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Colton Cain and Scott McGough

I was planning on posting something with a more historical — going way back in the archives to the year 2009 — bent this afternoon, but with the trade deadline less than a week away and deals being made at a 2 Fast, 2 Furious pace, it only makes sense to go with what’s topical by discussing some of the prospects who are on the move. Pittsburgh and the Dodgers both beefed up their rosters in the hopes of some “flags fly forever” postseason glory, but, as we covered yesterday, the established big leaguers swapping laundry are nowhere as interesting — in the context of this site, naturally — than the recently drafted prospects hitting the road.

First, we have the Pirates overpaying Houston for Wandy Rodriguez. The money saved on moving Rodriguez and the addition of Robbie Grossman makes the trade a big win for the Astros, a franchise that I think will serve as a fantastic case study that will help answer the question “how long does it take to rebuild an organization?” over the next few seasons. One of the first steps to going from 100+ losses to competitive is figuring out how to flip bad contracts for useful parts. These useful parts tend to come in one of two standard archetypes: high ceiling/total bust floor lottery tickets OR average ceiling/big league backup floor near-ML ready talent. Ideally you can shed salary while picking up a combination of the two prospect types, though it is interesting to see that Jeff Luhnow and company have focused predominantly on the latter thus far. It’s too early to say that they are doing this as an organizational philosophy — there’s enough grey area between strictly adhering to an overarching philosophy and simply riding wherever the wave of the trade market takes you that as outsiders we can’t ever fully appreciate — but I happen to like Houston’s approach so far. The Astros have so far to come from a talent standpoint as an organization that adding cheap, controllable talent close to the big leagues will help buy time (and, as importantly, future payroll flexibility) while the players with star upside germinate in the minors.

Speaking of players with star upside, let’s finally tie this whole thing back to the draft. The Astros will get a full draft recap within the next few weeks/months, but, spoiler alert!, the addition of first overall pick Carlos Correa gives them the exact type of franchise-altering cornerstone talent that they’d be foolish to shop for on the trade market. The additions of overslot prep bats Rio Ruiz and Brett Phillips could also play major dividends down the road, though both players come with significant risk.

They stayed true to what I believe is their plan — we’ll call it the “hey, we owe it to our fans to not be terrible for years, so let’s instead try to identify a few cheap, young assets that the people of Houston can watch grow while we bide our time developing star talent in the minors that will make the fans thrilled that they stuck by our side during the lean years” —  by supplementing the high boom/bust factor of Correa, Ruiz, and Phillips with college position players (their draft was curiously short on arms, I’m now noticing) that should move quickly. Few better players embody the average ceiling/big league backup floor archetype better than second round pick Nolan Fontana, and later picks like Tyler Heineman and Dan Gulbransen also fit the mold. Brady Rodgers, the only arm drafted between rounds 2 and 8, is cut from the same cloth. Of course, after all that, it is worth mentioning that Lance McCullers (star-ceiling/big league floor) is proof that the two categories of prospects do not begin to describe all of the prospect types of the spectrum. We’re getting further and further (I reference this in my writing daily, yet still screw it up almost as often) away from my original point, so let’s get back to the recent trades before I get totally lost in the Houston draft wormhole.

Houston is clearly moving in the right direction, and I think their path, from terrible to slightly less terrible to better AND, hopefully, more willing/able to spend to, finally, consistently competitive in the wild AL West will be fascinating to follow. Grossman is a good player, lefthander Rudy Owens is fine, and, finally, Colton Cain was well worth a flier. Fun Colton Cain fact of the day: the newest Astros lefthanded pitcher (well, he’s as new as Owens but you get my point) was once ranked between Jeff Malm (Tampa) and Jonathan Singleton (Houston) on a list of top draft-eligible high school first basemen. I revisited that ranking last summer and wrote the following (non-bold was from last year, bold signifies pre-draft notes from 2009):

2. Colton Cain | Pittsburgh Pirates | 8th Round (2009)

3.13 ERA – 95 IP – 74 K/26 BB – 0.89 GO/AO

Cain is pitching well as a youngster (20 all season) in Low A with the added bonus of still not having a ton of mileage on his arm. His solid 2011 performance was preceded by good performances last year (strong peripherals). I like pitchers like Cain: guys with good enough fastballs to keep getting looks and secondaries that will either click and become legit big league pitches all at once or…not. Of course there is some middle ground between the two outcomes, but not as much as one might think. If you’re patient you may wind up with a three-pitch starting pitcher, but the risk here is fairly self-evident.

first thing that stands about about Cain is his very pretty lefthanded stroke; like a lot of the players on this list has an unusually strong arm for a first base prospect; because of that raw arm strength many scouts like him at least as much on the mound as at the plate; I like him as the prototypical two-way high school player that has the potential to really emerge once he concentrates on hitting full time; Texas commit

I really did prefer him as a hitter back in his high school days, but obviously the Pirates, and, by extension, now the Astros disagree with me. What nerve. I’ll stand by what I wrote last year — “if you’re patient you may wind up with a three-pitch staring pitcher” — though, due to a mostly uninspiring season in high-A (6.12 K/9), I’m less confident in that outcome than I was twelve months ago. As a two-way player (predominantly a hitter) in high school and a pitcher who has missed some developmental time after back surgery, there’s still reason to believe that the light bulb will go off and his low-90s fastball will be joined by a consistent curve and changeup. It is worth repeating that Grossman and the money saved made this deal worth doing for Houston; the addition of Cain, a player the Pirates once paid over a million bucks to pass on Texas, is the lottery ticket. The Astros can’t expect to win the jackpot here, but scratching off the ticket is fun enough in and of itself…plus you never know when you might win a few bucks for your troubles.

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In the most controversial deal thus far, the Dodgers picked up Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate from the Marlins for Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough. Eovaldi is a good get by the Marlins, especially considering the lack of money changing hands in this deal, though I think he ultimately winds up in the bullpen down the line. Take that analysis with a grain of salt, however, as I’ve never really met a Dodgers pitching prospect that I’ve particularly liked. I’m not so dumb to call any one of Zach Lee, Allen Webster, Eovaldi, Chris Reed, Garrett Gould, Chris Withrow, or Aaron Miller bad pitching prospects, but I think each one has been overrated by many of the national pundits. Always was, and remain, a big fan fan of Ethan Martin, so at least there’s that. Don’t hate me Dodgers fans!

The relevant draft piece to this trade is, of course, 2011 fifth round pick Scott McGough. McGough was the 164th overall pick and my own 139th ranked draft prospect heading into the draft. Here’s what I wrote both directly after (plain italics) and before (bold italics) the draft:

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

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

McGough hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire as a professional (control has been an issue at Rancho Cucamonga), but his career K/9 mark just under 10 in over 70 innings looks damn fine to me. His fastball remains a good pitch and he’ll flash enough above-average offspeed stuff to look like a future big league middle reliever. I’m still likely to look dumb for that McGough > Reed prediction, but if both wind up as solid big league pitchers, well, I could live with that.

Miami/Detroit Trade: From a Draft Perspective

The Ichiro deal to the Yankees may have stolen the headlines, but the more interesting trade on July 23, 2012, from both a recent draft perspective and for the long-term implications, has to be the five player deal between the Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins. You could say the same thing about the players involved in the deal: Anibal Sanchez is a quality arm, and Omar Infante is useful in his own way, but the most interesting players involved in the deal are the three prospects and two draft picks changing hands. Let’s take a quick draft-oriented look back at the three Detroit players who are now the newest members of the Miami Marlins organization.

The obvious key to the deal for Miami was obtaining prized righthanded pitching prospect Jacob Turner. I had Turner rated as the ninth best draft prospect in 2009, and, lo and behold, he went off the board to Detroit at pick number nine. I revisited his stock just eleven months ago (see below), and not enough has changed since then to make a rehashing worth it. I won’t profess to have a great deal of knowledge of Detroit’s player development program, but it sure seems like the scouting department’s love of hard throwers (good!) doesn’t jive with the coaching staff’s peculiar desire to see their arms pitch to contact and get ground balls (not so good). A two player sample may or may not be meaningful depending on your view, but the backslides of both Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner is a tad disconcerting to me.

His repertoire is similar to [Shelby] Miller’s, from the plus-plus fastball to the promising curve and change. Come to think of it, not much has changed from Turner’s high school days, at least in terms of future stuff grades: fastball has always been a weapon, curve still has plus upside, and change is well on its way to becoming a nasty third offering.

  • Good size? Is 6-4, 205 good enough? Check.
  • Good athlete? Solid, if not spectacular. Check.
  • Clean mechanics out of a ¾ delivery? Check.
  • Fastball velocity? How does a peak velocity of 93-94 MPH sound?
  • Good command? Check.
  • Off-speed repertoire? Curveball is already a plus pitch and circle change should be an average big league offering, at worst.
  • College scholarship from a school that knows pitching? If North Carolina wants you to pitch for them, you’re probably a good one. If you decided to Carolina only after turning down Vanderbilt, you’re almost certainly a good one. Those two universities have coaching staffs that really know their pitching. Check.

Rob Brantly was a huge favorite of mine dating back to his earliest days at UC-Riverside. I actually had him ranked as the 2010 MLB Draft’s 32nd best prospect on the annual “way too early” big board back in October 2009. He moved up one spot (31st, for the math-challenged) by February, when I also first compared him to Derek Norris. He finally settled in as the sixth ranked college catching prospect that year. That doesn’t sound great, but when you consider the first two names on the list are already big league players (Bryce Harper and Yasmani Grandal) things don’t seem quite as bad. Mike Kvasnicka (ouch), Micah Gibbs (ouch, again), and Matt Szczur (still a big fan) also fit in to the top five. I also doubled downed on the Derek Norris comp at that point, writing the following:

Originally my favorite four-year college in the 2010 class, Brantly’s sophomore season hasn’t really done too much to hurt his stock, but has nonetheless seen his spot in the rankings slip as other college guys have simply done more. The one and only time (maybe) I’ll lift something directly from the always wonderful Baseball America comes now:

[Redacted] has a strong, compact swing and the ability to make consistent, hard contact to all fields. He has a mature, patient offensive approach, excellent pitch recognition and advanced strike-zone awareness. He has above-average power to the pull side and also good power the other way.

That could very easily be written about Rob Brantly, but it was actually the most recent scouting report on Washington’s Derek Norris. The comparison isn’t perfect, but I think it works as a general outline – big bat, professional strike-zone awareness, solid defensive tools, but not yet a reliable backstop. Norris was a fourth round steal out of high school in 2007; Brantly could be the college equivalent, in round and value, here in 2010.

Obviously, I overshot Brantly’s professional power upside by a pretty wide margin, but I remain a believer in his on-base skills and good enough defense behind the plate. He’s a solid player who is close to big league ready. Once he gets the call, he should settle into a long career as a backup catcher with the chance to break through as the lefthanded strong side of a platoon.

The last piece of the Marlins return is hulking lefthander Brian Flynn. I’ve heard him compared to Phillies reliever Michael Schwimer, a similarly sized (actually listed at the exact same 6-8, 240 pounds) pitcher who relies on deception to help an otherwise average fastball play up. Strong minor league performances thus far give hope that he can stick as a starter, but I think a future in middle relief – where he’d go FB/SL/occasional CU, just like Schwimer – is the most likely outcome.

I was impressed Detroit got a deal done with Wichita State LHP Brian Flynn, a draft-eligible sophomore that many had pegged as likely to return for one more season with the Shockers. Lefties who are 6-8, 240ish pounds and can reach the mid-90s don’t come around too often, but it wasn’t just Flynn’s questionable signability that dropped him to the 7th round. At this precise moment in time, Flynn is a one-pitch pitcher. Even that one pitch, his fastball, isn’t that great an offering when you factor in his inconsistent ability to harness it. If the slider keeps developing and he shows he can work in the occasional change, then we might have a dark horse starting pitching prospect. If not, Flynn will try to make it in the competitive world of professional relief pitching.

As for the pick for pick portion of the trade, I’ll let Baseball America’s Jim Callis, the best in the business, do the writing:

The Marlins gave up the last pick in the supplemental first round (currently No. 37) for the final pick in the supplemental second round (currently No. 73).

This year, the No. 37 selection had an assigned value of $1,394,300 and the No. 73 choice was worth $701,700. That’s a difference of $692,600. Those values will be adjusted based on the growth of industry revenues this year, so how much exactly the Tigers added to their bonus pool and the Marlins subtracted from theirs has yet to be determined.

So, Detroit moves up a round and gets some extra draft spending cash. Seems relatively fair when you consider Anibal Sanchez is a free agent in just over two months. My only concern, and this is admittedly cynical and biased against what I consider an awful Miami ownership group, is that Miami suggested the draft pick swap in a long-term effort to save some money. All in all, however, the trade makes a lot of sense for both sides. Detroit gets a short-term fix in their quest for a championship in 2012: Sanchez is good enough to start the second game of a playoff series if need be and Infante is at least better than what they’ve currently got at second. Miami gets an exciting starting pitching prospect, recent big leagues ups and downs notwithstanding, and two players that should contribute something to the big club within the next year or two. As an outsider, I valued Turner as a shiny enough trade chip to hold out for more, but I understand their urgency in making what they believed was the best deal for them at this time.

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.

Kansas City Royals 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Royals 2011 MLB Draft Selections

How can you be a fan of the MLB Draft and not love the Royals picking local hero Gardner-Edgerton HS (KS) OF Bubba Starling with their first round pick? It really is a tremendous story. I can’t even begin to imagine how much Starling’s development is going to be scrutinized by obsessive fans (that’s said with much love, by the way) of the minor leagues. It’ll be like Aaron Hicks times one billion…

I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t have a great feel for what kind of player Bubba Starling is at this point. In many ways, his scouting report reads as Generic High School Dual-Sport Five-Tool Centerfielder/Pitcher, if that makes sense. He runs, he throws, he shows classic light tower power, and he catches anything and everything hit to him in center. Even his much discussed (alright, much maligned) hit tool improved a ton over the past year. As the pre-draft note says, Starling is “everything you’d look for in a prep player.” What worries me are the reports already trickling out of instructs that the Royals have had to make drastic changes to both his swing and throwing mechanics. Said reports are often spun in a positive light – after the changes were made, Starling looked great! What a quick study! – but the thought of investing $7.5 million on a high school player and then almost immediately changing some of the fundamental ways he plays the game makes raises a teeny tiny red flag for me. This hardly qualifies as hard-hitting analysis, but I’ll say it anyway: no player in this year’s draft has as drastic a difference between best-case and worst-case scenario as Bubba Starling. He is the quintessential boom/bust prospect. I realize there’s a chance he’ll have value almost no matter what based on his speed and defense alone (pretty sure first round prep outfielders with other worldly tools have to actively go out of their way to keep from advancing through a system…as a Phillies fan, I present you Exhibit A and Exhibit B), but I’m talking “boom” with respect to his draft position. If Starling isn’t an everyday player, he’s a major bust in the eyes of the majority. If he’s not a middle of the lineup fixture, he’ll always be known to fans as an underachiever. If he’s not a consistent All Star performer, his name will always be spoken with a ting of regret that he never was able to truly put it all together. The expectations are sky high for the young Kansas, and rightfully so.

[plus speed; really good bat speed; patient approach; plus raw power; 88-93 FB; very good 73-76 CB that could be plus in time; 6-4, 180; plus CF range; hit tool is legit; everything you'd look for in a prep player, including rapid improvement in last year]

Plus raw power, good arm, and physically strong: that’s Manheim Township HS (PA) C Cameron Gallagher in less than ten words.

The “local” guy that I’ve seen this year a few times – 90 minutes away is local, right? – has had himself an oddly inconsistent year for a potential top five round draft prospect. He reminds me a good bit of Tyler Marlette, except with a tiny bit (we’re talking teeny tiny) less arm strength and a good bit more raw power and physical strength. So, basically, he reminds me of Marlette except for three pretty big differences – maybe that’s not the best comp after all. Gallagher is still a very raw defender, but steady improvement throughout the spring has led me to believe he can remain a catcher, assuming he doesn’t experience another growth spurt. The raw power is undeniably his biggest strength and there are some who think he’s got enough bat to handle first base if the whole catching thing doesn’t pan out. Not sure I’m buying into the bat that hard, but also not sure he’ll be moving to first any time soon.

Maybe it is just a byproduct of my simple mind making the association between fellow The Woodlands alum, but The Woodlands HS (TX) RHP Bryan Brickhouse’s scouting profile reminds me a little bit of a less athletic Kyle Drabek.

RHP Bryan Brickhouse (The Woodlands HS, Texas): 88-92 FB, 94-95 peak; 75-77 knuckle CB; solid 80-85 SL with upside; emerging low-80s CU; good athlete; 6-2, 190

Some versions of my pre-draft high school pitching rankings had Santaluces HS (FL) RHP Kyle Smith in the back end of the top ten. Getting him this late is a major coup for Kansas City. His secondary stuff is as good as any non-first round prep arm in the country, and his fastball, athleticism, quick tempo, and, yes, intangibles all point him in the direction of becoming a very good big league starting pitcher.

RHP Kyle Smith (Santaluces HS, Florida): 88-92 FB with late burst, 93-95 peak; potential plus CU; excellent 77-78 CB; great pitchability; quick worker; good athlete; 6-0, 170

I like the move by Kansas City to get St. Thomas HS (TX) OF Patrick Leonard away from the infield, so he can instead concentrate on hitting. Leonard should be fine defensively in right field; his chances of showing a bat capable of handling the demands of a corner outfield spot are less than fine. Funny how a position switch can totally flip a player’s future: Leonard went from an interesting hitter with defensive questions at third to a prospect likely good enough to handle right field who might not have the bat to carry him in the outfield.

Leonard has a fun mix that includes an above-average hit tool, impressive power upside, good athleticism, and above-average arm strength. Questions about his defensive future keep him lower than his bat warrants, at least for now.

I have to give it to Kansas City for unearthing Caribbean JC LHP Cesar Ogando. Even with a few thousands of names in my files, Ogando slipped through the cracks. He’s got his youth, size, and a fastball peaking at 94 at the wonderfully named Excellence Games (per Baseball America), but was scary wild (24 BB in 31.2 IP) in his pro debut. That kind of thing happens when you are nineteen and trying to figure out how to get your 6’3”, 210 pound body familiar with throwing a baseball harder than 99.999999999% of the planet consistently in the strike zone for the first time as a professional. Or so I would guess.

There’s definitely some sleeper potential with Oregon RHP Kellen Moen. The former Ducks reliever was tried as a starter after signing because he has shown the makings of three solid pitches, but I think the difference between his upper-80s fastball (90ish peak) and the low-90s fastball (93-94 peak) makes him a better option in the bullpen, now and in the future. His breaking ball looks better in relief as well: we’re talking a mid-70s loopy curve compared to a much tighter upper-70s breaker. I understand the Royals wanting to get him as many innings in as possible, but he’s a reliever all the way for me.

I’m looking forward to seeing the big, talented South County HS (VA) RHP Evan Beal pitch for the two-time defending national champs in the future. College was a good choice for him. Assuming he stays injury free, he’s got the chance to be a very early pick in 2014.

I’m not sure what the Royals see in Cal State Bernardino RHP Aaron Brooks that I’m missing, but I would have rather targeted another bullpen senior sign (e.g. Kellen Moen) for half the price than spend close to six figures on a pitcher without an above-average offering. Of course, what do I know? Brooks was outstanding in his debut, getting that sexy mix of strikeouts and groundballs that drives all the real baseball groupies wild. Brooks was just far enough off the beaten path as a college prospect that we’re free to speculate that his signing scout must have really fought for him during pre-draft meetings.

The numbers that Brooks (73 K in 79.2 IP, 2.74 GO/AO) were more in line with what I expected out of Georgia Southern RHP Matt Murray’s debut. Murray’s numbers were fine (58 K in 53 IP), but it was a surprise to see his nasty sinker/slider combo get as few groundball outs as it did. I remain intrigued at his upside, either as a back of the rotation starter or a steady, groundball inducing (hopefully) 7th inning reliever.

Georgia Southern JR RHP Matt Murray: 88-92 FB with heavy sink; ground ball machine; solid upper-70s SL; better than solid CU that has come on a lot since getting to school; CB; 6-4, 240 pounds

I’m all in on incoming Louisville freshman Park Hill South HS (MO) LHP Adam Schemenauer (Round 12). A 6’9” lefthander with a fastball that hits 93 MPH and above-average athleticism? Sold! He’s a long way away from being what he’ll eventually be (if you follow), and the track record for jumbo-sized prep pitchers isn’t as strong as the handful of pro outliers might have you think, but I’m a sucker for upside and Schemenauer has it in spades.

Hey, speaking of upside… American LHP Stephen Lumpkins (Round 13) is a 6’8″ lefthander with a fastball that hits 92 MPH and above-average athleticism. Bonus points for being the rare college prospect to come out of a family member’s alma mater. My three siblings and I all went to private universities in the northeast (sure, DC stretches the limits of “northeast,” but let me have this one), never once considering the potential ramifications to our baseball prospect watching. Ah, to be eighteen again to go back and realize the importance of spending four years somewhere warm. Lumpkins, like Ogando, struggled with control in his debut, but, also like Ogando, his struggles can be forgiven for now.

I would have bet anything that UCLA 1B Dean Espy (Round 15) would wind up back in sunny Southern California for another year after his disappointing junior year. He found his missing power stroke after signing, but there’s still not enough power upside or plate discipline to envision him as a big league player. He’s yet another prospect in purgatory: a first baseman only without the bat to carry him there. Sad.

Deltona (FL) HS SS Jack Lopez (Round 16) might have been one of those players who benefited from my pet theory that defensive studs up the middle, especially at shortstop, benefit from three years of college more than any other type of prep prospect. If Lopez had decided to attend Miami and showed himself to be competent with the bat over a few seasons, his standing as a plus defender with a playable bat could have made him a first rounder. Then again, by bypassing school, Lopez wound up getting the same bonus as second rounder Cameron Gallagher. Maybe it’s for the best for all involved (except Miami, but they at least already have the college version of Lopez, Stephen Perez, in tow) that Lopez is getting an early start on the pros.

Plus defensive tools will keep Lopez at short until the day he retires from the game to go sell life insurance (or whatever it is ex-ballplayers do these days).

I have a hard time explaining why, but I just plain like Virginia C Kenny Swab (Round 21). He does everything pretty well, but nothing so spectacularly that you’d notice a specific play he was involved in during the course of a game. At the end of that game, however, when you think back to what players could help a big league club someday, you remember the athletic, confident, strong armed Swab and come away impressed with his righthanded pop and balanced swing. I’d love to see Kansas City get creative and get the most out of Swab’s athleticism by using him at a variety of positions.

Here’s what was said here about Mr. Swab back before the season started: “He’s got a live bat with above-average power potential, but it’ll take some serious lineup juggling from Brian O’Connor to get him the at bats he’ll need to boost his draft stock. As is, Swab is a potential 10-20th round player based on upside alone.” Not a bad preseason prediction on a fairly unheralded junior college transfer, right? In the at bats Swab’s earned this year, he’s impressed. Good power, good patience, good defender, good arm, and good positional versatility. He’s not a star by any means, but he’s a good player. That sounds pretty good to me.

Louisiana Tech 3B MarkThrelkeld (Round 25) gives you just about what you’d expect from a pla…you know what? Just check the pre-draft notes on Threlkeld below. That says it all, I think.

Threlkeld gives just about what you’d expect from a player this far down the ranking: huge raw power and a strong arm. The reason Steranka gets the one spot edge over him is because of Threlkeld’s questionable defensive ability.

The Royals convinced Chris Dwyer, draft-eligible Clemson lefty, to sign a few years ago, but couldn’t come to terms with Clemson LHP Joseph Moorefield (Round 26) this time around. Moorefield will take his low-90s heat and intriguing four-pitch mix back to Clemson rather than make the jump to pro ball. He’ll be joined on a stacked Clemson staff featuring a slew of future pros like Kevin Brady, Dominic Leone, Scott Firth, David Haselden, Mike Kent, Jonathan Meyer, Kevin Pohle, Matt Campbell, Daniel Gossett, Patrick Andrews, and Kyle Bailey. Not bad.

SO LHP Joseph Moorefield hasn’t gotten a lot of notice outside of Pickens County, but lefties with low-90s and four usable pitches don’t often get overlooked for long. His control is probably his biggest question mark right now; it’ll probably be the key in determining his role for the upcoming season which in turn could be the key in determining his 2011 draft stock. 

I was so sure that Rock Falls (IL) HS RHP Jake Junis (Round 29) would end up at North Carolina State that I recently had to delete his name of their roster in my college draft follow list. Junis has the three pitches – solid upper-80s fastball, good hard curve, and a solid change – to start as a pro and should go down as one of the great overslot signings of this year’s draft. Well done, Royals. Brickhouse, Smith, and Junis is a heck of a trio to build on.

RHP Jake Junis (Rock Falls HS, Illinois): 88-91 FB; good upper-70s CB with plus upside; solid CU; great athlete; 6-3, 200

Seems like the Royals like to gamble on size when it comes to their overslot late round high school pitching picks, no? 6’7” Mercersburg Academy (PA) RHP Christian Binford (Round 30) certainly fits the bill. Binford was below the radar for much of the spring, but has shown flashes of three average pitches in the past. Child of the 90’s that I am, I always think of Binford Tools and JTT (so dreamy!) when I hear his name.

Despite missing the entire 2011 season with a broken wrist, Southern Illinois 1B Chris Serritella (Round 31) went ahead and got himself drafted. That’s pretty badass. I’m just crazy enough to think that another year or two at Southern Illinois could turn Serritella into a viable righty mashing platoon bat at first base.

An unfortunate wrist injury has knocked Serritella out of action. Luckily, he retains two full years of draft eligibility to help rebuild his depressed stock. I still might take a chance on him this year because of his phenomenal track record against righthanded pitching.

There was lots of positive buzz surrounding the well-traveled Nova Southeastern OF/RHP Andrew Durden (Round 38) as a hitter this spring, so it came as no surprise that Durden was announced as an outfielder on draft day. However, his only pro experience so far is made up of 6.1 innings pitched for the AZL Royals. I’m intrigued and confused all at once; call it intfusion or, better yet, I’m contrigued.

South Carolina 3B Adrian Morales (Round 49) was first mentioned on this site back in February of 2009. Ah, memories. Morales should serve a purpose as an organizational soldier capable of helping out young pitchers by playing solid defense anywhere in the infield. Any upside with the bat is a bonus.

Morales’ best tool is probably his defense, but a lack of offensive upside slots him in as an organizational player at the next level. 

New York Mets 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Mets 2011 MLB Draft Selections

After consensus top two prep outfielders Bubba Starling and Josh Bell, East HS (WY) OF Brandon Nimmo stands alone as the draft’s third best young outfield prospect. Nimmo’s asencion to the upper half of the first round wasn’t always a forgone conclusion; it took almost the entire spring for the prep outfield picture to develop, as early favorites like Derek Fisher and Larry Greene slipped and late risers such as Granden Goetzman and Senquez Golson couldn’t quite reach the loftiest of draft heights. Nimmo was left standing as the clear third best prep outfielder for very good reason. For as much praise as his raw tools received leading up to the draft, Nimmo showed in his brief pro outing that he’s more than that. There have been equal amounts of plaudits for his present skills, most notably his far better than expected plate discipline. When you combine an advanced approach with his existing tools (most notably his arm, speed, and hit tool), it is easy to envision a potential above-average regular in right. I’m pretty good at separating draft stuff from personal rooting interests (five years of development time gives some perspective, I think), but the Phillies fan in me is annoyed to have to “root against” such a compelling prospect in Nimmo. My annoyance is doubled when I think back to last year’s draft when the Mets grabbed personal favorite Matt Harvey. Annoyance is tripled (and then some) with the realization that, for as much justified criticism as the Mets have received for their thrifty drafting ways of recent years, they managed to undo a good bit of recent damage with what I consider to be a pretty darn strong 2011 try. Nimmo, Phillip Evans, and maybe Brad Marquez all have the potential to be well above-average regulars, and New York’s balanced approach to adding arms in the first ten rounds or so (figure at least one of the college guys wind up a steady starting pitcher, as well as one of the two overslot prep righties). If New York winds up with either Nimmo/Marquez (starting OF) and Evans (starting 2B) offensively, and, going off my own pre-draft list, Logan Verrett and Christian Montgomery in a future rotation, they will have done quite well for themselves.

[good athlete; above-average arm well suited for RF; above-average speed would work in CF; good approach; gifted natural hitter; gap power; 6-3, 185]

The first big overslot prep arm selected by the Mets was Deer Creek HS (OK) RHP Michael Fulmer. Fulmer’s big fastball is already a plus pitch and his hard slider is well on its way. Those two pitches, combined with a mature frame with little growth potential, have many thinking future reliever. As always, it comes down to the development of a usable third offering. If Fulmer’s changeup, splitter, or whatever, turns into a quality pitch, his ceiling gets elevated. Without having any knowledge of if or how he’ll manage that third pitch, he’s a future reliever.

RHP Michael Fulmer (Deer Creek HS, Oklahoma): 90-94 FB, 97 peak; 83-85 SL; CU needs work; 6-2, 200

Solid. That’s the word I’ve heard used most often to describe North Carolina State RHP Cory Mazzoni. He throws three pitches for strikes, showed steady improvement in three years in the ACC, and has the control to be trusted as a reliever if that’s where he ultimately winds up. He pitched well in limited pro innings, but continued to have difficulties keeping the ball on the ground. Not all successful pitchers get groundballs and not all groundball pitchers are successful, but the ability to keep the ball out of the air is really important for pitchers who lack premium stuff. Remember, Mazzoni’s repertoire is solid…not premium. Also, for what it’s worth, I’ve had people I trust tell me that all of Mazzoni’s reported mid- to upper-90s peak heat was all recorded on hot guns. Baseball America, based out of nearby (to Raleigh) Durham and likely to have had multiple staffers on site who have seen Mazzoni throw over the years, says he’s hit 97 MPH. I don’t know who to believe, but I figured I’d pass along my info and let you, John Q. Public, decide on whether or not to trust the industry leader or some fool with a free WordPress blog. Choose wisely!

North Carolina State JR RHP Cory Mazzoni: 88-91 FB, touching 92; SL; good 70-76 CB; emerging splitter used as CU; good command; 6-1, 200 pounds

Baylor RHP Logan Verrett is sandwiched between Mazzoni and Fullerton RHP Tyler Pill in terms of draft round, but I like him a good deal more than either guy. Verrett has shown the ability to spin two above-average breaking balls (curve and slider) in addition to an inconsistent fastball that sits in the low-90s and a good changeup. For his junior year, however, Verrett scrapped the curve. I didn’t like the decision to abandon the pitch then and I don’t like it now, but the new Mets prospect still has the requisite three pitches necessary to start as a professional. He’ll need to throw his upper-70s fading change more going forward, but that’ll come as he learns he can no longer rely exclusively on his fastball/slider combo as he so often did in college. Like Mazzoni, Verrett draws praise for his competitiveness and fearlessness on the mound; also like Mazzoni, Verrett’s occasional overreliance on his too-straight fastball gets him into trouble. When he’s at his best, he’s mixing his pitches and staying low in the zone. On those days, he looks like a good big league starting pitcher.

Baylor JR RHP Logan Verrett: very good command when on; sitting 89-91, 92-94 peak FB with sink; good 77-79 CU with fade; big-time CB; uses 82-85 SL with plus potential more in 2011; good athlete; relies most heavily on FB/SL, with occasional CU and very rare CB; 6-3, 185

I love the Baseball America comp of Cal State Fullerton RHP Tyler Pill to current Diamondbacks RHP Ian Kennedy. As amateur prospects, their backgrounds align really nicely: fastball reliant (Kennedy ranked in the top twenty of fastball usage, per Fangraphs) command righties capable of throwing at least three other pitches (curve, change, slider for Kennedy as an amateur; curve, change, cutter for Pill) for strikes at any point in the count. Kennedy’s success as a pro skyrocketed once he more or less ditched his ineffectual slider in favor of a much more promising cutter. Pill made that same switch as an amateur, so, if you’re on board with the comp, he’s ahead of the curve there.

Cal State Fullerton JR RHP Tyler Pill: 89-92 FB; very good 77-78 CB; plus command; quality 82 CU; great athlete; holds velocity well, 88-89 late; 6-1, 185 pounds

Massachusetts-Lowell LHP Jack Leathersich didn’t warrant a high ranking from me prior to the draft, but that was mainly because of my personal aversion to future relievers. The Mets using a fifth round selection on him seems a bit rich for my blood. Lefties with low-90s velocity and flashes of a plus breaking ball (slider) don’t go on trees, so I can at least see the logic here. His early pro returns (26 K in 12.2 IP for Brooklyn) are encouraging.

UMass-Lowell JR LHP Jack Leathersich (2011): 89-93 FB; plus SL; decent slow CB; 6-0, 190 pounds

Northern HS (PA) OF Joe Tuschak is a lottery ticket, plain and simple. He’s a rawer version of Brad Marquez, though his elite athleticism and well above-average speed give him a strong tool base to build on.

Like so many players we’ve talked about before, Arizona 1B Cole Frenzel’s greatest challenge will be hitting enough to warrant playing time at a position that demands consistent offensive excellence. A baseball pal who has seen Frenzel play a lot compared him to a poor man’s Jeff Cirillo at the plate. If he can play a few other positions passably, he could have a future as a four-corners utility guy. Also, there’s no way I’m the only guy who reads his name and immediately thinks of this guy, right?

Fresno State SS Danny Muno has good plate discipline, a little bit of speed, and enough defensive chops to hang at any infield spot, though I prefer him at second. He absolutely destroyed New York-Penn League pitching – compared to all Mets minor leaguers, he came in first in both BA and OBP and second in SLG – and likely positioned himself to start next season at St. Lucie. Considering their long-standing devotion to putting together strong teams in Brooklyn, the Mets must have been thrilled to have Muno tear it up for the Cyclones. Expectations have risen some, but if this is Muno’s peak, I’m sure the Mets could live with the return they’ve already enjoyed on their $10,000 investment.

Florida LHP Alex Panteliodis is like the anti-Jack Leathersich. Besides both players profiling best in relief and having ridiculously awesome names, they couldn’t be less alike. Leathersich is all fastball with an inconsistent slider that looks great when on, awful when off. Panteliodis is more command-oriented and better equipped to throw softer stuff for strikes when backed into a corner. The latter could get a chance to start, but is likely a LOOGY at best in pro ball.

He faces off against the Florida lefthander Panteliodis, another pitcher without overpowering stuff but with good enough command and solid complementary stuff (CU/CB) to get by.

Florida JR LHP Alex Panteliodis (2011): good CU; good CB; not overpowering; great FB command

Woodbridge HS (CA) RHP Matt Budgell throws a sinker, curve, and change. His curve is presently his best pitch, but he has plenty of room to add weight to his crazy thin 6’2”, 150 pound and add some ticks to his upper-80s fastball. There’s some concern about his lack of dominance at the high school level, but I’d again point to that frame and note that he’s a pick for the future, not for the now.

Lawrence HS (IN) RHP Christian Montgomery (Round 11) formed a darn good one-two punch with incoming Louisville freshman RHP Jared Ruxer in high school. With Montgomery it all comes down to which version of the hefty righthander you’re going to get. The Mets are obviously banking on the showcase circuit version of Montgomery showing up to instructs (see below to read what his stuff was like then) next season. If his stuff stays down, then we might have to acknowledge the reality that pitchers don’t always follow a typical developmental path; sometimes guys peak as high school juniors, hard as it is to admit.

RHP Christian Montgomery (Lawrence Central HS, Indiana): 89-93 FB, 95 peak; potential plus 72-81 CB that goes both hard and soft; low-80s CU; plus pitchability; 6-1, 240

Even if Arizona State C Xorge Carrillo (Round 14) couldn’t play, I’d have to mention him here for his name alone. Xorge, Leathersich, and Panteliodis = one heck of a draft from a name standpoint. Besides the plus name, Carrillo is a good defender with interesting power upside. The Sun Devils have become pretty good at pumping out pro catching prospects in recent years; they’ve had a catcher taken in each of the past four drafts from Austin Barnes (’11) and Carrillo (11 and ’10) to Carlos Ramirez (’09) and Petey Paramore (’08).

Carrillo’s placement this high is largely speculative, but, hey, isn’t that really what a list like this is all about? Carrillo has missed almost all of the season [2010] with a bum forearm, but when healthy showed off impressive power to all fields and much improved athleticism behind the plate. That last reason is why I’m comfortable keeping the twice drafted Carrillo this high on the list despite the injury. The improvements in his body and subsequent uptick in footwork behind the plate indicate a dedication to getting better that makes me think his injury is just a minor blip on his path towards getting drafted a third time.

Now this is how you draft, at least in the world of the old CBA. La Costa Canyon HS (CA) SS Phillip Evans (Round 15) was a borderline first round prospect who fell all the way to the fifteenth round and then signed for a fairly reasonable $650,000. A comp that I like for Evans is current Rays infielder Sean Rodriguez, a former third round pick (probably where Evans would have gone on talent alone) of the Angels.

It isn’t easy finding high school middle infielders who project to second baseman in the pros who are also worthy of first round consideration, but this year’s class has a couple players that fit the bill. With three plus future tools (defense, arm, raw power), Phillip Evans is one of those guys. In addition to those three projected plus tools, Evans can also run and hit a bit. His speed is average at best, but great instincts and exceptional first step quickness help him both in the field and on the bases. I love his approach at the plate, especially with two strikes. I also love his ability to hit for power to all fields. If you’re counting at home, that’s now five tools that Evans possesses with the potential to be around average (speed), above-average (bat), and plus (defense, arm, power).

The advantage that Evans holds over Johnny Eierman, a similarly talented prospect in many ways and the prospect ranked just below him on this very list, is in present defensive value. Evans is already an outstanding middle infielder while Eierman merely looks the part. Eierman’s edge over Evans is probably in present power. It is expected that both players should close the respective gaps — i.e. Eierman turning his intriguing defensive tools into more useful skills, and Evans learning to more consistently give his line drive approach loft to generate more in-game power — but I think Evans is the safer play to do so. Eierman may have more long range upside, but Evans has a significantly higher floor.

Odessa HS (TX) OF Brad Marquez (Round 16) is a ton of fun to watch play baseball. He’s as fast as a hedgehog – hedgehogs are fast, right? Sega wouldn’t like to me, would they? – and one of the five best athletes in the entire draft pool. Best of all, Marquez understands that he’s a speed-first guy who can hit a little and doesn’t try to do anything more than that. With any minimal power prospect there’s some risk – why throw anything but stuff in the zone to a hitter incapable of driving anything? – but Marquez’s speed and athleticism should enable him to get chances as a rangy center fielder.

I’m not a scout nor do I try to play one on the internet. Scouts do time-consuming work for very little money and public notoriety. Like any profession, there are good scouts, medium scouts, and bad scouts. Despite being an outsider to that world, I think it is fair to say that one of the trickier aspects of the job is trying to be as objective as possible even when your livelihood is dependent on subjective decisions. This is something that I’m fairly certain even the best scouts struggle with. It is really difficult assessing an individual’s baseball talents without first passing his abilities through one’s own personal scouting worldview. Bias exists, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If a scout is predisposed to favor a player with loud tools, for example, then he will likely not come away as impressed with George County HS (MS) OF Mason Robbins (Round 20) as, say, a scout that values a well-developed, differentiated skill set. Robbins is the kind of player who grows on you with every viewing. The words and phrases “underrated,” “better than given credit,” and “surprisingly” pepper his scouting reports because, at first glance, he’s a solid ballplayer with some room to grow and not much more. The more you watch him play, the more you grow to appreciate his tools. Robbins should hit the ground running just fine this spring at Southern Miss.

[well-rounded five-tool player with no standout tool; underrated  arm; average speed; interesting gap power that has plus upside; fantastic approach; likely LF in pros; better athlete than given credit]

Wiregrasss Ranch HS (FL) RHP John Gant (Round 21) and Cranston West HS (RI) C Jeff Diehl (Round 23) both received overslot cash from New York, a beautiful and rare treat for Mets fans. Gant’s stuff (upper-80s fastball, mid-70s curve, low-70s change) needs refinement, but, like Budgell, there’s a good deal of projection. Diehl has great size and above-average raw power, but his value going forward will be tied into his ability to stick behind the plate or not. Some believe he has the bat to sustain a position switch, but he’s a catcher or nothing for me at this point.

Unsigned Terre Haute South HS (IN) LHP AJ Reed (Round 25) gets a mention because, judging from his high school, he might just be the next Larry Bird. He’ll head to Kentucky where he might get the chance to play both ways. Fellow unsigned prospect Miami Dade JC RHP Jharel Cotton (Round 28) takes his low-90s fastball (93-94 peak) to what should be a very competitive East Carolina squad. Cotton also throws a change and a slider that will both flash plus.

Miami-Dade CC SO RHP Jharel Cotton: low-90s FB; very good to plus 80-81 CU; good CB; turned down low six-figures from Dodgers last year; native of Virgin Islands; 5-11, 190

I kind of like South Florida RHP Randy Fontanez (Round 27) as a sleeper relief prospect, though the reports that I have on his “sinking FB” don’t jive with his 0.90 GO/AO as a pro. I know it’s only 38.1 innings, but, hey, I’m a worrier by nature. Fontanez is a long shot to pitch in the big leagues, but I needed somebody to write about as a post-25 round steal, so…

South Florida SR RHP Randy Fontanez (2011): 88-91 sinking FB; quality CB and SL; splitter; great control; 6-1, 200 pounds

Memphis SS Chad Zurcher (Round 31) didn’t have quite the pro start as fellow middle infielder Danny Muno, but profiles similarly (potential utility guy) in the future. Texas-San Antonio 1B Ryan Hutson (Round 36) controls the strike zone well and flashes some intriguing power, but the former college middle infielder’s move to an infield corner ends almost any chance he has of breaking through as a pro.

In a draft of great names, Santa Fe CC RHP Malcolm Clapsaddle (Round 48) wins the prize. Follow all of Clapsaddle’s wacky adventures this spring at High Point.

Seattle Mariners 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Mariners 2011 MLB Draft Selections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Los Angeles Dodgers 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Dodgers 2011 MLB Draft Selections

As one of the most divisive 2011 MLB Draft prospects, Stanford LHP Chris Reed will enter his first full season of pro ball with plenty to prove. He could make me look very stupid for ranking him as low as I did before the draft (200th overall prospect) by fulfilling the promise of becoming a serious starting pitching prospect as a professional. I don’t doubt that he can start as he has the three-pitch mix, frame, and mechanics to do so; I just question whether or not he should start. Advocating for time spent in the bullpen is not something I often do, but Reed’s stuff, especially his fastball, just looks so much better in shorter stints. Of course, he might grow into a starter’s role in time. I like that he’s getting innings to straighten out his changeup and command sooner rather than later. Ultimately, however, Reed is a reliever for me; a potentially very good reliever, mind, but a reliever all the same. Relievers are valuable, but the demand for their work shouldn’t match up with the sixteenth overall pick in a loaded draft.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Yankees 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Yankees 2011 Draft Selections

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

Alright, now time for me to start hating…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado Rockies 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Colorado 2011 Draft Selections

Without actually looking through the top of every team’s draft, I have to say the Rockies first three picks have to be up there near the top of any trio in the league in terms of ultimate big league upside, especially when Colorado’s relative draft position for each pick is taken into consideration. Oregon LHP Tyler Anderson has top of the rotation stuff, but that’s boring. I mean, hasn’t top of the rotation upside become the norm when we’re talking first day arms from this past year’s college class? Anderson’s arsenal includes a low-90s fastball he commands really well, a hard low-80s slider that works best when thrown with more velocity, a mid-70s curve that works as a solid “show-me” pitch, and a maddeningly inconsistent low-80s changeup that flashes plus at times but isn’t used enough by Anderson to perfect. On top of that, he’s a good athlete with good size (6-4, 215 pounds) and impressive knowledge of pitch sequences. His delivery is a fluid and repeatable, and his velocity stayed constant through most of the spring. Outside of his bouts of inconsistency with a few of his offspeed pitches, there really isn’t much to nitpick here. I’m guilty of being too positive on first round prospects at times, but it is tough to find fault with this year’s group of college pitchers.

Oregon JR LHP Tyler Anderson: 88-92 FB, 93-95 peak; well above-average FB command; good 76-84 SL that is better when thrown in low-80s; average 80-83 CU that flashes plus but isn’t used enough; good 75-78 CB; good pitchability; repeats delivery well; good control; holds velocity well; 6-4, 215

Francisco Lindor received all of the pre-draft hype – and deservedly so, of course – but Irving HS (TX) SS Trevor Story was a second first round caliber high school shortstop prospect who was a great value pick for the Rockies in the comp round. His defensive upside rivals that of the shortstop currently playing for Colorado’s big club. His offense won’t ever begin to approach what Troy Tulowitzki has and will do, but that’s an unfair standard to set for any young player. A scout who saw him this spring compared his offensive upside to Marco Scutaro. A high contact hitter who is also a plus defender is a prospect any team would be happy to have.

Trevor Story is about 90% of Francisco Lindor with only about 10% of the hype. His biggest tool is the draft’s best infield arm, a literal rocket launcher (note: arm may not be literally a rocket launcher) affixed to his upper body capable of producing consistent mid-90s heat. His range at short is more good than great, but his crazy arm strength actually helps in this regard as it enables him to play back far enough in the hole. Unlike Lindor, I think more of his hit tool than his raw power – his swing is at its best when geared towards making solid contact, and he actually hurts himself when he overswings to create more power.

I shouldn’t even bring up the name here because even I know it is silly, but East Brunswick HS (NJ) OF Carl Thomore, before his injury, could have been a draft prospect on par with Mike Trout. There are two important bits of information there that make all the difference: 1) “before his injury,” and 2) “draft prospect.” The injury part is self-explanatory, but the draft prospect line is worth expanding on. The 2011 version of Mike Trout is very different from Mike Trout the draft prospect. That’s not an excuse for so many teams missing out on Trout back in his draft year. The Angels obviously saw enough in Trout to project him beyond what any team picking they did managed to see. Despite my blathering on about him, this isn’t about Trout. Carl Thomore has first round tools across the board (speed, power, and arm top the list) and a lightning quick bat. He’s going to take time to mature as a ballplayer, but his upside is immense.

[above-average speed; shows all five tools; above-average power; plus bat speed; above-average arm; personal favorite]

Bethune-Cookman C Peter O’Brien surprised everybody when he didn’t sign as a third round pick this past June. He surprised everybody again when he announced his intention to transfer to Miami with the hopes of being eligible to play for the Hurricanes in 2012. If deemed eligible, I think this is a genius move on O’Brien’s part. He now has the opportunity to play big time college ball in a major conference for a team with legitimate postseason aspirations. Scouts who questioned his defense and ability to make enough contact – the same questions that were asked last year at this time, by the way — will get many marquee ACC matchups to come see him play. Bonus points for doing all of that while soaking up his last year of limited responsibility in the awesome college backdrop Miami provides. 99% of the time I think players should take the pro money and not think twice (if I was O’Brien’s “advisor” I would have begged him to sign with the Rockies), but quality of life, even if that “life” is only one year, shouldn’t be ignored. Maybe this is all an overreaction because I foolishly spent my four undergrad years in snowy Boston, but good on O’Brien for taking the road less travelled.

Kind of nice when a prospect does almost exactly what everybody expects. Big power, questionable approach, iffy defense…yeah, that’s O’Brien. He doesn’t typically fit the mold of a player I’d like, but O’Brien’s makeup, praised far and wide this spring, makes him an especially intriguing prospect to watch once he enters pro ball. O’Brien is a big lump of very talented, coachable clay. More than any other catcher on this list, he has that boom/bust factor working for him. Pro coaching could do wonders for him. Or his long swing and impatience at the plate will be further exposed against higher quality pitching. Intuitively, I’m more in step with the latter possibility than the former, but I’d love to be wrong.

Westbury Christian HS (TX) OF Dillon Thomas reminds me a little bit of another all-bat Texas high school outfielder JP Ramirez. I liked Ramirez a lot back in his draft year, but don’t quite have the same instinctive feel pulling me towards Thomas. As a rule I tend to be bearish on prospects that rely almost exclusively on their hit tool for value, so take my lack of love for Thomas with that in mind. If nothing else, we can be sure that through all the trials and tribulations of pro ball, Thomas won’t “go gentle into that good night.” Sorry, everyone.

Texas Christian SS Taylor Featherston’s most likely outcome, according to the noted draft expert me, is an offensive-minded backup infielder. His defense up the middle will determine whether or not he’ll ever hold down a starter’s spot. With few exceptions, it seems Colorado likes these kind of bat-first prospects for the infield while doing the complete opposite in the outfield (those guys tend to be super athletic and excellent, versatile defenders).

In much the same way I now link Motter and Loy together in my head, Nick Ahmed and Taylor Featherston stick together as similar prospects in many respects. Like Ahmed, Featherston has good size, above-average athleticism, average speed, and gap power. Featherston also faces similar questions about his eventual defensive landing spot. For now, I like Featherston to stick at shortstop. The defensive strides he has made from his freshman season to today give me reason to believe he has only scratched the surface on what he can do at shortstop. He doesn’t profile as ever having an above-average glove at short as he still has the tendency to do too much in the field at times, but I’d rather see a player going all out to make plays than have a steady, error-free performer who won’t get to nearly as many balls. If his most realistic outcome is as an offensive-minded backup infielder, so bet it.

San Diego RHP Chris Jensen went back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation in college, but his fastball and sometimes good sometimes bad upper-70s breaking ball work better in the bullpen. He’s a mostly generic relief arm, though it’d be rash to dismiss any young arm who can hit 94 on the gun.

San Diego JR RHP Chris Jensen (2011): 92-94 FB; good but inconsistent 76-79 breaking ball         

North Carolina State 1B Harold Riggins has intriguing upside for a bat-first seventh round college prospect. He’s a sneaky good athlete and a strong defender who could turn himself into an interesting stopgap starting first baseman for a team in between players at the spot. If nothing else, he could be a lefty mashing half of a platoon. The problem with Riggins is the same problem we talk about over and over and over and over again. To be a starting big league first baseman, you have to really hit. Much as I like Riggins, I don’t think he, or for that matter any 2011 college first baseman save maybe CJ Cron, can really hit.

Riggins has done a great job of getting his body into better shape over the years, but you have to wonder whether or not the loss of bulk had some impact on the decrease of his power numbers. It could also just be the switch in bats, but you never know. Like Ramirez one spot above, I think I like Riggins’ surprisingly effective defense at first just as much as his above-average raw power.

I’m kicking myself for underrating San Jose State LHP Roberto Padilla. Now that I look back at my notes (below) on him, I’m seeing a steady three-pitch mix with good enough command to potentially start. His fastball is a little short, but you can live with that with a lefthander when he also has a plus change and a solid curve.

San Jose State JR LHP Roberto Padilla (2011): 87-89 FB, 90-92 peak FB; plus CU; average to good CB; good command

Texas A&M RHP Ross Stripling returns to school as an interesting senior sign for 2012. I like him as a two-pitch relief option (love his curve) at the next level, but he should log starter’s innings this spring for the Aggies.

Texas A&M JR RHP Ross Stripling: 90-94 FB; plus CB that he uses a ton; good athlete

St. Olaf RHP Ben Hughes throws a variety of pitches and, good news for the Rockies, most of them are good ones. His splitter shows the most promise and he commands his upper-70s curve well. Hughes has the repertoire to start, but might have stuff that will play up best in relief.

St. Olaf SO RHP Ben Hughes (2011): 88-91 FB, peak 93; 78-80 average breaking ball; improving CU; splitter that flashes plus; 6-5, 210

Pepperdine OF Brian Humphries (Round 14) has all the tools to succeed at the next level, but comes with legitimate questions about why he never put up the big numbers expected of him in college. His value is tied up in his ability to do everything pretty well, though hit tool is probably his best singular attribute. With baseball instincts befitting a big league veteran and great athleticism, Humphries’ average speed plays up in center, where his range is well above-average, with the way he a) gets jumps on balls immediately off the bat (instincts!), and b) covers a ton of ground in those first few moments a ball is in the air by accelerating much quicker than he runs underway (love those quick twitch athletes). He’ll never hit for much power, but you could do a lot worse than having a defense-first backup outfielder who consistently makes hard contact. He may not be the player many thought he’d be back when he enrolled at Pepperdine, but he could still help out a big league club down the line.

Pepperdine JR OF Brian Humphries (2011): very good athlete; good arm; average speed; leadoff profile; strong hit tool; questionable power upside; line drive machine; really good baseball instincts; above-average CF

Of course, if Humphries isn’t your cup of tea you could always take a sip of Northern Colorado OF Jarod Berggren (Round 32). No, I take that back. Please don’t take a sip of anybody; that’s just weird. Instead of drinking Jarod Berggren, I suggest watching him play instead. Much of what I said about Humphries applies with Berggren, except the former Northern Colorado standout has much more power upside. Both he and Humphries seemed to have struggled under the weight of high expectations some. Fortunately, they were both drafted into a Colorado farm system adept at helping outfield prospects find the niches they were born to fill.

[plus speed; above-average arm; good to plus raw power; 6-3, 205]

I’ve touted Virginia Tech SS Tim Smalling (Round 15) as an early round pick since the site began, so it is nice to see him finally get his professional career under way for no other reason than I won’t have to write about him anymore. What you see is what you get with Smalling at this point: he’s a steady, versatile defender with nice pop and not a whole lot of patience. Smalling reminds me of another one-time Colorado draftee (tenth round, Indiana State, 2000) who is now in position to make himself a few bucks in free agency: Clint Barmes. I’ve never been a huge fan of Barmes (career .302 OBP explains that) and I hope my favorite team doesn’t pick him up to play shortstop, but there’s little doubt that Smalling (and the Rockies) would be ecstatic to have even have the career Barmes has had so far.

Smalling is, perhaps somewhat ironically, the biggest of the four shortstops on our list. It’s ironic because his name has “small” in it. Clever observation, right? Anyway, that size (6-3, 207) and a strong arm make him look like a player capable of playing third professionally, but his skill set is still far better suited for shortstop. Good footwork and soft hands should keep him up the middle going forward, but that aforementioned potential for defensive versatility should help him in his cause for playing time at the next level. It may be a little strange to see a player like Smalling, a guy with a reputation as being more than a little hacktastic, atop this list, but his combined hit/power tools top that of any other draft-eligible middle infielder in the conference. Admittedly, Smalling’s plate discipline doesn’t look all that promising when judging solely by the numbers above, but scouts have given him high grades in his pitch recognition so far in 2010. He’s done a much better job at laying off balls he knows he can’t do much with (note the drop of strikeouts so far) and hammering pitches in his happy fun-time hitting zone (hard to argue with his power indicators thus far). Smalling’s total package of above-average offensive and defensive skills could get him into the top 5 rounds this June.

Colorado wasn’t able to lure Florida 1B Preston Tucker (Round 16) away from the college game, but did bring in another player at the position who was sure to sign as a senior in Fresno State 1B Jordan Ribera (Round 21). Ribera had a huge junior season, but suffered through a total offensive meltdown his senior year. His early pro numbers are nothing to write home about, but if you buy that there’s even the tiniest sliver of hope Ribera can rediscover his power stroke then you have to like the gamble here in the 21st round. I have no such reservations about Tucker’s bat. The upcoming draft is deficient in high level college bats, so don’t be shocked if he gets selected in the top five rounds, minimum.

Take a minute and process Ribera’s 2011 numbers. That’s one complete and utter collapse. I can’t believe that it is entirely the new bats to blame, like some have insinuated. Unlike Channing, Ribera doesn’t have the option of returning to school in 2012, so he can’t do much more than to hold out hope some team saw him at his best in 2010.

The case for Florida JR 1B Preston Tucker’s bat is strong; as a hitter, he is as close to big league ready as any player in the 2011 MLB Draft with plus present power and impeccable plate discipline. He’s also been praised for his crazy high baseball IQ and tremendous strength in his forearms, wrists, and hands. Of course, no scouting report on Tucker can be written without mentioning his body. Tucker won’t help whatever team drafts him “sell any jeans,” but he could help them win some ballgames, bad body and all.

In fairness to Tucker, his “bad body” is more about a height deficiency (generous listed at 6-0) than a weight surplus, so the typical concerns that follow less than ideally fit prospects aren’t warranted. In any case, I don’t care much about the “bad body,” especially when weighed against the practical plusses that come with his awesome wrist and hand strength. The unconventional swing mechanics also don’t bother me. If it works, and if it is projected to work going forward, stick with it. Plus power and plate discipline are an easy recipe for a high prospect ranking on this site, but I keep coming back to my general aversion to first base prospects. To be an above-average first baseman in the bigs, you either need to have a special bat, outrageously good defense, or a well above-average mixture of the two. Not sure Tucker falls into any of those three categories, but that doesn’t make him a non-prospect. There is some precedent for a player of Tucker’s skill set and body type going in the first round, believe it or not. In 2008, both Brett Wallace and David Cooper rode the wave of undeniably great college production and plus lefthanded power to become first rounders despite less than ideal body types. Tucker’s shot at the first round has seemingly come and gone, but I’d still pop the advanced college bat as early as the fifth or sixth round.

Louisiana State RHP Ben Alsup (Round 18) pitched better as a pro than he did during his disappointing senior year for the Tigers. There’s some sleeper potential here (good slider, solid change), but I wouldn’t go out buying any rookie cards just yet. A better bet would be North Carolina RHP Patrick Johnson (Round 25). Alsup and Johnson have similar stuff (replace Alsup’s slider with Johnson’s curve and they might as well be twins), but Johnson’s much, much better college track record makes the more intriguing prospect. His well-earned reputation as a bulldog on the mound could give him the chance to advance through the system as a thinking man’s reliever.

JR RHP Ben Alsup (2010) is in line to fill the all-important role of swingman of this year’s LSU staff. His low-90s fastball, above-average athleticism, and projectable 6-3, 160 pound frame all remind me of another pitcher formerly in the program that often saved the bullpen with multiple inning outings, Louis Coleman.

Patrick Johnson: Starter for UNC in the past, but profiles better as a reliever in the pros; too early to predict, but he could be on the Robert Woodard/Adam Warren four year path; good numbers, but has done it all against inferior mid-week competition; lack of size may doom him to the bullpen long-term, but his performance pitching largely out of the pen this season give hope that his stuff will play

Fairly prescient 2009 prognostication, if I do say so myself. Warren, who has been so much better as a pro than I ever would have imagined, is probably Johnson’s absolute best case scenario at this point. He throws an upper-80s fastball (92 peak), good upper-70s curve, and average change.

Unsigned Regis Jesuit HS (CO) OF Connor McKay (Round 24) gets a mention here because his arrival on campus at Kansas is a really, really big deal for the program. If he’s healthy and in shape (that 6-6, 180 pound frame could use some filling out), he could be a big-time power threat in the middle of the Jayhawks lineup.

Carroll HS (TX) RHP John Curtiss (Round 30) is a stud who deserved first day consideration and likely would have gone in that range had teams not been scared off by his strong commitment to stay home and pitch for the Longhorns. It has been said before, but it bears repeating: Curtiss has the stuff (plus fastball, plus slider, average but improving change) and size to become a first rounder in three years.

RHP John Curtiss (Carroll HS, Texas): 88-92 FB with good sink, peak 93-95; plus 77-78 SL; good 82-84 CU; strong Texas commit; 6-4, 190

South Florida SS Sam Mende (Round 31) is a good defender who is a great athlete with both a good and great (grood?) throwing arm. That line seemed cleverer to me last night at one in the morning. Mende does have an excellent throwing arm that could have him tried on the mound if hitting doesn’t work out. I thought he was on the verge of a breakout heading into 2011, but his senior year numbers dipped ever so slightly from the year before. He’s somewhat similar to Tim Smalling in how there’s more power here than you’d expect from a shortstop, but not enough plate discipline to get too excited.

Detroit Tigers 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Detroit 2011 Draft Selections

I’ve done enough of these draft reviews that I’m starting to repeat my repeats. I no longer can keep track of all of the silly claims (best draft, worst draft, whatever) that I’ve made so far. As I’ve surely said before, I’m not a huge fan of a team like Detroit taking so many college guys early on in the draft. When your first high school prospect is drafted in the fifteenth round, you’re doing it wrong.

Of course, you can always redeem yourself by simply drafting well. Whether we’re talking prospects from college, high school, junior college, or Cuba (looking in your direction, Onelki Garcia), the most important part of picking players is picking good players. I don’t like a college heavy approach, but if you are picking quality college players then who am I to complain?

That takes care of the top of Detroit’s draft. The back end was a mess. Brett Harrison, an overslot prep signing in the eighteenth round, was the last high school prospect signed by the Tigers. This probably doesn’t need to be said, but it isn’t good when you essentially stop drafting after round 18. Detroit managed to land a couple potential relief arms and a few org bats, but outside of intriguing 22nd round pick Tommy Collier, there is no impact upside. When you combine that with a college-heavy approach early on, you’re limiting the chances of landing a player who might contribute at or close to a star level in a big time way.

All I can do is throw up my hands and admit defeat when it comes to the Tigers first pick, Arkansas C James McCann. I figured teams would like him a lot more than I did, but never in my wildest fantasies did I think he’d crack the top two rounds. In my pre-draft comment (below), I said I’d spend upwards of a seventh rounder on him, but no more. Detroit obviously thought differently. Luckily for me, this is just the beginning. McCann’s pro career can go a lot of different ways from this point forward, so the jury is far from out when it comes time to determining whether or not this was a smart pick. Despite not being his biggest fan – from a prospect only and nothing personal standpoint – I’ll be rooting for him to exceed my expectations because by all accounts he is a really great guy. Still think he has a really good chance to become a steady professional backup catcher, though playing time might be hard to come by in an organization that has spent five picks in the draft’s top ten rounds over the past two years on catchers. They also have a pretty good young catcher at the big league level who figures to have a lock on the starting job for the foreseeable future.

I was impressed with the much discussed McCann’s well above-average athleticism and solid speed (for a catcher) in my admittedly quick look at him. His hit tool and power tool both project to around average (45 to 55, depending on the day) and his defense is already professional quality. I know I’ve been considered a McCann hater at times, but I think his relatively high floor (big league backup) makes him a worthy pick within the first seven to ten rounds.

There isn’t much to add about Vanderbilt 1B Aaron Westlake that hasn’t already been said. He has one clear big league tool (power) and a second that is average or better (hit), but is held back by the position he plays. If he hits in the minors, he’ll rise up. If he doesn’t hit, he’s sunk. There isn’t much of a speed/defense safety net, though there are some who think he is just athletic enough to be tried at various odd spots (corner OF, 3B, even C) around the diamond. His handedness (left) works in his favor in that he could potentially get platoon/pinch hit at bats against righthanded pitchers.

Westlake is going to hit as a professional, I’m sure of that much. Will he hit enough to hold down an everyday job at first? That’s the million dollar question, I suppose. He should be able to hit well enough against righthanded pitchers to at least work his way into a platoon role down the line. It could also be possible that his drafting team gets creativity with him, and tries him at a few different spots (corner OF, maybe a little third, perhaps some time behind the plate) a la Baltimore’s Jake Fox.

Can’t say I completely understand the selection of Kansas State 3B Jason King this early on (137th overall), but what do I know? King put up good numbers for the Wildcats and has ample power upside, but I don’t think he’ll hit enough to be a regular in an outfield corner, his likely landing spot down the line.

Texas SS Brandon Loy’s defense is big league quality already, so it really is just a matter of whether or not he can do enough damage with the stick to be a regular. With their 5th round pick (159th overall) in 2009, the St. Louis Cardinals took Miami SS Ryan Jackson. Loy, a player with a similar college background, also went off the board in the 5th round (167th overall). As Peter King might say the kids might say, “Just sayin’.”

Loy is a standout defensive player who makes up for his average foot speed with tremendous instincts and a plus arm that helps him execute all of the necessary throws from deep in the hole at short. He’s also a great athlete with awesome hand-eye coordination; that coordination is never more apparent than when he is called on to bunt, something he already does as well as the best big leaguer. I was slow to come around to Loy as a top prospect heading into the year, but the improvements with the bat have me thinking of him in a new light. Like Taylor Motter ranked one spot above him, Loy’s awesome defense should be his ticket to the big leagues, perhaps as a Paul Janish type down the road.

Howard JC OF Tyler Collins is similar from a basic scouting vantage point to Jason King. Both guys have big power, but project best as outfielders unable to play center. Guys like have to, wait for it, hit a ton to keep advancing in pro ball. I do like Collins’ pure hit tool over King’s and he is more of a natural in the outfield, so, you know, there’s that.

I was impressed Detroit got a deal done with Wichita State LHP Brian Flynn, a draft-eligible sophomore that many had pegged as likely to return for one more season with the Shockers. Lefties who are 6-8, 240ish pounds and can reach the mid-90s don’t come around too often, but it wasn’t just Flynn’s questionable signability that dropped him to the 7th round. At this precise moment in time, Flynn is a one-pitch pitcher. Even that one pitch, his fastball, isn’t that great an offering when you factor in his inconsistent ability to harness it. If the slider keeps developing and he shows he can work in the occasional change, then we might have a dark horse starting pitching prospect. If not, Flynn will try to make it in the competitive world of professional relief pitching.

Wichita State SO LHP Brian Flynn: 86-90 FB, peak 92; new peak of 94; command needs work; 6-8, 245 pounds

I lost track of Dallas Baptist OF Jason Krizan from early last season to just this very moment, so I’m pleasantly surprised to see he hit a Division I record for doubles this past year. Considering the only notes I had on him at the start of the year were “big power to gaps,” I can’t help but laugh. Krizan’s 2011 numbers have a distinct video game feel, but his lack of big tools – remember, a comment about his gap power was about the most positive thing said about him from a scouting perspective this past spring – keep him from being as good a prospect as his numbers might have you think. His inability to play center hurts him as well because, stop me if you’ve heard this before, if you want to play a big league corner outfield spot then you have to be able to hit, hit, and hit some more. With the right breaks Krizan could make it as a backup outfielder/pinch hitter, but he’d be stretched as an everyday player.

Kentucky OF Chad Wright profiles very similarly to the guy drafted one round ahead of him. He’s a “jack of all trades, master of none” prospect who is just good enough at everything to be interesting, but not quite good enough at any one thing to be a regular.

Kentucky JR OF Chad Wright (2011): average all around

I’ve written a lot about Vanderbilt C Curt Casali over the years, so I’ll make this brief: Curt Casali is going to play in the big leagues. I’ll go a step further and say he’s a better than 50/50 bet to outproduce the other SEC catcher taken by Detroit in the second round. I know I’m alone on this, but he reminds me a good bit of one-time catcher Josh Willingham at the plate. One thing that could definitely hold him back: I don’t know if he’s athletic enough to move out behind the plate if such a move is necessitated by his surgically reconstructed elbow.

Every game Casali plays is one game further removed from 2009 Tommy John surgery. The difference it has made in his defense behind the plate (more than just big league ready – he’d be in the upper half defensively of pro catchers) and his offense at the plate (near-plus raw power and a phenomenal whole field approach) give him the look of a future big leaguer to me. It is a rare senior that warrants draft consideration before round five, but Casali is an exception. Love this guy.

Barry 1B Dean Green (Round 11) got lost in the shuffle after transferring to Barry from Oklahoma State, but he’s a solid hitter with decent power. Michigan State OF Jeff Holm (Round 12) was a slick pick as one of the nation’s most intriguing senior signs. He has a long track record of excellent production, good speed, a great approach to hitting, and some defensive versatility (he plays a mean first base as well as average D in the outfield corners).

Michigan State SR OF Jeff Holm (2011): great approach; above-average to plus speed; gap power; average arm; average range in corner; has played 1B, but enough foot speed for corner; (340/411/534 – 28 BB/15 K – 22/25 SB – 206 AB)

I wanted all spring to champion Alabama-Birmingham RHP Ryan Woolley (Round 13), but his production (roughly 6 K/9) kept me from throwing any weight behind an endorsement. Down senior year aside, Woolley is a solid relief prospect with a good fastball that plays up in the bullpen and two offspeed pitches (slider and hard change) that flash above-average.

UAB SR RHP Ryan Woolley (2011): 90-91, topping at 92 with FB; has been up to 93-96 with FB; good 12-6 75-77 SL; power 82-83 CU; 6-1, 195 pounds; (6.75 K/9 – 4.64 BB/9 – 4.87 FIP – 64 IP*)

Stratford Academy (GA) OF Tyler Gibson (Round 15) might only have one plus tool, but it’s the right one to have. His big raw power gives him a chance to someday start in a corner, but he’s a long way away from being the player he’ll eventually be.

Green Valley HS (NV) 3B Brett Harrison (Round 18) got six figures mostly for his plus defensive upside and chance for a league average bat. I thought he could stick up the middle, but the Tigers prefer him at third.

My first draft originally had Harrison with the second base prospects, but a quick word from a smart guy suggested I was underselling his defensive upside. I believe a sampling of that quick word included the phrase “unbelievably light on his feet, like he is fielding on a cloud” or something weirdly poetic like that. There isn’t a whole lot there with the bat just yet, but after being told he had a “criminally underrated pure hit tool” I reconsidered and relented. Still not sold on the power ever coming around, but if he can combine an above-average hit tool with solid defense and a good arm, then we’ve got ourselves a nice looking prospect. There is an outside shot Harrison could go undrafted if teams are as convinced as my smart guy seems to be about his commitment to Hawaii.

If one player stands out as a potential late round steal for Detroit, it’s San Jacinto JC RHP Tommy Collier (Round 22). Collier throws two plus pitches already, and, if healthy, has the chance to unleash his nasty slider once again. He has the repertoire to start, but his health might necessitate a full-time switch to the bullpen. Mississippi LHP Matt Crouse (Round 24) is another arm with upside signed later on in the draft. His stuff was down this past spring, but he shows three average or better pitches when right and a projectable frame that could lead to a touch more velocity going forward. Southern California RHP Chad Smith (Round 17), who is equipped with a tidy low-90s heater/low-80s slider combo, could also make it as a reliever in pro ball

Mississippi JR LHP Matt Crouse: 86-88 FB, rare 91-92 peak; above-average CB that he leans on heavily; good CU; very projectable, but mechanics need cleaning up; 6-4, 185 pounds; stuff down this spring

Southern Cal JR RHP Chad Smith (2011): 90-92 FB; 93 peak; 80-84 SL; 6-3, 210

I can’t wait to see what Wichita State has planned for returning senior RHP Mitch Mormann (Round 25). He already has a plus fastball, both in terms of velocity and movement, and a slider that works as a solid second pitch in the bullpen. If his changeup shows progress, he could start this spring. If not, he could be on the short list of top college relievers for the 2012 Draft.

SR RHP Mitch Mormann (2012): 93-95 FB with great sink, 96 peak; average 83-85 SL; raw CU; 6-6, 255 pounds

Minnesota RHP Scott Matyas (Round 27) retired after just four rocky pro appearances, so, yeah, that’s that. He was going to be my sleeper pick, too. Glad I double-checked!

Minnesota SR RHP Scott Matyas: sits 88-91, 94 peak FB; above-average low-70s CB; good cutter; good command; mixes in upper-70s CU; really good athlete; 6-4, 220; Tommy John survivor

Missouri State RHP Dan Kickham (Round 33) might be the best of the sorry lot of players signed by Detroit after the 25th round. His fastball is too straight and his slider more good than great, but he has a chance to rise up in the system with some early pro successes.

Missouri State JR RHP Dan Kickham: 88-92 FB without much movement; average 81-83 SL; reliever; 6-4, 210

Portage HS (MI) 1B Ryan Krill (Round 40) is off to Michigan State. Well, I suppose he’s already there (it is almost November, after all), but you know what I mean. He has the chance to hit right away for a Spartans team that looks pretty decent on paper.

Krill is another prospect I was slow to come around on, but I’m buying into his mix of strong defensive tools, super athleticism, and big upside with the bat. Like Jacob Anderson before him, he’s got the wheels and instincts to play some outfield as a pro. There is enough to like about Krill that you can dream on him being a league average hitter and above-average glove at first down the line if everything works out. That may not sound all that sexy, and there is plenty of risk involved with assuming “everything works out,” but you have to remember how much you have to hit if you want to play first base in the bigs. As much as I like Krill now, I’ll be the first to admit that each and every one of these mid-round high school first basemen will all have to make major strides in pro ball (i.e. have “everything work out”) to begin to reach their upper level projections. Life is tough when you don’t have a fallback plan, I guess.

Boston Red Sox 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Boston 2011 Draft Selections

Without having any knowledge of what actually goes on inside Boston’s draft room, it sure seems like the Red Sox general approach to drafting is simple: find the best guy, offer fair amounts of money, and let the chips fall where they may. Four years of college in Boston turned me off to the Red Sox – it was more the oversaturated coverage and delusional fan base (you guys are New England’s Yankees, not some scrappy underdog that all of America roots for, alright?) than a commentary on the job the front office was doing – but I still greatly admire the way they draft. Quibble with the names at the top of the draft if you’d like, but the plan there is undeniably awesome. Here’s what they came up with on the draft’s first day: a good college arm who has shown flashes of greatness, arguably the top prep bat who slipped because of defense and signability, a high school lefthander who might as well be twins with Tyler Skaggs in terms of long-term projection, and a key cog from the two-time defending national champions who also happens to be a plus defender at a critical position. That’s an easy to like quartet from a talent perspective alone, but what I admire most there is the way Boston knowingly diversified their investment. They hit four different demographics (high school bat, high school arm, college bat, college arm) with their first four picks. As Bart Simpson once said, “that ain’t not bad.”

Connecticut RHP Matt Barnes gets a little bit of a bad rap as a “safe” college choice with the ceiling of a mid-rotation arm. Being a safe prospect with mid-rotation upside isn’t typically a bad thing, but Barnes has the chance for four above-average pitches. I wouldn’t disagree with somebody who believed Barnes most likely positive outcome was a solid mid-rotation starting pitcher, but his ceiling is closer to a frontline big leaguer in the mold of Daniel Hudson.

Connecticut JR RHP Matt Barnes: 90-93 FB, 95-96 peak; has hit 97-98 in past; great movement on FB; great FB command; holds velocity well, still hitting 90-92 late; good 82-84 CU that gets better every time out; 72-76 CB that is now firmed up enough that  it is a potential plus 75-80 CB; 78-83 SL with plus upside, but doesn’t use it often; work needs to be on delivery and command of offspeed stuff; some debate on whether CB or SL is better breaking pitch, a good sign; uses CB more to get outs on balls in play, SL for swings and misses; 6-4, 200

Much of Cleveland HS (New Mexico) C Blake Swihart’s value is tied up in whether or not he’s equipped to handle full-time catching duties going forward. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard from those in the know that Boston is 100% committed to keeping him behind the plate and won’t even entertain a “Wil Myers” (their words) type move to right field. He might not be a natural behind the plate, but his elite athleticism and arm strength are exactly the kind of defensive tools a good coaching staff can build on. There’s not nearly as much doubt about his ability to hit because, well, he can really, really hit.

The hardest prospects to write about are the ones at the top of lists like this. What more can be said about Swihart that hasn’t already been said? The Texas commit has shown all five tools (hit, power, defense, arm, and speed) this spring, an extreme rarity for a catcher at any level. I realize speed is easily the least important tool you’d need to see in a catching prospect, but Swihart’s average running ability works as a proxy for his outstanding athleticism. In that way, Swihart is the prototype for the next generation of catchers. After an almost decade long flirtation with jumbo-sized backstops (e.g. Joe Mauer and Matt Wieters), baseball is going back towards an emphasis on athleticism and defense behind the dish.

A no-brainer to stick behind the plate (the aforementioned athleticism and reported 95 MPH-caliber arm from the mound will help), Swihart’s biggest tool is his bat. Plus opposite field power and consistent line drives are not the norm for a typical prep prospect, but Swihart’s hit and power tools both project as plus in the future.  I stand by my belief that Swihart will catch for a long time as a professional, but his great athleticism and plus bat might convince a team to fast track Swihart’s development by switching him to third base or right field. It should also be noted that Swihart has a little extra leverage because he’ll be draft-eligible again in 2013 after his sophomore season.

Forgive me if I’m a tad over the top in my praise of Edison HS (CA) LHP Henry Owens, but the guy embodies everything that I want in a pitching prospect. In a word, Henry Owens is projection. He has a good fastball, a curve that looks a little like a young Zito’s, and enough other fun secondaries (flashes of a plus change, a much improved cutter, a slider that gets swings and misses when on) to think he has the chance to be an above-average starting pitcher at the professional level.

LHP Henry Owens (Edison HS, California): 88-92 FB with more coming, 93-94 peak; crazy FB movement; plus FB command; plus control; potential plus 67-72 CB with big break, getting stronger each start; strong 77-79 CU with plus upside; shows 74-77 SL, but still a raw pitch; new cutter shows more promise; holds velocity well; Tyler Skaggs comp?; 6-5, 185 last summer, now up to 6-6, 200

I can get comp crazy when I’m at a loss for in-depth analysis, so can we all agree that South Carolina OF Jackie Bradley is the American version of Leonys Martin and move on? I’m far from sold on Bradley’s bat, but his defense in center should make him at least an average regular during his peak years.

[special defensive tools in CF, plus to plus-plus ability; interesting hit tool; above-average to plus speed, closer to plus; good athlete; above-average to plus arm; legit pro power potential with average upside; gap power for now; very quick bat; gifted across the board; mature approach; fully recovered from broken hamate bone; 20/20 upside; 5-10, 175; DOB 4/19/90]

As much as I hate to say it, I’m definitely getting a Greg Golson vibe from Grand Street HS (NY) OF Williams Jerez. Jerez looks rather dashing in uniform and possesses certain tools – most notably his eye-popping arm strength – that really stand out, but he’s so far away from being a good ballplayer that I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around what exactly it would take, not to mention how long it would take, for him to reach his ceiling. There’s a part of me that would love to see what his arm, size, and athleticism would look like when put on the mound, but that’s coming from a guy who swore Anthony Gose would be a fireballing relief prospect by now.

[plus athlete; good speed, but might not have instincts for CF; plus arm; extremely raw; average raw power; 6-4, 190]

Columbus HS (GA) C Jordan Weems seemed like an odd selection at the time, but different teams value different things, especially when it comes to catchers. I just think there is too much work to be done at the plate (though, admittedly, his swing looks fine and his whole fields approach is nice to see from a young hitter) to justify taking him over more advanced catching prospects. He’s already a solid defender with a legit plus arm, so there is something to work with here even if the bat never develops into what you’d want from a starter.

My favorite pitch in baseball is the changeup, so it should come as no surprise that I’m rooting extra hard for Cal State Fullerton RHP Noe Ramirez. I’ve already been obnoxious with the comps, so why not go the extra mile and mention a changeup-based comparison between Ramirez and Phil Humber? When Ramirez has command of his slider, he’s tough to hit.

Cal State Fullerton JR RHP Noe Ramirez: once straight 85-90 FB with occasional hard sink is now more consistently 88-92 (93 peak) with more consistent, more drastic sink; delivery is deceptive and adds miles to the FB; plus FB command; plus-plus 82-84 CU learned from Ricky Romero; paid it forward by helping Gerrit Cole with his CU grip; emerging 75-80 SL that has put on velocity and is now 82-85; SL is good but inconsistent; shaky command of offspeed pitches; 6-3, 180

Besides being an accomplished bowler, Overton HS (TN) SS Mookie Betts is also a pretty talented baseball player. He’s probably not a shortstop over the long haul, but his athleticism and sure hands should play at any number of spots on the diamond. His progress with the bat should be interesting to watch; there isn’t much power upside, but those who saw him in high school came away with his approach to hitting and patience at the plate.

I liked San Jacinto JC LHP Miguel Pena out of high school. I still liked him after his first year at San Jacinto. Now I’m not sure how I feel about him. He has the three pitches needed to start, but the lack of a big league out pitch hurts.

87-90 FB, peak 92; hard thrower with right hand as well; really good CU; plus control; lots of positive word of mouth has me sold, but admittedly little is still known about Pena relative to other names on list

Free State HS (KS) LHP Cody Kukuk has all the makings of a frontline big league pitcher. Whether or not he gets there is anybody’s guess, but there’s no questioning the upside his projectable frame, above-average fastball, and solid upper-70s slider give him a chance to do some major damage to big league bats.

LHP Cody Kukuk (Free State HS, Kansas): 88-91 FB, 93 peak; good 78 SL; CB; CU; good athlete; 6-4, 185

Playing football and baseball for Ole Miss trumped a big contract with the Red Sox, at least in the mind of Pascaquola HS (MS) OF Senquez Golson. As a big fan of the tradition and atmosphere of SEC sports (not to mention the “scenery,” if you catch my drift), I can’t really fault Golson for picking The Grove over bus rides to and from Lowell. It remains unclear if Golson will ever really emerge as an early round pick because, by all accounts, his heart belongs to the gridiron. That would be a shame because he’s a really good baseball prospect. I’m often slow to come around to raw but toolsy high school outfielders, but Golson’s five tool ability was too great to ignore. He’s obviously a sensational athlete with legitimate plus-plus speed who is able to translate at least some of that athleticism (mostly in the way he defends in center, but also in a hard to describe swing that just looks like something only a great athlete could pull off) to the diamond. His other tools – most notably above-average raw power and a stronger than expected arm – make him a potential middle of the order possibility down the line. If Jake Locker can get picked in the tenth round, then surely Golson, who figures to play more baseball than Locker at the college level, will get early round consideration in three years as well.  If, and that’s a Todd Coffey sized if right there, if Golson gets enough at bats at the college level, I genuinely think he’s a potential top ten overall pick as the first college bat off the board.

[great athlete; plus-plus speed; plus defensive upside in CF; strong arm; Jared Mitchell comp; quick bat; above-average raw power; 6-0, 180]

If Kent State 3B Travis Shaw can stick at the hot corner, he’s an interesting prospect. As a likely 1B/3B/DH long-term, however, expectations with the bat rise above what he might be capable of at the plate.

Lacking lateral quickness and agility, Shaw’s future at third base is a major question as he enters pro ball. If he can stay at third base — good pre-pitch positioning and quicker than you’d expect reactions give him his best shot — then his big power, great approach, and strong track record with wood would make him a fast riser on draft boards. Most of the industry leaders are already moving him off of third, however, so perhaps I’m being unrealistic in thinking he could someday grow into an average-ish fielder there. Probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: if he is a first baseman at the next level, his value takes a big hit.

Scouts that saw Wisconsin-Stevens Point OF Cody Koback this past spring came away talking about his potential as a lefty bashing righthanded backup outfielder with speed. Not having seen him myself, that assessment sounds about right to me. A best case scenario comp that I heard through the grapevine was fellow small school double digit round prospect Matt Joyce. It’s far from perfect – Joyce has more power and bats lefty, Koback hits righty and is more of a speedster – but comps rarely are. I still love ‘em…

We’ll start our look at players of note taken after the top ten rounds with some “bad” news: the talented unsigned players. When you draft as aggressively as Boston does, you do so knowing there is little to no chance every player you draft will sign a pro contract. The group of prospects signed by Boston is excellent. The group of prospects Boston wasn’t able to sign is also pretty damn impressive. The high school trio of Menchville HS (VA) RHP Deshorn Lake (Round 12), Byrnes HS (SC) RHP Daniel Gossett (Round 16), and Don Bosco Prep (NJ) LHP Jordan Gross (Round 40) all went unsigned but all should reemerge in three years as big-time draft prospects. Lake is very raw, but showed enough present stuff to go along with his well above-average athleticism to qualify as a very interesting follow at East Carolina. Gossett has quality ACC reliever stuff at the ready should he find himself in position to get innings early on in his stay at Clemson. Gross doesn’t have quite the stuff as Lake or Gossett, but offers plenty of projection as a lefthander capable of approaching 90 MPH with the makings of a pair of quality offspeed pitches (mid-70s change and a low-70s curve).

RHP Deshorn Lake (Menchville HS, Virginia): 88-91 FB, 93-94 peak; good 77-82 SL; 80-81 CU with upside, but needs reps; raw, but lots of projection; 6-2, 180 pounds

Maybe I’m nuts, but seeing Louisiana State RHP Matty Ott (Round 13) sign a pro contract really surprised me. Matty Ott just felt like a player who would play college baseball forever. His fastball is a bit short, but he gets enough consistent movement on it to make it an above-average pitch on balance. His slider can get big league hitters out, but seems to have regressed some since his spectacular freshman season. I’d still like to see him get a chance to start, but questions of health, lack of a third pitch, and Boston’s organizational starting pitching depth might keep that from happening.

Louisiana State JR RHP Matty Ott: 87-89 FB; does a lot with the FB, cutting it and sinking it very effectively; very inconsistent 78-81 SL; great command and deception; plus control; big problem is lack of an out pitch; 6-2, 200 pounds

SO RHP Matty Ott (2011) is exactly the kind of player that makes following the sport fun. He somehow pulls off always appearing both fiery and cool while on the mound, he gets big time results (69 K to 6 BB in 50.1 IP) through unconventional means (his funky low ¾ delivery is only a hair or two from dropping officially down to sidearm), and he is by all accounts a wonderful example of what a student-athlete ought to be. His hard, sinking high-80s fastball works really well in concert with a high-70s big league ready slider that makes life miserable for both lefties and righties alike. Ott’s prospect stock is in limbo because he doesn’t fit any kind of traditional baseball archetype. He hasn’t currently shown the stuff needed to start (although I’ll happily go on record in saying I think he’d blossom if given the opportunity to refine a third pitch), and he doesn’t have the knockout fastball that so many teams require out of their late inning aces. Maybe it is a personal blind spot of mine, but, archetypes be damned, I like players like Ott that get just get guys out. He has two big league pitches at present (fastball is a little short, but the movement bumps it up a grade) and has time to polish up a third offering. He won’t be a first rounder, heck he may not even be a candidate to go in the top 150 or so picks, but he could wind up his college career as a high floor, close to the majors kind of prospect. If you read this thing regularly you know I value upside and star potential very highly, but in a world that Brandon Lyon can get a $15 million contract, you’d better believe there is value in locking in a player like Ott for six cost-controlled big league years.

Kentucky RHP Braden Kapteyn (Round 15) has the stuff (good FB, hard SL, flashes an above-average CU) to start, but will likely remain a reliever in pro ball due to a funky delivery that he has difficult repeating. If you didn’t know any better, you’d say he looked like a position player trying to pitch. Oh, wait. If he ever makes it as a starting pitcher I hope it’ll be with a National League club because watching him swing the bat every fifth day would be a lot of fun. He hasn’t had the health issues of Joe Savery, but a similar career path (iffy run as starter, brief but promising return to hitting, return to pitching in a more comfortable relief role) is one possible outcome.

Kentucky JR RHP Braden Kapteyn: 89-94 FB; hard 88 SL; potential above-average CU; lots of moving parts in delivery; great hitter; 6-4, 215 pounds

My notes on Liberty RHP Blake Foslund (Round 17) say a lot without saying much. His fastball is big league quality, but the breaking stuff, command, and control are all not where they need to be. A year of success at Liberty could get him drafted on the first day next June. Arm strength like his don’t come around too often, so I’m betting on a huge junior season for the former prep star.

Liberty SO RHP Blake Forslund: 92-95 FB, 97-98 peak

JC of Southern Nevada RHP Sam Wolff (Round 47) should get the chance to start this upcoming season at New Mexico. If that’s the case, I like him to emerge as one of college baseball’s biggest “out of nowhere” success stories and become a top fifteen round pick next June. He started his college career at San Diego, but it wasn’t until junior college where his fastball, and subsequently his prospect stock, really picked up. I had him at maxing out at 91-92 out of high school, but Baseball America’s draft update had him peaking at 95 this past spring. He’s always been an unusually polished young pitcher with excellent command and an above-average breaking ball. Added growth to the fastball makes him a dangerous three-pitch prospect with the chance to do some very interesting things this fall for the Lobos.

Oxnard HS (CA) 2B Austin Davidson (Round 21) has the defensive tools to work himself into a good defender at either third base or second base. His bat profiles a lot better at second as he’s a player with a well-rounded skill set rather than an athlete with a plus tool or two. Guys without loud tools are smart to go to college where production is weighted more heavily than it is at the high school level. If a non-tools guy produces for three years in college, certain teams will take notice. Davidson will get noticed in three years.

Davidson’s down senior season will probably cost him some cash in the short-term, but his solid blend of tools will still get him noticed on draft day. I think he has the chops to be a good defender at third base, but his lack of power upside may keep him from ever holding down an everyday spot. It is tough to project a utility player on a high school prospect, but Davidson’s skill set — average arm, average speed, cerebral player — seems well suited for spot duty.

I don’t like Deven Marrero quite as much as I’m supposed to. I also didn’t like Christian Colon (prior to his draft year) as much as others. My small sample size (the first round shortstops of 2002 also come to mind) conclusion: college shortstops who are projected to stay at shortstop for defensive reasons tend to be overrated. That’s a good thing for Luella HS (GA) SS Julius Gaines (Round 32), a player I really happen to like as a defensive prospect. I don’t think he’ll ever be an early first rounder like Colon was and Marrero will likely be, but three years impressing scouts with his range and arm at Florida International could get him picked much earlier than anybody would currently guess.

There are about a dozen prep shortstops who can realistically lay claim to “potential big league shortstop,” a statement that is more about their defensive futures than any kind of upside at the plate. When projecting shortstops long-term, defense is king. If there is one thing we are sure Gaines can do, it’s defense. How the bat develops is a whole other story, but his range and hands at short are so good that his hit tool is almost an afterthought. Almost.

St. Xavier HS (KY) RHP Matt Spalding (Round 29) is a short righthander with a big fastball, hard slider, and violent delivery. If that sounds like a future reliever, then you’ve been paying careful attention.

RHP Matt Spalding (St. Xavier HS, Kentucky): 91-94 FB, 95-96 peak; 73-77 SL; violent delivery; 6-0, 190

Washington State 1B Taylor Ard (Round 25) has been a big favorite since his days at Mount Hood CC for his big raw power and surprising big man athleticism. He could jump into the top ten rounds with a big senior season, but the usual bat-first prospect caveats apply.

I feel as though my notes on Ard sum up his game pretty well: plus-plus raw power; average at best hit tool; good athlete; wrist injury kept him down in 2010; solid defender; strong track record hitting with wood; some question about ability to hit with funky swing, but just as likely an adjustment will help him tap into his raw power even more. Yeah, that sounds about right.

Maryland OF Matt Marquis (Round 41) in a nutshell: at Maryland he hit .207/.207/.310 in 29 at bats, but as a professional he hit .337/.429/.494 in 83 at bats. He’s a really gifted athlete who still shows all of the physical tools that made him such a highly sought after high school recruit, but something has held him back to this point. I’m seeing high boom/bust potential (starting caliber performances or stalling out in AA) in his future.

This past summer, a summer forever to be known to many prospect watchers as “The Summer of Trout,” I had a conversation with a friend well connected in the business who told me, and I know he won’t mind me quoting him here, “Matt Marquis was Mike Trout before Mike Trout was Mike Trout.” Pretty cool statement if you ask me. Marquis was a highly sought after high school prospect from New Jersey. He had speed, power to all fields, a strong arm, and an even stronger commitment to a great baseball school in Vanderbilt. A common comparison for each player, as funny as it seems with the benefit of hindsight, was Aaron Rowand. Getting the Trout vibe yet? Fast forward to today. Trout has completely blown up as a professional while Marquis has lagged behind. The second-year Maryland outfielder still offers up that tantalizing blend of above-average speed and raw power, but the production, from Nashville to College Park, has never matched the hype. Teams still hold out hope that he’ll put it all together as an above-average corner outfielder. Count me in as a believer.

I can’t wait to see if Wake Forest OF Mac Williamson (Round 46) can put it all together in his redshirt junior season. He’s a legit five-tool prospect who has made great strides in his approach to hitting since arriving at Wake Forest. From a pure tools standpoint, I’m not sure there are five better outfielders in all of college baseball. The biggest strike against him for me is the fact he’ll almost be 22 years old by the time next June’s draft rolls around.

Williamson, a potential catching conversion candidate at the pro level, has serious power upside and a plus arm, but his swing at everything approach could prevent him from ever getting the chance to put his crazy raw tools to use. He could very well be viewed as a potential late inning relief prospect because of the reported mid-90s heat to go along with a solid sinker/slider mix.

Florida Marlins 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Florida 2011 Draft Selections

This draft is a disaster. Unsigned third and fourth round picks. Only two high school prospects signed in the first eighteen rounds, and only one more signed from that point on. No player, high school or college, signed past round thirty-five. I can only hope that the Miami Marlins do a better job next year than this lame attempt by Florida.

The good news about any draft is that sometimes one player can redeem darn near the entire thing. This particular draft won’t be a total loss assuming Alonso HS (FL) RHP Jose Fernandez lives up to his promise. I may not have liked Fernandez pre-draft as much as many of my esteemed draft obsessed peers, but I can’t necessarily fault the Marlins for using a first rounder on him either. Detractors of comps will have a field day with these (restricting yourself to only comparing a player to others with the same first name is lazy, they say), but an honest to goodness scout paid to watch baseball mentioned both Jose Contreras (young version) and Jose Valverde as players similar to Fernandez. I thought those comparisons were fun and I wanted to pass them along, but feel free to draw your own conclusions beyond that. Comps aside, Fernandez has an excellent fastball/curveball combination that is pretty much big league ready, and the makings of two potential average additional secondary pitches (raw low-80s changeup and intriguing upper-70s slider). At his best, he looks like an innings eating horse, although not in a literal sense because a) he’s a person and not an actual horse, and b) horses, to the best of my knowledge, eat oats and plants, not innings. Gut instinct (wish I could put it in writing why I have my doubts) has Fernandez’s upside closer to solid than superstar; a career not unlike Jose Contreras’s – you know, minus the whole not pitching in the big leagues until his age-31 season thing – makes sense to me, at least in terms of peak years performance.

RHP Jose Fernandez (Alonso HS, Florida): 90-93 FB, peak 94-97; good 80-83 CB; good enough FB/CB combo to pitch in bigs right now; 81 CU; learning a 78-79 SL; good hitter; 6-4, 235

Washington State LHP Adam Conley reminds me of the famous New England saying I first heard back in my college days up in Boston: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” The saying applies just as easily to Adam Conley: “If you don’t like this prospect, just wait one appearance.”  At his best, Conley’s fastball is a plus pitch velocity-wise, and his changeup and slider often both work well as above-average secondary options. There are times, however, when his heater isn’t so hot and neither offspeed pitch is in the strike zone enough to be effective. Much, but not all, of Conley’s Jekyll and Hyde act can be attributed between the difference in his stuff when he starts and when he relieves; because of this, Conley is the rare pitching prospect that I’d rather see pitch exclusively in relief long-term. There’s little harm letting him start for now, I suppose, but a plus fastball, good changeup, and inconsistent though intriguing slider, combined with his difficulties maintaining velocity and command sharpness as a starter, add up to relief ace to me.

Washington State JR LHP Adam Conley: 86-88 FB; peaks at 90-92; up to 94 out of bullpen this spring; hits 95-96 when amped up; above-average 79-83 CU; very rare CB that has now been phased out; SL being added and now used a lot; great command; 6-3, 175 pounds; big peak FB could have been opening day juice; sitting more often 88-92; 6-3, 190 pounds

Neither Sumrall HS (MS) SS Connor Barron nor Wayne County HS (GA) 2B Tyler Palmer signed with Florida. The Marlins loss is college baseball’s gain. Barron is in line to get first crack at replacing BA Vollmuth at shortstop for Southern Mississippi while Palmer stays local by heading to Georgia. Both players offer interesting defensive tools, but Barron’s speed and strength give him the edge in any long-range forecast.

It is easy to see why Barron has been one of the draft’s fastest risers this spring. He has great speed, a strong arm, and a big league frame that makes projecting his bat easy relative to many of his draft class peers. The Reid Brignac comps are popular, and with good reason.

Broken Arrow HS (OK) RHP Mason Hope joined Archie Bradley in what has to be on the short list of scariest high school school 1-2 punches of all-time. Clint Everts and Scott Kazmir  — based on what we all thought of them as prep players, not how their respective careers played out – might top the list, but the combination of Lucas Giolito and Max Fried might blow everybody out of the water next June. Hope is currently a two-pitch pitcher, but, boy, are those two pitches impressive. His fastball pops consistently in the low-90s and his curve is a true plus offering when on. Now all we have to do is sit back and watch to see whether or not Hope and the Marlins minor league staff can work together to produce a third consistent pitch. His low-70s changeup has looked good at times and he’ll also show a harder breaking ball – a slider that reaches the upper-70s – every now and again, so there is plenty of hope that the elusive third (and maybe fourth) pitch will be unearthed. It should be noted that Florida scouting director Stan Meek knows Oklahoma as well as any talent evaluator, so adjust your perception of the kid with the soap opera name accordingly.

RHP Mason Hope (Broken Arrow HS, Oklahoma): 90-92 FB, 94 peak; flashes plus CB

Wichita State LHP Charlie Lowell might have less electric stuff than Adam Conley, but he’s far more consistent and a better bet to remain a starting pitcher. He has the three pitches needed to start – good fastball, above-average slider, and solid changeup – and the body and arm action to handle heavy workloads.

34. Wichita State JR LHP Charlie Lowell: 89-92 FB, 93-94 peak; above-average SL; solid CU; 6-4, 235

JC of the Sequoias 1B Ryan Rieger is a really interesting gamble in the seventh round. His power and pedigree (Rieger was once a big-time prep prospect) are beyond reproach, but a broken hamate bone suffered late last season is a red flag for a player so reliant on the long ball. Fun fact that might only interest me: Rieger was committed to Long Beach State before deciding to sign with the Marlins. I think that’s neat because that one-time allegiance to the Dirtbags makes the comp to former Long Beach transfer (via Miami) and current Atlanta farmhand Joey Terdoslavich comp I heard a few weeks fit nicely.

Seminole State JC RHP Dejai Oliver is a fastball/slider relief prospect with big league bloodlines. Another potential reliever with family in pro ball (in this case, a brother) is UC Davis RHP Scott Lyman. There is some definite untapped upside with Lyman, especially when you consider his frame, raw arm strength, athleticism, and the time he has spent focused on hitting rather than pitching. I’d take his upside over Oliver’s, but that’s based largely on the leap of faith that good pro coaching will help turn him from thrower to pitcher.

Arizona State C Austin Barnes had more walks (25) than strikeouts (22) while putting up a .730 OPS in his first taste of pro ball in the New York-Penn League. He’s also a plus-plus defender who might just be good enough defensively to warrant a big league roster spot on the strength of his glove/arm/quick feet alone. I underrated Barnes for too long, but am now fully on the bandwagon.

Georgia Tech RHP Jacob Esch (Round 11) could make the Marlins look really, really smart in a few years. Or he’ll be just another eleventh round pick. If he makes Florida look smart, it’ll be because of a fastball that peaks in the mid-90s (94-95), a relatively fresh arm, great athleticism, and a drive to succeed that legitimately blew me away when hearing about him from those in the know at Georgia Tech.

Florida SS Josh Adams (Round 13) is a fine defensive player who can play anywhere on the infield. He also won’t kill you with the bat. A utility future is the dream, but solid organizational soldier is the most likely outcome. I’ve never been a huge Ryan Jackson fan, so consider my comp of Adams to Jackson more of an indictment of the latter than high praise for the former.

Adams is a long time personal who struggled as one of the veteran anchors of a young Gators lineup last year, but has rebounded a bit in 2011. His scouting reports remain largely favorable, despite his inconsistent performances. Adams will be helped by his positional versatility as he tries to make it in the pros as a utility guy.

Monterey Peninsula JC RHP Nick Grim (Round 14) gets a mention as a guy with early round upside (92-95 fastball, good breaking ball that flashes plus, shows changeup) heading off to school at Cal Poly. He isn’t perfect (command comes and goes, inconsistent velocity, odd hitch in delivery some teams might not like), but there’s enough here to get excited about. Bellevue CC RHP Adrian Sampson (Round 16) is similar to Grim in that both are unsigned junior college standouts, but Sampson won’t head off to a four-year school and instead stick with Bellevue for at least another season. The Tommy John survivor has good stuff (fastball sits in the upper-80s but peaks at 92-93, an above-average breaking ball, and a raw but promising changeup) and surprisingly strong command for a pitcher coming off of injury. His brother’s disappointing run in pro ball might be held against him by some teams, but Adrian should enter pro ball further along the developmental curve than Julian ever reached.

Connecticut LHP Greg Nappo (Round 18) only needed 14 innings in short-season ball before jumping to the South Atlantic League for six starts down the stretch and three late summer long relief appearances. All told, he struck out over a batter per inning (58 K in 55 IP) and showed much improved control (only 12 BB) compared to his inconsistent spring (40 BB in 95.2 IP as a senior). Such an impressive performance isn’t altogether surprising coming from a 22-year old (he actually turned 23 in late August) pitchability lefthander. Greg Nappo is also awesome because, yes, that’s him throwing a pitch in the header of this very site.

SR LHP Greg Nappo‘s upper-80s fastball plays up because of good deception in his delivery. It is still probably a below-average pitch on balance because the command isn’t quite what you’d hope it would be coming from a typical pitchability lefty. He relied quite heavily on the heater, mixing in occasional cutters and an average slow curve that he could drop into the strike zone more easily as the game went on. 

Auburn C Tony Caldwell (Round 24) has enough defensive ability to rise up through the low minors as a potential backup catcher. If he hits, he’s a big leaguer. If not, he might top out at as a AAAA stopgap left to sit and wait for an opportunity to arise, i.e. quietly hope for a very minor injury to a catcher that would open the door just a crack.

I had Caldwell pegged as an all defense, no offense non-prospect heading into the year, but his hit tool has made a great deal of progress since last fall. Even without the emerging bat, Caldwell’s defense might have been enough to get him drafted.

Pitching almost exclusively in the GCL, Oregon State RHP James Nygren (Round 33) just straight killed it as a strikeout machine (35 K in 35 total IP) programmed to get groundballs at will (a ridiculous 3.24 GO/AO). He is a quality senior sign who throws nothing straight. At worst, he is David Herndon as a pro.

Oregon State SR RHP James Nygren (2011): 87-90 FB; touching 93; solid SL; nicely developing CU; clocked at 95 back in HS; 6-1, 195 pounds

I’ve always liked watching Pittsburgh OF John Schultz (Round 34) play. I’d be hard pressed, however, to name one tool of his that is clearly big league quality.

JR OF John Schultz (2010 – Pittsburgh) doesn’t have any exceptional tools, but his good plate discipline means he rarely gets cheated at the plate and his good speed can help him take extra bases when needed on the base paths.

I wrote about Iowa Western CC 3B Damek Tomscha (Round 36) last year (see below) after the Phillies took him in the final round out of high school. The latest buzz on Tomscha has pro scouts liking him more as a hard throwing righthanded pitcher as a pro.

Tomscha is a deep sleeper who has plenty of fans within the scouting community. I’m not a member of said community, but count me in as a fan all the same. As a high school guy without high school ball in Iowa, Tomscha’s upside was severely underrated this spring. He’s a really good athlete with a pretty swing, plus arm, and good raw defensive tools. My high pre-draft ranking was probably a bit of overcompensating for his lack of national love on my end, but it should definitely be noted that this your typical 50th round flier. Tomscha’s legit.

A pair of unsigned righthanded pitchers, San Dimas HS (CA) RHP Jacob Ehret (Round 37) and Marquette HS (IL) RHP Joe Ceja (Round 38), figure to hear their names called on draft day after three years at UCLA and Louisville respectively. Ehret is the more advanced prospect, but his path to the mound could be somewhat convoluted considering UCLA’s pitching depth. Ceja is more projectable (rare arm strength + pro body = good chance at upper-90s fastballs by his junior season), but should get an early opportunity to throw for a Louisville team in need of quality arms.

Watch Torrance HS (CA) SS Trent Gilbert (Round 40) if the opportunity arises this spring. He’ll be playing for the Arizona Wildcats, and he’ll be hitting. I haven’t seen or heard what Arizona plans to do with him defensively, but I hope he gets the chance to play second base every day. If that’s the case, he’ll be hitting in the middle of the lineup in no time. If you somehow need to be further sold on Gilbert, know that John Klima, who knows his stuff, loves the kid.

Gilbert swings the bat the exact way I would if a magic genie would finally grant my wish to have a picture perfect lefthanded stroke. I’m darn sure the hit tool will play at the next level, but there are some that think too much of his value is tied up in his bat. That makes some sense to me — there is some power here and a pretty strong arm, but his speed is below-average and his defense is a question mark going forward — but, boy, do I like that hit tool. Many of those defensive questions, by the way, may or may not be Gilbert’s fault. He’s currently in the tricky position of almost being too versatile defensively – I’ve heard some teams like him at 2B, some at 3B, and others still prefer him either at C or CF. Of course, I don’t mean to imply he’ll ever be a world beater at any of those spots, but the opportunity to hear a pro coach tell him, “here’s your new defensive home, practice and play here every day” ought to do him some good.

Heartland CC LHP Jerad Grundy (Round 42), a Miami transfer, should figure prominently in an improved Kentucky pitching staff next season. Coming out of high school he resembled what we saw out of Dillon Peters in this year’s prep class. Like Peters, Grundy has the stuff to start, but may be stuck in the bullpen because of effort in his delivery.

Heartland CC (Illinois) SO LHP Jerad Grundy (2011): 87-92 with movement; hard SL; promising CU; 6-0, 190; Miami transfer

Northeastern LHP Drew Leenhouts (Round 43) wasn’t as good as a junior as he was as a sophomore, but the lefty has the stuff to get picked twenty rounds higher next year. His arm won’t wow you, but he can throw three pitches for strikes and has silky smooth mechanics that portend additional velocity with help from a professional strength and conditioning program.

Northeastern JR LHP Andrew Leenhouts: 87-88 FB; good CB; average CU; command needs work; clean mechanics; 6-3, 200 pounds

Cleveland Indians 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Cleveland 2011 Draft Selections

Without repeating myself pre-draft too much (check all the bold below for that take), here’s where I stand on Monteverde Academy (FL) SS Francisco Lindor. Of all the positives he brings to the field, the two biggest positives I can currently give him credit for are his defense and time/age. Lindor’s defensive skills really are exemplary and there is no doubt that he’ll stick at shortstop through his first big league contract (at least). As for time/age, well, consider this a preemptive plea in the event Lindor struggles at the plate next season: the guy will be playing his entire first full pro season at just eighteen years old. For reference’s sake, Jimmy Rollins, the player I compared Lindor’s upside to leading up to the draft, played his entire Age-18 season at Low-A in the South Atlantic League and hit .270/.330/.370 in 624 plate appearances. A year like that wouldn’t be a shocker unless he goes all Jurickson Profar, a name Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks recently evoked after watching Lindor, on the low minors. Either way, I’m much happier with this pick now than I would have been a few months ago. Cleveland saw the opportunity to land a superstar talent at a premium defensive position and went for it, high risk and all.

So much has already been written about Lindor that I think I’ll cut right to the chase and explain what excites me about him and what worries me about him. First, and most obvious, is the glove. There are many factors that lead to attrition when it comes to amateur shortstops hoping to stick at the position professionally, but Lindor is as safe a bet as any prep player to stay at short that I can remember. He has the range, the hands, the instincts, the athleticism, and the arm to not only stick up to middle, but to excel there. With that out of the way, we can focus on his bat. At the plate, Lindor has one big thing going for him: his age. At only 17 years of age, Lindor is one of the 2011 draft’s youngest prospects. For a guy with as many questions with the bat as Lindor has, it is a very good thing that he has time on his side. His swing really works from the right side, generating surprisingly easy pull power. From the left side, there is much work to be done. There is something about his lefty stroke that seems to limit his power (can’t put my finger on what exactly), but you have to imagine good coaching and hard work give that a solid chance to improve. The iffy swing is mitigated some by his impressive bat speed, but it is still a worry. On balance, however, I have to say I do like his raw power upside as much as any of his offensive tools (hit tool is average for me and I don’t think he’ll be a big basestealing threat as a pro) and can envision a future where he hits upwards of fifteen homers annually. This may be an example of me forcing a comp when there really isn’t one there, but I’ve come around to the idea that Lindor shares many similarities to current Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus (Lindor’s power advantage and Andrus’ plus speed make this one a stretch, but I could see vaguely similar batting lines despite the differences). Rather than a ceiling comp, however, I’d say that Andrus qualifies as Lindor’s big league floor. If we’re talking upside, Lindor compares favorably with Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

Getting a first round talent like Searcy HS (AR) RHP Dillon Howard with the 67th overall pick is a big win for the Cleveland scouting staff. Howard’s two-seamer is a true bat breaker and his sinking low-80s changeup is a swing and miss pitch when on. Like any young pitching prospect some refinement is needed – work on commanding the four-seamer and a renewed emphasis on his promising slider – but there are enough positives to imagine a future where Howard is an above-average middle of the rotation arm with three pitches he can throw for strikes.

RHP Dillon Howard (Searcy HS, Arkansas): 90-92 FB, 93-95 peak; rumors of a 98 peak; also throws sinker that will break bats; outstanding sinking 81-83 CU; 76-78 CB; good 81-82 SL that he too often gets away from; good athlete; 6-3, 200

Merced JC (CA) RHP Jake Sisco was very much under the national radar for much of the spring, but area scouts knew him quite well. I knew him only as a hard thrower with underdeveloped secondary stuff, but Baseball America touted him as having the “makings of four plus pitches.” All I can really say is that I’ve heard differently. His fastball and pro body alone make him an interesting prospect, and the possibility of above-average secondaries make him a worthy early round gamble. As for Sisco having the potential for four plus pitches, here’s my honest take: Baseball America doesn’t know everything, of course, but they know a whole heck of a lot and you should probably trust them over me.

Merced JC FR RHP Jake Sisco: 92-93 FB, 95 peak; 6-3, 200

I don’t hold it against James Madison C Jake Lowery, but, man, does this guy have some fervent supporters. I rarely get any emails concerning the site, but Lowery had half a dozen friends/family members/fans who all very much enjoyed telling me how awful I was to rank Lowery anywhere but atop the top spot of the college catcher rankings. To them I humbly say: he’s a good player! Honestly, he’s a good player coming off an outrageous college season with the chance to someday play in the big leagues. However, he simply isn’t as good as his video game college numbers had some believing pre-draft. For my money, he’s in that big group of college catchers that could find work as big league backups due to his patient approach, average power upside, and good enough defense.

Lowery has a solid arm and is an above-average defender, but let’s be real here, it is the amazing power uptick that has scouts buzzing this spring.

Cleveland took Virginia RHP Will Roberts about ten rounds before I would have guessed he’d go off the board. His fastball isn’t overly impressive, but he does have a pair of secondary pitches (good change, average slider). His college claim to fame was throwing the first perfect game in Virginia history, so, you know, that’s pretty awesome. As a pro prospect, I’ll just say I really, really wish he was a lefty and leave it at that. I’m almost certainly falling into the trap of lowering Roberts’ stock in my head based off a few less than thrilling firsthand looks the past two springs, so consider my somewhat irrational bias in mind when forming your own opinion of Roberts.

Virginia JR RHP Will Roberts: 85-89 FB, 92 peak; good CU

Stephen F. Austin State OF Bryson Myles profiles as an interesting offense-first backup outfielder who, with proper pro coaching, should also contribute on the base paths. If you buy the bat a little more than I do, then you could be talking a player with similar upside to Marlon Byrd. I’ll be the under on the comp, but Myles, coming off a crazy college season of .440/.509/.627 (park/schedule adjusted) and a strong showing (.302/.394/.401) in the New York-Penn League, should still be a fun player to watch develop.

[plus athlete; good speed; interesting upside with bat]

I’m an unabashed supported of Divine Child HS (MI) C Eric Haase because I like athletic catchers with above-average hit tools and strong defensive tools. His journey to the big leagues will take some time, but Haase’s upside is worth the wait.

The biggest question mark on Haase is how the Westland, Michigan native wound up committing to Ohio State in the first place. Lack of allegiance to his home state university aside (I kid!), Haase profiles similarly to Blake Swihart, except without Swihart’s switch-hitting ability. Despite the typical risk involved that comes from selecting a cold weather prospect early, he’ll still find his way ranked near the top of some clubs’ draft boards. Strong defensive chops, plus athleticism, a strong pro-ready build, and a balanced swing will do that for a guy.

Gilbert HS (AZ) LHP Stephen Tarpley is an interesting case. He isn’t super physical, but his arm strength is big league quality. He shows flashes of above-average secondary pitches, but wasn’t consistent enough with his offspeed offerings to do anything but pitch predominantly off the fastball this past spring. If it came down solely to Haase or Tarpley as an either/or signing, I think Cleveland made the right choice, but Tarpley still has the athleticism and overall promise to get him to the early rounds in 2014.

LHP Stephen Tarpley (Gilbert HS, Arizona): 88-91 FB, 93 peak; good 74-76 CB needs polish; 81 CU; good athlete; 6-0, 170

St. Cloud State 3B Jordan Smith reminds me a little bit of former Indians first round pick Beau Mills. Mills obviously wasn’t a good pick in hindsight, but was a well-regarded prospect at the time. That said, bat-first prospects like Mills either have to be special (though let the record show that, at the time, Cleveland and many others thought Mills’ bat was in fact special) or, you know, not top half of the first round selections. Smith may not have a special bat, but he did enough with the stick at St. Cloud to make a ninth round selection seem worth a shot.

What you see is what you get with Cal Poly RHP Jeff Johnson. That’s a good thing when what you see is a big fastball and plus hard splitter. His ceiling is limited by the fact he’s a reliever all the way, but still rates as good a bet as any player drafted by Cleveland to contribute to the big club. A high floor power reliever is a good get in the tenth round.

Cal Poly JR RHP Jeff Johnson: 92-95 peak FB; nasty 86-88 splitter; two pitch pitcher makes it work; 6-0, 200

I wish Arizona State 2B Zack MacPhee (Round 13) had the arm strength to play on the left side. As it is, his future might be second base or bust. When he hits like he has in the past then being limited to second is fine, but the major tumble he had this past season is cause for concern going forward.

This isn’t quite Jett Bandy bad — notice the still strong BB/K numbers — but the degradation of MacPhee’s once promising prospect stock is still disappointing to see. On the bright side, he still has near plus speed, impressive bat speed, and excellent defensive tools up the middle. I’d love to know whether or not his batting average collapse had something to do with a BABIP-fueled string of bad luck or if he just isn’t making the kind of hard contact he did in 2010. Reports on him struggling to square up on balls this spring have me afraid it is the latter, but that great 2010 season should be enough to have a handful of teams buying into him as a potential utility player.

Feather River JC (CA) RHP Cody Anderson (Round 14) is another good example of a team doing its due diligence by closing monitoring both a player’s skill level and signability over the course of multiple years. Not much was though of Anderson last year at this time, but a year well spent at junior college now catapults his upside to the land of potential hard throwing starting pitcher. He’s still plenty rough around the edges – he fits the mold of thrower more than pitcher, for me – but the possibility he puts it all together is pretty tantalizing.

If I had any real baseball talent, I’m 99% certain I’d sign for big early round money out of high school rather than go to college. Three discounted years of hanging out in an educational environment like the ones found on campuses at North Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Stanford would be awful tempting, but I’m still quite sure I’d take the money and follow my ultimate dream instead. That could be the reason why I root so hard for players who do the exact opposite. Clemson RHP Kevin Brady (Round 17) turned down big early round Red Sox money out of high school to instead go to school. Two inconsistent, injury-plagued seasons later find Brady, a draft-eligible sophomore this past summer, still at Clemson trying to recapture the promise he showed as a high school standout. A strong junior season should easily get him picked ten rounds higher next June. Not for nothing, but Brady ranked 148th on my pre-draft prospect list. Whether or not he shows he can handle starting pitching – from both repertoire (he’s got the hard stuff to start, but still waiting on a usable change) and workload (can he handle the innings?) points of view – will determine his 2012 draft status.

Clemson SO RHP Kevin Brady: straight 90-92 FB, touches 94-95; good FB command; good, but inconsistent SL; occasional CB; improved CU; offered third round deal from Red Sox out of high school; 6-3, 205

Armstrong is a really underrated name for a pitcher. It is probably just me, but I take for granted how well it fits. East Carolina RHP Shawn Armstrong (Round 18) has, you guessed it, a strong arm. He also has an above-average slider to compliment his low-90s heat. I include him here mostly because I saw him a few times up close this past spring (oh, and also the name), but can’t say I’m particularly bullish about his prospect stock. If he irons out his control wrinkles and sharpens up his stuff, he’s a potential middle reliever. This Shawn Armstrong should not be confused with 2012 Draft prospect Shawn Armstrong of Morehead City, by the way. Don’t make the same initial mistake I did…

Cleveland delivered a nasty one-two punch to East Carolina with the signing of back-to-back picks Armstrong and ECU commit Ocean Lakes HS (VA) LHP Shawn Morimando (Round 19). Morimando is the second of Cleveland’s trio of short high school lefties, sandwiched between unsigned Stephen Tarpley and unsigned Dillon Peters. Unfortunately for Cleveland, Morimando is the least impressive of the three. Fortunately for Cleveland, there was enough of an uptick in his stuff this spring – offspeed stuff has always looked solid to me, and now his fastball is finally fast enough – to give hope that there’s a potential starting pitcher tucked away in his 5’11”, 170 pound frame.

Ranked one spot behind fellow unsigned high school lefty Stephen Tarpley on my pre-draft list, Cathedral HS (IN) LHP Dillon Peters (Round 20) is an uncannily similar prospect. He’s a little bit more advanced than Tarpley, but offers less projection and uglier mechanics. He has the three pitches needed to start at Texas, but concerns about his size and herky jerky delivery could keep him in the bullpen, at least at the onset of his college career. Without putting undue pressure on the Longhorns coaching staff, I’d say Peters is putting some serious money on the line by gambling a) he’ll be used responsibly in college and b) he’ll find a coach who can clean up his delivery enough to make him a viable starting pitching candidate. If in three years Tarpley is a Friday night starter mowing down college competition in line for a potential top three round selection, as his raw talent suggests, then there ought to be some Longhorn Network cash headed the way of Texas pitching coach Skip Johnson.

LHP Dillon Peters (Cathedral HS, Indiana): 90-92 FB, 94 peak; good 80 CU; very good 73-76 CB; 5-10, 195 pounds

Rice RHP Matthew Reckling (Round 22) is well positioned to become one of the 2012 Draft’s top pitching senior signs. A relative newcomer to pitching, Reckling struggles with some of the finer aspects of the craft like holding his velocity late into starts and showing the consistent command needed to get good hitters out, but flashes of a promising fastball and a good curve make up a solid base to build on.

Rice JR RHP Matthew Reckling: 90-93 FB at start, velocity dips to 86-89 quickly; good 79-81 CB, loses effectiveness when it dips to mid-70s

High Point RHP Cody Allen (Round 23) throws a fastball that hitters have a really hard time squaring up. That alone makes him interesting to me, though his above-average upper-70s curve gives him a second pitch to lean on in what will likely be a bullpen or bust career path. He impressed the Indians brass from day one due to his performance (75 K and 14 BB in 54.2 combined IP of 1.65 ERA ball) and maturity (filled in at High A and AA when organizational roster crunch necessitated a young arm to fill in).

High Point JR RHP Cody Allen (2011): 90-93 FB with great movement; 76-78 CB; 84-86 sinker; 80-82 CU

In a perfect world, every team would sign every player for a lot of money and we’d all be happy and content to go about our day. In reality, decisions sometimes have to be made about how wise sinking six figures into a pro contract for an 18-year old really is. St. John Bosco HS (CA) 3B Taylor Sparks (Round 24) would have been a good signing by Cleveland, but it is perfectly understandable why a deal wasn’t reached between the two parties. Sparks’ athleticism is borderline unfair (I know I’m jealous…), but it hasn’t translated to meaningful baseball skills, let alone exciting baseball tools, at this point.

Taylor Sparks, the former American Idol finalist (probably), is one of the most fascinating draft prospects in this year’s class. There are polished prospects who may be short on tools, but have high floors and a relatively clear path up the minor league ladder. There are raw prospects who have tremendous physical gifts, but need a lot of professional work to reach their admittedly difficult to hit ceilings. Then we have a guy like Sparks, a rare prospect with upside who is undeniably raw yet somehow not super toolsy. There are a lot of 50s in his scouting report (average arm, average power, average speed, average defense), but also something about his game that leaves you wanting more, in a good way. Part of that could be the rapid improvement he showed in certain areas — namely power and speed — this spring. If he can improve in those two areas, who is to say he can’t keep getting better after he signs on the dotted line?

The most interesting thing to watch concerning the development of Turlock HS (CA) SS Kevin Kramer (Round 25) over the next three years at UCLA will be his defense. If the fast-rising middle infielder’s hit tool continues to impress, he’ll be a legitimate early round prospect at shortstop in 2014. If he winds up at second, as I expect, he’s downgraded slightly but still a potential big leaguer. I’ve heard from “somebody who knows” that UCLA is pretty happy that Kramer made it to campus; to say he’s looked better than the player they saw in high school would be an understatement.

Strength, both at the plate and jammed into his throwing arm, describes Kramer’s biggest current asset. I also like his bat a lot — feel like I’ve said that about a half dozen players already, but it’s true — and have a strong intuitive feel on him.

All college baseball fans should be excited about the return of South Carolina LHP Michael Roth (Round 31) to college. Well, all fans of teams outside of the SEC. Roth is a tremendous college pitcher, an outstanding competitor, and by all accounts a fascinating guy with a vast assortment of varied interests outside the game. Rumors abound that he isn’t a lock to sign with a pro team even after his upcoming senior year, but, assuming he gives pro ball a shot, he’d make a fine mid- to late-round senior sign who would contribute to an organization beyond whatever he accomplishes between the lines.

Roth could presently be the lefty version of what Randall hopes to evolve into next year. He may not have a knockout pitch, but the way he works each batter’s eye level is a sight to behold. 

My only notes on Cal Poly RHP Mason Radeke (Round 35): “had elbow trouble in 2009.” He’s a little bit like Will Roberts in that, because of slightly underwhelming stuff, I wish he was lefthanded.

I have nobody to blame but myself for making a bad American Idol joke about Taylor Sparks when I could have just as easily saved it for unsigned Oregon State RHP Taylor Starr (Round 37). Sparks has gotten a Scott Mathieson comp from a friend who has seen both, though I can’t help but wonder how much their similar injury histories (Tommy John surgery twice each? Seriously, guys?) has to do with that. At his best he’s a hard thrower (pre-injury 94-95 peak), but you wouldn’t really know that from his college career. After throwing 22.1 IP in 2008, Starr has only faced three batters, and they all came in 2009. If you’ll allow me a rare bad word on this otherwise family friendly site…injuries are the fucking worst. There really is no telling what to expect out of Starr in 2012, but a return to good health would be an excellent start. We’re rooting for him.

I wrote about Virginia OF John Barr (Round 39) almost two years ago. This is what I came up with: “JR OF John Barr (2010) is as nondescript a prospect as you’ll find. It’s nothing personal – in fact, I saw Barr play in high school, and I tend to form weird (non-creepy!) attachments to players I’ve seen early on – but nothing about his game stands out as being an average or better big league tool. His numbers dipped from his freshman year to his sophomore season, but he deserves the benefit of the doubt as he was recovering from shoulder surgery for much of 2009.” Yeah, I’m sticking with that. He can run, defend, and take a walk, but there isn’t enough beyond that (i.e. he won’t hit) to make him a legit pro prospect. He’s still a good guy to have on the back end of your minor league roster, however.

Oregon SS KC Serna (Round 42) had a disappointing draft year, but rebounded somewhat in the eyes of scouts with his steady play in the field after being assigned to Mahoning, Cleveland’s New York-Penn League affiliate. Small sample size alert: the righthanded Serna destroyed lefties to the tune of .436/.489/.513 in 39 at bats as a pro. I can’t emphasize the small sample warning enough, but it could be something to keep an eye on. Late round college guys need to find a niche in pro ball if they want to keep the dream alive. A utility infielder who hits lefties well isn’t a role in crazy demand in the pros, but stranger things have happened.

Rahmatulla, Semien, and now Serna – three Pac-10 shortstop prospects who underperformed greatly in 2011. Serna’s struggles are more damning, for no other reason than his spotty track record of staying out of trouble away from the diamond. Scouts will overlook character concerns as best they can if you can really, really play; if you can’t, you’ll be labeled as a player that will cause more headaches than you’re worth.

I really like what Arkansas LHP Geoff Davenport (Round 43) and Cleveland did by coming together and agreeing on an overslot bonus of $100,000. Davenport wins because he gets to rehab from his March Tommy John surgery with a professional training staff at no personal cost. Well, that, and he gets 100,000 bucks. Good deal, I’d say. Cleveland wins because they get a quality starting pitching prospect for a relatively low financial figure all at the low, low price of a 43rd round pick. Davenport is obviously way more talented than your usual 43rd rounder who is well worth keeping an eye on as he rehabs into next season. When healthy, he shows that classic lefthanded pitchability repertoire (upper-80s fastball, good mid-70s curve, and solid change) that occasionally pays off with a prospect.

Arkansas JR LHP Geoffrey Davenport: 87-90 FB, 91 peak; above-average 76 CB; decent CU; good command; 6-1, 180 ; Tommy John surgery in March 2011

 

Houston Astros 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Houston 2011 Draft Selections

Houston went a little college heavy for my taste, but that’s forgivable considering the interesting collection of college prospects they rounded up. The early round pitching additions and handful of high upside college position players make it a slightly above-average class on balance. Connecticut OF George Springer (23rd ranked draft prospect) is a favorite of mine who I’ve seen up close multiple times, so forgive me for being super annoying and going with the long quote from my most recent viewing. The cliff notes: Springer shows four big league tools (strong arm, big raw power, good speed, and good CF defense/great RF defense), a hit tool/approach that has been the subject of debate going on two years now, and all the intangibles (work ethic, passion for the game, high aptitude to learn) you’d want in a potential franchise cornerstone. The gap between what Springer is and what he’ll eventually be is quite large by college first round hitter standards, but you don’t need an amateur hack like me to tell you his upside is immense.

Good pro coaching will do wonders for him, though it will be really interesting to see how much tinkering his future employer will really want to do after investing a hefty bonus in the college version of Springer’s swing. He looks a little bow-legged in the photo above, but it isn’t a great representation of his swing setup because it captures him just as he started his stride. I had great video of him swinging the bat, but it disappeared into the ether during a file conversion. As for Springer’s swing, again, I’m not a scout, but I was really impressed with his balance at the plate, both in his approach and follow through. I didn’t like his collapsed back elbow, but found many of his flaws to be those decidedly under the “Coach Him Up and He’ll Be Alright” umbrella. This may be a cop-out, but the rise of so many other prospects could really be a boon for Springer’s career. Taking him in the top ten scares the heck out of me, but if he slips closer to the middle or end of the round, watch out. Lowered expectations + more stable pro organization, especially at the big league level (less need to rush him) = transformation from overrated to underrated almost overnight.

Another quick note I’ll pass along without much comment: George Springer cares. I realize this is a dangerous game to play because, really, how can we ever know such a thing, but George Springer (his name just sounds better when you use the first and the last) cares, or, at worst, is one heck of an actor. I’d never get on a player for not reacting to a strikeout with anger (and, by extension, showing that they care) because, as a quiet guy myself, I know demonstrative displays of emotion shouldn’t be the standard by which we judge effort and dedication. But the way Springer reacted to an early strikeout — pacing back and forth in front of the bench seemingly in search of a tunnel to pop into and blow off some steam (soon enough, George) until finally settling to the far end of the dugout, just off to the side, where he took a knee, closed his eyes, and started pantomiming his swing — really stood out to me. Probably nothing, but there you go.

None of that changes my view of George Springer the prospect, by the way. Just thought it was a relatively interesting tidbit worth passing along. I have to admit that I do kind of love the idea of a player with a wOBA approaching .500 getting that worked up over a bad at bat. Or maybe I love the way a player who is is clearly pressing at the plate has still somehow managed to put up a league/park adjusted triple slash of .386/.482/.667 (as of mid-April).

Two pro comparisons for Springer came immediately to mind. The first is 100% physical and in no way any kind of projection of future pro value. Something about Springer’s body, swing, and overall on-field demeanor reminded me a great deal of Florida’s Mike Stanton. Again, the two are very different players, but the physical similarities were interesting. A comp like that is probably why most people don’t like comps, but they’ll live.

The second comparison is much, much better, I think. Springer’s upside and overall tools package remind me so much of Minnesota minor leaguer Joe Benson that it’s scary. File that one away…

And now we get the run on early round pitching additions. Locust Grove HS (OK) RHP Adrian Houser (174th ranked draft prospect) stood out in a crowded Oklahoma prep pitching class due to his plus fastball and advanced curveball. So much can happen with a prep arm developmentally that I’d be making stuff up if I gave you any definitive take on his future, but I can say with confidence that two quality pitches often makes for a good base to build a successful career on.

The Astros gambled on the signability of Vanderbilt RHP Jack Armstrong (49th ranked draft prospect) and came out big winners. He’s big, he’s athletic, and he has a big league ready fastball/curveball combo. If the change comes around, he’s a potential mid-rotation innings eater with the chance to put together. Out of all the excellent Vanderbilt draft prospects, I liked him second only to Sonny Gray.

Vanderbilt JR RHP Jack Armstrong: 91-93 FB sitting, 94-97 peak; 80-82 flashes plus CU; 81-82 CB with promise but slow to develop due to injuries; clean mechanics; finally healthy, CB better than ever; 6-7, 230 pounds

Sometimes it really is as simple as throwing away the performance aspect and looking at raw stuff. Armstrong’s track record on the mound doesn’t make him a top 100 pick (or a top 50 prospect on my pre-draft list), but his raw stuff ranks up there with almost anybody’s. Injury concerns could have Houston looking at Armstrong as a future reliever, but I’d love to see the big guy get a chance to start.

Santa Fe CC (FL) LHP Chris Lee is a lefty with good present velocity and the body to grow into even more. He signed quickly and, though his control left something to be desire, he showed impressive strikeout and groundball numbers.

If you can’t love Stony Brook RHP Nick Tropeano (108th ranked draft prospect), then we can’t be friends. How can you not fall for a big righthander that throws much slower than his frame suggests, but gets incredible results due to movement, great secondaries, and a big league veteran feel for pitching? Tropeano’s upside is a solid big league starting pitcher; his stuff (FB/CU/SL) reminds me a little bit of what Kyle Lohse brings to the mound. To keep this from being too positive – who would ever want to read positive thoughts on the internet? – there is some concern that, without a proper fastball, Tropeano’s future is starting pitcher or bust (i.e. he lacks the safety net of becoming a reliever).

Stony Brook JR RHP Nick Tropeano: 87-88, tops out at 90-91 with FB; velocity up a tick this year; better sink on FB; very good CU; very good SL with plus upside; advanced feel for pitching; relies very heavily on CU; 6-4, 205 pounds

I really liked what Houston did when it came time to pick college outfielders. Bringing in three toolsy, athletic, and physically gifted prospects gives the organizational depth chart a nice boost as they attempt to remake their outfield at the big league level. San Diego State OF Brandon Meredith is, well, toolsy, athletic, and physically gifted. He also works deep counts and flashes enough power/speed/arm to make him a potential regular right fielder down the line. With most non-elite college prospects, his most realistic path to landing a big league opportunity is to put up unignorable (note: not a real word) numbers year after year in the minors until he finally gets the chance to contribute either after a trade leaves a hole in the lineup or he is needed to bolster the big league bench. From there, who knows?

San Diego State JR OF Brandon Meredith: good arm; plus bat speed; good raw power; solid speed; RF professionally; (388/490/547 – 29 BB/39 K – 9/13 SB – 201 AB)

King HS (FL) OF Javaris Reynolds is a lottery ticket who was taken at the right time (7th round) you’d like to see your team gamble on high upside/low probability type players. Forsyth Country Day HS (NC) RHP Brandon Culbreth is the pitching equivalent to Reynolds; raw, but with a pro frame and enough flashes of quality stuff that you can start your daydreaming. Baseball players at least five years away from the big leagues are what people daydream about, right?

Creighton RHP Jonas Dufek is a watered down version of Nick Tropeano. He’s big, has below-average fastball velocity, and reliant on his offspeed and command to keep himself in ballgames. As a senior sign, he also only cost one-fourth the price of Tropeano; I’d be pleasantly surprised if he can achieve one-fourth the success I think Tropeano will have in the pros.

I know certain allowances are made for lefthanders, but you have to admit that the selection of Kent State LHP Kyle Hallock officially marks an early round trend for Houston. Between Tropeano, Dufek, and now Hallock, that’s three college arms with fastballs that stay below the 90 MPH barrier more often than not. As a three-pitch lefty with a little bit of projection left, Hallock is my kind of senior sign.

Minnesota OF Justin Gominsky (Round 11) is a really, really nice addition this late in the draft. He fits the toolsy, athletic, and physically gifted prospect mold mentioned earlier. The arm, speed, and center field defense are all big league quality; the difference between getting a shot playing every day or being pigeon holed into a fourth/fifth outfielder role comes down to his hit tool, plate discipline, and ability to tap into his considerable raw power. I tend to believe in elite athletes figuring out the baseball side of things more often than I probably should, so take my hearty endorsement of Gominsky as a prospect with a grain of salt.

Minnesota JR CF Justin Gominsky (2011): good arm; very good defender; plus athlete; good speed; interesting hit tool; 6-4, 185

Mississippi C Miles Hamblin (Round 12) serves as a harsh reminder of why I shouldn’t get too excited about prospects based predominantly on their junior college production. That’s not to say Hamblin’s numbers at Howard JC were the only thing that drew me to him (his scouting reports have been fairly positive going on three years now), but it was the incredible statistics that had me touting him as a potential top five round pick (whoops) back in 2009. His so-so showing in the SEC and slightly less optimistic defensive projection has me a little nervous, but I’ll stubbornly cling to the idea that his plus arm/plus raw power combo gives him a shot to make it as a backup in the pros.

Hamblin has above-average power potential and a live bat, plus he has the added advantage of being close to a sure bet of sticking behind the plate as a professional. His outstanding performance this season for a dominant junior college team has scouts buzzing. Lefty power, a great catcher’s frame, strong throwing arm (mid-80s fastball in high school), and a mature approach at the plate…don’t let the lack of pedigree bother you, Hamblin is a good prospect;

Clemson 2B John Hinson (Round 13) turned down the Phillies twice including last year after talks got rather acrimonious when money couldn’t be agreed on after Philadelphia drafted him in the 13th round. He went back to school, had a nice season, and came out the other side as a signed 13th round selection of the Houston Astros. I think the pre-draft report on Hinson holds up pretty well: good athlete, good speed, good hit tool, raw defensively, most likely a versatile big league utility guy with the chance of being an above-average regular (with the bat) at second. That’s some serious value in the 13th round.

A plus hit tool combined with above-average speed and power will get you far professionally, but people smarter than myself have told me some teams question Hinson’s ability to play any one particular spot in the infield with the consistency needed of a regular. Based on my limited looks of him, I can’t say that I necessarily agree with that assessment, but his defensive skillset (good athlete, iffy arm) may make him better suited for second base than third. At either spot, he’s got the bat to make him a potential regular with a couple breaks along the way. He’s got a relatively high floor (easy to see him as a big league utility guy with pop) with the upside of a league average third baseman.

The Astros broke out of their college streak (3 of 13 including 5 in a row) by taking Lufkin HS (TX) RHP Gandy Stubblefield (Round 14). There really isn’t a ton of talent that separates Stubblefield from Houston’s second round pick Adrian Houser. Both pitchers have projectable frames, good fastballs, curveballs with upside, and the need for a reliable third pitch. The fact that one guy was selected in the second round and the other in the fourteenth just goes to show how messed up the current system (signability is king!) really is. Stubblefield is off to join an absolutely stacked (my early count has them with at least ten draftable 2012s) Texas A&M team.

RHP Gandy Stubblefield (Lufkin HS, Texas): 6-4, 190; 88-92 FB, 94-95 peak; CB with upside

The little scouting report below on Arizona State LHP Mitchell Lambson (Round 19) says it all. I make it a rule to always start with notes on the fastball because a) I think it is the most important pitch in baseball, and b) it helps keeps my notes organized and easier to peruse quickly. That said, Lambson’s change is so good and he relies on it so heavily, there really is no other way to talk about him without first mentioning the pitch. The Josh Spence isn’t really meant to be taken literally – guys as weird and awesome as Spence can’t be compared to mere mortals – but more of a funky lefthander with the chance to put up surprising results in an unconventional manner. In other words, don’t sleep on Lambson.

Arizona State JR LHP Mitchell Lambson: outstanding 72-74 CU with outstanding arm action that sometimes dips into upper-60s; uses the CU a ton; 85-87 FB, 88-90 peak; plus command; plus control; maybe a little Josh Spence in him; 6-1, 200 pounds

I have an irrational like of Tennessee 3B Matt Duffy (Round 20) that I can only attempt to explain in terms of relevant baseball skills by talking about his excellent defense at third and patient approach at the plate. Beyond that, I just plain have a good feeling about his pro prospects. If given the chance, I think he could have a season not unlike the one Jack Hannahan is currently having: slightly below league average with the bat, well above-average in the field. That might not sound super sexy, but, again, that’s value for a 20th rounder.

Duffy was a deep sleeper top five rounds candidate of mine heading into the 2010 season, so you know I’ve been irrationally high on his talent for a long time now. The Vermont transfer and current Tennessee standout has all of the defensive tools to play a decent shortstop professionally, but profiles better as a potential plus defender at the hot corner. For Duffy, a Jack Hannahan (with more raw power) or Andy LaRoche (with less raw power) type of career is possible.

Much like Miles Hamblin, North Carolina 1B Jesse Wierzbicki (Round 24) has been on the radar dating back to his days catching at junior college. The scouting blurb below was written back in 2010 when I thought Wierzbicki could play behind the plate as a pro. I still think he’s got the athleticism and enough catch-and-throw ability to play back there, but it appears I’m now in the minority. As a first baseman I don’t see how his bat will work at the pro level. Hopefully the Astros will be creative and try him in a utility role going forward. I can’t explain how he went higher in the draft than college teammates Patrick Johnson and Jacob Stallings.

Wierzbicki’s tools grade out as solid across the board, especially if you’re like me and willing to grade a catcher’s running speed on a curve. I tend to think of backup catchers falling into one of three general archetypes. The first group of backups are the sluggers (big raw power, capable of popping an extra base hit or two in that one start a week), the second are the defensive aces (nothing mesmerizes big league coaching staffs more than a catching with a plus arm), and the third are the players that do everything pretty well, but nothing great. Wierzbicki falls squarely in with that last category of player. He’s known for having power to the gaps, a consistent line drive generating swing, and a solid arm. He’s also a tireless worker who knows his own athletic limitations, two of those tricky intangible qualities that either mean a lot to a team or nothing at all.

For what it’s worth, I talked to one scout who preferred Central Catholic HS (CA) OF Billy Flamion (Round 25) to New York first round pick Brandon Nimmo. Flamion’s bat is universally praised, but his other tools (speed, arm, and defense) are met with skepticism. I think he gets a bad rap considering his football background and lack of experience on the diamond. He’s a better athlete than given credit for with enough foot speed and arm strength to become at least an average left fielder in time. If he hits as expected, you can live with that. I think the most interesting thing to watch as he heads to school will be whether or not his aggressive approach can be reined in enough to make him as prolific a slugger as he could be.

[plus bat speed; special sound; plus lefthanded pull power; above-average arm; average speed; average range in corner, likely LF; good athlete; lots of swing and miss]

Not signing Flamion hurts, obviously, but the consolation prize of signing Bishop Amat HS (CA) OF Wallace Gonzalez (Round 29) isn’t half bad. I’ve talked about this before, but sometimes teams will draft two questionable signs within a few rounds of each other with the intention of offering similar money and seeing if they can get one to bite. In this case, we know Flamion’s asking price was really high (first round money, reportedly) and Gonzalez “only” got six figures, so maybe my theory is off. Either way, Flamion is off to Oregon and Gonzalez is an Astro, so let’s focus on the new pro and leave the college guy until 2014. Wallace Gonzalez has tools you’d never expect to see out of guy a few pounds short of Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. His raw power, plus arm, and great athleticism are major strong points. Like the Lambson/Spence comp from before, here’s another comparison not meant to be taken too literally: Gonzalez and Astros 2009 third round 1B/OF Telvin Nash. Both Gonzalez and Nash are righthanded hitting first baseman/outfielders with enough upside to hit in the middle of a big league lineup someday.

We’re issuing a major upside alert with Wallace Gonzalez, a rare first base prospect that can lay claim to legit five-tool upside. Those tools run the gamut from “wow” (plus raw power and a bazooka – not literally, that would be a “WOW!” tool – attached to his shoulder) to “hmm, didn’t expect that” (watching a 6-5, 220 pound man with 45 speed is cognitive dissonance personified). With great upside often comes great rawness, however. Gonzalez is better known as a football star with intriguing upside as a tight end capable of developing into a dangerous downfield threat. His commitment to the gridiron makes his signability just murky enough that some teams could shy away on draft day. Years of football experience also means less time honing his baseball skills, so the onus will be on his drafting team to really coach him up. At this point in the rankings, a boom or bust prospect like Gonzalez makes a lot of sense.

Penn State 3B Jordan Steranka (Round 30) heads back to Happy Valley hoping to boost his stock leading up to the 2012 Draft. He’s a little bit like Matt Duffy, though probably not as strong as a defender.

Steranka gives just about what you’d expect from a player this far down the ranking: a strong arm and some power upside. He also has the advantage of being a steady glove at third, though there are some rumblings that he could be tried behind the plate as a pro.

Arkansas OF Jarrod McKinney (Round 31) is the last of our toolsy, athletic, and physically gifted college outfield prospects taken by Houston. He is similar to Meredith from a tools standpoint (power/speed/arm enough for right field), but an ugly pro debut (.182/.233/.231 in 121 at bats) is a reflection on his rawness as a prospect. McKinney has never been super productive at the plate and injuries have kept his overall at bats down. His talent, however, exceeds that of a typical late round pick.

Arkansas JR OF Jarrod McKinney (2011): line drive swing; power potential; good speed; great range; good arm; strong; missed most of 2010 with knee injury; catcher in HS; (190/346/270 – 9 BB/13 K – 2/5 SB – 63 AB)

Oklahoma State RHP Brad Propst (Round 38) doesn’t throw hard (topped out at 88 when I saw him), but has a dynamite changeup and the athleticism you’d expect from a former middle infielder. His time spent at shortstop has me wondering if there could be some hidden velocity that could be unearthed with 100% focus on pitching as a pro.

Oklahoma State SR RHP/SS Brad Propst (2011): 86-88 FB; plus 79-80 CU; SF CU developing

Georgia 1B Chase Davidson (Round 41) was once a symbol for all that was wrong with Houston’s cheap approach to the draft. Well, maybe Davidson himself wasn’t a symbol; he was more of the cherry on top of the disappointing draft sundae that was the 2007 MLBDraft. That was the year Houston couldn’t agree to deals with their top two picks (Derek Dietrich and Brett Eibner), as well as eighth round pick Chad Bettis. To go a year without bringing in a top four round pick (free agent compensation took care of the rest) puts a serious strain on the farm system. In 2008, the Astros signed their first rounder, comp rounder, and second rounder. Things were looking up, despite the fact they badly reached on Jason Castro with the tenth pick of the draft; I mean, at least they signed him, right? Then the third round came around and the Astros swung and missed with inking big-time slugging high school prospect Chase Davidson. The few Houston fans I knew were understandably apoplectic. I’m in no way defending Houston’s cheapness at the time, but it is fun to flash forward three drafts to the Astros drafting and signing Davidson as a 41st rounder in 2011. I don’t hold out a ton of hope for Davidson, but I also don’t see a ton of differences between him and last year’s fourth round pick of Milwaukee, Auburn 1B Hunter Morris. That alone makes Davidson a pretty huge steal this late in the draft. The bar is set so low for 41st rounders that even a career as a minor league slugger would count as a success story. Anything more is a bonus.

Davidson is all power all the time but with a hack at all costs attitude. Been a long time (three years to be exact) since we heard those Jim Thome comparisons…

Clemson OF Chris Epps (Round 45) gets a mention because it feels like he has been at Clemson for the better part of the last decade. Consider this his college hitter lifetime achievement award. Epps is a talented guy who gets hurt by his tweener status: probably not enough pop to carry him in a corner, but not a good enough defender for center. His approach to hitting is professional quality, but, much like Davidson the 41st rounder, I’d say a long career as a 4A star would be an impressive outcome for this 45th round pick.

Clemson SR OF Chris Epps (2011): leadoff hitter profile; average gap-style power; above-average speed; below-average arm; not a CF; 6-1, 195 pounds; (237/420/365 – 48 BB/49 K – 156 AB – 15/21 SB)

Westfield HS (NJ) C AJ Murray (Round 48) had a strong commitment to Georgia Tech that no doubt scared teams off, but I suspect they’ll be plenty of organizations kicking themselves once they realize the kind of player they let slip away. Murray is a great athlete with good speed and plenty of raw power. There is some concern he won’t be able to stick behind the plate long-term, but I’ve heard differently. I’m excited about following Murray’s development over the next few years, starting from his time at Georgia Tech all the way through draft day 2014.

Fast-rising prospect poised to make me look stupid for having him this low. Area scouts rave about his athleticism and sheer physical strength.

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