenty of raw power. There is some concern he won’t be able to stick behind the plate long-term, but I’ve heard differently. I’m excited about following Murray’s development over the next few years, starting from his time at Georgia Tech all the way through draft day 2014.

Fast-rising prospect poised to make me look stupid for having him this low. Area scouts rave about his athleticism and sheer physical strength.

Oakland Athletics 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Oakland 2011 Draft Selections

Drafting a potential top of the line starter like Vanderbilt RHP Sonny Gray (7th ranked draft prospect) with the 18th overall pick is a heck of a way to kick off a draft. The A’s 2011 draft train flew right on off the track and into a puppy orphanage after that, but, to paraphrase a former Oakland great, we’re not here to talk about the past. We’ll get to the letdown that is the Oakland draft in toto later on, but it wouldn’t be right to let a bad overall haul taint the excellent first round pick. (Edit: After going through Oakland’s draft pick-by-pick, I’m not quite as down as it as I initially guessed. I still don’t like going so heavy on older depth over younger upside, but it is at least a defensible strategy. Super cheap, though.) Popular industry comps for Gray over the years focus on smaller righthanders like Roy Oswalt and Ben Sheets; my pre-draft comps to Tommy Hanson and Yovani Gallardo focused more on stuff/pro impact. I think Gray would have received the same amount of love Trevor Bauer wound up enjoying in any other non-Bauer draft year. Both guys are undersized with unorthodox deliveries and inconsistent command. Both guys also have dynamite fastball/curveball combinations, plus enough extras (Gray: change and maybe the slider; Bauer: change, slider, cutter, screwball, and splitter) to excel as a starter in professional baseball. This isn’t an argument for Gray over Bauer (heck, reading through the laundry list of pitches Bauer can turn to on any given day reminds me of Cliff Lee…needless to say, I love Bauer), but rather a comparison to show how similar the two players, one selected third overall and one that fell to the eighteenth overall pick, really are. The only thing holding back Gray from his front of the rotation destiny is the Oakland medical staff.

Vanderbilt JR RHP Sonny Gray: plus FB in mid-90s (92-97) with excellent movement; currently rarely dips below 93-96 with nice sink; 81-85 plus to plus-plus CB; average command that comes and goes; 84-87 SL can be a weapon in time; 82-85 CU slow to emerge, but now a weapon more often than not; plus athlete; 5-11, 180

While everybody was making — and wisely subsequently dismissing — Tim Lincecum comps for UCLA’s Trevor Bauer, the closest thing to the Giants star pitcher in this year’s class has always been Sonny Gray. Of course, Gray isn’t really anything like Lincecum (really, who is?), but the three biggest knocks on Lincecum coming out of Washington — control, size, and an unorthodox delivery — are all also questions that Gray will have to answer to at the next level. The inconsistent control and violence in his delivery are a tad worrisome — his size doesn’t concern me in the least — but when you have raw stuff like Gray’s, you get lots of opportunities to work through your other issues. The realistic floor here is a dominant yet occasionally frustrating to watch shutdown reliever; the ceiling is a first division top of the rotation arm. Gray reminds me a little bit of Braves starter Tommy Hanson, give or take seven inches and forty pounds. I’ve also heard a slightly more size appropriate comp (still forty pounds off, but only about a four inch height difference) of Yovani Gallardo.

I’m not quite ready to bury the Oakland draft. Southern Mississippi 3B BA Vollmuth (90th ranked draft prospect) is an unusually toolsy college prospect with high boom/bust potential. The boom is worth the bust with a third round pick. Vollmuth isn’t your typical Oakland college pick – if such a pick even exists anymore – in that he’s not a statistical darling but instead a tools gamble with above-average big league upside.

Some people believe in it, some don’t. Either way, I figured I’d pass along something two different people said to me with respect to BA Vollmuth. Two words were used to describe the Southern Mississippi shortstop: “star quality.” He has the requisite athleticism, arm, and above-average raw power to play third base in the big leagues down the line, but his loopy swing might need a tune-up at the pro level.

The scouting reports on Cal Poly OF Bobby Crocker have been all over the place, but I’m wary of a guy I think is a corner outfielder (good athlete, but too big to play up the middle) without a premium bat. Others think he’ll be good enough to stick in center with the bat and foot speed to be an offensive asset. Even though I’m not as high on Crocker as others, I have to admit a potential fourth outfielder with a shot for more is fine value (there’s that word again!) in the fourth round.

Bobby Crocker: good whole field approach at plate; poor arm limits him to LF; plus raw speed but closer to average in-game; too many K’s; arm has also been called solid; great body; great athlete; plus defender in corner, average or better in CF; plus bat speed; swing has come a long way, but still needs refining; real curious about arm…could be difference between RF and LF; 6-3, 210 pound

With some pop, a good approach to hitting, and better than average defense, Central Florida C Beau Taylor has all the makings of a well-rounded quality backup catcher.

Taylor’s scouting profile reminds me a great deal of James McCann’s – great defense, flashes of power, better than average plate discipline.

Feather River JC (CA) OF Dayton Alexander has two plus tools (speed and CF range) and the chance to hit if he hooks up with the right coaching staff. His speed would be better utilized if he was a lefthanded hitter, but sometimes you can’t have everything.

Small school senior signs don’t typically have the stuff South Dakota State RHP Blake Treinen has, but his is an unusual case. He has the size and stuff to start, but could be a late inning possibility if he stays in the bullpen. Either way, his inexperience means he’ll take some time to develop. On the plus side, however, said inexperience means he has plenty of bullets left in his right arm.

South Dakota State SR RHP Blake Treinen: 92-94 FB, 97 peak; improved SL; working on CU; improved command; 6-4, 220 pounds

Cal State Fullerton RHP Colin O’Connell got so lost in the shuffle in a stacked college rotation that, in my two week non-stop writeathon induced haze leading up to the draft, I had him mentally pegged as a short righthander with plus command in my head. I think I probably confused him with Tyler Pill. Pointless interlude aside, O’Connell is actually a strapping lad (6-6, 200 pounds) with stuff that doesn’t impress as a starter, but plays up nicely in the bullpen.

After his eye poppingly awesome summer playing in the West Coast League, Oakland made every attempt (update: or not! Check the comments section for a clarification on this) to sign Southridge HS (OR) LHP Jace Fry, but ultimately came up short. They’ll be kicking themselves for not laying the groundwork on a deal before he blew up for a long time. Lefties with plus fastball velocity and plus sliders are worth spending a little extra cheddar on. I’ve heard rumors that he’s shown good feel for a changeup in bullpen sessions; if that pitch becomes a weapon, Fry could have top of the rotation upside.

Fresno State OF Dusty Robinson has huge raw power and just enough speed, arm, and athleticism to hold his own in right field. Too many empty swings keeps me from endorsing him as a bona fide future big league starter, but he has the talent to slot in nicely as a big league  bench thumper someday. I don’t buy the talk that he can play up the middle one bit, for what it’s worth.

Davidson LHP Chris Lamb (Round 11) has LOOGY with the chance for more written all over him (note: not literally as that would be one super weird tattoo). I saw him this year and came away very impressed with both his curve and splitter (redundantly I described both as “nasty” in my notes), as well as his control. Lamb isn’t a junkballing lefty per se, but his fastball is easily the least impressive pitch of his three-pitch mix.

North Carolina A&T OF Xavier Macklin (Round 12) is a sensational athlete who made a pretty shocking (in a good way) leap between his freshman and sophomore seasons, especially in terms of plate discipline. He has the speed to handle center, as well as the arm/power upside to move to right if necessary. He has as much upside as any freshly minted Oakland college hitter this side of BA Vollmuth.

[great athlete; big jump in plate discipline freshman to sophomore season; CF speed; raw, but plus makeup]

Mercer 3B Jacob Tanis (Round 13) and Stetson C Nick Rickles (Round 14) are a pair of small school standouts who look to make good on the bright stage that is low-level minor league baseball. While not being particularly fleet of foot, Tanis is a good enough athlete that he could be tried at multiple spots on the diamond, including behind the plate. Rickles, a catcher by trade, is a better version of Beau Taylor. He has the chance to exceed Taylor’s ceiling (backup catcher) and emerge as a good, cheap, young starting catcher at the big league level. It also isn’t out of the question that one day Taylor (a lefty) and Rickles (a righty) are both on the big league roster in some sort of platoon but not quite a platoon (this assumes Rickles winds up the better overall player, as I do) situation.

Tanis is an under the radar prospect who is capable of doing some good things at the next level if given the chance. His defense is good at third, his bat speed is more than adequate, and his athleticism gives him a chance to play a couple different positions in the field going forward.

The only negative I had on Rickles heading into the year was a report that his bat speed really tailed off as the year dragged on. Everything else checked out – good athleticism, a natural behind the plate with a great approach at it, and above-average power upside. Hitting close to .400 might not completely answer the bat speed question, but it is a clear step in the right direction.

Kansas RHP TJ Walz (Round 15), a long-time favorite of the Oakland scouting staff, has solid middle reliever stuff. He’s predominantly a sinker/slider guy, but enough flashes of a plus slider and sneaky hot fastball (up to94 inmy viewing) that could make him one of the better versions of the archetype. Maryland LHP Eric Potter (Round 19) is another reliever that could have gone five to ten rounds (give or take) sooner. His stuff is fine (88-92 FB, average curve and change), but his strengths (big bodied lefthander) and weaknesses (inconsistent control) are what define him best as a prospect.

Michigan State RHP Kurt Wunderlich (Round 20) and Georgia RHP Cecil Tanner (Round 23) make a fun late round pair in much the same way Oscar and Felix made for a fun pair of roommates. Wunderlich, an accomplished college arm, gets by on pitchability and command. Tanner, a disappointment at Georgia any way you slice it, has the stuff to thrive in pro ball (mid-90s fastball, good upper-70s slider) but wasn’t able to iron out his mechanics (a major factor explaining his poor command) in three years at college. Both pitchers face long odds to make it even to AA, but, forced to choose, I’ll take the guy with big league stuff.

Georgia JR RHP Cecil Tanner: 91-94 FB with sink; 96-98 peak FB; good 77 SL; below-average command; Jonathan Broxton and Bobby Jenks body comps; hasn’t ironed out mechanics in three years at Georgia; 6-6, 260

Unsigned Zionsville Community HS (IN) SS Max Kuhn (Round 24) surprised those who thought him quite signable by heading off to college with the hope of taking his advanced bat to the early rounds in 2014. Aquinas Institute (NY) SS Chris Bostick (Round 44), seen by many as a sure thing to land at St. John’s, is now one of the newest members of the Oakland Athletics. Baseball is a funny game, both on and off the diamond. A big pro start for Bostick is great to see; sure, he’s really a .442 hitter, but the hit tool is solid, he’s got speed coming out of his ears, and he’s a slightly better than 50/50 shot to stay at shortstop.

Three reasons why I like Max Kuhn: 1) his upside with the bat, 2) any early round prep prospect from Indiana is fun, and 3) baseball could use another quality Max. One of my first — and as it turns out, only — autographs came from Max Patkin, the Clown Prince of Baseball, at a shoe store when I was six.

I don’t intentionally group every mid-round prospect with a partner, but the Oakland draft just lends itself to pairs. Tennessee Tech OF Chad Oberacker (Round 25) and Virginia Military Institute RHP Sam Roberts (Round 26) both come from non-traditional baseball schools. Neither player, however, lacks in talent. Oberacker is a patient hitter with a strong wood bat track record, good speed, and enough pop to keep a pitcher honest. He might be stretched a bit defensively in center, but his strong arm makes him an asset in right. Roberts was announced as a pitcher on draft day, but played shortstop for Vermont after signing. I’m not sure if this is the long-term intention or just a nice way of giving his arm a breather before heading back to the mound next year. I like him just find on the left side of the infield for now; even without a standout offensive tool, there’s enough in the total package to give him the look of a utility guy assuming the proper developmental breaks.

Tennessee Tech SR OF Chad Oberacker: good history with wood; above-average speed; decent pop; strong arm; (431/507/661 – 33 BB/24 K – 14/18 SB – 239 AB)

Roberts is a do-it-all utility player for VMI that leads off, plays short, and takes the hill every weekend as a starting pitcher. As a college player, there’s little he doesn’t do well and he’s been producing at a big time clip since first stepping on campus. He’s got just enough speed and power to be interesting on offense, and plenty of arm strength to play either spot on the left side of the infield.

After first round pick Sonny Gray, Harvard RHP Max Perlman (Round 35) might be the best known name to prospect fans that don’t care too much about amateur ball. Perlman made the leap from Harvard to Rookie League all the way to AAA Sacramento for two solid starts all in the matter of ten weeks. I also could have sworn he threw a no-hitter after signing, but five minutes of Google leave me with nothing but regret for five minutes I’ll never get back. No-hitter or not, Perlman had a great pro debut. I’m bummed I never wrote him up, especially considering my strange fascination with the Ivies. Apologies to Perlman, Vince Voiro (Penn), Dan Bracey (Columbia), and all of the other Ivy League players I neglected this spring.

I’ll spare you any of the dumb jokes that come to mind and just share Oakland’s final selection in the 2011 MLB Draft: Cypress JC (CA) RHP Travis Pitcher (Round 50).

Because I don’t want to go out on that note, I’ll instead close with something sad. Elon RHP Thomas Girdwood (Round 28) turned down the Twins as a fifteenth rounder last year. He returned to Elon for a senior year only to fall in the draft and eventually get his meager senior signing bonus voided due to injury. He has the plus fastball/plus slider (92-95 FB, 82-84 SL) mix to possibly make it as a reliever, if he can get healthy and land on his feet somewhere.

Site Update #583

Forgetting my password needed to log in to the site: a sure sign I’ve neglected this thing for too long. As I’ve mentioned in the past, September is the craziest time of year for me from a real life work standpoint. Perhaps the most telling example of how hectic things have been of late is how I actually prepared a few yet to be published pieces over the summer in anticipation of my time crunch, but haven’t even had the ten minutes to hop on WordPress to edit and publish. Not cool, real life, not cool at all. This year has brought the added stress of grad school into the mix, but I’m close to finding the sweet equilibrium that will allow me to organize all the glamorous demands of my superstar lifestyle in such a way that frees up some time for the site to soldier on.

The current plan of attack is to focus on finishing up the 2011 Draft review things that I started at the end of August. That would mark the first time I’ve ever finished a draft review (or any string of posts meant to be a complete series) in three years of doing this, so you’d better believe I’m motivated to get those pieces done no matter what. After that, all 2012 Draft all the time. Every day that I don’t update the 2012 Top 100 a tiny piece of me dies, especially now that I’ve got more information to work with…not to mention a Baseball America list that is undeniably well researched, but full of rankings that have me more than a bit confused. I can’t wait to get into that, but will try to put a lid on it until 2011 is in the rear view mirror. The sooner we plow through the 2011 Draft, the sooner we get to 2012, right?

For now, expect a 2011 Draft review for the Oakland Athletics soonish. I’ll keep going in my random order of teams unless somebody has a special request. Otherwise, Oakland sometime later this week. As always, thanks for being patient and sticking with the site through the occasional dead periods.

Cincinnati Reds 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Cincinnati 2011 Draft Selections

Alhambra HS (CA) RHP Robert Stephenson (18th ranked draft prospect) is everything you’d want in a late first round high school pitching prospect. I’m not feeling super creative with the whole writing thing today, so let’s just list off the positives: 1) great, but not out of nowhere, spring, 2) amble projection in his frame, 3) repeatable mechanics that appear both natural and expertly “coached-up” all at once, 4) plus fastball, 5) breaking ball (curve) flashes plus, 6) making of good changeup (love his arm action on it), 7) no questions with makeup and/or intelligence. It has been reported that Atlanta had Stephenson atop their attainable late first round draft board. So much has been made of the college pitching class – and rightfully so, I should say – that the high school arms were ignored by know it all self-proclaimed experts like me. With a little time and perspective on my side, I’m not sure there is too much separating Stephenson from any of the hugely hyped 2009 high school arms. If I had to pick one such arm to compare Stephenson to, I’d go with the high school version of Shelby Miller: similar quality fastball and curve, frame, smooth mechanics, and ability to hold velocity late. More plainly, like Miller, Stephenson is a stud prospect with top of the rotation upside.

RHP Robert Stephenson (Alhambra HS, California): 92-93 FB with great movement, 94-95 peak; plus 77-80 CB; 78-80 raw CU; has been seen sitting 94-97 early in games, still holding low-90s velocity late while hitting upwards of 94; 6-3, 185

Colegio Hector Urdaneta (PR) OF Gabriel Rosa (239th ranked draft prospect) does a lot of things well – there’s some power, good speed, athleticism – but lacks that one standout tool that would make him an elite prospect. Guessing what any prospect will be in five years is hard work, but it is made even harder by lanky, raw, toolsy, position switching types like Rosa. Intuitively I’m not a fan of Rosa (not sold on his bat and don’t think his other tools can carry him), but with time and patience the Reds might have something worthwhile on their hands.

Gabriel Rosa: good raw power; good speed; average arm; swing is a mess; may or may not stick in CF as converted SS

Rice LHP Tony Cingrani (198th ranked draft prospect) and Villanova RHP Kyle McMyne (202nd ranked draft prospect) both went a bit earlier than I would have guessed. If you believe in Cingrani’s senior year breakout and McMyne harnessing his quality stuff better as a pro than a college pitcher, that’s fine. Good news, Reds fans: I believe in both. Cingrani has most, though not all, of the ingredients of a legit starting pitching prospect. The fastball, change, and frame all work, but a better third pitch is a must. Bear with me as I extrapolate a bit here, but I’m betting on Cingrani, a willing student who trusted the Rice staff to completely revamp his delivery this past year, finding that third pitch in pro ball. I saw a lot of McMyne this past year and, as much as it pains me to admit it, think he profiles much better in the bullpen than as a starter. He has two average or better breaking balls (hard slider is nasty when on, slower curve works as a de facto change rather than a swing-and-miss pitch) and plenty of fastball, but his breaking stuff flattens out as the game goes on and he becomes a fastball only pitcher into the late innings. If teams still employed relief aces, pitchers capable of going two or three innings at a time during big spots in games (i.e. not just standard long relief), McMyne would be a perfect fit for the job. As it is, he’ll get every chance to start with the fallback floor of above-average big league middle reliever.

Rice SR LHP Tony Cingrani: was 88-90 FB, now sitting low-90s with revamped delivery with 94-96 peak; plus CU; above-average at times CB; 6-4, 190 pounds

Villanova RHP Kyle McMyne: 92-94 FB, peak 96; above-average 82-84 SL that he relies on; sitting 94-96 in early going of 2011; flashes above-average 75-78 CB that works best as show-me pitch; occasional CU; 6-0, 210 pounds

Louisville 2B Ryan Wright (132nd ranked draft prospect) is a player who has gotten a lot of electronic ink on this site. The bolded pre-draft section below should handle much of the analysis. I will share a skill set/career path comp for Wright that I like: Detroit LF/2B/RF Ryan Raburn. No comp is perfect, but that one is pretty good, right?

Wright’s case is a unique one because, even though his numbers dipped slightly from 2010 to 2011, his stock improved. The smarter people I talked to all came away more impressed with his 2011 approach to the new bats than they were with his “sell out for power” approach with the old aluminum. That sounds like a good sign as he makes the transition to wood. I mentioned Joe Panik, Wright’s Big East buddy, as having arguably the most raw power for a college second baseman, but you could probably flip a coin and be happy with either him or Wright at the top of that list. The difference there is that Panik has tapped into his power and shown pretty much all he can do in that area of his game; Wright, on the other hand, still has just enough untapped raw power that I sometimes wonder if the right organization could help him unlock the key (I use that phrase a lot — “unlock the key” — even though it makes no sense and isn’t listed as a real idiom anywhere. Sounds cool to me, though…) to a 20 homer season down the road. Even if his present gap power is all that we see at the next level, Wright’s solid glove, average foot speed, and promising hit tool will keep getting him chances.

I get the positive spin on St. Petersburg JC (FL) 3B Sean Buckley, but, come on, this was at least five rounds too high for the kid. He’s a good prospect  who had a chance to go in the top ten rounds on merit, but there is no way I’ll ever be convinced his connection with the Cincinnati organization (his dad is only the Reds scouting director, no big deal) didn’t earn him an extra couple rounds and subsequent bonus dollars. As a prospect, he reminds me a little bit of a physically mature version of second rounder Rosa (good power and athleticism), minus Rosa’s speed. If he sticks at third, he’s a prospect. If he’s a right fielder, the expectations on his bat might be too much for him to reach.

Kansas State RHP James Allen has a strong track record of success, but is a little short on pro quality stuff for my liking. It may be only rookie ball, but Allen’s fast start as a professional (strikeouts and groundballs, baby) is impressive. St. Petersburg JC (FL) RHP Jon Matthews is an athlete who can run really fast, and is thus a worthy gamble in the eighth round. Texas RHP Cole Green will put up really good minor league numbers (a la recently promoted lefties Eric Surkamp and Tom Milone) and get some fans really worked up, but will settle in as either a solid fifth starter or middle reliever in the end. I’ve heard a Josh Towers comp on him that makes sense; that might not sound like much, but, as bad a big league pitcher Towers was, he still pitched over 700 innings and made north of six million dollars in his career.

Texas SR RHP Cole Green: 87-91 FB; plus command; great sinker; plus control; plus SL; really good 79-81 CU that comes and goes; 75-77 CB

Baylor RHP Brooks Pinckard’s name has shown up on follow lists for both college pitchers and college outfielders over the years. As an outfielder, Pinckard is super fast with a strong arm and legit center field range. As a pitcher he’s more or less fastball only at the moment, but it’s a good enough pitch that he can live off it while his slider and change come around. I’ve said before that I love uniqueness, so I’m 100% on board with Pinckard as a reliever who can be used as a pinch runner/defensive replacement on days he is unavailable. Better yet, Pinckard could pitch to a righty, move to the outfield while a LOOGY comes in for a lefty, and then move back to the mound for another righthanded hitter. That’s exactly what I’ll be rooting for, though I suspect a managerial change for the big league club may be in order for my plan to ever come to fruition.

Baylor JR RHP/OF Brooks Pinckard (2011): 92-93, 95 peak FB with sink; 93-95 out of bullpen; have unconfirmed 97-97 peak; 78-80 SL; CU; plus speed; strong arm; 6-1, 175 pounds; (4.91 K/9 – 4.36 BB/9 – 4.80 FIP – 33 IP)

Killarney SS (BC) RHP Vaughn Covington (Round 11) and Henderson International School (NV) LHP Amir Garrett (Round 22) are a fine pair of high upside, high risk overslot pitching prospects. Both have great size, flash plus fastballs, promising curves, and considerable risk. Covington was wise to sign as he’ll now have the opportunity to work with a professional medical staff as he recovers from last September’s Tommy John surgery. Garrett’s upside is tantalizing and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt due to his obvious natural talent (crazy I know, but not just anybody can throw 90+ lefthanded) and ridiculous athleticism. Many have dismissed him as a prospect due to his limited high school experience, but for the price of a 22nd round pick and a cool million bucks, why not roll the dice? A third overslot prep arm, Southington HS (CT) RHP Sal Romano (Round 23) also offers projection, a pro body (6-4, 220 pounds), and a good starting point in terms of stuff (low-90s FB and flashes of quality offspeed pitches).

RHP Vaughn Covington (Killarney SS, British Columbia): 90-92 FB with good sink, 93-94 peak as starter and 96 peak in short bursts; promising CB; recovering from Tommy John surgery in September; 6-5

LHP Amir Garrett (Leuzinger HS, California): 88-94 FB. 96 peak; very interesting low-80s CB; raw CU; very athletic; 6-5, 175

Texas A&M RHP Nick Fleece (Round 13) throws a really heavy ball and profiles as a potential power sinker/slider bullpen piece. Fellow Lone Star state college arm Texas Christian RHP Erik Miller (Round 31) has a similar sinker/slider pairing, but also throws a good low-80s curve and a useable change. Four pitch pitchers who throw strikes tend to get shots starting in the pros, but Miller could be the exception. Boston College RHP Mike Dennhardt (Round 32) could also wind up an intriguing bullpen candidate (strong fastball/curve combo) if he returns to health from early season Tommy John surgery.

TCU JR RHP Erik Miller: 87-91 at new arm angle, 93-94 peak; good sink; good SL; good 81 CB; average CU; strong three year track record; has relieved, but could be seen as starter; 6-3, 210; Tommy John survivor

Minnesota 1B Nick O’Shea (Round 24) and Cal State Fullerton 3B Joe Terry (Round 30) are both long shots to contribute, but not without some upside. O’Shea would look a lot better if he can hack it behind the plate as some suggest. Terry’s success or failure may come down to how well he recovers from his 2011 hamate injury.

O’Shea does a little bit of everything quite well, but nothing exceptionally well besides perhaps his defense. Still think there is some untapped upside here with the bat and I intuitively just like him as a prospect.

Joe Terry: The much-hyped (by me) hitting machine who last year made hard contact in just about every at bat failed to live up to his Bill Hall (my comp for him last year) billing in 2011. I still like the rest of his skills — good enough speed, loads of arm strength, unconventional fielding motions but underrated at second — and I’m willing to bet that bat wakes up next year. Whether the bat rises and shines in pro ball or back at Fullerton for a senior season remains to be seen.

Plano East HS (TX) 2B Ty Washington (Round 43) joins Covington, Garrett, and Romano as big money later round splurges by Cincinnati. He could be an outstanding defender at second with enough reps, but the viability of his hit tool remains a bit of a mystery to me.

Washington is a very signable prospect best known for his excellent defensive tools and good speed. He had a reputation coming into the year as a guy who too often attempted to do too much at the plate, but patience has been a virtue for him so far this season.

Tampa 2B Taylor Wrenn (Round 27), Arizona OF Steve Selsky (Round 33), and Florida OF Bryson Smith (Round 34) make up the last of Cincinnati’s noteworthy signed prospects. I like Wrenn a lot, an opinion largely founded on his plus defensive tools, good speed, and longstanding status as a prospect (thrice drafted). Selsky uttered one of my favorite 2011 draft prospect quotes: “But I don’t think I’m like any Vladimir Guerrero or Jayson Werth or big-ass guys, I think I’m an average-sized guy who can hit the ball a little bit.” He’s a better hitter than fellow outfielder Smith, but the Florida product and former third baseman gets bonus points for his defensive versatility.

Arizona JR OF Steve Selsky (2011): gap power at present, average or slightly better raw power; good speed; good range in corner; strong arm; similar to FSU guy Ramsey; might be wise to alter approach this year to show more power

Smith has a big league body, intriguing pop, useful positional versatility, but has been held back by injuries in 2010. Injury induced subpar seasons for mid- to late-round underclassman prospects are normally a recipe for a senior season return engagement, but Smith may be a victim of his own college team’s success. Playing time in 2011 looks to be very hard to come by on a young, stacked Florida starting nine, so Smith may try his luck professionally if a team is willing to bet that a return to health will bring him closer to the player he was at junior college than he was as a Gator.

The Reds went above and beyond to sign guys like Covington, Garrett, Romano, Miller, and Washington. They couldn’t reach deals with top 20 round high school picks Joe Serrano, Conor Costello, and Morgan Phillips. They also missed the boat on a bunch of late round fliers, many of whom were presumably insurance in case the players on that first list didn’t sign. Critics could look at the talented group of unsigned Reds and get worked up over the lost opportunity, but no team, not even the Nationals, have infinite draft budgets. The Reds drafted a bunch of good players; many were signed, some got away. For the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on three college and four high school guys.

Coastal Carolina OF Daniel Bowman (Round 38) is often too aggressive at the plate, but his raw power is up there with any college player in America. He’ll return to school as a promising senior sign for 2012. Louisville RHP Justin Amlung (Round 39) is a really strong Friday night starter, but his underwhelming stuff currently fits a lot better at the college game than as a professional. North Carolina C Jacob Stallings (Round 42) will have to split time with Matt Roberts next year in Chapel Hill; he deserved better than his 42nd round selection.

Daniel Bowman: impressive plus raw power, but it may be his only real tool; strong enough arm for RF; decent speed; hacker; too many K’s; underrated athlete; 6-1, 210 pounds

There is no question about Stallings’s plus defense; that alone could be his ticket to the show as a backup catcher. Like Kometani, there’s more raw power here than he has shown so far. Stallings isn’t really talked about as a top college catching prospect, but he’s a really talented prospect with a plus-plus arm that could make him an interesting mound conversion if things don’t work out behind the dish.

The top unsigned pitcher of this class: Parkway HS (LA) RHP Carson Baranik (Round 41). Baranik has an explosive fastball (when healthy), emerging offspeed stuff (when healthy), and a world of potential (if healthy).

RHP Carson Baranik (Parkway HS, Louisiana): 87-89 FB, 90-92 peak; improved conditioning now has him sitting 91-93, 95 peak; 73-74 CB; 77-78 SL that needs tightening; low-70s CU; 6-3, 205

The top unsigned position player of this class: Lake City HS (SC) OF Shon Carson (Round 44). Carson’s sushi grade raw as a prospect and probably a better player on the gridiron at this point. There is no questioning his speed, athleticism, and physical strength, but it’ll be up to the coaching staff of the two-time national champion Gamecocks to transform him into a ballplayer.

Carson is an easy player to write about because his strengths and weaknesses are so clearly delineated at this point. Obvious strengths include his plus-plus speed, absurd athleticism, and football star strong. His biggest weakness is most often cited as his inability to play baseball all that well, also known as a cute way of saying he is a very raw prospect with a long way to go. If those are his easily recognized pros and cons, I’d like to throw in one additional strength to his game that I feel often goes unnoticed: Shon Carson understands what kind of player he is. Sounds almost silly to say that, but Carson plays within himself in a way that is mature beyond his years. He doesn’t try to do too much at the plate, will happily take a walk when the situation calls for it (probably doesn’t hurt to know that a walk is as good as a triple with the way he steals bags), and makes every attempt to utilize his potentially game changing speed.

Oaks Christian HS (CA) LHP Travis Radke (Round 45) and Notre Dame HS (LA) RHP Austin Robichaux (Round 50) round out Cincinnati’s late round unsigned haul. Radke’s fastball won’t wow you, but good command of a pair of solid offspeed pitches (curve and change) make him a fun pitchability guy to track in college. Robichaux has a classic Louisiana name, so it stands to reason he’ll be a great fit pitching for his dad at Louisiana-Lafayette. Mashing up his improved fastball, good curve, projectable frame, and lifetime spent around the game gives you the Ragin’ Cajuns best prospect since Jonathan Lucroy.

LHP Travis Radke (Oaks Christian HS, California): 86-88 FB, 90 peak; good 74-75 CB; emerging 70-72 CU; low-70s SL that needs tons of work

RHP Austin Robichaux (Notre Dame HS, Louisiana): 87-89 FB, 90 peak; now sits 91-93 with lots of movement; good 75 CB; 6-5, 180

Chicago White Sox 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Chicago White Sox 2011 Draft Selections

Through absolutely no fault of his own, Central Arizona JC (AZ) OF Keenyn Walker (134th ranked draft prospect) drives me nuts. A few months ago I had just finished writing up a particularly insightful piece (if I do say so myself) on 2011’s junior college prospects (Walker included) when a wayward first grader sent my laptop crashing to the floor. Most, but not all, of my work was recovered. Losing my notes on the junior college prospects was rough, but I’ll do my best not to associate that sad, expensive day when evaluating Walker. I wrote about him a bit last year after the Phillies drafted him (see below). I felt that report was fairly positive, but I now feel even better about Walker’s prospects. He should be an above-average defender in center with top of the lineup speed and double digit home run power.

I like him more than your typical toolsy junior college outfielder because of his history dating back to his high school days as a guy with serious thunder from the left side. Whether or not that power plays professionally remains to be seen, but his plus athleticism, good speed, and strong arm will all help if the bat isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Guys like California RHP Erik Johnson (205th ranked draft prospect) are what make scouting tricky. At his best, Johnson looks like a mid-rotation horse with two quality offspeed offerings that flash plus. On his rougher days – like the day I saw him throw this past spring – he is a one pitch pitcher (fastballs only) that profiles best as a reliever. I realize this could be said about so many prospects, but I’ll state the obvious anyway: so much of this player’s development will come down to his adjustment to the pro game. If Johnson stays in shape/drops a few pounds and finds himself a consistent release point on the mound, he’s a big league starter. If not, he’s a reliever at best.

California JR RHP Erik Johnson: heavy 90-92 FB, 93-94 peak; emerging 76-78 CB that is now a weapon; 81-84 CU needs work, but is now plus pitch with added velo; command needs work; decent 85-88 SL that could also be a cutter; no sure fire consistent plus offering; 6-3, 240 pounds

Johnson County CC (KS) RHP Jeff Soptic (250th ranked draft prospect) is like a watered down version of the guy taken by the White Sox one round earlier. He’s got a big league fastball and has shown flashes of quality offspeed stuff, but has struggled with consistency, both command and control, and his mechanics.

Johnson County CC SO RHP Jeff Soptic: 93-96 FB, 98-100 peak; flashes plus 83-84 SL; average CU on his best day; control issues; 6-6, 200

Kent State RHP Kyle McMillen and Stanford LHP Scott Snodgress are more than just quality pitching prospects; they are data points for those (like me) who make the case that the 2011 draft had a once in a generation group of college pitchers. These two guys were buried on the college pitching prospect depth chart, but they both have big league talent. Snodgress, the more likely of the two to remain a starter, is particularly interesting as a lefthander with an above-average to plus fastball and the makings of a pair of average or better offspeed pitches. McMillen lacks a putaway breaking ball at this point, but has a solid heater and outstanding athleticism.

Kent State JR RHP/1B Kyle McMillen (2011): 89-92 FB, 93-94 peak; decent SL; average CU; power potential; 6-2, 185 pounds

Stanford JR LHP Scott Snodgress (2011): low- to mid- 90s FB, touches 96; potentially above-average CB and CU; 6-5, 210 pounds; sitting 90-92 in 2011; also at 88-91, 92 peak

I’m not a huge fan of California SS Marcus Semien (utility infielder ceiling), but he’s decent value as a sixth rounder. Pittsburgh C Kevan Smith (186th ranked draft prospect), however, is a totally different story. I’m an unabashed huge fan of his and consider him way more than just decent value as a seventh rounder; he’s a flat out steal. The tools have turned into skills, and I’m willing to go out on a limb and say I think Smith is a future big league starting catcher.

Semien is considered a draft sleeper by many, but I don’t see it. He probably has the range and arm to stay at short, so that’s a plus, but without much in the way of a hit tool, power, or speed, there isn’t enough there to project him as a big leaguer at this point.

Smith has been awesome at the plate and on the base paths (10/11 SB). It is great to see a player with such special physical gifts who is able to translate raw upside into big time college production. I never really have much of a clue how actual big league front offices view draft prospects and I haven’t heard any buzz about Smith’s draft stock, but I sure like him. Definitely on my short list of top senior signs.

Not signing eight round pick Angelina JC (TX) RHP Ian Gardeck is rough. I’ve seen him a few times over the years, from his time at Dayton to his days playing summer ball up in New England, and always came away impressed. His biggest current issues are, in order, poor command, a violent delivery, and a lack of any semblance of a third pitch. I tend to think his command has a chance to at least ramp up to average if his delivery – featuring a pronounced herky jerky head movement – gets cleaned up. That takes care of the first two issues. If, and that’s an “if” with a capital I, the coaches at Alabama can help with his delivery/command, Gardeck will be in the running for first college reliever off the board next June. That, in a way, takes care of the third issues; no need for a third pitch when you’ve got two plus offerings as a reliever.

Angelina JC SO RHP Ian Gardeck (2011): 91-93 FB, 94-96 peak, now hitting 98; good mid- to upper-80s SL; huge command issues; good athlete; Dayton transfer; holds velocity really well; violent delivery; 6-2, 210

Northwest Florida State JC (FL) LHP Matt Lane continues the trend of Chicago selecting big pitchers with quality fastballs and questionable breaking stuff. Unsigned Santa Fe CC (FL) LHP Ben O’Shea also happens to be a big pitcher (6-6, 250 pounds) with a quality fastball and questionable breaking stuff, though his change is more advanced than Lane’s. He’ll head to Maryland and be eligible for next year’s draft.

On account of the White Sox frugality and unwillingness to bust slot, there are a ton of college prospects outside of the top ten rounds to discuss. For reference’s sake, a “ton” in this case is equal to 32 rounds worth of college or junior college players. That’s crazy. Kicking things off we have California C Chadd Krist (Round 13). Krist has the defensive chops to play pro ball, but will have to ply his wares at the college level another year. He’s a backup catcher at best for now, but continued offensive improvement would make him an easy top ten round senior sign catching prospect in 2012.

Krist’s defense has been dinged as inconsistent in the past, but having seen him play a couple times in 2011 I have to say I think he’s underrated behind the plate. His arm might not rate above average and his power upside is limited, but he does enough just well enough to have backup catcher upside.

Chicago also couldn’t sign their next pick Oklahoma State 3B Mark Ginther (Round 14). Ginther has a world of untapped upside who could emerge as a top five round prospect and future big league starter at the hot corner.

I came into the year thinking Ginther was a better player than he has shown, and I still feel that way after another good but not great college season. His athleticism is up there with any college third baseman in the class and his arm strength is an asset defensively, but his hit tool hasn’t shown much progress in his three years with the Cowboys. Ginther certainly looks the part of a potential big league third baseman with three well above-average tools (defense, arm, power) and special athleticism, but it’ll take much more contact and a less loopy swing if he wants to make it as a regular.

James Madison SS David Herbek (Round 15) was good value in the fifteenth round as a high floor player with the upside of an offense-first infielder off the bench. The Bill Mueller comp from last year represents his absolute ceiling.

Last year I wrote: “Herbek is a certifiable draft sleeper. He currently has gap power to all fields, but his beautifully level line drive stroke (reminiscent of Bill Mueller’s righthanded swing) has me thinking there is double digit home run potential if he can add some strength in the coming years.”

I didn’t anticipate that double digit home run totals to come in just over 200 senior year at bats, but there you go. His bat ranks up there with almost any other college shortstop in his class, but the relatively low ranking can be owed to his occasionally spotty defense. As an offense-first infielder off the bench he’ll do just fine.

Arkansas OF Collin Kuhn (Round 17) does everything pretty well but throw. Jack of all trades, master of none players often find homes as reserve outfielders if they show enough of the hit tool early on.

Arkansas JR OF Collin Kuhn (2011): strong hit tool; good runner; good power; great range; good approach; great athlete

Connecticut RHP Kevin Vance (Round 19) was outstanding value this late in the draft. I like his stuff at least as much if not more than Chicago’s fourth round pick, Kyle McMillen. The evidence that we just witnessed a crazy strong college pitching draft continues to mount.

Connecticut JR RHP/3B Kevin Vance (2011): 88-92 FB; plus CB; plus command; has some experience behind plate; average power; 6-0, 200 pounds

Still think I prefer JR UTIL Kevin Vance as part of a battery, whether that be behind the plate or on the mound, than at the hot corner. I like his above-average fastball/plus curveball combo and plus command as a potential relief arm down the line. If he sticks as a position player, I think that arm would be best served as a catcher. Surprised to see his batting line as weak as it is because I really liked his level, powerful, and well-balanced swing. A team could gamble on his upside, but it is starting to look like his down junior year could keep him a Husky for another season.

Between rounds 20 and 25 the White Sox selected college players from the state of California with five out of six picks. Two of those players are Southern California 2B Joe DePinto (Round 21) and UC Santa Barbara OF Mark Haddow (Round 24). DePinto fell as a prospect due to an ACL injury, but is now back to full health. Haddow was a nice senior sign who shows flashes of four of the five tools, but the one that is lacking (the hit tool) is a biggie.

UC Santa Barbara SR OF Mark Haddow (2011): good athlete; plus power potential; too many K’s; good runner; solid-average RF arm; 6-2, 215 pounds; (263/365/409 – 22 BB/48 K – 17/21 SB – 198 AB)

JR OF Mark Haddow (2010 – UC Santa Barbara) offers up plus power potential, but also strikeouts about as much as you’d expected from a raw college player with plus power potential. Luckily, power isn’t his only claim to fame. Haddow can also rely on his solid athleticism, better than you’d think speed, and slightly above-average big league right field arm. He has the raw tools to dramatically rise up draft boards, but first needs to take a more disciplined approach at the plate to show big league clubs he’d cut it as something more than a backup outfielder professionally. If he begins even to hint at improvement in those deficient areas in his game, I’d bet good money some team out there will draft him with the idea that he’ll be a big league starter in right someday.

West Virginia 3B Grant Buckner (Round 26) went from relative unknown (to me, at least) to legitimate senior sign draft pick. His arm and raw power are his two best tools, but what I like most about him as a prospect is his defensive versatility.

Valhalla HS (CA) C Bryce Mosier (Round 33) will go down in the history books as Chicago’s first American high school draftee in 2011. He’s also a solid catching prospect who many teams didn’t think of as signable after round 15. The White Sox, much to their credit, did their homework and stuck with him as he fell down the board. I’m a big fan of his ability behind the plate and believe his arm is one of the best of any 2011 high school catcher. The White Sox followed up the pick of Mosier with another prep player, Washington HS (IA) RHP Dakota Freese (Round 34). Don’t go uncorking the champagne just yet because, unfortunately, they didn’t sign him. He’s off to LSU-Eunice where he’ll have the opportunity to pitch early and put himself in position to go in the top ten rounds in 2012. Irresponsible anonymous source alert: a scout friend praised his stuff this past spring before quickly saying they couldn’t recommend him to higher ups because of questions about how he’d handle the professional part of pro ball.

RHP Dakota Freese (Washington HS, Iowa): 88-90 FB, 92 peak; good CB; 6-4, 190

Our quick high school interlude is over; like young adults all over the country this week, it is time to head back to college. I’ve written a disproportionate amount on Virginia RHP Cody Winiarski (Round 36) over the years. He looks like a solid minor league arm at this point. Liberty RHP Keegan Linza (Round 38), he of the bigger fastball, looks like he could be a little more than that.

Virginia SR RHP Cody Winiarski (2011): high-80s fastball, 88-90, 92 peak; good 81-83 CU; average SL

Liberty SR RHP Keegan Linza (2011): low-90s

The unsigned trio of Helix Charter HS (CA) RHP Jake Reed (Round 40), Lawrence County HS (KY) RHP Chandler Shepherd (Round 41), and Madison JC (WI) RHP Joel Effertz (Round 43) all should be heard from in the coming years. Reed and Shepherd are especially intriguing prospects; both are athletic, have frames to put on some size, and better than expected (for late round high school pitchers) breaking stuff.

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