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Seattle Mariners 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Mariners 2011 MLB Draft Selections

Polish. That’s the word that first came to mind as I sat watching Seattle’s draft last June. In an attempt to preempt any confusion, no, the Mariners didn’t draft a bunch of players from Poland. They did draft a player from nearby Germany, but we’ll get to him in a bit. I’m talking about polish in the highly refined baseball skill sense. Let’s talk polish…

Everything interesting about Virginia LHP Danny Hultzen’s amateur career has already been written, so let’s take a more timely approach and discuss his most recent body of work with a little help from a pair of authors from two of the best Seattle sites in the universe. The esteemed Jeff Sullivan’s hot sexy update of Hultzen’s AFL progress confirms that the young lefty’s velocity has maintained his junior year gains (92.5 MPH average, 95.1 MPH peak) while marc w provides interesting details on the progress of his change (spoiler: sharp as ever) and slider (spoiler 2: shows flashes of greatness, but inconsistent). It is silly to compare every lefty with a great changeup to Cole Hamels, but that’s a pretty logical ceiling here, at least in terms of potential performance.

Virginia JR LHP Danny Hultzen: plus command of all pitches; 88-91, will definitely touch 94; velocity jump due to 20 pounds of added muscle since high school, currently sitting 91-93, peaking 94-95; will throw upper-80s two-seam FB with good sink; 77-78 CB; plus 78-82 CU; quality 82-85 SL that he leans on at times

I can really appreciate the types of middle infield draft prospects that Seattle seems to target each year: athletic, versatile defensively, known to have a good approach to hitting. Clemson SS Brad Miller is/does all of those things, plus comes with a little bonus pop. In a weak class of college bats, Miller has the chance to really stand out as a middle infielder with starter’s upside. He’s Kyle Seager with more defensive upside.

Miller goes coast to coast as this season’s top collegiate shortstop prospect, beginning the year at the top spot and very deservedly finishing at number one as well. I’ve long held the position that the current Clemson shortstop has what it takes to stick at the position, an opinion tied far more closely to his defensive tools — most notably the speed and athleticism that give him well above-average range up the middle — than his present, sometimes erratic, ability. At the plate, he’s done everything expected of him and more. I’m admittedly more bullish on his power upside than most and can see him further tapping into said upside to the tune of 15+ homers annually. Even if the power doesn’t quite reach those levels, Miller’s consistent hard contact and good approach should help keep his batting average and on-base percentage at more than acceptable numbers for a starting middle infielder. It may be a popular comp for a lot of players, but I think a comparison between Brad Miller and former ACC star and current Oriole Brian Roberts is apt.

Mountain Pointe HS (AZ) 1B Kevin Cron is now at TCU after a deal with Seattle fell through. As a prospect, his power will define him…but you knew that already. What may or may not be known is what position he’ll be playing by the time his name is called again in 2014. Whispers about a potential position switch – I’ve heard both 3B and RF mentioned as possibilities – linger, but any defensive change would be contingent on his college conditioning program helping him firm up and shed some weight. Luckily for Cron, first base might be alright for him if his bat takes care of its end of the bargain. As mentioned in the pre-draft profile posted below, I can’t wait to compare and contrast Kevin’s college performance with his older brother CJ’s.

Cron has made headlines this spring, first as the younger brother of the amazing CJ Cron and then as a pretty damn good draft power hitting draft prospect himself. He’ll likely be picked too high to honor his commitment to TCU, but, man, I’d love to see him take a crack at the college game – the direct statistical comparison you could then make to his brother would be fascinating, I think. Cron the younger caught some in high school, but, like his bro, probably doesn’t have the requisite athleticism to catch at the next level. I’ve heard some quiet buzz about an attempted move to third, but I think that is probably from people who would hate to see his plus arm go to waste at first. Even working under the likely assumption he’s a first baseman in pro ball, Cron is a top five round prospect due to his highly advanced hit tool and gigantic raw power.

A copy/past fail left Mount Olive RHP Carter Capps off my list of the draft’s Top 250 prospects, but I’m sure the third round selection and half a million bucks helped him get over the unintentional snub. Capps is one of those guys – Stanford/Dodgers LHP Chris Reed is another – with both the frame and stuff to start, but, who, for some reason or another, looks so much better in shorter outings. I know almost all pitchers look better out of the bullpen, but Capps looks like a different pitcher altogether. At his best he’ll throw two plus pitches including a fastball that approaches triple digits (in short stints only) and an upper-70s to low-80s slider that flashes plus. He’s far too young to label him a reliever now and forever, but I do think the bullpen is his eventual home…and that’s a good thing.

Mount Olive FR RHP Carter Capps (2011): 94-96 FB with good movement; more commonly 87-91; saw him 90-92; 84-86 SL with plus upside that has lost some velocity, now upper-70s; upper-70s CU; 6-5, 220

There is no question Seattle went into the draft hoping to bolster their organizational depth behind the plate. Selecting Virginia C John Hicks was a good first step of the plan. He has above-average power upside and a knack for hitting the ball hard. I think his defense is fine, but if catching doesn’t work out he might be athletic enough to contribute defensively at a few other (corner outfield and first base most likely) spots.

Not too long ago I compared Hicks to teammate Kenny Swab and said I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take a similar career path, i.e. become an unsignable mid-round pick and go back to school as a senior to boost his stock. I was obviously wrong as it now seems Hicks’ athleticism, plus arm, and emerging power could make him a top ten round selection.

I’ve talked about draft stacking™ before, but I like discussing the idea so much that I’m going to repeat it here. Draft stacking occurs when a team drafts multiple prospects from the same position (pitchers excluded) within five rounds of each other. Bonus points when the prospects come from different places (i.e. one is from college and the other from high school). Double bonus points when the prospects are selected in back-to-back rounds. After selecting college catcher Hicks in the fourth round, Seattle turned right back around and nabbed Hagerty HS (FL) C Tyler Marlette in the fifth. Well done, Mariners. The only thing holding me back from publicly declaring my undying love to the Seattle front office is Marlette’s questionable future behind the plate. Draft stacking doesn’t work if one of the players is going to switch positions! Hopefully Marlette’s substantial defensive tools are actualized so that last summer’s breakout star can continue his ascension from showcase standout to big league catcher.

Marlette has as much upside at the plate as any high school catcher sans Swihart, but questions about his defense continue to suppress his stock. The shame of it is that he has above-average defensive tools – he’s surprisingly natural behind the plate – but lacks the polish that comes with years of practice at the position. The aforementioned upside as a hitter works in much the same way. In batting practice Marlette is a monster, but he’s more of a gap-to-gap hitter in game action thus far. A solid defensive catcher with plus power is a heck of a prospect, of course. An iffy defensive catcher who may or may not stick with gap power is less exciting. This is where teams who have seen Marlette multiple times over a couple of years have a huge leg up on what I do.

I had Rancho Cucamonga HS (CA) OF James Zamarripa down as a college guy, so I lost track of him somewhat this past spring. He’s more advanced than a typical prep prospect, but his ceiling (fourth outfielder) isn’t that exciting.

Virginia 3B Steven Proscia also isn’t especially exciting, but he’s a solid prospect with the chance to be a starter down the line. His strengths – arm, athleticism, power – mesh well with what most teams look for out of a third baseman.

Most people love coffee. Every few months I’ll try a little sip, but it just doesn’t work for me. So many people enjoy it every day that I’m smart enough to know that it isn’t “bad” per se, but rather a specific taste that I just don’t enjoy as much as others. Proscia is a little bit like coffee for me. His defense at third is very good, he’ll show you a nice potential power/speed combo most days, and his athleticism is well above-average for the position. He’s a good prospect by any measure. Yet somehow after taking everything I’ve heard about him and having seen him play a few times myself, I remain unmoved by his upside. Solid player, no doubt; he wouldn’t be on this list otherwise. I just see him as much more likely to wind up a potential four-corners utility player than a starting third baseman.

Texas State RHP Carson Smith is similar in many ways to Carter Capps. I prefer Smith, however, due to his more impressive fastball (the movement he gets on the pitch gives him the edge), more consistent third pitch (a changeup that could be quite good with some work), and better command of his breaking stuff. The eighth rounder is my second favorite prospect taken by Seattle this year.

Texas State JR RHP Carson Smith: very good athlete; 91-93 FB with great sink, 94-95 peak; sits 95-98 out of bullpen, 91-94 as starter; above-average potential with SL; CU with plus potential; commands CB well; 6-5, 215

Patch HS (Germany) SS Cavan Cohoes is a great story (Germany!) and a fun gamble for the Mariners to take. He’s also super raw at the plate, tremendously athletic, and really, really fast. Any more info than that would be me making stuff up because I’ve never seen the guy play and haven’t talked directly with anybody who has seen him either.

Tenth round pick Siena 2B Dan Paolini wound up beating my Dan Uggla draft comp (see below) by an entire round. I have a friend who has seen Paolini a lot who compares him to former big leaguer Mike Stanley as a hitter. Weird comp, right? My friend does this for a living – the baseball evaluating part, not the comp making part – so I’m not quite ready to say he’s crazy for the Stanley/Paolini comp but…well, let’s just say that I’m here to reiterate that I’m not the one going out on a limb suggesting a tenth round pick will play 15 seasons and hit close to 200 home runs. I’d take my Uggla anecdote to heart (again, see below) before getting too worked up about Paolini’s future one way or another, though I do want to profess my love of watching Paolini swing the bat.

Paolini has more present power than any college middle infielder. The question that remains to be answered is whether or not his long swing will lead to enough hits to make that power useful at the next level. If he doesn’t hit, he’s in trouble – only his power rates as above-average at this point, with the potential for an average hit tool down the road his only other tool of note. There’s a little sleeper Dan Uggla upside here, if everything breaks right. Of course, think about the original Uggla before getting too excited – how many things had to break exactly right for him to become the Dan Uggla we know and love (even as a long-time fan of a rival division team I have to admit his uppercut corkscrew swing is fun to watch) today? Paolini will probably start out around the same place as Uggla, a former 11th round pick.

Dayton LHP Cameron Hobson (Round 11) is hot and cold from outing to outing. When he’s going well, his fastball sits in the low-90s and he’s able to throw three pitches for strikes. It’ll be interesting to see if the Mariners view him as a starter or a reliever in the long run.

Dayton JR LHP Cameron Hobson: 87-91 FB with movement, sitting closer to 90-92 this year; good SL; solid CB; developing CU with potential; plus makeup; 6-1, 205 pounds

Franklin Pierce C Mike Dowd (Round 12) is fairly simple to understand. His arm is big league quality, but his other tools all come up a little bit short. In completely unrelated news, Henry Blanco has played 900 career games with an OBP of .293. Alright, back to Dowd: if he hits even a little bit, he’s a legitimate backup catching prospect.

Dowd, our lone Division II star on the list, has managed the strike zone brilliantly for Franklin Pierce while also ranking second among qualifiers in both BA and SLG. His arm may be his only above-average tool, but his bat, gap power, and defense should all play just fine at the next level.

UAB OF Jamal Austin (Round 13) can run, field, and take a pitch. I like that skillset. For as much shit as Juan Pierre has gotten from fans over his career (most, but not all of it justified), he’s now at the tail end of a twelve year career that has made him over fifty million bucks. Jamal Austin would be incredibly lucky to have anywhere close to as good a pro run. My worry with Austin remains the same as it has always been: will his inability to drive the ball prevent pitchers from throwing him anything but strikes? If that’s the case, I worry about him losing his greatest offensive asset, patience.

Love his speed/defense/approach, but do have some doubts about his almost complete lack of power and questionable arm. He sort of reminds me of a college-aged version of Juan Pierre and I’m not sure how his game will translate to the pros. The higher up you go, the more difficult it is to get away with having little power. 

Local (to me) product LaSalle RHP Cody Weiss (Round 14) has a fastball that touches 93 and an upper-70s curve that comes and goes as an effective second pitch. His spotty command and lack of physicality limit his upside, so, um, consider his upside limited.

SO RHP Cody Weiss (2011): 90-92 FB, peak 93; high-70s CB; iffy command; 6-0, 195

Loyal readers know by now that I have a huge weak spot for college seniors with outstanding four year track records at the plate. Florida State OF Mike McGee (Round 15) might be stretched in center, but he’s a good defender in either corner, and his elite plate discipline should make him a favorite to many as he rises up Seattle’s organizational chain. Whether or not Mike McGee makes it in pro ball is irrelevant to me; the guy has proven time and time again that he is, and please excuse me for the terrible cliché, a ballplayer. I hate that I’ve been reduced to such a hacky turn of phrase, but that’s what Mike McGee does to me. Check him out if he visits a minor league ballpark near you and you’ll understand. You can break down his individual tools and try to project what kind of player he’ll be once fully developed, or you can just watch him and appreciate that he plays the sport the way it ought to be played. Hey, better yet: do both! Or neither, whatever, do what what you want: it’s a free country.

[great approach; average speed; 88-90 FB, 92-93 peak; very good upper-70s SL; CU; drafted as a pitcher last year; good CB]

I devoted an entire post to Oregon C Jack Marder (Round 16) after the draft, so, yeah, you could say I like him. I was totally on board with Billy Beane when he made his “not selling jeans” comment – good players come in all shapes and sizes, after all – but I also think athleticism, and more specifically how athleticism relates with mechanics, muscle memory, and coordination is important. You don’t need to look good in a uniform to be a good athlete, but athleticism as a whole shouldn’t be ignored. Marder is an outstanding athlete, but more impressive is how he is able to channel his athleticism towards relevant baseball skills. His athleticism helps his defense behind the plate, his swing, and his throws to second and third. I’m intrigued.

SO 2B Jack Marder (2012): average runner; legit plus bat speed; very instinctual, high energy, just a fun player to watch; plus defender at 1B, one of the best I’ve seen at college level; has experience playing every position on diamond; with time should be above-average at either second, third, or an outfield corner, as well as average at shortstop; strong arm; will be tried at C this spring (5/11 update: soft hands, plus mobility, well above-average pop times, natural footwork, accurate arm, positive reports on feel for pitch sequencing and leadership of staff); great line drive producing swing, textbook front shoulder rotation that I love; above-average athleticism; easy top ten round guy, could go as high as round five; 6-0, 180 pounds; R/R

Miami OF Nathan Melendres (Round 17) has the tools to be remembered someday as a complete steal who had no business being taken as late as the seventeenth round. He can run, throw, and defend as well as any college outfielder in his class, but his crude approach to hitting has kept him from being labeled a legit five-tool player by the experts. He’ll need to work on his plate discipline – not just taking more pitches, but swinging at better pitches – if he hopes to be remembered at all.

[serious tools, but very raw; potential plus defender in CF; hacker; plus speed; above-average to plus arm; 5-11, 185 pounds]

Horizon HS (AZ) LHP Nick Valenza (Round 18) reminds me a little bit of Indians draft pick Dillon Peters. He’s short, throws hard, and shows the makings of enough pitchers to start at the next level. Once you get past his lack of physical stature, you can see that his stuff is pretty interesting. His biggest bugaboo at the pro level may be his inconsistent control.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Palm Beach CC C Luke Guarnaccia (Round 19) is a Mariners draft pick with good athleticism and a strong defensive reputation. Picking a favorite out of Hicks, Dowd, Marder, and Guarnaccia comes down to little more than personal preference at this point, as all four share fairly similar strengths and weaknesses as prospects.

Did I get carried away after three weeks of performances from Emporia State 2B Dillon Hazlett (Round 20) or what? Whenever anybody starts thinking I know what I’m talking about, I’m going to refer them to the passage below. Silly hyperbole aside, Hazlett is a nice prospect who can handle the bat just fine. Not Ackley-level fine, of course, but good enough to consider his bat, defensive versatility (like Ackley, I think he’s best in CF), and speed/base running instincts worth following through his minor league travails.

Name to know = North Carolina JR 1B Dillon Hazlett. I first heard the poor man’s Dustin Ackley comps coming out of Chapel Hill a few months ago, but dismissed them as nothing more than a coaching staff excited about a junior college transfer ready to step in and help fill the gigantic hole left behind by Ackley’s departure. The comp, like most are, was built on convenience – both players are way too athletic to be college first basemen, run well, and have questionable power upsides. That’s what the comp was trying to express, I think. Nobody actually meant that Hazlett would step in and show off a hit tool quite like the one Ackley had shown. Hazlett, though impressive so far, has a long way to go to even enter Ackley’s prospect stratosphere. Then again, Ackley’s final junior year line was .417/.517/.763. SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT, but Hazlett has put up a .467/.541/.700 line through 9 games. Just store the name way, way, way in the back of your mind.

Stanford RHP Jordan Pries (Round 30) is a pitchability righthander who relies heavily on a near-plus upper-70s breaking ball. That makes sense because his mid-80s fastball alone wouldn’t cut it. I hadn’t expected Pries to be a high draft pick or anything, but it was a surprise to see him fall all the way to the thirtieth round. Used as a starter at Stanford, Pries could experience enough of a boost in stuff pitching in relief to make him interesting. His numbers were better across the board in six long relief outings than they were in his six pro starts, whatever that means.

Stanford JR RHP Jordan Pries: 86-87 FB; very good 76-78 breaking ball

Kansas State LHP Kyle Hunter (Round 31) is easy to lose among the influx of college pitchers with the same first name/last initial combination. There’s Kyle Hallock, Kyle Hald, Kyle Hendricks…and Kyle Hunter. Hunter has been on the prospect radar for years as a lefthander with solid stuff. He mixes his pitches well and has above-average command. With luck, he’ll carve out a home as a lefty reliever somewhere, someday.

I was happy to see Seattle give a chance to Miami C David Villasuso (Round 42). His power could help him sneak into the big leagues as a backup, but only if can first convince teams he can handle quality pitching behind the plate.

SR C David Villasuso has the power teams often consider gambling on, but his defensive limitations keep him from being a definite draft selection for me.

Los Angeles Dodgers 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Dodgers 2011 MLB Draft Selections

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.

Stanford JR LHP Chris Reed: 89-92 FB, sits 92-94 as reliever; good low-80s SL; emerging CU; 6-4, 205

Mariner HS (FL) 3B Alex Santana intrigues me for his athleticism and projectable frame. I’m not yet convinced he’ll ever hit enough to put those positives to good use, but time is definitely on the youthful (he’ll be 18 the vast majority of his first full pro season) Santana’s side. It should also be noted that Santana signed right away and was thus able to log professional at bats in his draft year. I know it is silly to get worked up over a draftee’s performance in such a limited sample, but I wonder if there is any correlation between early playing time and long-term success. Is there any truth to the idea that a prospect is better off forgoing a few extra bonus bucks if it means they can get back to game action (if the theory that the more pro at bats early in a career the better holds true this would increase future earnings) as quickly as possible? Do those extra at bats translate to better long-term performances?

As a plus athlete with above-average speed, Santana is a bit of an anomaly in this year’s high school class. Some question his power upside, but there is a long way to go before his body (6-4, 190) fills out.

My biggest worry about North Carolina State C Pratt Maynard is his defense. He isn’t quite a non-prospect if he can’t catch regularly, but his stock would take a drastic hit if he’s forced to move to a corner. Bat looks good for a backstop, though.

In an effort to show more power, Maynard’s been more aggressive at the plate this year. I wonder if his positional versatility will help or hurt him in the eyes of pro scouts. He reminds me a little bit of a less athletic Ryan Ortiz, former Oregon State star and current A’s prospect. Ortiz was a sixth rounder in his draft year; that seems like a plausible outcome for Maynard at this point.

I really like the pick of Oklahoma City RHP Ryan O’Sullivan. He comes equipped with a darting low-90s fastball that is tough to square up on and a low-80s curve with plus upside. If his mind’s right (a bigger if with O’Sullivan than for most prospects), he has a shot to outperform the much wealthier Chris Reed, especially if pro coaching can help him develop a third usable pitch.

Oregon RHP Scott McGough has a fastball with excellent life, a much improved slider that has become an interesting future strikeout pitch, and enough of a low- to mid-80s changeup that leaves you thinking it could be a consistent above-average offering in due time. His profile reminds me a bit of former Angels reliever Scot Shields, but with a better fastball. Having seen both McGough and Reed pitch a few times each in conference play, I’m sticking with my belief that McGough has the brighter professional future.

Oregon JR RHP Scott McGough: 90-92 FB, peak 94-95; 78-79 CB; raw 83 CU; above-average 78-83 SL that flashes plus; potential plus 82-85 CU that is still very raw; working on splitter; great athlete; 6-1, 185

I had Golden Valley HS (CA) RHP Scott Barlow pegged as a college guy because of the general lack of polish to his game. He’s a project with some upside, but I’ve heard from somebody who watched him multiple times in high school that there is a worry lefthanded hitters are going to eat him up in pro ball.

Coastal Carolina OF Scott Woodward’s versatility is his ticket to the bigs. He played both third base and the outfield in his first pro season, but also could handle second in a pinch. His value isn’t entirely tied to his defense; Woodward’s speed and plate discipline are also above-average aspects of his game. This pick is also noteworthy because it marks the third straight Scott drafted by the Dodgers. That’s a big deal!

It’s very easy to envision Scott Woodward playing in the big leagues someday. He’s got an outstanding approach to hitting, a discerning batting eye, and a really good idea of his fundamental strengths and weaknesses at the plate. Woodward ably uses his plus-plus speed to leg out infield hits, turn balls driven to the gaps into triples, and steal bases at a great success rate. Home runs will likely never be a big part of his game, but his is a game based more on speed and plate discipline anyway. He could have the type of career many once projected for former Dodgers prospect Joe Thurston. Another comp that I like a lot is Phillies minor leaguer Tyson Gillies, a comparison made more interesting due to the fact both players are hearing impaired, but one not at all dependent on that fact as the basis of the comp. When I first thought of it a few weeks ago the connection didn’t even occur to me, but the two players share enough distinct offensive similarities to make it work.

The budget-conscious Dodgers grabbed their second college senior in a row with the selection of Utah LHP Rick Anton. His fastball isn’t anything special, but lefties who throw four pitches for strikes – in addition to his upper-80s heater he throws a low-80s change, upper-70s curve, and mid-80s cutter – get chances in pro ball. I think his best chance is to continue to focus on his newly learned cutter, pick an offspeed pitch (curve, probably), and hope he can consistently hit the low-90s coming out of the bullpen. If he can do all that, then maybe he’ll grow up to be a big league reliever.

Utah SR LHP Rick Anton (2011): 87-90 FB, 91 peak; 82 CU; 75-78 CB; leans on 85-86 cutter; 6-0, 190; FAVORITE; (6.67 K9 – 2.57 BB/9 – 4.10 FIP – 87.2 IP*)

Though he lacks a standout tool, Oklahoma C Tyler Ogle’s ability to do everything pretty well make him an interesting catcher to track in pro ball. His outstanding junior production doesn’t hurt, either.

Big, big season so far for the very well-rounded Ogle. Pro-caliber defense, good arm, level line drive swing, and gap power. The only thing that could ding Ogle (and Bandy, a similarly talented prospect) is the lack of a standout tool. Many teams look for a plus tool — often arm strength or raw power — when they are in the market for college catching. Players who are solid across the board sometimes get overlooked. Ogle’s very consistent college production could help him appeal to more stat-oriented clubs picking in the top ten rounds.

Westchester HS (CA) LHP Jamaal Moore was a surprise top ten round selection who spurned the Dodgers to instead attend baseball hotbed Los Angeles Harbor College. He throws a low-90s fastball, changeup, curve, and a splitter. He’ll be draft-eligible once again next spring. There’s enough present stuff and athleticism here to follow him closely this year.

South Carolina 2B Scott Wingo (Round 11) reminds me of another college middle infielder who won back-to-back championships before being drafted to the pros. It’s not perfect, but I see a lot of Darwin Barney in Wingo’s game.

I underrated Wingo all year long, and feel pretty guilty about it now. He had an excellent year at the plate (.329/.463/.419 – 45 BB/31 K – 7/8 SB – 222 AB) and is an outstanding defender at second.

The dearth of quality middle infield prospects throughout the minor leagues makes Southeastern Louisiana SS Justin Boudreaux (Round 14) a name worth stashing somewhere deep in the back of your mind. He’s not a star, and almost certainly not a starter, but his bat isn’t inept and he can field his position (and, if not, he’ll be fine at second), so there’s a chance he can find a role on a big league roster somewhere down the line. Standards for quality shortstopping are low, after all.

Boudreaux has a strong arm, above-average range, and steady hands. All in all, his defense works. That said, his best tool could be his wonderfully appropriate name; have to love a Boudreaux playing for Southeastern Louisiana.

There are a lot of averages in a Clemson OF Jeff Schaus (Round 16) scouting report — power and speed, to name two — but he’s a gifted natural hitter with a smart approach at the plate who possesses just enough of every relevant tool to remain intriguing. There’s definite fourth outfielder potential here.

[pretty swing; good natural hitter; average power; average speed, more quick than fast; inconsistent arm strength, but flashes plus; top ten round possibility last year who fell due to bonus demands]

I prefer Oxnard JC 3B Jesus Valdez (Round 17) on the mound, but the Dodgers didn’t consult me when they decided to move Valdez to the hot corner for regular duty. By all accounts he’s a good defender with solid power upside. Valdez the pitcher is athletic, projectable, and has shown flashes of a good slider and changeup to go along with his low-90s fastball.

Oxnard CC FR RHP Jesus Valdez: 90-92 FB, 94 peak; good SL; emerging CU; 6-3, 180

Wichita State C Chris O’Brien (Round 18) was almost always the last cut whenever I made up a list of top 2011 college catching prospects. It sounds silly to put this much of an emphasis on makeup, but I’ve had scouts tell me that O’Brien’s leadership skills behind the plate and in the clubhouse could be enough to make him a ten-year big league backup catcher. I’ll just say that if there is one position on the diamond where I’d emphasis intangibles it would be catcher…and leave it at that. If intangibles aren’t your thing, then the strong start to his pro career lends credence to the idea that his breakout 2011 season with the bat wasn’t a mirage.

I know I’m not alone in being excited to see what kind of year Johnson County CC RHP Vince Spilker (Round 20) has in store in 2012. I wasn’t sure where I’d be able to follow him this spring, but after some digging I found out he’ll be suiting up for the University of Central Missouri. He should get the chance to start there, a role well-suited for his plus fastball and pair of solid or better secondary offerings (curve and change).

Johnson County CC SO RHP Vince Spilker: 96 peak FB; good CB; solid or better CU

Oklahoma State OF Devin Shines (Round 38) gets a mention because of the overall weakness of the Dodgers late round picks. True, the crazy athletic Hamilton HS (AZ) 2B Malcolm Holland (Round 33) got overslot cash to sign, but beyond him there’s not much to talk about. Enter Shines, a player with big league bloodlines, solid speed, and more pop than his 5-8, 180 pound frame suggests. When drafting on a budget like the Dodgers, you have to take what you can get in the later rounds.

I’m really excited to see Bolles School (FL) SS Austin Slater (Round 44) play college ball this upcoming season for Stanford. I like his long-term upside a lot and believe there’s a chance he’ll wind up closer to the player many thought new teammate Kenny Diekroeger would be.

I don’t often account for signability in these rankings unless something obvious is up. That’s exactly the case with Slater, a player who would be ranked higher on merit (really like the bat) but dinged for being a 99% slam dunk to attend Stanford (their new strategy targeting top prep stars named Austin has now worked two years in a row) after hobbling through an injury plagued senior season of high school. He could reemerge in three years as a premium pick once again.

New York Yankees 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Yankees 2011 Draft Selections

I like what New York does more than most people because I have a lot of respect for the way they let their strong scouting staff do the job they were hired to do. There isn’t a lot of upper-management meddling and nobody within the organization seems to worry about what the national pundits seem to say about the players they select. I do my best to not talk about “value” or “overdrafts” when discussing top ten picks because, in baseball more than any other sport, beauty is in the eye of the beholder on draft day. Maybe the Yankees could have waited until their second or perhaps third round pick before taking Dante Bichette; if they could have pulled that off, nobody would have claimed he was overdrafted and instead they would have praised the excellent value the Yankees got with their pick. At some point on draft day, however, you have to take the players you love. My one cross-sport reference of the day harkens back to last year’s NFL Draft when the Vikings “overdrafted” QB Christian Ponder. I didn’t particularly love Ponder as a prospect, but Minnesota did. If he was the highest rated player on their board and they had even the slightest doubt he’d be around for their next pick, then they were wise to take their guy, value be damned. The comparison isn’t perfect – the ability to trade down in football’s version of the draft complicates things a bit – and I realize they’ll always be an opportunity cost with taking players a round or two “earlier” than projected, but the point of the draft is to come away with as many players you love as possible. Draft who you want, ignore the haters.

Alright, now time for me to start hating…

The fact that Orangewood Christian HS (FL) 3B Dante Bichette hit really well during his first taste of pro ball is great. Even better are the reports on how quickly he adjusted his swing (shortened to help find consistency and designed to help him hit to all fields more effectively) and better than expected defense at the hot corner. Makes the pre-draft notes on him (below) seem downright prophetic, right? There is still a Dante Bichette Sr. sized gap between what Junior is and what he might be, and I’d be lying if I said I felt good about his future from an instinctual standpoint, but, hey, so far so good.

I’ve gone back and forth on Bichette for over a year now. The first thing I noticed when watching him hit is how his inside-out swing looks a lot like his father’s. This is a positive when he’s going well, as it is a really good looking swing that helps him generate plus bat speed and well above-average raw power. It is a negative when he is going poorly because, as much as I like the swing for an experience professional, it may have a little too much length and too many moving parts to allow him to pull it off consistently. I can’t help but wonder what his first pro hitting instructor’s advice will be. I should also note that I’ve slowly come around to the idea that Bichette might be able to stick at third base professionally because of his much improved athleticism and surprising nimbleness.

Not signing Texas LHP Sam Stafford is a serious black eye for the Yankees draft. It can be excused somewhat because of the reason behind it (a pre-signing physical showed something that scared the Yankees off from offering even slot money), but the final result of not signing a pick in the top 100 is bad news any way you slice it. Stafford has been a frustrating prospect to follow because of his general inconsistencies and lapses in command. If his stuff wasn’t so good, you might be inclined to write him off as a first day prospect altogether. Lefthanders with great size who hit the mid-90s and show the makings of two average or better offspeed pitches (love his low-80s power curve/slider hybrid, still hopeful the change gets better) get every chance to convince teams that they’ll figure out that pesky command thing in pro ball someday.

Texas JR LHP Sam Stafford: 88-92 FB, peak 94-95; FB command issues hold him back; holds velocity well; good 80-85 SL; 73-78 CB is ahead of SL; average 83-85 CU; 6-4, 190

Winnisquam HS (NH) RHP Jordan Cote was a surprise pick this early in the draft. The Yankees place a lot of trust in their area scouts, especially those based in or close to New York, to advocate for players they love. Somebody must have really gone to bat, so to speak, for Cote. That doesn’t mean Cote wasn’t deserving of a third round pick. His fastball is fine, he’s shown some aptitude with a pair of breaking balls, and his size and relatively fresh arm both hint at more velocity to come.

RHP Jordan Cote (Winnisquam HS, New Hampshire): 88-90 FB, 92-93 peak; good CB; SL; raw CU; 6-5, 200

If Cote represented the Yankees willingness to trust their scouts based in and around New York, the selection of New Rochelle HS (NY) 3B Matt Duran takes it up a notch. Not only is Duran a native New Yorker, but he’s also one of the draft’s youngest prospects. In addition to drafting heavily from the Northeast, New York has focused on another of the draft market’s inefficiencies: age. Duran, like last year’s first pick and fellow New York resident Cito Culver, is very young for a high school senior. He has but one plus tool, though, as said many times before, if you’re going to have only one tool, it might as well be power. I for one find it pretty nuts that the Yankees drafted three of the draft’s most interesting prep first base prospects (Bichette, Duran, and Rookie Davis), as well as the promising Austin Jones. New York could have a fun problem on their hands in a few years if Bichette, Duran, and Davis don’t take to their new positions.

If Grandview HS (CO) C Greg Bird can catch, his massive power makes him a big-time prospect. If he can’t, then he’ll join the potential logjam of Yankees first base prospects taken in this year’s draft. I had a scout compare him to Jesus Montero, but with a few huge caveats. First, he only made the comparison after the Yankees drafted Bird and admitted the appeal of comparing two players in the same organization influenced his typically stellar (right…) decision making. Second, he only was talking power upside and defensive ineptitude. That’s all. To build on that, he backtracked even more by saying Montero is way ahead of Bird as a hitter, in terms of both contact ability and plate discipline. In other words, Bird and Montero aren’t all that alike besides the fact they both play “catcher,” they both have ample present power (a rarity for young hitters more than people think – big difference between present power and raw power), and they are both Yankees. I love comps.

Bird came into the year a big prospect, but much of the hype that came with catching Kevin Gausman last year seems to have disappeared after Gausman went off to LSU. The Colorado high school catcher has a little bit of Cameron Gallagher to his game. Both prospects are raw defensively with impressive raw power that has been seen firsthand by area scouts at the high school level. That’s an important thing to note, I think. We hear so much about raw power, so it is worth pointing out when a player has plus raw power and average present power. That’s where I think Bird is currently at. There might not be a ton of projection to him, for better or worse.

I almost always guess wrong on what position a two-way prospect will play professionally, so it’s nice to see the Yankees think the same way I do about Kecoughtan HS (VA) LHP Jake Cave. True, almost everybody thought Cave would be a pitcher, but I’ll take any tiny victory I can get. On the mound he’ll give you an excellent fastball (93-94 peak), a potential plus mid- to late-70s change, and a breaking ball that has shown flashes but needs significant work. The reason I like Cave a lot more than even his raw stuff suggests is his elite athleticism. Long-time readers of the site know that I value athleticism (and all the ancillary benefits, most notably the ability to repeat one’s delivery) in young pitchers very, very highly.

LHP Jake Cave (Kecoughtan HS, Virginia): 88-91 FB, peak 93-94; 75-77 SL or CB; potential plus 74-79 CU; good athlete; power potential; good speed; strong LSU commit; 6-1, 180

Edmonds-Woodway HS (WA) 1B Austin Jones is a little bit like a less publicized version of Greg Bird. Bird received more pre-draft ink because he’s been on the radar longer due mostly to catching Kevin Gausman in high school. Bird also received more pre-draft love because, quite honestly, he’s a better prospect than Jones. Think of Jones as Bird-lite: not quite as much power, not quite as good defensively. That second reason has already been put into practice by New York as the Yanks have moved Jones out from behind the plate and made him a full-time first baseman.

Western Kentucky RHP Phil Wetherell has the two pitches needed to succeed in a bullpen and an arm with minimal wear and tear, but his pedestrian performance at the college level left me lukewarm about his pro prospects. Then he went out and dominated (41 K in 30 IP) for Staten Island. I’m not one to put too much weight in rookie ball stats, but you’d still rather see a guy perform well than not.

Like Wetherell, Lewis-Clark State RHP Zach Arneson is a reliever all the way due to a limited arsenal of pitches and questionable arm action. Also like Wetherell, Arneson put up good numbers (17 K in 17.2 IP) for Staten Island. I prefer Arneson’s fastball to Wetherell’s, but Wetherell has the better secondary pitch (his splitter). Both guys are iffy bets to pitch in the big leagues, but because quality relievers are always in demand, you just never know. I might not be getting paid to write this, but that’s some professional quality hedging right there.

Lewis-Clark State RHP Zach Arneson (2011): 96 peak FB

Eastern Oklahoma State JC RHP Jonathan Gray also fits the Wetherell/Arneson mold. As an unsigned prospect, he’ll have another year of development to mature into something more. He has the fastball/slider combo needed to at least get a look as a potential reliever at some point.

My favorite college relief prospect drafted by New York is Longwood RHP Mark Montgomery (Round 11). Montgomery has been overlooked in the past due to his lack of size and physicality, but he’s close to big league ready with his fastball and plus low- to mid-80s slider. All Montgomery has done is perform at a high level (48 K in 30.1 college IP) everywhere he’s been (41 K in 24.1 IP in the Sally). If he keeps pitching this well next year at Tampa, he’ll officially be a relief sleeper per the national pundits. Get on the ground floor with him now.

Longwood JR RHP Mark Montgomery: 88-92 FB; peak 94; hard 82-84 SL with plus upside; really consistent numbers over three years; 6-0, 205 pounds

Remember when I said I always guess wrong on what position a two-way prospect will play professionally? Come on down, Dixon HS (NC) RHP Rookie Davis! I would almost always rather a young prospect try hitting first – seems to be less variability in development and can get a young arm through the injury nexus in the event he moves back to the mound later on – but I can see why the Yankees prefer Davis, what with his potential for two solid pitches and imposing size, as a pitcher. I like him more as an athletic first base prospect with plus raw power, but I get it.

My biggest concern with ranking Rookie Davis this high is based on the nagging thought some team will pop him as a pitcher instead of a hitter. Currently equipped with two above-average future pitches (good low-90s fastball and an emerging mid-70s curve), Davis’ future could be on the mound. Like most two-way prospects, I think he’d be best served by giving hitting a go from the start. If that’s the case, then his plus raw power, classic slugger’s frame (6-5, 220), and strong track record hitting with wood could help him get drafted in the first few rounds and give him a chance to become pro baseball’s first ever Rookie.

For what it’s worth, I prefer unsigned Northridge HS (CA) RHP Mathew Troupe (Round 17) to the signed third rounder Jordan Cote. Troupe’s secondary pitches rank as some of the better offerings of this year’s high school class. His curve is a really good pitch when he commands it, and his changeup, thrown with the same arm speed as his fastball, flashes plus. His strong commitment to Arizona and fluctuating fastball velocity kept him from going earlier, but he could pop up as an early round pick in three years.

RHP Matt Troupe (Northridge HS, California): 90-92 FB, 94 peak; very good CB; plus CU; SL; inconsistent FB velocity so he sometimes sits 87-88, peak 91

The trio of Morris HS RHP Hayden Sharp (Round 18), Cathedral Catholic HS (CA) LHP Daniel Camarena (Round 20), and Bedford HS (NH) RHP Joey Maher (Round 38) make for an impressive compilation of late round big money prep pitching prospects. For good reason, the athletic lefty Camarena got the biggest bucks. His three pitch mix should help him adjust to a full-time starting pitching load as a professional. Of the three, he’s probably the safest bet going forward. The pitcher with the most upside of the troika is Sharp. His big fastball (upper-90s peak), plus athleticism, and pro body are all easy to dream on. Lacking the security of Camarena’s well-honed secondary stuff and the razzle dazzle of Sharp’s heat, Joey Maher is the least impressive prospect of the three. The raw righty from New Hampshire is a long way away from even reaching his modest (fifth starter?) big league upside.

LHP Daniel Camarena: high-80s FB with late life, 90-91 peak; above-average future 70-73 CB; average 70-75 CU; line drive hitter; good approach; power upside, but hasn’t shown too much yet; RF arm; 6-0, 200 pounds

Memphis RHP Ben Paullus (Round 19) is interesting for a couple reasons. First and foremost, his stuff (good low-90s fastball and plus hard curve) is big league quality. Second and not foremost, his delivery, while sometimes so herky jerky that it is hard to watch, gives him tremendous deception and makes him very tough to hit. Texas A&M RHP Adam Smith (Round 25) reminds me some of Robert Stock. I really liked Stock as a catcher and have been happy to see St. Louis stick with him behind the plate so far, despite the growing sentiment that wants his plus arm on the mound. Smith played third base for Texas A&M, but is expected to pitch full-time going forward for the Yankees. I wish he’d get a chance to put his awesome physical tools to use as an infielder – remember, he could always move to the mound in a year or three if needed – but, again, I get why New York would want to put an arm like Smith’s on the mound from the start.

At some point, he has to do it on the field, right? Adam Smith is such a force of nature from a tools standpoint that you have to believe someday he’ll put it all together and show why so many have touted his ability for so long. He has the plus arm and plus defensive tools you’d expect from a former pitcher/shortstop, and his pro frame (6-3, 200) generates plenty of raw power on its own. What he doesn’t have is a good idea of the strike zone or a consistent at bat to at bat swing that can help him put said raw power to use. I’d love for my favorite team to take a chance on him after round ten (tools!), but probably couldn’t justify popping him much sooner than that (production…). One thing that would make gambling on Smith the third baseman a little less risky: if he doesn’t work out as a hitter, his plus arm could be put to good use back on the mound.

Arizona State 1B Zach Wilson (Round 21) is a gifted natural hitter, but the bar is simply too high at first base and/or the corner outfield to ever expect him to earn consistent playing time in the big leagues. His professional future could evolve into a career path along the lines of “professional hitters” Dave Hansen’s or Mark Sweeney’s.

[very talented natural hitter; average power; average runner; no real defensive home]

Now that we’ve watched out last meaningful pro game until the spring, it is time to turn our attention to baseball’s next opening day. No sense waiting until April for the pros to start up again when college starts six weeks sooner, right? The Yankees couldn’t come to terms with three players expected to play major roles on some of college baseball’s finest teams this spring. Louisiana State SS Tyler Hanover (Round 40), Rice OF Jeremy Rathjen (Round 41), and Missouri 3B Conner Mach (Round 46) all return to school with plenty to prove. What Hanover lacks in physical tools he makes up for in plus plate discipline and veteran-level defensive positioning. I love him as a potential utility guy down the road and think he could have a career similar to – deep gulp – David Eckstein. Rathjen is the anti-Hanover, but still a really good prospect. He gets himself into trouble by being too aggressive at the plate and on the bases, but his tools rank up near any other right fielder in all of college baseball. If he returns healthy in 2012 as expected, he could wind up a top three round selection. Mach is a personal favorite as an above-average hitter with some defensive versatility.

Hanover: above-average speed, but more impressive as an instinctual base runner; very good defender – arguably his best present tool; competition for best tool includes a shocking plus-plus arm from his smaller frame; just enough pop to keep a pitcher honest, but mostly to the gaps; size gets him in trouble (attempts to do much), but this is inarguably a good college player; little bit of Jimmy Rollins to his game in that he is a little man with a big swing – again, this often gets him in more trouble than it should, as he is far, far less talented than Rollins on his worst day; great range to his right; definite utility future due to experience on left side; can get too jumpy at plate and swing at pithes outside the zone, but generally a patient hitter; 5-6, 155

Rathjen: [above-average speed, raw power, and arm; too aggressive at plate; good defensive feel; average range in corner; gap power at present that could turn into HRs in time; 6-6, 200 pounds]

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