The best prospect at each position is featured in our “starting lineup.” The “starting rotation” is made up of pitchers who are all lumped together in one bit lefty/righty/starter/reliever mess. For the “bench,” we tried to follow the guideline of at least one backup catcher, a backup middle infielder (or two), a backup corner infielder (or two), and at least one reserve outfielder (though typically two). Remaining spots went to the best available pitching prospects who are no doubt thrilled to be a part of our “bullpen.” Add it all up and we should have a 25-man roster of interesting 2012 MLB Draft Prospects from the ACC.
More ACC coverage to come on Thursday or Friday, grad school assignments pending…
Miami SR C Peter O’Brien
I’m not the world’s biggest O’Brien fan, but his righthanded power (would love to know his splits to see if a future as a lefty mashing platoon and/or bench option could be in the cards) and plus arm give him two big advantages over the rest of the catchers in the conference.
Clemson JR 1B Richie Shaffer
I’ve waffled back and forth on top ACC first base prospect, but am finally settling on a player not even projected to play first this spring. Long-term, however, I’m pretty confident that first base will be Shaffer’s pro home. Then again, from the “take it for what it’s worth” files, one of my sharper buddies who saw Shaffer in fall ball this year deemed him athletic enough to stick at third base, at least through his first few pro seasons. If nothing else, we know he has the arm (94 peak FB on the mound) for it. His plus raw power and whole-fields approach give him the narrow edge over the underrated Jayce Boyd.
Florida State JR 2B Devon Travis
Travis does everything well. Great athlete, excellent defensive instincts, plus speed, strong arm, and a pro-ready leadoff approach to hitting. I think his upside is that of a viable big league starter at second. The biggest concern I have comes down to what worries me about any second base prospect: in the event his bat isn’t strong enough to handle regular at bats, can he add value at any other position on the diamond? Florida State’s infield is excellent, so there hasn’t been the need to try Travis at anywhere besides second. If he can hold down the fort on the left side of the infield, his overall stock is upgraded due to the boost in his projected floor (utility infielder).
Virginia JR SS Stephen Bruno
Search the archives if you don’t believe me, but I’ve been stubbornly in Bruno’s corner for years. He hasn’t done it at the college level yet due in large part to having to pay his dues while waiting for certain members of Virginia’s talented lineup to turn pro, and Chris Taylor’s current hold on the shortstop job will almost currently keep him from ever playing significant time at the position I project him to play at the next level, but Bruno’s tools are louder than most college middle infielders. He could be the rare example of a player who shows more as a pro than he ever showed in college.
NC State JR 3B Danny Canela
Canela is the best of the conference’s weakest 2012 draft position. 2013 is a different story with Colin Moran (North Carolina), Chase Butler (Georgia Tech), Tyler Palmer (Miami), and Chad Pinder (Virginia Tech) all positioned to be early round picks. Canela’s strong arm allows him to play a little deeper than others at the hot corner, enabling him to increase his so-so range. To his credit, he makes all the plays on balls hit to him. Offensively, he’s got good strength, solid bat speed, and a decent amount of patience. A creative team might try to maximize his value by trying him as a 3B/1B/C hybrid professionally.
Georgia Tech JR OF Brandon Thomas
Florida State SR OF James Ramsey
Wake Forest JR OF Mac Williamson
(EDIT: Georgia Tech SO OF Kyle Wren is an age-eligible sophomore. He was one of my favorite 2013’s, but now vaults to the top of this year’s ACC outfield class. Kid knows how to hit, has that classic patient leadoff hitter approach, and can run down almost anything in center. Definitely my kind of player.)
Not exactly a banner year for ACC outfielders, but Thomas, Ramsey, and Williamson all do enough well to warrant early round draft consideration in 2012. Thomas, the most heralded outfielder in the conference by a long shot, comes by his high praise honestly. I’ve been told his tools have been consistently overrated by the national media (it is admittedly a minority view, but he’s been described to me as a “tweener” outfielder, i.e. not enough power for a corner, not enough speed for center), so I look forward to seeing him for myself this spring. Even as a tweener, he’s still worth mentioning as a great athlete who put up pretty darn impressive numbers last year as a sophomore. Ramsey’s best tool is easily his bat, though I’m not sure there is enough to it if he’s locked into left field always and forever. This is sort of the Devon Travis dilemma all over again: interesting prospect at one position only who is risky because of the unlikelihood of being able to transition to a utility role. Rumors of improved range (better jumps and increased mobility, most notably) and his forthcoming trial in center field for the Seminoles give some hope that he shows enough this spring to get pro teams believing he can at least hold down the fort at center and right. Williamson is another player who I’ve spent a disproportionate (compared to his prospect stock) amount of time writing about over the years. His tools, most notably the arm and power, continue to shine, and his improved approach in 2011, though not yet quite where you’d like to see in terms of BB/K numbers, is encouraging. Rumors of him being tried behind the plate at Wake Forest seem to be officially dead and buried, but I wonder if a pro team might see things differently.
Duke JR RHP Marcus Stroman
Georgia Tech JR RHP Buck Farmer
North Carolina JR RHP Michael Morin
Virginia JR RHP Branden Kline
Clemson JR RHP Kevin Brady
Stroman has a big time arm. His mid-90s heat and plus low-80s slider give him enough to thrive in the back of a bullpen, but Duke’s inclination to try him as a starter means we’re all in for an interesting spring. If he can throw either the changeup or cutter for consistent strikes while maintaining his velocity late into games (even if it is 92-94 rather than 95-97), then we could be opening ourselves up to a whole lot of “short righthander!” backlash. I’m in “wait and see” mode with Stroman the Starter, but, as a reliever, he’s a borderline first round talent. Not for nothing, but I’m decidedly in the indifferent towards height camp, as well as the more or less apathetic about arm action and ugly mechanics club. Height helps, sure. I’ll take a pretty delivery over an ugly one, no doubt. But 100+ years of pro ball has shown that pitchers of all shapes and sizes can succeed, and, as for mechanics, so long as the pitcher can repeat whatever they are doing with consistency, I’m happy enough.
If Farmer’s command is right, he could be in store for a huge spring. At his best, he throws four pitches for strikes, three of them (FB, SL, CU) with plus big league upside. Morin is a personal favorite because of his excellent changeup, my preference for the most important pitch in baseball. I’d like to see him tried as a starter professionally, but when he’s allowed to crank it as in short bursts he reminds me a little bit of long-time Phillies reliever and current Reds closer Ryan Madson. Kline’s currently on the bubble when it comes to how pro teams seem him at the next level. He’s currently a very good relief prospect with the potential to be a very good starting pitching prospect. His fastball is solid and his inconsistent but occasionally great low-80s slider intrigues, but (get ready to hear this a lot in the coming months) his chance to start will depend on the continued progression of his changeup as a reliable third pitch. I’m still not sure how Kevin Brady fell to the 17th round in 2011, but Cleveland’s loss is Clemson’s gain. His fastball (up to 96 this past fall, sitting low-90s) has always been a little too straight for my liking, but arm strength that doesn’t come around as often as many teams would prefer. Brady’s secondaries have never wowed me, though bonus points should be given for the fact he has thrown at least three different non-fastball pitches for strikes at varying points in his development. If he can harness one, he’s a rock solid relief prospect. Harness two, and now we’re talking potential mid-rotation starter.
North Carolina SR C Jacob Stallings
Florida State JR 1B Jayce Boyd
North Carolina JR 1B/OF Cody Stubbs
I would have been comfortable recommending Stallings as early as round 5 last year, so, yeah, you could definitely say I’m an admirer of his game. He has enough strength and patience to contribute at the plate, and his defense is already pro-quality. He could be 2012’s Curt Casali. Duke JR C Jeff Kremer, Virginia Tech rSO Chad Moran, and Clemson JR Spencer Kieboom round out the catching top five.
Picking Shaffer over Boyd was really tough for me, considering my long-standing affection of Boyd’s plus defense and strong plate discipline. He’s one of 2012’s best natural hitters, but his lack of current power has some worried. A little more meat on his bones could result in some of his drives to the gaps sneaking up and over fences. Georgia Tech SR Jake Davies, Virginia Tech rJR Andrew Rash, and Wake Forest 1B Matt Conway also received consideration here.
I’m excited to see what Stubbs does in a full year of ACC ball. His easy power and reputation as a patient hitter remind me a little bit of old favorite Taylor Ard of Washington State. He likely won’t see much time, if any, playing the outfield for the Tar Heels, but he’ll get a boost if scouts believe he can play anywhere else but first.
North Carolina JR 2B/SS Tommy Coyle
Miami JR SS Stephen Perez
Coyle is right behind Travis for me, and I could see why someone might rate him as the better prospect based on the fact that Coyle’s defense at short is steady enough to be entrusted with everyday duty this spring for Carolina. He offers the similar upside (starting big league second baseman) with perhaps a higher floor (better track record playing other defensive spots besides second). A cleaned up approach could have Perez in line for a huge draft year. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, speaking strictly on his tools, he is far closer to consensus top college shortstop Deven Marrero than many of the experts believe. His defensive tools are more than adequate to stay at shortstop, but inconsistency making routine plays has hurt him to this point. If he does some on-field growing up, he could sneak his way into the supplemental first.
It was hard leaving solid prospects like Florida State JR SS Justin Gonzalez (really growing on me), Virginia JR SS Chris Taylor (so damn steady across the board), and Georgia Tech SR 2B Conner Winn (anxious to actually see him get on the field) off the list. It was doubly hard not finding a spot for personal favorite Virginia JR Reed Gragnani.
North Carolina JR OF Chaz Frank
We’re going with only one true backup outfielder in Frank so that we could sneak Stubbs’ power bat on to the roster as a 1B/OF swing guy. Frank’s well-rounded offensive game (well, minus the whole power thing) gave him the nod over outfielders with better power reptuations (Virginia Tech’s Tyler Horan, Miami’s Rony Rodriguez, and NC State’s Tarran Senay) who can’t quite match Frank’s defense, speed, and approach to hitting. As nice a prospect as he is, Frank’s inclusion says more about this year’s group of ACC outfielders than it does anything else.
Clemson JR RHP Dominic Leone
Clemson JR RHP Scott Firth
Leone and Firth both throw fastballs that hitters have a hard time squaring up on. They also both throw plus or near-plus changeups. They also both throw solid curveballs. Firth’s hard slider that flashes plus gives a slight advantage, but Leone’s superior performance in 2011 makes him the safer bet going forward.
Miami JR RHP EJ Encinosa
Encinosa is an example of a guy who just fits his role in the bullpen perfectly. As a starter his stuff is decidedly average, but everything plays up big time for him once he starts letting it go in short bursts. His fastball, both in terms of speed and movement, looks like it is coming from a completely different player. With Marcus Stroman starting, Encinosa could claim the title as best ACC reliever in 2012.
Georgia Tech JR RHP Luke Bard
With the 387th pick (12th round) in this year’s draft, the Boston Red Sox select Bard, Luke from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
North Carolina JR LHP RC Orlan
Miami JR RHP Eric Whaley
Orlan is just me going with my gut. I like his good enough four-seamer, above-average upper-80s cutter, and the two different breaking balls he spins with some consistency. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in tenacity. Eric Whaley is a bit under the radar to those not big on the college game, but his splitter is one of the better pitches of its kind in the amateur ranks. I know I shouldn’t love the splitter like I do, but a childhood of following one — and only one — good Phillie (Curt Schilling) has made me a lifelong fan of the pitch. Whaley has that splitter, a good sinking fastball, a strong track record of success, and a “now” pro body all going for him.