The first thing that jumps out when looking through the Louisville roster is the size of the Cardinals top 2018 pitching prospects. Look at some of these monsters: 6-4, 210 pounds, 6-6, 225 pounds, 6-6, 240 pounds, 6-6, 220 pounds, and 6-8, 240 pounds. Maybe you’re one super tall rim protector short, but otherwise that’s a pretty fun starting five for a modern day position-less basketball team. Let’s take a closer look at each…
RHP Riley Thompson (6-4, 210 pounds)
In terms of raw stuff, there are few better prospects in the country than Thompson. Armed with an electric fastball (90-96, 98 peak), consistently average or better breaking ball (78-86, will flash plus), and a solid if firm 84-88 MPH changeup, Thompson has the three pitches, imposing size, and prospect pedigree (if not for Tommy John surgery two weeks before the 2015 MLB Draft, he’d likely be well into a pro career by now) to jump into the draft’s first round. Unfortunately, the aforementioned size and injury past has made his developmental path a bumpy one. Since arriving at Louisville, Thompson has missed a season while recovering from his Tommy John and thrown 15.2 innings of good (13.27 K/9), bad (5.19 BB/9), and fine (4.02 ERA) ball as a redshirt-freshman. He’s currently five starts into a season showing more of the same as he did last year. The stuff remains top notch, but his control (not good) and command (below-average, believed to be equal parts from searching for a consistent release point and still working himself back into top shape after the surgery) have limited his overall effectiveness. If you know where Thompson will be valued by draft day, then let me know. I’m still trying to piece it all together. I think he might be looked at as one of those “first round stuff with tenth round pitchability” types who winds up splitting the difference draft-wise.
RHP Bryan Hoeing (6-6, 225 pounds)
You could make a strong case for Hoeing over Thompson as Louisville’s top 2018 pitching prospect. Though I currently like Thompson a hair more, I’ll give it a shot. What Hoeing lacks in Thompson’s top end velocity he makes up for with a better present breaking ball (78-80) and a much more promising low-80s changeup (above-average, plus upside). And that fastball that doesn’t quite match up to Thompson’s is still pretty damn good. At full health, Hoeing sits 88-94 MPH and can hit 95. On top of all that, he has great size and plenty of athleticism. There’s a lot to like here. Like Thompson, he’ll have to answer questions about his own recovery from Tommy John surgery as well as whether or not he can master the finer parts of pitching to allow his big stuff to work against pro bats.
RHP Sam Bordner (6-6, 240 pounds)
Bordner, Louisville’s closer, is one of my favorite 2018 college reliever to professional starter conversion projects. With a quality fastball (88-94, 95 peak) and a pair of average or better offspeed offerings (80-84 MPH breaking ball and changeup), he’s certainly got the assortment of pitches to make the switch. Whether or not he’s got the delivery and arm action to hold up to the rigors of a starter’s workload is in the eye of the beholder, but I’d at least try to get a guy with his size, athleticism, and track record of success stretched out to see what you have firsthand once he enters pro ball. Of course, it’s easy to like the idea of Bordner as a starter when you know you have the safety net of Bordner as a reliever reliever as a backup. That aforementioned track record of success comes exclusively in relief and includes a silly 0.41 ERA in 43.2 IP last season and a pristine 0.00 ERA through ten innings to start this season. That’s pretty good.
LHP Adam Wolf (6-6, 220 pounds)
The fact that we’ve been through three really good names already — though, to be fair, names chosen in in no particular order besides the fact this is the way they are listed in my notes — before getting to Wolf, potentially the best 2018 prospect on the Louisville team, says something about the depth the Cardinals have built up on this roster. Wolf’s velocity is more good than great, so it’s his plus cutter and average to above-average breaking ball (with a chance to be plus as well) that make him the dominant college pitcher that he is. Tack on an interesting low-80s changeup and a delivery with ample deception, and you can understand why Wolf has emerged as the Cardinals best starter in 2018. Like literally every other pitcher on this list, I’ve heard from smart people in the know who believe that Wolf’s long-term home is the bullpen. I get it — his fastball would play up in shorter outings and his changeup isn’t quite where it needs to be yet to get through a pro lineup multiple times — but, as you may have picked up on already, I think almost all pitchers deserve their shot to keep starting until they prove outright they can’t do the job any longer. As a matchup lefty reliever Wolf could be deadly, but I’d still much rather see what he could be pitching every fifth day in the pros.
RHP Liam Jenkins (6-8, 240 pounds)
It’s been all good news so far, but, in the interest of remaining fair and balanced, there is some less than good news to report on. Jenkins is a really talented young pitcher, but the big righty hasn’t gotten a chance to show it off just yet. Control remains the well-traveled Jenkins’s fatal flaw. His fastball (up to 97 at its best) and slider (mid-80s and impressive when on) are enough to get him noticed, but control has been a problem for years. The former Arizona State Sun Devil walked over five batters per nine in junior college last season (also over a strikeout per inning and a good ERA) and has almost doubled that figure in his admittedly small sample start for Louisville. On the plus side, the stuff and size remain so intriguing that a late round pick on Jenkins (if signable) still seems like a smart investment. Betting on big arms (and bodies) to turn the corner with daily pro instruction from experienced coaches will still give you more misses than hits, but the hits are often big enough to make it all worth it.
LHP Rabon Martin isn’t one of the Louisville giants and his stuff is far from overwhelming (86-90 heat, decent 75-79 breaking ball), but the man has gotten results. RHP Austin Conway is a little bigger with stuff both a little firmer (89-92 FB, 94 peak) and crisper (his 78-84 breaking ball flashes above-average to plus). With a strikeout rate over one per inning spanning his entire college career, the Indiana State transfer has an even more accomplished track record than Martin. Both pitchers are good enough to play professionally
OF Josh Stowers has the most upside of any 2018 Cardinal position player. He’s often referred to as a five-tool player, so he has that going for him. I’m not quite so sure — yes, he has all five tools but none stand out in the way I’ve come to expect out of a true “five-tool player” — but that doesn’t mean I don’t like him a lot. Stowers is coming off a .300/.400/.500 season (.313/.422/.507 to be exact…you know, I’ve always thought there should be a catchy name for a triple-slash line like that) where he walked almost as much as he struck out (31 BB/33 K) while flashing power, athleticism, and enough range to hang in center. The last point is one that’s up for debate depending on what day you see Stowers. His best present tool (speed that plays above-average to plus) makes him a natural fit up the middle, but there is still some question as to whether his arm (inconsistent, though mostly around average) and instincts are suited for the task. Considering my ceiling for Stowers is more fourth outfielder (but a good one!) than everyday player, the ability to play a credible center is a little less important for me. As long as he can play it well enough — and he can — then I’m good. His speed, pop, and patience will do the rest.
There’s little not to like about 2B/3B Devin Mann‘s offensive profile. He makes decent contact, flashes some pop, and is opportunistic on the bases. There’s little to love there as well — no carrying tool, some question how much his present decent contact projects, he’s awkward fit defensively as an infielder who looks like a third baseman but throws like a second baseman — so the math probably adds up to a bat-first utility upside…if you believe in the bat.
1B Logan Wyatt has all the ingredients necessary to be the latest Louisville hitter I’m willing to look past some positional issues with and rank higher than most. OF Drew Campbell sure seems like he has the skill to be the next exciting Cardinals center field prospect of note. 2B/OF Jake Snider can hit. SS/3B Tyler Fitzgerald and 3B/SS Justin Lavey both need a hefty dose of polish, but offer serious upside. RHP Shay Smiddy, RHP Michael McAvene, and LHP Nick Bennett all are intriguing names to know heading into 2019. RHP Bobby Miller and LHP Reid Detmers are both really high follows for 2020.
rSO RHP Riley Thompson (2018)
rSO RHP Bryan Hoeing (2018)
JR RHP Sam Bordner (2018)
JR LHP Adam Wolf (2018)
rSR RHP Austin Conway (2018)
rSO RHP Liam Jenkins (2018)
SR LHP Rabon Martin (2018)
JR 2B/3B Devin Mann (2018)
JR OF Josh Stowers (2018)
JR C Zeke Pinkham (2018)
rJR C Pat Rumoro (2018)
SO RHP Shay Smiddy (2019)
SO RHP Michael McAvene (2019)
SO LHP Nick Bennett (2019)
SO LHP/OF Adam Elliott (2019)
SO SS/3B Tyler Fitzgerald (2019)
SO 3B/SS Justin Lavey (2019)
SO 1B Logan Wyatt (2019)
SO OF Dan Oriente (2019)
SO OF Drew Campbell (2019)
SO OF Ethan Stringer (2019)
SO 2B/OF Jake Snider (2019)
FR RHP Bobby Miller (2020)
FR LHP Reid Detmers (2020)
FR LHP Michael Kirian (2020)
FR RHP Glenn Albanese (2020)
FR OF/RHP Lucas Dunn (2020)
FR C/OF Zach Britton (2020)
FR OF Tey Leonard (2020)
FR 3B/1B Cameron Masterman (2020)
FR C Ben Bianco (2020)
From a stuff standpoint Tommy John surgery survivor RHP/1B Tristin English profiles very similarly to RHP Jonathan Hughes. Both guys have fastballs that can hit 96 MPH (87-94 regularly) with average or better sliders. Hughes has the edge with his third pitch, another average or better offering (changeup), but English’s top tier athleticism tip the scales back to him. There are some who prefer English as a hitter, but I think his future, as is the case with most guys who can throw mid-90s heat, is on the mound. Like Hughes there are still plenty of kinks to be worked out, but the upside is considerable. For what it’s worth, I LOVED English coming out of Pike County HS in 2015. The love has cooled a bit — two years away from the mound will do that — but remembering why he was considered such a big-time prospect in the first place can help rekindle those old feelings. A young, healthy English flashed a plus slider, promising curve, and usable changeup, all in addition to that fastball that topped out in the mid-90s. If he can get back to that just a little bit — he’s already there with the aforementioned fastball and slider — then he has a chance to be pretty special.
Patience is needed with Hughes as he also works himself back from Tommy John surgery. Patience and understanding. Hughes’s raw stuff (good!) has long outpaced his peripherals (bad!) all while putting up impressive run prevention stats (good…but maybe not all that predictive). It’s a damn confusing overall package. His return to the mound so far in 2018 just muddles the waters even more. Hughes has upped his K/9 to a still below-average 6.28 while his BB/9 has rocketed to 9.42. It’s a really small sample, but the fact he’s done that and still has an ERA of just 2.08 is pretty wacky. I have no idea what to make of Hughes just yet. The good news is we might not need to make any grand conclusions on him considering his three years of eligibility left. It would be a major upset if he used all three years, but certainly not a stretch to see him back at a fine academic institution like Georgia Tech for his academic senior year in 2019.
RHP Patrick Wiseman is a super deep sleeper who hasn’t pitched much at all since enrolling due to a variety of injuries. When healthy, the 6-5, 225 pound hurler can run his fastball up to 95 MPH. RHP Bailey Combs, RHP Jake Lee (16.45 K/9 + 1.94 BB/9 = 11.57 ERA in 9.1 IP, somehow), and RHP Micah Carpenter all live in the upper-80s with decent secondary stuff. RHP Keyton Gibson is a half-grade ahead in both velocity (89-93) and overall prospect stock.
C/1B Joey Bart is really good. I know a lot of people who think he’s the best college catching prospect and a potential first round pick. I can’t disagree. He’s part of the large group of college catchers all battling it out to be the first of their kind off the board. Bart’s power and arm strength are exactly what teams are drawn to at the position. His approach has taken a big step forward early this season — something many smart onlookers (i.e., not me but the people who occasionally tell me things) expected on some level — and if it’s a real change and not a small sample blip, then his already high stock will shoot up even higher. I still think there are some rough edges defensively that need polishing, but the same can honestly be said of just about any 21-year-old catching prospect with the offensive talent to start in the big leagues.
It’s stunning to me to see 2B/SS Wade Bailey back at Georgia Tech after the junior season he had. Pro ball’s loss is our gain (temporarily) as we get to talk about Bailey for another few months before losing him to minor league prospect writers who specialize in super duper deep sleepers. Bailey is good at second, playable at short, and has hit every single season of his life. I like prospects like that.
SS/OF Carter Hall is a lot of fun for a lot of reasons. My favorite reason is that I honestly don’t know what to make of him yet. He’s a redshirt-sophomore who figures to remain in school at least another year and likely longer than that — guys who go to school to play for their dad don’t tend to leave early — so we at least have a year or three to figure it out. Hall is also fun because he’s a blazing fast runner with the kind of defensive chops to handle both middle infield spots and chase down balls in the gaps in center. A player like that who has impressed in his small sample opportunities at the plate gets interesting in a hurry. I’m here for Carter Hall even if it means waiting a year or two until his signability comes into clearer focus.
I’m just about out of words to say about 1B/OF Kel Johnson. He’s a really good college player who was burdened with outsized expectations going back to his prep days, but he’s now settled into a really tough 1B/LF only righthanded power bat with way too much swing-and-miss in his game. That’s a really, really tough profile to love.
The ultra-athletic OF Chase Murray is a really good looking young hitter who can run and defend. The leap he’s made in his approach is really exciting as Murray has gone from striking out in 20.5 % of his plate appearances to doing the same in just 8.8% of his plate appearances so far in 2018. It’s a really small sample (25 AB), but C Kyle McCann hitting .400/.583/1.120 is so good that I can’t not mention it. I have a weird suspicion that those numbers will dip some as the year progresses, but with two carrying tools (above-average power, plus arm) he’s a fun backstop to track heading into next year’s draft. RHP Garrett Gooden and LHP Connor Thomas are good 2019 prospects, but RHP/SS Xzavion Curry is potentially a great one.
rSO RHP Jonathan Hughes (2018)
rSO RHP/1B Tristin English (2018)
SR RHP Patrick Wiseman (2018)
rSR RHP Ben Schniederjans (2018)
SR RHP Jared Datoc (2018)
JR RHP Robert Winborne (2018)
JR RHP Micah Carpenter (2018)
JR RHP Jake Lee (2018)
JR RHP Keyton Gibson (2018)
JR RHP Bailey Combs (2018)
JR C/1B Joey Bart (2018)
SR 1B/OF Kel Johnson (2018)
SR 2B/SS Wade Bailey (2018)
rSO SS/OF Carter Hall (2018)
SO RHP Garrett Gooden (2019)
SO LHP Connor Thomas (2019)
SO RHP/SS Xzavion Curry (2019)
SO RHP/2B Austin Wilhite (2019)
SO LHP/OF Nick Wilhite (2019)
SO C Kyle McCann (2019)
SO OF Chase Murray (2019)
FR RHP Hugh Chapman (2020)
FR LHP Brant Hurter (2020)
FR LHP/OF Will Shirah (2020)
FR SS/RHP Oscar Serratos (2020)
FR OF Colin Hall (2020)
FR OF Baron Radcliff (2020)
FR INF Luke Waddell (2020)
FR OF Michael Guldberg (2020)
FR OF Colin Hall (2020)
When I think of Florida State, I think hitting. The Seminoles routinely rank among the nation’s best in OBP and their position player prospects consistently arrive in pro ball as some of the most mature, patient hitters in the country. I love Florida State hitters. But should I? Is gaudy college production blinding me to more meaningful scouting concerns that have held back recent Florida State bats?
The days of JD Drew, Stephen Drew, Buster Posey (and Paul Sorrento and Doug Mientkiewicz before that) may be over, but picks going back to since I’ve started here in 2009 such as Tyler Holt, James Ramsey, Devon Travis, Jayce Boyd, DJ Stewart, and Ben DeLuzio (an unsigned FA) have carried on the Seminole tradition. Kind of. Of those six names only Travis (when healthy) has made a mark on the big leagues. There’s still time for Stewart and DeLuzio, but, much as I’ve liked both guys in the past, it’s more than fair to point out that neither rank particularly high on present prospect lists. The group of less than impressive Florida State alums in the pros probably doesn’t mean anything in a big picture sense — it’s neither all that large a sample nor all that damning a hit/miss rate in the first place — but it makes me a little curious about whether my own appreciation for Seminole hitters at the college level gets in the way of fairly evaluating them as potential professionals.
For the record, I don’t think a prospect should be judged by the players who came before him at the same school. So maybe this analysis is all for naught. It is, however, interesting to me to look at Florida State hitters specifically because the approach taught in Tallahassee is an outlier in the same way the Virginia crouch and the Stanford swing have proven to be. Here’s the six aforementioned recent Seminole bats with the initial number being my pre-draft ranking and the second number being where they were eventually selected…
38 – Holt – 300
86 – Ramsey – 23
240 – Travis – 424
193 – Boyd – 200
26 – Stewart – 25
343 – DeLuzio – 1217
Loved Holt, Travis, and DeLuzio way more than the pros did. So far only Travis has justified that love. Lower on Ramsey than the pros and about the same for Boyd and Stewart. So do I have a history of overranking Florida State hitters? Maybe! I honestly went into this thinking it would be a definitive yes and that the conclusion would actually tell me something useful about my own scouting proclivities. No such luck, but I’m not about to dump a half-hour of work for nothing.
Anyway, the 2018 Florida State team is loaded with pitching. How’s that for a segueway? As of this writing the Florida State staff has struck out 13.57 batters per nine innings. Damn. The two biggest arms coming into the year were LHP Tyler Holton and RHP Cole Sands. Unfortunately, Holton went down early in the season with an injury that necessitated Tommy John surgery. He’ll be a fascinating player to watch this June as teams make their best educated guesses about his signability. A top junior going down just 4.2 innings into the season is interesting in its own right, but Holton was a draft-eligible sophomore last season and selected in the 35th round by Miami. Stands to reason that teams got a pretty good feel for his signability based on that, but who really knows. A healthy Holton is a top prospect Holton. What he lacks in velocity (85-90 FB, 92 peak) he more than makes up for with pitchability, command, athleticism, and a pair of quality offspeed pitches (average upper-70s breaking ball, above-average 76-80 changeup that flashes plus). I had a dream — seriously — that Cleveland drafted and signed Holton last year (probably because they one drafted Tyler Holt), so, you know, if that happens then don’t forget you heard it here first.
Sands, a more conventionally appealing prospect than Holton, is healthy and throwing really well for Florida State to kick off his 2018. He’ll run his fastball up to the mid-90s (89-94, 96 peak) and features a breaking ball (78-82) that will flash above-average. Toss in a changeup and a mid-80s cut-slider and it’s easy to see why he’s considered an intriguing potential big league starting pitcher.
RHP Andrew Karp was really good last year despite a less than great ERA. He’s got the build, fastball (up to 94), and putaway offspeed pitch (above-average 79-82 changeup, flashes plus) to go far. The way 2018 has started for RHP Cobi Johnson is comical. No lie, I literally laughed out loud when I saw his numbers so far. As of this writing, he’s struck out 22 batters in 8.2 innings pitched. Johnson throws about as hard as Karp, but features a plus low-70s curveball as his go-to offspeed pitch. He can also mix in an average changeup and an interesting low-80s cut-slider. With numbers like that and the knowledge he’s not doing it with smoke and mirrors, Johnson has a rocket ship strapped to his prospect stock in my eyes.
(As I post this, Johnson’s sitting at 24 strikeouts in 10.1 innings pitched. He’s already slowing down!)
Neither RHP Ed Voyles nor RHP Will Zirzow has pitched yet this year, but both have the stuff and track record to get drafted by teams willing to take the long view on their respective prospect stocks. RHP Chase Haney, like Holton out for the year after Tommy John surgery, is a fun sidearming sinkerballer who could pitch his way to senior-sign status down the line.
I know a few individuals who have OF/RHP Steven Wells as a pitcher first and foremost on their boards. Most of my notes on him detail his ability on the mound (89-93 FB, mid-70s CB), so I guess there’s some logic to it. Four innings and 170+ at bats in his college career later, it’s pretty clear Wells should be judged as a hitter. A hot start to his 2018 — his 17 BB/8 K mark is notable even for a Seminole — is a point in his favor. He’s like a less accomplished version of former Seminole Mike McGee.
Finally, after a million words and a misleading introduction, we’ve finally gotten to a big-time hitting prospect. Simply put, C Cal Raleigh has star upside. I had him as a potential first rounder and the first college catcher off the board back when I did my initial 2018 MLB Mock Draft back in October. I stand by it. Raleigh’s blend of power, patience, and high likelihood of sticking behind the plate (where he’s admittedly more good than great and perhaps not for everyone) is tough to top. Let the overrating of another Florida State batter begin!
In all honesty, Raleigh is a tough player to overrate. Catchers on the whole are tough to overrate. A more fitting candidate to be overranked by me is OF/C Jackson Lueck. Lueck doesn’t have a true carrying tool, but is a well-rounded switch-hitter who has hit a ton since day one. If a team buys into him as a potential catching conversion, he’ll shoot up boards. As an outfielder he’s a bit of a tweener in almost every respect, for better or worse.
Auburn transfer C/1B Jonathan Foster is a steady hand behind the plate with enough power at it to be worth a follow. 1B/OF Rhett Aplin has some pop and plenty of arm strength, so a team that still sees him as a primary outfielder could take a chance on him late. How much SS Mike Salvatore will show with the bat remains to be seen, but his glove is solid enough to get him a look in a class weak in true shortstops. 2B Rafael Bournigal was a classic Florida State hitter even before setting foot on campus. The former Belmont Bruin has great patience at the plate and is a reliable defender at the keystone. His path to the big leagues will be tough as a second baseman with limited experience elsewhere (note: I’m unsure if he can play elsewhere, just pointing out that he hasn’t), but he makes a lot of sense to me as a late-round senior-sign based on his track record as a hitter. I mean, somebody has to play second base for you in the minors, right? Might as well be a patient, mature hitter with big league bloodlines.
Looking ahead, there’s predictably a lot to like in the 2019 and 2020 classes. 3B Drew Mendoza = superstar. OF/RHP JC Flowers isn’t too far behind. I really like LHP/OF Drew Parrish, RHP CJ Van Eyk, and LHP Austin Pollock as well. The Florida State machine rolls on and I can’t wait to overrate every last prospect here.
rJR RHP Andrew Karp (2018)
JR LHP Tyler Holton (2018)
rJR RHP Cobi Johnson (2018)
JR RHP Cole Sands (2018)
rSR RHP Ed Voyles (2018)
rSR RHP Will Zirzow (2018)
JR RHP Chase Haney (2018)
rJR RHP Alex Carpenter (2018)
rSO RHP Ronnie Ramirez (2018)
SR OF/RHP Steven Wells (2018)
JR C Cal Raleigh (2018)
JR OF/C Jackson Lueck (2018)
JR C/1B Jonathan Foster (2018)
JR SS Mike Salvatore (2018)
SR 1B/OF Rhett Aplin (2018)
rSR 1B Kyle Cavanaugh (2018)
rSR 2B Rafael Bournigal (2018)
SO LHP Clayton Kwiatkowski (2019)
SO LHP/OF Drew Parrish (2019)
SO OF/RHP JC Flowers (2019)
SO 3B Drew Mendoza (2019)
SO 2B/OF Nick Derr (2019)
SO SS Tyler Daughtry (2019)
FR LHP/OF Jonah Scolaro (2020)
FR LHP Shane Drohan (2020)
FR RHP CJ Van Eyk (2020)
FR LHP Austin Pollock (2020)
FR RHP Tyler Ahearn (2020)
FR RHP Conor Grady (2020)
FR SS Cooper Swanson (2020)
FR OF Reese Albert (2020)
OF Griffin Conine is hitting .211 through eleven games as of this writing. This is normally the time where you expect me to bring up how there’s more to life than batting average (true) and an eleven game sample is not something to get worked up over (true, again). Instead, let’s go the other way. In fact, let’s go the other way completely. Conine hitting .211 at this stage of the season is important. Not only that, it’s a good thing. Hear me out. For most hitters, hitting .211, small sample or not, would be a disaster. However, Conine’s .211 is far from an empty .211. His complete triple slash: .211/.354/.421. He’s still walking at an impressive clip (just about one per game) and his ISO is north of .200. The mini-lesson is here is that Conine is such a damn good hitter that he can provide offensive value even when the hits aren’t falling. Conine can be an above-average hitter even when batting .211. Imagine him at .250. Or .275. Or even .300. When you consider many, myself included, think Conine has a plus hit tool then that means big league seasons hitting .280+ could very well be in his future. Give me that with his plus raw power (25+ homers), average to above-average speed (closer to average raw, but it definitely plays up), the athleticism and arm strength to excel in right field…yeah, I’m pretty happy with that. Perfect Game has mentioned two-thirds of the Mets outfield as possible comps (Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce) while I’ve gotten “better Phil Plantier” as a possibility. The Conforto comparison is particularly interesting when you look at their respective sophomore seasons…
.328/.447/.526 – 41 BB/47 K – 6/11 SB
.298/.425/.546 – 41 BB/45 K – 9/9 SB
Conforto on top, Conine on bottom. Pretty close! Conforto went tenth overall in 2014. That may be a little rich for Conine in this particular class, but it’s not crazy. As one of this class’s cleanest prospects — seriously, there’s no real hole in his game to pick at unless you want to ding him for not being able to play center — Conine offers some of the same high floor certainty that makes Seth Beer appealing to me. High floor, good shot at being an above-average regular, and a chance of a star peak. Pretty, pretty good.
Also good: OF Jimmy Herron. I love watching Herron play baseball and think he’s one of the draft’s best outfield talents. If I had to nitpick, I guess I’d question whether or not his arm is consistently strong and accurate enough to play regularly in center field. Besides that, he’s golden. Herron can run, defend, and, most importantly, hit. He makes a ton of quality contact with enough pop to keep opposing pitching honest and a discerning eye that has led him to a very comforting career (so far) 66 BB/63 K mark. Herron’s final ranking on this site is very likely going to wind up higher than anywhere else on the internet. He’s really good.
OF Kennie Taylor has many of the same strengths (speed, CF range, athleticism) and weaknesses (arm strength) as Herron, but is a step behind him as a hitter, especially in the plate discipline department. His tool set may be too good for teams to pass up this June, but I think his game looks even better as a potential 2019 senior-sign. Up-the-middle defenders who can run tend to get more benefit of the doubt as seniors since it’s fairly easy to envision roles for them in pro ball.
I love SS/3B Zack Kone almost as much as I love Herron. His approach is a definite work in progress — though early returns are promising — but the physical gifts are all there. He’s a no-doubt shortstop with enough arm and speed to play the position well in the pros. As a hitter, he’s begun to make the leap as he’s begun to find more of his natural power while fighting through longer, better at bats so far this spring. His defense gives him a high floor (utility infielder?) while his offensive upside is enough to make him a potential starter in the big leagues. It’s repeated all the time, but it’s true: with very few exceptions, college shortstops who can remain at the position in pro ball are a dying breed. Kone is an exception.
C Chris Proctor is a nice little sleeper — in as much as any starting ACC catcher can be a sleeper — who doesn’t wow as a defender, but gets the job done behind the dish. Same can be said for him as a hitter, though a quality start to 2018 could suggest an expected power uptick coming to fruition is more real than not. It doesn’t add up to a potential starter for me, but there are some big league tools to work with all the same.
3B/RHP Jack Labosky has long been a favorite, but I’ve cooled on him a bit now that it’s becoming clearer his approach is always going to be a little more “grip it and rip it” than I personally like. That doesn’t make Labosky a lesser prospect on the whole, just less appealing to me personally. I’d still go to bat for his athleticism, power, and defensive talent even though he’s more of a solid mid- to late-round candidate than a sleeper top ten round senior-sign pick like I may have once thought. 2B/SS Max Miller is a sensational defensive player who can’t hit. I don’t know if the former will outweigh the latter for some teams, but my hunch is probably not. 2B/OF Peter Zyla‘s positional versatility makes him a little interesting, especially if a team is willing to try him behind the plate again.
LHP Chris McGrath is a wild lefty with a nice enough fastball/slider combo. LHP Mitch Stallings has a touch less velocity (87-91 as opposed to McGrath peaking at 93), but has a more well-rounded arsenal including a solid 79-81 changeup. RHP Al Pesto was great in 2016, but that feels like a long time ago for the junior pitcher. Jimmy’s nephew (probably) has enough of a fastball/slider mix to at least get in the conversation as a potential relief prospect if he can get back on the mound. RHP Hunter Davis has similar stuff, but I like him a little less since he offers no lame Bob’s Burgers joke for me to make. RHP Ethan DeCaster is a ton of fun as a sidearmer with a long track record of success as a Creighton Bluejay. I can’t speak to his stuff (yet!), but he’s definitely a player worth investigating this spring.
Years of waiting for RHP/SS Ryan Day to break out might finally be paying off. The senior pitcher is off to a sizzling start so far in 2018. I’ve long been a believer in his athleticism (he was once a standout defender at short with as impressive an arm for the position as you’ll find) and his fastball/slider one-two punch is among my favorite of its kind in his class. Day’s fastball doesn’t have premium velocity at 87-92 (94 peak), but the movement he routinely gets on it makes it a plus pitch. His slider is more of a cut-slider and is a really tough pitch for opposing hitters to square up. At 82-85, it’s already an average offering with plus upside as he works to refine it. A fastball known as much for movement and command as velocity + a knockout secondary pitch + elite athleticism = an easy Baseball Draft Report FAVORITE.
SR LHP Chris McGrath (2018)
SR LHP Mitch Stallings (2018)
JR RHP Al Pesto (2018)
JR RHP Hunter Davis (2018)
rSR RHP Ethan DeCaster (2018)
SR RHP/SS Ryan Day (2018)
SR 3B/RHP Jack Labosky (2018)
JR OF Jimmy Herron (2018)
JR OF Griffin Conine (2018)
JR OF Kennie Taylor (2018)
JR SS/3B Zack Kone (2018)
JR C Chris Proctor (2018)
SR 2B/SS Max Miller (2018)
SR 2B/OF Peter Zyla (2018)
SR 1B/OF Michael Smicicklas (2018)
SO LHP Graeme Stinson (2019)
SO LHP Adam Laskey (2019)
SO RHP Coleman Williams (2019)
SO LHP Bill Chillari (2019)
SO RHP Cam Kovachik (2019)
SO RHP/1B Matt Mervis (2019)
SO C Chris Dutra (2019)
SO OF Chase Creek (2019)
SO 3B Erikson Nichols (2019)
FR RHP Bryce Jarvis (2020)
FR RHP Josh Nifong (2020)
FR OF Steve Mann (2020)
FR C/1B Mike Rothenberg (2020)
FR 1B Chris Crabtree (2020)
FR 1B Joey Loperfido (2020)
1B/OF Seth Beer is the obvious headliner. Lost in the all the nitpicking about his game in recent months is the fact that he’s a really, really good hitter. His “down” sophomore season was when he hit .298/.478/.606 with 64 BB/35 K in 218 AB. I think taking a step back and appreciating the fact that a year like that can in any way be considered disappointing is necessary to fully understand where Beer stands as a prospect. I’ve mentioned this before, but it feels as if there’s some backlash about Beer among draft writers for reasons that go beyond what occurs on the field. Beer is a popular name for baseball fans who typically don’t worry much about amateur ball, and I think certain segments of the draft writing world don’t like it when their corner of the internet gets exposed to mainstream fans. Scoffing at those who really only name Beer on name value — “he’s a nice college slugger, but nothing special as a pro prospect,” they say — gives them some of the gatekeeping credibility that so many baseball prospect types seem to crave.
Of course, the possibility that the narrative outlined above exists only in my head is real. If we pretend the premise above is totally wrong, then we can at least get back to talking about Beer as a baseball prospect only. That might be for the best as I probably should try to avoid burning any more bridges than I already have. The criticisms about Beer’s game come in two forms. There are the knocks on him as a hitter and athlete coming from those who don’t think he has the physical traits needed to continue to hit at a high level as he advances against better pitching. There are also those who focus on his limited utility as a fielder. Many look at him as either a bad first baseman or a bad left fielder with not a whole lot of hope of ever improving on that side of the ball. As with all criticism, I find that such remarks tend to reveal more about the critic than the subject.
It’s true that Beer may not be able to keep this up against better pitching. I’d argue that’s true of any amateur, but that’s something nobody wants to hear. I’ll also concede that the scouting points made against him (ordinary bat speed, more passive than patient, less than ideal swing mechanics, lack of athleticism) are all at least arguable in their own right. HOWEVER, I’d also argue — sacrilege alert! — that a lot of those factors are so overwhelmingly subjective in nature that separating one’s personal biases from what one sees on the field in real time is almost impossible. If you are predisposed to liking Beer, his bat speed is fine. If you’re not a fan, then it could be his fatal flaw. Same with his swing mechanics; most, but not all, of the scouts I know (admittedly younger and more pragmatic than the majority, at least in my view) subscribe to the belief that if the swing gets results, then it’s pretty enough. Some, however, can watch a guy hit .800 over a weekend series against three future pro starting pitchers and still walk away complaining about something he saw that he didn’t like. There’s obvious value in those who look at the finer points of the game and see patterns that help them make judgments on micro-level issues that have macro-level ramifications. But there’s also value in stepping back and looking at the big picture body of work a player has produced, and using that data to inform larger decisions. I don’t mean to say that only facets of the game that can be quantified have worth, but rather that the opinions of scouts and internet draft writing wannabes (like me!) should not be taken as gospel when the larger body of work suggests something different.
If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m a big fan of Beer as an offensive talent. Ultimately, it’s important to realize that Beer isn’t a 17-year-old high school kid facing low-80s (at best) pitching on all-dirt infields at parks without fences. He’s a mature 21-year-old college star who has dominated all comers for two full seasons (and counting) while playing for one of the best programs in the country in an ultra-competitive conference. I can understand why Beer freaks some people out. The very livelihood of scouts depends on projection. With Beer, there’s a lot less to project than most early round draft prospects. He’s done it. He’s doing it now. And there’s little to suggest he won’t keep doing it in the pros. The extent to which he does it remains a fun open question, but I’m buying him as a strong enough all-around hitter (contact, power, and patience all grade out high, with no qualms at all about his quick bat and well-balanced swing) to profile as a regular (at least) at whatever position he settles in at. Speaking of…
The defensive issues are harder to defend. Best case scenario puts him as a playable left fielder. Medium case scenario gives you an average or so defensive first baseman. Worst case scenario leaves you with a below-average first baseman that you’d probably rather stick at designated hitter. When the good outcome is just okay and the bad outcome is extremely concerning, you’re in a tough spot. We all know how high the bar is for any hitter who lives on that end of the defensive spectrum. If you have any of the doubts about his bat as outlined above, then passing on Beer early in the draft is justifiable. I don’t, though I can admit that I’m more sure about his hopeful floor (average regular) than his ceiling.
Not for nothing, but I really like the Perfect Game comparison of Beer to Ben Grieve. I’ve sat here for an embarrassing amount of time trying to think of a better name, but I’ve got nothing. Leaner Lucas Duda? Lefty Jason Bay? Less athletic (and hopefully less allergic to lefties) Matt Joyce? Logan Morrison? As for his draft standing, well, if Brent Rooker could go 35th in last year’s draft, why can’t Beer do the same? I like Beer as a high-probability future regular with a better than average shot at being an above-average overall player with an outside chance at offensive stardom. The all-around package comes built in with a nice mix of certainty (in as much as any prospect is certain, so not really at all) and upside.
C/1B Chris Williams has long been a player where the scouting reports have outpaced his on-field production. I was guilty of buying in last year with the expectation being he’d show some signs of maturity as a hitter and continue to develop into a reliable defender behind the dish. The two things more or less happened as Williams cut down on his strikeouts (but didn’t exactly bump up his BB%) and cemented himself as a steady enough presence defensively to remain a catcher through the early part of his pro career. It’s early in the process, but it’s hard to imagine too many senior-sign catchers more attractive than Williams. One fun comp I recently got for Williams: Chase Vallot.
SS/2B Grayson Byrd still has some utility infielder possibility, though I admit that last year’s underwhelming output has those odds slipping. A slow start to his 2018 season certainly doesn’t help. On the other end of the spectrum there’s 3B Patrick Cromwell. Cromwell didn’t do much in his first shot at college draft eligibility, but now finds himself off to a scorching start as a senior. I really like him from a scouting standpoint as a true third base prospect in a class lacking in that area. Cromwell may not have a carrying tool, but he’s so damn well-rounded that it’s hard to find a reason not to like him. OF Drew Wharton is a similar player in that vein — above-average speed and arm, solid athlete, pro size — who had yet to do much as a collegiate player coming into this season. Like Cromwell, he’s off to a strong start in 2018 that could be enough to get him a shot as a senior-sign even without the type of track record of success typically associated with the type. It’s early, but I’m buying.
OF/C Robert Jolly is my kind of college hitter (53 BB/49 K and counting), but is limited enough otherwise (notably in the power department) that he’ll likely need to convince a team he can still catch to be a viable draft prospect. I’ve heard similar chatter surrounding OF/2B Jordan Greene, another versatile, athletic, and undersized college utility player who could benefit greatly from being thought as a primary catcher as a professional. If nothing else, I’d like to see Greene tried as a catcher because he’d instantly be one of the fastest backstops in pro ball. 3B/1B Justin Hawkins would see his stock rise if teams buy into him at the hot corner. He certainly has the arm and athleticism for it, so it becomes more of a matter of gaining consistency through repetition.
I love Ryley Gilliam, one of the draft’s clear top relief prospects. He’s always had a quality heater (88-94, up to 96) and a plus breaking ball (77-81 curve), and he’s now added a hard upper-80s cutter with legitimate plus upside. Two fun names have come up when talking Gilliam: Will Clinard from Vanderbilt and Scott Bittle from Ole Miss. Bittle is one of my all-time favorite draft prospects and a really intriguing recent “what if” among prospect obsessives, so hearing that named tied to Gilliam is pretty damn exciting.
RHP/1B Brooks Crawford has been a standout performer in his two plus years at Clemson. He’ll give you great size (6-5, 220), a solid fastball (87-92, 94 peak), and a pair of quality offspeed pitches (average 77-82 breaking ball with plus upside, above-average 80-85 changeup). Crawford also gets really high marks for his raw power dating back to his high school days. The overall package of stuff, size, and athleticism is easy to fall for, though I admit I have no feel whatsoever how Crawford is viewed within the industry. As appealing as he is to me, there’s been little to no buzz about him so far this spring. Maybe I’m off, but there seem to be a lot of ingredients for a backend starter/good middle reliever here.
LHP Jake Higginbotham may not be for every team as an small lefthander without premium velocity, but his breaking ball is good enough that some will overlook the rest. LHP Mitchell Miller needs innings, but the flashes of quality stuff (88-94 heat, 78-81 breaking ball with above-average upside, burgeoning 84-86 changeup) make him a name to know. Florida Atlantic transfer and Tommy John surgery survivor RHP Ryan Miller is a solid middle relief prospect who can hit the mid-90s with his fastball.
Looking ahead to future years is more exciting at some schools than others. There’s plenty to like at Clemson for 2018, but the next two classes are at least as much fun. Beyond the super obvious love for top prospect SS Logan Davidson everybody feels (myself included), I’m really excited about RHP Owen Griffith next year. Even beyond that, the 2020 class looks stacked. LHP/OF Sam Weatherly, RHP Spencer Strider, OF Kier Meredith, and OF Bryce Teodosio all have early round upside.
It feels that RHP Jacob Stevens has been around forever, but he’s still only a 22-year-old third-year junior. I guess getting drafted by my hometown team (Phillies) out of high school and then being an draft-eligible sophomore (and Yankees draft pick) has kept him in the draft conversation a bit more than your typical New England area college prospect. Or maybe it’s just because the ACC is typically the first conference I write about each year and Boston College is the first team alphabetically in the conference, so…here we are again. Whatever the reason, Stevens has been on the draft map for years now, though it looks as though he’s just a few months away from finally making his pro debut. Stevens’s sophomore season wasn’t as pretty as his freshman campaign, but his peripherals remained more or less the same. More importantly, by all accounts his stuff looked more like what his high school self threw. As a three-pitch righthander with strong fastball command and ideal pro size, Stevens seems ready to make the leap in 2018 both as a college performer and draft prospect. It’s hard to say where a potential backend starting pitcher/quality middle reliever like this fits on a big board without stacking it all up, but I’d have to think he’d get some top ten round consideration for teams that value certainty over ceiling.
RHP Brendan Spagnuolo‘s past as a Vanderbilt transfer gives him a little something extra to get excited about. I’ve long said that drafting from schools with sterling recruiting reputations — both by poaching their on-field talent and the names on their incoming recruiting sheets — would produce a damn interesting draft class. Even better for a lazy man like me, doing this would come with the added bonus of being a heck of a lot easier for your scouting staff. In fact, why have a scouting staff at all when you can outsource all the work to the Tim Corbin’s, Kevin O’Sullivan’s, and Mike Fox’s of the world? Think of the money you’d save! Jokes aside, there is something to the idea that the Vanderbilt (or Florida or North Carolina or whatever program sits atop your personal ranking) seal of approval means something. When a staff that has had so much success identifying quality high school prospects comes after you, then you might just have a little talent after all. Spagnuolo’s pedigree makes him intriguing, especially when tacked on to his existing solid fastball/breaking ball combination. Now he has to show it on the field.
I’m shocked that RHP Brian Rapp, who has decidedly done it on the field already, is back for his senior season and not in Florida or Arizona getting ready for his first full year in pro ball. As mentioned, the 2018 MLB Draft big board is but a twinkle in this author’s eye at this point but it doesn’t feel like a stretch at all to call Rapp one of my favorite senior-signs for 2018. Rapp has power stuff with a fastball that can reach the mid-90s and two breaking balls that flash above-average. The big thing holding him back (I’d assume) is his frame. No matter how smart baseball gets, the bias against short righthanders remains. Rapp’s power stuff doesn’t come in a body (5-11, 200 pounds) we typically associate with power stuff. That’s not a problem for me, but maybe that’s easier to say when you’re not in a position where you need to sell anybody else (besides the readers on a free website, of course) on who you like and dislike as a prospect. I’m happy to advocate for Rapp and players like him as long as I’m around.
RHP Thomas Lane is a big man (6-5, 255 pounds) with a hard sinking low-90s fastball. RHP John Witkowski has the size teams like and a sinker/slider combination with promise, but the results last year weren’t pretty. RHP Sean Hughes can crank it up to 94 MPH. Over/under on how many of these three get popped this June is 1.5. I lean towards the over, but I skew optimistic like that.
C Gian Martellini has his fans, but I think the powerful backstop fits best as a 2019 senior-sign. Catchers are always in demand, however, so it would be no surprise to see him selected way earlier than I’ll likely have him ranked. If he does wind up a senior-sign, then he’d be lucky to be as high priority a follow as present senior-sign extraordinaire 2B/3B Jake Palomaki. When it comes to senior-signs and mid-round value picks (who aren’t technically “senior-signs” because senior-signs, to me, have to be top ten round types who both have the talent to warrant such a draft spot AND save their drafting team money by taking underslot bonuses), it’s important to identify players with skill sets that can work in pro ball. Palomaki’s defensive versatility (he’s steady at all the infield spots) and patient approach at the plate give him a path to playing time at the next level. He’ll not a star and very likely not a starting caliber prospect, but what he does well gives him an honest floor as a useful minor league plug-and-play type with the upside as a utility infielder. Franchises need to fill out low-level minor league teams every summer. Getting a guy like Palomaki who can play multiple spots in the minors (thus helping out the development of others as his versatility could allow other more highly regarded prospects time to play their natural spots, not to mention other meaningful benefits as outlined in this very cool recent piece at Baseball America) while also being skilled enough to potentially develop into something a little more than just your friendly neighborhood org guy could be a very nice win for a team picking late. In any event, Palomaki is my favorite 2018 MLB Draft position player prospect on the Eagles.
JR RHP Jacob Stevens (2018)
JR RHP Thomas Lane (2018)
rJR RHP Brendan Spagnuolo (2018)
JR RHP John Witkowski (2018)
SR RHP Brian Rapp (2018)
SR LHP Carmen Giampetruzzi (2018)
JR LHP Dan Metzdorf (2018)
JR LHP Zach Stromberg (2018)
JR RHP Sean Hughes (2018)
JR RHP Jack Nelson (2018)
SR 1B/LHP Mitch Bigras (2018)
JR C Gian Martellini (2018)
SR 2B/3B Jake Palomaki (2018)
rJR OF Scott Braren (2018)
JR 2B/OF Jake Alu (2018)
SO RHP Matt Gill (2019)
rFR LHP Joey Walsh (2019)
SO OF/RHP Jack Cunningham (2019)
SO OF Dante Baldelli (2019)
SO SS Brian Dempsey (2019)
SO C Aaron Soucy (2019)
SO OF Jacob Yish (2019)
FR RHP Jack Hodgson (2020)
FR OF Chris Galland (2020)
Fresh 2018 MLB Draft content coming soon…