SS: Oscar Mercado, JP Crawford (2)
I’m on board with the Mercado as Elvis Andrus 2.0 comps and was out ahead of the “hey, he’s ahead of where Francisco Lindor was at the same stage just a few years ago” talk, so, yeah, you could say I’m a pretty big fan. That came out way smarmier than I would have liked – I’m sorry. The big thing to watch with Mercado this spring will be how he physically looks at the plate; with added strength he could be a serious contender for the top five or so picks, but many of the veteran evaluators who have seen him question whether or not he has the frame to support any additional bulk. Everything else about his game is above-average or better: swing, arm strength, speed, range, hands, release, pitch recognition, instincts. The way I feel about Mercado is how many of the professionals in the business feel about Crawford, a steady riser who now sits atop the majority of big league clubs’ middle infield boards. What’s funny about Crawford’s recent rise is that so much of it is predicated on his improved defense up the middle. In my first looks at Crawford last year, it was actually his defense at shortstop that stood out to me the most. Not for nothing, but I heard down in Florida that the Astros really, really, really like Crawford. Really.
SS: Andy McGuire, Chris Rivera, Riley Unroe, Connor Heady (4)
McGuire, Unroe, and Heady all look to have the defensive tools to stay at shortstop in pro ball. Rivera could also be included in that group, but I’m part of the growing contingent that would really like to see what he can do behind the plate between now and June. A big spring could propel any of the four into the first round.
Second base prospects don’t typically crash the first round party and 2013 looks to be no exception. We’ll look a few interesting names in the interest of thoroughness and, more honestly, more baseball talk is better than less baseball talk.
Anfernee Grier, Christian Arroyo, and Dalton Dulin are currently the best bets of this year’s prep second basemen to rise into the first round. In a way, that’s damning with faint praise as being the best of any year’s top prep second basemen list doesn’t guarantee much more than the cost of the electronic paper such proclamations are printed on. Thankfully, each player listed above has a contingency plan that you don’t typically see with second base prospects. Grier could wind up as an above-average glove in CF, Arroyo has an outside shot at sticking at shortstop, and Dulin, well, Dulin is pretty much a second baseman or bust but his makeup has been so universally lauded that you wonder if he may go a few spots earlier than his talent warrants. That last one is a bit of a stretch, but that’s what you do over seven months ahead of the draft in November.
Once again we get down to the college ranks where, once again, there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about. As covered with the other positions we’ve touched on, it wouldn’t be a shock to see half a dozen or more high school players off the board before the first college guy gets selected. I’ve previously written about my appreciation for Frazier, an underrated guy with just enough tools to profile as a big league player:”Frazier, yet another up the middle prospect, reminds me some of last year’s underrated all season (at least until draft day) Nolan Fontana. Frazier won’t wow you with the glove — some have him moving to 2B due mostly to an iffy arm, but I think he’s just steady enough to stick at SS for now — but he’s an on-base machine with a relatively high floor. Besides the potential switch off of shortstop, I do worry some about a lack of natural strength/in-game power.” I felt similarly about Mazzilli prior to the draft last year: “He has a little toe-tap timing mechanism that reminds me a little bit of Mark Reynolds’ swing, only without the swing-and-miss length. Good speed, good athleticism, and good hands should keep him up the middle, and a little physical maturation at the plate could help turn him into one of those super annoying scrappy middle infielders we all know and love (or hate, depending on the player).”
Kennedy has a little bit of breakout potential now that he’s finally on a big stage at Clemson, Riddle has a strong hit tool but may be better off at 3B down the line, and Henderson could be this year’s plus athlete who steps up with a big spring. Arguably the three biggest names on the list belong to Gonzalez, Asuaje, and Alvord. Gonzalez has been a consistent producer for a big time program with more raw power than your typical middle infield, Asuaje had a great showing on the Cape and has no real weaknesses to his game, and Alvord, an Auburn transfer, has been on the radar since his high school days.
- 2B Shane Kennedy (Clemson)
- 2B LJ Mazzilli (Connecticut)
- 2B JT Riddle (Kentucky)
- 2B Demarcus Henderson (Mississippi State)
- 2B Ross Kivett (Kansas State)
- 2B/SS Lonnie Kauppila (Stanford)
- 2B Carlos Asuaje (Nova Southeastern)
- SS Justin Gonzalez (Florida State)
- SS/2B Adam Frazier (Mississippi State)
- SS Brandon Trinkwon (UC Santa Barbara)
- SS Zach Shank (Marist)
- SS/2B Zach Alvord (Tampa)
- SS Zac LaNeve (Louisburg JC)
- SS Tim Anderson (East Central CC)
1B: Dominic Smith (1)
The downside to any high school player destined for first base professionally is immense. Without speed, athleticism, and, most importantly, a defensive positional advantage over your peers, it is a really tough climb from high school standout to big league star. Going from beating up on prep pitching to knowing your future is on the line with every plate appearance isn’t for everybody. The margin of error for bat-first prospects is so small that it is really difficult to find a legitimate first round “lock” amateur first baseman in any given year. Enter Dominic Smith.
I recently spoke to one of Smith’s biggest fans in the scouting community who told me, all developmental caveats understood, Smith’s realistic big league floor is Adam LaRoche. That’s crazy, right? LaRoche as a potential floor? I’ve never been first in line for the Adam LaRoche fan club or anything, but he’s had a pretty darn good career all things considered. In addition to LaRoche, I’ve also independently heard Larry Walker and the non-2001 version of Luis Gonzalez mentioned, though in each instance the players discussed were only done so in terms of ceiling. Popular industry comps (ceiling, again) include Todd Helton and Adrian Gonzalez, both (I believe) from members of the excellent staff at Perfect Game. Love comps, hate comps, have no strong feelings either way towards comps…those names mentioned speak to what those in the business think about Smith’s upside with the stick. The comparison I’d make — you know, if I was the type who enjoyed making comps — is Justin Morneau, give or take an inch or two. One last mystery comp that I think you may hear again between now and June:
- “bat speed to spare”
- “as much raw power as anyone in the draft”
- “power ranges to all fields”
- “approach at the plate is advanced”
- “solid defender with athleticism”
- “well above-average arm”
- “regularly touching 95 mph off the mound”
- “could be an above-average defender”
- “tools to be an all-star first baseman”
You can quibble some with the power (mystery guy had a touch more raw power in high school), defense (advantage Smith), and maximum velocity (Smith’s top reading is 92 so far), but I think most of those scouting blurbs could have been pulled directly from a scouting report of Smith. Our mystery comp is none other than Eric Hosmer, the third overall pick back in 2008. Excerpts were taken from Baseball America, where the full report can be found at here (for subscribers).
1B: Nick Longhi, Rowdy Tellez, Zack Collins, DJ Peterson (4)
Smith isn’t alone when it comes to intriguing high school first base prospects. The hype on Nick Longhi has subsided some in recent months, but not for anything that will hurt his eventual draft stock. I had somebody in the know refer to him as “Dominic Smith without the big arm,” a fitting comp for a player who had scouts literally oohing and ahhing when last I saw him. Longhi seems quite underrated thus far — out of sight, out of mind — but that could just be me being way off base on yet another high school guy who impressed me a ton in person. Just below him you have Rowdy Tellez (arguably the best raw power of his class), Zack Collins (reminds me of a bigger, more athletic Mike Napoli), and Corey Simpson (like Collins, he also catches). You could keep going down the list and, if you’re a charitable soul, give an outside chance of one of the following big bats breaking through this spring: Bryce Harman, Joe Dudek, KJ Woods, Pete Alonso, and Cody Bellinger. All in all, a pretty solid group of high school first base prospects.
I don’t think there is much to be excited about in the way of college first base prospects, at least in terms of early round candidates who project as everyday ballplayers. The list below isn’t necessarily made up of the best prospects (like I would know anyway, right?), but rather the ones that jumped out to me as being especially intriguing follows as we head into the season. Peterson has the best shot of the group of cracking the first round – I could see some teams buying into him as a smaller, yet no less powerful version of CJ Cron, the 17th overall pick in 2011. I’d have Palka (huge raw power, gifted natural hitter, plus arm) just behind him, though Palka’s in more of a make or break situation than Peterson this year when it comes to plate discipline and overall approach to hitting (i.e. the stuff he presently gets away with in college won’t work in the pros). The Notre Dame lineup, led by their sluggers Jagielo and Mancini, should be a lot of fun to watch this year. I think both guys will keep mashing in 2013, so no less than 30 combined homers is what I’m hoping to see.
- Daniel Palka (Georgia Tech)
- Eric Jagielo (Notre Dame)
- Trey Mancini (Notre Dame)
- Ryon Healy (Oregon State)
- Chase McDonald (East Carolina)
- Nathan Gomez (Marshall)
- DJ Peterson (New Mexico)
- Chase Compton (Louisiana-Lafayette)
- Brad Zebedis (Presbyterian)
- Esteban Gomez (St. Thomas)
C: Reese McGuire (1)
There really is no such thing as a “lock” this early in the process, but fortune favors the bold — we might be disqualified from bold due to our wimpy use of quotes around lock — so we’ll go ahead and pretend we can see the future anyway. McGuire is the kind of high school catching prospect so far ahead of his peers that he makes me want to compare him against top guys from previous years. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, ponder how high you’d be willing to take a chance on a plus-plus defender with ridiculous athleticism, a pretty swing, and the chance for double-digit home run power.
Too Wide Open to Guess
In no order, any one of the following could break through as the clear cut second prep catcher off the board: Jeremy Martinez, Chris Okey, Nick Ciuffo, Jonathan Denney, and Brian Navaretto. I’ve gone back and forth on the second spot all spring, but, forced to choose on this early date, I’d have Denney and Navaretto just ahead of the pack. I’m only comfortable declaring McGuire is a sure-fire first round pick at this point because of the way pro teams view high school catchers early on in the draft.
This catching class has the potential to be special, but some draft day perspective is key: the last first round with more than two high school catchers selected was 1994 (Paul Konerko, Ramon Castro, and Mark Johnson). I typically don’t care for making projections like this — every draft pool has talent dispersed differently and judging things based solely off historical trends ends up in insisting the Pirates would never take a signablity risk like Jameson Taillon — but I do think there’s something to be said for teams being cautious with projecting young catching early on in the draft. Of all the positions that get hyped up pre-draft by fools like me, catcher is the one spot you consistently fail to see the hype match the selection spot.
Look to 2009, the draft year that many (myself included) will likely be comparing to this 2013 group of catchers before long: Steven Baron went with pick 33 (first prep backstop off the board), Tommy Joseph pick 55, Cameron Garfield pick 74, JR Murphy pick 76, Wil Myers pick 91 (though signability had some to do with it), Max Stassi pick 123, Luke Bailey pick 139 (injury can explain this fall in part), Michael Ohlman pick 326, Andrew Susac pick 497, Gene Escalante pick 856, Mike Zunino pick 873, and Austin Maddox pick 1129. Some of those guys were getting legitimate early round buzz (Stassi, Ohlman, and Maddox stand out) at various points along the process. Draft day has a way of doing weird things to how teams value prep catching. McGuire and one or two others (TBD) will likely constitute this year’s high school catching first round contingent.
As far as the college side goes, well, the less written the better. The names below aren’t necessarily the best of the best at this time, but instead a few names that I think could rise (or, in some cases, continue to rise) up draft boards this spring. Tyler Ross and Andrew Knapp were the first two on my internal big board from a few months ago, but I have a lot more homework to do to have a fuller idea on the entirety of the college catching class. A quick run through revealed a whole lot of players who profile as defense-first backups (Texas JR Jacob Felt fits the bill here) without a great deal of upside at the plate.
In fact, a really strong argument can be made that there are anywhere from a half-dozen (the six names mentioned on this page are a good start) to a baker’s dozen better high school catching prospects better than even the top college backstop. I’m not yet prepared to make that argument — again, I have some homework to do before I can make fun declarative statements that will look insane by June — but it is one that may come up again in this space over the next few months. In no order, here a few of the college names (again, in no particular order and not necessarily a projection of the six best prospects come June) that have caught my eye early on in the process. Worth pointing out that I don’t think any of the players below have a realistic shot to even approach the first round.
- Matt Roberts (North Carolina)
- Tyler Ross (Louisiana State)
- Blake Austin (Auburn)
- Andrew Knapp (California)
- Austin Wynns (Fresno State)
- Matt Sinclair (Angelina JC)