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One of the most popular (fine, the only) question I’ve been emailed since starting this site up goes a little something like this: I’m going to see ____ University/College/State play this weekend and I was wondering if there was anybody with a professional future that would be worth watching. The College Team Profiles are designed to preemptively answer any and all questions about the prospects from a particular college team…or maybe just open up a whole new debate full of new, even more confusing questions. We’ll see. The next three draft classes for one particular school are featured, with the players ranked in order (from greatest to least greatest) within each class.
As always, whether you agree, disagree, or think I’m a dope who should leave this sort of stuff to the experts (thanks, Mom)…let’s hear it via email (you can use either robozga at gmail dot com or thebaseballdraftreport at gmail dot com) or in the comments section.
JR RHP Anthony Ranaudo (2010) has been likened to fellow Tiger Ben McDonald, but, while the similarity works in a lot of ways (both highly touted 6-7 Bayou Bengals), the comparison is more about shiny new toy syndrome and short memories than anything substantial. Ben McDonald was a phenomenal prospect coming out of school in 1989. Anthony Ranaudo is a very good prospect here in 2010. Big difference, although hardly an automatic strike against Ranaudo’s prospect stock. I guess all of this is self-evident (Ranaudo isn’t McDonald, what a revelation!), but I’ll be honest here – this whole paragraph was nothing more than a front for showing off one of my favorite SI covers of all time.
Makes me laugh every time. Anyway, everybody saw Ranaudo when he was at his relative worst, when he was completely worn down and exhibiting diminished velocity during the College World Series. His heater was sitting only in the upper-80s and the sharpness on his 12-6 curveball, the secondary offering generally considered his finest, was noticeably absent. I caught Ranaudo for the first time during the middle of conference play last season and came away impressed. His fastball was 91-93 MPH consistently, hitting as high as 94 at its peak. Many outlets regard his curve as a superior pitch to his change, but Ranaudo’s 82-84 MPH sinking changeup impressed as much as his high-70s curve, a pitch that flattened out too often and stayed consistently up in the zone.
In fact, that’s one of my biggest concerns about Ranaudo going forward. When he misses, he misses up. the one thing I’d love to see first addressed with Ranaudo as a professional is his tendency to leave balls up. Darn near everything he threw, especially his fastballs and curves, were left up. Ranaudo is 6-7, 220 pounds and should be able to us e his frame to his advantage when attempting to generate a more favorable downward plane on his pitches. In fact, don’t be shocked to hear many of the experts assume that the big righty gets that great downward movement and the ensuing groundball outs that come with it. It’s a fine theory and one that will be correct more often than not, but in this instance it’s wrong. My quick 2009 GO/AO ratio using the publicly available data for Ranaudo is 0.71. That number would be best compared against all pitchers that make up the college ball landscape, but, alas, we’re stuck making an assumption of our own in lieu of spending far too much time and energy ginning up all that data. The assumption here is that 0.71, a number that more or less says Ranaudo induced 100 air outs for every 71 groundball out, makes the big LSU righty a pretty clear flyball pitcher.
All of the “non-skill” stuff with Ranaudo grades out as excellent. He gets high praise for his competitive makeup, he is an above-average athlete who prides himself on staying in tremendous baseball shape, and the LSU coaching staff has widely acknowledged his receptiveness to learning as much as possible about what it takes to be a big game pitcher. He had a healthy sophomore year, but it is still possible questions linger in the minds of clubs worried about the two missed months his freshman year due to tendinitis in his right elbow. Another season of healthy, dominant baseball in the SEC should solidify his spot in the top ten.
Bottom line on Ranaudo’s aresenal heading into the 2010 season:
- Fastball – good velocity, very good command, too straight at times
- Changeup – good velocity separation, good sink, underutilized
- Curveball – very good pitch when it is good, very hittable pitch when it isn’t, inconsistent velocity, shape, and command
JR OF Leon Landry (2010) had better be prepared for the onslaught of Jared Mitchell comps sure to be thrown his way this spring. The comparisons between the two football playing outfielders work in some ways (both players have plus speed and are ridiculous athletes, but each guy had a below-average arm), but fall apart in other areas, most notably in the power department. Landry has already shown as much present power through two seasons of collegiate development as Mitchell did through three. A more interesting crop of first round caliber talents in 2010 may push Landry’s draft position down past where Mitchell went in 2009 (23rd overall), but I’m willing to go on the record and say that his forthcoming monster junior season will catapult his overall prospect stock past his former two sport teammate’s. He’s a potential plus defender in center with good range but a below-average arm for the position.
JR OF Chad Jones (2010) is a problem for me. It is very easy for me to get in the habit of being too darn positive about these prospects because it is more fun to think about upside and ceilings and perfect world projections while ignoring the nasty reality that so many little things can go wrong to torpedo any given player’s prospect stock between now and June. I try my best to be mean, to find red flags about players I know I’m overrating based on upside. Chad Jones probably should be one of those red flag players because, logically at least, there has to be at least a couple tools duds sprinkled into this star packed LSU outfield. Mahtook, Landry, Watkins, Dishon, Dean, and Jones all can’t be serious big league prospects, can they? Watkins is the speed guy, Dean is the well-rounded senior masher, but Mahtook, Landry, Dishon, and Jones are all big-time projection guys cut from the same ultra-toolsy cloth. Of those four, Jones is probably the best athlete. To take it a step further, Jones may actually be the most unbelievable athlete of the entire 2010 college class. He has great size, speed, and strength with a definite plus arm and above-average power potential. I put him in the same class as Jake Locker last year, for better or worse. Each player has enormous untapped potential on the diamond (for better!) which, unfortunately for baseball fans, may forever go untapped due to the presence of football (for worse…). There are so many questions surrounding Jones heading into his baseball season that is quite difficult to even place a draft value on him. Does he even play baseball this year for LSU? If so, will he actually attempt to play while simultaneously prepping for the NFL Draft Combine and pre-draft workouts? If he sticks with baseball, is his future brighter in the field or on the mound? Does he put it all off and stick another year out at LSU just to make us ask all of these questions again a year from now? The word is that his first love is baseball, but there are undeniable advantages in taking a top three round NFL signing bonus while keeping the possibility of baseball in your back pocket just in case. It should be fun following Jones whichever path he chooses…assuming he makes the right choice and chooses baseball, of course. That’s a joke…mostly.
JR C Micah Gibbs (2010) is currently a potential late first round pick who, even with a subpar junior season, still ought to hear his name called in the first three rounds of the 2010 Draft. Offensively he is more solid than spectacular, though his plate discipline (career 69/76 BB/K ratio) is a skill worth getting somewhat excited about. Scouts have long pegged him as a player with big raw power, especially from the left side, but in two years at LSU he hasn’t been able to show off that batting practice thunder in game situations. Gibbs’ leadership is praised far and wide and his defense is beyond reproach, so expect Gibbs to get a ton of ink as one the chosen players MLB decides to “talk up” with positive press heading into the June draft.
JR RHP Austin Ross (2010) is the prototypical four-seamer/sinker/slider guy. He occasionally expands upon the repertoire by branching out with a show-me change, but otherwise remains true to his sinking 90-92 fastball and solid slider with plus potential. He has excellent command of all of his pitches, most notably the four-seamer and the sinker. In addition to solid present value stuff, Ross has excellent mechanics and room to grow on his lanky 6-2, 190 pound frame. I group college pitching prospects into a couple of different categories. Ross will likely go in with the rest of the “potential back of the rotation arms” because he has the makings of at least three big league average or better pitches.
SO OF Johnny Dishon (2010) is yet another legit well-rounded five-tool talent. He has above-average speed, a plus arm, plays a good enough centerfield (though he fits best in right professionally), and has a really promising hit tool. After redshirting last season, he finds himself draft-eligible in 2010, but, and I’m sure a pretty clear theme is developing here, he has plenty to prove this upcoming season. Dishon heads into the season as LSU’s fourth outfielder, a testament to this team’s crazy outfield depth. At this point I consider Dishon to be one of the most underrated prospects in college baseball. He still swings and misses too often, but his base running is top notch and the pop in his bat could grow into real power with more reps.
SR 1B/OF Blake Dean (2010) is being counted on to start the season as LSU’s primary first baseman even after getting beat up on the operating table (torn labrum and appendectomy) this past offseason. Reports on his defense at first have been extremely positive so far. I liked Dean as a prospect a lot last year, but with every extra year (and every subsequent injury) spent not developing his craft professionally it gets harder and harder to envision Dean ever holding down a starting job in the bigs. His good but not great future with the bat makes me wonder if his overall package is going to be able to carry him at a defensive position like first base that demands more than just a good bat. Getting back into the outfield at some point this season (even if only doing so pre-game for scouts on hand) would be a very, very good thing for Dean’s prospect stock. As is, he represents value as a potential money saving senior sign option (with upside, no less) between rounds five and ten.
JR RHP Daniel Bradshaw (2010) is probably the better comp to Louis Coleman on the roster, but with stuff that grades out lower across the board. Bradshaw sits 86-90 with the fastball and throws a couple of average at best offspeed pitches (curveball and changeup). His lack of dominating, or even above-average, stuff dim the shine of his pro prospects, but he’ll at least have the benefit of spending two more years at a hugely respected college program to build up his draft resume. As a senior sign in 2011, he could get a real look, but I don’t see him getting picked high enough in 2010 to leave school early. Then again, he could also put together a fine season as LSU’s Saturday starter in 2010 and have us all reconsidering his future come June.
SR OF/1B Matt Gaudet (2010) is a player that finally helps answer the question what would a baseball player with severe sfairesphobia look like out in the field. In other, non-bastardized Greek words, Gaudet is a bit of a butcher defensively. His raw power is impressive, but he has a lot to prove after sitting out the 2009 season and, unfortunately for him, not a lot of time to do it. He is currently slated to be LSU’s righthanded hitting half of their designated hitter platoon.
JR 1B Kyle Koeneman (2010) has been both a highly decorated prospect coming out of high school (2007) and a well regarded junior college power hitter (2008-2009) who was very surprisingly bypassed in all three of his draft years. He has massive playable power and is capable of playing the outfield corners if needed. At bats will be hard to come by for Koeneman, but it’ll be interesting to see how he adapts to a bench role as that will almost certainly be his role if he can hack it in pro ball.
JR RHP Ben Alsup (2010) is in line to fill the all-important role of swingman of this year’s LSU staff. His low-90s fastball, above-average athleticism, and projectable 6-3, 160 pound frame all remind me of another pitcher formerly in the program that often saved the bullpen with multiple inning outings, Louis Coleman.
JR C Edmond Sparks (2010) has a plus arm and is solid behind the plate, but right now his bat still lags behind his defense. His track record in junior college shows a player slowly beginning to tap into his gap power potential, but he still needs to show something on the big college baseball stage. He didn’t get nearly as many at bats in 2009 at Chipola as he did in 2008 (not sure why), but he figures to get some actual time as Gibbs’ backup in 2010.
JR SS Mike Lowery (2010) is out for the year as he recovers from back surgery.
SO OF Mikie Mahtook (2011) projects to do just about everything well at the big league level. His tools all grade out as above-average or better, but the gap between where some of his skills currently are and where they ultimately need to be is substantial. Mahtook has made steady progress narrowing that gap since enrolling at LSU, but his performance this spring will be heavily scrutinized by scouts expecting big things out of the potential 2011 first rounder. Mahtook is a plus athlete with above-average raw power, above-average speed, a strong arm, and the potential to play an above-average centerfield as a professional.
SO OF Trey Watkins (2011) can run like the dickens. That’s fast. You know it’s fast because it prompted me to say something like he can run like the dickens. That’s not a phrase I’m willing to use publicly unless it was oh so true. Watkins’s plus-plus running ability allows him to cover huge chunks of ground in the field. His compact 5-8, 190 pound frame is very well proportioned with those explosive fast twitch muscles that make the eyes of scouts widen. I know this is a cop-out, but Watkins is a player you really need to watch play to understand. His upside could be Bobby Abreu with more speed and less home run power. JR OF Tyler Holt (2010) of Florida State is the best current prospect comp (although Holt strikes out a lot more) I can come up with; Holt is draft-eligible this year, so it’ll be interesting to see if his draft standing works as a litmus test to Watkins’s 2011 draft stock.
SO RHP Shane Riedie (2011) is on tap to be LSU’s early mid-week starter this season. He’s a really big kid (6-5, 240) that was worked really hard in high school, but has serious potential as a hard throwing innings eater type if it all comes together. Riedie’s fastball currently sits in the high-80s, but he can dial it up to the low-90s (I’ve seen him at 94) on occasion. That velocity should jump with time, perhaps as soon as this upcoming season. There are already reports from the summer saying he was sitting more comfortably in the low-90s, a fantastic sign for his development. The increased emphasis on high level conditioning, refinement in his mechanics (seems like he has a bit of a hitch in his delivery and it looks like he drags his throwing arm across his body more than most scouts like, plus his lower leg kick isn’t as high as I personally like to see) and more professional LSU throwing program (compared to what he did in high school) should continue to do wonders for his arm. Riedie’s best pitch is currently that high upside fastball, but his curve is already a solid second offering. His changeup is a work in progress, but the fact he has shown it in game situations (largely over the summer) is a good sign for its development. Riedie isn’t Anthony Ranaudo, but he isn’t so far off that the comparison is totally crazy.
SO RHP Matty Ott (2011) is exactly the kind of player that makes following the sport fun. He somehow pulls off always appearing both fiery and cool while on the mound, he gets big time results (69 K to 6 BB in 50.1 IP ) through unconventional means (his funky low ¾ delivery is only a hair or two from dropping officially down to sidearm), and he is by all accounts a wonderful example of what a student-athlete ought to be. His hard, sinking high-80s fastball works really well in concert with a high-70s big league ready slider that makes life miserable for both lefties and righties alike. Ott’s prospect stock is in limbo because he doesn’t fit any kind of traditional baseball archetype. He hasn’t currently shown the stuff needed to start (although I’ll happily go on record in saying I think he’d blossom if given the opportunity to refine a third pitch), and he doesn’t have the knockout fastball that so many teams require out of their late inning aces. Maybe it is a personal blind spot of mine, but, archetypes be damned, I like players like Ott that get just get guys out. He has two big league pitches at present (fastball is a little short, but the movement bumps it up a grade) and has time to polish up a third offering. He won’t be a first rounder, heck he may not even be a candidate to go in the top 150 or so picks, but he could wind up his college career as a high floor, close to the majors kind of prospect. If you read this thing regularly you know I value upside and star potential very highly, but in a world that Brandon Lyon can get a $15 million contract, you’d better believe there is value in locking in a player like Ott for six cost-controlled big league years.
RS FR 3B Wet Delatte (2011) is…wait…his name is Wet? I mean, sure, his real name is William, but he willingly goes by the name Wet. I have a pretty simple rule on this site: any player named Wet moves up 50 spots on the big board automatically. Wet is already a decent defender at third and a gifted natural hitter. He’ll get his chance as LSU’s staring third baseman heading into the spring.
SO 2B Tyler Hanover (2011) is actually a very similar player to his double play partner Austin Nola. Hanover has more pop than his 5-6, 163 pound frame suggests, but like Nola, he is a very good defender at his position. He is also capable of playing third base and is expected to be first in line at shortstop if anything happens to Nola. The natural comparison is to fellow tiny infielder David Eckstein, but the numbers don’t back it up. As of now, Hanover is a fairly unique player who could see his career go in any number of ways before his draft year comes up.
RS FR INF Beau Didier (2011) was drafted in the 40th round in 2008. Pittsburgh sure seems to have a thing for high school recruits committed to LSU, huh? Didier is the one who got away from the Pirates back in 2008, a loss that could sting over time. Didier has above-average power potential, but his recovery from Tommy John surgery has pushed the timetable back on the development of many of his skills. As a prep player Didier was known for having a laser rocket arm. It’ll be interesting to see if his recovery from the surgery was successful enough to allow him to throw like he once did. He is slated to start 2010 as one half of LSU’s designated hitter platoon, but is also capable of playing third and second. There are also quiet rumblings that many on staff think he would work best behind the plate. I think I’d like to see that as it would be a hoot to see LSU attempt to be the first team to attempt to field the first ever all catcher starting eight. I’m personally very curious to see how Didier responds defensively at the hot corner because people I’ve talked to have me believing he has enough range and good enough hands to stick at shortstop if given the chance. Didier isn’t draft eligible until 2011, but anytime a player has a family member with a scouting background its fun to begin to try to connect the dots. Those familial ties bind him to the Texas Rangers, so store that player to team link in your brain and we can revisit it about two years from now.
SO SS Austin Nola (2011) gained notoriety during LSU’s championship run last season as a damn fine defender with an above-average arm. He showed just barely enough with the bat (.240/.350/.364 as a freshman in the SEC isn’t awful) to make him an interesting all-around prospect to watch going forward, rather than just another all glove, small bat player. Even if he doesn’t progress at the plate, he could still have himself a pro career. As the market for good defense continues to grow, players like Nola will likely see their draft stock get a boost. I also can’t be the only one who likes having a player on the premier baseball university in Louisiana with the last name “Nola,” right? I know LSU is in Baton Rouge and not New Orleans, but it still feels right.
SO INF Grant Dozar (2011) impressed those who saw him practice with the team last season, but didn’t get enough at bats in 2009 to make any conclusions about what kind of player he’ll be on the college level. As of now, he is expected to see time at both first and third. If he can earn some playing time behind the plate, as some have speculated he might, the added versatility would give this under the radar prospect a chance to get a little recognition.
FR LHP Forrest Garrett (2012) was written up as a late round 2009 draft sleeper back in June, something I had forgotten all about until doing some of my very scientific research (Google) on Garrett. I won’t quote myself, but I will sum up my thoughts on Garrett here: gigantic sleeper with early round potential in 2012 because of great physical projection, high-80s to low-90s fastball with room to grow, present above-above changeup that should be plus pitch in time, above-average potential with curve, and solid command already.
FR C Wes Luquette (2012) put up titanic numbers as a prep quarterback for the Manning brothers’ alma mater Newman HS in New Orleans, but comes to LSU as a backup catcher with the inside track on succeeding Micah Gibbs. His strong commitment to LSU coupled with pesky reconstructive elbow surgery back in February dropped him to the Pirates in the 27th round in 2009, but he could see his stock shoot way up by 2012, especially if he establishes himself as worthy of a starting spot by 2011. It’ll be an uphill climb for Luquette due to the ever-increasing likelihood of him sitting out the season to recovery from Tommy John surgery, but he is still in good shape of becoming a two year starter at LSU.
FR C/INF/OF Mason Katz (2012) has some serious thunder in his bat for a smaller player. I’ve heard the coaches are excited about his ability to play multiple spots around the diamond, a big plus for a college team short on scholarships. However, I’ve also been told that his best position may eventually be “batter’s box.” I can’t honestly say whether that’s high praise for what his bat may become or an indictment of his handiwork with the leather.
- Jameson Taillon (The Woodlands HS, Texas)
- AJ Cole (Oviedo HS, Florida)
Both Taillon and Cole have already had their moment in the sun. Check out a scouting profile on AJ Cole written by some wonderfully handsome writer right here. Click here for an equally insightful profile of Jameson Taillon. If you are far too busy and important to read all those silly words, I’m happy to provide a quick summary. AJ Cole is really good now, and he could be really, really good in the future. Jameson Taillon is really, really good now, and he should stay really, really good in the future. I compared Cole’s upside to Justin Verlander and Taillon’s to Josh Johnson. Too positive? Probably seems that way, but remember we’re talking upside here and, again, remember that AJ Cole and Jameson Taillon both have the potential to be very, very good.
- Cam Bedrosian (East Coweta HS, Georgia)
- Dylan Covey (Maranatha HS, California)
- Kaleb Cowart (Cook County HS, Georgia)
- Stetson Allie (St. Edward HS, Ohio)
- Karsten Whitson (Chipley HS, Florida)
Taillon vs Cole is the marquee prep pitching battle, but the undercard that will decide which high school pitcher goes third will probably wind up being one of the most entertaining subplots of the 2010 draft season. I’ve already done close to a complete 180 spin on my rankings of the non-Taillon/Cole arms and it’s still December. Allie and Whitson positioned themselves as the favorites early on. Covey and Cowart followed those two very closely behind. Also in the mix was the short righthander with the familiar last name, Cam Bedrosian. Previously, I had them ranked Whitson, Allie, Bedrosian, Covey, and then Cowart. Now, as you can see, things are a little different.First, I’ll willingly admit I like Bedrosian more than most talent evaluators do a the moment. One of the reasons I think I like him more than others is simple – short righties don’t scare me. I know I’ve made the Bedrosian/Kyle Drabek comparison before, and I’m happy to mention again in print here. Bedrosian’s 6-0, 195 pound frame doesn’t bother me much at all because it is compact and muscular in all the right places, most notably the legs. His arm action is a thing of beauty with a consistent landing spot and a very smooth, repeatable delivery. Bedrosian’s fastball is a potential plus big league offering, already sitting 90-93 and hitting 95-96, and his curve is on the very short list of the very best high school secondary pitches I’ve had the pleasure of watching. Beyond those two plus/potential plus pitches, Bedrosian can mix in a mid-70s CU and a really exciting high-80s splitter that could grow into a big league strikeout pitch in time. Power stuff (FB, hard CB, SF) combined with at least the occasional appearance of that changeup makes Bedrosian a rare bird among young pitchers. I’m often quick to dismiss bloodlines as a reason for liking one prospect over another, but Bedrosian’s cerebral approach to pitching has pretty clearly been influenced by having a former professional ballplayer as a father.Covey, Cowart, Allie, and Whitson form a pretty logical quartet of high school arms. All four are big fellas (Covey is the shrimp of the group at a round, but athletic 6-2, 200 pounds), with big fastballs (all four have hit at least 95 on the gun at one point or another), and big questions that could define them come draft day. Covey, my current favorite of the four, has the easiest questions (inconsistent mechanics and command, plus a less than idea young pitcher body type) to answer going forward, especially when you consider how far he has come to answer one of those questions (his command has looked sharper every time I’ve seen him) already. Whitson, currently ranked fourth in this little subgroup, has a potential dynamite 1-2 punch with his fastball (sitting 91-93, hitting 95-96) and slider (works best in the mid-80s, but has shown up as a less effective slurvy high-70s CB at times), but I think his mechanics will need something pretty close to a complete overhaul as a professional. Cowart has grown on me just as much as a hitter than as a pitcher lately, but his potential on the mound is still vast. Cowart is as likely as anybody on the list to shoot up to the top of the subgroup and could, I stress could, actually challenge the more established top two if everything breaks right. Everything Cowart throws moves downward, from his sharp high-80s slider to his low-80s split-fingered changeup. Allie has the most electric arm of the foursome, but has been plagued by up and down command and control throughout his career on the high school showcase circuit. He also doesn’t have quite the secondary stuff as some of his contemporaries.
- AJ Vanegas (Redwood Christian HS, California)
- DeAndre Smelter (Tattnall County HS, Georgia)
- Drew Cisco (Wando HS, South Carolina)
The potential of Vanegas’s four-pitch mix (FB, CB, CU, SL) is very appealing, as is his superb fastball command and his ability to add and subtract off of the pitch. Smelter is a plus athlete with plus command and a potentially devastating 82-84 mph splitter. Cisco, like Bedrosian a player with outstanding pitching instincts and a strong background of being around the game, is the kind of player that scouts will keep finding a way to ding (fastball is a little too short, secondary stuff isn’t quite top notch quality), but will continue to get results. Or at least that’s what I think will happen this spring. Cisco’s fastball has hit 92 in the past, but sits 88-90 with the pitch. He has a curveball at 74-77 that is already an above-average pitch in addition to a low-80s CU that has above-average potential. Three potentially above-average pitches (fastball grade gets a boost due to impressive movement and pinpoint command) make Cisco one of the most professional baseball ready arms in all of high school baseball.
- Jameson Taillon
- AJ Cole
- Cam Bedrosian
- Dylan Covey
- Kaleb Cowart
- Stetson Allie
- Karsten Whitson
- AJ Vanegas
- DeAndre Smelter
- Drew Cisco
- Kevin Gausman
- Tyrell Jenkins
- Brandon Brennan
- Robbie Aviles
- Aaron Sanchez
- Robby Rowland
- Taijuan Walker
- Luke Jackson
- Eric Stevens
- John Simms
- Brandon Williams
- Tony Rizzotti
- Adam Duke
- Cody Buckel
- Evan Hudson
RHP Jameson Taillon (The Woodlands HS, Texas)
- heavy 92-94 FB; also seen at easy 93-95; most recently hit 96-97
- plus 77-84 CB; 75-76 maybe?
- underutilized 76 CU with real potential
- 83-84 with SF
- plus command
- 6-7, 230 pounds
- popular comps include Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Josh Beckett, and, wait for it, Roger Clemens…
[Before I get to all of the drawn out prose I had originally planned, let me add this late edit that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the piece, but was too good to let pass. Random Anonymous Scout (so take it for what it’s worth) told me the other day that Jameson Taillon could currently pitch out of a big league bullpen and hold his own. Pretty high praise, I thought. It also reinforces the idea in my head that Taillon is the 2010 version of Tanner Scheppers, another talented fastball/power curve guy that I thought could pitch out of the bullpen from day one if called upon. For the record, I don’t advocate either guy pitching exclusively out of the bullpen professionally, although I get why it makes sense for Scheppers to go that route. Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled Taillon scouting profile…]
The first sentence in my entirely hypothetical yet undoubtedly terrible essay entitled “Why I Love Following Pro Sport Draft(s)” might go a little something like this: “There’s a very obvious thrill that comes in forever chasing the next big thing…” One of my favorite parts of following the respective drafts in all of the major sports is the lack of and/or conflicting information out there about certain players. This isn’t so much a problem with NBA and NFL draft coverage where the college game is televised seemingly every day of the calendar year, and I can never personally name more than 3 players in a given NHL Draft, but the Rule 4 MLB Draft is different. Sure, baseball’s draft coverage has become more prevalent what with the rise of many quality rogue handsome bloggers — which reminds me that I have to update the sidebar links in the coming days — in conjunction with increased output from the major media standbys (BA/Kevin Goldstein/Keith Law), but information regarding the skills of specific draft prospects, high school guys mostly, can be very, very hard to find, especially outside of the top handful of big name prospects. I like that. I like the mystery that comes with nobody having a 100% idea of the ins and outs of a player’s particular skill set.
(Incidentally, one of my ideas for “proving” the NBA and NFL Drafts get more coverage than the MLB counterpart was by comparing Google hits for each phrase. I figured “NFL Draft” would have the most by far, “NBA Draft” would be a clear second, and either “MLB Draft” or “NHL Draft” would bring up the rear. How wrong I was. “MLB Draft” produced more hits than any of the others. Go figure.)
The lack of concrete information regarding specific players makes following the baseball draft all the more rewarding in the end. You can really come up with just about any wacky justification about why you prefer Player X over Player Y as long as you can back it up with some kind of reasoned argument. It’s damn hard to say with any kind of certainty that any one player is definitely, absolutely, positively a better prospect than another; there are too many variables at play. Prefer Player X? Fine, but tell me why. Hope your team drafts Player Y? Alright by me, so long as you can explain the relative pros and cons of the two.
There normally is more exposure given to college athletes and certainly more of a significant statistical base to draw from, so arguments over which college players make the best pro prospects have more of a “right/wrong” feel to them. Arguments about prep players, however, can be spun in any number of directions. With limited and/or conflicting information to go off of, it’s inevitable that personal preferences will come into play. If you are predisposed to believing the changeup is the neatest pitch around, then chances are high you are going to elevate the ranking of a pitcher with a plus change. I watched a college game a few years ago next to a scout that told me that his scouting director was only interested in college pitchers with at least two above-average to plus pitches. Another scout chimed in that his scouting director told him that any prep pitchers taken by his time were required to at least show three different pitches, no matter the quality. We all look for different ways to differentiate the good prospects from the so-so prospects, and, perhaps more importantly, the great prospects from the good prospects.
There are a lot of different ways one can evaluate high school pitching prospects, with no real right way or wrong way of reaching a conclusion. Of course, let’s be honest here – there is little accountability on my end when it comes to how I rank these guys. I take pride in my work and am ridiculously appreciative of every single reader who stops by, but I understand my job isn’t on the line when I endorse one player over another. One of the things that really stood out to me in really digging deep into the high school pitching prospect ranks last year was how rare finding a high school pitching prospect with two present plus pitches is. Jameson Taillon has those two pitches.
Taillon will easily sit in the low-90s as a professional, with a peak fastball that has already reached the high-90s. He is close to a finished product coming out of high school as I can remember in recent years, a fact that will unbelievably work against him as draft day draws closer. The comparisons to fellow top high school righthander AJ Cole are inevitable. AJ Cole has a plus fastball and a potential plus curve; Jameson Taillon has a plus fastball and a present plus curve. Taillon also has the current leg up with his changeup, although he hasn’t really shown the pitch off in real game situations just yet.
It’ll be really interesting to see if the Cole vs Taillon storyline emerges as a viable draft subplot this spring. The two young arms are a study in contrast, despite sporting similar high end velocities and offspeed stuff. Additionally, both young righties have top of the rotation upside. Cole may ultimately have more upside, but there is little arguing he is currently further from reaching it. Taillon is the more finished product, but some scouts worry he is currently throwing better than he’ll ever throw professionally. In a world that encourages controversy by demanding that all things boil down to building up one side of an argument while simultaneously tearing down the other, it would not be the least bit surprising to see plenty of people frame the Cole vs Taillon debate in this way. There is no problem with picking a favorite horse in the race, heck it’s part of the whole reason this site is around. Building up one player is appreciated, but I don’t see why it has to come at the expense of another. I guess it’s just the subtle different between Cole over Taillon (or vice versa) and Cole vs Taillon; I’m hoping for the former, but I fear we’ll see more of the latter.
I can’t really speak to the rather generous comps to Strasburg, Beckett, and Clemens, but I think it’s pretty clear that Taillon is a far more well-rounded prospect than Gerrit Cole was coming out of high school in 2008. To take it a step further, Taillon’s scouting profile reminds me a little bit of what scouts said about Josh Johnson as he was coming up through Florida’s system. While I’m not brave enough to claim Taillon will ever have a pro season quite like the one Johnson just had, I have no problem pointing out that Taillon is currently a better prospect than Johnson ever was. Taillon has a better overall fastball, better secondary offering (though Johnson’s slider has turned into a real weapon professionally), and eerily similar command, makeup, and mound presence. The light clearly went on for Johnson enough to turn him from a good prospect to a great pitcher, a perfect example of how different developmental paths can be for different players. There’s no telling what kind of path Taillon will actually take, but the fact that he even has the chance to follow in the footsteps of a guy like Johnson is darn exciting.
A thought just occurred to me. I may be a bit overzealous with some of my comps, but let’s go with what I’ve got so far, for argument’s sake if nothing else. If AJ Cole is Justin Verlander and Jameson Taillon is Josh Johnson, and neither player is excepted to go number one overall in this draft, then what is there really left to say about what kind of prospect Bryce Harper is?
RHP AJ Cole (Oviedo HS, Florida)
- 91-93 FB/94-96 peak; has reportedly been as high as 98
- potential plus 76-80 KCB
- average 84-88 SF that acts as a change
- 78-81 SL that appears to come and go from outing to outing (?)
- projectable frame at 6-5, 190 pounds
- Zach Wheeler and Rick Porcello comps
Lots to like about AJ Cole’s game, clearly. His biggest strengths include his present plus fastball velocity, a potential plus knuckle curveball, and that wildly projectable 6-5, 190 pound frame. For a prep pitching prospect, that’s about as close to the holy trinity as you can get. I’m just about positive that I’ve seen Cole throw a splitter and I can’t remember ever seeing him throw a true change, so I’m doing a bit of guesswork when I claim he uses that mid-80s split as a de facto changeup. Without any legit industry source backing me up, I’ll hedge my bets and stick with calling the pitch a “splitter that he uses as a facsimile for a change” for now. Whatever you want to call the pitch, it’s probably a stretch to call it anything more than average right now. That may sound like a knock, but remember how rare it is to see a high school prospect with three present average or better pitches. An average third pitch may not be a negative, but it does highlight a clear area where Cole could stand to improve this spring. There are currently conflicting reports on the existence of Cole’s slider (I personally haven’t seen it), but smarter men than I have clocked it anywhere from 78-81 miles per hour. The similar velocities of the slider and his knuckle curve has me wondering if Cole actually throws two distinct breaking balls at all. If I had to guess, I’d say his actual repertoire consists of a fastball, a spike curve sharp enough that it’s been confused with a slider, and a changeup with above-average downward movement that may or may not be held with an actual splitter grip. A rough conservative breakdown of that arsenal might look something like this:
I see a lot to like in the Cole’s delivery and throwing mechanics. His arm action seems nice and easy and he appears to have little trouble repeating the same consistent 3/4 delivery from pitch to pitch, batter to batter. The one negative thing I can say about Cole’s mechanics is that he seems to rush through each step of his delivery a heck of a lot quicker than most guys I’ve seen. That last problem seems like one that can be corrected with good professional coaching, but that’s an evaluation that will be made on a team-by-team basis this spring.
Speaking of pitching mechanics, allow me to make an admission of apathy on the subject. It’s true, I’m largely indifferent to pitching mechanics. My pet theory is that 99.99% of the baseball watching population can only derive so much usefulness from evaluating a pitcher’s throwing mechanics. In my estimation, all pitching deliveries fall somewhere along a bell curve that looks a little bit like the following – maybe 15% of the time a pitcher’s mechanics are so perfect (Nolan Ryan, for example) that it is abundantly clear whatever he is doing is working and will continue to work going forward, roughly 15% of the time a guy’s mechanics are so obviously cringe-worthy that you can’t help classify his arm as nothing more than a ticking time bomb, and then there is that big fat middle 60% or so that falls somewhere in between the two extremes. If a pitcher has mechanics in that middle part of the curve, I’m willing to change my personal focus from analyzing each individual part of the setup, windup, and follow through (yeah, like I can really do that anyway…) to worrying about a) does the pitcher have any kind of track record of arm problems, b) can the pitcher repeat whatever they are doing on the mound pitch after pitch after pitch, c) does the pitcher maintain velocity of his fastball and sharpness of his breaking balls, and d) does the pitcher tip off the batter by showing clear differences in arm speed when throwing different pitches. Those four things are what I care about most. That is, of course, unless something obviously good or bad (highly subjective, I know) jumps out at me. If enough people I talk to/read like a certain guy’s mechanics, I’m sold. If, in addition to getting a passing mark from somebody I trust, the pitcher is able to repeat his delivery and maintain a consistent velocity while doing so, I’m sold twice over.
The popular industry comp of Porcello works in a lot of ways, but I much prefer sizing the young Florida righthander up with Porcello’s Detroit teammate, Justin Verlander. Verlander represents Cole’s ultimate upside as a big leaguer, but it’s interesting to compare the two pitchers at similar points in their development. Despite possessing a 93 MPH peak velocity fastball, Verlander wasn’t even drafted coming out of Goochland HS (VA). Scouts questioned his shaky control and inconsistent mechanics while also citing concerns over how his 6-4, 170 pound high school frame would hold up as a professional. He embarked on an intense workout program upon enrolling at Old Dominion that helped move him closer to the finished product that we see today. Cole offers a similar velocity floor (low-90s) when compared to the high school version of Verlander, but has the edge when it comes to prep peak velocity as he has been clocked as high as 96-98 MPH at various stages in the past year. So, Cole has a better fastball at this point in his development, plus more consistent breaking stuff and a more advanced overall feel for pitching. If, and it is admittedly a pretty sizable if, Cole’s 6-5, 190 pound frame fills out like Verlander’s similarly projectable high school frame did, then you could eventually be talking about two very similar pitching prospects come draft time. With a little more muscle packed on, Cole’s fastball has the potential to be one of the signature pitches in all of baseball much in the same way Verlander’s heater has emerged as a special offering.
If you don’t like the Verlander comp, or the more popular Wheeler/Porcello industry comps, maybe you like the totally coincidental comparison to a trio of Yankee stars, future, present, and past – Phil Hughes, AJ Burnett, and a bigger and harder throwing version of Mike Mussina. When the upside is Burnett (3 WAR floor), Mussina (future HOFer), and Verlander (2.80 FIP in 2009), and the most similar prospects in reason memory are Rick Porcello ($3.5 million bonus) and Phil Hughes (BA’s fourth best prospect in baseball in 2007), only signability concerns or injury will keep you out of the first ten picks.
I normally try to avoid the two things I’m about to do. I don’t like linking to somebody’s work if I can’t provide my own interesting take and, seeing I rarely have any interesting to say myself, I shy away from this popular (and easy to produce!) blog tactic. I don’t know, it just feels cheap to me to just throw up a link without adding to the conversation. I also really don’t like quoting myself because it feels tacky to me. Of course, now that I’m stumped on any ideas for new content, I’m more than happy to go all cheap and tacky if it’ll make my life easier. There’s a lesson in all this somewhere, I bet.
Enough with the boring introduction, onto the main course. I love these insider-y takes on scouting, the draft, and player valuation. The more first hand accounts detailing young mostly unknown players’ skill sets, the better. Check it out, I’ll wait.
I enjoyed reading this piece entirely on its own merit, but once I realized it mentioned a couple of my favorite somewhat below the radar prospects from 2009 I knew that I had to squeeze a post out of it. The first name that caught my eye was Justin Dalles, catcher from South Carolina. I wrote this about him back in the day:
Dalles is exactly the kind of sneaky high upside, low risk that warrants taking a chance on once the top prep players on your wishlist are all long gone.
I waffled on his draft position before settling on him being taken in the 7/8 round range. He eventually went to Baltimore in the sixth. Baltimore scouting director Joe Jordan claims Dalles is an average defender with a slightly above-average arm, good enough athleticism, and a chance to have a bat worthy of starting in the bigs. Interesting.
I also loved Jake Cowan, ranking him as high as 13th overall among college righthanders and 1st overall out of the entire junior college ranks. Here’s what I said about him almost a year ago:
1. Jake Cowan (RHP – San Jacinto CC – Texas): Cowan combines a plus 95 MPH fastball with two above-average secondary offerings. A fastball like that coupled with strong secondary stuff makes Cowan stand out above his junior college peers. There are players below that have great fastballs, there are players below that have decent secondary offerings, but no player below combines the two quite like Cowan. To use an all too often repeated scouting cliche, Cowan is as much a pitcher as he is a thrower and that’s a very good thing going forward.
According to Jordan, Cowan was sitting 92-93 with the fastball, showing good sink on the pitch, in addition to a good slider and a decent changeup. It’s funny how you can see the vague scouting report from last February was inflated a smidge or two, but Cowan is no less of a prospect just because he didn’t hit 95 this summer or show as impressive a changeup as expected. The Orioles claim he was a third round talent that fell to them in the tenth. Not a bad gamble that late in the draft.
Now if only they didn’t take Matt Hobgood, future bust, with their first rounder. Alright, maybe I don’t really believe he’ll be a bust, but I certainly wasn’t enamored with the pick at the time. Anyway, that’s my conclusion. Impressed how I tied everything together there at the end? No? Don’t care, time for the weekend!
I’m not well informed enough to make a controversial stance and say that the following universities have the “best” rosters (with regard to potential pro talent, not necessarily winning college talent), so I’ll totally wimp out and, for now anyway, call these rosters some of the most intriguing that I’ve seen so far. I’ve stuck to the big name conferences, but I’ll expand this list to some of the little guys as the offseason rolls along.
ACC – Virginia
Big East – South Florida
SEC – LSU/Georgia/Vanderbilt (even when being spineless, I can’t pick a favorite…)
Big 12 – Texas
Pac-10 – Oregon State
Big West – UC Riverside
West Coast – Gonzaga
Conference USA – Rice
Mountain West – Texas Christian