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College baseball is back in three weeks. That’s crazy. Excited as I am, the rapidly approaching first pitch means the impending end of any kind of meaningful 2015 college baseball preview, assuming you’re the type to, you know, actually care about what words mean. I choose to play it fast and loose with “words” and “definitions” and the like, so I figure I can still “preview” teams even after the season has begun. Still, it’s clear to me that anything done after February 13 won’t have quite the same impact. All of this is just a too long way of saying that it’s time for me to step up the workload here. Expect to start seeing a combination of three things over the next three weeks: 1) continued team previews with an emphasis on the teams with the most 2015 MLB Draft talent, 2) conference previews for the smaller (yet still awesome!) conferences, and 3) a whole lot more big picture stuff that I’ve yet to figure out but have confidence will be a lot of fun to write/read. I’d also like to give a little love to the “others” at some point by spotlighting the best and the brightest from Division II, NAIA, junior colleges, and anybody else who deserves to be seen.
Finally, these are the schools that I’ve come across that have yet to post 2015 rosters. If anybody out there has any insight on who will be playing for these fine universities this spring, please drop me a line in the comments or via email.
Central Connecticut State
North Carolina Central
JR OF Christin Stewart (2015)
JR OF Vincent Jackson (2015)
SR OF Jonathan Youngblood (2015)
JR OF Derek Lance (2015)
JR SS AJ Simcox (2015)
SR C Tyler Schultz (2015)
JR C David Houser (2015)
SR 1B/OF Parker Wormsley (2015)
JR RHP/1B Andrew Lee (2015)
JR LHP Drake Owenby (2015)
JR RHP Steven Kane (2015)
SR RHP Bret Marks (2015)
SR RHP Peter Lenstrohm (2015)
SR RHP Eric Martin (2015)
JR LHP Andy Cox (2015)
SO RHP Kyle Serrano (2016)
SO 1B/C Nathaniel Maggio (2016)
SO RHP Hunter Martin (2016)
SO 3B Jordan Rodgers (2016)
SO 2B/3B Nick Senzel (2016)
FR C Benito Santiago (2016)
FR LHP Zach Warren (2017)
FR SS/2B Brett Langhorne (2017)
Of all the teams profiled so far, none have a 1-2 outfield punch of 2015 draft prospects quite like Tennessee’s duo of JR OFs Christin Stewart and Vincent Jackson. Neither are likely first round prospects, so there are imperfections in their respective games that will be watched closely this spring. Stewart betrayed his patient, pro-ready approach last season in an effort to produce gaudier power numbers. It’s hard to blame him what with power being the most coveted singular tool in baseball these days, but the cost might prove to be greater than what it winds up being worth. On one hand, the change in approach worked as Stewart’s slugging percentage jumped about one hundred points from his freshman season. Unfortunately, the major dip in plate discipline — Stewart’s K/BB almost doubled from his first season to his sophomore year (1.48 to 2.80) — now creates a new question in his game that will need to be answered on the field before June. If all of that sounds overly negative, well, it’s not supposed to. Consider it more of a reality check for a really strong prospect than anything else. I’m still very much a believer in Stewart’s raw power (legitimately plus), hit tool (solidly above-average), and overall approach to hitting, past year production be damned.
South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M haven’t posted 2015 rosters as of this writing, so I can’t say the following with absolute certainty but I’m 99% sure Stewart will finish as the SEC’s top outfield prospect heading into the season. An interesting head-to-head comparison based solely from a scouting standpoint (i.e. ignoring collegiate production to date) in the larger college baseball world would be with Florida State’s DJ Stewart. DJ is ahead, but that’s not a knock on Christin. Another slightly less positive comparison would be to former Volunteer outfielder Kentrail Davis, who has flopped as a pro but still showed enough as a college prospect to go 39th overall in 2009. His wood bat experience has me excited about his upside with the stick, so, at the moment, I’m a believer. He’s pretty good.
The current number two to the top ranked Stewart is Vincent Jackson. Jackson is an outstanding athlete with considerable tools — in particular, his power stacks up quite well with Stewart’s and his plus speed blows him away — who has yet to blow scouts away at Tennessee. Inconsistent performance or not, his size and skill set evoke comparisons to two-time All-Star Alex Rios, a lofty comp at first blush but a little more palatable when you remember Rios’ earliest scouting reports and slow to manifest power as a young professional. Jackson’s blend of size, speed, raw power, athleticism, and defensive upside (above-average arm and range at present) combine to make a pretty enticing prospect. In other words, he’s also pretty good.
Stewart and Jackson are joined in an all-prospect outfield by SR OF Jonathan Youngblood. Youngblood checks off all my boxes in what has become on my favorite draft prospect archetypes, the shockingly raw yet scarily toolsy college outfielder. These are the guys that might as well be high school prospects when it come to the risk/reward calculus that comes into scouting them, to say nothing of the lack of track record that makes no sense from a player that has spent three to four years playing ball after the age of 18. Youngblood is fast (check) and athletic (check) with a strong arm (check) and the natural ability to roam center field (check…in fact, “patrols CF like a veteran” is written explicitly about Youngblood in my notes). He’s also very raw as a hitter with interesting raw power that is still likely a few years and some added muscle (he’s currently listed at 6-3, 185 pounds) away from showing up, if it does so at all (check and check). On top of all, his name is Youngblood. If that’s not the perfect name for our raw yet toolsy college outfield archetype, I’m not sure what is. I guess Jonathan Rawtool would be tough to beat, but Youngblood is a close second.
JR SS AJ Simcox isn’t part of that stacked outfield, but, like Stewart and Jackson before him, he’s pretty good. Though he hasn’t shown the kind of hitting acumen expected of him to date, all those I talked to can’t stop raving about his breakout potential for 2015 and professional upside. His defense is legit — range, hands, and arm are all average or better — and his as yet untapped offensive upside (above-average hit tool, average raw power, above-average speed, decent approach) is enough to give him a real chance to emerge as one of this class’ many shortstops that profile as regular players at the big league level. I write it often, but it bears repeating: I have no allegiance when it comes to college athletics, so I have no reason to prop up any particular program or prospect. Still, I find myself unusually bullish on all of these Volunteers and even I am curious if there’s some unknown reason why. Might as well keep the love-fest going with my appreciation of a pitcher I consider to be one of college baseball’s under-the-radar gems. JR LHP Drake Owenby, the owner of one of the sport’s most difficult to scout fastballs, will need to reign in his serious control issues if he wants to get himself selected in a draft range commiserate with his considerable raw stuff. At his best, he’s got a big league fastball (more on that in a second), a well above-average mid-70s curve that flashes plus, and an underdeveloped but plenty intriguing changeup. His walks have been out of hand to date, but he’s missed bats along the way (8.53 K/9 in 25.1 IP last year) and he’s the kind of athlete you believe will figure out some of his mechanical issues (and corresponding control woes) along the way. As for that aforementioned confounding fastball: at least in my looks, Owenby has added and subtracted from his heater to a degree that I can’t recall an honest to goodness amateur prospect doing so before. My notes have his fastball at literally anywhere between 85-95 (most often 88-92ish, like about 95% of the pitchers I see), and there doesn’t appear to be any external cause (e.g. injury, game situation, weather conditions) for the fluctuations. Owenby is a weird, fun prospect who also just so happens to be, you guessed it, pretty good. JR RHP/1B Andrew Lee has a good arm, lots of size (6-5, 220), and two-way talent. JR RHP Steven Kane, SR RHP Bret Marks, and SR RHP Peter Lenstrohm all feature above-average or better changeups and solid heat (88-92ish range). I don’t know much about JR LHP Andy Cox, but I like what I do know and his 2014 season (8.15 K/9, 3.84 BB/9, and 2.44 ERA in 77.1 IP) portends good things to come.
For as impressive as the Volunteers’ 2015 talent appears, literally all of the conversations I’ve had with those in the know about Tennessee baseball — seriously, every single one — can be summed up with the following phrase: “just you wait.” There is a ton of excitement around the game from otherwise impartial observers about the kind of program that is being built in Knoxville. There are plenty of solid underclassmen to watch like the big (6-5, 250 pound) athletic SO 1B/C Nathaniel Maggio, SO RHP Hunter Martin (nice changeup), FR LHP Zach Warren, and personal favorite SO 2B/3B Nick Senzel. The crown jewel, however, is unquestionably SO RHP Kyle Serrano. I’m fairly certain that this site was the highest on Serrano out there coming out of high school — I should check before making such claims, even when I try to cover myself with the lame “fairly certain” caveat: well, turns out he was 20th here, which was only one spot ahead of where Keith Law him him (so, maybe I wasn’t that much higher on him than everybody…) and a good bit ahead of where he landed at Baseball America (35th) — and nothing he did his freshman season has changed any minds about his long-term upside. His changeup stood out as a potential plus pitch in high school and the pitch remains a high upside offering that flashes plus at present. His velocity has ticked up just a bit (96 peak) and remains more consistently in the low- to mid-90s deeper into starts. The curve, like his changeup, flashes plus at times, and his control, while scary from the outside looking in (more walks than strikeouts this past year), isn’t a major concern going forward. All told, the profile reminds me quite a bit of a young version of Jarrod Parker, the ninth overall pick back in 2007. Sounds like a decent draft/upside parallel to me, but Serrano has two more years to make it a reality. Pretty good chance he does exactly that.
This is a little bit of a rough group even though I do like the names at the top quite a bit. I have to keep my mouth shut more than usual about John Aiello because he’s one of the players I saw up close multiple times this past spring in an effort to perform a service for a team/company in return for a small financial outlay. I don’t foresee lucking into the same arrangement next year – said team/company now has a more permanent employee in the area, which I’m pleased about since it saved me from making a tough life path decision – so I should be able to write freely about Aiello’s game multiple times next spring. Everything you’ve heard/read elsewhere about him is true: he’s got a big league body with the confidence that comes with it (or swagger, if you’re into that kind of thing), above-average power and arm strength, and enough athleticism to project as a darn fine third baseman professionally with the tiny chance he stays up the middle for a bit. Exciting overall profile.
I haven’t seen anybody else on the list as often as I have Aiello, but I think I have a decent feel for the rest of the class based on the few looks I’ve had, the short snippets I’ve heard from smarter pals, and the free public info out there on each guy. Ryan Mountcastle can really swing the bat. Ke’Bryan Hayes looks like he’d be comfortable dropped into a professional batter’s box tomorrow (no surprise with his bloodlines). J’Mar Smith is shaping up a little bit like this year’s Ti’Quan Forbes for me; it’s very early yet, but I like everything I know about Smith to date and think he could be a very fast riser.
Willie Burger sounds delicious right about now (as always, I skipped lunch); more importantly, he has interesting power and lives close enough by that I should be able to see him a few times this year. My appreciation for Carson Kelly as a prospect back in the day trickles down to Parker Kelly, so he’s a high follow for me. I remember very little about Bryce Denton, which doesn’t mean anything good, bad, or whatever. Bat intrigues me, but I’m curious about the glove. Only notes I have on him from East Coast Pro don’t reveal a whole lot about his defense, so that’ll be something I’ll try to pay extra attention to now.
3B/SS John Aiello (Germantown Academy, Pennsylvania)
3B Ryan Mountcastle (Hagerty HS, Florida)
3B/RHP Ke’Bryan Hayes (Concordia Lutheran HS, Texas)
3B/RHP J’Mar Smith (Meridian HS, Mississippi)
3B/C Willie Burger (Lancaster Catholic HS, Pennsylvania)
3B/RHP Parker Kelly (Westview HS, Oregon)
3B/OF Bryce Denton (Ravenwood HS, Tennessee)
3B Ben Ellis (Briarcrest Christian HS, Tennessee)
3B Brenton Burgess (Chamblee Charter HS, Georgia)
3B/RHP Andrew Noviello (Bridgewater-Raynham HS, Massachusetts)
3B David Chabut (Loganville HS, Georgia)
3B Alec Bohm (Roncalli Catholic HS, Nebraska)
3B LJ Talley (Charlton County HS, Georgia)
3B/SS Austin Pharr (Cherokee HS, Georgia)
3B Jake Franklin (Jefferson HS, Georgia)
3B Zack Quintal (Marshwood HS, Maine)
3B/SS Lucas Larson (Jefferson HS, Iowa)
3B Jared Mang (Los Alamos HS, New Mexico)
3B/1B Greyson Jenista (De Soto HS, Kansas)
3B Trey Cabbage (Grainger HS, Tennessee)
3B Brendon Davis (Lakewood HS, California)
3B Ryan Mantle (Linn HS, Missouri)
3B/RHP Blake Burton (Mater Dei HS, California)
3B Jack Mattson (Chanhassen HS, Minnesota)
3B/RHP Tyler Wyatt (Liberty HS, Arizona)
3B/RHP Grant Sloan (Zionsville HS, Indiana)
3B Matt Vierling (Christian Brothers HS, Missouri)
3B Graham Mitchell (Eastside HS, South Carolina)
3B Tyler Nevin (Poway HS, California)
3B/1B AJ Curtis (Amador Valley HS, California)
This list isn’t all that I wanted it to be, but it’s still a fairly strong representation of the players that I’ve either seen up close or feel like I have enough information on to make an educated guess about. Information becomes more scarce the further down the list you go, so keep it that in mind if you’re the type to think the guy listed at 9 is WAY better than the player listed at 5. In fact, it might just be best to focus on the rankings closer to the top of the list while using the back end as just a quick shorthand for the most notable tools each player possesses. Lastly, this list is just a quick version of what I have. If you want to know more about anybody — or want to add something — please don’t hesitate to ask/contribute any way you see fit.
- 3B/RHP Jacob Gatewood (Redwood HS, California): star upside; plus bat speed; big raw power, could be plus-plus; more present power at a younger age than most big-time prospects; seen as a potential CF over SS by many, could also fit very well at 3B; above-average to plus arm; great athlete; not much foot speed; popular yet unreasonable Tulo comp; swing needs to be reworked, but makeup suggests willingness to work at it; FAVORITE; mid-80s FB; good 74 CB; 6-5, 200 pounds
- 3B/2B Michael Chavis (Sprayberry HS, Georgia): good approach; above-average to plus defender; can’t throw it fast enough for him; very real right-handed power, at least above-average and plus for me; average speed; average or better arm; good athlete; bat speed is nuts; could be catcher convert; PG comp: Javier Baez; not perfect, but reminds me of Cavan Biggio last year; Callis comp: Jedd Gyorko; I can see maybe RHH Robin Ventura; have heard Blake DeWitt as warning; 5-10, 200 pounds
- 3B Sean Bouchard (Cathedral Catholic HS, California): quick bat; good to plus speed; above-average power upside; good athlete; good defensive tools; plus arm; average hit tool; 6-3, 200 pounds
- 3B/2B Charlie Cody (Great Bridge HS, Virginia): plus hit tool; strong arm; good athlete; really good defensive tools; quick bat; good speed; FAVORITE; PG comp: David Wright
- 3B/RHP Shane Benes (Westminster Christian HS, Missouri): average or better power upside; good athlete; above-average arm; average or better hit tool; 87-91 FB; 76 CB; 79 CU; strong; ACL injury in 2014; 6-3, 200 pounds
- 3B/SS Joe Dunand (Gulliver HS, Florida): power upside; good speed; strong arm; good defensive tools; 6-3, 210 pounds
- 3B Kevin Padlo (Murrieta Valley HS, California): good arm; good athlete; good hit tool; 6-1, 190 pounds
- 3B Montrell Marshall (South Gwinnett HS, Georgia): great athlete; 6-5, 200 pounds
- 3B/SS Will Toffey (Salisbury Prep, Massachusetts): strong; good hit tool; below-average speed; good athlete; great base runner; average or better raw power; above-average arm; smart hitter
- 3B Grayson Byrd (King’s Ridge HS, Georgia): mature approach; strong arm; 6-3, 180 pounds
- 3B/OF Travis Jones (Atascocita HS, Texas): quick bat; above-average to plus speed; power upside; good athlete; 6-4, 200 pounds
- 3B Dylan Busby (Sarasota HS, Florida): strong; good athlete; good range; good athlete; 6-4, 180 pounds
- 3B Max Ponzurick (Greensburg Central HS, Pennsylvania): interesting hit tool; strong arm; good defensive tools; 6-3, 220 pounds
- 3B/SS Taylor Lane (IMG Academy, Florida): strong arm; average at best speed; good athlete; above-average raw power; 6-1, 200 pounds
- 3B/RHP Jordan Pearce (El Camino HS, California): above-average power; 86-90 FB; mid-70s SL; good CB
- 3B/2B Joe Gillette (Scotts Valley HS, California): plus potential with glove; great athlete; good speed; PG Brett Morel comp; 6-3, 190 pounds
- 3B/RHP David Hensley (Patrick Henry HS, California): good glove; power upside; can get it against high velocity; 85-88 FB; 77-80 SL/CB; 6-5, 175 pounds
- 3B Dalon Farkas (Milton HS, Georgia): strong arm; power upside
- 3B Jackson Soto (West Albany HS, Oregon): strong; good athlete; 6-1, 200 pounds
- 3B Jayden Eggimann (Desert Ridge HS, Arizona): average power
- 3B/RHP Jared Walker (McEachern HS, Georgia): average speed; strong arm; 87-91 FB
- 3B/SS Michael Gretler (Bonney Lake HS, Washington): interesting upside with glove; 6-2, 180 pounds
- 3B/SS Dominic DiSabatino (St. Mark’s HS, Delaware): below-average speed; above-average arm; 6-5, 180 pounds
At one point, you could have made a case – a tenuous one, to be sure – that the shortstop position at the high school level was similar to the catcher spot. The catchers are currently Chris Betts and a lot of question marks. Shortstop has as clear a top prospect in Brendan Rodgers, but he’s not the only early round candidate worth knowing about. Some of the players listed won’t remain at shortstop, but many will. All in all, this is one of the deeper high school shortstop groups that I can remember this early in the process. Players always come out of nowhere and surprise just as attrition will knock some of the existing top players down a peg or three. I’m just saying that as of September 2014, this is a good group with a clear star at the top and a fun amount of depth trailing behind him.
It’s only logical to compare the aforementioned Brendan Rodgers to Florida’s top shortstop and eventual fifth overall pick, Nick Gordon. Perfect Game has also throw out a Troy Tulowitzki comp (not knocking it, though I don’t see it, but it seems like there’s one of these every year these days) and a JJ Hardy comp (more on target, I think). I’d actually compare his skill set and potential professional future with a different Florida amateur from back in the day: Florida State’s Stephen Drew (except righthanded this time). Rodgers is unquestionably ahead of Drew at similar stages of development – check out the HS scouting report of Drew from Baseball America when you can; it’s rough – and doesn’t come with any of the makeup questions that have dogged Drew (fairly or not) throughout his career. Rodgers, in fact, garners some of the highest praise of any amateur athlete I can remember when it comes to makeup; read this interview on Baseball America for some insight of how he views the game and keep it mind scouts have said this is just tip of the iceberg when it comes to his baseball IQ and commitment to maximizing his natural talent. The words “above-average” litter any report on his future tools: raw power, speed, arm (flashes plus), hit tool, and range/hands/instincts/footwork all hit the mark. The cherry on top is his explosive bat speed, which ranks at or near the top of this year’s group of high school hitters.
My only current quibble with Rodgers’ prospect standing is something he can’t control: his age. He’s not so old for his class that it’s going to move him down boards in any meaningful way, but it is worth keeping in mind when assessing his on-field performances over the past summer and going forward this spring. Even a few month developmental start can make a difference at that age. When you hear reports on his tools, forget about the age thing. If you hear from somebody raving about how he’s overmatching his competition, take it with a little grain of salt. Again, this is really is not anything to obsess about but rather something to store away in the back of your mind when comparing him against the rest of the very tippy top of the draft class. He’s still great, slightly overaged or not.
Cadyn Greiner is a massive personal favorite who ably combines a steady glove, strong arm, above-average speed, and a bat with a chance for an above-average or better hit tool with average power. He’s not quite Brendan Rodgers, but he may be 90% of him. I wish I was more confident that Greiner would stick at shortstop, but, if he has to move off, it is comforting to know he’s gifted enough to handle second base (with the chance he grows into enough power to make third base an option). Nick Shumpert’s glove is worth the price of admission, and the bat/speed could be enough to make him a future regular. He’ll be an interesting player to watch as he enters pro ball because he’s the type who projects as potential plus at second (or better…I really, really like his glove there) or around average at shortstop. What player brings more value? That’s a rhetorical question, as I’m a) not smart enough to actually figure that stuff out, and b) unsure there’s a good, publicly available way to figure that out, what with defensive metrics free for the masses still a relatively new and as yet imperfect measure for adjusting for such things. I hope a smart team with strong propriety defensive data collection system drafts Shumpert to help add a point to one side of the debate.
I’m quite sure somebody somewhere has beaten me to this, but I can’t find it anywhere after a solid fifteen seconds of Googling. Nick Madrigal has a lot of Jose Altuve in his game, and not just because he’s a fellow vertically challenged middle infield prospect. I mean, sure, that has a lot to do with the comp, but it also has to do with Madrigal’s excellent glove, advanced bat control, instincts beyond his years, underrated athleticism, and an approach to hitting tailor-made for pro ball. This is obviously a ceiling comp, as Altuve has matured into a very fine player, but if you can’t project high school players to big league all-stars nine months before the draft, then when can you?
Beyond those top four names, there’s still a ton of players who are good at baseball. That’s important because this is a site that makes guesses about which players will wind up being the best at baseball. In five to ten years we’ll have a better idea which of these players will make me look smart or stupid. I’ve considered using that as a new tagline for the site, if you can believe it. Logan Tolbert has the size, tools, and instincts teams fall in love with during the process. Lucius Fox is a great athlete with easy plus speed. Xavier LeGrant reminds me a little bit of a southern Nick Shumpert. Brandon Perez can really pick it at short and is a really smart hitter. The list goes on and on.
If you’re the type to wonder how a combined high school middle infield prospect list might currently look, then you’re in luck. I think I’d go Rodgers – Alonzo Jones – Greiner – Kyler Murray – Cornelius Randolph – Shumpert – Madrigal. Lots of close calls in there, so take it as tentative on tentative on tentative. Tentative is what I do best, after all.
SS Brendan Rodgers (Lake Mary HS, Florida)
SS/2B Cadyn Greiner (Bishop Gorman HS, Nevada)
SS/2B Nick Shumpert (Highlands Ranch HS, Colorado)
SS Nick Madrigal (Elk Grove HS, California)
SS/3B Logan Tolbert (IMG Academy, Florida)
SS/2B Lucius Fox (American Heritage HS, Florida)
SS/2B Xavier LeGrant (Phillip O Berry Academy of Tech, North Carolina)
SS/2B Daino Deas (Parkview HS, Georgia)
SS/OF/RHP Daniel Neal (South Laurel HS, Kentucky)
SS Brandon Perez (Mater Dei HS, California)
SS/2B Travis Blankenhorn (Pottsville Area HS, Pennsylvania)
SS/RHP O’Neal Lochridge (St. Thomas More HS, Louisiana)
SS Jalen Miller (Riverwood HS, Georgia)
SS Brody Cook (Riverdale Baptist HS, Maryland)
SS/RHP Kyle Datres (Loyalsock HS, Pennsylvania)
SS/2B Luke Wakamatsu (Keller HS, Texas)
SS Chris Reid (St. Michael the Archangel HS, Louisiana)
SS AJ Graffanino (Northwest Christian HS, Arizona)
SS/2B Tristan Metten (Prestonwood Christian Academy, Texas)
SS Ramon Alejo (Boone HS, Florida)
SS Carter Hall (Wesleyan HS, Georgia)
SS/3B Jeremiah Burks (Will C. Wood HS, California)
SS Brandon Janofsky (Jackson Memorial HS, New Jersey)
SS Jonathan Meola (Toms River East HS, New Jersey)
SS Nate Fisbeck (The Woodlands HS, Texas)
SS Kyle Isbel (Etiwanda HS, California)
SS Jake Mueller (Richland Northeast HS, South Carolina)
SS Grant Cox (Greenville HS, South Carolina)
SS Jay Sanford (Pope John XXIII HS, New Jersey)
SS David Posas (Valdosta HS, Georgia)
SS Dylan Doherty (Foothill HS, California)
SS/RHP Dylan Poncho (Kinder HS, Louisiana)
SS Ty Denzer (Chanhassen HS, Minnesota)
SS Deacon Liput (Oviedo HS, Florida)
This list isn’t all that I wanted it to be, but it’s still a fairly strong representation of the players that I’ve either seen up close or feel like I have enough information on to make an educated guess about. Information becomes more scarce the further down the list you go, so keep it that in mind if you’re the type to think the guy listed at 13 is WAY better than the player listed at 7. In fact, it might just be best to focus on the rankings closer to the top of the list while using the back end as just a quick shorthand for the most notable tools each player possesses. Lastly, this list is just a quick version of what I have. If you want to know more about anybody — or want to add something — please don’t hesitate to ask/contribute any way you see fit.
- SS/RHP Nick Gordon (Olympia HS, Florida): great athlete; excellent defensive tools, will be average at least professionally; good hit tool, easily above-average; interesting power upside, average to above-average for me (consider him underrated here); average to above-average speed (some have plus); above-average arm, plus at times; hits it with more authority than his brother at same stage; comparison to JP Crawford makes some sense, but has gotten physically stronger and results have been encouraging; easy 88-92 FB, 93-94 peak; above-average 73-79 CB flashes plus; upper-70s CU; 6-2, 170 pounds
- SS Ti’Quan Forbes (Columbia HS, Mississippi): above-average arm; good range at SS; excellent athlete; impressive raw power, easy average or better raw; quick bat; love his defensive upside at SS, CF is strong fallback; plus to plus-plus speed; needs to get stronger; only thing “holding him back” is misguided view that all MS preps fail; huge FAVORITE; 6-4, 175 pounds
- SS/3B Josh Morgan (Orange Lutheran HS, California): plus defensive ability at 3B; average or better arm; love his approach; impressive game power, average presently; average speed; great approach; no problems squaring velocity; BP comp: Addison Russell defensively; FAVORITE; 6-0, 180 pounds
- SS/3B Cole Tucker (Mountain Pointe HS, Arizona): above-average arm; good athlete; average or better speed; above-average raw power; knows how to play; 6-3, 180 pounds
- SS/2B Ryan Lillard (Urbandale HS, Iowa): strong arm; good speed; quick bat; good athlete; average power; 6-1, 185 pounds
- SS Brody Westmoreland (ThunderRidge HS, Colorado): good athlete; good defensive tools; strong arm
- SS Blake Wiggins (Pulaski Academy, Arkansas): power upside; strong; has also been tried at C; 6-1, 190 pounds
- SS Milton Ramos (American Heritage HS, Florida): good speed, plus for some; good enough arm; very good defensive tools, plus to plus-plus; impressive footwork; has gotten stronger over calendar year; not sure if he’ll hit; PG comp: Oscar Mercado; 6-0, 160 pounds
- SS/OF DJ Burt (Furquay-Varina HS, North Carolina): good speed; strong enough arm; good athlete; quick bat; gap power; 5-9, 160 pounds
- SS/2B Dalton Guthrie (Venice HS, Florida): smart player; good defender; solid all-around; typical Kevin O’Sullivan middle infielder in a good way
- SS Quin Walbergh (Edmond Santa Fe HS, Oklahoma): good speed; good defensive tools; interesting bat
- SS Kyle McPherson (Western Branch HS, Virginia): plus defensive tools
- SS Alexis Pantojas (Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico): plus defensive upside; good arm; above-average speed; bat will be a question; 6-0, 165 pounds
- SS Justin Fowler (Aliso Niguel HS, California): good hit tool; steady glove
- SS/RHP Tristan Gray (Elkins HS, Texas): strong hit tool; 88-89 FB
- SS Nick Valaika (Hart HS, California): good glove; strong arm; 6-0, 175 pounds
- SS Henry Davis (Mayo HS, South Carolina): really good defensive tools; strong arm; good athlete; 6-3, 160 pounds
- SS Christian Hicks (The Bolles HS, Florida): plus defensive tools; plus range; strong arm; 6-4, 180 pounds
- SS Dale Burdick (Summit HS, Tennessee): smart hitter; good approach
- SS/RHP Grant Fennell (Scripps Ranch HS, California): good athlete; good defensive tools; plus arm; 85-89 FB; 65-66 SL
- SS/3B Jonathan Ducoff (Kingwood Park HS, Texas): strong; good athlete; strong arm; 6-1, 190 pounds
- SS Josh Garbrecht (Edmond North HS, Oklahoma): good athlete; good speed; accurate arm
- SS Bryce Evans (Savannah Christian HS, Georgia): plus speed
- SS Clayton Custer (Blue Valley Northwest HS, Kansas): good athlete; 6-0, 170 pounds
- SS Nick Roark (Broken Arrow HS, Oklahoma): good defensive tools
- SS Ryan Gridley (Milton HS, Georgia): steady glove; 5-9, 170 pounds
I love the three names at the top. Unreasonably so, maybe, but they make up as dynamic a trio of future second basemen from the high school ranks in as long as I can remember. Guys with tools like this simply don’t see themselves projected as future second basemen all that often. Adding talent like this at second base is a good thing for the game (obvious statements are obvious, but stay with me), and perhaps an acknowledgment that a) a good second basemen is hard to find, b) sending out lesser players to second base isn’t a sound long-term development strategy, and c) offensively, the two positions up the middle have a freakishly similar threshold of acceptance (2B: .251/.309/.364 [.299 wOBA, 89 wRC+]; SS: .250/.307/.363 [.298 wOBA, 87 wRC+]). We’ve been conditioned to think of second basemen as nothing more than “failed shortstops,” but the perception of how difficult it is to play the position well appears to be changing. I realize there simply aren’t enough athletes to go around to field thirty middle infielders with two “shortstops” playing up the middle, but that shouldn’t (and it doesn’t, obviously) stop teams from trying. Let’s embrace second basemen in the same way we have long showered praise on shortstops; the position is important and difficult to play well and more than just guys who couldn’t hack it at short.
Of course, we are still cheating in a way. A good HS second base prospect is still very hard to find. As much as I look at the top names on this list as primary second basemen, I’d still be surprised if any of the above players wind up actually playing much of the position this upcoming spring for their high school teams. That’s just the nature of high school ball. Alonzo Jones is passable at shortstop (maybe better) and will forever be an intriguing option in center field thanks to his plus to plus-plus speed. Kyler Murray (see below) is almost as fast and no less athletic. Cornelius Randolph could play a variety of positions, and I wouldn’t argue with anybody who projected him as a third basemen or even a corner outfielder going forward. I think he fits best at second, but the body type more clearly fits the traditional third base mold. Either way, he’s not a great bet to get a ton of reps this spring at the keystone unless things change between now and then.
I know Murray is listed as a shortstop in many places on the internet, but those I’ve asked about him have been emphatic that he’ll wind up at second base in the long run. I find this interesting because athleticism (or lack thereof) is often cited as one of the main reasons a middle infielder will make the shift to his left to second base; if you know anything about Murray, you know damn well that his plus athleticism is not in question. All of this could be moot if he winds up playing college football, but I’ve learned that it doesn’t make sense to close the book on a prospect just because the football threat exists. On talent, he’s a no-brainer top two talent at second in this class. If you expand the rankings a bit, it’s clear he’s very much in the mix as a top five HS middle infield prospect. Always bet on athleticism.
Second, short, or center, Jones can really play. There might not have been a player I enjoyed watching more this summer than him. I’m not one to typically throw around scouting buzz words, but it was hard to describe the way he plays the game as anything but effortless ease. There’s not a future tool here that you’d rate average or worse, and his speed, athleticism, physical strength, bat speed, and swing all rank at or near the top of the class. I know some still ultimately question how much he’ll hit, so consider that one of the few remaining questions about his game as we head into the 2015 draft season. A big spring will lock him into the first round. I think the natural comparison we’ll see this spring – maybe not in the form of a comp, but more in a competition to see who goes first in this year’s draft – will be between Jones and Ian Happ of Cincinnati.
Randolph can’t quite compare as an athlete, runner, and defender with the two players ranked above him, but his hit tool could put him on the top of the list by next June. I really enjoy the Terry Pendleton comp that Perfect Game put out there. I’ve heard two fairly interesting ones as well: a lefthanded Bill Madlock (well before my time, but based on what I now know I can buy it) and Gregg Jefferies. I think Jefferies is a particularly interesting comp for a variety of reasons, though I wonder if he’s one of those rare players (well, not so much as a player since things didn’t quite go as planned, but as a prospect) that we shouldn’t comp anybody to. Probably not, but I have heard from multiple (two!) industry types that Jefferies was the most impressive young player they had ever scouted to that point.
We’ll circle all the way back to the original thought about this being a particularly strong year of “true” (truer than in year’s past, at least) high school second base prospects. As much as I think this year has the potential to be an exception to draft history, it should be noted that the track record for prep second basemen isn’t much to get worked up about. Only 11 HS second basemen were drafted last season. Of that 11, only seven signed. As the 35th overall selection in the draft Forrest Wall was the freak of the class (in a good way); after him, signed second basemen went in rounds 7, 7, 10, 12, 14, and 15. Positional designations do play a part in the data appearing the way it does – despite being placed on this list today, there is no guarantee they’ll still be here come June, let alone called a 2B by their drafting team on the big day – but it’s still worth remembering that players expected to settle in at second base at an early age aren’t typically sought after as amateur prospects. It’s not crazy to expect this year’s class to buck the trend.
2B/OF Alonzo Jones (Columbus HS, Georgia)
2B/SS Kyler Murray (Allen HS, Texas)
2B/3B/OF Cornelius Randolph (Griffin HS, Georgia)
2B/OF Jagger Rusconi (West Ranch HS, California)
2B Pikai Winchester (Iolani HS, Hawaii)
2B/SS Luke Alexander (Belmond HS, Mississippi)
2B Kody Clemens (Memorial HS, Texas)
2B Cobie Vance (Pine Forest HS, North Carolina)
2B Ethan Paul (Newport HS, Washington)
This list isn’t all that I wanted it to be, but it’s still a fairly strong representation of the players that I’ve either seen up close or feel like I have enough information on to make an educated guess about. Information becomes more scarce the further down the list you go, so keep it that in mind if you’re the type to think the guy listed at 12 is WAY better than the player listed at 8. In fact, it might just be best to focus on the rankings closer to the top of the list while using the back end as just a quick shorthand for the most notable tools each player possesses. Lastly, this list is just a quick version of what I have. If you want to know more about anybody — or want to add something — please don’t hesitate to ask/contribute any way you see fit.
- 2B/OF Forrest Wall (Orangewood Christian HS, Florida): perfect swing; bat speed in spades; iffy arm (below-average), but rebuilding strength after injuries; easy plus speed; great approach; above-average hit tool, plus upside; sneaky pop, above-average upside if generous (average for most); average glove at least; instincts are big league quality; BP comp: Dustin Ackley/Todd Walker; plain fun to watch him hit; have heard him likened to Tim Anderson in HS; my own comp: Mookie Betts; FAVORITE; 6-0, 180 pounds
- 2B/SS Greg Deichmann (Brothers Martin HS, Louisiana): above-average to plus raw power; plus speed; steady defender; accurate arm; quick release; consistent hard contact; good athlete; PG comp: Chase Utley; shades of stronger Nick Noonan for me; only red flag: older for class; 6-1, 180 pounds
- 2B/SS Max George (Regis Jesuit HS, Colorado): quick bat; average or better speed; steady glove, flashes better; average arm; great approach; really impressive “now” hitter; FAVORITE
- 2B/SS Isan Diaz (Springfield Central HS, Massachusetts): pretty swing; quick bat; good defender; strong arm; FAVORITE; MLB.com comp: Robinson Cano; 5-10, 175 pounds
- 2B/SS Liam Sabino (Blair Academy, New Jersey): great athlete; above-average arm; strong hit tool; intriguing defensive tools; average speed; 6-1, 185 pounds
- 2B/SS Trace Loehr (Putnam HS, Oregon): good athlete; average arm; gap power; good speed; can really hit; good defender; old for class; 5-10, 175 pounds
- 2B/SS Jack Gerstenmaier (Freeman HS, Virginia): good speed; good glove; strong hit tool; good approach; FAVORITE
- 2B/SS Tate Blackman (Lake Brantley HS, Florida): sneaky pop, chance for average in-game; solid across board; pro approach; smart hitter; average speed; average glove; average arm; very old for class; like his swing a lot; PG comp Christian Arroyo; 6-0, 190 pounds
- 2B/OF Luke Dykstra (Westlake HS, California): good hitter, at least average upside; strong arm; versatile defender; plays above tools; always goes max effort; average speed; impressed by defensive tools; 6-0, 200 pounds
- 2B/OF Bryson Brigman (Valley Christian HS, California): good defensive tools; good raw power; above-average to plus speed; like his defense at 3B a lot; 5-11, 180 pounds
- 2B Shane Mardirosian (King HS, California): above-average speed; average at best arm; strong; strong hit tool; all his tools play up; big fan of his glove; average power upside; FAVORITE; 5-9
- 2B/RHP Justin Twine (Falls City HS, Texas): good speed, others like it way more (plus-plus); great athlete; good defensive tools; good arm; can also play OF, 3B, and SS
- 2B/SS Keith Grieshaber (Marquette HS, Missouri): good athlete; good speed; good arm; good bat speed; power upside; 6-2, 185 pounds
- 2B/SS Chandler Avant (Pike Liberal Arts HS, Alabama): strong arm; smooth defender; above-average hit tool; plus speed; limited power upside; 5-9, 165 pounds
The unspoken message of last week’s look at the 2015 HS catching group was how uninspiring the collection of talent looks right now as a whole. As of today, it’s Chris Betts and a lot of question marks. I don’t doubt there will be plenty of players that break from the pack and create a far more interesting crop than it currently appear, but, for now, I’d put the group as whole well behind last year’s. Not to pick on this year’s top guy – seriously, I like Betts a lot and think he could be a great get for any team starting in the sandwich round – but I don’t yet see any catchers I’d feel comfortable popping in the first round. To go back to the direct comparison, I would not put Betts above any of the HS catchers at the top of last year’s list. He’s behind Alex Jackson, Jakson Reetz, Chase Vallot, and Evan Skoug. I think he’d probably fall fifth just ahead of Simeon Lucas, a player with similar strengths and weaknesses but less of the good stuff (you know, hitting) Betts has.
The counterpoint to all this is easy, of course. You could muster a very strong argument for Betts as high as three, though I don’t think you can put him above Jackson or Reetz with a straight face. Then again, if you wanted to take the outfielder Jackson out of the mix, then that would put him as potentially as high as two. So, maybe I’m being too pessimistic about the talent at the top of this year’s catcher group. Or too optimistic about last year’s. Or maybe comparing one year’s draft to the one before it doesn’t really provide any kind of worthwhile analysis since all drafts pretty much exist in their own universe. That’s probably it.
So who still wants to compare these first basemen to last year’s! This year’s first base class doesn’t have the slam dunk first round talent that last year’s did (Braxton Davidson), but there’s some serious power at the top. That has to be a welcome sight for a league currently entering what could be a prolonged power outage. Josh Naylor, Brandt Stallings, Devin Davis, Joe Davis, and Michael Hickman all have above-average or better raw power. Tyrone Perry and Chad Spanberger (among others) are no slouches in this area either. Another striking trend among these top first base prospects is size. Simply put, these young men are big. If you were the type to total and average out the combined height and weight of the fifteen players listed, you’d see that the average measurement comes out to a little taller than 6’2” and a little heftier than 215 pounds. Not small. Stallings, Davis, James Monaghan, and Seamus Curran stand out as being particularly impressive physical specimens.
If 60 (plus) power is a prerequisite for a regular big league first basemen, then we’re talking around 20+ (23-27 using Kiley McDaniel’s Objective Tool Grades, which is cool and well worth bookmarking). That’s about half of the league’s first basemen with enough close enough that the ratio could bump up to around two-thirds by the end of the season.
Average power (15-18 HRs) sets a bar that 20 of the 25 first basemen with enough PA to qualify have reached this year. The five holdouts: James Loney, Billy Butler, Allen Craig, Eric Hosmer, and Joe Mauer. Eyeballing the leaderboards indicates that you could use a .400+ SLG as a proxy if you’d rather stay away from counting stats. Every player with 14+ HR on the list has at least a SLG of .409 save Chris Davis and Ryan Howard. I like the simplicity of the above, but, let’s be real: using HR and SLG is no way to evaluate hitters in 2014, so we’ll go one step deeper.
There are 18 qualified first basemen who are at least average or better in terms of Off, which I like using because it is park adjusted and it includes base running. The former is obviously important and the latter, while maybe not particularly relevant to this exact discussion, is a decent proxy for speed, baseball IQ, and body type. Using this metric, four guys who qualified on our “power list” (the HR one) don’t make the cut: Garrett Jones, Mark Teixeira, Davis, and Howard. Two less powerful hitters do make it: Joe Mauer and James Loney (barely). Both of those hitters had wOBA’s around .320, so we can use that as a tentative offensive baseline for a league average first basemen. This makes me happier than using Off because it only breaks down what the player did with the bat in his hands, but bums me out because it doesn’t take park effects into consideration. From a scouting perspective it is incredibly weird and unrealistic to size up a player and think to yourself, “Yeah, that guy looks good for a consistent run of .320 or better wOBA’s.” Twenty or so homers, on the other hand, is a far simpler, far more engrained idea to visualize. That’s why it is sometimes helpful to work through the better metrics until you get to the basics. The fact that of the 19 qualified first basemen with wOBA’s over .320 have averaged 20.84 HR to date (9/10/14) ties it all together nicely. Average or better power in a first basemen is pretty much close to a must. Naylor, D. Davis, J. Davis, and Hickman are all there. Stallings, Perry, Spanberger, and any number of additional as yet unheralded (or heralded by others that I’m whiffing on) players should all be there as well. That’s a good start.
Now for a random paragraph that didn’t really fit anywhere else so I’m tacking it on here at the end. One of the nicest things about this group is that the player currently inhabiting the top spot just so happens to be a fascinating prospect to follow. I’m too bland a writer to be much of a narrative guy, but I find it hard to believe that Josh Naylor won’t become a Twitter darling come June. Canadian sluggers who have drawn comparisons to Dan Vogelbach (Perfect Game) and Prince Fielder (everybody) because of a wildly impressive natural gift for hitting, easy plus raw power, and an uncommon body type (not small) tend to get the imagination going. It is very possible – by the odds, almost a certainty – that another player will overtake Naylor at the top of this list by draft season’s end, but, as a player that breaks many of the molds we’ve grown accustomed to as baseball fans, Naylor will remain a favorite.
1B Josh Naylor (St. Joan of Arc SS, Ontario)
1B/OF Brandt Stallings (Kings Ridge Christian HS, Georgia)
1B Devin Davis (Valencia HS, California)
1B/C Joe Davis (Bowie HS, Texas)
1B/C Michael Hickman (Seven Lakes HS, Texas)
1B Tyrone Perry (Avon Park HS, Florida)
1B Chad Spanberger (Granite City HS, Illinois)
1B James Monaghan (La Plata HS, Maryland)
1B Chris Gesell (St. Augustine, California)
1B Christian Steele (Lebanon HS, Ohio)
1B/3B AJ Curtis (Amador Valley HS, California)
1B Jason Heinrich (River Ridge HS, Florida)
1B Seamus Curran (Agawam HS, Massachusetts)
1B Jaxxon Fagg (Williams Field HS, Arizona)
This list isn’t all that I wanted it to be, but it’s still a fairly strong representation of the players that I’ve either seen up close or feel like I have enough information on to make an educated guess about. Information becomes more scarce the further down the list you go, so keep it that in mind if you’re the type to think the guy listed at 15 is WAY better than the player listed at 10. In fact, it might just be best to focus on the rankings closer to the top of the list while using the back end as just a quick shorthand for the most notable tools each player possesses. Lastly, this list is just a quick version of what I have. If you want to know more about anybody — or want to add something — please don’t hesitate to ask/contribute any way you see fit.
- 1B/OF Braxton Davidson (Roberson HS, North Carolina): good athlete; average at best speed; average arm, maybe more; potentially special bat; good glove; serious raw power, easy plus; love his approach, every at bat matters; swing tweaks would help him take off; would pay to watch him hit; no problems turning around velocity; my own Freddie Freeman comp; PG comp: Travis Snider; FAVORITE; 6-2, 205 pounds
- 1B Jeremy Vasquez (Martin County HS, Florida): average power upside; well above-average hit tool; gorgeous swing; great vision at the plate; plus bat speed; good glove; McDaniel comp: Nick Longhi; FAVORITE
- 1B/3B Bobby Bradley (Harrison Central HS, Mississippi): above-average to plus power upside; average to above-average hit tool; great approach; makes some loud contact; average to above-average arm; steady glove; being tried at C, but still a 1B for me and many; slow; can see the popular Pedro Alvarez comp; FAVORITE; 6-2, 225 pounds
- 1B Justin Bellinger (St. Sebastian’s School, Massachusetts): others don’t love it, but I see a pretty lefthanded swing; big raw power; patient approach; 6-6
- 1B/LHP Pavin Smith (Palm Beach Gardens HS, Florida): quick bat; strong; interesting power upside (plus raw?), but a ways to get there; hit tool stands out, chance to be above-average; good athlete; strong arm; slow; FAVORITE; 87-90 FB; 6-2, 200 pounds
- 1B Josh Ockimey (Neumann-Goretti HS, Pennsylvania): good athlete; power upside; interesting hit tool; slow; 6-4, 220 pounds
- 1B/LHP Brian Gonzalez (Archbishop McCarthy HS, Florida): average or better raw power; average or better hit tool; 87-91 FB; CB flashes above-average; CU; 6-3, 230 pounds
- 1B/3B JJ Matijevic (Norwin HS, Pennsylvania): interesting power, above-average raw; average hit tool; average at best arm; below-average speed; 6-2, 200 pounds
- 1B Mitchell Bigras (St. Clair SS, Ontario): good approach; power upside; 6-5, 185 pounds
- 1B Cole Young (Norco HS, California): interesting power, above-average to plus; strong; iffy glove; 6-2, 200 pounds
- 1B/OF Cole Krzmarzick (Bishop Gorman HS, Nevada): strong hit tool
- 1B Dash Winningham (Trinity Catholic HS, Florida): interesting power
- 1B/LHP Hunter Williams (Cosby HS, Virginia): big power; 88-90 FB; 6-3, 215 pounds
- 1B Luke Ramirez (Eastlake HS, California): power upside; good glove
- 1B Eric Ramirez (Rio Mesa HS, California): good defender; really good hit tool; 5-10, 210 pounds
- 1B/RHP Joe Wainhouse (Kentridge HS, Washington): power upside; good defender; 87 FB; 6-6, 250 pounds
Chris Betts has a firm grasp on the title of top prep catcher in this year’s class. The tools are there for him to start at the highest level with good enough defensive ability and average or better raw power. His defense actually remains a hotly discussed topic among industry-types, but I’ve always been impressed at his maturity, arm, and capacity for growth, so I’m confident he’ll wind up an average or better professional catcher in time. Early views on guys like Wyatt Cross, Elih Marrero, Domenic DeRenzo, and Nick Dalesandro have offered promise. Most importantly, as you’ll see below, all four those young men look to have the athleticism, arm strength, and baseball IQ to stick behind the dish after graduation. Don’t think I’m trying to discover what pro teams already know or anything, but a little bit of retrospection about recent draft classes reveals a few worthwhile patterns.
High school catchers remain one of the most consistently overrated prospect commodities leading up to the draft each year. Every year I expect a nice long run of prep catchers in the early going of the draft and every year I’m confused as the guys I like best have to sit and wait and wait and wait. Two reasons for this, I think. First, defensive certainty is valued far more greatly than offensive upside by professional teams looking for early-round catching. This year’s poster boy for that is Blake Anderson, a fine defensive catcher with little offensive potential. Like any of my crackpot draft theories, there’s no rule written in ink here. Offense-first catching prospects like Kyle Schwarber, Chase Vallot, Mark Zagunis, and Brett Austin being selected within the top ten of all 2014 catchers represents the flesh and blood counterpoint. One theme that runs throughout the majority of this year’s top catching prospects (and believe me, it’s one I can really get behind) is an emphasis on athleticism. Max Pentecost, Zagunis, Jakson Reetz, Austin, Matt Morgan, and Shane Zeile as top five round catchers backs this up. Going back to the original theory, however, makes more sense when a comparison is made between my personal list of top HS catchers and how they really went off the board. It goes without saying that I’m far from the authority on, well, damn near anything, so consider this more of a self-audit than anything else. This year I found myself particularly enamored with offense at the catcher spot. Five of my top six all have some degree of defensive uncertainty. Alex Jackson, Reetz, Vallot, Evan Skoug, and Bryce Carter all could move out from behind the plate before long. Jackson has already moved (expectedly, of course), Vallot split time between catcher and DH in his debut, and both Skoug and Carter face unknown long-term defensive futures at the college level (TCU and Stanford, respectively).
The second reason is based largely on age, experience, track record, and the larger body of work that comes with all three of those things. I’m by no means suggesting teams select catchers they deem unworthy of ever seeing the big leagues in the top ten rounds – well, maybe in those underslot spots from round 8-10, but even then they are being very picky with who they bring in – but I do think teams are becoming increasingly realistic about how catchers develop as well as what kind of surplus value a catcher can provide during his own minor league incubation. I’m obviously not a heart, hustle, and grit guy, but there are important intangibles at play in life (sports included) and certain positions in life (sports) often require something more in the way of how you conduct yourself personally and professionally. A young catcher with a dependable glove, strong reputation for working with pitchers, and the personality traits shared by good leaders everywhere has value beyond what he does when the lights go on. It is all about development, after all.
Anecdotally, I’ve also noticed a rise of international catchers at every level of organized ball over the past decade plus. I know our youngest players often start at the most demanding defensive spots before moving off if necessary, but it always piques my interest when I see the July 2 rankings come out and the position player group is loaded with catchers, shortstops, and center fielders. This could be my Phillies-bias kicking in (not favoritism per se, but familiarity) as they seem to sign at least one well-regarded international catcher each year as well as an additional one or two mid-priced guys. Perhaps the steady stream of international catchers in need of reps at the lowest levels of pro ball each year has teams more inclined to favor stability (i.e. college catchers) with their other main source of amateur talent acquisition. Whatever the reason, college catchers always seem to be at a premium: 13 of the top 19 catchers taken in this past draft (top ten rounds) were from college, and that’s without counting Hunter Redman, Greg McCall, Adam Martin, Troy Stein, and Seth Spivey, all players signed between rounds eight and ten to significant underslot contracts.
I said two reasons, but, as always, you can tack on signability as a reason why certain players fall. I ignore signability in my rankings because that’s a factor typically based on information I’m not privy to, but it’s a gigantic talking point in draft rooms for all thirty teams. I have no guess as to whether or not there’s any one position that’s more or less signable – I’d hope pitchers would be for their arms’ sake, but who knows – so signability doesn’t seem to be anything unique to catching. Still, let’s call it three reasons and move on.
In addition to the names listed in the first paragraph (way up there), big Texans Joe Davis and Michael Hickman, hitters with power that will play at any position, would have cracked the rankings if I was thinking more like last year. Now, however, I think we’ve seen enough data pointing towards pro teams wanting to speed up bats by moving questionable defenders out from behind the plate that it makes more sense to group them both with the first basemen. It’s very possible that one or both will improve enough defensively to join the catchers, so stay tuned. The lightness of the catching position this year – I see no legitimate college catcher getting close to Betts, but I haven’t done a deep dive on that side just yet – could put a little pressure on both prospect and team to keep catching at any cost.
C Chris Betts (Wilson HS, California)
C Wyatt Cross (Legacy HS, Colorado)
C Elih Marrero (Coral Gables HS, Florida)
C Domenic DeRenzo (Pittsburgh Central Catholic HS, Pennsylvania)
C/RHP Nick Dalesandro (Joliet Catholic HS, Illinois)
C Alex Webb (Columbia Central HS, Tennessee)
C Hunter Stovall (Pelham HS, Alabama)
C Eric Jones (South Mecklenburg HS, North Carolina)
C Cal Raleigh (Smoky Mountain HS, North Carolina)
C Chris Cullen (West Forsyth HS, Georgia)
C Noah Croft (Olathe South HS, Kansas)
C Nick Fortes (Deland HS, Florida)
C Tyler Garrison (Mill Valley HS, Kansas)
C Chase Smartt (Charles Henderson HS, Alabama)
C Cole Buffington (Kennesaw Mountain HS, Georgia)
C/RHP Brendan Illies (Puyallup HS, Washington)
C Malik Brown (Birmingham Groves HS, Michigan)
C Tyler Murray (Huntington Beach HS, California)
C Angel Lopez (Perkiomen HS, Pennsylvania)
C Sean Buckhout (Don Bosco Prep, New York)
C Lucas Herbert (San Clemente HS, California)
C Michael Curry (Murphy HS, North Carolina)
C Jackson Lueck (Orangewood Christian HS, Florida)
C/RHP Kyle Davis (Miller HS, Alabama)
C Briggs Benson (Tift County HS, Georgia)
C/RHP Logan Gillaspie (Frontier HS, California)
C/3B Gabriel Garcia (Monteverde Academy, Florida)
1.7 RHP Aaron Nola
What’s the most important pitch in baseball? I’ll accept just about damn near any answer here* with a cogent argument, but I’ll take the fastball all day. LOVE the changeup, really like the curve, can appreciate a good slider, and all the extras (sinkers, splitters, cutters, forkballs, etc.) are lots of fun, but I’ve always been a believer in the magic of pitching off the fastball. It’s nice when years of anecdotal observations from being around the game match up with super smart guy research, but that’s what first led me to and then confirmed my need to see a good fastball from a young pitcher before moving on to anything else. Being as simplistic as possible, I think we can break down the fastball to three main areas of good/bad/ugly: velocity, movement, and command. Hit on two of those three — command ideally being one of the two — and you’re instantly on follow lists. Go three for three and now we’re talking an easy plus pitch good enough to get you to AA all by its lonesome.
Nola’s fastball is an easy plus pitch and the reason why he’s well worth the seventh overall pick in a pitching-rich draft. The ability to spot an 87-94 FB (95-96 peak) with plus movement at any quadrant at any time is pretty damn special. I really think he could use his fastball 80% of the time or more and get hitters out through AA. His 82-85 CU gives him another consistent above-average (plus for me in most looks) offering and he commands two breaking balls each with the upside of showing average or better in any given game. He’s really good. The comp that I keep going back to over and over again is Kris Medlen. I’ll take it. As far as recent draft prospects go, he reminds me a good bit of a shorter Kyle Gibson with a lower arm slot.
Semi-bold prediction: Aaron Nola starts a game in the majors in 2015.
2.47 LHP Matt Imhof
I like Imhof, but don’t love him. I like that he pitches off the fastball (88-92 FB, 94-95 peak), a pitch he commands well that plays up due to solid deception in his delivery. I felt his changeup improved a great deal as the year went on, so I like that. I like his size and physicality. I like his track record of setting hitters up and sitting hitters down. I don’t love that the changeup, though improved, still needs a ton of work before I’d call it a consistent average or better pitch. I don’t love the underdeveloped breaking ball, though others, namely Marti Wolever, deem it presently “above-average.” On balance, there’s enough here to be excited about at this point in the draft. Everybody calling Imhof a potential mid-rotation starting pitcher has it right, I think.
3.81 OF Aaron Brown
It’s absolutely a mistake turning him out as a hitter and not a pitcher, but they are the paid professionals and I’m just a guy on the internet so we’ll just have to wait and see how things play out. Not a direct comparison by any means, but I think there are some similarities pre-draft to former Phillies second round pick Anthony Gose. Brown’s raw tools and current non-hitting baseball skills are undeniably impressive: easy CF range, great instincts on the bases and in the outfield, plus raw power, plus arm strength, the works. His approach is what makes him such a presently ineffective hitter, and, glass half-empty guy I am, I don’t think he’ll ever improve enough in this area to be anything but a minus big league bat. Maybe the speed, glove, arm, and flashes of power make him a useful backup down the line, but I can just as easily see him never escaping AA with his swing at anything remotely close style of hitting. I literally can not recall any hitter with a K/BB ratio as ugly as his amounting to anything professionally. Do not like this pick one iota. Hope I’m wrong.
Semi-bold prediction: Brown reaches the big leagues only after converting back to a pitcher, where he’s currently got the following repertoire: 88-92 FB (94-95 peak), average mid-80s SL, flashes better; better than expected low-80s CU; occasional CB.
4.112 RHP Chris Oliver
5.142 1B Rhys Hopkins
Hoskins could be Darin Ruf. I actually like his value in a vacuum, but without having a board stacked up like in year’s past it is hard to determine how many other similar players I would have preferred, not that my own take is gospel or anything. I appreciate how Hoskins cleaned up his approach since his sophomore season. The power will definitely play (above-average to plus raw), he has good size (6-4, 225), and I actually think he’s nimble enough to hang in an outfield corner (LF, most likely) more so than your usual college 1B (like Ruf). Not a guy who moves the needle, but a good enough pick.
6.172 LHP Brandon Leibrandt
Nola, Imhof, and Leibrandt: all college juniors, all from elite programs, all Cape Cod standouts, all with plus fastball command. Interesting. Leibrandt is a crafty lefty straight out of central casting: mid-80s FB (84-88), above-average to plus mid-70s CU, average SL, average CB, and that aforementioned command. The results have been unimpeachable to date, so that’s a plus. Do you know who else lived 84-88 (per Baseball America’s pre-draft report) with his fastball before being selected by the Phillies? JA Happ. Hmm. I won’t go so far and call it a direct comp (Leibrandt has better control, for example), but I think that’s sort of Leibrandt’s best case career trajectory professionally. I’d take that out of a sixth round pick. Solid selection.
7.202 – SS Emmanuel Marrero
Don’t get it. Glove is obviously legit, but he can’t hit. Maybe he’s the next Troy Hanzawa. Cool.
8.232 – RHP Sam McWilliams
Size (6-7, 200), heat (up to 94), and ready to sign. Everything you’d want in an eighth round HS selection.
9.262 – RHP Matt Hockenberry
Saw him a lot over the years at Temple, but never thought all that much of him. Certainly never thought he’d be a top ten round pick, but here we are. One of literally hundreds of college arms with ordinary fastballs (88-92), decent command, and usable secondaries. Maybe he’s one of the few that break through and make it as a reliever. Probably not.
10.292 – OF Matt Shortall
I want to like Shortall more than I do, though I still like him as an underslot senior sign gamble with better tools than your usual underslot senior sign gamble. Strong arm, enough speed, makes good hard contact, really intriguing power, good glove in a corner, solid pedigree (Tulane transfer), nice size (6-3, 210). The approach is still a mess, but that’s easier to swallow with a tenth round pick than a third rounder. Just saying.
And the rest…
11.322 – SS/2B Drew Stankiewicz – probably the best ’14 prospect on a decent ASU team; good not great numbers; announced as a SS, but more of a 2B profile defensively; not my preferred college middle infielder left on the board, but not a pick to hate on
12.352 – LHP Austin Davis – scout pick for sure, as ’14 numbers (only season of D1 experience) weren’t pretty; really impressive stuff: 88-92 FB, 94-95 peak, 78-82 SL with upside, good 78-82 CU, low- to mid-70s CB; pro body (6-5, 240 pounds); will need to spend a little of those 9th/10th round savings on him since he’s got two more years of eligibility as leverage, but have heard he’d rather turn pro than return to school assuming the money is there
13.382 – RHP Nathan Thornhill – senior sign who has seen his velocity regress over the years (once hit 94-95, now mostly lives 88-90); also shows CB and 76-81 CU, both flash average or better; above-average command; really solid college performer who lacks dominance in track record or stuff, but a decent pick with the chance to be a good reliever in time
14.412 – OF Chase Harris – well-rounded senior sign with chance to be average or better across all five tools; bit of a tweener since he can’t really play CF, but should be nice organizational soldier for a few years in a Steve Susdorf kind of way; raw numbers are a bit misleading, considering park/schedule adjustments playing at New Mexico
15.442 – RHP Jared Fisher – pathetic peripherals in ’13 got a little better in ’14, but still more a scouting pick than a numbers guy; have him up to 93 with his FB and he has good size (6-4, 235 pounds); hard to find positives in this one, but (count the qualifiers) we can maybe take some solace in the fact there’s a chance he came recommended at least in part by Pat Gillick (four?)
16.472 – RHP Calvin Rayburn – first college guy they stumped me on, no notes on him in my database; D2 player with average numbers, good size, and a funky arm action; some digging reveals he works upper-80s with a lot of cutters and sliders, plus the occasional change; another senior…
17.502 – 3B Damek Tomscha – had an honest laugh when I heard he was the pick, as the Phillies have been after him forever, and, as yet another senior sign, they appear to finally have gotten him (update: he’s already signed); drafted him in the 50th round in 2010, but he was a much better prospect than his draft standing would have you believe; Marlins drafted him out of Iowa Western CC in round 36 the next year and then the Cubs gave him a shot in the 19th round in ’12, but he didn’t sign because a) both teams wanted him to pitch, and b) he wanted to honor his commitment to Auburn; I like his athleticism, glove, and arm strength at third, and he has the chance to hit with a little pop as a pro; nice gamble at this point, I approve
18.532 – C Sean McHugh – good idea of the strike zone, but neither the hit tool or power stand out; not a big believer in his glove, but does have some experience in the outfield if need be; similar to the Stankiewicz pick in that I think the idea behind it was sound, but I don’t love the actual player choice
19.562 – LHP Joey DeNato – crazy successful college arm who will go down as an all-time great for Indiana; scouting profile is almost identical to fifth round pick Brandon Leibrandt (mid-80s FB, relies on good to plus CU, pair of breaking balls that flash average, stellar command), which is either good news or bad news depending on your outlook on life; only major differences between the two are size (Leibrandt is 6-4, 200 and Denato is 5-10, 180) and class (Denato is, you guessed it, a senior)
20.592 – 2B Derek Campbell – taken from my notes: “good athlete, good arm, good glove, weak bat”; numbers support those claims; fifth senior in a row and not a particularly inspiring one at that
21.622 – 2B Tim Zier – second straight college senior 2B from the state of California, so that’s fun, sixth senior in a row; wrote about him last year on the site “rock steady glove, never gives away at bats, smart base runner” and all those things still apply
22.652 – RHP Ryan Powers – finally, a junior – big moment; another college starter with average numbers, good size (6-5, 210), and not a whole lot in the stuff/projection department
23.682 – C Joel Fisher – second senior catcher from the Big 10 in six picks; can’t hit a lick; almost like the Emmanuel Marrero pick, except Fisher isn’t in the same universe as Marrero’s plus glove; it’s the 23rd round, so, whatever, but, short of doing an area guy a favor or something, this is really an indefensible pick
24.712 – RHP Preston Packrall – got nothing on Packrall, the Phillies second D2 pick of the day; for clarity’s sake, whenever I mention numbers for pitchers, I’m pretty much just honing in on K/9 and BB/9, which is apparently the complete opposite way the Phillies must be looking at things since Packrall has a shiny 2.12 ERA and a just super 11-0 record (Tampa, a traditional D2 power, went a decent 54-4), but just 45 K in 80.2 IP; all I can say positively is that he’s from a HS in Clearwater, so presumably they know him better than anybody else would; also, hey, another senior…
25.742 – RHP Bryan Sova – college reliever with so-so peripherals but pretty traditional numbers; sub-six foot righthander short on stuff; another senior…
26.772 – RHP Jacques de Gruy – don’t have him in my notes, but that’s an incredible name so I’m a big fan of the pick already; I do have six other draft-eligible Furman pitchers in my database and twelve total players, not really sure what that says about de Gruy, if anything; ugly ERA, but peripherals more in line with what I want to see (66 K in 69 IP…never mind the 31 BB)
27.802 – LHP Scott Harris – heard this pick over the radio and did my best to guess where Buena Vista University (first D3 player they picked) could be before deciding on California just ahead of Florida…well, turns out it’s in Iowa, naturally; stocky fellow at 6-0, 240, but 81 K/22 BB in 68 IP sounds good to me, and he’s a JUNIOR (!)…
28.832 – RHP Tanner Kiest – attended Chaffey CC where he put up 70 K/39 BB in 48.1 IP; had a rough year based on traditional metrics, averaging just over 4 IP per start; solidly built at 6-3, 200 pounds and those peripherals are fun, so maybe you’ve got yourself a nice little relief sleeper here
29.862 – SS Al Molina – a HIGH SCHOOL PICK, hard to believe; I’ve heard some teams prefer him on the mound; also heard they have a good feel about his signability, but we’ll see
30.892 – RHP Brandon Murray – we’ve officially got ourselves a run of HS picks; really, really big fan of Murray, and would love to have seen him prioritized as their top 11-40th round overslot pick, unrealistic as my hope may have be; plus FB (89-94, 95-98 peak), average low-80s CU, two usable breaking balls, good athleticism, good size (6-4, 200), lots to like; both his command and control are a work in progress, to put it as generously as possible; commitment to South Carolina (where he could be a first round pick in three years) seems very likely to be honored, and I know he’s said that’s his plan, but still expect to see a late run at him on the off chance he changes his teenage mind
31.922 – RHP Shane Gonzales – he’s a ghost, apparently…
32.952 – OF Tom Flacco – fun trends emerging: three out of four HS picks, five straight non-four year college picks, and six straight non-D1 picks; like Molina, Flacco is a NJ HS product; unlike Molina, Flacco has a famous brother who plays a pretty popular sport that all but guarantees Western Michigan will have a new QB and the Phillies will come up empty
33.982 – RHP James Harrington – I was kidding with the “run of HS picks” comment earlier, but now we can officially call off the dogs re: THE PHILLIES WIN-NOW APPROACH = ALL COLLEGE PLAYERS meme; another guy who, if signable (and I think he is), would be a great addition to the system: 88-90 FB, mid-70s CB, upper-70s CU, good athleticism, and room to grow (6-2, 170)
34.1012 – C Scott Tomassetti – nifty little pick from Bryce Harper’s old school, CC of Southern Nevada; underwhelming numbers considering the context, but all my notes on him back in his UNLV days are positive (big power, lots of arm strength); like Tomscha they know him well as Tomassetti was originally an unsigned Phillies draft pick out of HS
35.1042 – OF Thomas Gamble – third HS player taken from New Jersey; son of Eagles VP of Player Personnel Tom Gamble, grandson of the late great Harry Gamble; very unlikely to sign
36.1072 – C Blake Wiggins – hopefully not the only Wiggins drafted by a Philadelphia team this month; had him as a physical SS with power upside in my notes; announced as a catcher, a position where many projected he could be tried professionally; strong Arkansas commit, but open to signing depending on the cash
37.1102 – RHP Rags Rogalla – HS pitcher with good size who…yeah, I’ve got nothing; system is currently really lacking in players named Rags, so he’s pretty much a much sign
38.1132 – RHP Kollin Schrenk – see Rags, but with added bonus of being son of GCL pitching coach Steve Schrenk; with luck, could be traded for Tadahito Iguchi equivalent years from now; heard he’s ready to sign
39.1162 – OF Keenan Eaton – HS hitter from Colorado who is a good defender in CF with lots of bat speed, but Vanderbilt doesn’t often see 39th round picks escape Nashville; the fact that you could muster up an argument that he’s the best position player prospect drafted by the Phillies in this entire draft is yet another reason why the MLB Draft is the craziest draft in all the land
40.1192 – SS Jesse Berardi – NY HS infielder who exists; have heard conflicting reports re: his signability, but my gut says he’s off to St. John’s
As always, I find myself with far less time than necessary to finish everything I want before the draft. Since pitchers are still a work in progress, I’ve decided to just go ahead and pump out the high school position player groups in rapid succession throughout the day. Nothing fancy, just lists with abbreviated notes for as many high school hitters as I have info on. Pitchers will hopefully be done early Thursday morning. Same target publish time/date for the final big board. My goal is to get it to 1,000 names, but…we’ll see. Apologies for not getting to all the comments and emails over the past few days, but things have gotten crazy busy in the best possible way. As always, all the interest is very much appreciated.
This, this right here, is not a particularly inspiring list. I’m hard-pressed to find a single potential regular middle infielder in this group. That leaves us with a collection of players with the chance to make it as utility infielders in the pros. That’s where things get interesting. It’s a fine line between starting shortstop/second baseman and quality utility man, I think. I’m not sure anybody outside of a few voices in the Twins organization who viewed Nick Punto as anything more than a potential above-average backup infielder. Guys like Pat Blair and Adam Frazier may not be quite good enough to warrant 500+ PA in any given big league year, but if they take to pro coaching and land in the right organization and hang around long enough to maybe see an injury or two ahead of them on the depth chart…well, you just never know.
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: The list only includes players from the conferences I’ve profiled so far. That would be the Big 10, SEC, ACC, Big East, Ivy, Mountain West, WCC, Sun Belt, Pac 12, WAC, Conference USA, Missouri Valley, and Big 12. As referenced above, players from the rest of college ball will be added in the very near future.
- Clemson JR SS Steve Wilkerson
- Wake Forest SR SS Pat Blair
- Mississippi State JR SS Adam Frazier
- Oregon SR SS JJ Altobelli
- Oregon State SR SS Tyler Smith
- Florida State SR SS Justin Gonzalez
- East Carolina JR SS Jack Reinheimer
- Texas A&M SR SS Mikey Reynolds
- Oregon State JR SS Kavin Keyes
- Texas Christian SO SS Derek Odell
- Vanderbilt rSO SS Joel McKeithan
- UCLA JR SS Pat Valaika
- Texas Christian JR SS Paul Hendrix
- Tulane SR SS Garrett Cannizaro
- Mississippi JR SS Austin Anderson
- Auburn JR SS Dan Glevenyak
- Maryland JR SS Kyle Convissar
- Miami JR SS Alex Hernandez
- Southern California JR SS Jimmy Roberts
- California JR SS Derek Campbell
- Southern Mississippi SR SS Isaac Rodriguez
- Texas State SR SS Nick Smelser
- Texas-Arlington JR SS Ryan Walker
- Rutgers JR SS Nick Favatella
- Louisville JR SS Alex Chittenden
- Louisiana Tech JR SS Ryan Gebhardt
- Duke JR SS Angelo LaBruna
- Washington State rSO SS Trace Tam Sing
- Stanford JR SS Danny Diekroeger
- Oregon State JR SS Andy Peterson
- Louisiana-Lafayette JR SS Ryan Leonards
- San Diego JR SS Logan Davis
I did my first and so far only public big board for the 2013 MLB Draft back in August 2012. I’d love to publish an updated version in the coming weeks, but feel like some annotation to the original ranking might make for some interesting content until the real deal big board is ready to see the light of day. Allow me to begin this look back with a rare display of personal horn tooting. My third overall prospect back in August stands out as one of the growing group of players that I believe Houston would be wise to consider with the first overall pick in June. Kris Bryant has been a damn exciting prospect for as long as I’ve run this site, but the leap he’s taken in 2013 deserves special attention. Before we get to what kind of prospect Bryant is today — spoiler alert: really damn exciting — let’s take a quick look back at his evolution as a prospect over the years.
Bryant was my 39th overall prospect in 2010, sixth among a solid group of third base prospects. The names that ranked ahead of him, in order: Nick Castellanos, Kaleb Cowart, Garin Cecchini, Rob Segedin, and Zack Cox. I prefer Bryant to Castellanos now, but it’s really close. The Tigers prospect gets the slight edge as a hitter, but Bryant wins in power, speed, and potential outfield glove. I’d also take him over Cowart and Cecchini without much consideration for the pro guys, though the likelihood that both stick at third — in theory — is much higher than whatever odds you want to put at Bryant remaining at the hot corner. The less said about Segedin and Cox as pros, the better off we’ll all be. Alright, fine, I can’t keep quiet: I’m still a believer in Segedin, though I admit I thought his transition to pro ball would be a lot smoother thus far. Anyway…
Despite the borderline first round ranking, I wasn’t a huge fan of Bryant back in his initial draft year. It bums me to admit that now, but it’s true. The Troy Glaus comparison was the trendy one at the time. I acknowledged that the comp had some merit, specifically when it came to body type, power upside (40+), and defensive skill set, but preferred to compare Bryant to slugging corner infielder Mark Reynolds. Reynolds is a complicated to evaluate player today, so it should be noted that the timing of the comparison makes a difference. Bryant’s initial draft year was after Reynolds’ best season in the bigs. His 2009: .260/.349/.543 with 44 HR and 24 SB. He also may have led the league with a few strikeouts or something (223, but who’s counting?), a factor that was considered in the comp when evaluating Bryant’s longer than you’d like high school swing. That concern has obviously gone by the wayside, thanks in part to some polishing of his swing but mostly because we (fine, me) severely underrated Bryant’s pitch recognition at the time.
I’ve written about Bryant twice this spring, so we’ll do a quick revisit to those quotes while we think of something new to say…
I currently have Kris Bryant listed as an OF/3B, a fairly significant change from the 3B/1B designation he entered school with. I’m totally buying in on Bryant’s athleticism playing in an outfield corner, at least for the first few years of his professional career. His body looks much better now than it ever did in high school — he managed to pull off the stronger yet leaner look that I’ve spent my whole adult life trying to figure out — and his arm is plenty strong enough to play in right field. There remains an above-average chance he sticks as a playable third baseman for the foreseeable future. His bat works anywhere, so determining his long-term defensive home is more of a matter of how great his future can possibly be than whether or not he will make it in pro ball. All of the standard developmental caveats apply, but the range of outcomes for Bryant look like this: upside of star-caliber player at third to steady, contributing bat at first, with something in-between those two if he winds up in right.
As I’ve said before, I think Bryant will be a well above-average regular in right field if given the chance. I wasn’t a huge fan of his when he was a senior in high school, but the improvement he’s shown since then — the only thing that looks better than his modified swing is his much sleeker physique — says something about what kind of prospect he is. As a draft prospect, think of him as a safer version of last year’s 39th overall pick, Joey Gallo. His old high school comp of Troy Glaus — one of those so obvious comps that you can’t help but see it — also makes a lot of sense as a pro ceiling. That’s big time.
The big amendment I’d make to those guesses is that I think Bryant has legitimate star upside as a right fielder. The power is real and spectacular, his hit tool is fine, his athleticism is above-average, his speed is average once underway (little bit of a slow starter, but forgivable for a big man), and there are no questions about his work ethic and attitude toward continual improvement on the diamond. Using that as a basic scouting template, it’s time to see if we can figure out a few comps to give us a frame of reference for the type of player Bryant can be.
In all honesty, it doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots between Bryant and another recent big name star college third baseman turned all-star big league outfielder. While his college coach Rich Hill (via Aaron Fitt at Baseball America) dug deep for a Pat Burrell comp (as well as a really intriguing Jayson Werth comp), I prefer the more recent vintage of former Hurricanes star Ryan Braun. Here’s a sampling from Baseball America’s early scouting report on Braun (with obligatory Burrell comp included):
Braun has all five tools. He works counts waiting for a pitch to hit, then has the bat speed-thanks to very quick hands-to hit for excellent power. His approach and power remind some in the organization of another former Miami third baseman, Pat Burrell. Braun is a plus runner, and his average arm strength should be enough for third base.
Swap out Braun’s plus speed and average arm for Bryant’s plus arm and average speed, and you’re really on to something here. Braun and Bryant match up fairly well from a scouting standpoint, but what about the numbers? So glad you asked.
Braun FR 2003: .364/.435/.665 – 28 BB/57 K – 13/17 SB – 242 AB
Bryant FR 2011: .365/.482/.599 33 BB/55 K – 18/21 SB – 197 AB
Very, very similar numbers, especially in terms of plate discipline. Also similar in speed (slight edge to Bryant) and power (edge to Braun).
Braun SO 2004: .335/.439/.606 – 24 BB/34 K – 21/27 SB – 155 AB
Bryant SO 2012: .366/.483/.671 – 39 BB/38 K – 9/12 SB – 213 AB
Bryant with the edge across the board as a hitter, only advantage for Braun coming via speed.
Braun JR 2005: .388/.471/.726 – 33 BB/39 K – 23/30 SB – 219 AB
Bryant JR 2013: .383/.554/.938 – 29 BB/16 K – 5/6 SB – 81 AB
Obviously too early in Bryant’s junior season to make a direct comparison, but things look good for the USD star. Clear advantages in plate discipline and power are mitigated only somewhat by Braun’s persistent speed advantage. It all makes sense when you look back at the early Braun scouting reports citing his plus speed. Braun is still an above-average runner (30+ steals the last two seasons) whose speed plays up thanks to savvy base running instincts. I see Bryant’s most likely stolen base totals rivaling those of Glaus, a big man who rumbled to three years of 10 or more from age 23-25 in his athletic prime.
If Braun doesn’t grab you as a comp, I think a second name ought to get your attention: how about fellow NL Central star Matt Holliday? A young Holliday works better in a straight body type comparison to Bryant, and I think Bryant’s statistical upside more closely mirrors what Holliday has done as a pro. Here’s BA on Holliday back in the day:
Strengths: Holliday’s ticket to the big leagues will be his bat. The ball jumps off it and he has legitimate power. Having grown up in an athletic family, he has maturity not normally found in a young player. He has four-tool potential, coming up a bit short in the speed category. Weaknesses: Holliday has to work on his quickness and lateral movement if he wants to become a big league third baseman. If not, first base or possibly left field could be his ticket. Giving up football should allow his body to loosen up, and could lead to the quickness scouts haven’t seen.
Braun, Holliday, or “I hate comps and I think your* a hack for using them!!!,” my basic point remains the same: we’re talking rarefied air with Bryant as a hitting prospect. Power, patience, and enough hit tool/speed/athleticism that you don’t worry too much about his aging curve and “old player skill set.” The aforementioned speed, athleticism, and plus arm strength should make him at least average in right field in time, though I suspect he’ll be better than that before long. For reference’s sake, going solely off similar players in Baseball America’s top 100, I’d put Bryant behind Oscar Taveras and Xander Bogaerts, comfortably ahead of Oswaldo Arcia (to be fair, even making this comp is a stretch as Arcia is probably the most dissimilar player to Bryant that I chose), a tick ahead of Courtney Hawkins, and right at the same level as Wil Myers, Nick Castellanos, and Jorge Soler. I think the total package is worthy of serious consideration at 1-1.