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2013 MLB Draft Preview: Marshall Thundering Herd

Marshall University

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

1. JR RHP Aaron Blair
2. rSR OF Isaac Ballou
3. SR 1B Nathan Gomez
4. SR 3B/OF Gray Stafford

I have to imagine it is nice playing for a school that isn’t necessarily a traditional baseball power during the same stretch as a hotly scouted prospect in his draft year. Scouts will beat a path to Huntington, West Virginia all year long to see potential first round pick Aaron Blair. In the process, chances are they’ll see a handful of interesting draft prospects that are more than worthy of their time.

Joining Blair on the Thundering Herd pitching staff will be JR RHP Josh King, SR LHP Wayland Moore, and rJR RHP Ryan Hopkins. King, whose numbers intrigue me even though I don’t know much about him from a scouting standpoint, is probably the best draft prospect of the bunch, but I’d call them all long shots at this juncture. Draft prospects aside, the Marshall staff figures to be supported just fine by a strong, veteran core of returning hitters. It’ll be fun to see if any of Marshall’s returning big three bats – rSR OF Isaac Ballou, SR 1B Nathan Gomez, and SR 3B/OF Gray Stafford – emerge as sure-fire June draft picks. All are clearly talented enough to warrant consideration, but none are stone cold mortal locks. I’ve long been a fan of Ballou, so it should come as no surprise that I think he’s the closest thing to a position player lock as there is on the Marshall roster. He’s a really pesky hitter (.397 OBP in 2011, .450 in 2012) with an approach that fits well at the top of a lineup. He’s got enough speed and instincts to keep the “leadoff hitting CF” narrative alive, and there could be some yet unseen power in his sturdy 6-2, 200 pound frame.  I like simplicity in my notes, so I can admit to being drawn to Gomez’ short and sweet entry: “he can really swing it.” All the more impressive is the fact that note came about after his disappointing sophomore season (.252/.384/.387) and not his improved junior year (.320/.414/.447). Like Ballou, there are some physical indicators that point to more power to come, but it is now or never for both guys, at least at the amateur level. Gomez should still get some late-round consideration even if he remains a gap power, good approach, smooth defender kind of player. A little more over the fence pop would be icing on the cake.  Stafford stands out as perhaps the toolsiest of the senior trio. He has an interesting blend of power, speed, and plus arm strength that give him the look and feel of a professional ballplayer. Unfortunately, he’s the least likely of the three to reach his ultimate ceiling. Unlike Ballou and Gomez, Stafford’s approach at the plate is a total mess. His defense is also a bit of a question mark going forward, as there is some debate on whether or not his long-term home is third base or right field.

We buried the lede a bit here by not talking about Blair as much as his prospect status warrants. It may not be the most descriptive adjective around, but the word “good” can be found throughout Blair’s scouting notes in my Word doc: good command of a 87-92 FB (93 peak) with good sink; good 74-78 CB; 81-85 CU thrown with good looking arm action; good, sturdy frame (6-5, 220 pounds); good numbers (8.42 K/9 in 2011, 9.04 K/9 and 3.37 FIP in 2012). If you didn’t know any better, you’d think Blair is a pretty darn good prospect, right? At this moment, he looks like a really strong bet to keep progressing until settling into his eventual role as big league mid-rotation starting pitcher. He’s a safe — well, as safe as any inherently risky amateur prospect can be — prospect, not a sexy one. Good across the board, neither great nor lacking in any one area. I liken him to a sturdier version of former Long Beach State and current Milwaukee Brewer RHP Drew Gagnon, a third round pick back in 2011. His profile also reminds me a little bit of Matt Barnes before Barnes velocity spike. I’m not enough of a scout (or a scout at all, really) to place odds on Blair experiencing  a similar increase in stuff — I’m not sure any scout can actually predict this stuff, short of noticing a body desperately in need of better strength and conditioning and/or a major mechanical overhaul — but recognizing the possibility helps me cover myself just in case. Anyway, Blair looks like a good starting pitching prospect with the chance to go pretty good in this June’s draft. Good pitcher, good analysis.

2014 MLB Draft Name(s) to Know

1. FR RHP Michael Taylor

Marshall’s best pro prospect hasn’t officially stepped on the field yet. Incoming freshman RHP Michael Taylor, eligible for the draft next year due to his 3/3/93 birthdate, is like Randy Moss, Chad Pennington, and Byron Leftwitch all rolled into one. Hyperbole aside, he’s a legitimate early round pick in 2014 with the chance to contribute immediately this spring. He has three pitches that all could be average or better in time: 88-92 FB (94 peak), good low-70s CB, and raw but promising low-80s CU. Another 2014 to watch is light-hitting, steady fielding middle infielder Andrew Dundon. The sophomore 2B/SS held his own at the plate last year (.270/.371/.305) and could keep moving in the direction as a potential utility infielder if he keeps doing what he does best. I also wouldn’t sleep on SO RHP Lance Elder: good size, decent freshman showing, and a cool baseball name.

Finally, and mostly because I’m a sick person who just can’t help himself, a quick note on the really promising pitching-heavy crop of 2015 talent brought in by Jeff Waggoner. Taylor was the big get, but LHP Micah Dunn, FR RHP Brandyn Sittinger, and FR LHP Zach Shockley all have the talent to be drafted in three years. Sittinger’s youth and quick arm will get him looks, and Shockley’s mature three-pitch mix ought to get him some innings right off the bat. Marshall reloaded at catcher, a traditionally strong spot at Marshall thanks to years of Victor Gomez and Thor Meeks, with a pair of highly regarded transfers, but there’s a chance that all four freshman pitchers could wind up throwing to fellow frosh David Diaz-Fernandez sooner rather than later. Future looks good at Marshall.

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