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Way Too Early 2013 MLB Draft Big Board – Hitters Explained

We’ll talk more about Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier in a separate post, but a few words on every other position player listed on the top 100 from last week can be found below. Here we go…

I currently have Kris Bryant listed as an OF/3B, a fairly significant change from the 3B/1B designation he entered school with. I’m totally buying in on Bryant’s athleticism playing in an outfield corner, at least for the first few years of his professional career. His body looks much better now than it ever did in high school — he managed to pull off the stronger yet leaner look that I’ve spent my whole adult life trying to figure out — and his arm is plenty strong enough to play in right field. There remains an above-average chance he sticks as a playable third baseman for the foreseeable future. His bat works anywhere, so determining his long-term defensive home is more of a matter of how great his future can possibly be than whether or not he will make it in pro ball. All of the standard developmental caveats apply, but the range of outcomes for Bryant look like this: upside of star-caliber player at third to steady, contributing bat at first, with something in-between those two if he winds up in right.

Colin Moran serves as an interesting counter-point to Bryant’s offensive profile. Bryant does it with power while Moran does it with patience. Both are good enough prospects that there is plenty of overlap — Bryant’s approach has made ridiculous progress in the last calendar year while Moran’s future power is, at worst, average – but the contrast is still something fun to talk about nine months before the draft hits. Moran is such a gifted natural hitter with a disciplined, mature approach to his craft. I feel like this comp makes too much sense not to throw out there before everybody catches on: Colin Moran is the 2013 draft’s Chase Headley.

Austin Wilson and Aaron Judge are like the college version of Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier. Both Wilson and Judge are way ahead of any 2012 college outfielder. The most direct comparison would be Victor Roache and Mitch Haniger, the two best power outfield bats in last year’s class. Milwaukee did well in nabbing both Roache and Haniger this year, but the Brewers may not get the chance to get either in this year’s draft with their current early-teens selection. That’s just a long way of saying the following: if all goes well for both Wilson and Judge in 2013, they’ll both be top ten picks next June.

If any prep player can knock off Meadows/Frazier from the top spot, it could be Oscar Mercado. Mercado is an extremely well-rounded young player with no clearly below-average future tool. The popular Elvis Andrus comp makes a lot of sense. Also, for what it’s worth, I think Mercado is further ahead than Francisco Lindor was at the same stage of development.

Continuing with the up the middle theme is catcher Reese McGuire. I’ve said before how fascinated I am by the different catching archetypes out there: you’ve got your big arm/big power catchers, your great athlete/raw glove/converted infielder catchers, your defense-first/questionable hit tool catchers, and then your solid all-around with no standout tool catchers. McGuire falls under the plus athlete with superstar upside umbrella. Jeremy Martinez is the defense-first/questionable hit tool poster boy for 2013, Zach Collins, Nick Ciuffo, and Corey Simpson are all hitters first and arguably catchers in name only, and Chris Okey and Jonathan Denney lead the solid all-around pack. The group is so closely bunched that you could put their names in a hat and pick a new order without being wrong. Hey, for all you know that’s exactly what I did to come up with my order, right?

It is hard to figure out which players I like more or less than consensus, so forgive me if I’m off the mark in believing I’m higher on the college quintet of Mark Payton, Hunter Dozier, Chad Pinder, Adam Frazier, and Jeff Roy than others. The order each player fell on the list is less important than the fact that each guy actually wound up on a list like this. Payton’s speed is a weapon that helps him on the base paths and in center field. He’s undersized, but with more than enough pop to keep pitchers honest as he advances in pro ball. Roy is a similar prospect (i.e. lots of speed and top of the line CF range) to Payton, but trades in a little bit more power for a little less pure hit tool and strike zone discipline. Frazier, yet another up the middle prospect, reminds me some of last year’s underrated all season (at least until draft day) Nolan Fontana. Frazier won’t wow you with the glove — some have him moving to 2B due mostly to an iffy arm, but I think he’s just steady enough to stick at SS for now — but he’s an on-base machine with a relatively high floor. Besides the potential switch off of shortstop, I do worry some about a lack of natural strength/in-game power.

Dozier and Pinder are both third basemen from programs that aren’t typically associated with big-time college baseball. Dozier is relatively new to the position, but showed enough last year to have me believe he has a long-term future at the position. He’s a good runner for a big man (6-4, 220 pounds), so, like Kris Bryant, he has a future in RF before the scary possibility of moving to 1B has to be mentioned. In either 3B or RF, his bat could be an asset. Pinder is more of an upside play – his raw tools are intriguing, especially on defense, but his plate discipline needs an overhaul if he wants to keep mashing as a pro. I can sometimes get stuck on comps, so take this for what it’s worth…but I’ll always remember the popular comp of Pinder to Ryan Zimmerman dating back to Pinder’s summer before matriculating at Virginia Tech.

Michael O’Neill is another projection pick based largely on the strength of his outstanding speed, right field arm, and athleticism. I’m not sure how he’ll eventually stack up against some of the many prep outfielders, but, for now, I like him as a potential starter with the right coaching adjustments at the next level. DJ Peterson could see a CJ Cron kind of rise in his junior season. I’m notoriously difficult on prospect destined for first base, so it’s hard to get too excited about Peterson as a prospect. Another big year with the bat could change that — his kind of hand speed as a hitter is hard to find — as could any improvement at third base.

Joey Martarano is all about athleticism and raw power. There’s a great deal of projection left in Connor Heady’s bat, but his defense at short and speed are both loud tools. You can flip a coin between two high school speedsters that I like a lot, Matthew McPhearson and Josh Hart. Both guys are crazy fast, but, more importantly, both guys know how to use their speed. Riley Unroe reminds me of a high school version of 2012 first round pick Deven Marrero. I don’t think Unroe climbs to quite those heights, but any prospect who you know will stick at shortstop and give you at least a little something with the bat is worth some attention.

Austin Meadows vs Clint Frazier

Austin Meadows vs Clint Frazier is shaping up to be one of the best head-to-head position player prospect battles in recent draft memory. That was my thesis. I was going to leave it at that and just ramble on about the relevant 2013 prospects that people come to this site to read about, but, as is my wont, I got distracted and lost track of my goal. Although, in this rare case, my distraction actually led me back to an attempt to validate the original thesis. Before we go on, I should point out that there’s a chance that Ryan Boldt, Trey Ball, and Justin Williams could join the conversation as top prep outfielder before long. For the sake of this discussion, however, we’ll restrict our look back to the best head-to-head position player prospect battles over the past few years.

SS Carlos Correa, OF Byron Buxton, and C Mike Zunino were all consensus top prospects at their respective positions this past June, though there were some who had Albert Almora and even David Dahl on the same level as Buxton in the outfield. Close, but not quite at the level I think the Meadows vs Frazier debate will reach this spring.

2011 was so packed with pitching that few wasted the key strokes needed to debate top hitting talent. Like 2012, there was a clear gap between the class’ top infielder (Anthony Rendon) and top outfielder (Bubba Starling) and everybody else. Francisco Lindor vs Javier Baez at shortstop might wind up being a fascinating head-to-head shortstop battle to watch, if recent happy reports on Baez’ ability to stick up the middle are to be believed. I can’t count that, however, due to the consensus belief that Baez was destined for third base at the time of the draft.

2010 featured a bizarre group of position players taken earlier than I had personally expected — Manny Machado, Christian Colon, Delino DeShields, Michael Choice, Yasmani Grandal, Jake Skole, Kellin Deglan, Christian Yelich, Zack Cox, Kyle Parker, Chevy Clarke, and Cito Culver were all drafted at least ten spots earlier than where they placed on my pre-draft big board. The only exceptions to that rule were Bryce Harper (ranked 1/drafted 1), Josh Sale (14/17), Kolbrin Vitek (24/20), and Justin O’Conner (12/31). The two hitters I had after Harper on that pre-draft list were Austin Wilson and Nick Castellanos. Weird year, yet still no interesting head-to-head position battles.

The 2009 first round was Stephen Strasburg and the Stras-ettes. Beyond Strasburg, Dustin Ackley was the clear favorite for best pure bat and Donavan Tate got plenty of love for his raw upside, but the hitting talent that year wasn’t what anybody would call exciting on the whole. There was this Mike Trout character who apparently every team picking after the Angels had second ion their board, but that’s revisionism at its very best.

When people talk best draft’s of all-time, I think 2008 deserves to be at or near the top of the list. By my best guess, I think it is fair to say that 27 of the 30 first rounders that year will play big league baseball. Just making the big leagues might not seem like a successful career on the micro-level, but when you consider the overall success rate of first round players in the macro then you see how special it is to have 90% of a first round class play at the highest levels. 2008 really was a great first round.

Quick diversion starting…now! The previous (pre-diversion warning) statement is made all the more amazing when you consider that 2008 was then known as the year of the first baseman. Yonder Alonso, Justin Smoak, Brett Wallace, David Cooper, Ike Davis, and Allan Dykstra were all college bats projected to play first base at a high level in the pros. Eric Hosmer, the third overall pick and a guy selected before all of the college players, was seen as one of the safest prep hitting prospects in years. It is obviously too early to make any final declarations on the 2008 first base class, but, going by Baseball Reference’s WAR (like everybody I prefer Fangraphs, but it is easier to see stats for draft years all in one place at B-R), the seven first round first basemen have combined for a grand total WAR of 5.2. Davis alone accounts for 4.0 of that total. All that and I still think the 2008 class is impressive. All we need now is for Dykstra, Reese Havens, and Anthony Hewitt to crack the big leagues and we’ll have a perfect 30-for-30. Alright, diversion over.

All of that is a circuitous way of saying that 2008 might have been the most recent example of a hotly contested position battle atop the draft. First base was fairly wide open that year: Hosmer, Alonso, Smoak, and even Wallace each had fans backing one over the other as top 2008 first baseman. Meadows vs Frazier could finally give us a battle at the top of the draft worth watching. Meadows vs Frazier vs Boldt vs Ball vs Williams – now that would be something. Add in Austin Wilson and Aaron Judge to the mix? Now we’re just getting greedy…

Way Too Early 2013 MLB Draft Big Board: Honorable Mentions

No fancy introduction today. The list is here. The guys who didn’t make the cut are….

…here. Well, not here here. But right after this sentence…

UCLA JR RHP Zack Weiss flashes excellent stuff and has a deep enough arsenal to keep starting as a professional. Summer sensation UC Irvine JR RHP Andrew Thurman shares some similarities (FB/CB/CU/cut-SL all could be average big league pitches or better) and could be in line for a breakout junior season after his star turn on the Cape. Weiss’ teammate UCLA JR RHP Nick Vander Tuig doesn’t have the same velocity, but gets by relying on a bevvy of offspeed pitches with upside. I actually hadn’t realize it before just this minute, but there are some definite similarities between Vander Tuig and Thurman, the biggest exception being Thurman’s increased fastball velocity (up to 90-94 from 88-92) this summer. It is also easy to like Texas Tech JR RHP Trey Masek, a short righthander with a good fastball (90-94), above-average changeup, and a variety of other stuff (have seen bits and pieces of slider, curve, and cutter). Arizona JR RHP Konner Wade continues the recent Wildcat tradition of pitchers who know how to keep the ball down in the zone. Everything he throws is down, from his plus sinker to his hard sinking changeup to, of course, his upper-70s slider. St. Mary’s JR LHP Jordan Mills is a sleeper who excels at doing a lot of the things teams look for in college lefthanders: his upper-80s fastball dances, he has a potential plus change, he can mix in an ever-improving slider, and, you guessed it, he’s got a funky delivery that makes everything play up. That’s my kind of college lefty right there.

A fairly easy argument could be made that all those names pale in comparison to Stanford JR RHP AJ Vanegas. Of all of the names not on the list that I can see myself looking back wanting to kick myself for leaving off, Vanegas leads the way. I hate when analysts say “if this player does what I think he’ll do, then he’ll rank highly on my list” because I think it is part of the job of the analyst to figure out if the player will do what you think he’ll do. Don’t rank him outside the top 100 if you think he’ll wind up in the top ten with a good year. If you think he’ll have a good year, he should be ranked in the top ten! Alright, quick rant over. If Vanegas does what I think he’ll do, then he’ll rank highly on my list! Kidding! But the possibility that Vanegas is exactly that type of prospect exists. The Stanford righthander is an excellent prospect with a ton of upside, but the lack of both command (love the scout quote on him: “his fastball is the rare pitch that moves too much for its own good”) and control concern me going forward. The likelihood that he winds up in the bullpen long-term keeps him out of the top 100 for now, but his fastball/slider combination is so good when on that he could fly up lists like these in due time. I’m not sure if that makes me a hypocrite or not, but there it is.

It was hard to leave off big personal favorite Nova Southeastern JR 2B Carlos Asuaje. If there are five smarter hitters in all of amateur baseball than Asuaje, then I’ve yet to come across them. Asuaje is also a capable defender at both second and third, and might just be good enough to hang at short in a pinch. I see no reason why Asuaje can’t join current big leaguers from Nova Southeastern Mike Fiers, JD Martinez, and Miles Mikolas in the majors someday soon. Asuaje may be my favorite college bat outside of the top 100, but he’s not the only player worth chatting about. LSU JR C Tyler Ross was a big time recruit who has handled the bat well, but has yet to show the big raw power that was his calling card in high school. I had Ross as the Phillies fifth best prospect selected in 2010; Philadelphia was obviously unable to sign him, putting him in good company along with other potential 2013 early round picks like Scott Frazier and Daniel Palka. California SO C Andrew Knapp offers the same kind of upside with the bat, though there are many who question his defense going forward. I’m not one of them, but it bears noting. Vanderbilt JR OF/1B Conrad Gregor is one of 2013′s best bats: above-average or better raw power, a great approach, and two really, really strong years of production in the SEC. What knocked him down the list is the other side of the game – he may be an outstanding defensive first baseman, but he’s still just another guy limited to first base for many. His prognosis gets a little rosier if you like him in an outfield corner (like I do), but the bar for hitters is just so darn high at his three primary positions. Virginia Tech rJR OF Tyler Horan faces the same question going forward: will he hit enough to play everyday in an outfield corner? His run on the Cape seems to suggest he’s got a heck of a chance to do just that. Mississippi State JR OF/RHP Hunter Renfroe rounds out the group of interesting college sluggers. Renfroe’s plus-plus arm is easily his best tool; in fact, his arm ranks up near the top of any singular tool for any amateur player in the entire country. A little bit of improved pitch recognition would go a long way towards enabling him to more consistently tap into his above-average raw power. Failing that, he could be tried as a defense-first backstop or fireballing short reliever.

It is way too early to make any bold proclamations about the state of 2013′s prep arms, but, if forced to give an opinion, I’d say I’m currently less than impressed on the whole. That doesn’t mean some intriguing names weren’t left off the early big board, of course. RHP Jordan Sheffield (Tullahoma HS, Tennessee), RHP Devin Williams (Hazelwood East HS, Missouri), RHP Shaun Anderson (American Heritage HS, Florida), and RHP Ed Voyles (Holy Innocents Episcopal HS, Georgia) are all varying degrees of interesting at this point. Sheffield has the best fastball velocity, Williams the best fastball movement, Anderson the strongest overall present big league profile (four distinct pitches, good command, and a mature 6-5, 220 pound frame), and Voyles the most long-term projection. RHP Brett Hanewich (IMG Academy, Florida) also deserves mention as a guy who has made great strides — he’s picked up a good bit of velocity and now sits low-90s with ease — over the past calendar year. RHP Trevor Clifton (Heritage HS, Tennessee) could be a really good one if/when he figures out a way to tone down his delivery and improve his command. The stuff and body are certainly there already.

My three favorite high school arms that didn’t make the cut are RHP Taylor Blatch (Jensen Beach HS, Florida), RHP Casey Shane (Burleson Centennial HS, Texas), and LHP Jonah Wesely (Tracy HS, California). Blatch has impressed me with his multitude of above-average offspeed pitches: the mid-70s slider is my favorite, followed closely by an intriguing low- to mid-80s change. I’ve heard yet haven’t seen positive things about his curve, as well. Shane has the big Texas sinker/slider thing down pat. His is some of the easiest velocity that I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing in this year’s class. Wesely’s strong commitment to UCLA will have to be monitored, but, if deemed signable this spring, he’ll be a favorite of the area guys for sure. He may not have the classic projection that scouts crave, but there are times he’ll go through a lineup with such ease — his pitchability stands out — that he looks like a professional already.

Trey Williams was the only junior college player on the initial big board, but a case could be made for Scottsdale (AZ) CC SO LHP Stephen Tarpley, formerly of USC. His freshman numbers pitching in the Pac-12 (2012: 8.04 K/9 | 3.22 BB/9 | 3.45 FIP | 78.1 IP) and good present stuff (upper-80s fastball that hits as high as 93, really strong mid- to upper-70s curve, and emerging change) should help him improve on his 2011 draft standing (7th round). There’s some serious ground to cover to get inside the first 100 picks, but lefties who can pitch seem to do alright most years.

Finally, we’ve come to the group of high school bats that didn’t quite crack the list. I could name a few dozen guys who just missed the list, but we’ll stick to the quick position-by-position run around the diamond for the sake of brevity. C Brian Navarreto (Arlington County Day HS, Florida), fresh off his stellar showing at Wrigley Field, is 1B to AJ Vanegas’ 1A on the list of players most likely to make me look dumb in time. The bar for defense in the world of prep catching has been set in recent years by Austin Hedges. Scouts in Chicago weren’t quite there while watching Navaretto, but his name was at least brought up…in hushed tones, of course. 1B Pete Alonso (Plant HS, Florida) is an excellent defender who can hit the ball to all fields with power. 2B/SS Dalton Dulin (Memphis University HS, Tennessee) is a spark plug with a good hit tool and enough speed and defense to keep getting work. I can’t say I’ve given this comp too much thought, but I saw a little Scooter Gennett, an old favorite, in his game. We’ll go with an all Empire State left side of the infield: SS Stephen Alemais (All Hallows HS, New York) has big league-ready defense and 3B Dylan Manwaring (Horseheads HS, New York) has shown big talent both in the field, in the batter’s box, and on the mound.

I’ll cheat in the outfield and name four guys that have really piqued my interest thus far. I like OF Stephen Wrenn (Walton HS, Georgia) for his speed, glove, arm, and live bat, OF/3B Kevin Franklin (Gahr HS, California) for his incredible strength, OF Corey Ray (Simeon Career Academy, Illinois) for his ability to handle high velocity and impressive plate coverage, and OF William Abreu (Mater Academy HS, Florida), an above-average player without any obvious weaknesses. RHP/SS Sheldon Neuse (Fossil Ridge HS, Texas) is a wild card as a two-way prospect with legitimate upside as both a pitcher (93 peak, two strong offspeed pitches) and hitter (love his defensive tools above all else).

Way Too Early 2013 MLB Draft Big Board

Apologies for the unplanned disappearance over the past few weeks, but the allure of hitting the road to go watch some baseball and spend time at the beach was too strong to ignore. Counting on a reliable internet connection while traveling was probably a mistake, but I trust nobody missed me too terribly. On the plus side, being off the grid gave me plenty of time to mess around with the list you see below. I suppose seeing a good chunk of the high school prospects up close and personal would also qualify as a plus. Maybe I should unplug the ole computer more often…

The plan for the week is to get more in-depth with the list below — lists are great, but commentary is better — while also talking about some of the guys who just missed the cut as well as going back to last year’s original big board to see the hits and misses of yesteryear. In the meantime, rip away! I’ll leave with the disclaimer from last year’s summer big board:

Lastly, this list is just one man’s opinion. Based on firsthand observations, statistical research, crosschecking with old allies in the business, and reading publicly available scouting reports, I’d like to think it is a pretty well-informed opinion. Like all of my rankings, the emphasis is on where I’d draft each player and not where I necessarily think each player will be drafted. Here we go…

  1. OF Austin Meadows (Grayson HS, Georgia)
  2. Arkansas JR RHP Ryne Stanek
  3. San Diego JR OF/3B Kris Bryant
  4. OF Clint Frazier (Loganville HS, Georgia)
  5. SS Oscar Mercado (Gaither HS, Florida)
  6. Stanford SR RHP Mark Appel
  7. Stanford JR OF Austin Wilson
  8. Florida JR RHP Karsten Whitson
  9. Fresno State JR OF Aaron Judge
  10. OF Ryan Boldt (Red Wing HS, Minnesota)
  11. C Reese McGuire (Kentwood HS, Washington)
  12. OF/LHP Trey Ball (New Castle HS, Indiana)
  13. North Carolina JR 3B Colin Moran
  14. Indiana State JR LHP Sean Manaea
  15. Florida JR RHP Jonathan Crawford
  16. Mississippi JR RHP Bobby Wahl
  17. RHP Kohl Stewart (St. Pius HS, Texas)
  18. LHP Robert Kaminsky (St. Joseph Regional HS, New Jersey)
  19. LHP Stephen Gonsalves (Cathedral Catholic HS, California)
  20. OF Justin Williams (Terrebonne HS, Louisiana)
  21. LHP Ian Clarkin (James Madison HS, California)
  22. RHP Clinton Hollon (Woodford County HS, Kentucky)
  23. Gonzaga JR LHP Marco Gonzales
  24. Texas JR RHP Corey Knebel
  25. Vanderbilt JR LHP Kevin Ziomek
  26. LSU JR RHP Ryan Eades
  27. 3B Ryan McMahon (Mater Dei HS, California)
  28. SS/3B Andy McGuire (James Madison HS, Virginia)
  29. RHP Brett Morales (King HS, Florida)
  30. LSU JR SS/OF JaCoby Jones
  31. C Jeremy Martinez (Mater Dei HS, California)
  32. Kansas State JR OF Jared King
  33. RHP Dustin Driver (Wenatchee HS, Washington)
  34. College of the Canyons FR 3B Trey Williams
  35. LHP AJ Puk (Washington HS, Iowa)
  36. Texas JR OF Mark Payton
  37. Samford JR OF Phillip Ervin
  38. San Diego JR RHP Dylan Covey
  39. Rice JR RHP Austin Kubitza
  40. 3B Joseph Martarano (Fruitland HS, Idaho)
  41. Arkansas JR RHP Barrett Astin
  42. Oklahoma JR RHP Jonathan Gray
  43. Stephen F. Austin State JR 3B Hunter Dozier
  44. Arizona State JR RHP Trevor Williams
  45. 1B/C Zach Collins (American Heritage HS, Florida)
  46. Minnesota JR LHP Tom Windle
  47. C Chris Okey (Eustis HS, Florida)
  48. C Jonathan Denney (Yukon HS, Oklahoma)
  49. C Nick Ciuffo (Lexington HS, South Carolina)
  50. Mississippi State JR SS Adam Frazier
  51. RHP Cory Thompson (Mauldin HS, South Carolina)
  52. RHP Dominic Taccolini (Kempner HS, Texas)
  53. RHP Robert Tyler (Crisp County HS, Georgia)
  54. RHP Kevin Davis (Miller HS, Alabama)
  55. Central Florida JR RHP Ben Lively
  56. RHP Keegan Thompson (Cullman HS, Alabama)
  57. RHP Chris Oakley (St. Augustine Prep HS, New Jersey)
  58. Rice JR RHP John Simms
  59. 3B Cavan Biggio (St. Thomas HS, Texas)
  60. Marshall JR RHP Aaron Blair
  61. RHP Hunter Harvey (Bandys HS, North Carolina)
  62. TCU JR RHP Andrew Mitchell
  63. Virginia Tech JR 3B Chad Pinder
  64. Michigan JR OF Michael O’Neill
  65. New Mexico JR 1B/3B DJ Peterson
  66. Ohio State JR RHP/1B Josh Dezse
  67. Pepperdine JR RHP Scott Frazier
  68. Kent State rSO RHP Tyler Skulina
  69. LHP Garrett Williams (Calvary Baptist HS, Louisiana)
  70. RHP Andrew Church (Palo Verde HS, Nevada)
  71. Texas State JR RHP Kyle Finnegan
  72. RHP Casey Meisner (Cypress Woods HS, Texas)
  73. Georgia Tech JR 1B/OF Daniel Palka
  74. 1B/OF Nick Longhi (Venice HS, Florida)
  75. Cal State Fullerton JR OF/RHP Michael Lorenzen
  76. OF/1B Dominic Smith (Junipero Serra HS, California)
  77. 1B Rowdy Tellez (Elk Grove HS, California)
  78. Texas JR 3B/OF Erich Weiss
  79. 3B Travis Demeritte (Winder Barrow HS, Georgia)
  80. OF Matthew McPhearson (Riverdale Baptist HS, Maryland)
  81. SS/RHP Chris Rivera (El Dorado HS, California)
  82. Rhode Island JR OF Jeff Roy
  83. Arkansas JR RHP Colby Suggs
  84. UCLA JR RHP Adam Plutko
  85. Pepperdine JR LHP/OF Aaron Brown
  86. TCU JR RHP Stefan Crichton
  87. RHP Derik Beauprez (Cherry Creek HS, Colorado)
  88. RHP Chris Viall (Soquel HS, California)
  89. Arkansas JR 3B/1B Dominic Ficociello
  90. 2B/OF Anfernee Grier (Russell County HS, Alabama)
  91. SS Connor Heady (North Oldham HS, Kentucky)
  92. OF Josh Hart (Parkview HS, Georgia)
  93. OF Jordan Paroubeck (Serra HS, California)
  94. 1B/C Corey Simpson (Sweeny HS, Texas)
  95. OF Thomas Milone (Masuk HS, Connecticut)
  96. 3B Blake Tiberi (Holy Cross HS, Kentucky)
  97. OF Corder Sandberg (Manatee HS, Florida)
  98. 3B/OF Jason Martin (Orange Lutheran HS, California)
  99. SS Riley Unroe (Desert Ridge HS, Arizona)
  100. 3B John Sternagel (Rockledge HS, Florida)

Minnesota Twins 2012 MLB Draft Review

I liked the idea of doing these draft recaps position-by-position because of the way they are designed to give an overarching idea of what kind of talent has been added to each team’s farm system. It could be that my mind works in that particular organized way – my favorite feature, strange as it sounds, of each year’s Baseball America Prospect Handbook is the team-by-team positional depth chart illustrations – or it could be that I believe by thinking in terms of position, it is easier for me to see where prospects fit in in a larger, team-building context. Whatever the case is, Minnesota screwed it all up by taking pitcher after pitcher after pitcher. I literally can’t fill out a pretend lineup here. Thanks for nothing, Twins. I understand that the organization went heavy on infielders last year – worth noting that although Travis Harrison has excelled, the Twins haven’t gotten a darn thing out of the quartet of college middle infielders Levi Michael, Tyler Grimes, Adam Bryant, and AJ Pettersen – but it is still strange to see three positions (2B/SS/3B) completely ignored.

Minnesota’s 2012 infield prospects of note come down to Jorge Fernandez and DJ Hicks. Fernandez is a seventh round lottery ticket who was underscouted (i.e. missed by me) this spring. The Twins obviously saw something in him that they liked. I can’t add anything more than what Baseball America provided besides sharing that I had somebody tell me that they believe Fernandez compares favorably (he even preferred his bat) when stacked against Phildrick Llewellyn, an athletic catching prospect that I really liked prior to the draft. Llewellyn went a little bit later (13th round), but close enough that I think the comparison has some merit. Based on that comparison alone, I think Fernandez is a prospect worth watching.

I had Hicks right smack in between a pair of similar hulking college first basemen in Ben Waldrip and Matt Snyder. Both Waldrip and Snyder were off the board in the tenth round, so, if you think I have any clue what I’m talking about, then Hicks is good value for what he is. So what he is? Hicks is a large man who should slot in nicely as an organizational masher who, if all goes according to plan, should help all of the minor league teams he’ll wind up on win some ballgames. I’m down with the idea that lineup protection is a myth, especially at the big league level, but I think there is something to be said for surrounding young, impressionable minor league hitters, especially those in the lowest levels of the chain coming straight out of high school, with mature veteran teammates. The minor leagues are about development, not winning and losing; fostering a winning climate, and, more importantly, winning habits, are dismissed as being a part of the latter when it is really an important step in a player’s long-term development.

We can skip right by the rest of the infield because, as mentioned earlier, the Twins didn’t draft a single player of note at second, short, or third. You’d think a team that led all of baseball in 2012 draft spending would have gotten somebody to catch the ball up the middle, but things didn’t work out that way. Nobody will care about that so long as this next guy pans out…

So much has already been written about Byron Buxton that I’m not sure I can add anything meaningful to the conversation. He’s a phenomenal athlete with three plus to plus-plus tools (speed, arm, defense) who also has a long, long way to go with the bat. I respect the heck out of any scout that watched Buxton hit over the past calendar year and said to himself, “That kid is going to be a good big league hitter,” because projecting a bat as far away as Buxton’s is more art than science. I can’t help but remember Paul DePodesta’s blog entry published the day the Padres selected a similar prospect, Georgia prep CF Donavan Tate, with the third overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft. I realize that the public nature of DePodesta’s comments kept him from divulging too much, but I think there’s still something to be learned about how a big league front office thinks here:

“There has been a lot of speculation surrounding this pick over the past few weeks, but Tate has always been in the front of our minds. He is a potential 5-tool player who plays in the middle of the diamond and is probably the best athlete in the draft. We’re taking our shot.”

As outsiders to the entire draft process, it is only natural to sometimes fall into the “appeal to authority” trap when we assume that every scouting department knows more than we do. The opposite is, of course, also true: draft analysts rush to pan a pick (Dylan Cozens, for example) without acknowledging the possibility that a scouting staff that has seen a player dozens of times may be on to something that even the best of their “unnamed sources” or limited personal viewings did not reveal. It is alright to admit that a team might have made a pick that we don’t presently understand may have been done for valid reasons. I think the larger unsaid truth when it comes to scouting is, when it comes right down to it, baseball isn’t all that difficult a game to figure out. Anybody from inside the game – whether that means a scouting director, area scout, or even a prospect/draft guru paid to write for one of the industry leading publications — who insists otherwise does so to protect their own self-interests. It’s hard to blame them for that, really; that’s how people with awesome jobs keep their awesome jobs. Admitting that what you do isn’t exactly rocket science opens you up to all kinds of unwanted criticism. If you keep saying things like “Scouting is a more intricate process than the casual fan can comprehend,” then you are keeping casual fans at a distance just far enough away so that they are less inclined to challenge the conventional wisdom. Scouting is a field that has been mythologized for no other good reason than to protect those already on the inside. I don’t think anybody would deny that scouting is a tough job done with little fanfare by people who work their butts off on a daily basis, but that doesn’t make it a job that can only be done by a select few individuals. I respect the profession enough to avoid using certain terminology whenever possible — I slip at times, but, for the most part, you won’t read about me “scouting” or writing “scouting reports” because I know I’m not a scout — but acting like only professionally trained scouts can give opinions about amateur or minor league prospects stunts positive potential avenues of discourse.

All of that is just a long way of saying that the Twins don’t really know whether or not they have a future star on their hands in Byron Buxton. They think they do, but they don’t know. If he does wind up a star, then I can guarantee you that Buxton’s biggest backers within the organization will make sure that his selection is the very first thing on their résumés, always and forever. I must make clear the following: big league scouting staffs do a tremendous amount of homework, from both a baseball and personal/home life point of view, before making the big decisions that come with early round draft picks and big money international signings. After all the hours of work, however, it ultimately comes down to DePodesta’s original line: we’re taking our shot. Do your homework, say a prayer, and take your shot.

I’m not entirely sure where all of that came from, so let’s just move on. Adam Brett Walker, or just plain Adam Walker as he’s listed on the Elizabethton Twins roster, has the physical tools to join Buxton in an exciting Twins outfield of the future. You could go one step further and add Miguel Sano into the mix as the left fielder to complete what is likely the minor leagues highest upside future outfield configuration – if all three of Sano, Buxton, and Walker reach their ceilings, look out. As much as I like Walker, I think his realistic upside is closer to useful, versatile role player (this is where I liked the pre-draft John Mayberry Jr. comps) than first-division starter.

Jake Proctor can run and field with the best center fielders in this year’s draft class, but his lack of power and well below-average plate discipline (9 BB/40 K in 183 AB) severely limit his upside as a hitter. Zach Larson has the chance to do more at the plate, but it will take time. There’s no comparing any high school prospect’s physical tools to Byron Buxton’s, but Larson does a lot of the same things well (speed, arm, defense) while exhibiting similar rawness as a hitter. Larson’s selection and overslot signing might be considered more of a coup by a team that didn’t take the super-rich man’s version with the number two overall pick, but he’s worth getting reasonably excited about all the same.

The initial reaction to Minnesota’s draft around the internet has fixated on the idea that the Twins went too heavy on pitchers without starting pitcher upside. Too many relievers/future relievers. Upon closer review, that seems like a fair assessment. JO Berrios is easily the most intriguing long-range pitching prospect drafted by the Twins – the chance for three above-average pitches, the way he holds his velocity late in games despite an improved though still less than ideal build, and his impressive performances against top competition all lend credence to this idea. Unfortunately, Berrios is the only guy you can point to as a definite long-term starting pitching prospect. An argument can be made that fellow high school pick Andre Martinez can also thrive in a starting role in pro ball, but I’m not sure I can go that far on a six-foot tall breaking ball reliant lefty. Minnesota did snag one potential back-end starter in DJ Baxendale. The Arkansas righthander fits the old standard for a Twins starting pitcher to a t: underwhelming fastball, good command of a diverse mix of pitches, and, above all else, above-average pitchability. Guys like Baxendale are interesting to me because there is very little margin for error: either he makes it as a fifth starter or he doesn’t make it at all. The typical fallback of relief work doesn’t take too kindly to pitchers with fringy fastballs who lack a legitimate breaking ball out-pitch. The same analysis could be more or less be applied to Taylor Rogers. Rogers’ lefthandedness, better showing this spring (stuff-wise), and more projectable build make him the better project going forward, as either a starting pitcher prospect or future reliever.

If you’re going to draft too many college relievers, you should at least draft good ones. The Twins did well to target and acquire a boatload of hard throwing potential big league relievers. You’d like to see these kinds of players picked later in the draft, but I’ve found that the concepts of “overdrafts” are more of a media creation than a real deal big league concern. Here’s my draft day philosophy du jour: draft who you want the round before you believe you can’t get him. If you really want JT Chargois and don’t believe he’ll be there the next time you draft, then you either draft him right this second or go a different direction and pray that he’ll still be around. Seems logical enough, right? Enough with the abstraction, let’s meet some of these real life, flesh and blood college relievers.

Luke Bard has improved significantly stuff-wise every year dating back to his high school days. His fastball was sitting upper-90s this past spring before missing time with a lat injury. It has been speculated that the Twins view him as a starter long-term, and I’ve heard positive things about his ability to throw a changeup. That said, smart money is on Bard winding up as a reliever by the time he breaks through at the upper-levels professionally. He’s good enough to excel in a late inning role, though I don’t see the classic closer stuff typically associated with relievers taken so early.  The guy with that kind of stuff is the aforementioned JT Chargois. Chargois has gotten a lot of positive pub for his plus fastball/breaking ball combo, but I don’t think enough has been said about how interesting an all-around player he is. I’ve heard him compared favorably as a hitter to former Rice 1B/LHP Joe Savery. Chargois could be utilized as a Brooks Kieschnick type of weapon, but with more emphasis on his pitching than hitting. The odds of that happening are slim to none, and not just because Chargois is on an American League team, but it is a fun possibility to dream on. Melotakis is a little bit similar to Bard in that both are almost certainly relievers with just enough of that little something extra to have you believe they could start. All three could play prominent roles in the Minnesota bullpen throughout the remainder of the decade.

The Twins also did well to grab even more hard throwers a little bit later on in the draft. Zack Jones and Christian Powell can both run their fastballs up to the mid-90s while complementing that plus heat with breaking balls that flash above-average. Like Chargois, Jones is also a good enough hitter to potentially do some damage at the plate if the opportunity ever arises professionally. Also like Chargois, Jones’ stuff looks late inning ready more or less right out of the shoot. Tyler Duffey, a teammate of Chargois at Rice, doesn’t have the premium stuff of many of the relievers taken by the Twins, but could fill a middle inning role as a sinker/slider guy at the next level.

Alex Muren fits this new Twins profile of athletic, two-way relievers. In almost the same way I feel about projecting a high school player like Byron Buxton’s hit tool, I feel about making any proclamations about a pitcher like Muren. The young righthander from Cal State Northridge hasn’t done much from a performance perspective, but his history of flashing an above-average fastball and occasionally interesting cutter was obviously enough to tempt the Twins. My rankings are far from the last word, but, for the record, I had Muren as the 560th best pitching prospect. That doesn’t make his selection as the 370th overall pick good or bad, but that’s where I had him. I prefer Travis Huber, the 700th overall pick, over Muren in the battle of the Twins two late round arms. Like Muren, Huber has underperformed relative to his stuff. The big difference between the two is that Huber’s performances haven’t been quite as disappointing and, more importantly, his stuff is flat better.

Add it all up and what do you get? One potential franchise cornerstone (Buxton), a high upside high school arm (Berrios), a strong complementary piece to a good lineup (Walker), and a plug and play near-ML ready bullpen (Chargois, Bard, Melotakis, Jones, Duffey, Powell, Rogers). It’s obvious that the success or failure of Buxton as a professional will ultimately define this draft, but the Twins hedged some of that risk by all but guaranteeing themselves eventual big league value by selecting their bevy of high floor college relievers.

Position-by-Position Breakdown of Prospects of Note

(Players are listed by draft order…included below each name, in italics, are each player’s pre-draft notes and ranking within position group)

C

7.220 Jorge Fernandez (International Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)

1B

17.520 DJ Hicks (Central Florida)

23. Central Florida rJR 1B DJ Hicks: ugly swing, but good bat speed and college production put him in the “if it ain’t broke…” category of young hitting prospects; his bat will be what carries him as his above-average hit tool (underrated, I think, and rare for such a big man) and plus power potential help him stand out in the crowd of college bats; plus arm strength; slow moving on bases and in the field; has shown promise on the mound with a fastball that sits 86-90 (92-94 peak), decent splitter, and slider with some promise; 6-5, 250 pounds

OF

1.2 Byron Buxton (Appling County HS, Georgia)

1. OF Byron Buxton (Appling County HS, Georgia): 93-94 peak FB; plus-plus (80) speed; dead pull hitter; loves to swing; raw, but immensely talented; above-average to plus arm, closer to above-average now but accurate; crazy quick hands; bat speed, bat speed, bat speed; BJ Upton comp from an athletic standpoint makes sense; weirdest comp ever: Mike Schmidt, at least in terms of distance from plate and current swing; tremendous athlete; plus raw power; CF range if his instincts catch up, otherwise a potential Gold Glove winner in RF; 80 speed/60-70 arm/70 range

3.97 Adam Brett Walker (Jacksonville)

33. Jacksonville JR OF Adam Brett Walker: plus power upside; popular John Mayberry Jr. comps, especially in terms of frame makes a lot of sense; I’ll take the minority view and state that I think he has the chops to be an average RF as pro, but acknowledge that he could be very good defensively at 1B; average at best speed, but not for long as his body fills out; swing isn’t as long as you’d think and he’s a more refined ballplayer than often given credit; average hit tool; average at best arm; I think Walker gets an unfair reputation as a hulking all or nothing slugger who will have to hit 30+ homers to have any kind of long-term value; with a score of 45s/50s across the board, Walker’s game is relatively well-rounded – though, of course, it is still his power that will make him a potential big league regular or not; 6-5, 225 pounds

14.430 Jake Proctor (Cincinnati)

234. Cincinnati JR OF Jake Proctor: plus speed; good athlete; below-average arm; CF range; weird swing, but has been able to get it done at college level; 6-2, 215 pounds

20.610 Zach Larson (Lakewood Ranch HS, Florida)

156. OF Zach Larson (Lakewood Ranch HS, Florida): good athlete; good speed; good arm; CF range; raw; 6-4, 200 pounds

Pitching

1s.32 RHP JO Berrios (Papa Juan XXIII HS, Puerto Rico)

47. RHP Jose Orlando (JO) Berrios (Juan XXIII HS, Puerto Rico): 87-93 FB, 95 peak on island; easy velocity, some deception; good 71-74 CB; 75 CU; SL; 77-79 breaking ball, not sure what type; slight frame; more commonly 92-93 sitting velocity; update: 91-95 FB, 96-97 peak; 80-81 SL; 82-84 CU; holds velocity well

1s.42 RHP Luke Bard (Georgia Tech)

136. Georgia Tech JR RHP Luke Bard: 88-92 FB, 94-95 peak; was up to a more consistent 95-97 before his early season lat injury; good 80 SL gives him the second pitch needed to eventually pitch in a big league bullpen; 6-3, 200 pounds

2.63 LHP Mason Melotakis (Northwestern State)

83. Northwestern State JR LHP Mason Melotakis: had him 91-95 FB, 97 peak coming into year; currently sits 94-98 much more consistently, rarely dipping below 93 in short stints; 85-87 SL that flashes plus, but is far too inconsistent; shows CU; I think he can work as a starter because of his improved breaking ball and ability to hold his velocity (92-95) as a starter, but the lack of a reliable third pitch and mechanics that scare scouts likely keep him in the bullpen professionally; 6-3, 200 pounds

2.72 RHP JT Chargois (Rice)

20. Rice JR RHP JT Chargois: 90-94 FB; easy 95-96 peak but can also get it up to 98 with a little more effort; plus 78-83 CB; average 79-81 CU flashes plus; also shows 85-87 SL, but uses it almost exclusively as a chase pitch in the dirt; really tough to pick up ball out of his hand due to nasty angle in delivery; between deception, velocity, movement, and command, Chargois’ fastball is a true plus to plus-plus pitch; as a two-way prospect – I liked him as a hitter more his freshman season – his arm is fresh and his above-average athleticism goes without saying; big question is command of offspeed stuff; despite the overwhelming consensus that he’s a reliever only in the pros, I think he has three pitches to start if his arm action is deemed acceptable by a pro team, something that has a higher chance of happening that he gets credit for when you factor in his relative newness to pitching; has arguably one of the draft’s highest floors (big league setup guy) with the chance for more (elite closer/above-average big league starting pitcher); 6-3, 200 pounds

4.130 RHP Zack Jones (San Jose State)

185. San Jose State JR RHP Zack Jones: 93-95 FB, 97-98 peak; FB moves; flashes good SL; iffy command; iffy control; profiles as reliever all the way, which is unfortunate because he swings a mean bat (2011: .316/.383/.458 – 16 BB/30 K – 155 AB)

5.160 RHP Tyler Duffey (Rice)

132. Rice JR RHP Tyler Duffey: 88-92 FB, 94 peak; good 79-82 CU; good two-seamer with above-average sink; hard 78-83 CB; average mid-80s SL that flashes plus; 6-3, 210 pounds

6.190 LHP Andre Martinez (Archbishop McCarthy HS, Florida)

8.250 RHP Christian Powell (College of Charleston)

202. College of Charleston JR RHP Christian Powell: 87-91 FB, 96 peak; up to more consistent 91-94 this year, still peaking 96; above-average breaking ball when he locates it; has worked in an emerging CU that flashes above-average; 6-4, 215 pounds

10.310 RHP DJ Baxendale (Arkansas)

174. Arkansas JR RHP DJ Baxendale: 87-92 FB, 93-94 peak; good FB movement; good 84-85 SL; solid 80-82 CU; really good 69-71 CB that is his best pitch; mid-80s cutter; stuff down in 2012: 86-89 much of season, offspeed not nearly as sharp; ability to throw multiple pitches for strikes gives him back of the rotation upside, but might be best served by becoming a primarily fastball/curveball reliever at the next level; 6-2, 190 pounds

11.340 LHP Taylor Rogers (Kentucky)

154. Kentucky JR LHP Taylor Rogers: 87-92 FB; good 75-80 CB; better 77 CU; 83 SL; good command; similar prospect to Texas LHP Hoby Milner; good mix of projection, polish, and present stuff; 6-3, 170 pounds

12.370 RHP Alex Muren (Cal State Northridge)

560. Cal State Northridge JR RHP Alex Muren: has hit as high as 95 in the past, but sitting velocity is inconsistent and not nearly as hot; interesting 82-85 cutter; pitches like a two-way prospect, for better or worse – more of a thrower than a pitcher at this point, but could be molded into something by a patient coaching staff; 6-3, 200 pounds

23.700 RHP Travis Huber (Nebraska)

241. Nebraska JR RHP Travis Huber: 88-92 FB with sink, 93-95 peak; very good 83-84 SL; good CB; raw CU; good athlete; 6-3, 225 pounds

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