It would take exceptionally disappointing seasons for any of Ian Happ, Dansby Swanson, and Alex Bregman to slip past this year’s draft’s first twenty-six picks and into the compensatory round. DJ Stewart’s margin for error isn’t as great, but it would still be a surprise to me to see him fall past the thirty-sixth and final pick of the draft’s first day. Beyond those four names, all bets are off. More bluntly, the fifth spot on this particular ranking of college bats is where things get weird.
Weird doesn’t have to be bad, so I have no problem being the high man on Michigan JR 3B Travis Maezes for now. His hit tool is legit, his power should play average or better, and he has the athleticism, arm strength, and instincts to be a really strong third baseman in the pros. Real life work commitments and frustration at the death of College Splits put me way behind on writing about last year’s draft. If I had written all that I wanted to, I assure you that many glowing pieces on Cal State Fullerton 3B Matt Chapman would have been written. I absolutely loved Chapman as a draft prospect and think he’ll be an above-average pro player for a long time. I don’t bring him up just to relive the past, of course; from a skills standpoint, Maezes reminds me a lot of Chapman. I swear that’s a comparison that I came by honestly through watching them both, hearing from smarter people than myself, and reading whatever has been written about them from the comfort of my couch. Then I looked at the numbers (top Maezes, bottom Chapman) and…
.307/.403/.444 with 54 BB/64 K in 530 PA
.295/.391/.443 with 73 BB/84 K in 702 PA
…whoa. That’s pretty good. Another player comparison that I’ve heard for Maezes that takes me back to my earliest days as a baseball fan is former Phillies 3B Dave Hollins, he of the 162 game average of .260/.358/.420 with 18 HR, 27 2B, 76 BB, and 113 K*.
South Carolina JR 2B Max Schrock could be added to the mix above and not be out of place in the least. His career line to date isn’t too far off from Chapman especially at .281/.381/.422 with 58 BB/45 K in 446 PA. A friend in the game recently compared him to another former Fullerton star, Tim Wallach. I’m not sure I see that since the body types, handedness, and home run power all seem off to me, but it’s something to think about. I’ve run into similar issues (minus the more manageable HR totals) with a David Freese (as a hitter) comparison for Schrock. One mainstream comp (I think, can’t remember where I first saw it) for Schrock is Kyle Seager. I like that comparison not only because it’s a decent enough lens to view Schrock as a prospect (again, however, I don’t think the power expectations fit – that’s something of a trend here), but also because it’s yet another excuse to talk about my appreciation for Kyle Seager. I’ve said a lot of inane stuff at this site over the years, but one of the few strokes of competency came back in March of 2009…
Seager’s well-rounded game (great plate discipline, slightly above-average power, good baserunner, high contact rate) make him a personal favorite of mine and as good a bet as any college hitter to settle in to a long career as a league average (at least) big leaguer.
My only regret is not going in harder back then when I knew Seager was going to be really good. I saw him play up close literally dozens of times during his time at North Carolina and a little nagging voice was always in my head telling me he was a better player than his far more famous teammate Dustin Ackley. I think if I had the guts (and, to a point, knowledge) that I now have back then, I would have at least given a few moments of honest consideration for putting Seager over Ackley on one of my all-important lists. Consideration would not have led to actually acting on it because Ackley was Ackley. That brings us full circle and gets me back to a far more comfortable place where I can talk about my misses rather than my hits: I absolutely LOVED Ackley, so, you know, win some lose some, right?
I’ve used Kyle Seager as a comp a few times in the past, for what it’s worth. The first was Brad Miller (“Seager with more defensive upside”), then it was Matt Reynolds (“a player in-between Seager and Chase Headley is a realistic ceiling”), and finally, one I completely forgot I wrote about even though it was published less than three months ago, came Clemson JR SS Tyler Krieger (“some scouting similarities between the two”). Neither the Miller nor the Reynolds examples make me cringe in hindsight, so I don’t feel too badly about going to the Kyle Seager comp well as often as I do. It’s been pretty good to me so far.
All that said, I’m not sure I’m completely on board with the Schrock/Seager comparison. I liken him more to a Mark Ellis type of hitter capable of giving you more or less league average production at the plate while making up the difference as needed with smart base running and steady defense. That’s an everyday player in the big leagues. Interesting to note that Miller (taken with pick 62), Reynolds (71), and Seager (82) were all off the board around the same range on draft day. That could very well be the window that Schrock (and perhaps Krieger) find themselves taken in this June. Getting a potential regular at second base with a late-second/early-third round pick would make any team really happy.
From the second-to-last day of 2014…
I’m sky high on Houston JR C Ian Rice, a transfer by way of Chipola who can really, really hit. If he shows enough behind the plate to convince teams he’s a catcher long-term (as I believe), there’s no telling how high he could rise by June. It’s just a hair too early to start stacking up prospects by position, but I’m very sure Rice will wind up higher on my board at that spot than anywhere else on the internet.
Nothing has changed since then to move me off my strong positive feelings towards Rice. If anything, I like him even more after hearing some positive things about his glove through the early stage of the college season. Now it’s time to kick back and wait until the rest of the draft internet catches up to how good Rice really is. While we wait for the world to recognize my brilliance, let’s kill some time with a quick tangent. The nice thing about liking a guy more than the consensus goes back to the buzz word you hear during every draft in every sport: value.
Value is a damn near impossible concept to pin down as it relates to an event as large and as filled with unknowns as the MLB Draft. I’ve always tried to avoid being overly critical of a team “overdrafting” a player because of the huge amount of uncertainty that exists when you’re working at an information deficit inherent with being privy to only one board (your own) yet simultaneously working around twenty-nine often non-rational actors on draft day. Even if you think you have some faint idea how other teams may have their boards lined up in the early going of a draft, that advantage only lasts so long. From the outside looking in we know even less. That’s one of the frustrating yet freeing things about being an outsider to the draft process.
If all the expert sites (BA, D1, PG, BP, ESPN, Fangraphs, etc.) have a player ranked in the fifties but he goes in the teens, the first instinct is to point, laugh, and declare the drafting team – not to appeal to authority or anything, but isn’t it crazy that the one collective group here with far more information than any of those outlets and way more on the line if they mess up such a big decision is the one we assume is wrong? — guilty of overdrafting the prospect. All of those major outlets (BA, PG, and likely the new-ish D1) have a ton of resources and arguably as much (if not more) of a league-wide feel for what draft boards could look like, so when they stack their final boards pre-draft it does serve a purpose. Nothing, of course, is written in stone.
My example from last year was Cole Tucker (who I’d like to preemptively note is an outstanding baseball player and very worthy early round draft prospect) going 24th to Pittsburgh. If I was misguidedly put in charge of a team’s draft, I would not have had a first round grade on Tucker. Baseball America, to use just one readily available source, had him at 84th overall heading into the draft. Their ranking was no more or less right or wrong than Pittsburgh’s. Player valuation is all over the place when it comes to amateur talent, as it should be. More to the value point, however, is the fact that Pittsburgh didn’t pick again until 39. If you really valued Tucker and believed the odds markedly decreased on him being available with that later pick, it’s worth it to “overdraft” your guy because the risk of losing him entirely is far more painful than getting your second choices at 24 and 39.
I’m as guilty as anybody (at times) of getting hung up on certain players that I hope my favorite team drafts (or avoids) in all the sports that matter to me. For example, I know far less about hockey than any other major sport, but if my hometown team passes up the guy I wanted them to draft in favor of some nobody, I’m going to react negatively. The fact that my research on both the guy I wanted them to draft and the nobody adds up to a grand total of fifteen combined minutes of reading whatever pre-draft coverage pops up first on Google (hopefully not from a site full of made-up scout quotes that the author didn’t even bother try to disguise in an original voice…not saying this happens in baseball, except that it does, it stinks, and I guess that’s how you get ahead [well, that and sucking up to writers on Twitter] at certain unnamed companies) and/or the hundreds (!) of seconds I’ll spend YouTube scouting (even though I know nothing beyond the very basics of the sport) is beside the point. Everybody wants to be an expert on draft day. So many opinions get thrown around on such highly speculative topics that just hitting on one correct scouting assessment has the positive impact of negating the dozens of misinformed, wrong-headed nonsense spewed all day. I support having the conviction to ride or die with your own personal draft rankings, but being snarky and chiding a team for overdrafting a player based solely on what you think was best for them without considering an alternate viewpoint feels unnecessarily parochial and naïve.
So, I hope Ian Rice receives his proper due as a draft prospect between now and June. If not, then I hope that the team I grew up with or a team that I’m assisting in draft coverage is able to take him later than I feel his skills deserve. That’s value, baby. In terms of draft stock he reminds me a little bit of an inverse version former Ole Miss and LSU-Eunice catcher Stuart Turner, who was known more for his glove than his bat. Turner hit enough to go in the third round (pick 78) to Minnesota in 2013. I see no reason why Rice can’t do the same. Another comparable prospect and player (minus handedness as a batter) is fellow 2013 draft pick (53rd overall) Andrew Knapp out of Cal. It would take Rice exceeding even my own sky high expectations to wind up in that draft range, but that’s why they play the games, right?
* I don’t include batting lines for scouting comps to create any unnecessary expectations for these players – it’s hard enough to compare any individual human being to another, let alone one ballplayer in the midst of a historic, “special vitamin” fueled era of offense to another in a far more muted offensive environment – but to give a reference point that highlights one possible viable outcome.