This may shock you, but I like to talk baseball. A lot. It’s something I do literally every single day. I try not to bother too many people in real life with it, but I do have a small circle of similarly passionate baseball fan friends who put up with my all too frequent emails about whatever random baseball topic (bigs, minors, draft, anything) pops into my head in a given day. I love sharing ideas, coming up with new theories, dreaming about future rosters, and, most of all, reading the occasional reply from pals (occasional only because my outgoing mail tends to outnumber incoming messages at a rate of, like, ten to one…or so it seems). When work is a challenge and real life gets too real, talking baseball becomes more than just my preferred option of escapism, but the only thing that keeps me sane. Despite four years living in Boston, I can’t say I’ve ever seen Fever Pitch all the way through; truth be told, the parts I’ve seen were more than enough for me to know I never need to make time to watch it beginning to end. One line that always stuck with me was when Jimmy Fallon’s character was talking to…a young boy, I think…and the boy said the following: “You love the Red Sox, but have they ever loved you back?” Shitty movie or not, that’s a solid gut punch of a line for any hopelessly devoted sports fan to hear. No, the Red Sox/Yankees/Dodgers/Pirates/Whatevers don’t love you back, but that’s not the point. It’s hard to properly explain, but the teams (businesses, really) can’t and won’t love you; the sport itself, however, can give you something pretty damn close. Baseball has a special way of uniting, dividing, distracting, engaging, and otherwise entertaining so many of us on a daily basis. I’m absolutely rambling now — and way off-topic — but, love or not, I’ll take whatever that feeling is. I’d rather watch a ballgame than just about anything, but writing about it comes in solidly at second place.
Writing for this site doesn’t often give me that same feeling. That sounds awful, but it’s not. Something about the medium locks me up and I wind up writing very unlike myself. It could be that I feel some small degree of responsibility to not write anything that could bum out a player’s family or friends in a public forum. I know what I write doesn’t matter to anybody making the big decisions on prospects’ futures, but I still don’t enjoy writing about players I don’t think will make it at the next level. I realize that’s a part of the process, but I don’t have to enjoy it. Because of that, despite the fact I have no aspirations to write anywhere but here, I feel like I need to write in a manner more befitting a “professional” draft writer, so as not to be that shit-stirring nobody on the internet who exists solely to pop off with random opinions and can’t be trusted. I do have opinions, damnit, and I think my instincts are good, but I lack whatever it is inside of a person to get up on a rooftop and share with the world. I’m a much more relaxed writer via email, but something about putting something up on “the site” changes me. Barely anybody reads this darn thing — as always, thanks to all that do — so I don’t know why I get that weird writer stage fright just before hitting publish. I’m trying to get over that, so bear with me.
All this is a long way of saying that this post is hopefully a little bit closer to my original version of the site. Less formulaic, more conversational. More open-ended, less…list-y. Yeah, there will still be lists and rankings and content that gets published without me feeling 100% about the level of information provided (much as I think the conference follow lists are a solid resource, I hate that I don’t have the time to do more commentary within each piece), but, for at least one post, we all get a reprieve. And, who knows, maybe this will be the start of a personal breakthrough for me as I try to loosen up as a writer. We’ll see.
With no further ado, here we have a series of emails sent by me over the past ten days. Some of the conversation may seem a bit out of nowhere, but that’s because it is. I tend to slip in draft related stuff when the unlucky email recipients (and total draft novices) are least suspecting it. Why shouldn’t a conversation about bullpens around the league turn into a chat about the draft’s top relief arm? Opinions are all mine, all honest, all more “off the cuff” than usual, yet still well-supported with intelligence acquired firsthand or otherwise.
Perfect World Second Round Draft Targets
The pick at 7 is going to be a college arm, prep bat, or Trea Turner. I’m fairly sure, at least (more on that in the SS section).That means it won’t be a non-Turner college bat at 7. As mentioned, I spent the last three months getting my scouting database up and running for this year’s college position player group and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the fact there are no real top of the first round talents (outside of Turner) get in the way of a Phillies draft discussion.
So, forget 7. We’ll talk 7 to death over the next few months anyway. Pick 47 holds way more intrigue to me at the moment. I have to believe that at least one of these 15 players will be there at 47. If they go with an arm at 7, I sure wouldn’t mind one of these guys later…
There’s some above-average relative depth at the top, but I couldn’t see the Phils going C early when you factor in the prospect depth in the system already and the high picks used on it last year in Knapp and Sweaney. If they do make a move at 47, I think Mark Zagunis should be a target. Almost everybody has Max Pentecost as the draft’s top catcher — I’ve compared his ceiling to Jon Lucroy, so he is a fine prospect — but I like Zagunis a touch better. Pentecost will likely be gone between 8 and 47, but I could see Zagunis still there. I’d be tempted. He actually reminds me a little bit of Knapp, from a scouting perspective. By the numbers, Pentecost is actually close to a Knapp doppelganger through two college seasons. I think both are better prospects through two years than Knapp, for what it’s worth.
Virginia Tech JR C/OF Mark Zagunis, Kennesaw State JR C Max Pentecost
Surprising yet intriguing position of “need” as Howard will only have 2.5 years remaining on his deal come draft day. Draft a college guy, let him dominate rookie ball and get a taste of A-ball, then move him up to A/A+ (maybe AA) in 2015, AA/AAA in 2016, and have him ready to replace Howard in 2017. Not much depth at the spot as usual, but Casey Gillaspie stands out. The big name is Kyle Schwarber, a bit of a lefthanded Mike Napoli clone both at the plate (he mashes) and in the field (he’s currently a “catcher,” but doesn’t profile there as a regular). If I was confident he could get himself up to league average with the glove behind the plate, he’d be in the mix at 7. As is, he’s a stretch there, but a complete lock to be gone shortly thereafter. That’s what makes Gillaspie stand out. He’s arguably the next best pure college bat in the draft. His power, hit tool, and plate discipline are all big league regular quality.
Indiana JR 1B/C Kyle Schwarber, Wichita State JR 1B Casey Gillaspie
It’s a relatively good year for college 2B, a position group that is oft-ignored on draft day. I’m with the consensus that most good 2B are made and not born (i.e. converted from other positions), but there are a fair number of intriguing “natural” 2B to consider early on. The Phillies could also take a pass here in the first few rounds since there is nice depth at the position. If they do make a move at 47, the top two names are Brian Anderson and Alex Blandino. Both actually fit the aforementioned consensus view as Anderson has spent time at SS, 3B, and CF while Blandino is seen as a 3B by many (I think he might be alright at SS, but that’s a minority view).
Arkansas JR 2B/SS/OF Brian Anderson, Stanford JR 2B/3B Alex Blandino
I know 3B isn’t the target area like it has been in the past, but I can’t help myself from fixating on the position because, honestly, it’s all I really know. For no reason at all, I have a really strange feeling about Matt Chapman at 47. I have no insider scoop nor am I utilizing any past draft trends, but I can just picture him as the pick. I’d love it if true (and if he’s even on the board) as I think he’s going to be an excellent pro. Taylor Sparks probably fits the Phillies prototype better — or the old prototype, at least — as a tooled-up, boom/bust, athletic free-swinging kind of guy.
Cal State Fullerton JR 3B Matt Chapman, UC Irvine JR 3B Taylor Sparks
It’s pretty much Trea Turner at 7 or bust, though I think they would be smart to consider Joey Pankake — think of the merchandising opportunities — if he’s there at 47. Pankake is already being moved off SS by most of the draft experts, but I don’t see why he’ll have to make the switch to 3B just yet. I think it’s an overreaction to his lack of foot speed, a vastly overrated (in my view) aspect of infield defense. The big question at the position will be what happens if Turner is there at 7 (I think he’ll be). So many things to consider there. Everybody says BPA BPA BPA in baseball, something I obviously agree with, but I think there are limits to that kind of thinking. I mean, at some point common sense needs to take over: if you’re locked in with a young franchise 1B, you don’t draft a 1B every year in the first round just because he’s the top guy on the board. I think there are enough close calls in the draft that organizational need can be taken into account if you are in need of a “tie-breaker.”
Obviously, unlike 1B, a position like SS can be drafted in bulk with more confidence since these players can be moved around the diamond a bit. There’s already talk about Turner being an option in CF (he’s played there some as well as 3B) and Crawford could fairly easily handle a switch to 2B if need be. There’s also the school of thought that values minor leaguers as assets only. Accumulating as many valuable assets as possible is wise, and if you have two players on similar timelines at the same position you can always utilize the other as a trade chip when the time comes. All true. Long story short, if Turner is the top guy on the board by a large enough margin over the next guy then you have to take him and sort the rest out later. I’m not convinced Turner will be the best guy on the board — Carlos Rodon, Jeff Hoffman, Tyler Beede, Alex Jackson, Jacob Gatewood, and your top HS arm or two all are equally in the mix at this point, I believe — but I’d be more than happy with taking a second shortstop in the first round if he’s the top guy there. I have a lot of ideas for comps after watching Turner up close and envisioning the kind of career he’s capable of, but I think my favorite is a mashup of Yankee outfielders: Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner spliced together. Or, alternatively, Ellsbury (minus that 30+ HR outlier year) or Gardner (with a little bit more pop). Put that at SS, you’ve got something special. Also considered Stephen Drew with plus-plus speed and, if we’re going nuts, a slightly less lanky version of Jose Reyes. The fact that I think such lofty heights are attainable should tell you all you need to know about how I feel about him. Turner is an impact talent.
North Carolina State JR SS/OF Trea Turner, South Carolina JR SS/RHP Joey Pankake
Unless we see a crazy Kris Bryant kind of season out of one of the top dogs here (not likely), I don’t see a real outfield option at 7. There are, however, plenty of talented guys who will fly off the board between 8 and 47. If one of these five below somehow survives, then he very well could be your guy. I think there’s only one player here with a better than average shot to be there at 47: local guy (kind of) Mike Papi. Notes on his tools are below [going against much of what I said in the intro here and saving said notes for the site later on, sorry], so I’ll just reiterate his 2013 line here as the driving force of my rationale for loving him at 47: .409/.542/.653 – 47 BB/24 K – 6/8 SB – 176 AB. It’s a risky game to play, but, since I love him more than the general consensus at this point, there’s a chance he’s there at 82, 113, or even 143.
San Francisco JR OF Bradley Zimmer, Oregon State JR OF/1B Michael Conforto, Virginia JR OF Mike Papi, Oregon State JR OF Dylan Davis, Virginia JR OF Derek Fisher
Alex Jackson: Top Ten Pick?
I saw [Alex] Jackson in person twice this summer and way more than that on TV/video. With the everlasting caveat that I’m not a scout, I walked away each time surprised — well, surprised the first time and more confused thereafter — that everybody had hyped up his bat while downplaying his glove. Not doing the Charlie Contrarian shtick, but I was more impressed with his glove than I thought and not really wowed by the bat. It’s still a really impressive, first round quality stick, especially since I think he could stick at catcher, but not the Bryce Harper (not a comparison, just mentioning him as the most recent high profile catcher to outfielder conversion) kind of hit/power/approach combination that makes you want to rush him to the big leagues as a right fielder. I’d draft him with high confidence as a mid-first round pick — could rise to top ten, easily — as a catcher, obviously a little bit lower as an outfielder (where there’s way more competition in this draft class, both prep and college). Lots of rumblings that he wants to move to the outfield ASAP to speed up his developmental timeline. That’s a fun twist on the usual team-first approach to that kind of thing.
College Ball’s Best Relief Prospects
Here’s a somewhat bizarre followup question that ties the bullpen to the draft talk from the other day. Top pure reliever in the draft is Nick Burdi from Louisville. I saw him last year and should see him again this year. He is pretty damn good, easily the hardest thrower I’ve ever seen up close. I don’t think I’d ever take a reliever in the first round, but at 47…maybe.
Louisville JR RHP Nick Burdi: 95-99 FB, 100-102 peak; plus 88-93 SL; passable CU, but doesn’t need it in relief role; much improved command, inconsistent but better; 6-4, 225 pounds
2012: 5.56 K/9 | 3.97 BB/9 | 4.33 FIP | 22.2 IP
2013: 15.90 K/9 | 3.28 BB/9 | 1.31 FIP | 35.2 IP
15.90 K/9 last year isn’t a typo. He should be ready to pitch in the big leagues by next season (2015), but could conceivably be up in 2014, especially considering the relative low-mileage on his arm. Cost-certainty in the bullpen is a nice thing, so if you can get an excellent late-inning reliever at a low price for the next six years…maybe. I think there will be better options at the point — seriously, this class is looking really deep in the first few rounds — but somebody to think about.
Here’s another total draft wild card to keep in mind: San Diego State RHP Michael Cederoth.
JR RHP Michael Cederoth: 93-97 FB, 100 peak; average 73-80 CB, flashes better; 79-85 SL flashes plus; threw above-average CU in past, but hasn’t shown it yet in 2014; has some command issues stemming from inconsistent mechanics; 6-6, 200 pounds
2012: 8.55 K/9 | 6.15 BB/9 | 3.62 FIP | 67.1 IP
2013: 10.57 K/9 | 4.44 BB/9 | 3.07 FIP | 95.1 IP
Numbers aren’t obviously as dominant as Burdi’s, but that can at least be partially explained by him being a starter and not a closer. He made one start this year before being moved to the bullpen. I lump him together with Burdi because they are pretty comfortably the two hardest throwers in this year’s college class, but I think they are two very different prospects. Burdi strikes me as really safe: he’s going to be a good reliever, maybe a great one, but that’s almost certainly his role in the big leagues. Maybe you give him a tiny shot at starting, but the odds are against him. Cederoth is far less safe, but comes with the upside of a big-time starter…if he puts it all together. PG has compared him to Kevin Gausman in the past, but the industry is down on him now (based on what I’ve heard) relative to where they’ve been in the past. I do think it’s fair to wonder what kind of numbers he would have put up as a reliever; perhaps the gap in perception for some wouldn’t be as great. Great relievers are often made and not born. Burdi looks like an exception — he was born to close in the bigs — but Cederoth could be that guy who just couldn’t figure it out as a starter yet thrived in short bursts coming out of the bullpen.
All that said, Cederoth is less likely to be there later on (i.e. after 7) than Burdi (I think), so the whole comparison might be moot anyway. A big guy like him with a plus-plus fastball, potential plus slider, and a usable second breaking ball (and maybe change) is intriguing to pro teams just as he is to me…not like I’m the only one out there dreaming he falls and you’ve got a steal. Somebody will wise up and take him before he becomes too great of a steal…and yet he still could/should pay off big time for them.
Early First Round Prospect Timelines
[Trea] Turner on the Kris Bryant track would be great. Might be aggressive, but would love to see him up to AA by his first full year (2015) and potentially challenging for a big league spot by 2016. I know the hit tool isn’t for everybody, but I think the swing works, the hands definitely work, and his overall balance and approach look fine.
Think [Tyler] Beede could be more of a 2017 arrival as you mention since he has some clear things to work on (though he seems to be working through said things quite well so far this year). I think [Jacob] Gatewood’s best case scenario developmentally — and a decent physical comp, by the way — is what we’re seeing with Carlos Correa now. Drafted in 2014 (rookie ball all the way, chance at W-Port [Phillies short-season affiliate] down the stretch if all goes well), Low-A to start 2015, and then quite possibly one level per year all the way through. That would mean AAA by 2018, so maybe a September ’18 callup and ready for prime time in 2019.
Most Likely Top Ten Pick HS Pitchers
Also probably time to add one more name to the list at 7. I mentioned three HS arms as consensus favorites a while back (Kolek, Aiken, and my man TOUKI), but I think it’s appropriate to add Grant Holmes now. He’s been pretty great so far in the early going with the latest rumors of him hitting triple digits in his last start. I wasn’t as excited about him as most because there’s not much projection to him — he’s 6-1, 210 pounds — but, like Kolek, his present stuff may be good enough that it doesn’t matter. Not quite going there with the comp just yet, but the last HS arm with little projection and similar present stuff like Holmes that I can remember is Dylan Bundy…just saying.