Without having any knowledge of what actually goes on inside Boston’s draft room, it sure seems like the Red Sox general approach to drafting is simple: find the best guy, offer fair amounts of money, and let the chips fall where they may. Four years of college in Boston turned me off to the Red Sox – it was more the oversaturated coverage and delusional fan base (you guys are New England’s Yankees, not some scrappy underdog that all of America roots for, alright?) than a commentary on the job the front office was doing – but I still greatly admire the way they draft. Quibble with the names at the top of the draft if you’d like, but the plan there is undeniably awesome. Here’s what they came up with on the draft’s first day: a good college arm who has shown flashes of greatness, arguably the top prep bat who slipped because of defense and signability, a high school lefthander who might as well be twins with Tyler Skaggs in terms of long-term projection, and a key cog from the two-time defending national champions who also happens to be a plus defender at a critical position. That’s an easy to like quartet from a talent perspective alone, but what I admire most there is the way Boston knowingly diversified their investment. They hit four different demographics (high school bat, high school arm, college bat, college arm) with their first four picks. As Bart Simpson once said, “that ain’t not bad.”
Connecticut RHP Matt Barnes gets a little bit of a bad rap as a “safe” college choice with the ceiling of a mid-rotation arm. Being a safe prospect with mid-rotation upside isn’t typically a bad thing, but Barnes has the chance for four above-average pitches. I wouldn’t disagree with somebody who believed Barnes most likely positive outcome was a solid mid-rotation starting pitcher, but his ceiling is closer to a frontline big leaguer in the mold of Daniel Hudson.
Connecticut JR RHP Matt Barnes: 90-93 FB, 95-96 peak; has hit 97-98 in past; great movement on FB; great FB command; holds velocity well, still hitting 90-92 late; good 82-84 CU that gets better every time out; 72-76 CB that is now firmed up enough that it is a potential plus 75-80 CB; 78-83 SL with plus upside, but doesn’t use it often; work needs to be on delivery and command of offspeed stuff; some debate on whether CB or SL is better breaking pitch, a good sign; uses CB more to get outs on balls in play, SL for swings and misses; 6-4, 200
Much of Cleveland HS (New Mexico) C Blake Swihart’s value is tied up in whether or not he’s equipped to handle full-time catching duties going forward. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard from those in the know that Boston is 100% committed to keeping him behind the plate and won’t even entertain a “Wil Myers” (their words) type move to right field. He might not be a natural behind the plate, but his elite athleticism and arm strength are exactly the kind of defensive tools a good coaching staff can build on. There’s not nearly as much doubt about his ability to hit because, well, he can really, really hit.
The hardest prospects to write about are the ones at the top of lists like this. What more can be said about Swihart that hasn’t already been said? The Texas commit has shown all five tools (hit, power, defense, arm, and speed) this spring, an extreme rarity for a catcher at any level. I realize speed is easily the least important tool you’d need to see in a catching prospect, but Swihart’s average running ability works as a proxy for his outstanding athleticism. In that way, Swihart is the prototype for the next generation of catchers. After an almost decade long flirtation with jumbo-sized backstops (e.g. Joe Mauer and Matt Wieters), baseball is going back towards an emphasis on athleticism and defense behind the dish.
A no-brainer to stick behind the plate (the aforementioned athleticism and reported 95 MPH-caliber arm from the mound will help), Swihart’s biggest tool is his bat. Plus opposite field power and consistent line drives are not the norm for a typical prep prospect, but Swihart’s hit and power tools both project as plus in the future. I stand by my belief that Swihart will catch for a long time as a professional, but his great athleticism and plus bat might convince a team to fast track Swihart’s development by switching him to third base or right field. It should also be noted that Swihart has a little extra leverage because he’ll be draft-eligible again in 2013 after his sophomore season.
Forgive me if I’m a tad over the top in my praise of Edison HS (CA) LHP Henry Owens, but the guy embodies everything that I want in a pitching prospect. In a word, Henry Owens is projection. He has a good fastball, a curve that looks a little like a young Zito’s, and enough other fun secondaries (flashes of a plus change, a much improved cutter, a slider that gets swings and misses when on) to think he has the chance to be an above-average starting pitcher at the professional level.
LHP Henry Owens (Edison HS, California): 88-92 FB with more coming, 93-94 peak; crazy FB movement; plus FB command; plus control; potential plus 67-72 CB with big break, getting stronger each start; strong 77-79 CU with plus upside; shows 74-77 SL, but still a raw pitch; new cutter shows more promise; holds velocity well; Tyler Skaggs comp?; 6-5, 185 last summer, now up to 6-6, 200
I can get comp crazy when I’m at a loss for in-depth analysis, so can we all agree that South Carolina OF Jackie Bradley is the American version of Leonys Martin and move on? I’m far from sold on Bradley’s bat, but his defense in center should make him at least an average regular during his peak years.
[special defensive tools in CF, plus to plus-plus ability; interesting hit tool; above-average to plus speed, closer to plus; good athlete; above-average to plus arm; legit pro power potential with average upside; gap power for now; very quick bat; gifted across the board; mature approach; fully recovered from broken hamate bone; 20/20 upside; 5-10, 175; DOB 4/19/90]
As much as I hate to say it, I’m definitely getting a Greg Golson vibe from Grand Street HS (NY) OF Williams Jerez. Jerez looks rather dashing in uniform and possesses certain tools – most notably his eye-popping arm strength – that really stand out, but he’s so far away from being a good ballplayer that I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around what exactly it would take, not to mention how long it would take, for him to reach his ceiling. There’s a part of me that would love to see what his arm, size, and athleticism would look like when put on the mound, but that’s coming from a guy who swore Anthony Gose would be a fireballing relief prospect by now.
[plus athlete; good speed, but might not have instincts for CF; plus arm; extremely raw; average raw power; 6-4, 190]
Columbus HS (GA) C Jordan Weems seemed like an odd selection at the time, but different teams value different things, especially when it comes to catchers. I just think there is too much work to be done at the plate (though, admittedly, his swing looks fine and his whole fields approach is nice to see from a young hitter) to justify taking him over more advanced catching prospects. He’s already a solid defender with a legit plus arm, so there is something to work with here even if the bat never develops into what you’d want from a starter.
My favorite pitch in baseball is the changeup, so it should come as no surprise that I’m rooting extra hard for Cal State Fullerton RHP Noe Ramirez. I’ve already been obnoxious with the comps, so why not go the extra mile and mention a changeup-based comparison between Ramirez and Phil Humber? When Ramirez has command of his slider, he’s tough to hit.
Cal State Fullerton JR RHP Noe Ramirez: once straight 85-90 FB with occasional hard sink is now more consistently 88-92 (93 peak) with more consistent, more drastic sink; delivery is deceptive and adds miles to the FB; plus FB command; plus-plus 82-84 CU learned from Ricky Romero; paid it forward by helping Gerrit Cole with his CU grip; emerging 75-80 SL that has put on velocity and is now 82-85; SL is good but inconsistent; shaky command of offspeed pitches; 6-3, 180
Besides being an accomplished bowler, Overton HS (TN) SS Mookie Betts is also a pretty talented baseball player. He’s probably not a shortstop over the long haul, but his athleticism and sure hands should play at any number of spots on the diamond. His progress with the bat should be interesting to watch; there isn’t much power upside, but those who saw him in high school came away with his approach to hitting and patience at the plate.
I liked San Jacinto JC LHP Miguel Pena out of high school. I still liked him after his first year at San Jacinto. Now I’m not sure how I feel about him. He has the three pitches needed to start, but the lack of a big league out pitch hurts.
87-90 FB, peak 92; hard thrower with right hand as well; really good CU; plus control; lots of positive word of mouth has me sold, but admittedly little is still known about Pena relative to other names on list
Free State HS (KS) LHP Cody Kukuk has all the makings of a frontline big league pitcher. Whether or not he gets there is anybody’s guess, but there’s no questioning the upside his projectable frame, above-average fastball, and solid upper-70s slider give him a chance to do some major damage to big league bats.
LHP Cody Kukuk (Free State HS, Kansas): 88-91 FB, 93 peak; good 78 SL; CB; CU; good athlete; 6-4, 185
Playing football and baseball for Ole Miss trumped a big contract with the Red Sox, at least in the mind of Pascaquola HS (MS) OF Senquez Golson. As a big fan of the tradition and atmosphere of SEC sports (not to mention the “scenery,” if you catch my drift), I can’t really fault Golson for picking The Grove over bus rides to and from Lowell. It remains unclear if Golson will ever really emerge as an early round pick because, by all accounts, his heart belongs to the gridiron. That would be a shame because he’s a really good baseball prospect. I’m often slow to come around to raw but toolsy high school outfielders, but Golson’s five tool ability was too great to ignore. He’s obviously a sensational athlete with legitimate plus-plus speed who is able to translate at least some of that athleticism (mostly in the way he defends in center, but also in a hard to describe swing that just looks like something only a great athlete could pull off) to the diamond. His other tools – most notably above-average raw power and a stronger than expected arm – make him a potential middle of the order possibility down the line. If Jake Locker can get picked in the tenth round, then surely Golson, who figures to play more baseball than Locker at the college level, will get early round consideration in three years as well. If, and that’s a Todd Coffey sized if right there, if Golson gets enough at bats at the college level, I genuinely think he’s a potential top ten overall pick as the first college bat off the board.
[great athlete; plus-plus speed; plus defensive upside in CF; strong arm; Jared Mitchell comp; quick bat; above-average raw power; 6-0, 180]
If Kent State 3B Travis Shaw can stick at the hot corner, he’s an interesting prospect. As a likely 1B/3B/DH long-term, however, expectations with the bat rise above what he might be capable of at the plate.
Lacking lateral quickness and agility, Shaw’s future at third base is a major question as he enters pro ball. If he can stay at third base — good pre-pitch positioning and quicker than you’d expect reactions give him his best shot — then his big power, great approach, and strong track record with wood would make him a fast riser on draft boards. Most of the industry leaders are already moving him off of third, however, so perhaps I’m being unrealistic in thinking he could someday grow into an average-ish fielder there. Probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: if he is a first baseman at the next level, his value takes a big hit.
Scouts that saw Wisconsin-Stevens Point OF Cody Koback this past spring came away talking about his potential as a lefty bashing righthanded backup outfielder with speed. Not having seen him myself, that assessment sounds about right to me. A best case scenario comp that I heard through the grapevine was fellow small school double digit round prospect Matt Joyce. It’s far from perfect – Joyce has more power and bats lefty, Koback hits righty and is more of a speedster – but comps rarely are. I still love ‘em…
We’ll start our look at players of note taken after the top ten rounds with some “bad” news: the talented unsigned players. When you draft as aggressively as Boston does, you do so knowing there is little to no chance every player you draft will sign a pro contract. The group of prospects signed by Boston is excellent. The group of prospects Boston wasn’t able to sign is also pretty damn impressive. The high school trio of Menchville HS (VA) RHP Deshorn Lake (Round 12), Byrnes HS (SC) RHP Daniel Gossett (Round 16), and Don Bosco Prep (NJ) LHP Jordan Gross (Round 40) all went unsigned but all should reemerge in three years as big-time draft prospects. Lake is very raw, but showed enough present stuff to go along with his well above-average athleticism to qualify as a very interesting follow at East Carolina. Gossett has quality ACC reliever stuff at the ready should he find himself in position to get innings early on in his stay at Clemson. Gross doesn’t have quite the stuff as Lake or Gossett, but offers plenty of projection as a lefthander capable of approaching 90 MPH with the makings of a pair of quality offspeed pitches (mid-70s change and a low-70s curve).
RHP Deshorn Lake (Menchville HS, Virginia): 88-91 FB, 93-94 peak; good 77-82 SL; 80-81 CU with upside, but needs reps; raw, but lots of projection; 6-2, 180 pounds
Maybe I’m nuts, but seeing Louisiana State RHP Matty Ott (Round 13) sign a pro contract really surprised me. Matty Ott just felt like a player who would play college baseball forever. His fastball is a bit short, but he gets enough consistent movement on it to make it an above-average pitch on balance. His slider can get big league hitters out, but seems to have regressed some since his spectacular freshman season. I’d still like to see him get a chance to start, but questions of health, lack of a third pitch, and Boston’s organizational starting pitching depth might keep that from happening.
Louisiana State JR RHP Matty Ott: 87-89 FB; does a lot with the FB, cutting it and sinking it very effectively; very inconsistent 78-81 SL; great command and deception; plus control; big problem is lack of an out pitch; 6-2, 200 pounds
SO RHP Matty Ott (2011) is exactly the kind of player that makes following the sport fun. He somehow pulls off always appearing both fiery and cool while on the mound, he gets big time results (69 K to 6 BB in 50.1 IP) through unconventional means (his funky low ¾ delivery is only a hair or two from dropping officially down to sidearm), and he is by all accounts a wonderful example of what a student-athlete ought to be. His hard, sinking high-80s fastball works really well in concert with a high-70s big league ready slider that makes life miserable for both lefties and righties alike. Ott’s prospect stock is in limbo because he doesn’t fit any kind of traditional baseball archetype. He hasn’t currently shown the stuff needed to start (although I’ll happily go on record in saying I think he’d blossom if given the opportunity to refine a third pitch), and he doesn’t have the knockout fastball that so many teams require out of their late inning aces. Maybe it is a personal blind spot of mine, but, archetypes be damned, I like players like Ott that get just get guys out. He has two big league pitches at present (fastball is a little short, but the movement bumps it up a grade) and has time to polish up a third offering. He won’t be a first rounder, heck he may not even be a candidate to go in the top 150 or so picks, but he could wind up his college career as a high floor, close to the majors kind of prospect. If you read this thing regularly you know I value upside and star potential very highly, but in a world that Brandon Lyon can get a $15 million contract, you’d better believe there is value in locking in a player like Ott for six cost-controlled big league years.
Kentucky RHP Braden Kapteyn (Round 15) has the stuff (good FB, hard SL, flashes an above-average CU) to start, but will likely remain a reliever in pro ball due to a funky delivery that he has difficult repeating. If you didn’t know any better, you’d say he looked like a position player trying to pitch. Oh, wait. If he ever makes it as a starting pitcher I hope it’ll be with a National League club because watching him swing the bat every fifth day would be a lot of fun. He hasn’t had the health issues of Joe Savery, but a similar career path (iffy run as starter, brief but promising return to hitting, return to pitching in a more comfortable relief role) is one possible outcome.
Kentucky JR RHP Braden Kapteyn: 89-94 FB; hard 88 SL; potential above-average CU; lots of moving parts in delivery; great hitter; 6-4, 215 pounds
My notes on Liberty RHP Blake Foslund (Round 17) say a lot without saying much. His fastball is big league quality, but the breaking stuff, command, and control are all not where they need to be. A year of success at Liberty could get him drafted on the first day next June. Arm strength like his don’t come around too often, so I’m betting on a huge junior season for the former prep star.
Liberty SO RHP Blake Forslund: 92-95 FB, 97-98 peak
JC of Southern Nevada RHP Sam Wolff (Round 47) should get the chance to start this upcoming season at New Mexico. If that’s the case, I like him to emerge as one of college baseball’s biggest “out of nowhere” success stories and become a top fifteen round pick next June. He started his college career at San Diego, but it wasn’t until junior college where his fastball, and subsequently his prospect stock, really picked up. I had him at maxing out at 91-92 out of high school, but Baseball America’s draft update had him peaking at 95 this past spring. He’s always been an unusually polished young pitcher with excellent command and an above-average breaking ball. Added growth to the fastball makes him a dangerous three-pitch prospect with the chance to do some very interesting things this fall for the Lobos.
Oxnard HS (CA) 2B Austin Davidson (Round 21) has the defensive tools to work himself into a good defender at either third base or second base. His bat profiles a lot better at second as he’s a player with a well-rounded skill set rather than an athlete with a plus tool or two. Guys without loud tools are smart to go to college where production is weighted more heavily than it is at the high school level. If a non-tools guy produces for three years in college, certain teams will take notice. Davidson will get noticed in three years.
Davidson’s down senior season will probably cost him some cash in the short-term, but his solid blend of tools will still get him noticed on draft day. I think he has the chops to be a good defender at third base, but his lack of power upside may keep him from ever holding down an everyday spot. It is tough to project a utility player on a high school prospect, but Davidson’s skill set — average arm, average speed, cerebral player — seems well suited for spot duty.
I don’t like Deven Marrero quite as much as I’m supposed to. I also didn’t like Christian Colon (prior to his draft year) as much as others. My small sample size (the first round shortstops of 2002 also come to mind) conclusion: college shortstops who are projected to stay at shortstop for defensive reasons tend to be overrated. That’s a good thing for Luella HS (GA) SS Julius Gaines (Round 32), a player I really happen to like as a defensive prospect. I don’t think he’ll ever be an early first rounder like Colon was and Marrero will likely be, but three years impressing scouts with his range and arm at Florida International could get him picked much earlier than anybody would currently guess.
There are about a dozen prep shortstops who can realistically lay claim to “potential big league shortstop,” a statement that is more about their defensive futures than any kind of upside at the plate. When projecting shortstops long-term, defense is king. If there is one thing we are sure Gaines can do, it’s defense. How the bat develops is a whole other story, but his range and hands at short are so good that his hit tool is almost an afterthought. Almost.
St. Xavier HS (KY) RHP Matt Spalding (Round 29) is a short righthander with a big fastball, hard slider, and violent delivery. If that sounds like a future reliever, then you’ve been paying careful attention.
RHP Matt Spalding (St. Xavier HS, Kentucky): 91-94 FB, 95-96 peak; 73-77 SL; violent delivery; 6-0, 190
Washington State 1B Taylor Ard (Round 25) has been a big favorite since his days at Mount Hood CC for his big raw power and surprising big man athleticism. He could jump into the top ten rounds with a big senior season, but the usual bat-first prospect caveats apply.
I feel as though my notes on Ard sum up his game pretty well: plus-plus raw power; average at best hit tool; good athlete; wrist injury kept him down in 2010; solid defender; strong track record hitting with wood; some question about ability to hit with funky swing, but just as likely an adjustment will help him tap into his raw power even more. Yeah, that sounds about right.
Maryland OF Matt Marquis (Round 41) in a nutshell: at Maryland he hit .207/.207/.310 in 29 at bats, but as a professional he hit .337/.429/.494 in 83 at bats. He’s a really gifted athlete who still shows all of the physical tools that made him such a highly sought after high school recruit, but something has held him back to this point. I’m seeing high boom/bust potential (starting caliber performances or stalling out in AA) in his future.
This past summer, a summer forever to be known to many prospect watchers as “The Summer of Trout,” I had a conversation with a friend well connected in the business who told me, and I know he won’t mind me quoting him here, “Matt Marquis was Mike Trout before Mike Trout was Mike Trout.” Pretty cool statement if you ask me. Marquis was a highly sought after high school prospect from New Jersey. He had speed, power to all fields, a strong arm, and an even stronger commitment to a great baseball school in Vanderbilt. A common comparison for each player, as funny as it seems with the benefit of hindsight, was Aaron Rowand. Getting the Trout vibe yet? Fast forward to today. Trout has completely blown up as a professional while Marquis has lagged behind. The second-year Maryland outfielder still offers up that tantalizing blend of above-average speed and raw power, but the production, from Nashville to College Park, has never matched the hype. Teams still hold out hope that he’ll put it all together as an above-average corner outfielder. Count me in as a believer.
I can’t wait to see if Wake Forest OF Mac Williamson (Round 46) can put it all together in his redshirt junior season. He’s a legit five-tool prospect who has made great strides in his approach to hitting since arriving at Wake Forest. From a pure tools standpoint, I’m not sure there are five better outfielders in all of college baseball. The biggest strike against him for me is the fact he’ll almost be 22 years old by the time next June’s draft rolls around.
Williamson, a potential catching conversion candidate at the pro level, has serious power upside and a plus arm, but his swing at everything approach could prevent him from ever getting the chance to put his crazy raw tools to use. He could very well be viewed as a potential late inning relief prospect because of the reported mid-90s heat to go along with a solid sinker/slider mix.