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2013 MLB Draft Conference Preview: Big Ten

I have some stray SEC thoughts, plus a tiered first round big board coming up over the next few days. Good times ahead. As for the mountain of text below, well, I’ll just say the position players in the Big Ten are a group only a mother could love. Some interesting arms led by a potential first day lefty, but all in all not a thrilling collection of talent. How’s that for a hard sell? Now read it!

  • Bold = locks to be drafted
  • Italics = definite maybes
  • Underlined = possible risers
  • Plain text = long shots

C

  • Nebraska SO C Tanner Lubach
  • Minnesota JR C Matt Halloran
  • Iowa SR C Dan Sheppard
  • Michigan State JR C John Martinez
  • Michigan rJR C John DiLaura
  • Illinois rSO C Kelly Norris-Jones
  • Michigan State JR C Joel Fisher
  • Purdue JR C Sean McHugh
  • Michigan rJR C Zach Johnson
  • Penn State JR C Alex Farkes
  • Nebraska JR C Corey Stringer
  • Minnesota rSR C Kurt Schlangen

I can talk/write a lot – some would say too much – but I’ve got very little to say about this group of catching prospects. Lubach was a guy that I was told had the highest ceiling of any draft-eligible Big Ten catcher, and Halloran and Sheppard have gotten some buzz for their work behind the plate. That’s the nice, scout-approved news. The numbers tell a different story. Of the dozen names listed above, I think you can charitably call nine of the twelve as having below-average starts to the 2013 season. Schlangen has been decent. Fisher and McHugh, both players designated as C/1B in my notes, are the only two “catchers” that have gotten off to strong statistical starts, and McHugh’s “hot start” is only passable when viewed through the prism of park/schedule adjustments. For anybody who cries “small sample size,” well, true enough. However, a quick look back at last year reveals a larger pattern of underwhelming performance across the board. Halloran was good (.340/.415/.440) and Martinez solid (.317/.385/.430), but only McHugh has been a consistent collegiate performer. Long story short, the Big Ten likely doesn’t have a 2013 MLB Draft prospect who currently dons the tools of ignorance.

1B

  • Minnesota JR 1B Alex LaShomb
  • Michigan JR 1B Brett Winger
  • Northwestern SR 1B Jack Havey

Three big guys, three non-prospects. Havey, the leanest of the three (6-3, 200 pounds), is off to the best start this spring of the group.

2B

  • Northwestern JR 2B Kyle Ruchim
  • Indiana SR 2B Michael Basil
  • Ohio State rSR 2B Ryan Cypret
  • Iowa rSO 2B Jake Mangler
  • Penn State SR 2B Luis Montesinos

I rarely cut players from my lists after I’ve committed to them either because of a nice scouting note or the achievement of certain statistical benchmarks (see the catching list if you don’t believe me), but I dropped a few Big Ten second basemen from the original draft because including them would be a stretch that I’m not yet able to make. After a few more months of yoga, maybe…

It was all doom and gloom when it came time to editing my lists. I also made a last minute decision to switch Kyle Ruchim from the pitching list to this one. He’s excelled in both areas as a Wildcat (pitching: 12.05 K/9 in 2011, 11.57 K/9 in 2012, 9.53 K/9 so far in 2013), but, fair or not, he’d face an uphill battle as a 5-10, 180 pound righthanded reliever if limited to the mound as a pro. As a second baseman, he gives you a really steady glove, average speed, enough power to the gaps to keep pitchers honest (and subsequently help him maintain strong BB/K numbers), and, as you’d expect from a guy once clocked at 93 MPH, a strong arm. Finding underrated two-way college talent like Ruchim is what makes doing this conference draft previews worth it for me. Remember his name on draft day.

3B

  • Indiana JR 3B Dustin DeMuth
  • Illinois rJR 3B Jordan Parr
  • Ohio State rSR 3B Brad Hallberg
  • Minnesota SR 3B Ryan Abrahamson

Finally, a decent prospect group to talk about. Dustin DeMuth is a player that I had multiple Midwest contacts tell me was a big-time sleeper to watch coming into the season. I’d say so far, so good. DeMuth has gone out and done a lot of the things he was expected to do: hit with power, field his position well, and show a far more aggressive than ideal approach at the plate. The first two are reasons to be excited about him in an intriguing ball of clay to mold kind of way, especially if a team thinks they can curtail, or, at worst, more positively channel his hacktastic ways. Parr is another good athlete with above-average raw power who, like DeMuth, brings the added dimension of defensive versatility. Hallberg is a steady college performer who may get a late look as an organizational guy. Abrahamson has an intriguing frame (6-4, 190 pounds) and some talent yet to be fully tapped.

SS

  • Ohio State SR SS Kirby Pellant
  • Illinois JR SS Thomas Lindauer
  • Minnesota rSO SS Michael Handel
  • Minnesota rSR SS Troy Larson

Pellant does enough well across the board (speed, throw, footwork) that he should get a look as a mid- to late-round potential utility infielder option. It’s an imperfect comp, but consider Pellant somewhat similar to Adam Frazier but with a lesser stick. Lindauer and Handel are probably looking at a future similar to Larson’s present, i.e. hoping for a late-round senior sign selection.

OF

  • Michigan JR OF Michael O’Neill
  • Michigan SR OF Patrick Biondi
  • Minnesota rJR OF Dan Olinger 
  • Nebraska SR OF Chad Christensen 
  • Nebraska SR OF Josh Scheffert
  • Minnesota JR OF Bobby Juan
  • Michigan State SR OF Jordan Keur
  • Illinois SR OF Justin Parr
  • Purdue SR OF Stephen Talbott 
  • Nebraska JR OF Mike Pritchard 
  • Michigan State SO OF Jimmy Pickens 
  • Nebraska rJR OF Kash Kalkowski
  • Nebraska SR OF Rich Sanguinetti
  • Minnesota SR OF Andy Henkemeyer
  • Indiana SR OF Justin Cureton
  • Illinois SR OF Davis Hendrickson
  • Ohio State JR OF Tim Wetzel
  • Ohio State rJR OF Mike Carroll
  • Penn State rJR OF Steve Snyder
  • Iowa JR OF Taylor Zeutenhorst

Michael O’Neill hasn’t gotten the degree of draft buzz yet that I expect we’ll see build over the next few weeks, but he’s a really intriguing talent with big league tools. I’m hoping to have more on him in the not too distant future; until then, let me just say that if I was the one doing the picking, O’Neill would terrify me as a potential top three round pick. Here are some choice snippets from what Baseball America has to say about the 6-2, 200ish pound righthanded hitting outfielder for Michigan:

  • “excellent athlete”
  • “best tool is his speed”
  • “well above-average runner”
  • “should hit for average because of a smooth stroke”
  • “average power”
  • “average center fielder”
  • “arm is a tick above average”
  • “isn’t particularly polished for a college draftee”

The big worry about this player is his lack of plate discipline. Striking out 1.65 times for every BB as an amateur isn’t a good thing. Waaaaaait, a second here. Were we talking about Michael O’Neill here? Whoops. All of the above is about 2010 second round pick Ryan LaMarre. I’m so tricky! Sure, all of the above also applies to O’Neill with the one notable exception being his ever more concerning lack of plate discipline (3.04 K/BB). It should also be noted that O’Neill’s swing, a little on the long and clunky side, hasn’t garnered as many favorable reviews as LaMarre’s once did. Consider me much closer to “like” than “love” when it comes to O”Neill (I prefer him to LaMarre, if that means anything to you), and even that may be generous at this point. The tools are loud and he could succeed in the right environment (patience will be key with him from a developmental standpoint), but he’ll wind up far lower on my rankings than he’ll fall on the industry leaders big boards.

After O’Neill the race for second Big Ten outfield prospect drafted looks as tight as tight can be. His Michigan teammate Pat Biondi is as good a name as any to slot into spot number two. He’s not a star nor does he give off a “future starter” vibe, but his speed, range, and pesky on-base skills and bat control should give him a chance to make it as a handy backup in time. Olinger has a nice looking swing, decent power, and a good approach, but no carrying tool that would make him a potential regular. Chad Christensen looks great on paper – speed, pop, all kinds of defensive flexibility – but issues with an all-or-nothing approach to hitting persist. Same could be said for his Nebraska teammate Kash Kalkowski. One name to watch is Bobby Juan, especially if a team makes the decision to stick his plus arm on the mound full-time.

P

  • Minnesota JR LHP Tom Windle
  • Ohio State JR RHP Josh Dezse
  • Minnesota JR LHP DJ Snelten
  • Purdue rJR RHP Brad Schreiber
  • Michigan State JR RHP David Garner 
  • Northwestern SR RHP Luke Farrell
  • Indiana JR LHP Joey DeNato
  • Ohio State rSR RHP Brad Goldberg
  • Ohio State JR RHP Jaron Long 
  • Illinois rSO RHP Reid Roper
  • Indiana rSO RHP Aaron Slegers 
  • Nebraska SR RHP Kyle Hander
  • Ohio State SR RHP Brett McKinney
  • Northwestern rSR RHP Zach Morton
  • Ohio State JR RHP Greg Greve
  • Penn State rSR RHP David Walkling
  • Illinois SR RHP Kevin Johnson
  • Iowa SR LHP Matt Dermody
  • Penn State JR LHP Greg Welsh
  • Indiana JR LHP Brian Korte 
  • Michigan JR RHP Alex Lakatos
  • Minnesota rJR RHP Alex Tukey 
  • Nebraska JR RHP Brandon Pierce
  • Illinois JR RHP Ronnie Muck
  • Michigan State JR LHP Jeff Kinley
  • Michigan SR RHP Ben Ballantine 
  • Michigan State rJR RHP Michael Theodore
  • Michigan SR RHP Kyle Clark
  • Minnesota SR RHP Billy Soule
  • Michigan State SR RHP Andrew Waszak
  • Minnesota SR RHP Drew Ghelfi
  • Michigan rJR LHP Logan McAnallen
  • Michigan State SR LHP Trey Popp
  • Penn State SR RHP Neal Herring
  • Indiana JR RHP Matt Dearden
  • Northwestern JR RHP Ethan Bramschreiber
  • Minnesota JR RHP Alec Crawford
  • Nebraska JR LHP Tyler King
  • Northwestern JR LHP Dan Tyson
  • Illinois rSR RHP Bryan Roberts
  • Nebraska SR RHP Dylan Vogt
  • Indiana JR RHP Ryan Halstead
  • Northwestern JR RHP Jack Quigley
  • Penn State SR RHP Steven Hill
  • Purdue rSR RHP Robert Ramer
  • Ohio State SR LHP Brian King
  • Illinois rSO RHP Drasen Johnson
  • Nebraska JR RHP Christian Deleon
  • Nebraska JR LHP Zach Hirsch
  • Nebraska SR RHP Tyler Niederklein
  • Penn State rSO RHP TJ Jann
  • Illinois rSO LHP Rob McDonnell

Tom Windle isn’t this year’s sexiest draft prospect, but he still stands a fine chance of making it as a sturdy back of the rotation option in short order. His 87-92 (93-94) fastball has a ton of natural movement, he can spin two average or better breaking balls (way more 78-84 sliders than curves, and that’s a good thing – the slider is one of my favorite singular pitches of this class), and an improved yet still underdeveloped mid-80s changeup. This is a forced comp and I apologize in advance, but I see a little bit of Mike Minor minus the nasty changeup when I watch Windle. Other, perhaps better comparisons: Clayton Richard (but lighter) and Wade Miley (but taller). Those last two comps work pretty darn well from cumulative stuff standpoints, I think. In fact, put the three guys in a blender (note: not literally, they’d die) and you wind up with a delicious Tom Windle cocktail.

Josh Dezse hasn’t pitched this year due to injury, but fits in as a high-level follow the minute he steps back on the mound. One sentence doesn’t really do Dezse’s upside credit. Nor does that second sentence, come to think of it. A scout before the year told me he thought Desze looked like the second coming of Tom Wilhelmsen on the mound at times last season.  Windle’s teammate DJ Snelten has just recently returned from injury; his first two years weren’t as productive as you’d expect from a guy with stuff good enough to start one day at the big league level. Brad Schreiber has been thrown back into the mix after missing all of last year thanks to Tommy John surgery. He still flashes back of the bullpen type stuff, but inconsistent control remains his bugaboo.

Now that the season has started I feel guilty if I don’t at least peruse the current numbers before publishing these conference follow lists. I don’t put a ton of stock on about a half of a season’s worth of data, but recent performances, whether positive or negative, can sometimes be a reflection of meaningful changes from a scouting perspective. Anyway, I happened to notice that I ranked Kevin Johnson and Matt Dermody back to back. Then I checked their 2013 numbers:

Johnson: 6.23 K/9 – 2.08 BB/9 – 3.79 FIP – 47.2 IP
Dermody: 6.27 K/9 – 2.09 BB/9 – 3.91 FIP – 47.1 IP

Neat!

You’d think I had some Northwestern connection (I don’t!) with the way I love Luke Farrell and Zach Morton. Farrell has always pitched well, has good size, and a fastball/curve/change trio that is good enough to get out big league hitters. I really like his fastball. Morton is the athlete I wish I could have been. Joey DeNato doesn’t have the same kind of physicality of the Northwestern guys, but darn if he doesn’t keep getting hitters out with his outstanding secondary stuff (change mostly). Jaron Long doesn’t quite have the same offspeed stuff, but he can still cutter teams to death when called upon. Brad Goldberg is a little like Brad Schreiber: big arm, intriguing upside, control remains a mess. I expected big things out of both Alex Lakatos (athleticism, size, heat, slider) and Brandon Pierce, but can’t say either has set the world on fire so far in 2013. Reid Roper is like Kyle Ruchim in that both are Big Ten 2B/RHP who do both jobs darn well. I like Roper a touch more on the mound than as a hitter, but can see why Illinois likes having his bat in the lineup. Fun player.

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1 Comment

  1. Alex Putterman says:

    Hi, I’m the baseball beat writer for the Daily Northwestern and am writing several pieces in the next few weeks for which I’m looking for some background on the draft prospects of various NU players. If you could email me at asputt@u.northwestern.edu I would love to set up a phone call to discuss this. I think it would be extremely helpful. Thanks very much, and I look forward to hearing from you.

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