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2013 MLB Draft Preview: Tennessee Volunteers

Most Intriguing Pre-Season 2013 MLB Draft Prospect(s) 

  1. JR RHP Nick Williams
  2. SR RHP Zack Godley

It doesn’t take a college baseball savant to see that the Tennessee program is still a few years away from making an impact in the SEC. One quick perusal of the Volunteers roster reveals the secret that backs up the prior statement: there are more true freshman on the roster than all other classes (sophomore, junior, senior) combined. As such, it isn’t easy finding worthwhile draft prospects to talk about. The best of the bunch of lot seems to be JR RHP Nick Williams. Williams isn’t without his flaws, most notably terribly inconsistent command and control that comes and goes, but he has a good fastball (up to 93) and the potential for two average or better offspeed pitches (curve and change). His build (6-1, 235 pounds) and command/control troubles point to the bullpen as his eventual professional home, though it wouldn’t stun me if it took another college season after this one to get to that point. That’s exactly what happened to Tennessee’s other draftable player, SR RHP Zack Godley. Godley, another pitcher who looks like he’ll eventually have to settle in as a reliever professionally, spurned the pros after his junior season to come back and try to boost his draft stock as a senior. I like Godley a lot as a college arm, and believe he has a future in pro ball in some capacity. Part of the reason for that is because I have a soft spot for righthanders who get by without big fastballs: he’ll hit 90/91 on occasion, but primarily lives in the mid- to upper-80s. Godley gets outs by mixing a deep repertoire (cutter/slider, softer curve, low-80s change) within the strike zone effectively. If you squint really hard you might see a little bit of Vance Worley there. Worley epitomizes the best case scenario for this command-oriented relatively soft throwing (Worley peaked at 93/94 at Long Beach, but many believed he’d be an upper-80s, 90/91 guy as a pro) college righthanded pitching prospect. In other words, don’t take the Godley/Worley thing as a direct comp per se. That’s what makes scouting and player development so difficult. In a given year, 25 pitchers may fit this basic description but only one emerges as a legitimate big league pitcher. Somebody smarter than me will someday make a lot of money finding a way to isolate whatever variables makes that one pitcher rise above the rest.

It is entirely possible I’m missing on another draftable Volunteer upperclassman, but, as of now, I’m sticking with Williams and Godley as the only two worth following. If I had to pick a third, I think I’d presently go with JR C Ethan Bennett. Bennett hit .179 last year with 30 strikeouts in 112 at bats. When that’s potentially your third most interesting draft-eligible prospect, things are going to take some time to get better. To be fair, Bennett did put up a solid freshman line of .254/.354/.476 in 126 at bats.

2014 MLB Draft Name(s) to Know 

  1. SO INF/OF Will Maddox

Maddox is a versatile defender who showed good speed and above-average patience in his first year of major college ball. He may never have the carrying tool that will get him regular time as a big league player, but his brand of makeup, defensive flexibility, and solid bat is exactly what scouts look for in bench guys.

SO LHP Brandon Zajac’s freshman year didn’t go quite as well, but he’s got good size (6-4, 220 pounds) and a loose arm. The 2015 class, led by big names like powerful FR OF/LHP Vincent Jackson and rangy FR SS AJ Simcox, should be a lot of fun to follow. We’re obviously a long way away from June 2015, but it wouldn’t shock me if both hitters work themselves into the first round mix by then.

Image via Sports Logos.Net

2013 MLB Draft Preview: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Most Intriguing Pre-Season 2013 MLB Draft Prospect(s)

  1. JR 1B/OF Daniel Palka
  2. JR RHP Matthew Grimes
  3. JR RHP/OF DeAndre Smelter
  4. SR OF Brandon Thomas
  5. JR RHP Dusty Isaacs
  6. JR C/RHP Zane Evans
  7. SR RHP Buck Farmer
  8. JR OF Kyle Wren
  9. JR SS Mott Hyde

I didn’t grow up around college baseball, I didn’t go to a school with college baseball, and I have no vested interest in seeing any particular college team succeed or fail. In my world, college sports only as an elaborate minor league system to the professional game. I sometimes feel like a big hypocrite for viewing college athletics that way – the players are exploited something awful and the NCAA is corrupt – and there’s a part of me that misses out on having a strong collegiate rooting interest (seeing so many high school pals go off to schools with huge sporting culture and tremendous game day atmospheres like Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, North Carolina, and Miami made me a little jealous during my fairly lame hockey or bust years at Boston University), but I’m still mostly alright with watching games to focus more on future pros and not outcomes. That’s all a long way of saying the following: I have no idea whether or not Georgia Tech has the horses to make a run deep into college baseball’s postseason, but I’m fairly sure they have a bunch of future professional players littered across the roster.

I think it is fair to say that Georgia Tech’s high hopes for 2013 took a bit hit with the news of Matt Grimes’ recent Tommy John surgery. The same injury to Grimes not only puts a dent in the upcoming Yellow Jackets season, but it also is a major blow to the young righthander’s draft stock. Completely healthy, it wasn’t a stretch to have Grimes off the board by the end of the draft’s first day. Injured, well, that’s a completely different story, as much for the potential long-term ramifications on his arm’s health (neither as big a deal as some want to make it nor as minor a procedure as others now suggest) as the lost year of development. Grimes stuff is the kind that you often see described as electric: explosive low- to mid-90s fastball mixed with a very good hard slider. Another year of college would have helped him threefold: improve his raw yet promising changeup, find a way to gain some consistency and body control for his 6-6 frame’s delivery, and make gains in the areas of command and control. Now teams will be left with whatever impressions they have from his high school days and his freshman year (Grimes only pitched 18.2 innings last year).

Palka has as much raw power as any player in college baseball. He’ll obviously have to eliminate some of the swing and miss to his game, something I think he has a better than you’d expect chance of happening based solely on his lofty collegiate strikeout totals. He’s a better natural hitter than he’s shown. I’ll be watching him closely this spring to see if he has improved on his ability to square up on balls that aren’t right down the middle of the plate. His plate coverage and ability to drive balls on the periphery of the zone are critical to bumping up his current below-average hit tool grade. I like Palka quite a bit, but, as always, take caution when dreaming on any bat-first prospect that isn’t a mortal lock to hit a ton as a professional.

Smelter gives off a pretty serious Phillippe Aumont vibe to me. That would be the Aumont of today (i.e. a reliever, but potentially a very good one) and not the Aumont of his draft year (i.e. a potential top of the rotation, Kevin Brown type of starter). Smelter needs innings this spring (he’s pitched only 23.2 innings at Georgia Tech) if he wants to get himself back on the early round draft radar like he was back in his prep days. There could be a team out there that likes him more as a power/speed outfield prospect, though I’ve yet to talk to anybody willing to go on record with that opinion.

Thomas was classified as a “poor man’s Barrett Barnes” in my draft notes last year. I think the comparison to the 45th overall pick in 2012 holds up pretty well: tweener-OF who may or may not have the instincts for CF (I think Thomas is more likely to stick up the middle than Barnes) or have enough raw power to start in a corner for a first-division club. If he does wind up as a leftfield-only kind of guy, I could see him putting up similar overall value as Gerardo Parra: good speed, some pop, outstanding defense. I’ve also heard a Matt Joyce ceiling thrown his way, assuming he maintains some of his recent power gains.

Isaacs may lack the premium size that teams want in a starting pitching prospect, but his stuff plays just fine in the rotation. He’ll give you three average or better pitches highlighted by a fastball that can get up to 94 and a plus slider when he commands it. It is hard to identify a sleeper prospect this early in the process, but Isaacs may qualify.

Evans is a legitimate prospect as either a catcher or a righthanded pitcher. I like him a smidge more as a position player because of his burgeoning power and strong defensive chops. On the mound, he has the chance for three average or better pitches (FB, CB, CU) in time.

Farmer is one of college baseball’s most confusing cases. At his best he looks like a legitimate big league pitcher with a nice fastball (have seen it up to 94), low-80s slider that flashes plus, and a good changeup with serious sink. He’s always put up strong numbers (9.30 K/9 in 2011, 10.29 K/9 in 2012) and has a sturdy 6-4, 225 pound frame. The confusion begins with the uneven reports on his stuff from start to start. When his velocity slips to the upper-80s, his slider gets loopy, and his changeup flattens out, he’s pretty darn ordinary. I’m not sure we’ll ever see the really good version of Farmer again – the very fact that this is an open question speaks to the doubts surrounding his pro future. Ultimately, I can see a little bit of Mark Pope and Seth Blair in his game, though not necessarily in terms of actual draft stock, but in terms of professional outcomes. All three can be categorized as steady college starting pitchers with big league fifth starters upside, with the acknowledgment that each is far more likely to pitch in middle relief, if at all, in the big leagues.

Wren was a big favorite after his sensational freshman season (.355/.429/.464 – 32 BB/30 K – 265 AB), but regressed almost across the board in 2012. One area he remained strong in was his outstanding plate discipline. I still like him as a speedy CF with the upside as a top of the lineup bat (and a hopeful floor of fifth outfielder), so I’ll be watching him closely in 2013. Rounding out the best Georgia Tech hitters is Hyde, a true shortstop with speed and the chance to hit for double-digit home runs as a pro. That’s a heck of a package and one that would deserve a much higher ranking than you see here. Astute readers will put two and two together and realize that the odds of Hyde reaching his ceiling are low.

Off the beaten prospect path a bit is where you’ll find guys like JR RHP Jonathan Roberts, SR 2B/OF Sam Dove, JR RHP/3B Alex Cruz, SR RHP Clay Dalton, and JR LHP Devin Stanton. Each player does enough well to stay on the map, but nothing so spectacularly that you can call them high priority 2013 follows. Roberts’ tools are probably the loudest of the bunch (wild mid-90s fastballs get a guy noticed), though I have a soft spot for the steady across the board Dove. After that you have three young pitchers who will need to impress the Georgia Tech coaching staff enough just to get meaningful innings before worrying about showing off for pro scouts.

2014 MLB Draft Name(s) to Know

  1. SO C AJ Murray
  2. SO RHP Cole Pitts

There isn’t a ton to love about Georgia Tech’s group of 2014 prospects. SO C AJ Murray, a favorite from his draft year, has the tools (power, arm, speed) to be an early round pick. His future will seemingly come down to opportunity (i.e. can he get the at bats needed to keep progressing) and defense. I’m less concerned about the latter (he’s athletic enough that I think he’ll eventually get it) than the former (Evans and fellow SO Connor Lynch are strong competition). SO RHP Cole Pitts’ slower than you’d like development of a reliable breaking ball is what currently keeps him behind Murray on this list. His fastball and change are more than enough to currently get by (7.38 K/9 in 78 freshman innings) in the ACC, but it’ll be the refinement of a third pitch that will get him on the prospect map.

The aforementioned Lynch did a solid job at the plate (.293/.348/.390 in 82 AB) in his freshman year. A bevvy of unproven yet intriguing youngsters like FR LHP Sam Clay, SO OF Jamal Golden, SO OF Dan Spingola, and FR LHP/OF Jonathan (JK) King fill out the rest of the prospect ledger. I also remain interested in a trio of relatively unheralded Georgia Tech sophomores: SO RHP Josh Heddinger, SO OF/1B Charles Sheffield, and SO INF Thomas Smith are all on the scouting radar in some capacity.

Image via Georgia Tech Relay for Life

2013 MLB Draft Preview: Virginia Cavaliers

Most Intriguing Pre-Season 2013 MLB Draft Prospect(s)

  1. JR LHP Kyle Crockett
  2. JR RHP Artie Lewicki
  3. rSR LHP Scott Silverstein
  4. JR OF Mitchell Shifflett
  5. SR OF Reid Gragnani
  6. rJR RHP Whit Mayberry

This year’s Virginia team offers up an unusually sparse amount of prospects worth getting excited about. It isn’t, however, something to be concerned about if you’re a fan of the team. This is mostly true because of the really strong group of 2014s and 2015s coming up behind the lackluster 2013s, but also because one of the reasons 2013 doesn’t look as promising as it could is because of the one thing you really can’t predict: injuries. That’s a long way of pointing out the obvious: this group would look a lot better if Artie Lewicki was healthy. Lewicki, who will miss the 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, could have challenged for a spot in the draft’s first three rounds if healthy. As it is, a team may yet gamble on his power arm (easy low-90s heat that peaks at 96, nasty low-80s slider) returning to form in his potential first full year of pro ball in 2014. His injury opens the door for Kyle Crockett to emerge as Virginia’s best 2013 draft prospect. Crockett reminds me a little bit of a slightly lesser version of North Carolina’s Kent Emanuel. He’s produced at a ridiculously high level since day one (9.56 K/9 in 2011, 9.00 K/9 and only 1.65 BB/9 in 60 innings last year) and has enough looseness in his arm to project some velocity gain (he’s currently upper-80s mostly) going forward. My notes on Crockett include the phrase “murder on lefties,” so, even if you don’t love him as a starter professionally, it sounds like he has a strong future in relief.

I refuse to give up on Scott Silverstein and you shouldn’t either. The redshirt senior has worked his tail off to get back to the low-90s after undergoing multiple operations to repair a torn left labrum. Add in a solid slider and an always strong changeup, and you’ve got a pretty good looking young pitcher. His medical history and advanced age may knock him back a few rounds past where his talent deserves. Even still, a smart team would be wise to stick with him this spring to see if his arm continues to bounce back. Fellow surgical patient Whit Mayberry (torn UCL in 2012) hopes to make his return to the diamond in similar triumphant fashion. Mayberry’s stuff wasn’t huge pre-injury, but he’s shown enough (some low-90s) with a strong track record (right around 9.00 K/9 over his 60 innings the past two years) to at least warrant some pre-season discussion.

Shifflett figures to be drafted on the basis on one tool: plus-plus speed. You can be limited in all other areas of the game, but you’ve got as good a shot as anybody on draft day if you have a legitimate 80 tool to call your own. I don’t think Shifflett will ever hit enough to put his speed to much use professionally, but between his legs, range, and (fingers crossed) improved patience at the plate, he could have some value as a backup outfielder somewhere, someday. He’s a fun college player to watch, in any event. Gragnani is a long-time favorite who simply hasn’t put it all together for an extended stretch at the college level. He needs at bats, so hopefully he can stay healthy and play at the high level that many – like me – think he can perform.

The duo of JR RHP Austin Young and rJR OF Colin Harrington make up another pair of names worth keeping an eye on. Young is a big guy with good numbers (8.64 K/9 in 33.1 IP) and Harrington has performed well (two years of .400+ OBP) in limited at bats.

2014 MLB Draft Name(s) to Know

  1. SO OF Derek Fisher
  2. SO RHP/3B Nick Howard
  3. SO OF/1B Mike Papi
  4. SO C Nate Irving
  5. SO C Brandon Downes

A big season out of Derek Fisher will get him in the conversation for a very early (top five? top ten?) pick in 2014. He’s good enough in multiple areas – average-ish defender in a corner, average-ish speed, average-ish arm – that his big time power looks even better. He’s not a hulking slugger nor is he a gifted natural hitter who happens to hit for power; he’s just a well-rounded player with the chance to be an above-average player in an outfield corner.

SO OF/1B Mike Papi and SO RHP/3B Nick Howard aren’t on the same level as Fisher as prospects, but they aren’t all that far behind. If Papi continues to prove himself athletic enough to handle an outfield corner, his stock will continue to rise. Howard’s future is still largely to be determined as many talent evaluators remain split on whether or not he’ll wind up as a hitter or a pitcher. Virginia is lucky to have a pair of talented catchers coming off admirable first year performances in SO C Brandon Downes and SO C Nate Irving. I think Irving may be the better defender while Downes has more upside at the plate.

I also like SO 2B Branden Cogswell, a middle infielder with an intriguing offensive profile and frame that suggests pop to come. SO INF/C Kenny Towns and SO RHP Barrett O’Neill round out a very strong group of Virginia sophomores.

Image via Insider’s Passport 

2013 MLB Draft Preview: Duke Blue Devils

Most Intriguing Pre-Season 2013 MLB Draft Prospect(s)

  1. JR RHP Drew Van Orden
  2. rSO 1B Chris Marconcini
  3. SR C Jeff Kremer
  4. JR SS Angelo LaBruna

Van Orden is currently my favorite draft-eligible pitcher on the Duke staff. He has the two-pitch reliever stuff (low-90s FB, low-80s SL), size (6-4, 200 pounds), and strong K-rate (8.47 K/9 in 2012) that gives off that aura of future mid- to late-round middle relief prospect.

Marconcini missed the entire 2012 season after tearing his ACL, but hopes to return strong as a draft-eligible redshirt sophomore. His true sophomore season was a success by any measure (.301/.404/.490) as he showed above-average raw power and the ability to defend his position with relative ease. All caveats about him being locked into first base apply as any hope of him moving positions isn’t all that realistic considering his size (6-5, 230 pounds) and recent injury.

Compared to Marconini, both Kremer and LaBruna give you more in terms of positional value, but neither has quite the same power stick. Kremer has long been a personal favorite due to his approach (66 BB to 51 K the past two seasons) and steady presence behind the plate. His lack of raw power has always limited his upside, but I like him as a late-round organizational catcher prospect. Those who saw LaBruna this summer are convinced he’s primed for a big junior season. With the dearth of quality middle infielders at the college level, the opportunity to rise way up draft boards is certainly there. He does do a lot of those classic utility infielder things well – he’s patient at the plate (more walks than strikeouts in 2012) and possesses a good, versatile glove – but the development of the bat will be the difference between top ten round consideration and a return trip to Durham for a senior season.

I’ve heard reasonably positive things about both JR 3B Jordan Betts and JR C Mike Rosenfeld. I’m not quite ready to hang the draftable tag on either player just yet, but the best guys in their area know their names. I liked SR RHP Chase Bebout a lot at this time last year, but his performance fell off a cliff in his junior season. We all know there’s a lot more to evaluating amateur talent than quickly perusing numbers, but going from a 2011 K/9 of 9.93 to a 2012 K/9 of 4.08 is a Soviet Union sized red flag. I’ve also heard some nice things about JR RHP Robert Huber, which is a nice change of pace considering he’s a barely 6-foot tall righty with less than overwhelming stuff. Again, I wouldn’t call any of this group draftable at this point, but they do qualify as names to know just in case.

2014 MLB Draft Name(s) to Know

  1. SO RHP Andrew Istler

If we ignored draft year, Istler would rank atop these rankings. He’s Duke’s best prospect and a really exciting follow for the next two seasons. What he lacks in size (5-11, 170 pounds), he makes up for with above-average stuff (FB, SL, CU could all be average or better in time), rapidly improving command, and ample athleticism. His numbers last year (6.23 K/9 | 1.56 BB/9 | 3.44 FIP | 52 IP) were quite impressive for a freshman in the ACC. Other 2014 arms of varying intrigue include SO LHP Remy Janco, SO RHP Sarkis Ohanian, SO RHP Nick Piscotty, and, the favorite of the bunch, SO LHP Trent Swart.

Image via Lady Liberty Flag and Flagpole 

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