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Late January Bullets

In between work and school, I’ve been slowly going through every college roster in an attempt to sort out a great big giant master list in anticipation of the start of season. Two general thoughts followed by a more specific ramble coming right up…

*** The 2012 college class is even weaker than I feared. Part of this may be because of the relative strength of last year’s class and the absence of a standout prospect at the top like Cole and Rendon in 2011, Harper in 2010, Strasburg in 2009, and, predating this site, Price and Wieters in 2007. Even an optimist would admit that those reasons only partly explain why 2012 looks weak. Trying to talk myself into Deven Marrero as a top five pick, for example, isn’t going well…

*** The 2012 high school class looks pretty damn strong to me, especially when it comes to up-the-middle players and, as always, pitching. Of course, much of this strength could be attributed to the persistent preference of many — guilty, as charged — to value distant, low-percentage upside over steady, high-percentage floor. These guys haven’t yet had the chance to fail quite like the college players have, so it is far easier to dream on their futures when put up against prospects who have been picked apart for years. Even still, this is at least an average class with the potential to be more than that assuming good health and typical development this spring.

*** I hesitate doing this because I’m a little bit OCD when it comes to completism and I haven’t yet finished going through every college roster (over halfway done!), but there’s one team (well, one of many…but one worth pointing out at this precise moment in time) that stands out as an early “sleeper” from both a college ball standpoint and in terms of 2012 draft prospects. Sleeper may be a poor choice of words for a program as strong as Missouri State — a university that has produced current big leaguers Ryan Howard, Shaun Marcum, and Brad Ziegler, and routinely sits near the top of the Missouri Valley Conference standings — but, until a more apt word exists, we’re going with sleeper. They have many of the key elements needed of a college contender including a strong group of versatile, sure-handed middle infielders adept at setting the table, legit Friday night starter, a pair of thumpers in the middle of the lineup, and a deep bullpen full of guys capable of notching big strikeout totals.

As far as 2012 pitching prospects go, JR RHP Pierce Johnson’s velocity jump and four-pitch mix (including a nasty CB) should get him early round consideration while SO RHP Nick Petree’s two greatest strengths (FB movement and overall command) figure to improve even more another year removed from Tommy John.

The aforementioned middle infield trio of SR 2B Brent Seifert, SR 2B Kevin Medrano, and SR SS Travis McComack all have draft-worthy tools. Medrano offers the best hit tool, Seifert is the most well-rounded and possesses the most in-game power, and McComack has the best chance to stick at shortstop going forward. Joining those three in the lineup are SR 1B Brock Chaffin and JR C Luke Voit. Both Chaffin and Voit are big boys with interesting power upside. Chaffin may be the better college player, but Voit’s upside, especially if he can stick behind the plate, is very intriguing. He has the size, athleticism, raw power, and mature approach to bust out in a big, big way in 2012. In a weak year for college bats, Voit could wind up with a much earlier draft grade — I’d love to make a guess here, but I’m not sure I can without a little more homework — than many currently anticipate.

Quick Scheduling Update

You wouldn’t know it by looking at the site, but I’ve shifted focus away from 2011 draft reviews in favor of 2012 college/high school preview stuff. The realization that college ball is so close hit me last week, so I’ve been in a scramble to pull as much data off of College Splits (word count is currently at 34,848 in my 2012 “College Follow List” Word document…how cool am I?) as I can before they roll their database into 2012. Expect to see some good stuff in the near future – I’m thinking quick conference previews for college ball are in order, as is a badly needed update to the Big Board. I also have notes on some of the summer/fall/winter showcase events I’ve seen, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

In the immediate future, however, all I can offer is a far too long for a grad program supposedly designed with working professionals in mind (yeah, I’m a little bitter) term paper on fetal alcohol syndrome. Should I post that? Any interest? Anybody? No? Cool. Paper is due Thursday night, so expect something new on Friday (if I’m feeling frisky as I enjoy the brief post-deadline submission high) or, at the latest, Monday.

Washington Nationals 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Nationals 2011 MLB Draft Selections

I admit that I don’t read much post-draft reaction (proof that you can love something like crazy and still get burnt out on it), but the overall enthusiasm for what Washington did on draft day was loud enough that it seeped into the general baseball content that I digested in mid-June. Those first four picks are a thing of beauty, no doubt about it. Each of Washington’s first four picks are flashy names that come with enough of a human interest angle (one-time consensus first overall pick! giant right with giant stuff trying to make giant leap! college star to juco star! former first rounder trying to bounce back from injury!) to hook casual baseball fans – that’s probably why I heard the positive feedback despite avoiding post-draft coverage. Each guy has serious questions, sure, but the talent is clearly evident. Trusting guy that I am, I, well, trusted those who said Washington had a great draft. Outside of their first four picks, however, I’m not sure there is too much to be excited about here. The Nationals signed one and only one high school prospect. The Nationals drafted righthanded college relievers with five straight picks from round six to round ten.

The star quality of Rice 3B Anthony Rendon makes up for a lot of Washington’s lackluster drafting past the third round. This is hardly an original thought, and I know I repeat it more than I should, but it is really tricky finding interesting things to say about the draft’s best prospects. There are only so many ways you can say “yeah, he’s really good at X, Y, and Z, perhaps a bit lacking or flawed in A and B, but, on balance, he should be a really good big league player assuming good health, a typical developmental curve, and the continuation of the existence of mankind after 2012.”

Consider the narrative for Anthony Rendon. If you didn’t know any better you’d think he really “struggled” through a “down” junior season, right? Questions about his long-term health and his power upside with the new bats were quite popular all spring. Fun story, but little about it meshes with reality. After park/schedule adjustments, Anthony Rendon got on base over 53% of the time he came to the plate. The man walked in over a quarter of his overall plate appearances. When he wasn’t patiently waiting out pitchers too afraid/smart to pitch to him, he was putting up a park/schedule adjusted slugging percentage of .537 that, while not mind-blowing, still answers plenty of questions about his ability to hit with the unfortunate combination of a balky wrist and the limp new bats. I’m all for being critical about the prospects at the top, but there is something to be said about not wanting to create weaknesses that just aren’t there. Rendon isn’t a good runner. That’s the biggest negative I can honestly say about his game right now. No prospect is a sure thing, but Rendon is as close of a lock to an above-average big league regular as any player in this draft class. Combine that safety with his legitimate all-star upside, and it is easy to see why Washington was willing to draft Rendon despite the fact he happens to play the same spot as their current best everyday hitter. Speaking of which, I really hope that Washington comes up with some kind of solution that allows Rendon to play third base in the big leagues. He’s just too damn good at the hot corner to move elsewhere. I’m not saying they should move Ryan Zimmerman for Rendon’s sake – if Rendon turns into 3/4th the player Zimmerman has turned out to be, that would be a huge win for all involved. I just want to see some kind of happy solution where all of my selfish needs are met. Not sure I’m being overly demanding in suggesting that having great players playing their best positions is a good thing for the game.

There are a lot of amazing young arms in this year’s draft class, but Rendon is still the top prospect in 2011. There is not a single legitimate concern about his on-field performance. Despite his lack of size and some nagging injuries that held back his numbers some this year, there is little doubt that his power upside is substantial. His defensive tools are outstanding. The hit tool is well above-average and his approach to hitting is special. The two most popular comps thrown his way are Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria. I like the Zimmerman comp a lot, but I’ll toss another two names out there as well. Rendon’s play reminds me of a mix of a less physical, righthanded version of peak years Eric Chavez and current Boston third baseman Kevin Youkilis, minus the unorthodox swing setup. Can’t blame the Pirates for going with the rare commodity that is a potential ace with the first overall pick, but if I was in charge — and thank goodness for Pittsburgh or every other franchise I’m not — then Rendon would be the pick without thinking twice.

Kentucky RHP Alex Meyer would be a fun prospect to do a crystal ball report on because his future can conceivably go in so many different directions. He could be a top of the rotation arm, a lockdown reliever, or a total washout incapable of getting past AA. I’m a believer because I think the gains he made in 2011 are real based on the introduction of his sinker and more consistent softer stuff. His biggest issues are almost exactly what you’d expect from a 6’9” 220 pound behemoth: repeating his mechanics and release point and the subsequent inconsistencies with both command and control. I’m banking on his better than given credit for athleticism and hoping that a good pro pitching coach will get through to him, but there’s really no way of knowing which way Meyer’s future will turn out. Ah, the joys of prospecting.

Having seen both young starters in person collegiately, I must say that Aaron Fitt’s comp of Meyer to Andrew Brackman really made me think. Despite what those who only deal with the benefit of hindsight say, Brackman was an outstanding looking amateur prospect. He was at least as highly thought of as Meyer and was quite possibly a better long-term prospect. To put it in some context, the Pirates, the team that picked fourth in Brackman’s draft year, had front office higher-ups (e.g. Ed Creech and Dave Littlefield) in regular attendance at every Brackman start I saw that year. I’m on record as loving Meyer’s raw stuff and I believe he’ll be a top of the rotation anchor once he figures it all out, but the story of Brackman’s pro struggles should serve as a cautionary tale.

Kentucky JR RHP Alex Meyer: sitting 93-97 FB, dips closer to 92-94 later in games; inconsistent but plus 84-86 spike CB that works like a SL; 79-86 CU that flashes above-average when he throws it with more velocity; 92-93 two-seamer; all about command and control – if it is on, he’s incredibly tough to hit; FB is plus-plus down in zone, very hittable when left up; mechanical tweaks are likely needed; 6-9, 220

I heard a pretty crazy comp on Miami Dade JC OF Brian Goodwin that I will share knowing full well it is about as “out there” as any comp you’ll hear. It comes from somebody close to Goodwin – not friend/family close, but more like somebody local to him who has tracked him since his high school days – so take it with a block of salt. I’d imagine that Washington fans would be pretty thrilled if Goodwin can even scrape the ceiling of this Bernie Williams comp. I like the old faster Austin Kearns comp I heard back in the day, but anytime we can make comparisons to a potential Hall of Famer is a good time. Goodwin looked much better as the year went on, so I’m hopeful he’ll continue to show all five tools as a pro. His broad set of tools should make him a solid regular in due time.

[well-rounded with average at worst tools across board; average present power with plus-plus upside; above-average to plus-plus (70) speed; strong arm; fantastic athlete; update: plus athlete; very explosive; some question his swing; 10-20 homer upside as pro; above-average (55) runner; average arm for CF; raw fielder, but all the tools are there; 6-1, 190; DOB 11/2/90]

Texas Christian LHP Matt Purke ranks as one of this draft’s men of mystery. Injuries are the root cause of much of the uncertainty. Without access to his medical records, there is really no way of making a confident prediction about Purke’s future. At his healthiest he throws three plus (or almost plus) pitches: fastball, change, and slider. When banged up, he simply isn’t very good. There’s not much middle ground here.

TCU SO LHP Matt Purke: originally ranked 8th overall, but injury scare drops him; at his best throws 91-95 FB, 96-97 peak; command of FB needs work; potential plus 77-79 CU; solid CB; has shown plus 76-83 SL, but doesn’t use it anymore; SL was inconsistent, but best in upper-80s; plus makeup; sat 88-92 to start 2011, now down to upper-80s; loses feel for offspeed stuff quickly; 6-4, 180

Santa Barbara CC LHP Kylin Turnbull is a tough nut to crack. On the surface, his skill set paints the picture of a really good potential reliever. Case in point: he has an excellent fastball for a lefty, but struggles with velocity loss as innings pile up. Knife to your throat – I prefer my own grislier imagery to the played out “guy to your head” trope – I’m betting that “good lefty reliever” would be the consensus on Turnbull’s ceiling. A more daring prognosticator – or, simply, one without the fear of death driving the prediction – might look at Turnbull’s pro-caliber size, hard splitter with promise, and a slider that could be kind of sort of maybe decent after tons of reps and believe he could hold his own as a backend starter down the line. I’m hesitant about making such a bold claim (he’s more of a maybe reliever for me), but lefties with size and velocity are always in demand.

Santa Barbara CC SO LHP Kylin Turnbull: 88-92 FB, 94 peak; loses velocity early; above-average low-80s splitter; SL need work; 6-4, 200

Poor Georgia Tech 3B Matt Skole. You are in the wrong organization, my friend. If we’re talking about the possibility of Anthony Rendon moving off third or even picturing a world where a franchise player like Ryan Zimmerman moves on via trade or free agency, then what hope is there that things will work out just so and allow Skole to play third base in Washington. Like Rendon, I hope Skole gets the chance to man the hot corner somewhere, someday. His defensive tools (arm, athleticism, footwork, etc.) are better than his current ability, so one would think, given time and reps, that he could at least become average at the position. Adding the value of average defense at third on top of his existing patient and powerful bat would make him a good bet to become a solid regular down the line.

It took me a while to warm up to Skole, but I’d rather be late to the party than too stubborn to change my mind. The plus power bat should play wherever you put him (first base is a safe fall back option, catcher is the riskier but more appealing choice), though it would obviously be preferable if he can continue to work to turn his surprisingly strong defensive tools (good arm, decent foot speed, quality athleticism) into at least league average caliber third base defense.

Vanderbilt RHP Taylor Hill was my seventh favorite senior sign in 2011, but you could make a really strong argument that he’s the senior with the highest ceiling. Hill takes the notion that keeping the ball down is good and turns it up to 11. His sinker/slider combo is deadly when on, and his split-change drops clear out of the strike zone when he has it working. I tend to think of him as more of a groundball specialist reliever (his stuff definitely plays up in short bursts), but continued improvement in pro ball could allow him to start.

Vanderbilt SR RHP Taylor Hill: 88-91 FB with plus sink, 93-94 peak that I’ve seen with my own two eyes, have heard rumors of him hitting 95; 79-85 plus SL; very good 78-83 sinking CU also called a splitter; mechanics need smoothing out; 6-4, 225 pounds

I’ve seen more of Notre Dame RHP Brian Dupra over the years than I’ve seen certain members of my own immediate family. His fastball gets there in a hurry, but it flattens out badly when he either a) overthrows it, or b) gets deep into his pitch count. His slider is a good enough second pitch that he still has a chance to contribute as a relief arm at some point. Also helping his cause is his newfound upper-80s cutter that could become a weapon with continued use. He’s a better shot than many to help a big league pitching staff, but still a long shot.

Notre Dame SR RHP Brian Dupra: 91-95 FB; 88-91 cutter; good 79-81 SL; CU; 6-3, 205 pounds

Alright, now this is just getting ridiculous. I get that Washington spent so big on their first four picks that they had to dip into federal funds to pay everybody off – so that’s why my district keeps closer schools! – but are you really telling me they had to completely ignore the high school ranks and go back-to-back-to-back with college seniors in rounds 6, 7, and 8? One or the other, maybe, but doing both is no way to build up the kind of organizational depth an emerging franchise like Washington needs to keep the big league roster fresh. North Carolina RHP Greg Holt, come on down. Like new UNC reliever Derrick Bleeker (we’ll get to him soon), Holt has been known as much for his raw power at the plate as his pitching prowess. He has the fastball/slider thing down pat, so there is a chance he’ll pop up in a few years as a viable relief option. I’d rank the three seniors in the same order Washington drafted them with a really large gap between Hill and Dupra, and then a slightly smaller gap between Dupra and Holt.

Now Holt is a relief prospect with a fastball that sits 88-91 (93 peak) and a good low-80s slider.

I once had such high draft hopes for California RHP Dixon Anderson. Alexander, a fourth-year junior, was in line for a big 2011 season, but never found the velocity he lost from the previous season. He once showed the power stuff – mid-90s fastball, above-average low-80s breaking ball, and an emerging splitter – needed to excel in a relief role, but may have to reinvent himself as a sinker/slider/cutter guy if his four-seam heat doesn’t return. All in all, Anderson is a worthy gamble at this point in the draft.

California SO RHP Dixon Anderson: 92-94 FB; 96 FB peak; very good low-80s SL; splitter; 6-5, 225 pounds (4.89 FIP; 5.68 K/9; 3.55 BB/9)

Cuban born Barry RHP Manny Rodriguez, yet another older righthanded relief prospect from college (that’s five in a row!), impressed in his first taste of pro ball. His fastball was more consistently hitting his mid-90s peak, and the upside shown with his curve has some thinking it could be an above-average pitch in time. A nascent change gives his supporters hope he can stick in the rotation, but I believe Rodriguez would be best served airing it out in shorter outings. As much as I don’t approve of Washington using five straight early picks on college righthanders likely destined to the pen, getting one (likely), two (maybe), three (probably pushing it, but who knows) cost-controlled big league relievers out of it would help alleviate the temptation to go out and spend big bucks on volatile veteran bullpen pieces. As one of the great philosophical minds of our time once said, “that ain’t not bad!”

I always have admired Houston OF Caleb Ramsey’s (Round 11) approach to hitting, but fear he is too much of a tweener both offensively and defensively to ever rise above a AAA depth ceiling.

Great to see oft-injured Indiana LHP Blake Monar (Round 12) get the chance to give pro ball an honest shot. He’s a soft-tosser known for a big plus curve who has battled back valiantly from injuries.

mid- to upper-80s FB, peak at 87-88; plus CB; SL; injury set back progress in 2010; 6-2, 185 pounds

I can’t wait to see Walters State CC OF Cody Stubbs (Round 14) back on the field playing against major college opposition this spring. Going from Tennessee to Walters State to North Carolina certainly qualifies as the road less traveled, but Stubbs’ nomadic existence is not due to a lack of on-field talent. He has a chance to rise way up draft boards and get early round consideration in a year with little in the way of impact college bats.

Due to a similar positional reclassification (OF to 1B), Stubbs’ prospect stock gets the same artificial boost as fellow first baseman Jacob Anderson’s. Easy to like Stubbs’ power to all fields and above-average athleticism for a big man (6-4, 225). I remember thinking he could be a top five round prospect after three years at Tennessee. Things obviously didn’t work out for Stubbs as a Volunteer, but the talent that led me to that original conclusion hasn’t evaporated. If he slips past round five, as I think he will, you could wind up with a player with high round ability at the cost of a low round pick.

Biloxi HS (MS) RHP Hawtin Buchanan (Round 19) is upside personified. He’s big, he throws hard, and, due to the fact that he is big and already throws hard, he could very well throw very hard down the line. The reports on his curve improving as his senior season went on are really encouraging. That kind of aptitude will serve him well as he tries to put everything together and get himself a first round grade in a few years.

RHP Hawtin Buchanan (Biloxi HS, Mississippi): 89-91 FB with room to grow, 93-94 peak; good command; raw CB, but much improved as year went on; strong Mississippi commit; 6-8, 230

Tennessee 2B Khayyan Norfork (Round 23) was a favorite in college, but a long shot to contribute anything at the big league level. Somebody I know in the know dropped a Junior Spivey comp on him. That got a good laugh out of me, but not because it is a silly comp or anything. Who in their right mind would comp a player now or ever to Junior Spivey?

I wanted so badly to include Norfork on my preseason list, but chickened out at the last minute for reasons still unknown to me. He’s got the prerequisite leadoff man skill set — plus speed, great jumps from first, good bunting skills, some patience, some hit tool — and the defensive versatility to play around the infield. I don’t think he has the bat to ever log consistent starter’s at bats, but unlike a few of the guys chained to 2B now and forever, Norfork should be able to move around the infield in a backup’s role with success.

The comment from last year (below) on Arizona State LHP Kyle Ottoson (Round 24) holds true today. He’ll head back for one last year at one of America’s most entertaining campuses to continue to build his junkballing crafty lefty street cred. (EDIT: Ottoson’s senior year will be at Oklahoma State, not Arizona State. Totally forgot about this.)

Ottoson’s strong commitment to Arizona State makes him another difficult sign. He doesn’t have a present above-average pitch, but throws three pitches (85-88 FB; 76-79 KCB; low-70s CU) for strikes.

You have to believe Washington scouts saw local product Georgetown C Erick Fernandez (Round 25) plenty over the years. Fernandez went to Georgetown despite being recruited by schools like NC State and Miami out of high school. He has retained much of the athleticism from his days as a middle infielder and his defense is top notch. All told he isn’t likely to be more than an organizational player, but he could hit his way into a backup role someday, especially if Washington likes how he works with some of their young organizational pitching talent.

He’s more than just a courtesy draft, I swear! South Carolina LHP Bryan Harper (Round 30), older brother of Bryce, has good enough stuff from the left side to hang around pro ball for at least a couple years. His size and mature, if still inconsistent, offspeed stuff are plusses. His upside is obviously limited and he’ll have to keep proving himself for years in the minors, but Harper has more of a shot than other older brothers of more famous top draft picks ever did. Jake Mauer, I’m talking about you.

Harper: 88-92 FB; solid 76-78 CB; emerging CU; 6-5, 190 pounds

If Southeast Guilford HS (NC) SS Josh Tobias (Round 31) can handle the defensive responsibilities at either center field or second base, he’s a potential early round pick in 2014. His raw power is exceptional for a man his size and his speed is at least an average tool (potentially much better than that depending on what day you see him run). I’d almost always err on the side of pro instruction over college, but spending three years working with the brains behind the resurgence of Florida baseball works just fine. Like a few of the other “ones that got away” you’ll read about below, Tobias has first round potential in 2014.

[above-average to plus-plus speed; very strong; plus raw power; leadoff profile; ability to stick in CF will make or break him]

San Diego RHP Calvin Drummond (Round 34) has always had better stuff than results, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can put it all together this season for the Toreros.

San Diego SO RHP Calvin Drummond: 91-93 FB, 94 peak; 84-87 cutter/SL; 78-79 CB; 83-84 CU

Howard JC RHP Derrick Bleeker (Round 37) could really turn heads this spring as a late-inning relief option for the Tar Heels. He fits the reliever mold in all your typical ways: he throws hard (mid-90s peak), shows a breaking ball, and has intimidating size (6-5, 220 pounds). Bleeker is also a talented hitter with massive raw power who should get more and more at bats as the season unfolds.

Stanford LHP Brett Mooneyham (Round 38) is a little bit like a less famous Matt Purke. Both guys were big stars in high school that turned down sizable bonuses to play college ball. Both guys saw their stuff drop drastically because of a multiple injuries. And both guys were drafted by Washington in 2011. They are like twins! Purke signed, but Mooneyham will give it one more shot for Stanford this spring. He has the size and offspeed repertoire (love the cutter, like his change and breaking ball) to succeed, but his draft stock and pro future will be determined by his ability to reclaim his once above-average low-90s fastball. In this year’s so-so college class, Mooneyham has top three round stuff if healthy.

Stanford JR LHP Brett Mooneyham: 88-90 FB, 91-92 peak; sits 90-92 now; also seen 87-91; weak FB this summer at 86-88, 90 peak; average 78-80 SL; good 75-78 CB; good CU; 6-5; improved cutter; missed 2011 season due to finger injury

Mississippi 1B Matt Snyder (Round 44) is an all-bat prospect who faces very long odds if he hopes to play in the big leagues. That doesn’t take away from him being an excellent college slugger. Ole Miss is loaded with future talent, so Snyder will get his chances to impress scouts from the first pitch to the last out this season.

Positive reports on Snyder’s bat this spring had me give him a slight boost, but his defense, speed, and arm are all really weak. I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is likely to be back for his senior season.

Georgia OF Peter Verdin (Round 39) has set himself up to become one heck of a 2012 senior sign. He’s a great athlete with plenty of speed for center field and intriguing raw power. There has been some talk in the past about his defensive skill set working behind the plate. All that is missing is the teeny tiny matter of actually putting those tools to use on the field. Guys are senior signs for a reason, after all. If Verdin can put it all together, he could jump up close to 30 rounds next year.

Dorman HS (SC) 3B Hunter Cole (Round 49) will join Verdin in the Georgia lineup this spring. He could also play alongside Verdin in the Bulldogs outfield if the coaching staff prefers the incoming freshman there instead of at third. If he stays at the hot corner, I think he has the offensive upside and defensive tools to become a first round pick.

Cole is another really tough sign (strong Georgia commit) with loads of raw power and good defensive tools. His bat is currently way more advanced than his glove, so maybe part of the idea of heading to Athens is to polish up his overall game and help him pop up as a first rounder in 2014.

Tampa Bay Rays 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Rays 2011 MLB Draft Selections

Seriously, what can you say? 12 picks in the draft’s top 89 turned into 8 prospects in my personal top 79 and 14 total players within my top 166 list. Even if you think my list is garbage or don’t like being manipulated with arbitrary endpoints (what, top 166’s aren’t the norm?), you have to admit that Tampa walked away with quite a haul this past June. The biggest prize from draft day was first round pick Spring Valley HS (SC) RHP Taylor Guerrieri. Guerrieri has everything you want in a young pitching prospect. Feels like I’ve said that about a few 2011 arms so far. Just when I begin to think I’m being too optimistic about He throws hard yet easy, shows signs of a plus breaking ball, and repeats his mechanics as well as any teenager in pro ball. He also has a long track record of holding his velocity late into games to go along with a much shorter but still promising history of improved overall command.

RHP Taylor Guerrieri (North Augusta HS, South Carolina): 87-90 FB last summer until sudden 97 peak this spring; now sitting 93-94 due to added physical strength with a consistent peak of 97-98, holds velocity late as well as any prep pitcher I remember; FB has plus life; emerging 77-83 CB with plus upside that has turned into a weapon already; heavy FB; very low effort mechanics; FB command greatly improved; mid-80s SL with upside; will show CU with upside and cutter; 6-3, 195 (up from 180)

This is the first thing I ever wrote about Louisiana State OF Mikie Mahtook for this site: “Mikie Mahtook is white. I don’t know why that surprises me, but it does. It really does. I’m not proud of this fact.” Yeah, I was/am a dope. The unintentional but still weak admission embarrasses me to this day. That’s not to say I still don’t occasionally associate certain names with mental images – I blame society for that, in addition to all my other flaws – but I have made a conscious effort since then not to jump to any kind of unfortunate and unnecessary racial conclusions based solely on an individual’s name. Ah, feels good to get that off my chest. No matter what color he is, Mahtook is a really good prospect with one of the higher floors of any 2011 position player. He doesn’t have a single weak tool – maybe his speed/range in center will slip as he ages and bulks up, but both are presently average at worst – while possessing the right mix of power upside and athleticism that tends to get a guy noticed. Mahtook also gets bonus points from me for being a tools-first player who lived up to the hype collegiately; the year-to-year progression from tools to skills was easily seen to anybody lucky enough to watch him play from high school to his junior season at LSU. From a production/skill set standpoint, two comps that I think are fun: peak years Angel Pagan (’09 and ’10 mostly) and 2011 Melky Cabrera (but hopefully with a little more plate discipline).

[above-average to plus speed; good defender; above-average to plus arm; big power potential, but swing holds him back; excellent athlete; good approach; great athlete; 6-1, 195 pounds]

Sierra Vista HS (NV) SS Jake Hager is caught in between two worlds. On one hand, he’s a player with a well-deserved reputation as a throwback scrappy grinder gym rat who always gives 110% and leaves it all out on the field. The guy plays his butt off every game and practice. Hager has worked very hard to get to this point in his career.  If we can now ignore my lame attempt at humor in the opening sentence, high effort and hard work are legitimate positives that ought to be lauded and, despite not being quantifiable, are correctly taken into consideration by all thirty MLB teams during pre-draft meetings. That said, man cannot live on scrap alone. Thankfully, on the other hand, Hager’s tools are pretty damn solid. He has tools that are good enough across the board that they ought to be the headliner while his dirtbag persona takes a backseat. Luckily for Tampa, they don’t have to choose between the two – they’ll get the best of both worlds. Hager’s defensive tools and skills (arm, footwork, pre-pitch positioning, and instincts) are particularly strong, especially if he moves to third base. If third is what the future holds, I really think his glove will be strong enough of a tool to carry him, perhaps as a player similar to Marlins prospect Matt Dominguez or fellow 2011 draftee Jason Esposito. If he can combine that with the offensive comp I heard on him pre-draft (the good version of Daric Barton), then you’ve got a star level player, right? I’m not proud of throwing back-to-back sentences beginning with “if” at you, but that kind of comes with the territory when talking prep prospects.

Hager is a shortstop on many team’s draft boards, but I prefer him as a potential defensive star at third base. His arm and reaction time are both perfectly suited for the hot corner. The only downside with moving him off short is the acknowledgement that his bat, specifically his power, profiles better as a middle infielder that at a corner. His approach to hitting and history of hitting with wood assuage some of those worries, but I understand the concern. I’ve heard a Daric Barton comp on his bat that I like.

I liked Santiago HS (CA) SS Brandon Martin just a touch better than Hager pre-draft. Nothing has happened since that has changed my opinion. I only bring it up to reiterate how close the two players were and are in my mind. The two guys are really similar players, so almost everything said about Hager above applies to Martin here. Martin gets the edge for me because of his slightly better chance of sticking at shortstop (total judgment call there – seems many like Hager as a shortstop way more than I do, and that’s cool) and a slightly more advanced to hitting (e.g. more patience and better pitch recognition). Tracking the progress of these two similar prospects will be a lot of fun in the coming years.

What stands out to me about Martin’s game is his approach to hitting. His speed is good, his arm is good, and the likelihood he sticks at shortstop is, well, good, but it is his potential plus hit tool and professional approach at the plate that separates him from the pack. Regular readers of the site probably realize that certain hitting-related buzzwords — approach, patience, maturity — get my attention more than others — aggressive being the first that comes to mind — and many of my favorites just so happen to be words that scouts often use to describe Martin.

Potential plus defense at the hot corner is what helps St. Francis HS (CA) 3B Tyler Goeddel stand out among the glut of infielders drafted by Tampa in 2011. His bat should play quite well at the position, and his athleticism, quick release, and footwork will continue to earn him sterling reviews with the glove.

Fast rising Tyler Goeddel has emerged as one of the finest prep players in California this spring. He’s shown all five tools in game action, including a really strong hit tool. His arm, speed, and power are all average or better, and his pro frame gives him room to mature physically.

How can you not love Lower Columbia JC RHP Jeff Ames? He fits the classic plus fastball but little else potential shutdown reliever archetype better than any prospect in this year’s draft. One thing to watch: when Ames misses, he misses high. His fastball is really tough from about the elbows/letters down, but when he starts elevating the pitch, it becomes much, much easier to drive. If the Tampa staff can help him continue to progress cutting and sinking his fastball, he’s a keeper.

Lower Columbia JC SO RHP Jeff Ames: 92-95 FB, 97 peak; plus movement on FB; inconsistent offspeed stuff

The buzz on Shorewood HS (WA) LHP Blake Snell grew and grew as the spring progressed. Unfortunately, that buzz wasn’t particularly positive as many scouts and front office types came away believing college might be best for Snell’s long-term outlook. Whether or not the college route was the right course of action is a moot point; Snell is a professional and there’s no looking back now. The flashes he showed as a high school senior – lefties who hit 94 are nothing to sneeze at – give some hope that he’ll flourish as a pro, but he’s not one of my personal favorites from this class due to his lack of any consistent offspeed offering.

LHP Blake Snell (Shorewood HS, Washington): 86-90 FB, 92-94 peak; slow CB flashes above-average; average CU; less polished than expected; good athlete; 6-4, 190

For most of the spring I thought I was higher on Western Kentucky OF Kes Carter than most; that smug satisfaction blew up in my face once I saw I had actually underrated Carter’s upside, at least in terms of draft stock. Tampa selecting Carter in the supplemental first caught me by surprise – had him pegged somewhere between rounds 5-10, though closer to 5 than 10 – but it is easy to see why they liked him so high. His in-game play and consensus scouting reports both remind me of Shane Victorino. A quick search of the archives reveals that I like using Victorino as a comp. Previously compared to Shane Victorino by me: Jackie Bradley Jr. (but only if you are a believer in his bat) and Gary Brown (still like this one a lot). The Victorino comp is basically a proxy for the following: good speed, CF range, plus arm, strong OBP skills, and deceptive power upside. One big difference between Carter and Victorino at similar points in their development: Carter turns 22 in March and has 15 pro plate appearances while Victorino, he of the unusual minor league career path, still managed 1576 plate appearances by the same age. Probably unwise to compare a college draftee to a high school pick, but what’s done is done. Additionally, if you are into making size/power upside judgments (I’m not, but I don’t judge), keep in mind that Carter has a good five inches on Victorino. It should go without saying that the Victorino comp is Carter’s perfect world projection. Also, take the comp as something I find logical for the reasons listed, and not necessarily how I think things will go; intuitively, I just don’t have a very strong feeling about Carter ever becoming an impact player as a pro. I think his more realistic ceiling is as a high-level fourth outfielder. Then again, that’s the same ceiling many fans put on Victorino back in the day. Hmm…

[91 peak FB; plus arm; capable CF; little power at present, but raw power is there; above-average speed; 6-1, 190 pounds]

Pretty much everything about Vanderbilt LHP Grayson Garvin I feel like saying I’ve already said, but I’ll ramble on a bit because I’m a sucker for completeness. Garvin has retained the skills of a soft-tossing lefthander even though he suddenly started throwing much harder this past spring. I’m much more comfortable betting on a pitcher with a clear consistently above-average second pitch than Garvin shows, but he is well-rounded enough that a long career pitching at the back of a big league rotation seems well within reach. A more physical Paul Maholm, maybe?

Vanderbilt JR LHP Grayson Garvin: started 87-89 FB, 90-91 peak; sitting 89-92 now, 93-95 peak; good FB command; 70-73 CB with upside if thrown harder; now up to 73-75 and above-average pitch; average 77-80 CU with room for improvement, could be plus in time; cutter; SL; good athlete; outstanding control; 6-6, 220

Garvin is a classic pitchability lefty (love his FB command and overall control) who has just so happened to grow into above-average velocity from the left side. He doesn’t have a pitch that is a consistent out pitch, but both his curve and change flash above-average enough to give him the upside of a back of the rotation arm.

I can’t decide if Oakland Technical HS (CA) OF James Harris is the high school version of Kes Carter or if Carter is the college version of James Harris. Either way, the two prospects are fairly similar: strong glove, good speed, not much power upside. I prefer Harris based on his youth, superior range in center, and better speed. If you liked Carter because of his strong college production, more advanced hit tool, and an arm strong enough that he could be tried on the mound if need be, I wouldn’t call you crazy. Wrong, but not crazy…

[plus-plus range in CF; plus runner; plus athlete; limited raw power; bat has a long way to go; iffy arm; classic leadoff hitter approach]

It really is impossible to dislike Tampa’s 2011 draft. Sure, you can nitpick a couple selections here and there, but having 12 picks in the draft’s first 89 makes it really hard for a team to out and out blow it. I’m not really sure what it means then that Palmetto HS (FL) OF Granden Goetzman, Tampa’s eleventh overall pick but their first selection outside of the first round, is actually my favorite non- Guerrieri pick, but I think it is a good thing. There’s a really thin line that separates Goetzman from guys like Eierman, Goeddel, and Mahtook. The next tier of Martin, Hager, and Garvin isn’t really that big a step down, either. Of all those prospects, however, I’d take Goetzman over the rest. His pro debut (.173/.262/.213 in 75 AB) betrays his rawness, but you don’t draft a prospect like Goetzman for instant impact. Tampa drafted two similar prospects at different stages of their development in Kes Carter (college) and James Harris (high school). In Goetzman, they have a player with a wide tool base (55’s or better across the board) who reminds a lot of where Mikie Mahtook was as a prospect before enrolling at LSU.

[plus speed; plus raw power; arm enough for 3B or RF; raw; lots of range in CF; bat is raw, but quick; huge upside gamble; 6-3, 200]

With a name like Hawaii RHP Lenny Linsky’s, you are pretty much preordained to be a big league reliever, right? Lenny Linsky is just a great bullpen name. A true plus fastball due to outstanding velocity and movement (that phrase would be redundant if anybody in baseball used the word “velocity” correctly, but that’s a battle I’ve long given up on) is his bread and butter, but his unique hard cut slider is a legitimate weapon in its own right. My not so bold prediction of the day: it won’t be long before Linsky is closing in Tampa.

Hawaii JR RHP Lenny Linsky: 94-97 peak FB with plus sink; plus upper-80s cut SL

Warsaw HS (MO) OF Johnny Eierman’s much discussed move to the outfield could get his bat going a lot quicker than if he was left to fend for himself playing up the middle of the infield. I get that. But can you imagine his upside as an all-around ballplayer if he can stick at either short or second? I suppose he’d also provide plenty of value if he someday proves himself capable of handling center, but visions of Eierman turning two at the keystone keep dancing in my head.

Like Phillip Evans, Johnny Eierman’s a future professional second baseman with a chance of going in the first round. Also like Evans, Eierman has plus raw power, a plus arm, and plus defensive tools. His bat speed rivals that of any player in the class, college or pro, and his athleticism makes him an option at almost any position on the field. He’s an undeniably raw prospect with a complicated swing setup in need of some good old fashioned pro coaching, but if it all clicks for him he has easy big league All-Star upside.

Arizona State 3B Riccio Torrez represents what I think was Tampa’s attempt to make a “safe” college pick. So much of their draft was focused on upside that the potential reality of rolling snake eyes on all of their high school upside gambles, however small those odds may be, began creeping into the collective consciousness of their draft day decision makers. That’s one theory, at least. Guess it could also be possible that the Rays genuinely liked Torrez as a potential big leaguer someday. He does have some upside as an offense-first utility guy, but he’s never been a big personal favorite. For me, he’s a AAAA bat without quite enough value in his other tools (though, in fairness, versatility isn’t a tool yet he still deserves credit for it) to get him to the big leagues, at least not in any linear developmental path.

Torrez seems to finally have found a defensive home at third base. A team could draft him as a true third base prospect now and hope his bat grows into the role, or, and I think this is the more likely outcome, a team could draft him with the idea that he could develop into a versatile utility player. His only standout tool is his raw power, but even that is mitigated somewhat by a swing that currently lacks the proper loft needed to consistently drive balls up and out.

Elk Grove HS (CA) 3B JD Davis enters college as one of the most intriguing freshman two-way talents. I’m actually thrilled Davis is going to school because he is the epitome of a two-way college guy: just athletic enough to both pitch and play the field, but not quite athletic enough to handle much more than first base; plus arm and plus raw power with questions about command and ability to hit for average. Whoops, think I just previewed 2012 draft prospect Austin Maddox by accident.

Yet another two-way player likely heading off to college. Davis sports a well-rounded skill set, but no plus tool that will get a scout hot and bothered.

Cal State Fullerton RHP Jake Floethe is far more of a scouting pick than a numbers-approved selection. With the potential for three average or better big league pitches, Floethe is an intriguing gamble despite his less than thrilling college stats. His upside falls somewhere between fourth/fifth starter (if his changeup and slider continue to progress) or middle reliever (if it is decided he scrap an offspeed pitch and focus on sharper, shorter bursts). That’s upside, mind.

Cal State Fullerton JR RHP Jake Floethe (2011): 90-93 FB with plus sink; good CU; promising SL; room for growth

You often hear about a prep pitching star who peaked velocity-wise as a teenager – Kasey Kiker being the most recent example – but Gonzaga LHP Ryan Carpenter is the rare example of a college guy doing the same. Guys like this make the whole projection game really difficult. A pessimist might choose to focus on the fact that Carpenter may never recapture his college peak velocity (low-90s sitting fastball, 95 peak). An optimist could then point to his more refined (by necessity) offspeed stuff that complements his still acceptable upper-80s heater quite nicely. I’m not too proud to say I have no idea what his future holds – so much depends on his return to form as he recovers fully from arm troubles.

Gonzaga JR LHP Ryan Carpenter: at one time threw a heavy 92-94 FB, touching 95 with movement; now sits upper-80s, with rare peak of 92; above-average 81-82 SL, dominant at times; inconsistent but quickly improving 77-78 CU; low-70s CB that he uses very sparingly; 6-5, 225 pounds

Let’s squint our eyes together and look far off into Tampa’s future: Goeddel at third, Martin at short, Hager at second, and Glendora HS (CA) 1B John Alexander bringing the power at first? Everything working out just like that isn’t bloody likely, but the fact that we can even pretend it could happen is a testament to the wonderfully ecumenical (a rare SAT word that has stuck with me) approach Tampa took on draft day. For the millionth time, first basemen need to hit a ton to even be considered a viable prospect let alone a potential big leaguer. Alexander has an uphill road because of this, but his power upside, exciting athleticism, and mature beyond his years approach to hitting make him interesting to track. I wasn’t on him pre-draft, but that’s less of a commentary on Alexander’s upside than it is an indictment on my ability to follow everybody that deserves attention.

The Rays were wise to save a little cash by snagging a cheaper senior sign like Western Kentucky C Matt Rice within the draft’s first ten rounds. Rice is a good athlete, good defender, and by all accounts a good guy; it’s easy to see why Tampa would like a guy like this handling their bevy of up and coming arms.

Rice is a definite riser in my mind; very little chance he winds up as 2011′s Mr. Irrelevant (last overall pick in draft) like he was in 2010. He’s still a late-rounder, but he makes a lot of sense in the larger context of the draft. Sure, the ultimate goal is to draft as many potential big league contributors as possible. We all know that much. Come rounds 25 and on, however, you’re mixing and matching prep athletes with upside and signability questions and org players needed to fill out minor league rosters. Rice strikes me as a perfect org guy – great teammate, wonderful influence on his peers, and not totally devoid of talent in his own right.

Gahr HS (CA) RHP Jacob Faria was a really good get as a tenth rounder with significant upside. There’s a large gap between what he is and what he will be, but his promising pro start (14 K/1 BB in 15.2 IP) certainly doesn’t hurt his cause.

That finally covers Tampa’s first ten rounds. Haven’t bothered to do a word count, but I’m willing to bet there is more here on just their top ten rounders than what I’ve written on some teams’ entire drafts. Crazy. Thankfully, the expenditure from the first ten rounds made the later rounds a little bit lighter than normal, but there are some interesting names worth noting.

Oklahoma 1B Cameron Seitzer (Round 11) has gotten more attention than your usual later draft selection because of his famous last name. Like Faria above, his pro start was pretty darn encouraging, so long as you ignore the whole age/development/league/sample size issues of a college guy tearing up rookie ball.

Power and bloodlines will help get Seitzer through the door, but it could be the development of his already much improved two-strike approach that makes or breaks him as a pro.

Shorewood HS (WA) 1B Trevor Mitsui (Round 12) goes to Washington to prove that his bat is strong enough to carry him as a professional first base prospect. St. James HS (SC) OF Tanner English (Round 13) takes his awesome speed, center field defense, and solid hit tool to South Carolina. English is the better prospect, but either guy would have been a fine signing for Tampa. Consider these losses the downside of having 33 (give or take) first round picks.

I’ve run out of nice things to say about Coastal Carolina SS Taylor Motter (Round 17). Nice original things, that is – I could say nice things about him all day, but I’m pretty sure at this point I’m just repeating myself. He’s a stat-head favorite who has just enough going for him in the raw tools department to get the unfortunate stat-head only stigma attached to his name. Here’s something nice I don’t think I’ve said about him before: you can win a championship with Taylor Motter as your starting shortstop. The flood of upcoming Tampa middle infield prospects could push him aside. I think he’s holding onto because, at worst, he looks like a valuable utility infielder to me.

I can’t even begin to guess where Motter will actually go on draft day, but I’m willing to stick my neck out and say that whatever team winds up with him will get one of the draft’s underrated gems. Like Brandon Loy ranked just below him, Motter’s biggest strengths are his plus glove and plus throwing arm. Any above-average tools besides those two are gravy, though it certainly doesn’t hurt that Motter has an average hit tool and good speed. A couple of really nice things I heard about Motter after talking to people in the know included a description that included ”he simply does not waste at bats” and a glowing report on “his professional knowledge of the strike zone.” Motter obviously doesn’t profile as a Troy Tulowitzki type of power hitter, but with his defense, speed, and command of the strike zone, he won’t have to hit the ball out of the ballpark to someday get a chance as a starting big league shortstop.

Tennessee RHP Matt Ramsey (Round 20) could be a fast riser if healthy. His fastball peaks in the mid- to upper-90s and his curve is a plus offering when on. The former catcher’s mechanics have improved significantly over the past calendar year, so there’s some hope that there’s even more velocity to be had. I’m not so sure about that – if he’s peaking 96-98 already, how much higher can he realistically go? – but I could see his current fluctuating velocity become more consistent.

Tennessee JR RHP Matt Ramsey: low-90s peak in HS, now up to 96 peak FB; low-80s CB that flashes plus; converted catcher who PG compared to Russell Martin in high school; 5-10, 200

I’m totally in the bag for Dexter HS (MA) RHP John Magliozzi (Round 35) because, as any long-time readers know, very few things excite me more than short righthanded pitchers. Magliozzi may be undersized, but his fastball (sits low-90s, peaks 94) is plenty tall. His changeup is a strong second pitch and he worked in both a slider and a curve at times while in high school. If he is draft-eligible as a freshman as Baseball America claims (and I have no reason to doubt them, just highlighting the pain in the neck that is determining draft eligibility at times), then we’ll likely be talking about him again in a few months.

RHP John Magliozzi (Dexter HS, Massachusetts): 90-92 FB, 93-94 peak; good 80-81 CU; SL; 5-10, 175

Kansas RHP Tanner Poppe (Round 37) heads back to Kansas hoping to rebound after a disappointingly lackluster sophomore season. Poppe has the size, stuff, and mechanics to get himself drafted in the single digit rounds in 2012, but it’ll take a drastic turn in performance this spring.

Kansas SO RHP Tanner Poppe (2011): 90-93 FB with late life; solid 74 CB; 80 CU; easy mechanics; extremely projectable; 6-5, 220 pounds; (4.82 K/9 – 4.82 BB/9 – 4.51 FIP – 61.2 IP)

UC Irvine 1B Jordan Leyland (Round 44) has big raw power, but that’s about it when it comes to average or better tools. Texas C Kevin Lusson (Round 45) also returns to school. At bats could be hard to come by in an improved Longhorns lineup. Despite having played third base and catcher in the past, his best bet for college at bats could be at first.

Happy New Year

First, a big thank you to all that have stuck with the site since we started things up a mere thirty-five months ago. With literally over half a billion websites banging around the internet these days, there is a lot of competition for your time and energy. The fact that so many have checked in over the years is pretty mind-boggling to me, and much appreciated. Even crazier is knowing that there are people out there who check in daily, something I simply could not imagine back when this began. Interest in baseball’s amateur draft has grown in ways I could have only hoped back in 2009, and I’m glad to be even be a teeny tiny part of the boom.

Now, let’s talk business. A quick look to the “Recent Posts” sidebar shows that the focus of late has been on wrapping up all things 2011. With the calendar now officially turned to 2012, the short-term plan remains simple: finish these damn 2011 MLB Draft in Review pieces. By my count, we still need to cover 10 teams: Tampa Bay, Toronto, Minnesota, Texas, Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Diego, and San Francisco. If I keep my current pace of one per week going, then 2011 draft talk will bleed into March 2012. Considering the college baseball season starts February 17th, that’s unacceptable. Work and grad school have slowed my writing considerably since both started back up in September (funny that it isn’t so much the actual time devoted to attending work/school, but the time spent reading, writing, and researching on the computer – my old eyes can’t keep up that kind of pace and there are some days when I can’t imagine looking at this glowing screen any longer than I absolutely have to), but I really, really want to find a way to wrap up everything I want to say about 2011 before really diving into 2012 coverage. I’m not yet sure how I’ll do it, but I’ll do it. Getting that into writing = hopefully providing motivation to get it all done…

The long-term plan is a little bit more muddled, so I’m happy to hear any suggestions about what specific content you’d like to see. As it stands now, 2012 coverage will be similar to what we’ve done in the past: position rankings, college team profiles, weekend updates, and, yeah, maybe even a mock draft or two. I’ll also probably try to do a little more stream of consciousness type stuff because, honesty alert, those kind of posts require a great deal less time and planning.

So, to recap: finish all things 2011, move on to 2012 coverage (suggestions welcomed!), and, eventually, turn our attention to 2013 and beyond. I’ve always wanted to keep this going as long as it was interesting to me and, despite slowing down the pace somewhat, things are definitely still interesting.

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