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Conference USA 2015 MLB Draft All-Prospect Team

Rice SR C John Clay Reeves
Florida Atlantic rSO 1B Esteban Puerta
Charlotte SR 2B Brad Elwood
Louisiana Tech rJR SS Taylor Love
Florida International JR 3B Edwin Rios
Florida Atlantic JR OF Brendon Sanger
Florida Atlantic JR OF Roman Collins
Middle Tennessee State JR OF Ronnie Jebavy

Rice SO RHP Jon Duplantier
Rice rJR RHP Jordan Stephens
Texas-San Antonio JR RHP Brock Hartson
Florida Atlantic JR RHP Seth McGarry
Rice rFR RHP Andrew Dunlap

A pair of solid senior signs in John Clay Reeves (Rice) and Michael Adkins (Middle Tennessee State) highlight Conference USA’s 2015 crop of draft-eligible catchers. Reeves is a mature defender with enough pop to profile somewhere between a fringe starter or high-level backup. As an elite defender and light bat, Adkins fits the more traditional future backup catcher profile. A gamble on upside at the position could lead you to rJR C Esteban Tresgallo (UAB), a steady glove with as yet unrealized promise at the plate. The Miami transfer held his own as a freshman (.243/.335/.379 in 140 AB), but almost two years of lost developmental time make him a far bigger mystery at this point than most (maybe all) fourth-year college players. It could be a good year for Estebans in C-USA as another hitter by the same first name ranks as my favorite first base prospect in the conference. That would be rSO 1B Esteban Puerta (Florida Atlantic), a smart, patient hitter with breakout potential. He gets the nod over a thin overall group, though the power upsides of JR 1B Ryne Dean (Marshall) and SR 1B Ryan Church (Western Kentucky) are fun to dream on.

Neither SR 2B/OF Brad Elwood (Charlotte) nor SR 2B/SS Ford Stainback (Rice) experienced the breakthrough junior season that many (like me) expected in 2014. Both players seemed on the verge of finding a way to combine their steady defense, plate discipline, and emerging pop into something draft-worthy, but saw their numbers take a dive in their first year of collegiate draft-eligibility. Elwood missed a significant portion of the season due to injury, so his dip in production can be more easily explained away; the clearer explanation as to why he slumped in 2014 is partially why I have him ahead of Stainback on this list. Another more substantial reason is Elwood’s edge in power, though neither player figures to have anything but below-average power as a professional. We’re now at over 100 words on two players with utility infielder ceilings with very long roads ahead to even get to that point, so let’s call it a day and move on.

I’m a big fan of rJR SS/2B Taylor Love (Louisiana Tech) for his blend of patience, speed, defense, and sneaky pop. Along with JR SS/OF Leon Byrd (Rice), he’s probably the player with the highest probability of reaching his destiny as a big league utility infielder on the list. Byrd has a strong argument for top prospect in the middle infield group due to his plus speed and positional versatility (2B, SS, CF). He has the exact type of skill set that is easy to see working in the big leagues for years. In between Love and Byrd stands rJR SS Jason McMurray (Old Dominion), a speculative inclusion that ranks highly for the overwhelmingly positive things I’ve heard about his power/speed mix.

Then there’s SR SS Julius Gaines (Florida International), a player that ranks among the most famous in all of college baseball for those that obsessively follow this stuff as much as I assume anybody currently reading does. Gaines has been on the prospect radar for as long as my sleep-deprived mind can remember. I actually had Gaines ranked as high as fifth among all college shortstops on a mid-season shortstop follow list from last year. That’s after having him ranked fifth in the 2011 HS shortstop rankings. It should be mentioned, however, that said list turned out to be littered with busts from every angle. I don’t even know how I’d answer if somebody asked me how to retroactively rank the HS shortstops from 2011. It would go Francisco Lindor (big gap), Trevor Story (another gap), and…somebody else. Chris Mariscal, maybe? Anyway, I think a lot of what was said about Gaines back in high school holds true today…

There are about a dozen prep shortstops who can realistically lay claim to “potential big league shortstop,” a statement that is more about their defensive futures than any kind of upside at the plate. When projecting shortstops long-term, defense is king. If there is one thing we are sure Gaines can do, it’s defense. How the bat develops is a whole other story, but his range and hands at short are so good that his hit tool is almost an afterthought. Almost.

Gaines can still field, throw, and run (though not as efficiently as you’d like to see), but the jury remains out on how much upside he brings with the stick. The track record to this point suggests his bat will keep his ultimate ceiling in utility infielder territory, but a big senior season could change smart minds in a hurry. I can’t personally talk about Gaines without mentioning that he was part of what I have to believe will go down as a historically great 2011 Boston Red Sox draft class. Matt Barnes, Blake Swihart, Henry Owens, Jackie Bradley, and Mookie Betts were all taken within Boston’s first eight picks. Underrated and potentially useful big leaguers Travis Shaw and Noe Ramirez (also within those first eight picks) were also brought into the fold. That class also produced one of the stronger things written on this site, though I don’t personally take much credit for seeing great things ahead then as it didn’t take a genius to appreciate what the Sox were doing in real time.

I’m very curious to see what path JR 3B/2B Edwin Rios eventually takes as he embarks on a pro career. He’s a viable defensive option at third, second, or a corner outfield spot, and the ability to play all those spots could be his ticket to a long career. I’ve gotten mixed reviews on his glove at each spot as some have argued him as a third baseman only (too slow for an outfield corner, not athletic enough for second), some have said he could work as a “big second baseman,” and others have lobbied for him moving out of the dirt entirely in order to fast track a bat that they believe in more than most. I’d send him out as a primary third baseman for now, but not before working him out at second to see what he’s got going on at the keystone up close. The bat should play quite nicely at either infield spot; so much so, in fact, that the argument that he could even profile as an average or better hitter as a left fielder is not without merit. Rios has many fans who swear by his hit tool and raw physical strength, but I’m a little hesitant (as always) to prop up a guy with so much swing-and-miss to his game. If Rios can clean up his approach a bit, then he could find himself in the top five round mix as a power bat with the chance to play an important defensive position. If not, then he’ll fall back into the much larger collection of big power/questionable approach hitters who may be a good pro hitting instructor away from figuring it out or…not. I lean towards the former since I’m a sunny optimist (and, more honestly, because a lot of smart people I know have vouched for Rios blowing up this year), so stay tuned.

Rios’ teammate at Florida International rSR 3B Josh Anderson is a pretty darn solid ballplayer in his own right. I’d actually go so far as to call him one of my favorite under-the-radar prospects in college ball and a potential high-level senior sign come June. He’s a natural born hitter with average raw power, average defense at third, above-average athleticism and a really strong arm. I haven’t seen or read anything about this, so consider it entirely my own speculation but I wonder if a team might draft him somewhere between rounds six to ten with the dual purpose of saving a little bit of money and stealing an undervalued asset who could be a prime candidate to convert to catching. Anderson is already 22, so maybe he’s past the age when a difficult position switch makes sense – calling a 22-year old “past the age…” when I’m 10 months short of 30 pains me, if you were wondering – but the physical profile, current defense skill set, and makeup all add up to a potentially very rewarding gamble. A player who has made the opposite move over the years, but should still receive draft consideration as a senior sign is SR 3B/1B Bre’shon Kimbell (Louisiana Tech). The former acclaimed high school catcher has had a career that oddly parallels the aforementioned Julius Gaines. Both Kimbell and Gaines went from serious high school prospects to big fish in relatively small ponds (no offense intended towards FIU and La Tech) before underwhelming on the whole during their time at school despite showing flashes of what made them so highly sought after once upon a time. Like Gaines, the quick report on Kimbell from high school holds true today…

Kimbell is unusually strong, very athletic, and a gifted defender. He also has shown big raw power in the past, but inconsistencies with his swing mechanics make his trips to the plate hit or miss, no pun intended. Some good pro coaching could turn him into a high level pro prospect in short order. Also, BreShon – a fella with a name like that is obviously destined for greatness, even though I sometimes read it as Bre$hon.

I’d most like to see a team go all-in on Kimbell one way or another. If that means moving him back behind the plate and doing whatever possible to make catching work for him, so be it. If it means fully embracing his weird but wonderful defensive profile (C, 1B/3B, LF/RF), then even better. Interestingly enough, the two names below Kimbell on this list could experience similar professional fates. JR 3B PJ Higgins and rJR 3B/SS Nick Lustrino (Old Dominion, both) are both multi-talented defenders capable of playing a variety of spots around the diamond. Higgins is the closer comparison as he’s seen as a potential C/2B/3B/OF at the next level. Lustrino is more of an infielder at present, but I’ve heard from interested observers who saw him dating back to his Temple days that he could be an interesting catching conversion project if he finds a team willing to take a risk on him.

SR OF Connor Barron completes the triumvirate of top notch high school prospects from 2011 turned last chance senior sign types in 2015. Barron, like Julius Gaines and Bre’Shon Kimbell before him, was a high school prospect that everybody knew and loved. He was a primary shortstop back in the day who just so happened to fall one spot behind Gaines on the 2011 HS shortstop rankings. Back then I’m fairly sure I was the low man on him out of just about anybody, but that was mostly the byproduct of me getting to him as a prospect kind of late and having less information on him than most of his peers. Here’s the old report…

It is easy to see why Barron has been one of the draft’s fastest risers this spring. He has great speed, a strong arm, and a big league frame that makes projecting his bat an easy relative to many of his draft class peers. The Reid Brignac comps are popular, and with good reason.

There were two truly embarrassing typos in the three quoted sentences above. Both were legitimate typing errors rather than me being an ungood writing guy, but still. I debated on whether to leave them or not before deciding to save myself some shame by fixing them. ANYWAY. Barron remains as tooled-up as ever, but the results to date have simply not been good. All those who saw him this past summer came away encouraged, so there’s hope yet that he’ll fulfill at least some of the promise he showed as a teen. Right now he’s the classic do-everything player who literally can do it all as a ballplayer….except hit. Years of experience following baseball has me convinced that – you might want to sit down for this revelation – hitting is a really, really important part of the game. If Barron’s progress is real, watch out. If not, then I think the smart thing to do is to spend a little time appreciating how fantastic an athlete he is while also contemplating how even athletes in the top .001% of the country’s population can struggle with a skill that I maintain is the hardest repeatable act in sport. Hitting is really, really hard. Anthony Hewitt, a plus-plus athlete with all-world makeup, defines this line of thought perfectly. Reflecting on this is what makes baseball such a great game.

JR OF/2B Brandon Sanger (Florida Atlantic) is a lot of fun to watch as a hitter. He’s a high-contact bat with above-average raw power and average or better speed. Beyond that, Sanger is the kind of player that is tough for me to write about because he’s just so darn well-rounded that his game borders on boring at times. He gets on base so often that you begin to take for granted his outstanding plate discipline. He wears out the gaps as well as almost any other hitter in the country. If he could be counted on playing average or better defense at second base professionally – and I’m not ruling this out, but hedging my bets with the corner outfield projection because that’s what people who have seen him more than I have recommended – then he’d be at or near the top of my list of “Why are we not including this guy among the nation’s best position player prospects?” players. As a corner outfielder he’s a little less exciting, but still one of my favorite bats to watch this spring.

If you’ve read previous lists, you might have come to realize that I don’t fear recent transfers who haven’t proven anything at the D1 level. The fact that this list features JR OF Roman Collins (Florida Atlantic) and JR OF Ronnie Jebavy (Middle Tennessee State) in the all-prospect outfield should reinforce the point. Collins is a guy who falls out of bed ready to hit each morning. I don’t doubt that his big raw power will continue to play against more advanced arms. Jebavy is best known for his extreme athleticism, speed, arm strength, and center field range. Both players haven’t done it on the big stage yet, but have shown enough ability over the years to earn their spot here.

Rice has some pitching. Let’s get that out of the way first. The rest of the conference has some quality arms – JR RHP Brock Hartson (Texas-San Antonio), JR RHP Kyle Miller (Florida Atlantic), rSO LHP Dylan Munger (UAB), and rSO RHP Gianni Zayas (Florida International) stand out as favorites – but it’s still Rice’s world and every other pitching staff is playing for second. SO RHP Jon Duplantier (Rice) has all the elements of a big league starting pitcher: size (6-4, 210), arm speed (87-94 FB, 95 peak), a varied and effective offspeed mix (good CU and CB, average but improving SL), and developing command. His control is the only thing at this point holding him back. rJR RHP Jordan Stephens (Rice) doesn’t have that problem, but instead faces questions about his return from Tommy John surgery and his relative lack of size and physicality (6-1, 185 pounds). If his curve finds its way back as he returns to full health, he’s got a shot to overtake Duplantier as the conference’s highest drafted arm. rFR RHP Andrew Dunlap (Rice) makes up for his lack of height (5-11, 210 pounds) and relative inexperience on the mound with a blazing fastball (lives mid-90s, 97-98 peak) that has proven unusually difficult to square up. rJR RHP Matt Ditman (Rice) doesn’t bring the same heat (upper-80s, mostly), but consistently has put up video game numbers (10.04 K/9 and 1.57 BB/9 with a 1.83 ERA in 68 IP last year) while leaning on a nasty spike-curve. A little bit further down the list are JR LHP Blake Fox (Rice) and JR RHP Kevin McCanna (Rice), a pair of pitchers that fit the textbook definition of “crafty” (mid-to upper-80s FB, offspeed pitches for days, love to work backwards, stellar command) down to the letter. SR RHP Trevor Teykl (Rice) is the last Owl listed, but there’s really no shame in that since he’d be many schools’ top 2015 pitching prospect. His size (6-7, 225 pounds), fastball (88-92), and results (8.54 K/9 and 1.62 BB/9 in 77 IP) all reflect well on his pro prospects.

Lighting round for the non-Rice arms of note! Hartson has an outstanding mid-80s changeup and overall profile that reminds me some of my old favorite Nick Tropeano. JR RHP Seth McGarry (Florida Atlantic) should be a quick-moving reliever with his power stuff (mid-90s FB, 97 peak and plus low-80s SL). Miller is a two-way player who hasn’t pitched a ton but has a fresh arm, plenty of athleticism, and has flashes a legit fastball (mid-90s) when given a shot. Munger is another crafty lefty with a good frame and really strong first year numbers. Zayas might be a little lost in the shuffle as an incoming transfer from NC State, but the possibility of three above-average or better pitches with solid command is in play.

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Hitting 

  1. Florida Atlantic JR OF/2B Brendon Sanger
  2. Florida Atlantic JR OF Roman Collins
  3. Florida International JR 3B/2B Edwin Rios
  4. Middle Tennessee State JR OF Ronnie Jebavy
  5. Florida International rSR 3B Josh Anderson
  6. Western Kentucky JR OF/LHP Anderson Miller
  7. Louisiana Tech rJR SS/2B Taylor Love
  8. Rice SR C John Clay Reeves
  9. Old Dominion rJR SS Jason McMurray
  10. Rice JR SS/OF Leon Byrd
  11. Florida International SR SS Julius Gaines
  12. Southern Mississippi SR OF Connor Barron
  13. Florida Atlantic JR OF Christian Dicks
  14. Southern Mississippi JR 3B/1B Chase Scott
  15. Louisiana Tech SR 3B/1B Bre’shon Kimbell
  16. Old Dominion SR OF/1B Taylor Ostrich
  17. Western Kentucky SR SS Cody Wofford
  18. Middle Tennessee State SR C/RHP Michael Adkins
  19. UAB rJR C Esteban Tresgallo
  20. Florida International SR OF/1B Brian Portelli
  21. Old Dominion JR 3B PJ Higgins
  22. Old Dominion rJR 3B/SS Nick Lustrino
  23. Charlotte SR 2B/OF Brad Elwood
  24. Rice SR 2B/SS Ford Stainback
  25. Rice SR OF/1B Kirby Taylor
  26. Florida Atlantic SR SS Ricky Santiago
  27. Charlotte SR SS Derek Gallelo
  28. Florida Atlantic rSO 1B Esteban Puerta
  29. Marshall JR 1B Ryne Dean
  30. Western Kentucky SR 1B Ryan Church
  31. Middle Tennessee State SR SS Austin Bryant
  32. Western Kentucky rSR C Ryan Messex
  33. UAB JR C Mitch Williams
  34. Southern Mississippi SR C Austin Roussel
  35. Middle Tennessee State SR SS Dustin Delgado
  36. Southern Mississippi JR SS/1B Tim Lynch

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Pitching

  1. Rice SO RHP Jon Duplantier
  2. Rice rJR RHP Jordan Stephens
  3. Texas-San Antonio JR RHP Brock Hartson
  4. Florida Atlantic JR RHP Seth McGarry
  5. Rice rFR RHP/C Andrew Dunlap
  6. Rice rJR RHP Matt Ditman
  7. Florida Atlantic JR RHP Kyle Miller
  8. UAB rSO LHP Dylan Munger
  9. Rice JR LHP Blake Fox
  10. Rice JR RHP Kevin McCanna
  11. Middle Tennessee State SR LHP Johnathan Frebis
  12. Middle Tennessee State JR RHP/OF Heath Slatton
  13. Marshall JR RHP Chase Boster
  14. Rice SR RHP Trevor Teykl
  15. Southern Mississippi SR RHP Christian Talley
  16. Southern Mississippi rJR LHP Cody Livingston
  17. Marshall rSR RHP Kolin Stanley
  18. Marshall JR RHP Michael Taylor
  19. Florida International rSO RHP Gianni Zayas
  20. Middle Tennessee State JR RHP Garrett Ring
  21. Middle Tennessee State rSR RHP Keaton Baker
  22. Southern Mississippi rJR RHP/3B James McMahon
  23. Florida International JR LHP Brandon Diaz
  24. Middle Tennessee State rJR LHP Brandon Zajac
  25. Rice JR RHP Ryan McCarthy
  26. Charlotte JR RHP Brandon Casas
  27. Florida Atlantic SR RHP Drew Jackson
  28. Florida Atlantic SR RHP Cody Mizelle
  29. Charlotte rSO LHP Sean Geoghegan
  30. Charlotte JR RHP Micah Wells
  31. Florida Atlantic SR RHP Reily Monkman
  32. Florida Atlantic rSR LHP Bo Logan
  33. Marshall JR LHP Sam Hunter
  34. Rice JR RHP Austin Orewiler
  35. UAB SR RHP Alex Luna
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