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2013 MLB Draft Preview: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Most Intriguing Pre-Season 2013 MLB Draft Prospect(s)

  1. JR 1B/OF Daniel Palka
  2. JR RHP Matthew Grimes
  3. JR RHP/OF DeAndre Smelter
  4. SR OF Brandon Thomas
  5. JR RHP Dusty Isaacs
  6. JR C/RHP Zane Evans
  7. SR RHP Buck Farmer
  8. JR OF Kyle Wren
  9. JR SS Mott Hyde

I didn’t grow up around college baseball, I didn’t go to a school with college baseball, and I have no vested interest in seeing any particular college team succeed or fail. In my world, college sports only as an elaborate minor league system to the professional game. I sometimes feel like a big hypocrite for viewing college athletics that way – the players are exploited something awful and the NCAA is corrupt – and there’s a part of me that misses out on having a strong collegiate rooting interest (seeing so many high school pals go off to schools with huge sporting culture and tremendous game day atmospheres like Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, North Carolina, and Miami made me a little jealous during my fairly lame hockey or bust years at Boston University), but I’m still mostly alright with watching games to focus more on future pros and not outcomes. That’s all a long way of saying the following: I have no idea whether or not Georgia Tech has the horses to make a run deep into college baseball’s postseason, but I’m fairly sure they have a bunch of future professional players littered across the roster.

I think it is fair to say that Georgia Tech’s high hopes for 2013 took a bit hit with the news of Matt Grimes’ recent Tommy John surgery. The same injury to Grimes not only puts a dent in the upcoming Yellow Jackets season, but it also is a major blow to the young righthander’s draft stock. Completely healthy, it wasn’t a stretch to have Grimes off the board by the end of the draft’s first day. Injured, well, that’s a completely different story, as much for the potential long-term ramifications on his arm’s health (neither as big a deal as some want to make it nor as minor a procedure as others now suggest) as the lost year of development. Grimes stuff is the kind that you often see described as electric: explosive low- to mid-90s fastball mixed with a very good hard slider. Another year of college would have helped him threefold: improve his raw yet promising changeup, find a way to gain some consistency and body control for his 6-6 frame’s delivery, and make gains in the areas of command and control. Now teams will be left with whatever impressions they have from his high school days and his freshman year (Grimes only pitched 18.2 innings last year).

Palka has as much raw power as any player in college baseball. He’ll obviously have to eliminate some of the swing and miss to his game, something I think he has a better than you’d expect chance of happening based solely on his lofty collegiate strikeout totals. He’s a better natural hitter than he’s shown. I’ll be watching him closely this spring to see if he has improved on his ability to square up on balls that aren’t right down the middle of the plate. His plate coverage and ability to drive balls on the periphery of the zone are critical to bumping up his current below-average hit tool grade. I like Palka quite a bit, but, as always, take caution when dreaming on any bat-first prospect that isn’t a mortal lock to hit a ton as a professional.

Smelter gives off a pretty serious Phillippe Aumont vibe to me. That would be the Aumont of today (i.e. a reliever, but potentially a very good one) and not the Aumont of his draft year (i.e. a potential top of the rotation, Kevin Brown type of starter). Smelter needs innings this spring (he’s pitched only 23.2 innings at Georgia Tech) if he wants to get himself back on the early round draft radar like he was back in his prep days. There could be a team out there that likes him more as a power/speed outfield prospect, though I’ve yet to talk to anybody willing to go on record with that opinion.

Thomas was classified as a “poor man’s Barrett Barnes” in my draft notes last year. I think the comparison to the 45th overall pick in 2012 holds up pretty well: tweener-OF who may or may not have the instincts for CF (I think Thomas is more likely to stick up the middle than Barnes) or have enough raw power to start in a corner for a first-division club. If he does wind up as a leftfield-only kind of guy, I could see him putting up similar overall value as Gerardo Parra: good speed, some pop, outstanding defense. I’ve also heard a Matt Joyce ceiling thrown his way, assuming he maintains some of his recent power gains.

Isaacs may lack the premium size that teams want in a starting pitching prospect, but his stuff plays just fine in the rotation. He’ll give you three average or better pitches highlighted by a fastball that can get up to 94 and a plus slider when he commands it. It is hard to identify a sleeper prospect this early in the process, but Isaacs may qualify.

Evans is a legitimate prospect as either a catcher or a righthanded pitcher. I like him a smidge more as a position player because of his burgeoning power and strong defensive chops. On the mound, he has the chance for three average or better pitches (FB, CB, CU) in time.

Farmer is one of college baseball’s most confusing cases. At his best he looks like a legitimate big league pitcher with a nice fastball (have seen it up to 94), low-80s slider that flashes plus, and a good changeup with serious sink. He’s always put up strong numbers (9.30 K/9 in 2011, 10.29 K/9 in 2012) and has a sturdy 6-4, 225 pound frame. The confusion begins with the uneven reports on his stuff from start to start. When his velocity slips to the upper-80s, his slider gets loopy, and his changeup flattens out, he’s pretty darn ordinary. I’m not sure we’ll ever see the really good version of Farmer again – the very fact that this is an open question speaks to the doubts surrounding his pro future. Ultimately, I can see a little bit of Mark Pope and Seth Blair in his game, though not necessarily in terms of actual draft stock, but in terms of professional outcomes. All three can be categorized as steady college starting pitchers with big league fifth starters upside, with the acknowledgment that each is far more likely to pitch in middle relief, if at all, in the big leagues.

Wren was a big favorite after his sensational freshman season (.355/.429/.464 – 32 BB/30 K – 265 AB), but regressed almost across the board in 2012. One area he remained strong in was his outstanding plate discipline. I still like him as a speedy CF with the upside as a top of the lineup bat (and a hopeful floor of fifth outfielder), so I’ll be watching him closely in 2013. Rounding out the best Georgia Tech hitters is Hyde, a true shortstop with speed and the chance to hit for double-digit home runs as a pro. That’s a heck of a package and one that would deserve a much higher ranking than you see here. Astute readers will put two and two together and realize that the odds of Hyde reaching his ceiling are low.

Off the beaten prospect path a bit is where you’ll find guys like JR RHP Jonathan Roberts, SR 2B/OF Sam Dove, JR RHP/3B Alex Cruz, SR RHP Clay Dalton, and JR LHP Devin Stanton. Each player does enough well to stay on the map, but nothing so spectacularly that you can call them high priority 2013 follows. Roberts’ tools are probably the loudest of the bunch (wild mid-90s fastballs get a guy noticed), though I have a soft spot for the steady across the board Dove. After that you have three young pitchers who will need to impress the Georgia Tech coaching staff enough just to get meaningful innings before worrying about showing off for pro scouts.

2014 MLB Draft Name(s) to Know

  1. SO C AJ Murray
  2. SO RHP Cole Pitts

There isn’t a ton to love about Georgia Tech’s group of 2014 prospects. SO C AJ Murray, a favorite from his draft year, has the tools (power, arm, speed) to be an early round pick. His future will seemingly come down to opportunity (i.e. can he get the at bats needed to keep progressing) and defense. I’m less concerned about the latter (he’s athletic enough that I think he’ll eventually get it) than the former (Evans and fellow SO Connor Lynch are strong competition). SO RHP Cole Pitts’ slower than you’d like development of a reliable breaking ball is what currently keeps him behind Murray on this list. His fastball and change are more than enough to currently get by (7.38 K/9 in 78 freshman innings) in the ACC, but it’ll be the refinement of a third pitch that will get him on the prospect map.

The aforementioned Lynch did a solid job at the plate (.293/.348/.390 in 82 AB) in his freshman year. A bevvy of unproven yet intriguing youngsters like FR LHP Sam Clay, SO OF Jamal Golden, SO OF Dan Spingola, and FR LHP/OF Jonathan (JK) King fill out the rest of the prospect ledger. I also remain interested in a trio of relatively unheralded Georgia Tech sophomores: SO RHP Josh Heddinger, SO OF/1B Charles Sheffield, and SO INF Thomas Smith are all on the scouting radar in some capacity.

Image via Georgia Tech Relay for Life

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