Courtney Hawkins was a slam dunk for Chicago in the first round. If that sentence brought back fond memories of the last great high flying dunk artist to play in the Windy City – Rusty LaRue, obviously – you’re alright in my book. Hawkins’ athleticism is outstanding and his physique ranks at or near the top of the entire 2012 MLB Draft class. His arm, speed, and raw power are all well above-average tools. Most impressive of all: the big Texan just kept getting better and better as the spring went on. I think he’s likely to outgrow center, but Adam Jones in right field still sounds pretty darn good to me. A lot can happen in the next few years to make this sound really dumb, but I still can’t believe the Mets passed on him for Gavin Cecchini. You don’t draft for need, but Hawkins is exactly what the Mets need. Heck, as a power hitting plus defending corner outfielder Hawkins is exactly what every time needs. The White Sox got themselves a long-term above-average regular here.
After Hawkins, the biggest bat drafted by Chicago belongs to Keon Barnum. I’m actually not sure if that is literally true — I’m not privy to bat weights — but it works when talking prospect stature. Barnum is old for his class, and, to be frank, he hit like it in his pro debut. We’ll know more about his future next year when he’s tested with a full-season assignment. For now, the power is encouraging, as is his impressive athleticism and physicality. I think the reticence many teams show towards drafting and developing first base only prospects, though perfectly understandable in theory, may have shifted bat-only prospects from overrated to undervalued. Barnum isn’t a great example of this, at least from my vantage point – I had him ranked 203rd overall when Chicago drafted him 48th – but I think the overarching idea has some merit.
The White Sox backed up their selection of a high school first baseman with a college guy. Former Sun Devil Abe Ruiz will have to hit and hit and hit to keep advancing through the system. I think he’s a nice org guy, and there’s no shame in that. Interestingly enough (to me), the White Sox opted not to back up Hawkins with any legitimate college outfield prospects. I realize you can only draft so many guys in forty rounds, but it still seemed like a curious position to totally disregard.
17th round pick Sam Ayala is young, so he has that going for him. Beyond that, he’s an excellent athlete – for any player, not just for a catcher – with the long-term upside of a starting catcher. The gap between what any young catcher is and what they may eventually be is as big as any position player prospect out there, so, as always, take the guess at his ceiling with a great big block of salt. Zac Fisher has teased scouts for years, but has yet to have the breakout performance so many believe is hiding within him. It’ll be interesting to hear about how his defense progresses professionally; he has the tools to be an asset behind the plate, but, stop me if you’ve heard this before, hasn’t put it all together yet. I still like his approach at the plate, though it remains to be seen if his raw power will ever move into the present power classification. The White Sox actually drafted Sunnyside HS (CA) C Jose Barraza before either Ayala or Fisher. I think he’s more of a non-prospect catching tweener in that he’ll never defend well enough to play behind the plate every day while falling well short of any of the hitting benchmarks necessary for a first baseman. On the whole the White Sox added some decent talent up the middle of their infield, but came up light in their pursuit of impact talent.
To further that point, look no further (-2 points, repetitive) than the players Chicago targeted to play second base. Just targeting second basemen alone tells you something about their draft strategy. What it tells you, well, that I don’t know…but it tells you something. I do like Joey DeMichele. I wish I could really like Joey DeMichele, but it is hard to really like any bat-first second base prospect who lacks the traditional speed, athleticism, and range of a big league middle infielder. If everything goes as planned, I could see a poor man’s Jeff Keppinger here, right down to the ability to hammer righthanded pitching. If he keeps hitting, he’ll keep getting chances. Micah Johnson is a similar, yet lesser version of DeMichele. Both players are limited by their lack of defensive versatility. Though I think Nick Basto is also likely to wind up at second base, he can at least make the claim to have the athleticism and arm strength to at least entertain the idea of moving around the diamond. I had 24th round pick Tampa 2B Eric Grabe on in-house rankings at various points over the past few years (“good approach, versatile glove” from my notes), but didn’t think enough of him to ever officially rank him as a viable draft prospect. He was too old for Rookie ball, but hit more than enough to get another shot in the organization next year. Division II prospects who last to the 24th round can’t ask for much more than that.
Chicago snagged only one third baseman of note: Kentucky senior Thomas McCarthy. McCarthy pulled off the impressive feat of getting himself ranked by me (80th best third base prospect!), but still managed to be one of the few players I listed without a comment. Like Grabe, it is likely he has already hit enough in 2012 to get another shot next season somewhere in the White Sox organization. Neither McCarthy nor Grabe are prospects in any conventional sense of the word, but their performances, both collegiately and as young professionals, warranted mentioning. I also had to mention them just in case anybody out there plays in a full-minors, 50 team dynasty league with 1,000 man rosters. There’s one in every crowd, after all.
The White Sox did a nice job of accumulating some interesting college arms who slipped further in the draft than anticipated. Landing Chris Beck, a preseason first round favorite of many, with the 76th overall pick exemplifies the idea. I’ve heard some of the anti-cutter crowd explain his decrease in 2012 velocity on an overreliance on the pitch. More empirical data and/or an organization other than Baltimore speaking out against the pitch is needed before I’m willing to go down that road. The return of some velocity and a truer slider would make him a big league starting pitching option once again. I’m optimistic.
Kyle Hansen and Brandon Brennan were both somewhat under-the-radar players who were selected in sensible spots by Chicago. I graded Hansen out as an early third round pick (103rd overall) and he went in the sixth round. I also said that he was likely to go three rounds after his talent warranted. Some simple math shows that I am indeed an all-knowing sorcerer. I still prefer Beck to Hansen in a vacuum, but the gap isn’t as wide as some might think. He has the depth of stuff (four-seam, two-seam, slider, change), size, and athleticism to continue starting professionally. Brennen’s stuff is a tick below Hansen’s, but still good enough to keep starting until he proves he can’t. A part of me thinks Brennen could have been a top-two round prospect if he would have stayed and developed over three years at Oregon, so, needless to say, that same part of me thinks he was a solid idea in the fourth round.
Isler is an interesting gamble that should continue to see his stuff play way up when coming out of the bullpen. I don’t know where Chicago gets their young relief pitching from, but Isler seems like as good an “out of nowhere” (apologies to Cincinnati, both a fine city and university and far from “nowhere”) as anybody else. He’s already got the nasty hard sinker/slider thing going for him. Tony Bucciferro’s report reads much the same way. He’ll throw bowling balls and dare hitters to try to elevate them. Both guys showed off strong groundball tendencies, albeit in small (Isler) and super small (Bucciferro) samples. I was surprised to see Eric Jaffe go off the board when he did. I was even more surprised when the White Sox managed to get a contract signed. He reminds me a little bit of current Sox minor leaguer Jacob Petricka. Jaffe also throws a fastball that is particularly hard for hitters to make consistent square contact on, if can believe it. He uses a curve (an excellent one, by the by) over a slider, but it is a pitch that moves sharply enough that it often gets the same desired results. If even one of the White Sox’ trio of college arms becomes a contributor to a big league bullpen someday, then you’d have to call their round 8 to 14 strategy a happy one.
Chicago went to the college reliever well twice more when they nabbed Adam Lopez and Zach Toney. Lopez has a pro body and is a hard thrower. He’s also a Tommy John surgery survivor who has had a fairly typical return from injury. In other words, his velocity is coming back nicely while his command still has a ways to go. It is still easy to appreciate the pick: getting guys who have hit the mid-90s in round 21 is almost always worth a shot, injury history be damned. Unbelievably, Toney is the only lefthanded pitching White Sox prospect of note to come out of the 2012 MLB Draft. Despite being a lefty, Toney’s prospect profile fits in just fine with the trio of righthanders featured in the paragraph centimeters above. For those with a short memory (or, more likely, those who skim) that would be “difficult to hit fastball, good breaking ball, potential big league reliever, fine pick at this point in draft.”
Last but not least, we have a late round steal from the Division II ranks. Enter Storm Throne. There’s no arguing with Throne’s size, athleticism, and potential for a plus heater. There is some quibbling with Throne’s inconsistent offspeed stuff (though I like his curve a lot more than many peers) and unreliable fastball velocity. On balance, Throne’s strengths outweigh his weaknesses. If it all comes together, he’s a rock solid middle of the rotation starting pitcher capable of getting ground ball outs. Throne is easily the best signed pick of round 25, though I doubt he’ll go off and put that on his business cards. My pre-draft overall pitching rankings went Beck/Hansen/Brennen/Throne, so, 25th round pick or not, he is a prospect worth keeping an eye on. In fact, after the three aforementioned pitchers, only Hawkins, Barnum, and DeMichele ranked higher on my pre-draft list than Throne. Whether or not you should be happy your 25th round pick doubles as your 7th best draft prospect depends on your general outlook on life. Half-fullers can appreciate the value of a late round find while half-emptyers have to wonder what was going on with all those rounds in between Hawkins and Throne.
Of Beck, Brennen, Hansen, Isler, Jaffe, Bucciferro, Lopez, Throne, and Toney, it is definitely worth pointing out that Buccifero is the shrimpiest. The “slender” righthander from Michigan State comes in at a mere 6-3, 200 pounds. I’m less into draft day patterns as I am scouting director preferences, but even a non-sorcerer can deduce that the White Sox have a certain body type in mind when drafting arms. Also of note: “shrimpiest” is not a word, yet “crimpiest” is. If you knew that already, you’re smarter than a sorcerer.
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)
17.531 La Jolla Country Day School C Sammy Ayala
22. C Sam Ayala (La Jolla County Day School, California): good speed for catcher; good arm; above-average power upside; good athlete; 6-2, 200 pounds
27.831 New Mexico State C Zac Fisher
83. New Mexico State JR C Zac Fisher: bigger scout (and personal) favorite than the numbers might suggest; above-average raw power; advanced bat with a good approach; bat is currently way ahead of glove – still learning the finer points of what it takes to be a catcher, so, if drafted, time will have to be spent bringing his defense up to a more acceptable level; 6-3, 210 pounds
1s.48 King HS (FL) 1B Keon Barnum
5. 1B Keon Barnum (King HS, Florida): plus arm; plus power upside; Ryan Howard comp; solid defender; super strong; surprisingly athletic; compact swing; Jon Singleton comp; 6-4, 225 pounds; L/L
16.501 Arizona State 1B Abe Ruiz
38. Arizona State SR 1B Abe Ruiz: good present power – can really hammer average fastballs, but has big trouble with anything else; average defender; has hit for nice power in three out of four college seasons, but questionable hit tool and substandard approach leave much to be desired; 6-3, 240 pounds
3.108 Arizona State 2B Joey DeMichele
9. Arizona State JR 2B Joey DeMichele: decent speed; for the longest time he was a man without a position, but settled in as the kind of second baseman who makes plays on balls hit him and not much more; his plus hit tool is one of the best in his class; above-average power with the chance to hit 15+ homers professionally; 5-11, 185 pounds
9.291 Indiana 2B Micah Johnson
48. Indiana JR 2B Micah Johnson: good athlete; more raw power than most middle infielders in this class, but currently most of his power plays to the gaps; good speed; average at best defender, but has the chance to get better in time – it is more about concentration and technique than physical tools; limited arm before arm injury, so teams will need to be sure he can stick at 2B before using a pick on him; 5-11, 190 pounds
5.171 Archbishop McCarthy HS (FL) SS Nick Basto
25. 2B Nick Basto (Archbishop McCarthy HS, Florida): strong arm, but best utilized at second; some think he sticks at SS
1.13 Carroll HS (TX) OF Courtney Hawkins
4. OF Courtney Hawkins (Mary Carroll HS, Texas): very muscular build; good speed; strong arm; more present power than majority of class; plus raw power; lots of swing and miss and some pitch recognition issues; average or better speed; RF professionally; has improved a great deal across the board in last calendar year, especially on defense; good instincts in CF, but might not be quick enough; plus arm; speed, power, and arm will take him far; reminds me so much of Adam Jones it’s scary; 6-2, 215 pounds; R/R
2.76 Georgia Southern RHP Chris Beck
21. Georgia Southern JR RHP Chris Beck: 87-93 FB, 95-97 peak; FB velocity was way down in 2012 (88-92, 93 peak) and far too straight a pitch to fool pro bats; 80-86 cutter-like SL with plus upside, has hit upwards of 90, but was above-average at best throughout much of 2012 season; 80-84 straight CU with plus upside; command needs tightening; Dr. Jekyll is a first round pick, but Mr. Hyde barely warrants top ten round consideration – a smart team will figure out what they are getting in advance (or at least that’s the idea…), but outsiders like me can only guess; 6-3, 220 pounds
4.141 Orange Coast CC RHP Brandon Brennan
74. Orange Coast CC (CA) rFR RHP Brandon Brennan: 88-93 FB, 95 peak; average 83-84 SL; average CU with more upside than that for me; transfer from Oregon; 6-4, 225 pounds
6.201 St. John’s RHP Kyle Hansen
52. St. John’s JR RHP Kyle Hansen: 91-93 FB with good life, 94-96 peak; average 79-84 SL that is improving, pitch has plus upside but inconsistent shape: up to 88 on most recent looks and tends to work much better as truer slider at higher velocities than it does as an upper-70s SL/CB hybrid breaking ball; raw 80-82 CU when he started school that is now a really solid third pitch; has learned to use more upper-80s sinkers to complement four-seam heat; I’ve learned to be skeptical of overly large pitching prospects, but Hansen, for whatever reason, hasn’t gotten anywhere close to the kind of hype typically associated with similar pitchers in the past – he’s big, yes, but he is an excellent athlete who repeats his mechanics well and sits at consistent above-average velocities all while staying healthy while at college and putting up outstanding numbers year after year; hard to call a 6-8, 215 pound brother of a big leaguer a sleeper, but Hansen will likely be on the board a full three rounds past where I’d begin recommending him
8.261 Cincinnati RHP Zach Isler
191. Cincinnati JR RHP Zach Isler: fairly generic high-80s FB as starter, but a revelation out of the bullpen: sinking 90-92 FB, 94-95 peak; good low-80s SL; raw CU he can likely ditch as he moves to bullpen professionally; 6-4, 240 pounds
11.351 California RHP Eric Jaffe
184. UCLA rFR RHP Eric Jaffe: 90-95 FB that moves; plus 77-82 CB; has shown interesting 84-86 CU this past spring; disaster of a season leaves him a 100% speculative selection at this point – his signability isn’t supposed to be an issue, but it would be a surprise to see him drafted high enough to make it worth his while unless he really, really wants to play pro ball; 6-4, 230 pounds
14.441 Michigan State RHP Tony Bucciferro
243. Michigan State SR RHP Tony Bucciferro: heavy 86-88 FB, 90-92 peak; has no problem throwing sinkers all day; very good hard SL; developing 80-81 CU that has emerged as solid third pitch with above-average sink; plus control; plus pitchability; better than your average mid-round senior sign with stuff that could play up even more in short bursts; 6-3, 200 pounds
21.651 Virginia Military Institute RHP Adam Lopez
345. VMI SR RHP Adam Lopez: 88-92 FB, 94-96 peak; recovering from TJ surgery; 6-5, 220 pounds
25.771 Morningside HS (IA) RHP Storm Throne
145. Morningside (IA) JR RHP Storm Throne: 90-93 FB, 95-97 peak; good command of above-average 72-74 CB; shows CU; keeps the ball down; good athlete; 6-7, 240 pounds
26.801 Austin Peay State LHP Zach Toney
281. Austin Peay State SR LHP Zach Toney: 88-92 FB, 94 peak; solid CB; interesting splitter; iffy control; 6-3, 220 poundsPhoto via http://s305.photobucket.com/albums/nn205/chibully/all-time%20bulls/?action=view¤t=RustyLaRue.jpg&sort=ascending.