The Baseball Draft Report

2017 Big 12 All-Draft Team (Hitters)

First Team

C – Evan Skoug
1B – Jake Scudder
2B – Cam Warner
SS – Orlando Garcia
3B – Garrett Benge
OF – Tanner Gardner, Austen Wade, Garrett McCain

Second Team

C – Renae Martinez
1B – Hunter Hargrove
2B – Michael Davis
SS – Matt McLaughlin
3B – Travis Jones
OF – Kyle Davis, Jon Littell, Patrick Mathis

I’ve been all-in on Garrett Benge since his freshman season at Cowley County JC. That’s what hitting .539/.636/1.017 with 48 BB/11 K will do for you. He’s since hit well in two seasons as a Cowboy while also adding two quality summer showings in the Texas Collegiate League and on the Cape. Needless to say, I’m still very much in on Benge. He’s got a shot to be a decent enough defender to remain at the hot corner with the requisite above-average power and obvious plate discipline to play everyday. I really, really like Benge. If you miss out on Jake Burger in the first or second round, then Benge later (round five?) is the way to go.

Travis Jones and Bret Boswell, both of Texas, are multi-position defenders who project best (in my view) at third base in the pros. Jones is one of my favorite unheralded players in this class. He’s a phenomenal athlete who can play just about any position on the diamond if needed. His size (6-4, 220) and strength should allow him to continue to tap into his raw power and his comfort level as a hitter seems to increase with every trip to the plate. My notes on Boswell include the phrase “if he’s healthy, watch out.” So far so good on that front in 2017 as Boswell has delivered with career best numbers across the board. Boswell, as good an athlete as Jones even with his very different build (5-11, 200), is viewed as a shortstop by some teams more willing to allow a guy with average tools to handle the spot. I think both guys have sneaky starter upside if it all works out — higher ceiling for Jones, arguably a little more floor with Boswell — and both would be draft targets for me, though I have no feel at all for how big league teams value these guys at this point.

I don’t have much in my notes on Brylie Ware with the exception of three different variations along the lines of BRYLIE WARE, Brylie Ware (?), and B. Ware (7/17/96 DOB) – find out more. So it’s pretty clear that the me of December really wanted the me of May to do some investigative work on Brylie Ware. May me still doesn’t know a lot about Ware, but the little he has heard has been positive. I’m in on Ware if signable. I also still like Elliott Barzilli as a potential utility option even with an underwhelming senior season that has to be explained away. Don’t sleep on Quintin Crandall, who has been an effective hitter and versatile defender (SS and OF), either.

Jake Scudder feels like the type of college first baseman who has a shot to “come out of nowhere” in pro ball as a mid- to late-round college veteran bat who just keeps on hitting at every stop. Picking him out of an unusually strong group of first base prospects wasn’t easy as arguments for Kacy Clemens and Hunter Hargrove, both seniors like Scudder, can be made.

Sometimes, timing is everything. Finding a hook for what to write about Orlando Garcia was easy after having just written about Kevin Smith last week. Check their college numbers to date…

.278/.366/.456 with 59 BB/127 K and 16/22 SB
.266/.334/.451 with 57 BB/121 K and 15/21 SB

Top is Garcia, bottom is Smith. The raw totals are a tiny bit misleading because Garcia has had over 100 PA less than Smith so far, so despite the similar career BB/K marks that difference amounts to a 21.7 K% and 10.1 BB% for Garcia as opposed to a 16.7 K% and 7.9 BB% for Smith. Still, pretty damn similar three years worth of production, right? The tools aren’t all that dissimilar either. In fact, everything written about Smith below applies to Garcia as well..

For starters, he’s a rock solid defender at shortstop with easy above-average range and sure hands that allow him to make damn near every play hit near him. He’s got enough arm to handle throws deep in the hole and athleticism to get to them in the first place. That strong defensive foundation makes him a worthwhile follow off the bat. He becomes even more interesting once you factor in his true above-average raw power, a rarity for a middle infielder at the amateur level even in the age of tool inflation (something I’m guilty of, I admit).

Other shortstops of note include Matt McLaughlin and Ryan Merrill, both steady gloves with enough bat to profile as potential utility infielders. Not bad!

Evan Skoug has been scorching hot of late. Clearly being left off of my top ten college catcher list at the end of March lit a fire under him. Skoug’s strong run has allowed his current season numbers (.282/.382/.508) to catch up to his 2016 totals (.301/.390/.502), but the red flag that is his mounting strikeout total looms large. Skoug went from 34 BB/47 K in 2016 to his current 28 BB/64 K totals. A project for the summer that I’d love to research would involve looking at the BB/K ratios of every college player drafted since I started this site. It’s such a rudimentary way of looking at a hitter, but damn if it doesn’t seem to correlate with professional success. Off the top of my dome, the only successful college turned professional hitter with more strikeouts than walks in his draft year is Aaron Judge. Fine, you’ve twisted my arm. A very quick look at first round college hitters since 2009…

AJ Pollock, Dustin Ackley, Josh Phegley, Yasmani Grandal, Christian Colon, Michael Choice, Anthony Rendon, Joe Panik, Kolten Wong, CJ Cron, Mikie Mahtook, Jace Peterson, Stephen Piscotty, Mitch Haniger, Travis Jankowski, Kevin Plawecki, Richie Shaffer, Deven Marrero, Kris Bryant, Phil Ervin, Colin Moran, Trea Turner, Michael Conforto, Kyle Schwarber, Alex Bregman, Andrew Benintendi

Those are the guys who had more walks than strikeouts in their draft year. Now here are the players who were first rounders with more strikeouts than walks in their draft year…

Tony Sanchez, Brett Jackson, Grant Green, Gary Brown, Bryce Brentz, Mike Olt, Kyle Parker, George Springer, Jackie Bradley, Mike Zunino, Tyler Naquin, Aaron Judge, Hunter Dozier, Hunter Renfroe, Dansby Swanson

The BB > K group (26 players) has combined for 95.6 bWAR to date. The K > BB group (15 players) has combined for 20.5 bWAR to date. The mean for the BB > K group is 3.7. The mean for the K > BB group is 1.4. The best first round college hitters since 2009 by bWAR have been AJ Pollock (15.9), Kris Bryant (15.3), Anthony Rendon (12.4), George Springer (12.2), and Yasmani Grandal (9.9). The top three by bWAR are BB > K guys. Five of the top six by bWAR are BB > K guys. Eleven of the top thirteen by bWAR are BB > K guys. Sixteen of the top nineteen by bWAR are BB > K guys. You see where I’m going with this. It’s an obvious point, I’m sure, but obvious points aren’t necessarily bad ones.

The “problem” with this research is that it limits our player pool to first round picks only. A lack of time and knowledge — is there a simple way to sort an entire draft class by any ML stat out there because the best I can find is the awesome B-R tool, but even that limits you by either team, position, or round? — makes this attempt incomplete at best. Maybe I’ll mess around with all this again in the slower summer months.

Anyway, all of this is a long way of saying that Skoug’s BB/K ratio is problematic. Sort of. He was never going to be a first round pick, so he wouldn’t have fit in with the groups above. Still, I think it’s fair to extrapolate some with the data we have and wonder if a hitter like Skoug can succeed with his draft year BB/K ratio looking like it does. If he makes it, he’ll be an outlier. I suppose that’s the point. Skoug is a really gifted natural hitter with the chance to hit for both average and power at the next level. He’s also a legitimately improved defender with the kind of intangibles and sure-handedness to convince some teams to overlook his underwhelming athleticism and ability to make flash plays behind the dish. I’m not brave enough to say Skoug could be one of those outliers, but between his oversized reputation as a hitter (past comps from BA and Aaron Fitt mentioned Kyle Schwarber and Matt Thaiss) and potential for sticking at a critical defensive spot, it may be worth a shot taking finding out sooner than his raw BB/K numbers indicate. Or maybe I’m breaking one of my cardinal rules of player evaluation by talking myself into a player I like from a scouting perspective in the face of damning statistical evidence.

Beyond Skoug, the catchers in the Big 12 are damn strong this year. Renae Martinez is an above-average catch-and-throw guy having a fine year at the plate. Josh Rolette is a very intriguing draft-eligible sophomore from Kansas State. Michael Cantu has big tools (namely his plus raw power), but poor performances likely will mean he’ll have to wait until next year to hear his name called during the draft. Kholeton Sanchez has the physical ability to play at the next level — he has enough speed and arm to play catcher, second, or center in the pros — but with only 62 D-1 at bats at the ripe old age of 23, he’s facing an uphill battle. He’s the brand of weird prospect I champion, so it should be no shock I’ll be rooting hard for him to get his shot in pro ball.

Tanner Gardner was a pre-season FAVORITE thanks to a patient approach, sneaky pop, above-average wheels, and the kind of athleticism and defensive upside to hang in either center (my guess) or short (the answer of a surprisingly high number of people I’ve heard from). He may not have enough power to profile as a regular, but I could see him settling in as a damn fine backup if it comes down to it. Garrett McCain was in a similar boat coming into the season, but has tapped into enough of his average raw power to do some real damage at the plate. Turns out steady at bats can help lead to a toolsy player breaking out…imagine that. McCain has always had a pro approach, so the bump in power, speed (average or better, plays up), and arm strength (upper-80s off the mound in another life) is just icing on the cake. Then there’s Austen Wade, a fun power/speed prospect with a chance to be average (power) or better (speed) in both areas.

Jon Littell is still coming into his own as a hitter, but his plus raw power, plus arm strength, and plus prep pedigree should have him drafted higher than his good but not great college production might otherwise suggest. Patrick Mathis is one of this year’s most underrated natural hitters. He’s also a solid defender with above-average to plus raw power. I’ve heard from reliable contacts that his down junior season has been more bad luck than bad hitting. BABIP giveth and BABIP taketh away, I suppose. I’m still on the bandwagon.

Three other outfielders that stand out for various reasons include Kameron Esthay (power lefty who was a narrow miss here), Nolan Brown (“better pro than college player [who] always seems to have a nagging injury holding him back”), and Ryan Sluder (guy who looked like a future star two years ago but has struggled mightily since). All in all, it’s a really fun outfield year for the Big 12. No clear stars, but lots of depth. Sums up the conference’s hitters as a whole, come to think of it.

Also receiving consideration…

C – Matt Menard, Josh Rolette, Michael Cantu, Kholeton Sanchez
1B – Kacy Clemens, Jackson Cramer, Aaron Dodson, Austin O’Brien, Dustin Williams, Connor Wanhanen
2B – Jack Flansburg, Kyle Mendenhall, Andrew Rosa
SS – Jimmy Galusky, Ryan Merrill
3B – Bret Boswell, Steve Serratore, Quintin Crandall, Brylie Ware, Quin Walbergh, Elliott Barzilli
OF – Kameron Esthay, Nolan Brown, Ben Hollas, Ryan Sluder, Ryan Long

2017 Big Ten All-Draft Team (Hitters)

First Team

C – Matt Byars
1B – Alex Troop
2B – Mason McCoy
SS – Kevin Smith
3B – Luke Miller
OF – Zach Jancarski, Miles Lewis, Brandon Hughes

Second Team

C – Harrison Wenson
1B – Drew Lugbauer
2B – Dan Durkin
SS – Jalen Washington
3B – Micah Coffey
OF – Mike Carter, Tre’ Gantt, Logan Sowers

Matt Byars is the kind of senior-sign catching prospect I like. His is a defense forward profile (plus arm, well above-average mobility behind the plate, strong feel for the rhythms of the game) with enough offensive upside (average raw power, back-to-back solid years of production) to give you something at the plate. Harrison Wenson isn’t that far behind, but buying on him takes more of a leap of faith with both his glove and his approach. The power and arm strength are both legit. A friend compared him to a budget version of current Phillies catcher and 2010 third round pick Cameron Rupp. Their college numbers to date…

.246/.325/.439 with 27.0 K% and 8.0 BB%
.302/.385/.489 with 20.7 K% and 10.3 BB%

Wenson on top, Rupp on bottom. I’d say stylistically it holds up, but that’s about it. Both are big, strong old school catchers known more for raw power and arm strength than graceful movements or soft hands behind the dish. Rupp was and is a much better player, though. I’m not in love with this as a comparison, but it came from somebody smart so figured there’s no harming sending it along. I personally disagree with it — though, again, if you’re just trying to close your eyes and picture what Wenson looks like it’s not a terrible proxy — so feel free to do the same. Or not. It’s a free country…for now. Political hot take!

Every last person I’ve talked to this spring has told me in no uncertain terms I’m nuts for preferring Alex Troop as a hitter rather than a pitcher. I give up. While I still think Troop has a fine future as a position player — enough so that ranking him atop his position here was a no-brainer for me — at some point the consensus broke me. I don’t think it’s going with the herd just to do it; as much as I try to remain independent and unmoved by others (within reason) in my prospect views, there are occasionally times when I can admit that maybe I’ve gone a little too far. When everybody thinks you are nuts, it’s possible that they are wrong and you’re right…but it’s also possible they know things you don’t, you learn from it, and you adjust your views accordingly. That’s where I’m at with Troop. I think he’s a wonderful college hitter with the chance to be an average or better regular at first or in an outfield corner in pro ball, but his value on the mound is too great to ignore. His changeup alone makes keeping him pitching a good idea. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s got imposing size (6-5, 210 pounds), room to add to his fastball (86-92 MPH presently), a usable breaker, and a nice mix of performance (almost a strikeout per inning this year) and projection (that size, his two-way pedigree, and cold weather background all point to better days ahead).

Beyond two-way star Troop, there are plenty of truer first base options in the Big 10. The first name to jump out is Drew Lugbauer, a somewhat ironic mention considering the argument to be made about him not being a “true first base” option either. Lugbauer, experienced at both catcher and third base in addition to first, has been one of the more confounding players in this class for me. I’ve yet to get to the point where I’m comfortable locking him in to a long-term defensive spot. Some say he can catch, some think he’s a first baseman only, and others think he could hang as a four-corners style utility player. I have no idea, so, erring on the side of caution (and siding with the most vocal group of outside opinions), he slots into first base on these lists. It goes without saying that Lugbauer is a whole lot more interesting as a catcher or multi-position threat, but there’s at least a glimmer of a chance his bat plays at first as is. His plus to arguably plus-plus raw power is enough to rank him among the top handful of college players in this class and his strength to all fields is something that hasn’t gone unnoticed to teams that preach that type of hitting approach.

Right there with Lugbauer is Jake Adams. The big righty has monster raw power, above-average athleticism around the bag, and questions to answer about his propensity for swinging and missing. All in all, it’s a tantalizing mid-round profile with more than enough upside to justify the downside of a 30ish K% guy who doesn’t get out of High-A. I’m in.

Any of the first basemen beyond these three are draftable talents depending on what you like, but in the interest of time we’ll hone in on just one more. Nebraska’s Scott Schreiber is a really interesting player who could wind up a steal for a team with a long memory. Schreiber’s 2017 hasn’t been great — an admittedly odd thing to say for a guy hitting .325, but his power and approach have both gone south after a breakout sophomore season — so teams that saw him at his best previously could be rewarded by his plus raw power, strong arm, and potential positional versatility (outfield corners are both an option). He’s behind a few other guys at the moment, but with a far enough slide on draft day he could wind up a really slick value.

I’m a little surprised that I didn’t write about Mason McCoy last year. Could have something to do with him just having a decent first year at Iowa, but, regardless, he’s my kind of player. There’s nothing particularly flashy about McCoy’s game — average hit tool, average or better speed, average at best arm — but he’s, pardon the term, a gamer who gets the most out of his tools. It’s a strong utility profile that I think will play at the next level, though I’d be a little concerned about the arm being a touch short for the left side. Beyond that, McCoy can hold his own.

If you know what to make of Kevin Smith these days, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line. Scouts who know things (or think they know things, which is really all any of us can claim in this line of work) won’t shut up about the guy. Everybody seemed to love him after a great freshman season (sure, I could see that), more or less stayed on the bandwagon after a solid if concerning sophomore season (that 16 BB/49 K red flag was a bit too bright for me), and then fell back in love harder than ever after his successful (but still concerning) turn on the Cape this past summer. So what do the scouts see in Smith, a player that I have in my notes as “deeply polarizing” among those I’ve spoken to, that the numbers may not pick up? For starters, he’s a rock solid defender at shortstop with easy above-average range and sure hands that allow him to make damn near every play hit near him. He’s got enough arm to handle throws deep in the hole and athleticism to get to them in the first place. That strong defensive foundation makes him a worthwhile follow off the bat. He becomes even more interesting once you factor in his true above-average raw power, a rarity for a middle infielder at the amateur level even in the age of tool inflation (something I’m guilty of, I admit).

It’s the approach that kills me. I’ve spoken a few times about hitters that scouts believe will turn their underwhelming BB/K numbers around with continued reps. That’s Smith. His reputation as a hitter is very strong, and the vast majority of feedback I’ve received on him as been positive. “He’ll figure it out,” is a familiar refrain. Maybe. I bought into it with Kyle Lewis last year, but Smith’s track record is tough to ignore. Even his star turn on the Cape came with an overall 9 BB/39 K disclaimer.

Whenever I stumped on player like I am with Smith, I like to turn to my old familiar (unpopular) friend: Mr. Comp. Check out a couple of college lines…

.265/.333/.443 with 16.9 K% and 7.9 BB%
.310/.367/.473 with 9.5 K% and 7.2 BB%

Top is Smith (so far), bottom is Zack Cozart at Mississippi. Cozart is the name that has been mentioned by Baseball America as a point of comparison for Smith in the past. Pretty good comp, I think. Tools line up fairly well and production isn’t completely off the mark. Cozart went to Cincinnati with pick 79 in 2007. I’ll offer a potential high-end comparison for Smith that I like a lot…

.265/.333/.443 with 16.9 K% and 7.9 BB%
.285/.367/.428 with 14.8 K% and 11.3 BB%

Top is still Smith, bottom is now Marcus Semien at Cal. I think Semien is the kind of hitter that Smith can be at his best. Semien fell to to the sixth round in 2011. I think Smith has too many fans to drop that far this year, but stranger things have happened. The closest stylistic and statistical comp I found was this one…

.265/.333/.443 with 16.9 K% and 7.9 BB%
.303/.391/.458 with 17.2 K% and 8.6 BB%

Top remains Smith, bottom is this guy per Baseball America’s pre-draft scouting report

Defensively, his range is fair and his glove work is unorthodox, but he does possess a strong arm. While he handled shortstop well for Team USA last summer, Espinosa is not a pure shortstop and may be better suited to second base or as a utility player. His intelligent and aggressive baserunning masks raw speed that is only average. A switch-hitter, Espinosa has always been stronger from his natural right side, but improved from the left this year. He takes a wicked cut at anything close, and when he squares a pitch up he can produce screaming drives to all fields. Most scouts want to see more plate discipline and patience from Espinosa, who’s considered a streak hitter. His lack of overwhelming tools will keep him out of the first two rounds, but he has a lot of attributes scouts love, including the knack to make those around him better.

I was going to redact the name and make it a big unveil here, but what’s a couple of centimeters of suspense (less on mobile, I’d assume) really worth? So the mystery guy is Danny Espinosa. I think Smith and Espinosa — the 87th overall pick in 2008, for what it’s worth — are similar ballplayers in a lot of ways. Smith gets the slim defensive edge at the same point in their respective development while Espinosa was arguably the better all-around athlete. Beyond that, I think they are close. Now sometimes comparisons are based on career outcomes and sometimes they are more closely aligned with pure physical ability; this one feels closer to the latter category as I think a team drafting Smith as early as I think it’ll take to get him will be doing so with the hope they get a more consistent offensive performer. That said, Espinosa’s 11.0 fWAR to date is nothing to be sad about; if anything, an outcome like that is a major success once you realize a college hitter selected in the draft’s top 100 picks providing greater than 10 WAR over a career is at just 6.9%. If Smith really is Espinosa, that’s a major win. If he’s Espinosa with a better bat, then he’s a potential star-caliber player in terms of overall value. If you think of Espinosa as something closer to Smith’s ceiling (with the obvious risk he never makes the big leagues at all factored in), then that changes the math yet again.

The average draft position of the three comps was 122nd overall. The fourth round feels like a fair spot for Smith at this juncture, though the dearth of collegiate middle infield talent and typical draft day shortstop inflation could push him up closer to that Cozart/Espinosa early third round range. I think that’s where he likely lands (if not earlier), but I’m still not sure if that’s where he’ll eventually be ranked here.

It should come as no surprise that I love a prospect who has played quality defense at both shortstop and catcher. Who couldn’t love a weird profile like that, right? That’s Jalen Washington, Ohio State’s current shortstop and former catcher. Washington was good at both spots with the athleticism to play just about anywhere else on the diamond. I mean, if you can play well at both short and catcher, where can’t you play? His offensive profile is a little shakier — lots of pop and good speed, but little feel for hitting and an iffy approach — so bringing him into the fold would require plenty of patience with the bat while his defensive versatility keeps him in the lineup. I don’t know what kind of upside you’re getting with Washington, but he’d sure be a fun gap-filler in the minors as he tries to figure out the whole hitting thing.

Luke Miller is an awesome athlete with a big arm (up to 94 off the mound in the past) and just as much power (whatever the power equivalent to a low-90s fastball would be, I guess). I’m intrigued as I get for an inexperienced draft-eligible sophomore who has put up ugly BB/K numbers to date. Many (but not all) of the same things can be said for Micah Coffey, another athletic power bat with less than ideal plate discipline. In a weak year for third basemen not only in the Big Ten but also across the country, imperfect players with upside like these stand out.

I don’t want to say how long I deliberated on picking six outfielders out of the Big Ten’s solid if unspectacular 2017 class. Let’s just settle on “way too long” and move on. In the end, I tried my best to balance tools/projection and skills/production. That’s kind of the whole point of what we do here anyway, so I guess that sort of goes without saying. Zach Jancarski is a gifted center fielder with above-average speed and the ability to grind out at bats as well as the best leadoff types in college baseball. Miles Lewis joins big Jake Adams as the second player here with North Dakota ties. He’s a plus athlete with easy to identify physical gifts (tons of speed and range) who keeps improving daily at some of the game’s finer points. If signable (he’s a redshirt-sophomore), I’d do what I could to talk my bosses into giving him a shot at pro ball this year before he blows up in the college ranks next season. Brandon Hughes‘s inclusion on the first team makes it clear I have a thing for Michigan State two-way talents (Hughes has been 88-91 as a lefty off the mound in the past) who seem to be wildly underrated as hitters. Like our first two outfielders mentioned, Hughes can defend in center and swipe bags with above-average to plus speed. He’s got a little more power and a little less swing-and-miss than you’d think for a prospect rarely mentioned as one of draft’s top sleepers. That changes now: Hughes is probably too good to be called a sleeper, but I’m doing it anyway. He’s a really good young player.

On the second team, the focus moved more towards finding bats at any cost. Tre’ Gantt is the exception as yet another interesting up-the-middle talent who can run. Mike Carter and Logan Sowers, however, are examples of what it looks like to bet on bats. Though they go about things very differently, the two young hitters should both hear their names called during the draft next month. Sowers is the more conventional prospect as a big (6-4, 220) powerful athlete who can thrill with a long ball just as readily as disappoint with a three strikeout night. The 5-10, 180 pound Carter can’t match Sowers’s thump, but the line drive machine from Rutgers has a hit tool that is quietly one of this class’s best.

Leaving off highly productive outfielders like Tom Marcinczyk, Jordan Smith, Johnny Slater, Joe Hoscheit, and Alex Krupa was tough. All have done enough to warrant serious draft consideration. This should be a pretty happy draft year for fans of the Big 10.

Others receiving consideration…

C – Tyler Cropley, Justin Morris
1B – Jake Adams, Zack McGuire, Toby Hanson, Scott Schreiber, Nick Cieri
2B – Jake Bivens, Jake Schleppenbach, Evan Warden, Luke Pettersen, Tony Butler, Brandon Gum
SS – Michael Brdar, Harry Shipley
3B – Matt Hoeg
OF – Tom Marcinczyk, Jordan Smith, Pat McInerney, Chris Whelan, Johnny Slater, Joe Hoscheit, Matt Hopfner, Alex Boxwell, Craig Dedelow, Dan Chmielewski, Matt Stemper, Luis Alvarado, Laren Eustace, Alex Krupa, Madison Nickens

2017 Atlantic Sun All-Draft Team (Hitters)

C – Griffin Helms
1B – Austin Upshaw
2B – Hunter Hanks
SS – Julio Gonzalez
3B – Alex Merritt
OF – Michael Gigliotti, JJ Shimko, Taylor Allum

The offensive headliners in the Atlantic Sun this year can be found roaming the outfields. Michael Gigliotti, who has been compared to both Leonys Martin and Josh Hart by Perfect Game in the past, was the consensus top hitter in the conference coming into the year, but a down draft season has opened the door for challengers to his throne to rise up. The most impressive of said challengers is JJ Shimko, a player with similar strengths (hit tool, speed, arm, CF range, approach) and weaknesses (mainly power). As I’ve said a few times this spring already, players like Gigliotti and Shimko would have been really high on my board in previous years. This year, however, I’m finding myself a little burnt out on non-power types. That’s probably not a fair characterization of either player — Gigliotti and Shimko both have average raw power even if it’s only really shown up for them in one of their three respective college seasons — but it isn’t so far off the mark that I have to rewrite this whole paragraph. Thank goodness for that.

The positive sell on both guys is pretty easy: both are natural center fielders who can run, throw, and, most importantly, hit. Add in positive plate discipline indicators and it’s enough to help both guys profile as potential average to slightly above-average regulars once defense and base running are factored in. One comp for Gigliotti that comes to mind is Jackie Bradley Jr. Their college stat comparison is a little interesting…

.306/.418/.429 with 98 BB/97 K and 58/73 SB
.331/.425/.530 with 97 BB/106 K and 17/23 SB

Top is Gigliotti, bottom is Bradley Jr. You could elaborate on the comp with the qualifier “less pop, more speed,” but at that point does the comp still hold water? Yeah, he’s just like Jackie Bradley Jr. except he’s faster but with less power…and, oh yeah, maybe he’ll wind up hitting for a higher average, too. I don’t know. I tried.

I do like Gigliotti a little more than Shimko, but not by as large a margin as I assume the industry leaders will separate the two come draft day. If the choice is Gigliotti in round two or Shimko in round eight, I’m cool grabbing a surer thing power-wise and waiting on the true center fielder until later.

I’ve got nothing on fellow Taylor Allum minus the obvious that is his outstanding 2017 performance. In a thin outfield class beyond the big two of Gigliotti and Shimko, that’s more than enough to get a seat at the table. He’s high on my list of players I’d like to find out more about between now and June.

Griffin Helms‘s tools have long fascinated me, but an ugly BB/K has been as much a part of his game as his plus athleticism and enticing power/speed/defensive upside. If he slips because of that iffy plate discipline, he could be a fun mid-round value play for a team with a strong track record of channeling overly aggressive hitters towards positive outcomes.

All four first basemen listed could be drafted next month, but the two that stand out above the rest are Nick Rivera and Austin Upshaw. Picking between the two is an admittedly pointless exercise — that’s harsh, but seeing as both guys should be available late in the draft so teams could easily take both at a low cost if they really can’t decide — created solely to fit the little all-conference gimmick I’ve got going here, but I suppose it’s ultimately of some value if a hypothetical either/or situation comes up for a scouting director in June. Forced to choose just one guy, I’d go Upshaw due to his present power, room to put on some bulk, and command of the strike zone. Rivera, no slouch in any of those departments, is a little older and little more physically maxed out; some teams may prefer that to Upshaw, a potential senior-sign next year like Rivera is now, while other teams may go for the younger, slenderer type. Not for nothing, but doesn’t slenderer feel like a word that shouldn’t exist? Looks weird, sounds weird.

Hunter Hanks‘s average tools could give him a shot to play a long time in pro ball as a potential utility guy, especially if you buy the glove and arm as good enough to handle short in a pinch as I do. Same goes for Julio Gonzalez, a more natural shortstop currently in the midst of a really impressive draft season. All my notes on him focused on his glove coming into the year — generally positive buzz there, for what it’s worth — but the bat coming on this strong has been a pleasant surprise. He joins Allum on my list of guys I need to find out more about over these next few weeks. Lee Solomon could also join the utility player party, but more of a combo second base/outfielder type. People I’ve heard from swear he’s the same game this year as last minus some bad luck on balls in play. If that’s the case, he could go a lot higher than his current .236/.357/.348 line might suggest.

Others receiving consideration…

C – Jake Perry, Austin Hale
1B – Nick Rivera, Charlie Carpenter, Christian Diaz
2B – Lee Solomon, Grant Williams, Matt Reardon, Patrick Ervin
SS – N/A
3B – Jeremy Howell
OF – Eli Lovell, Gage Morey, Nathan Koslowski, Evan Pietronico, Chris Thibideau, Wesley Weeks, Yahir Gurrola

2017 Atlantic 10 All-Draft Team (Hitters)

C – Deon Stafford
1B – Bobby Campbell
2B – Daniel Brumbaugh
SS – Cole Peterson
3B – Carter Hanford
OF – Cam Johnson, Logan Farrar, Jordan Powell

If I were to rank the position player prospects in the Atlantic 10 this year, the list would probably look something like this: 1) Deon Stafford, 2) Deon Stafford, and 3) Deon Stafford. There’s really nobody close to Stafford’s level of talent and production in the conference. I’ve seen a good bit of Stafford over the years, something that can either be good if you trust my firsthand takes or bad if you think I’m either a) full of it (very possible, FWIW), or b) biased towards a local prospect I’ve watched grow into a potential top one hundred pick.

My #notascout observations on him are fairly straightforward: fantastic athlete, average or better speed (timed him above-average to first on a single last weekend), above-average to plus arm strength (though I haven’t gotten a clean in-game pop from him yet this season to update this), at least above-average raw power, average or better hit tool, patient yet aggressive approach, great build/physical strength, clear leadership skills and passion for the game (as noted by my wife, who’s far more into that type of thing, on multiple occasions), and an overall plus package of defensive tools (mobility, hands, release, fearlessness).

For as much as I made about the gap between Stafford and the rest of the conference, it’s only fair to point out there are a bunch of quality catching prospects in the Atlantic 10 beyond Stafford. Feedback (that I ignored) on James Morisano before the season was that he was a prospect on the same level as Stafford. He’s not, but that doesn’t make him chopped liver. Or maybe he is because chopped liver can be delicious if mushed up in a nice chicken liver pâté. Either way, Morisano is a good athlete who should have no problem sticking behind the dish in the long run while showing off above-average power at it. The bat might be a little light to play regularly, but there’s a chance he’s a high-level backup for a long time.

Martin Figueroa‘s down senior season doesn’t change the fact he brings a long track record of hitting for both average and power. He might be more of a utility type at the next level — he has experience at third and in the outfield corners — but anybody who can at least fake it behind the plate and hit like him deserves a shot in pro ball.

All I know about Bobby Campbell is that he has power, he can play third base in a pinch, and he controlz the strike zone (58 BB/63 K career to date) like nobody’s business. The typo in that sentence was entirely accidental, but I’m leaving it in to underscore how impressed I am by Campbell’s approach. Plus, it highlights how edgy and cool and up with the latest trends (trendz?) I am. Between Campbell, Darian Carpenter, and Brian Fortier, the A-10 has a chance to put three quality senior-sign power hitting first base prospects in pro ball this year. Not too shabby.

Cole Peterson is a fun mix of patience, pop, and speed at shortstop. An edge in speed is what gave him the starting spot on this team over Vinny Capra, a good looking young bat (“pesky [hitter] with real sock” is how he was described to me) in his own right. Carter Hanford is a solid defender at the hot corner with power to all fields. Isaiah Pasteur, sitting out the season after transferring in to George Washington from Indiana, could get drafted even with the year off. He’s yet to show much at the plate, but there aren’t many young third basemen out there that can match his blend of athleticism, speed, and arm strength.

We knew Cam Johnson could run and hit a bit coming into the season, but his power bump has been a pleasant development. Logan Farrar has a quality approach and some defensive versatility (all three outfield spots plus second base). Jordan Powell might have to wait another year like Farrar did, but he fits the speed/CF range mold that can sometimes get some late round love.

Also receiving consideration…

C – Martin Figueroa, Brandon Chapman, James Morisano, Mark Donadio
1B – Darian Carpenter, Brian Fortier
2B – Michael Smith, Jared Baldinelli, Chris Hess, Robbie Metz
SS – Alex King, Vinny Capra, Alec Acosta
3B – Matt O’Neil, Isaiah Pasteur
OF – Aaron Case, Cal Jadacki, Tyler Nelin, DJ Lee, Mike Corin, Joey Bartosic, Ryan MacCarrick, Parker Sniatynski, David Vaccaro, Will Robertson, Nick Reeser, Trent Leimkuehler

2017 AAC All-Draft Team (Hitters)

C – Connor Wong
1B – Ryan Noda
2B – Jake Scheiner
SS – Kevin Merrell
3B – Willy Yahn
OF – Corey Julks, Luke Hamblin, Chris Carrier

The easiest name to pencil in to this team is Kevin Merrell, a top tier prospect and potential top 100 player in this class. Merrell, a pre-season FAVORITE and the top college shortstop in the country per my as yet unpublished positional rankings, checks every box for me when searching for a potential above-average up the middle talent: he’s crazy athletic, defensively versatile (love him at second, like him at short, intrigued by him in center), an easy plus runner, and, thanks to a damn near ideal draft year power surge, a legitimate threat to pop one to the gap every time he steps to the plate. The fact he’s proven at second base with the plus to plus-plus speed to excel in center gives him two excellent fallback options in the event shortstop doesn’t work out. I see no reason why it wouldn’t — the athleticism, hands, and arm (at least average) all play — but it’s nice to know you’ve got alternatives if things do change. With no major weaknesses and a bushel of pronounced strengths (speed, defense, pop, patience), I don’t think it’s unreasonable to project star upside when it comes to Merrell’s future. He’s going to be high on my list for sure.

Jake Scheiner may not have standout tools, but his production over the years, including a first year run at Houston matched by few in college baseball this season, is too good to ignore. My only notes on him coming into the year are short and sweet: “damn good hit tool.” Defensively, I’ve heard mixed opinions on the likelihood he can stick at his college position of shortstop. There are some who think he’s just athletic enough to pull it off, but most seem to believe he’s best as an offensive second baseman and/or utility infielder. I’d have no qualms drafting him as a shortstop with the plan to develop him at second if need be (there’s no shame in playing second once you make it to pro ball) before exploring that utility option. I like Scheiner a lot.

I was ready to write how I’m cooling on Connor Wong just a bit by pointing out that maybe his best potential outcome has dipped from future big league regular behind the plate to quality backup catcher and/or multi-position chess piece. Turns out I pretty much tackled this very subject about six weeks ago…

You may want to sit down for this, but Wong’s athleticism and plan of attack at the plate are what separates him from many otherwise similarly skilled contemporaries. Shocking that an athlete with patience would rank high on this list, yet here we are. In Wong’s case, there’s really no denying his chops. He has the fluidity behind the plate you’d expect from a former shortstop, a position some think he could still handle in a pinch, and occasional outfielder. Wong has been a little slow to pick up on some of the finer points of catching technique since making the switch — his feet are fine, but his hands still can get him in trouble — so it’s fair to wonder if a multi-position utility future could be his most useful long-term defensive deployment. I’m not completely sold on Wong’s power coming around enough to make him an impact starter at the next level, but the offensive strengths, including average to above-average speed and a knack for consistent hard contact against quality pitching, outweigh the weaknesses at this time.

Ryan Noda is an underrated athlete with plus raw power and unique (gloveless) swing mechanics. I’ve gone back and forth about his best position in pro ball — his experience in the outfield and strong arm could give him a shot there depending on what team he lands with — but ultimately went with first base for reasons both good (he’s quite strong there defensively) and practical (physically, he looks more like a first baseman than a corner outfielder). At the other infield corner, Willy Yahn makes hard contract and controls the zone as well as any hitter in the country this side of Ernie Clement. Like Clement, Yahn is a good athlete who can defend multiple spots in the infield. I don’t know how guys with their offensive profiles (i.e., low BB%, low K%) as college hitters tend to fare in pro ball (note to self: revisit this as part of a summer research project), but I’m looking forward to finding out with our admittedly tiny sample of two. Yahn is at 7.2 K% and 4.0 BB% so far in his college career. Clement is at 4.0 K% and 3.8 BB%. The list of players who have or had single-digit K% and BB% this decade: Juan Pierre, Jeff Keppinger, Placido Polanco, Marco Scutaro, Nori Aoki, Carlos Lee (!), Andrelton Simmons, Ben Revere, and Alberto Callaspo. Of that group, only three (Scutaro, Aoki, Guerrero) have/had put up league average offensive numbers by wRC+. I don’t know what any of this means other than Yahn and Clement will bring profoundly unique offensive approaches into pro ball. Can’t wait to see how it translates…and looking forward to revisiting this next year one the Nick Madrigal debates begin.

There’s not a ton to get excited about in this outfield — to this point, I almost feel like I’m blanking on an obvious name…let me know if that’s the case, please — but that won’t stop me from mining for hidden gems all the same. Corey Julks is an above-average runner with burgeoning power and exciting bat speed. It may be more of a fourth outfielder profile once you add it all up, but there’s room in pro ball for guys with his brand of well-rounded skill set. Chris Carrier has interesting power and Luke Hamblin has solid speed. Considered fellow senior-sign possibility Jarret DeHart (power/speed guy with questionable approach) over Hamblin based on upside, so don’t be shocked if that switch is made by the final rankings. Assuming I get deep enough in the rankings to where guys like DeHart and Hamblin live. And assuming anybody will read that far down a list if I make it…

Others receiving consideration…

C – Levi Borders, Travis Watkins, Logan Heiser
1B – Lex Kaplan, Hunter Williams
2B – Charlie Yorgen, Brandon Grudzielanek, Connor Hollis
SS – Wesley Phillips
3B – Connor McVey, Kam Gellinger, Eric Tyler, Hunter Hope
OF – Jarret DeHart, RJ Thompson, Isaac Feldstein, Tyler Webb, Eli Putnam

2017 America East All-Draft Team (Hitters)

C – Erik Ostberg
1B – Casey Baker
2B – Ben Prada
SS – Ben Bengtson
3B – TJ Ward
OF – Toby Handley, CJ Krowiak, Andrew Casali

The only tier one player in the conference this year is Erik Ostberg, a hitting machine with a strong arm behind the plate and solid speed on the basepaths. The man is currently hitting an even .500, so any questions about his bat can be referred right back to that nice round figure. I feel a little bit about Ostberg as I do Drew Ellis of Louisville. In both cases, the bat is so appealing that I’m willing to overlook some of the defensive questions. If Ostberg can catch — I think he can, for what it’s worth — then he’s a slam dunk top hundred prospect for me (probably…I shouldn’t say things like that without actually beginning to set up a board). If he can’t, then he’s strong enough with the stick to remain a viable prospect somewhere lower (first base, presumably) on the defensive spectrum. I’m all-in on Ostberg.

In almost any other year, a player like Hunter Dolshun would get the honors as top catcher in the conference. Again, it may be a bit too early to make such broad proclamations, but I feel good about the claim that Dolshun is one of the physically strongest players in his class. You know you’re getting that tremendous strength, plus raw power, and a patient hitter when taking a shot on Dolshun. You may or may not know what you’re getting defensively; some I’ve chatted up are sold that he can make it work behind the plate while others think he’s a little too stiff. I think he’s good enough back there, but, really, it may not matter all that much depending on how far he drops. At some point in the draft you know you’re getting imperfect prospects and I think that’s the range when Dolshun will likely go off the board. Can he catch? Don’t know for sure, but I’ll sure as heck not stress about it either way once he slips past the first few rounds (or later if a team doesn’t buy him as a high-value senior-sign in rounds eight/nine/ten).

I know little about both Christopher Bec and Zack Bright, but both had the kind of draft year production that gets you on the radar. Evan Harasta, Jason Agresti, and David Real are all quality mid- to late-round options as well. Harasta has more power than he’s shown, Agresti is a good albeit too aggressive hitter, and Real, a transfer from Arizona, shows strong control of the strike zone.

Casey Baker gets the nod over some stiff competition in an unusually deep year of America East first base prospects. Justin Yurchak is the clear 1b to Baker’s 1a, but the latter narrowly edges out the former on the basis of slightly more interesting raw power. You really can’t go wrong with either pick, though. I’ve long been a fan of David MacKinnon for similar reasons (hit tool, approach, athleticism, defense) while also being a little wary of him going forward for the same potential fatal flaw (lack of pop for the position). I’m more excited to take natural hitters with some power upside rather than huge power guys without much of a clue how to consistently make contact, so keep that potential bias in mind as you peruse my rankings.

Ben Bengtson (1-1 potential if draft standing was based on likelihood I spell your name wrong between now and June) has a long history of big offense with more than enough athleticism and bat speed (plus a fine approach) to give confidence he’s more than beating up on inferior pitching. The high level of certainty he sticks at shortstop — as close to a lock as it gets in this college class for me — is icing on the cake. Ben Prada takes second base based on the two sweetest words in the English language; I couldn’t find any other noteworthy 2017 America East middle infielders outside of Prada, Bengtson, and Paul Rufo, but I’m open to suggestions if you know of anybody I’m missing. TJ Ward could belong with that group if a team believes he can play shortstop in the pros. I like him best at third, clearly.

I know I’ve referenced this before, but I can’t help but do it again.

Toby Handley has always been known as a quality runner who could catch and throw in center field. His senior year power spike is something smart teams should be looking into as much as feasible this spring. Change in approach? Change in swing? Change in body? Or just a combination of a smaller sample and advanced age working in concert to inflate his output? I don’t have the answers yet. In the past I’ve been incredulous about big senior season jumps like this (.089 ISO to .235 ISO), but I randomly happened to look back at what I wrote about Garrett Stubbs, a huge pro favorite at the moment, when he was a senior at USC. I had the same questions about his senior year power boost; no two players follow identical developmental paths so maybe this isn’t as instructive a flashback as I’d like to think, but so far so good with the “realness” of Stubbs’s growth. Handley isn’t Stubbs 2.0, of course; I’m just saying that dismissing a senior year bump, something I’ve done too readily in the past, can cause you to miss out on some pretty good players. Don’t sleep on Handley just because he’s a senior is the overarching message, I suppose.

Andrew Casali hasn’t made quite the same senior season power gains — if anything he’s showing less this year — but he offers a similar package of speed and defense in center field. Casali also makes a ton of contact and has a keen awareness of what constitutes a ball vs a strike. Everything good about Casali applies just as easily to CJ Krowiak. A pre-season FAVORITE, Krowiak is an easy plus runner and defender in center who is both a sensational athlete and a true student of the game. I think the best is yet to come for him.

Other prospects that received consideration…

C – Hunter Dolshun, Christopher Bec, Evan Harasta, Jason Agresti, David Real, Zack Bright
1B – Justin Yurchak, Jamie Switalski, David MacKinnon, Andrew Gazzola, Brendan Skidmore
2B – N/A
SS – Paul Rufo
3B – N/A
OF – Connor Powers, Tyler Schwanz, Colby Maiola, Nick Campana, Collin Stack

2017 ACC All-Draft Team (Hitters)

Brendan McKay, Adam Haseley, Pavin Smith, and Drew Ellis are the four clear top tier ACC hitting prospects in the 2017 MLB Draft. I’m not sure anybody would quibble with the first three — though you’re free to do so, of course — so that leaves Ellis as the only somewhat controversial pick. I’d like to think my love for him is pretty well established by now, so I won’t go into too much detail why I think the present .405/.500/.759 hitter with plus raw power and more walks than strikeouts deserves serious first round consideration. Some clarity on his long-term defensive home would be nice, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily needed with how he’s hitting. As a third baseman, he’s a potential star. Same for a corner outfield spot. At first base, the bar is raised high enough that you’d have to knock him down the board just a bit, but not all that far considering the confidence I have in him continuing to hit past the necessary threshold to start in the big leagues there. There’s more to player evaluation than college production (duh), but worth pointing out that Ellis and McKay, more likely to go out as a hitter with every passing four homer day, have very similar 2017 numbers. If the latter is a slam dunk starter at first at the next level, then why couldn’t Ellis do the same if that’s what it comes down to?

Beyond that foursome, things are wide open. I’d be willing to hear arguments on any of the following seven players being tier one prospects: Taylor Walls, Brian Miller, Colby Fitch, Gavin Sheets, Stuart Fairchild, Logan Warmoth, and Devin Hairston. That’s six up-the-middle prospects plus the seemingly unstoppable bat of Sheets. The next tier down includes too many players to even bother listing at this point. I mean, I’ll do it anyway because writing more than necessary is true to my #brand, but it’s almost too many names to derive much meaning beyond “damn, the ACC is stacked this year.” There are consensus favorites with impressive tools who have underwhelmed (note: we’re only using “underwhelmed” in the context of incredibly high expectations of on-field numbers; none of these guys are having bad years by any stretch, it’s just that they are showing one or more flaws that would need to be addressed by any interested front office) from a performance standpoint to date (Evan Mendoza, Logan Taylor, Carl Chester, Kyle Datres, Joe Dunand) as well as personal favorites like Rhett Aplin, Wade Bailey, Reed Rohlman, Trevor Craport, Cody Roberts, Ben Breazeale, Robbie Coman (who, incidentally, I’ll be very glad once he’s drafted and gone from my life since my fingers want to spell his last name “Comand” every single time), Ernie Clement, Tyler Lynn, Bruce Stell, and Charlie Cody…damn, the ACC really is stacked this year.

Here are some All-Draft Prospect Teams that I whipped up while my computer was dead last week. I’m going to try to do these for as many conferences as I can squeeze in. The depth of the ACC let me go three teams deep. Here’s the first team…

First Team

C – Colby Fitch
1B – Pavin Smith
2B – Taylor Walls
SS – Logan Warmoth
3B – Drew Ellis
OF – Adam Haseley, Brian Miller, Stuart Fairchild

I think every one of these guys has been covered by now with the exception of Stuart Fairchild. The Wake Forest center fielder has one of this year’s most well-rounded skill sets. Averages dot his card with above-averages within range (perhaps a plus for speed) depending on how much you like him. Fairchild is also one of this class’s “great approach, hasn’t really shown it” types. Everybody who has seen him has raved to me about his pitch recognition, ability to spoil good pitchers’s pitches, and general knowledge of the strike zone, but his BB/K ratios have been up (39/42 last year) and down (18/40 as a freshman, 22/37 so far this year) throughout his college career. Count me in as a believer that the results will catch up to his talent in pro ball. Fairchild has the ceiling of a first-division regular in center with a mature enough present skill set that seems too strong across the board to result in a complete flame out. In English, I like both his ceiling and floor quite a bit.

What you think about Taylor Walls‘s defense should dictate how high you’re willing to run him up your board. Indecisive internet draft writer that I am, I vacillate between shortstop and second base on him far more often than I’d like to admit. Case in point: when I wrote this last night, I decided on second base for him. The logic there was simple: his arm may be a bit light for short and erring on the side of caution in cases like these (i.e, if there’s debate on whether or not an amateur guy will stick at a position, chances are he won’t) often proves the smartest strategy in the long run. On the other hand, his range is great, he’s an above-average runner (a solid proxy for athleticism), and some of the mixed opinions on his arm have it closer to playing plus than anything. So…I don’t know. I’m leaning shortstop today after having him as a second baseman yesterday. Ask me again tomorrow and I might make him a free safety. Wherever he plays, he’s a keeper. Maybe you don’t see a regular when looking at him (or maybe you do), but it’s hard not to see a big league player in some capacity.

I’m still not convinced Adam Haseley isn’t a top ten player in this class. Maybe I’m nuts. I can live with that. I also don’t see why the aforementioned Drew Ellis can’t crack the top thirty. These are really good players. The feeling I get about Ellis reminds me a little bit how I felt about Edwin Rios, sixth round steal by the Dodgers in 2015. I loved Rios then (ranked 119, drafted 192) and I love Ellis even more now. The second he inevitably falls out of the first round, he’ll then become one of this draft’s best value picks.

Second Team

C – Cody Roberts
1B – Brendan McKay
2B – Wade Bailey
SS – Devin Hairston
3B – Charlie Cody
OF – Tyler Lynn, Logan Taylor, Carl Chester

Happy to keep banging the drum for Charlie Cody from now until draft day. He can hit. Putting him back at his high school position of third base in the pros takes a significant leap of faith after he’s spent the past three years splitting time between DH and LF, but I’m enough of a believer in his bat that moving him to an outfield corner wouldn’t torpedo his value altogether. I like Wade Bailey a lot as well; his stock should keep rising considering the general dearth of quality middle infielders in this college class.

I’ve mentally gone back and forth between Pavin Smith and Brendan McKay a dozen times this spring with the expectation I do it another half-dozen times between now and the draft. I’m not really sure you can go wrong with either at this point. Smith feels like the better all-around hitter (by a razor thin margin), but McKay has more present functional power. Add in McKay’s ability as a pitcher and it’s hard to argue he’s the better (and safer) overall prospect. I still like Smith a bit more as a position player, so that’s what gives him the nod over McKay for this particular exercise.

Logan Taylor and Carl Chester are cut from the same cloth. We’re talking speed, defense, and minimal pop. It’s a prospect profile I’ve never been able to quit even as I see players like this get exposed in pro ball year after year. The floor makes it worth it at a certain point in the draft, but I need to stop overrating these types. Will I? Stay tuned!

Third Team

C – Robbie Coman
1B – Gavin Sheets
2B – Ernie Clement
SS – Bruce Steel
3B – Joe Dunand
OF – Rhett Aplin, Reed Rohlman, Jonathan Pryor

I wrote about Wake Forest in an as yet unpublished piece that will likely never see the light of day. It was half-finished, so I didn’t get to all of the big names on this year’s Demon Deacons team…but I did get to Bruce Steel. Here’s what I wrote about him about three weeks ago…

Bruce Steel makes my head hurt as a low-average, high-OBP, shockingly high-power potential middle infielder. His limited experience as a redshirt-sophomore after tearing ligaments in his thumb in 2016 just makes it all the more confusing. I’m super intrigued by Steel and think he’s getting slept on pretty heavily within the industry. His power and makeup are both legit (first two things I hear about when asking about him), reports about his defense this year at shortstop have been far more good than bad, and he’s young for his class (turns 21 in December). Did I just talk myself into making him a rare in-season FAVORITE? You bet.

Also wrote this about Jonathan Pryor with an lead-in about Ben Breazeale, who was narrowly edged out for this third catcher spot by Robbie Coman

Ben Breazeale’s hot start brings me great joy. I thought a big year was coming last season, but better late than never. He’s an outstanding senior-sign catcher with more than enough glove to stick behind the plate and enough offensive punch to profile as a big league backup. Jonathan Pryor could do similar things as an outfielder who can hang in center and provide a little something with the stick. It’s early yet, but his 15/20 BB/K ratio is cool to see from somebody who put up an impossibly ugly 5/40 ratio just two seasons ago.

Pryor’s BB/K is now at 23/32 for those of you scoring at home.

Then there’s Gavin Sheets. I have no idea what to do with Gavin Sheets. I think he hits enough to play regularly in the big leagues. As a first baseman, that means I think he’ll hit a whole heck of a lot. If he can do that, he’ll become only the third ever Gavin (Floyd and Cecchini beat him) to play in the majors. I’m leaning towards Sheets as the fifth best draft-eligible bat in the conference and think he’ll represent great value to teams if he winds up sliding on draft day as expected. I know teams pay a premium for up-the-middle talent, but sometimes the allure of a big bat is just too strong to ignore.

Others receiving consideration…

C – Ben Breazeale, Chris Williams, Ryan Lidge
1B – Sam Fragale, Quincy Nieporte, Justin Bellinger, Kel Johnson
2B – Jack Owens, Jake Palomaki, Johnny Ruiz, Kyle Fiala
SS – Justin Novak, Liam Sabino
3B – Trevor Craport, Ryan Tufts, Jack Labosky, Evan Mendoza, Kyle Datres, Dylan Busby, Zack Gahagan
OF – Jacob Wright, Chase Pinder, Coleman Poje, Ryan Peurifoy, Hunter Tackett, Adam Pate, Josh McLain, Brock Deatherage, Mac Caples, Rahiem Cooper

RIP HP Pavilion (May 2011 – April 2016)

Title says it all, really. My computer died. Many backup files were salvaged, but a few stray ones didn’t survive. I’ve been working with some way too nice friends in the game to help fill in some of my now missing blanks. Some fun stuff had to get scrapped in the interest of time/not having the patience to rework lost material, so except to see more random posts (e.g., whatever pops into my head in a given day) than previously planned organized lists. Said lists aren’t gone forever, of course; they’ll just start appearing closer to the end of this month than the beginning as real deal finalized draft rankings. This has been a weird draft year for this site, but I’m confident as ever that the information I’m sitting on is as good as it gets.

No baby yet, by the way. Could be any day now. If I go missing for a few days again, that’ll be the reason. Unless my new Asus decides to join the HP in laptop heaven…

2017 MLB Draft Report – Virginia

The success of Adam Haseley this year has me kicking myself. I enjoyed writing those 2016 MLB Draft Reviews this past fall/winter a ton, so, you know, no regrets but…fine, there are always going to be some regrets. Opportunity cost is a very real thing. Spending all that time, effort, and energy on those reviews meant a later start than usual on writing about the upcoming draft. Being first in this line of “work” shouldn’t be as big a badge of honor as some make it out to be, but, why lie, there is something undeniably satisfying about being ahead of the curve on a prospect. If I would have ranked Haseley as high as I was going to back in October when I first decided he’d be a definite first rounder, I’d be sitting pretty right about now. I mean, maybe instead of being the nineteenth most influential internet baseball draft writer, I’d be eighteenth. Dare to dream, right? As it is, I’m just one of the many internet draft bros following the obvious trend that puts Haseley at or near the top of his position group. Kidding aside, at the end of the day as long as a great player like Haseley gets his due, I’m happy. All of the praise he’s gotten this spring is very well deserved. My ego will live to fight another day.

As for Haseley the actual draft prospect, my only question now is how high he can rise. I know I’m going to have him really, really high on my personal college draft rankings, but the decision on how high is still, pardon the pun, up in the air. I’m not 100% sure just yet, but it would seem awfully hard to justify any other college outfielder ahead of him at this point. Few players in the college game can match Haseley’s combination of hit tool (legit plus, a rarity at this level), raw power (above-average to all fields), and defensive future (sure-fire center fielder at the next level). There are some that can rival his upside in each individual area, but it’s the overall package in one player that makes Haseley stand out. To be as good as he is in the three most critical areas of the game is rare, and his speed and arm (both at least above-average for me) are pretty impressive in their own right. I get that he’s taken his game to another level in 2017, but acting like he’s come out of nowhere couldn’t be further from the truth. Dude hit .304/.377/.502 last year with 28 BB/28 K. So you’re not only getting the tools but also a lengthy track record to back it up. Or vice-versa (i.e., he’s more than just a college star but also a super projectable pro athlete) depending on where your scouting vs stats allegiances lie. It’s not a direct comparison per se, but watching Haseley in 2017 makes me think about what Mickey Moniak might have looked like after a couple of years at UCLA. Superstar upside.

Virginia being Virginia means that they not only have arguably the top outfielder in this class but also the top first baseman. That’s where I currently have Pavin Smith, the Cavaliers sweet-swinging junior slugger. Much like Haseley, the first thing to stand out about Smith is the hit tool. Smith has everything it takes to hit .300 or better in the big leagues. With above-average to plus raw power and a fantastic approach at the plate, he’s one of my favorite bats in this class. More on him from a few days ago…

As for Smith, I’m still not really sure what he doesn’t do well. It’s a true plus hit tool with a picture perfect swing, outstanding plate coverage, and standout pitch recognition. His raw power is above-average to plus and already showing up in games. He’s a well above-average glove at first with enough athleticism and arm strength (88-93 FB pre-TJ surgery) to at least give some teams pause when considering his long-term defensive position. Seriously, what’s not to like about him as an offensive player?

If we wanted to nitpick — and we DO — then it’s worth pointing out that there have been some whispers about less than ideal bat speed. Fine, I guess. I struggle with identifying bat speed outside of the extremes, so I’m happy to tip my cap to anybody who can tag a guy with an above- or below-average swing of the bat using only the naked eye. I can’t, so I try not to judge. Can’t say I’ve noticed anything all that remarkable — good or bad — about Smith’s bat speed, and at some point his outstanding three years of hitting high-level amateur pitching should win out anyway. It’s the current Rowdy Tellez argument manifesting itself in college ball. I like Tellez. I like Smith.

I’ve also heard some BASEBALL MEN chatter about Virginia hitters struggling to adjust to pro ball. Can’t say I really buy that one, though I suppose the murderer’s row of Phil Gosselin, Jarrett Parker, John Hicks, and Chris Taylor haven’t exactly lit the world on fire in the pros. Brandon Guyer, Ryan Zimmerman, and Mark Reynolds give the Cavaliers a little more clout, but that’s going way back. I remember liking guys like Tyler Cannon, Dan Grovatt, Steve Proscia, Stephen Bruno, and Reed Gragnani with little to nothing to show for it in terms of pro success. Mike Papi, Derek Fisher, and Daniel Pinero seem primed to turn the reputation around…if you think the reputation needed turning around in the first place. And then there’s this guy…

.338/.427/.518 with 74 BB/55 K and 4/5 SB in 554 AB
.323/.394/.515 with 78 BB/68 K and 5/12 SB in 637 AB

Top is Matt Thaiss’s career numbers at Virginia. Those were good enough to get him selected sixteenth overall last year. Bottom is what Smith has done so far. Feels like there’s a comparison to be made between the two hitters in there somewhere. Like Thaiss last year, mid-first round feels like a fair landing spot for Smith as of now.

No player was harder for me to rank on the position lists than Ernie Clement. The guy is just a weird prospect. That’s of course meant in the most flattering way possible. Clement excels at things that don’t typically get much scouting buzz except from the super old-school types. He’s among the best in the country at spoiling pitchers’s pitches, bunting both for hits and to move teammates over, and, above all else, making insane amounts of contact. Defensively, he’s great just about anywhere you put him. Response was split as to his best long-term position with half preferring him at second and the rest thinking he’d be best in center. Most agreed that he could even play a good shortstop if asked. Such defensive versatility opens up a whole world of fun comps for the weird and wonderful Clement.

I had to look it up to see if I have ever used David Eckstein as a comp before — for the curious, yes, once, Tyler Hanover — because I think it really fits Clement well. Eckstein with better speed feels about right. I’ve also heard Fernando Vina and Eric Young. Baseball America has offered Chris Taylor in the past. Interesting group on the whole. I’ll stick with speedier Eckstein for now. Just yesterday I got a Jose Peraza for him. I don’t hate that at all. Something on that spectrum would be a fine outcome for Clement, a high-floor prospect as a future utility guy with a ceiling limited much beyond that due to his serious lack of pop. Figuring out where to properly rate such a weird player like this is above my current pay grade.

(My goal was to use the word weird five times when describing Clement. Three will have to do. Until next time…)

Somebody shut me up before I write an extra thousand words about the rest of Virginia’s 2017 draft-eligible hitters. The short version: Robbie Coman, Charlie Cody, and even Caleb Knight all have flashed enough ability to warrant pro consideration this June. Coman is easy to like as a steady glove with a veteran’s approach to hitting. His arm strength, not particularly special to begin with, was sapped by last year’s Tommy John surgery, so he’ll have to prove to teams he has enough mustard on his throws to keep catching as a pro. Cody is a huge personal favorite who has his best ball ahead of him. DID YOU KNOW that Perfect Game once compared him to David Wright as a prep prospect? Pretty heady praise. He’s played intermittently through two and half years at Virginia, but a really strong start to 2017 has me all-in on the Charlie Cody bandwagon once again. Hope on that bandwagon while there’s still space left. I’m by no means an expert on Knight, but all the quiet buzz I’ve heard on him has been positive. Catchers who can stay catchers and can hit a bit will always get love from me, and Knight is no exception.

I like Justin Novak as a potential low-minors chess piece that can be moved all over the infield. I talk often about the utility of such players and Novak seems like a potentially useful one. Guys who can multiple spots like Novak can help protect other prospects by filling in defensively as needed. It also doesn’t hurt to show teams you have a diversified defensive skill set when it comes to making you more marketable, especially in the age of tiny benches.

I’m not sure why Tommy Doyle doesn’t get more love as one of the draft’s top college pitchers. Maybe it’s his usage out of the bullpen at Virginia that obscures the fact he’s got everything you’d want in an innings-eating big league starting pitcher. It’s not wise to chase the reliever to starter waterfall — former Cavaliers Nick Howard, Josh Sborz, and Branden Kline being three such recent flops — but Doyle has the stuff (88-94 FB with sink, 95-96 sink; 77-81 CB, flashes average; above-average 82-87 cut-SL; above-average split-CU) and frame (6-6, 225) to make the move. Whether or not he has the delivery or command remain open questions, but I think an early round pick on finding out firsthand is worth the investment. I’m of the opinion that just about any Virginia pitcher needs some mechanical tweaking anyway (hate the crouch), so knowing you’ve got a little work to do with his windup shouldn’t come as a surprise. Bet on the stuff, body, and results, and figure out the delivery later, I say.

(I did the UVA prospects in the pros thing for the hitters when I wrote about Pavin Smith a few days ago, so I won’t go into too much detail with the pitchers…but the recent track record of Virginia arms does not inspire much confidence. There have been 22 Cavalier pitchers drafted since 2009. Only three players [Tyler Wilson, Kyle Crockett, Kline] out of 22 [13.6%] have reached the big leagues. Not great.)

Pitchers besides Doyle looking to buck that parenthetical trend include Alec Bettinger, Jack Roberts, Derek Casey, and Bennett Sousa. Count me as a big fan of all of them. Bettinger is a personal favorite senior-sign with a potent sinker/slider mix and experience as a multi-inning reliever. His peripherals have always outstripped his run prevention ability, but smart teams will focus on all the positives he brings to the mound rather than the negatives (many of which are out of his control). From my notes on Roberts: “getting wild ways under control…but still pretty wild.” Seems fair for a guy with BB/9’s of 7.50, 8.86, and 6.29 over the last three seasons. When he throws strikes, his stuff (87-92 heat, 94 peak; average breaking ball, flashes better; average change) impresses. Casey flashes similar stuff along with far better control made all the more significant considering he’s on the road back from Tommy John surgery. Sousa is a lefty with above-average velocity (90-94) and a low-80s slider with serious promise. Can’t hate that.

*****

JR RHP Tommy Doyle (2017)
SR RHP Alec Bettinger (2017)
rSO LHP Riley Wilson (2017)
SR RHP Tyler Shambora (2017)
rJR RHP Jack Roberts (2017)
rSO RHP Derek Casey (2017)
JR LHP Bennett Sousa (2017)
JR OF/LHP Adam Haseley (2017)
JR 1B/OF Pavin Smith (2017)
JR 2B/OF Ernie Clement (2017)
JR SS/2B Justin Novak (2017)
rSR C Robbie Coman (2017)
JR 3B/OF Charlie Cody (2017)
JR C Caleb Knight (2017)
SO LHP Daniel Lynch (2018)
rFR RHP Evan Sperling (2018)
SO RHP Grant Donahue (2018)
SO LHP Connor Eason (2018)
SO RHP Chesdin Harrington (2018)
SO OF/RHP Cameron Simmons (2018)
SO 3B/1B Nate Eikhoff (2018)
SO C Cameron Comer (2018)
rFR OF Jake McCarthy (2018)
SO 2B/SS Andy Weber (2018)
FR RHP Noah Murdock (2019)
FR RHP Bobby Nicholson (2019)
FR SS Cayman Richardson (2019)
FR OF Jalen Harrison (2019)
FR C Drew Blakely (2019)

2017 MLB Draft Report – Pittsburgh

Hard to say at this point how strong Pittsburgh is from a prospect perspective, but, man, are a lot of the notable players on this roster off to really good starts in 2017. Could be a case of a team with a lot of good college players overachieving, but it makes me wonder a bit if I should start asking around more about guys like Sam Mersing, Josh Mitchell, Josh Falk, and Matt Pidich. All have been good to start the season. The two guys I have exciting notes on — Isaac Mattson and Blair Calvo — both seem draft-worthy from here. Mattson is a control artist with solid stuff (88-92 FB, good CB) and consistently strong peripherals. Calvo is out in 2017 with a knee injury, but has a pair of pitches (90-95 FB, average SL) that should play well in pro ball even after missing these important developmental innings.

Liam Sabino should have “Vanderbilt transfer” listed prominently on his bio as that’s presently the most intriguing thing about him. That’s not a knock on Sabino, a talented guy with speed, athleticism, and plenty of defensive aptitude, but rather praise for Vanderbilt…and, fine, maybe a little bit of a knock on Sabino’s limited college experience to date. If he can get on the field, he could rise quickly. PJ DeMeo has ample power and considerable swing-and-miss. I like what I’ve seen so far out of Caleb Parry and am eager to learn more about him, especially defensively. Frank Maldonado and Jacob Wright both could eventually get opportunities as senior-signs down the line. Parry, Maldonado, and Wright all belong with the group of overachieving pitchers mentioned above as “hmm, maybe this guys are better than I thought” types. Both Maldonado and Wright are well-rounded overall players with disciplined approaches at the plate. Those in the know have pointed me towards Nick Banman as Pittsburgh’s top 2017 bat. His size and power are certainly eye-catching, so gathering more info about him will be a priority this spring.

*****

JR RHP Isaac Mattson (2017)
JR RHP Blair Calvo (2017)
SR RHP Sam Mersing (2017)
rJR LHP Josh Mitchell (2017)
rJR RHP Matt Pidich (2017)
SR RHP Josh Falk (2017)
JR 1B/3B Nick Banman (2017)
rJR OF Frank Maldonado (2017)
rSR OF Jacob Wright (2017)
JR 3B/1B Kaylor Kulina (2017)
rJR C Caleb Parry (2017)
SR 1B/3B PJ DeMeo (2017)
SR C Manny Pazos (2017)
rSO SS Liam Sabino (2017)
rFR RHP Derek West (2018)
SO RHP Tyler Garbee (2018)
SO RHP Collin Liberatore (2018)
SO RHP/OF Yaya Chentouf (2018)
SO SS/2B David Yanni (2018)
FR RHP Dan Hammer (2019)
FR LHP Peyton Reesman (2019)
FR RHP RJ Freure (2019)
FR OF Nico Popa (2019)
FR 1B Zach Zientarksi (2019)
FR 2B Alex Amos (2019)

2017 MLB Draft Report – Notre Dame

Much to the chagrin of my wife, I take in anywhere between two to four games per week from the start of the amateur season here (mid-March) right up until the end (late-May). Fine, this isn’t entirely true; the old lady is super supportive and actually likes going games to me, but that’s not as fun as portraying her as the stereotypical ball-and-chain. The editor says it makes me more relatable the original way, so it stays. Anyway, I like baseball and try to see as much live action as humanly possible. That’s a good thing for this site…except when it isn’t. The aim here was never to provide a steady stream of firsthand game stories and personal observations. Those are great, of course, but one man attempting to cover an entire country’s worth of amateur prospects that way was never going to fly. The plan was always to read as much as physically possible, reach out to old contacts within the game (and make new ones along the way) to crosscheck, and, sure, see a ton of live baseball, for reasons both business and pleasure, along the way. Eventually enough of those primary, secondary, and tertiary sources add up to something worthwhile to share with fellow baseball obsessives. Hopefully.

Besides having to work through issues of narrowing my focus too drastically at the expense of broader draft interests, the downside to seeing players in person is falling in love with guys despite the better judgment of all other inputs. Calling it a downside is a little harsh; seeing players up close and forming opinions about what they could be is what is fun about being a wannabe scout on the internet. It can, however, get you into trouble when the overarching goal is to be as objective as possible in an otherwise highly subjective world. I saw Kyle Fiala as a freshman and was so thoroughly impressed with his skill set that I haven’t shut up about him since. This made me look pretty smart his first season, smarter yet his sophomore year, and utterly foolish in what should have been his triumphant draft year in 2016. Things haven’t gotten much better early on in 2017. I’d still think about Fiala really late on draft day since it’s worth a shot to see if he can rekindle that sophomore year magic. That’s both the good and the bad of seeing players up close. It’s unfortunate that I maybe got a little carried away in my initial viewing of Fiala and maybe overrated him the last few years because of it…but it’s kind of nice that I have that memory of a pretty damn talented guy that I’d still be willing to bang the table for even as his numbers suggest he’s a non-prospect.

As with Fiala, I was happily on board the Ryan Lidge bandwagon after a successful 2015 season. Pretty much nothing has gone right since. I also really liked Jake Shepski coming into the season. Best not to look at his current numbers if you still want to believe I know what I’m talking about. Maybe I should stop liking guys on Notre Dame for the greater good. If any fans of the team want to take up a collection for me to start publicly trashing their players instead, let me know. It’ll have to wait until next season, however, since their pitching is pretty damn exciting.

Peter Solomon, Brandon Bielak, and Brad Bass give Notre Dame three hard throwing righthanders capable of hitting the mid- to upper-90s. Knowing where those mid- to upper-90s fastballs are going once they leave the hand is an entirely different thing altogether. Solomon, a favorite of many, is a classic case of a young pitcher with too much natural movement for his own good. Nothing he throws is straight, a blessing for a veteran but a curse for most younger pitchers. A bet on Solomon is a bet on him finding a way to harness his explosive his stuff professionally in a way he’s never consistently shown as an amateur. Even with his wild ways, there was a point early on last summer when Solomon looked like a sure-fire first round pick. From a stuff, body, and projection standpoint, that’s exactly what he is. I’d personally be scared to death to take him there (and, for what it’s worth, I felt the same way even as he was blowing up on the Cape), but a subsequent late-summer fade and an inconsistent start to his junior season have almost certainly knocked him out of that range. Now the idea of picking a guy with his kind of premium arm talent past the top hundred picks (give or take) roll by is one I can excitedly get behind. If that feels a little prospect hipster-y, then so be it. When everybody really liked him, I thought his flaws were being glossed over too readily. Now that his prospect buzz has died down significantly, I think where he wins is overlooked. It’ll take a lot of work in pro ball, but an unhittable 88-94 MPH (96 peak) fastball with even a modicum of command combined with two legitimate breaking balls that can flash plus (emphasis on can and flash) and a decent diving 81-86 MPH changeup is a heck of a starting point for your player development staff to work with. If you trust your coaches, Solomon should be a target. If not, leave him for a team that does.

Bielak is wild like Solomon with a tick less impressive stuff across the board. That’s not a knock on Bielak, a legitimate four-pitch pitcher in his own right; Solomon’s stuff is just that good. Bielak has enough of a changeup to start professionally with real mid-rotation upside. Bass feels like the most natural reliever of the trio. Big (6-6, 240), fast (90-95 FB, 97 peak), and sharp (above-average 81-85 SL, flashes plus) plays well in short bursts. He has a softer breaking ball and will throw an occasional change, so maybe a team buys him as good enough to remain in the rotation going forward. In either role, count me in as a big fan. I like all three pitchers depending on when you can get them on draft day. If that’s not a super obvious statement, I’m not sure what is. Still think it has some merit, though: I’m just ballparking rounds here, but Solomon in the second, Bielak in the third, and Bass in the fourth all feel about right to me in terms of relative value.

Evy Ruibal has enough fastball/breaking ball to get a look, especially at his size (6-4, 225). Sean Guenther has similar heat (88-92, 93 peak) with a more well-rounded arsenal. He lacks Ruibal’s clear go-to secondary pitch and certainly can’t match him pound for pound (he’s 5-11, 200), so it’ll be interesting to see what ultimately wins out on draft day. Do you like the short lefty with the longer track record and deep assortment of offspeed stuff or the sturdy righthander with the better breaking ball but more inconsistent results? I like to pretend that the results of the MLB Draft act as some sort of referendum on player types, but hopefully we all realize that’s not the case. The old adage “it only takes one team…” to fall in love with a guy is true. Maybe 29 teams have Player B higher on their board, but that one remaining team prefers Player A…and they get the chance to pick first. Or something like that. I don’t know where I was going with that exactly. Chances are decent that the Ruibal/Guenther “debate” I’ve manufactured in this paragraph will live on another year. Both guys could fit better as 2018 senior-signs…unless that one team out there likes them enough to make the call, of course.

“Crazy wild” is a line right from my notes on Ryan Smoyer. I still like him — one man’s crazy wild is another’s effectively wild — and think his changeup is a good enough pitch to get him deserved pro attention. I know some who feel the same way about Michael Hearne, a mid-80s lefty with standout control. Effectively wild righty with a pro-ready build or the command/control undersized lefty? Feels familiar…

*****

JR RHP Peter Solomon (2017)
JR RHP Brandon Bielak (2017)
JR RHP Brad Bass (2017)
rSR LHP Michael Hearne (2017)
SR RHP Ryan Smoyer (2017)
SR LHP Scott Tully (2017)
JR LHP Sean Guenther (2017)
JR RHP Charlie Vorscheck (2017)
JR RHP Evy Ruibal (2017)
JR OF/RHP Jake Shepski (2017)
SR 2B/SS Kyle Fiala (2017)
SR C Ryan Lidge (2017)
JR OF Jake Johnson (2017)
SO RHP Jack Connolly (2018)
SO OF/RHP Matt Vierling (2018)
rFR OF Eric Feliz (2018)
SO 3B Jake Singer (2018)
SO 3B/1B Nick Podkul (2018)
SO 3B/SS Cole Daily (2018)
FR RHP Zack Martin (2019)
FR LHP Cameron Brown (2019)
FR RHP Anthony Holubecki (2019)
FR INF Michael Feliz (2019)
FR INF Nick Neville (2019)
FR 3B/C Connor Power (2019)
FR 1B/OF Daniel Jung (2019)

2017 MLB Draft Report – North Carolina State

I have notes on twelve different draft-eligible North Carolina state pitching prospects. Let’s put them into groups for easier readability…

Tim Naughton
Karl Keglovits
Nolan Clenney

Naughton has late-inning reliever stuff (94-97 FB, mid-80s SL that flashes plus), but needs innings. Keglovits is a fifth-year senior who feels like a tenth-year senior. He could be a sinker/slider/splitter type if he could ever stay healthy. That’s exactly what Clenney is (minus the splitter)…or that’s what we assume he’d be if he was currently pitching.

Cody Beckman
Brian Brown
Cory Wilder
Evan Brabrand
Tommy DeJuneas

The five names above are the wild bunch so far in 2017. Beckman has the three pitches needed to be a quality college starter or multi-inning fireman, but control has been his bugaboo. Brown, a pitcher with plus command once compared by D1 as a “lefty Preston Morrison,” being included here is odd, but a 5.96 BB/9 is a 5.96 BB/9. I still like Brown a lot as another of this class’s many crafty lefties — he’s got the command, mid-80s heat, and above-average to plus mid-70s changeup to qualify — so I’ll be watching closely to see if he can turn around his small sample size mojo. Wilder has great stuff, but a lack of control is unfortunately nothing new for him. Brabrand has the fastball (88-93) and slider (average or better at 82-84) to be a mid-round relief prospect if he throw more strikes. DeJuneas reminds me a little bit of the pitching version of some of the Wolfpack’s toolsy yet frustrating hitting prospects. He’s slowed down his stuff to improve his command/control, but I’d rather him let it fly in the mid- to upper-90s like the good old days and let the chips fall where they may.

Sean Adler
Joe O’Donnell
Johnny Piedmonte
Austin Staley

Hey, these guys have all been pretty good so far this year! Sean Adler is yet another crafty lefty (upper-80s fastball, three usable offspeed pitches, hides the ball well) with the added twist of being effectively wild over his career. Like DeJuneas, O’Donnell’s fastball has lost a little heat over the years. He’s more upper-80s now, but he’s retained his quality breaking ball and decent command. I could see him being a high priority senior-sign for some teams, but there are other money-savers out there I prefer. One such guy would be Johnny Piedmonte, the 6-8, 240 pounder with a shot at middle relief at the next level. Austin Staley’s stuff is standard enough (88-91 FB, good 78 breaker) that he may get lost in the shuffle, but he’s been pretty consistently above-average since first getting regular work last season. I like him.

Only two members of the Wolfpack’s lineup (as of this writing) have more walks than strikeouts. Those two players are both slugging under .300. Taken together, that goes down as a bit of an auspicious start to the 2017 season for North Carolina’s big-name hitting prospects. I really liked Evan Mendoza coming into the year as a legit third base prospect with the chance for an average hit tool and above-average raw power. I still like him, but he’s got some serious work to do to climb out of his early season hole. I’ve always been lukewarm on Joe Dunand, a tooled-up left side of the infield standout (shortstop for some, third base for me) with a prospect stock built more on projection than present ability. Dunand will flash big power, impressive defensive tools, and elite athleticism, but he still has a ways to go as a hitter. It’s a boom/bust profile that will either make a scouting director look like a genius or a dope.

Josh McLain operates a little bit like the an outfield version of Dunand. He can run and defend with the best of this class, but offensively has shown only flashes to this point. Same goes for Brock Deatherage. Opportunities are there for talented players like Shane Shepard (power bat at first), Stephen Pitarra (versatile glove, competent bat), and Andy Cosgrove (should be able to stick behind plate) to rise up within their respective position rankings if they can turn around their springs. That’s kind of the overall theme for the North Carolina State team at this point. There’s talent there and I could easily see some of these guys being better pros than college performers, but identifying who/when/why/how is a headache.

*****

rJR LHP Cody Beckman (2017)
rSO RHP Tim Naughton (2017)
JR LHP Brian Brown (2017)
SR RHP Cory Wilder (2017)
rSR LHP Sean Adler (2017)
SR RHP Joe O’Donnell (2017)
rSR RHP Johnny Piedmonte (2017)
rSR RHP Karl Keglovits (2017)
JR RHP Evan Brabrand (2017)
JR RHP Nolan Clenney (2017)
rSO RHP Austin Staley (2017)
JR RHP/1B Tommy DeJuneas (2017)
JR 3B Evan Mendoza (2017)
JR 3B/SS Joe Dunand (2017)
JR OF Josh McLain (2017)
JR OF Brock Deatherage (2017)
JR 1B/OF Shane Shepard (2017)
JR 2B Stephen Pitarra (2017)
rJR OF Garrett Suggs (2017)
JR C Andy Cosgrove (2017)
FR RHP Dalton Feeney (2018)
SO RHP Christian Demby (2018)
SO OF Brett Kinneman (2018)
SO C Jack Conley (2018)
FR RHP Michael Bienlien (2019)
FR RHP Mathieu Gauthier (2019)
FR LHP James Ferguson (2019)
FR RHP James Vaughn (2019)
FR C Brad Debo (2019)
FR SS Will Wilson (2019)
FR OF EP Reese (2019)

2017 MLB Draft Report – North Carolina

JB Bukauskas is the best 2017 draft-eligible college starting pitching in the country. That may have qualified as a hot take — or at least a warm one — if I had published it over the offseason when the thought first entered my mind, but I have to imagine the rest of the industry is now on board with the idea that Bukauskas, all 6-0, 200 pounds of him, is the real deal. What more does a guy need to do to take over that top spot? Bukauskas was good as a freshman, great as a sophomore, and has been otherworldly so far as a junior. His fastball is an easy plus pitch (91-96, 97-98 peak), his plus to plus-plus 82-89 MPH slider is the best of its kind in this class, and his changeup, appropriately underused against overmatched college competition, has above-average upside. From a stuff standpoint, he checks every box. So what’s the catch? Or is there one? Let’s explore.

When just about the only negative you can say about a guy is that he isn’t quite as tall as you’d like, then he must be pretty good. I don’t mean to be flip, either. Size matters a little bit — there are fair questions about durability, fastball plane, and a lack of historical success for shorter pitchers — but only a little bit. If Bukauskas had the size thing working against him AND another clear question mark surrounding his game, I could see cause for potential concern. But there are literally no non-nitpicky questions about him as a prospect right now outside of his frame. Maybe the delivery? I don’t see much in the way of inconsistencies in how he repeats it, but your mileage might vary.

I feel like I missed on Marcus Stroman even though I ranked him 18th when he went on to be drafted 22nd. Being light on him as long as I was — the summer into his junior year I was comparing him to Kelvim Escobar, Al Alburquerque, and Fautino De Los Santos — taught me a lesson. It even inspired a post a few months later that just so happens to lead us right back to Bukauskas’s prospect stock. The two names mentioned in that post: Stroman (my comp) and Lance McCullers (Perfect Game’s excellent comp). A pitching prospect on that same tier is what you’re buying in Bukauskas. That’s a top ten guy, maybe top five, and, if something happens to Hunter Greene between now and mid-June, a dark horse 1-1 contender.

Trevor Gay and Hansen Butler both need innings, but are more than talented enough to warrant serious draft consideration in June. Gay is a really funky sidearmer who can muster up serious fastball sink to go along with a low-80s slider that flashes plus. Butler is undersized, but damn good when healthy and at his best. “Good yet overlooked” is in my notes on Brett Daniels. I’m a sucker for a good changeup, so my affection for Daniels should make sense. Jason Morgan has a good firm (82-87) changeup of his own plus a pair of average offspeed pitches on top of it (75-81 true breaking ball, 80-85 cut-slider). It also doesn’t hurt that he looks the part at 6-6, 215 pounds.

When jotting quick notes about spring performances down for each 2017 draft-eligible prospect, I’ll write whatever word comes to mind. It’s my own game of free association. Logan Warmoth and Brian Miller got the same one word note: “stud.” With the bar already sky high for both returning stars, Warmoth and Miller have found a way to exceed expectations in the early going of 2017. Their individual production has been stellar, but it’s the scouting buzz both young men have received that has advanced their prospect stock in a major way this spring. I won’t go this far with Warmoth, but a source I trust has told me that he’s the closest thing he’s seen to Alex Bregman since Alex Bregman. True, Bregman has only been out of college for one full season, but the sentiment is understood. Warmoth is a surprisingly polarizing player that clearly has big fans as well as a small yet vocal (to me) group of detractors. Both sides seem to agree that there’s little to no doubting his offensive game at this point. Warmoth is a proven commodity with the stick, hitting for tons of hard line drive contact and legitimate over the fence pop going on fourteen months now. The debate on Warmoth is focused more on his athletic profile and long-term best fit defensively. I’ve gotten grades on his run times to first ranging from 45 to 60 with every increment in between showing up at least once. There is similar uncertainty about his arm strength; some have it as more than enough for the left side of the infield while others see it as the clear reason why second base makes the most sense for him sooner rather than later.

I’d personally mark him off as a slightly above-average hit, average raw power (touch less in-game), average to above-average runner, average thrower, and average (maybe a tick more) defender. That’s a monster prospect at shortstop and a damn near elite one at second. Once you factor in his extended track record of success against high-level amateur pitching and the loads of positive chatter about his work ethic, it’s easy to see why many are calling him a first round lock. Maybe the Bregman comp isn’t as far off as I first thought…

Brian Miller is another premium Tar Heel prospect with a fun mix of athleticism and skills. I’m more bullish on his physical profile than most — like Warmoth, you’ll see his speed range from above-average all the way up to plus-plus — and think he grades out very similarly to his middle infield counterpart across the board. Above-average hit, average raw power (some like it a bit more, so I could still be swayed), plus speed, average arm, and above-average center field range all add up to another potential North Carolina first round pick. That’s three so far if you’re scoring at home. This team is really damn good.

Zack Gahagan is yet another divisive prospect with some defensive questions that will need to be answered in pro ball. Is he a second baseman or a third baseman? Will his plus raw power ever translate to anything more than average in-game production? Does he have the approach to profile as a regular? All open questions at the moment. Kyle Datres is a FAVORITE for his wide array of above-average to plus tools. Like every other position player profiled already, Datres does everything well with no clear weaknesses in his game. As much as I like Warmoth, I could see a case for Datres, an easy plus athlete, being the better long-term investment for a team willing to buy him out of his last two years of college. I’m not yet ready to make that case and the few smart people I’ve ran the idea by all said I was nuts (also, for the record, they all said they expect him back in Chapel Hill next year), but it’s a strong enough hunch that I’ll be following the two guys extra closely these next two months.

As of this writing, Adam Pate has one of the weirder early season lines you’ll ever see: .056/.414/.056 with 11 BB/5 K. 88% of his OPS is tied to his OBP. Wacky stuff. If we look past the odd start, we can see that Pate is a solid senior-sign potential backup outfielder in the pros. He runs well, has a plus arm, and can go get it in center. His understanding of the strike zone and willingness to take what is given at the plate even in the face of (small sample) offensive struggles is another nice perk to his game. Fellow senior outfielder Tyler Lynn is a FAVORITE from last season. He was more good than great in his first year as a Tar Heel, but has stepped his game up this spring. I’m buying his bat in a big way. Lynn is one of the nation’s best potential senior-signs.

I didn’t realize that Cody Roberts was an age-eligible sophomore back when I was putting that list of top 2017 MLB Draft catching prospects together. Roberts is a phenomenal athlete with a great arm and a bat that finally seems to be catching up to his glove. He’s my type of catching prospect. It’s a really interesting year for college catching and the addition of Roberts name into the mix makes it that much more exciting.

*****

JR RHP JB Bukauskas (2017)
JR RHP Jason Morgan (2017)
JR RHP Hansen Butler (2017)
JR RHP Brett Daniels (2017)
rSO RHP Trevor Gay (2017)
SO C/RHP Cody Roberts (2017)
JR 2B/SS Logan Warmoth (2017)
JR OF Brian Miller (2017)
JR 3B/SS Zack Gahagan (2017)
SR OF Adam Pate (2017)
SO 3B Kyle Datres (2017)
SR OF Tyler Lynn (2017)
FR RHP Austin Bergner (2018)
SO RHP Taylor Sugg (2018)
SO RHP Cole Aker (2018)
rFR RHP Josh Hiatt (2018)
SO RHP Rodney Hutchison (2018)
SO SS Utah Jones (2018)
SO OF Brandon Riley (2018)
SO C Brendan Illies (2018)
SO OF Josh Ladowski (2018)
FR RHP Tyler Baum (2019)
FR RHP Luca Dalatri (2019)
FR RHP Robbie Peto (2019)
FR RHP Bo Weiss (2019)
FR LHP Zach Attianese (2019)
FR C Brandon Martorano (2019)
FR 2B/SS Ike Freeman (2019)
FR 1B Michael Busch (2019)
FR OF Laney Orr (2019)
FR 3B/2B Ashton McGee (2019)
FR RHP Evan Odum (2019)

2017 MLB Draft – College First Basemen (Top 10)

I’m down on this year’s college hitting class on the whole, but you really wouldn’t know it based on the first two positions previewed. We took care of the catchers a few weeks back; that group is admittedly more of a list of personal favorites rather than guys I genuinely believe will crash the top one hundred pick party. First base, however, looks pretty damn loaded to me. A strong emphasis on up-the-middle defenders has caused fans and front office types alike to reevaluate the relative importance of big bats confined to first base. This is a pretty easy concept to grasp, but since I knew it felt familiar writing about it — pretty sure I do this every year — and took the time to look it up, here’s a true blast from the past on the topic from almost six (!) whole years ago…

What I think I’ve always been fascinated about with respect to first base prospects is the high stakes gamble that comes with taking a first baseman early on draft day. If your athletic five-tool up-the-middle draft prospect doesn’t hit as expected, you’ve still got — wait, let me get my calculator — four tools, including defense and the ancillary positional value boost, remaining. If your first base prospect doesn’t hit (and hit a ton), then you’re left with nothing but regret.

Snappy writing! Here’s a guy on the internet talking to himself again, this time from May 2013…

Taking shots on bat-first guys in those rounds [5-10] has always been a favorite draft practice of mine. All things being equal you’d rather have a toolsy, athletic prospect perched atop the defensive chain (C/SS/CF), but those guys aren’t always hanging around in the middle rounds waiting to be signed easily. Bringing in a handful of guys you know can hit in every draft seems like a smart idea as well. Drafting is such an inexact science/art that you can’t point to any one player as the model prospect for a given strategy, but I’m going to do it anyway. The Diamondbacks drafted the tenth college first baseman off the board in 2008 with pick 246 in the eighth round. Paul Goldschmidt could never hit another ball hard for the rest of his career — spoiler: that won’t happen — and they would still have gotten tremendous value for the pick. Heck, move up a few rounds and you’ll find Brandon Belt to the Giants in the fifth. There are equal and opposite examples that knock down the argument a bit — still waiting on AJ Kirby-Jones to hit — but too often college first basemen are knocked unfairly as throwaway picks outside of the first few rounds. There will always be a need for guys who can hit. These guys can hit.

Good call on Goldschmidt not immediately retiring after finishing that post. Was holding my breath on that one. Once more from March 2014…

College first basemen are some of the most difficult players to rank this early in the draft process because, of any amateur position, first base is the spot I utilize data almost as much as scouting reports. There are many things to look for in young batters when it comes to projecting the hit and power tool; for starters, you’re looking for swing mechanics (balance, rotation, gather, load, fluidity, repeatability, etc.), vision (tracking pitches), bat to ball contact (cliché or not, there is a unique sound you’re hoping to hear), bat speed, and, one of my biggest things for power, how well the hitter’s upper and lower body work together. Seeing and hearing about these things is vitally important, but, more so than any other tools (and to paraphrase national treasure Rasheed Wallace), bat don’t lie. If you can hit, your production will reflect it.

I stand by this today. Too many like to bust on people who “scout the box scores,” but, you know what, you can learn a whole heck of a lot based on information found in box scores. Those box scores reflect real world events that actually happened on a baseball field. You can’t learn everything from them, of course, but I’m not sure anybody is arguing that. I’d still bet if you found a list of most productive college hitters and adjusted for park/schedule/age, those players would stack up really well with either draft position, professional success, or both. This gets trickier the more you begin to factor in the aspects of scouting that aren’t reflected in a basic box score (i.e., this would work a lot better for one-dimensional sluggers than five-tool athletes at premium defensive spots), but I think using on-field performance indicators as a starting point (if nothing else) makes sense. ANYWAY, last one from December 2015 back when I had my act together and was posting real draft thoughts six months ahead of the big day rather than two…

(This may totally undercut the previous point, but it’s crazy enough to me that I don’t mind. You want the list of first day college first basemen taken since I started the site back in 2009? We’ve got Chris Shaw, Casey Gillaspie, CJ Cron, and…that’s it. Three guys in seven drafts. That probably shouldn’t amaze me, but it does. As we’ve repeated already, many first basemen are made and not born. College first day guys who can also handle and may eventually play 1B full-time include Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, and Stephen Piscotty. I think all can be corner outfielders at worst, but reasonable minds may disagree. If you’re feeling kind you could also add Bryce Brentz, Kyle Parker, and Michael Choice to that list. I’m not sure I see a future big league first baseman of worth out of that trio, but you never know, right? I suppose the point here is that recent historical trends point towards college first basemen lasting longer than one might think. Or maybe it’s a coincidence based on the fact that we’ve had an unusually underwhelming group of college sluggers in this time frame. Or maybe it’s an arbitrary endpoints thing. Who knows!)

Embarrassing confession time: I don’t know how many picks constitute the “first day” of the draft. Does it change year to year? It must. Do the rounds they televise change? Or is it always the first two? Does that include the supplemental second round? After an exhausting thirty seconds of trying my best to remember, I still wasn’t 100% sure. Thankfully, it’s 2017 and Google exists, so SB Nation to the rescue. I am glad I double-checked rather than just relying on memory — probably would have gone first round and comp picks only — because we can now add 2016 second rounder Pete Alonso to the list. That’s four guys in eight drafts. Will Craig could be the fifth guy, but Baseball Reference has him listed as a 3B on their draft page so that’s that. If I expand my list to Top 100 picks, then we can add AJ Reed, Sam Travis, Daniel Palka, Alex Dickerson, Rich Poythress, Tyler Townsend, and Ben Paulsen to the list. Those last three, all taken in the top 100 — top 90 if you want to be precise — in 2009, my first year doing this for the site, are probably the reason why I didn’t use Top 100 as a cutoff in the first place. So that’s eleven college first basemen in eight drafts taken within the first 100 picks. Wording it that way doesn’t give it quite the same punch as four guys in eight drafts, but it’s still not a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.

If you’ve read this far, thank you and sorry for losing the plot. The point of everything above, if there is one at all, is fairly open-ended. I think there’s something to these recent draft trends; real big league teams would be wise to take note and set their own big boards accordingly. Ultimately, my personal hypothesis is that college first basemen remain undervalued draft day assets. Nobody following the modern game will tell you the recent movement towards athleticism and defense is anything but brilliant, lest they get made fun of Twitter for having an opinion that breaks from consensus. I like athletes and premium defenders as much as they next guy. BUT…you need players who can hit, too. And if we’re trying to apply a lesson to any of the rambling mess that preceded this, then maybe all it takes to “win” on draft day is a general awareness of the larger trends going on across baseball. Pick a bat or two you like and wait it out. If you believe there’s any predictive power in yesterday’s post, then at least one or two of the players listed in this top ten will fall outside of the draft’s top ten rounds. That’s wild to me. These are good players! If all of baseball is zigging towards one type of player, then maybe consider zagging towards the big bats. Just a thought.

Hey, 2017 college first basemen! Almost forget about them. Here’s a list…

  1. Virginia JR 1B/OF Pavin Smith
  2. Louisville JR 1B/LHP Brendan McKay
  3. Kentucky JR 1B/OF Evan White
  4. Wake Forest JR 1B Gavin Sheets
  5. Michigan State rSO 1B/LHP Alex Troop
  6. Oregon State JR 1B/C KJ Harrison
  7. Binghamton rSO 1B/3B Justin Yurchak
  8. BYU JR 1B/C Colton Shaver
  9. Florida JR 1B/C JJ Schwarz
  10. UCLA JR 1B/3B Sean Bouchard

And here are some 2016 lines to kick things off…

.329/.410/.513 with 36 BB/23 K in 228 AB
.333/.414/.513 with 24 BB/33 K in 228 AB

That’s freaky, right? Nearly identical triple-slash lines, same number of at bats, and almost perfectly inverted BB/K ratios. Top is Pavin Smith, bottom is Brendan McKay. There’s been some divergence in their numbers so far in 2017…

.328/.394/.597 – 16 BB/5 K – 134 AB
.388/.508/.633 – 24 BB/16 K – 98 AB

…but not so significantly that any pre-season beliefs should be tossed out. McKay is a really great prospect. When you factor in his ability as a pitcher — and likelihood that he remains a pitcher rendering everything written below little more than a potential backup plan — I’d give him an edge over Smith as an overall prospect. As a hitter and hitter only, I lean Smith. Before we get to him, the skinny on McKay as a hitter…

As for McKay specifically, well, I think he’s just a more appealing hitting prospect than a pitcher. As you’ll read below, this isn’t an opinion that I can justify objectively as much as a weird hunch I’ve had while watching him over the years. McKay’s hit tool (above-average to plus), power (above-average to plus), and approach (SHOCKER – above-average to plus) all fit the bill for a middle of the order big league first baseman. The excellent Sam Monroy dropped Logan Morrison’s name when discussing McKay; I’ll go a little richer and say he reminds me of Eric Hosmer. Keeping in mind both guys are still active and at different points in their respective careers, it should be noted that my “rich” comparison (106 career wRC+) has only outhit Morrison (105 wRC+) by a whole point to date. Anyway, the good version of Hosmer (.300/.360/.460) is a really damn good hitter and exactly the type of prospect I’d deem worth using a first round pick on. The not so good version, unfortunately, is just a guy. That’s a bummer, but there’s still hope. If you’re seeing “bad Hosmer” after a predetermined increment of time passes (two full seasons?), then the plan to get McKay back on the mound and pitching again should be rolled out posthaste. I don’t think this is what will happen — I’d bet tonight’s pizza money that he gets drafted and signed as a pitcher — and I’m not yet entirely convinced it’s what should happen, but, as I’ve said, it’s my current lean as of April 5, 2017.

As for Smith, I’m still not really sure what he doesn’t do well. It’s a true plus hit tool with a picture perfect swing, outstanding plate coverage, and standout pitch recognition. His raw power is above-average to plus and already showing up in games. He’s a well above-average glove at first with enough athleticism and arm strength (88-93 FB pre-TJ surgery) to at least give some teams pause when considering his long-term defensive position. Seriously, what’s not to like about him as an offensive player?

If we wanted to nitpick — and we DO — then it’s worth pointing out that there have been some whispers about less than ideal bat speed. Fine, I guess. I struggle with identifying bat speed outside of the extremes, so I’m happy to tip my cap to anybody who can tag a guy with an above- or below-average swing of the bat using only the naked eye. I can’t, so I try not to judge. Can’t say I’ve noticed anything all that remarkable — good or bad — about Smith’s bat speed, and at some point his outstanding three years of hitting high-level amateur pitching should win out anyway. It’s the current Rowdy Tellez argument manifesting itself in college ball. I like Tellez. I like Smith.

I’ve also heard some BASEBALL MEN chatter about Virginia hitters struggling to adjust to pro ball. Can’t say I really buy that one, though I suppose the murderer’s row of Phil Gosselin, Jarrett Parker, John Hicks, and Chris Taylor haven’t exactly lit the world on fire in the pros. Brandon Guyer, Ryan Zimmerman, and Mark Reynolds give the Cavaliers a little more clout, but that’s going way back. I remember liking guys like Tyler Cannon, Dan Grovatt, Steve Proscia, Stephen Bruno, and Reed Gragnani with little to nothing to show for it in terms of pro success. Mike Papi, Derek Fisher, and Daniel Pinero seem primed to turn the reputation around…if you think the reputation needed turning around in the first place. And then there’s this guy…

.338/.427/.518 with 74 BB/55 K and 4/5 SB in 554 AB
.323/.394/.515 with 78 BB/68 K and 5/12 SB in 637 AB

Top is Matt Thaiss’s career numbers at Virginia. Those were good enough to get him selected sixteenth overall last year. Bottom is what Smith has done so far. Feels like there’s a comparison to be made between the two hitters in there somewhere. Like Thaiss last year, mid-first round feels like a fair landing spot for Smith as of now.

Pumping Evan White up as a potential regular at first base takes a little more of a leap of faith considering his underwhelming plate discipline (29 BB/75 K) through two seasons at Kentucky. Despite the ugly numbers, however, scouts who have seen a lot of White up close have maintained that his approach isn’t that of a hacker who will never get it but a far more mature hitter who shows the kinds of flashes of pitch recognition and patience that give them confidence he’ll wind up with a manageable or better BB/K ratio in the long run. Those two sentences were written before the season, believe it or not. This is absolutely not a comp, but the feedback I got on White over the offseason reminded me a bit about what I was consistently told about Kyle Lewis last winter. The approach looks bad on the stat sheet for now, but all scouting signs point to better days ahead. They were right on Lewis and they seem to be right on White so far.

Smith and McKay are both clearly great prospects, but White, while not the best (yet) of this group, is my favorite. He has such a funky profile that is unlike almost anybody I’ve ever covered. How into White am I? I was at a bachelor party this past weekend boring my brother and the father of the groom-to-be about “this freaky athletic first baseman at Kentucky who could seamlessly make the move to center field.” White is a fantastic athlete who is an easy plus defender at first. He’s got the above-average to plus arm and above-average foot speed to handle the outfield, a move that would make perfect sense if the prospect of him playing transcendent defense at first didn’t exist. George Horton, via D1 Baseball, compared him to JT Snow. In addition to Snow, I heard a really good comp for White recently…and I have one of my own to offer. I’ll let you decide which is which: Jeff King (on the lower end) and Derrek Lee (on the upper end). A spectrum from King to Snow (if you can forgive the handedness) to Lee seems like a fair range of big league outcomes for White.

Reading up on Alex Troop this past offseason, the same thought kept occurring to me over and over: Troop is the cold weather version of Brendan McKay. Hyperbolic? Sure, but only a little. Troop is really good and not nearly discussed enough as one of the college game’s best two-way prospects. Most smart people I’ve checked in with prefer him on the mound. I get it. He’s 86-92 with his fastball with an easy plus 77-80 CU (one of my favorites of its kind in this entire class) and a usable 79-80 breaking ball. Still, I can’t shake the thought of what a 6-5, 210 pound present hit over power type (with power coming on fast) and a seasoned veteran’s approach at the plate could do once dedicated to hitting full time.

If you’re not buying the Troop/McKay parallels, let me try another prospect to prospect comparison. There’s a lot about Gavin Sheets, mainly as a hitter, that reminds me of Evan White. Both are hit over power types with lots of athleticism. Wake Forest is a great place to hit, but I’m buying Sheets’s bat in a big way right now.

It’s only natural to lump KJ Harrison, Colton Shaver, and JJ Schwarz together as prospects. All three have experience behind the plate, but, as their presence on this list suggests, are likely to move full-time to first base in the pros. I’m typically slower to move prospects down the defensive spectrum if I can help it, but sometimes the most likely outcome is exactly how things play out. “It’s always the person you least suspect” is nonsense, after all. It’s almost always the person you most suspect! So maybe it’s time to stop overthinking things here and start buying into the defensive groupthink a little more freely. We’ll see.

Harrison is the most likely of the three to remain a catcher, so he gets bonus points for that. He also gets bonus points for really knowing how to hit. Most of the feedback I had on this group of players had some combination of McKay, Smith, and Harrison as the top trio of hitters. Watching Harrison work is a joy. He takes some of the most professional amateur at bats around. He can hit it anywhere on the field, deftly taking what the pitchers give him and willing to shoot the ball the other way or up the middle when necessary. I think pro scouts and coaches are really going to love Harrison in a way that us amateur chumps don’t quite appreciate just yet.

Shaver is the least likely of the three to remain a catcher. Power bats from Shaver’s part of the country are a little scary due to park factors inflating offense, but the BYU slugger’s power is prodigious enough to play in any park in the country. That power coupled with a mature approach make him a bat to watch, slow offensive start to 2017 or not. Speaking of slow starts…

I brag a lot about not overreacting to small samples, but when those small samples cease to be all that small…well, that’s a different beast altogether. JJ Schwarz’s dip in production and increasingly tepid scouting reports are tough to ignore. “Defense and body took major step back in 2016” is a line taken directly from my notes that scares me every single time I read it. His athletic profile fascinates me. Schwarz improved a lot in both areas as a freshman, took that aforementioned step back in 2016 as a sophomore, and then took a small step ahead on the Cape this past summer. Through it all I never really considered his bat to be anything but a weapon going forward — major bat speed (I know, I know…I’m a hypocrite), serious power, and a freshman season so good you could always point to as proof that he can do it — but this spring has been undeniably underwhelming. I started the season thinking we’d be having the same debates we had last year about Zack Collins, but now think Schwarz’s closest college comparison might be Matt LaPorta. Read into that what you will.

ACC bats make up three of the top four prospects on this list. Number seven on the list comes from Binghamton by way of another ACC school (Wake Forest). Justin Yurchak hit in 2015. He’s hit in 2017. It’s not a huge sample, but sometimes spotting a hitter who can hit isn’t exactly rocket science. My only question with Yurchak right now is about his defense. It’s a happy question, too. Is Yurchak miscast with the first basemen here? Can he play a good enough third base to stick there in the pros? I don’t know the answers to those questions yet — if you do, let me know — but I’m excited to find out more about him over the next two months. I know he can hit, and that’s more than enough for now.

Sean Bouchard is still a little too aggressive for his own good, but his power, arm, and athleticism will check a lot of boxes for teams. Bouchard isn’t really my type, but finding a tenth guy for this list was a bigger challenge than anticipated. My hunch is that will change by June when I have a little more time to dig deeper and find bats more to my liking. But if Bouchard keeps up his .300/.400/.600 pace then he’ll be tough to push out ugly BB/K or not…

A few other names of note are listed below. It’s hardly an exhaustive list…we have to save something for June, right?

Chipola JC SO 1B/OF Reynaldo Rivera
Duke JR 1B Justin Bellinger
Georgia Tech JR 1B/OF Kel Johnson
Hartford SR 1B/3B David MacKinnon
Hawaii JR 1B Eric Ramirez
Michigan JR 1B/3B Drew Lugbauer
Seattle JR 1B Sean Sutton
Southern Illinois Edwardsville SR 1B Keaton Wright
UNC Wilmington JR 1B Mason Berne

College First Base Prospects – A Brief(ish) MLB Draft Study

Seven years ago I made an attempt to look at some historical draft trends including this piece on college first basemen and the MLB Draft. The plan this year was to reference it quickly and move on, but the pull of looking at past drafts was too strong. Despite all of my claims of wanting — no, needing — to prioritize generalized 2017 MLB Draft content above all else, I instead sunk far more time than I’d like to admit on updating a post written almost a decade ago. I need help.

*****

Time Period

2002 – 2011

Data Set

MLB Draft first base (1B) prospects selected out of college (four-year or junior college) designated as such by Baseball Reference

Initial Findings

MLB starters (hitter): 18
MLB starters (pitcher): 2
Total MLBers: 54

(“Starters” is a bit of a misnomer as you’ll see in the list below, but I think it gets the point across so long as you aren’t aggressively literal with it.)

MLB Starters

Ryan Shealy, Nick Swisher, Conor Jackson, Adam Lind, Mike Dunn, Steve Pearce, Tyler Flowers, Chris Davis, Lucas Duda, Mitch Moreland, Sean Doolittle, Stephen Vogt, Yonder Alonso, Justin Smoak, Ike Davis, Brandon Belt, Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Bour, CJ Cron, Alex Dickerson

(The overall math doesn’t change much if you want to toss a few of these names out, but I tried to be generous with the “starter” label when possible. Some degree of personal bias — most notably a longstanding belief that Shealy deserved better — also may or may not have crept into this section.)

Basic Math (MLB Impact)

2.0 starters/year
1.8 starting position players/year
5.4 big league players/year

(Averages don’t really work this way, but I’d still argue a reasonable expectation for any given draft class is two long-term starters and three additional big league players out of said class’s college first base prospect pool.) 

Basic Math (MLB Draft)

49.1 players from data set drafted each year
10.2 players from data set drafted in top ten rounds each year

Colleges with Multiple MLB Players Drafted and Signed from 2002 – 2011

California – 2
Tulane – 2
Loyola Marymount – 2
South Carolina – 2
Arizona State – 3
Mississippi State – 2
UNLV – 2

(Not sure this tells us anything at all, but seeing schools pop up multiple times while doing this felt noteworthy enough to me to jot down. Once it’s jotted down, it either gets deleted or posted…so why not post it? Schools out west seem disproportionately successful here. Nothing to it probably, but there you go.) 

Yearly Breakdowns

2002 (46 college 1B total; 13 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Ryan Shealy (11-321, Florida)

Starter (non-1B): Nick Swisher (1-16, Ohio State)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Brad Eldred (6-163, Florida International), Paul McAnulty (12-355, Long Beach State)

Notes: Pretty good year for HS 1B as Prince Fielder (1-7), James Loney (1-19), James McDonald (11-331), and Travis Ishikawa (21-637) all provided some value in some way

2003 (42 college 1B total; 10 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Conor Jackson (1-19, California)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Michael Aubrey (1-11, Tulane), Josh Whitesell (6-177, Loyola Marymount), Carlos Corporan (12-339, Florida Gateway JC)

Note: Not a single HS 1B in this class ever sniffed the big leagues; Corporan made it, but as a catcher

2004 (56 college 1B total; 15 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Adam Lind (3-83, South Alabama)

Starter (non-1B): Mike Dunn (33-999, Southern Nevada CC)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Joe Koshansky (6-170, Virginia), Rhyne Hughes (8-225, Pearl River CC), Tommy Everidge (10-307, Sonoma State), Chris Carter (17-506, Stanford)

Notes: Dunn is a little like a less talked about version of Sean Doolittle (see below); two pretty solid finds at the HS ranks in Mike Carp (9-254) and Kyle Blanks (42-1241)

2005 (48 college 1B total; 7 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Steve Pearce (8-241, South Carolina)

Starter (non-1B): Tyler Flowers (33, 1007, Chipola JC)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Jordan Brown (4-124, Arizona), Jeff Larish (5-150, Arizona State)

Notes: The one and only HS player to make it here was Logan Morrison (22-666)

2006 (44 college 1B total; 11 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Chris Davis (5-148, Navarro JC)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Mark Hamilton (2-76, Tulane), Aaron Bates (3-83, North Carolina State), Brett Pill (7-206, Cal State Fullerton)

Notes: only HS player here to make the highest level was Lars Anderson (18-553); I distinctly remember really liking Whit Robbins back in the day…

2007 (42 college 1B total; 8 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Lucas Duda (7-243, USC), Mitch Moreland (17-530, Mississippi State)

Starter (non-1B) Sean Doolittle (1-41, Virginia), Stephen Vogt (12-365, Azusa Pacific)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Matt LaPorta (1-7, Florida), Joe Mahoney (6-189, Richmond), Steven Hill (13-412, Stephen F. Austin), Clint Robinson (25-756, Troy), Efren Navarro (50-1450, UNLV)

Notes: Doolittle is a reliever and not a starter but you get what I was going for there; tremendous year for HS 1B with Freddie Freeman (2-78) and Anthony Rizzo (6-204) emerging as stars at the position, Giancarlo Stanton (2-76) doing the same in the outfield, and even Andrew Lambo (4.146) eventually getting the call

2008 (51 college 1B total; 11 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Yonder Alonso (1-7, Miami), Justin Smoak (1-11, South Carolina), Ike Davis (1-18, Arizona State)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Brett Wallace (1-13, Arizona State), David Cooper (1-17, California), Allan Dykstra (1-23, Wake Forest), Matt Clark (12-375, LSU), Tyler Moore (16-481, Mississippi State), Xavier Scruggs (19-575, UNLV)

Notes: Eric Hosmer (1-3) was the big star in the class; seven first basemen — six out of college alone — taken in the first 23 picks will blow my mind until the day I die

2009 (57 college 1B total; 10 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Brandon Belt (5-147, Texas), Paul Goldschmidt (8-246, Texas State), Justin Bour (25-770, George Mason)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Ben Paulsen (3-90, Clemson), Ryan Wheeler (5-156, Loyola Marymount), Nate Freiman (8-234, Duke), Sean Halton (13-406, Lewis-Clark), Chris McGuiness (13-408, The Citadel), Darin Ruf (20-617, Creighton), Cody Decker (22-654, UCLA)

Notes: Jon Singleton (8-257) is the only HS player so far to reach the big leagues; Rich Poythress (2-51, Georgia) and Tyler Townsend (3-85, Florida International) were top one hundred pick busts

2010 (53 college 1B total; 9 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Andy Wilkins (5-158, Arkansas), Jason Rogers (32-969, Columbus State)

Notes: Christian Yelich (1-23) is the only positive value player in this entire class; top ten college prospects included Hunter Morris, Mickey Wiswall, Blake Dean, Kyle Roller, AJ Kirby-Jones, Tony Plagman, David Rohm, and Aaron Senne

2011 (52 college 1B total; 8 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: CJ Cron (1-17, Utah)

Starter (non-1B): Alex Dickerson (3-91, Indiana)

Notes: a whopping five HS 1B were drafted in the top ten rounds highlighted by Dan Vogelbach (2-68)

So why stop at 2011? Well, stopping here leaves us with a nice and easy line of demarcation, mainly being the 2012 MLB Draft was the first to go forty rounds rather than fifty. It also gives us a clean ten years of data to look at. Round numbers sure are pretty. Finally, it makes for five years worth of “new” data to look at going forward. It also doesn’t hurt that making judgments on players selected just a few years ago can lead to some embarrassing guesses about their futures…check the link at the top if you don’t believe me. Here’s the data for the past five drafts…

2012 (34 college 1B total; 9 college 1B in top ten rounds)
2013 (42 college 1B Total; 10 college 1B in top ten rounds)
2014 (46 college 1B Total, 10 college 1B in top ten rounds)
2015 (42 college 1B Total, 8 college 1B in top ten rounds)
2016 (38 college 1B Total, 5 college 1B in top ten rounds)

That comes out to an average of 40.4 college 1B selected in each draft with 8.4 of them going off the board in the first ten rounds. That’s down from the 49.1 and 10.2 results from the ten-year period detailed above. The former result makes sense considering the deletion of ten rounds at the end of the draft, but the dip in top ten college first base prospects off the board is interesting. How does any of this apply (if at all) to this year’s college first base class? Stay tuned…

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