Illinois JR C Jason Goldstein
Michigan State SR 1B Ryan Krill
Maryland rSO 2B Brandon Lowe
Illinois rSO SS Adam Walton
Michigan JR 3B Travis Maezes
Michigan State JR OF Cameron Gibson
Iowa JR OF Joel Booker
Michigan SR OF Jackson Glines
Illinois JR LHP Tyler Jay
Indiana rSO RHP Jake Kelzer
Indiana JR LHP Scott Effross
Iowa JR RHP/C Blake Hickman
Maryland JR LHP Jake Drossner
I’ve noticed that I sometimes struggle when writing about players, hitters especially, that I really like. It’s almost like I don’t know what to say other than I just really, really like him. I just really, really like Maryland rSO 2B Brandon Lowe. His tools don’t jump out at you, but they aren’t half-bad, either: lots of tools in the 45 to 55 range including his glove at second, arm strength, and foot speed. It’s the bat, of course, that makes him an all-caps FAVORITE. Lowe’s hit tool is no joke
Watching Lowe hit is a joy. There’s plenty of bat speed, consistent hard contact from barrel to ball, and undeniable plus pitch recognition. His ability to make adjustments from at bat to at bat and his impressive bat control make him a potentially well above-average big league hitter. And he just flat produces at every stop. He reminds me a good deal of an old favorite, Tommy La Stella. One scout who knew I liked Lowe to an almost unhealthy degree threw a Nick Punto (bat only) comp on him. Most fans would probably take that as an insult, but we both knew it was a compliment. Punto, love him or hate him, lasted 14 years in the big leagues and made over $20 million along the way. Punto’s best full seasons (2006 and 2008) serve as interesting goal posts for what Lowe could do if/when he reaches the top of the mountain. In those years Punto hit around .285/.350/.375. In today’s game that’s a top ten big league hitter at second base. Maybe I’m not crazy enough to project a top ten at his position future for Lowe, but he’ll make an outstanding consolation prize for any team who misses/passes on Alex Bregman, the consensus top college second base prospect, this draft. I’m also not quite crazy enough to think Lowe’s draft ceiling will match that of another similar prospect (Tony Renda of Cal, who went 80th overall in 2012), but the skill sets share a lot of commonalities. Lowe is a little bit like Houston C Ian Rice for me; both players are higher (and will continue to be higher) on my rankings than I’d imagine they’ll get selected in June. Getting one or both with a pick in the middle of the single-digit rounds would be a major victory.
Slow starts have plagued the rest of the top second base prospects in the conference. Minnesota JR 2B/SS Connor Schaefbauer is the consummate heady, athletic steady fielder that you like to see manning the keystone. Like Ohio State JR 2B/3B Troy Kuhn, his cleanest path to the big leagues would be as a utility player capable of manning all the important infield spots. Indiana SR 2B/OF Casey Rodrigue was a sleeper of mine heading into last year after transferring in from LSU-Eunice, but he hasn’t made quite the impact I thought his tools would allow. But back to Lowe: I stayed up about fifteen minutes past my bedtime on a school night (!) to think about and then write about Lowe. That’s how much I like him. You might say things are getting serious between us.
Illinois JR C Jason Goldstein has scuffled to start the year, but that doesn’t dissuade me (much) of pumping him up as a quality big league contributor as he continues to develop. He’ll never be a plus offensively (though there is some bat speed to like here), but should be good enough to allow his strong defensive gifts to play. Michigan State SR C/1B Blaise Salter reminds me a little bit of Alex Bregman. I’ll pause for a second and let that ridiculous statement sink in. I’ve mentioned this before, but so many college-oriented analysts are quite vocal in their belief that Bregman will be able to stick at shortstop in the pros; pro guys, on the other hand, can’t wait to get him off the six-spot. As for Salter, most college guys you read and listen to will push the “hey, he’s improved a lot behind the plate and, sure, he’s not the most agile guy back there, but he’s a leader and pitchers like him, so maybe it’ll work” agenda. That’s cool and all, but then pro guys, literally to a man, respond with NOPE. I have him listed as a catcher for now because I think his drafting team will at least give it a shot. That’s because he might – and I can’t emphasis might enough – be playable back there, but also because it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine his bat playing anywhere else. It’s catcher or bust for Salter if he wants to climb the pro ladder. I actually like the hit tool more than most and think he’s a better athlete than given credit for, but it’ll come down to whether or not he’ll make enough contact to allow his plus power to go to use.
There are no first basemen of note in the Big 10 this year. I hate saying that and you know I’m rooting for somebody to emerge, but it doesn’t look great right now. I’ve been a fan of Michigan State SR 1B Ryan Krill in the past, but supporting that cause is getting harder and harder to justify as the years pass. Krill was a member of the 2011 MLB Draft class of high school first basemen that has flopped in a big way so far. It’s up to Travis Harrison (who I absolutely loved) to rediscover his power and Dan Vogelbach* (who I liked a lot then and still like today) to stay in reasonably good shape to carry this sad group of first basemen out of the doldrums. Krill can still bring the thunder, but contact is a problem and he too often gets himself in bad hitting counts. Here was his HS report from this very site back in the day…
Krill is another prospect I was slow to come around on, but I’m buying into his mix of strong defensive tools, super athleticism, and big upside with the bat. Like Jacob Anderson before him, he’s got the wheels and instincts to play some outfield as a pro. There is enough to like about Krill that you can dream on him being a league average hitter and above-average glove at first down the line if everything works out. That may not sound all that sexy, and there is plenty of risk involved with assuming “everything works out,” but you have to remember how much you have to hit if you want to play first base in the bigs. As much as I like Krill now, I’ll be the first to admit that each and every one of these mid-round high school first basemen will all have to make major strides in pro ball (i.e. have “everything work out”) to begin to reach their upper level projections. Life is tough when you don’t have a fallback plan, I guess.
Ohio State JR 1B/OF Zach Ratcliff is another former big-time HS prospect that hasn’t delivered in college. These are typically the guys I cling to long after they’ve shown they are overmatched. I’m trying to hang in there, honest.
The shortstop group in the conference is similar to the second baseman if you allow for the omission of a Brandon Lowe type prospect at the top. Illinois rSO SS Adam Walton comes closest to taking on that role as a fellow third-year sophomore with clear professional tools (speed, glove). I’ve neither seen nor heard much about Walton as a pro prospect just yet, but players who look like safe bets to stay up the middle with his kind of wheels and pop tend to get noticed over time.
I’ve written about Michigan JR 3B/SS Travis Maezes already, so I’ll just give the short version here: his skill set reminds me of the 25th pick of last year’s draft, Matt Chapman. The biggest noticeable difference in their games comes down to arm strength. Maezes has an outstanding arm, but it’s not in the same class as Chapman’s; that’s how crazy Chapman’s arm is. Besides that, the similarities are striking. I think Maezes has a chance to put an average hit tool with average power (maybe a half-grade above in each area) to good use as a professional ballplayer. Even if he doesn’t hit as much as I’ll think, his defensive value (good at third and playable at short, with intriguing unseen upside at 2B and C) should make him a positive player. It’s not the typical profile we think of as “high-floor,” but it works. I’ve talked to a few people who think I’m overstating Maezes’ upside as a pro. That’s fine and it’s relevant and I’m happy to hear from dissenting viewpoints. What I often hear next is what interests me the most. The majority of those who say I’m too high on Maezes have gone on to praise either Maryland JR 3B Jose Cuas or Ohio State 3B/1B Jake Bosiokovic as the better prospect. It’s not this simplistic, but I feel like if we had to boil those conversations down it would be an upside vs certainty debate. I think Maezes’ upside rivals those guys and he’s far more certain to produce positive value going forward; they think Maezes’ upside is limited when compared to Cuas and Bosiokovic, and that he’s far less likely (relative to what I’ve said) to reach that lesser ceiling anyway. Maybe. I get the appeal of Cuas (big raw power and a world of defensive tools) and Bosiokovic (athletic 6-6, 220 pound men who can reasonably stick at third are a rare breed), but, despite what I’ve heard, my loyalty to Maezes is unwavering. (For the record, I realize I’m not going out on a limb here and I’m not patting myself on the back for liking a player who is the consensus top third basemen in the conference. I’m just trying to share some opposing views I’ve personally heard. Also, I do think I like him more than most, but arguing degrees of “like” is a pretty silly exercise.)
In this class I look at Michigan State JR OF Cameron Gibson and see a slam dunk top five round draft prospect with the chance to play his way even higher (round two?). Judged solely as a hitter, however, smart people I’ve talked to liken him more to recent college players like Greg Allen, Tyler Holt, Mark Payton, and Taylor Dugas. Those guys, all favorites of mine once upon a time, were drafted in the sixth, fifth, seventh, and eighth rounds, respectively. I’m not sure what that necessarily says about Gibson’s draft stock (if anything!), so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. The “as a hitter” qualifier above is not to be missed. Gibson’s range in center isn’t nearly on the level of any of those players, with one scout simply telling me he was “fine in center, better in a corner.” That corners figures to be left field as his arm is his one clearly below-average tool. Everything else could play average or better making the strong, athletic Gibson a potential regular if he can stick in center. If not, then he could make it work as a regular left fielder in today’s new world order of reduced offense. A plus glove with upside at the plate in left is a property worth investing in these days. An unexpected but amusing comparison I’ve heard for Gibson’s ceiling is Brady Anderson (sans 50 HR season). I like it, though I’m not sure if projecting Anderson’s plate discipline (remember it being good, but shocked how good) on any young hitter is fair.
Iowa JR OF Joel Booker remains a bit of a mystery man to me, but crazy speed, premium athleticism, and considerable arm strength paint the picture of a strong overall prospect. Booker destroyed junior college ball the past two seasons (.403/.451/.699 last year) and has adjusted fairly well to big time college ball so far this year. The big question even as he was annihilating juco pitching was how his high-contact, minimal bases on ball approach would play as the competition tightened. It’s still a concern, but it might just be one of those tradeoffs we have to accept in a flawed prospect. Booker’s aggression nature defines him at the plate; pushing him into more of a leadoff approach could neuter his unusually adept bat-to-ball ability just as easily as it could take him to the next level as a prospect.
All of those names mentioned in the Cameron Gibson paragraph (Allen, Holt, Payton, Dugas) might better apply to Michigan SR OF Jackson Glines. Glines can chase balls down in center with the best of them where he is able to use his above-average foot speed and instincts to get balls others can’t. There aren’t too many senior signs in the country with his kind of future. Speed, CF range, patience, and pop = FAVORITE.
The next tier down of outfielders still has some players to watch. Maryland JR OF LaMonte Wade (arm, power, approach) has upside rivaled only by Cam Gibson among his outfield peers. Indiana rSR OF Scott Donley rolls out of bed ready to hit. Iowa SR OF/2B Eric Toole has speed, Maryland JR OF Anthony Papio has power, and Purdue JR OF Kyle Johnson has a little bit of everything, size included (6-5, 215).
I’m trying to find the right fact that shows how impressive the Big 10’s pitching this year is. Let’s see which sums it up the best…
The top ranked arm, Illinois JR LHP Tyler Jay, is an easy first round talent who could keep on striking guys out all the way into the top ten. That could be reason enough to be impressed with the Big 10’s pitching, but, wait, there’s more.
Jay is just one of literally a half-dozen lefthanded pitchers that I have at peaking with their fastballs at 94 or better. There’s Jay (97), Indiana JR LHP Scott Effross (94), Maryland JR LHP Jake Drossner (95), Maryland JR LHP Alex Robinson (96), Minnesota JR LHP Dalton Sawyer (94), and Illinois JR LHP Kevin Duchene (94).
One of my quick sorting tools when I’m looking at a class a year or more out (like I just finished up doing with the college class of 2016) is to start with any pitcher capable of throwing three average or better pitches. I had to do the same thing when figuring out how to prioritize this follow list. Jay, Indiana rSO RHP Jake Kelzer, Effross, Iowa JR RHP Blake Hickman, Drossner, Michigan JR RHP/3B Jacob Cronenworth, Duchene, Michigan State SR RHP Mick VanVossen, and Indiana JR RHP Christian Morris all fit the bill based on my notes.
The one-two-three punch of Jay, Hickman, and Cronenworth give the conference as much athleticism and theoretical two-way ability as any group of pitchers as you’d like to see. Jay is a plus athlete with legitimate plus speed, Hickman was once an honest to goodness catching prospect with big power and a plus arm (duh), and, despite a fascinating three-pitch mix (88-92, 94 peak; above-average breaking ball; above-average mid-80s split-CU) Cronenberg might currently be a better prospect as a position player (speed, arm strength, power). As somebody who values athleticism in pitchers very, very highly, this is some exciting stuff.
I’ve managed to namecheck eleven different pitchers so far without mentioning a certain SO RHP at Ohio State by the name of Travis Lakins. All Lakins is capable of is throwing darting mid-90s fastballs with above-average command, an average curve that flashes plus, and a raw but steadily improving changeup. No biggie.
To continue the “how can a guy this good be ranked so low?” theme, there’s are a pair of pitchers just outside of the top ten who have both hit as high as 97 with impressive breaking balls. That would be Maryland JR RHP Jared Price and Ohio State rSO RHP Shea Murray.
The aforementioned Duchene is next with his lively four-pitch mix and stellar track record of success. Then there’s Michigan State rSO LHP Cameron Vieaux, another southpaw who can get swings and misses both with the heat (88-92) and an above-average breaker (CB). It doesn’t hurt that he’s a 6-5, 200 pound athletic son of a gun, either.
I could go on and on and on. A few more quick notes…
I’m as shocked as anybody that I didn’t have Hickman, a massive personal favorite, behind Jay in the two spot. Those Indiana arms (Kelzer and Effross) just got too much love for the smart folks I talked to. Kelzer is the rare big pitcher (6-8, 235) with the fluidity and athleticism in his movements as a smaller man. I’ve yet to hear/see of a true offspeed pitch of note (he’s got the good hard slider and a promising slower curve), but something a touch softer (change, splitter) would be nice. Effross is a more traditionally easy to like prospect: lefthanded, damn good change, misses bats.
Maryland could stock a AA bullpen tomorrow. Jake Drossner has the stuff to start, but Alex Robinson, Kevin Mooney, Jared Price, and Zach Morris (and his comically oversized cell phone) all have at least the fastball/breaking ball combination that could get good pro hitters out right now.
(I wrote this about Jay earlier, but seeing as he’s the top guy I figure it didn’t hurt to run it again)
I guess I just find the case of Jay continuously flying just under the radar to be more bizarre than anything. I’m almost at the point where I’m starting to question what negatives I’m missing. A smart team in the mid- to late-first round is going to get a crazy value when Jay inevitably slips due to the unknown of how he’ll hold up as a starter. Between his extreme athleticism, a repertoire bursting at the seams with above-average to plus offerings (plus FB, above-average CB that flashes plus, above-average SL that flashes plus, average or better CU with plus upside), and dominant results to date at the college level (reliever or not), there’s little doubt in my mind that Jay can do big things in a big league rotation sooner rather than later. There two questions that will need to be answered as he gets stretched out as a starter will be how effective he’ll be going through lineups multiple times (with the depth of his arsenal I’m confident he’ll be fine here) and how hot his fastball will remain (and how crisp his breaking stuff stays) when pitch counts climb. That’s a tough one to answer at the present moment, but the athleticism, balance, and tempo in Jay’s delivery give me hope.
*I don’t know if this comp has ever been made – Google doesn’t seem to think so – but I see a lot of Brett Wallace, for better or worse, in Vogelbach. I say for better despite Wallace not working out professionally because I’m sure he was a well above-average first base bat in one of our world’s parallel universes. Or something like that. Anyway, Vogelbach’s minor league numbers to date: .285/.375/.481. Wallace is a career .304/.376/.480 minor league hitter. Hmm.
2015 MLB Draft Talent – Hitting
- Michigan JR 3B/SS Travis Maezes
- Maryland rSO 2B Brandon Lowe
- Michigan State JR OF Cameron Gibson
- Maryland JR 3B Jose Cuas
- Iowa JR OF Joel Booker
- Illinois JR C Jason Goldstein
- Michigan SR OF Jackson Glines
- Maryland JR OF/LHP LaMonte Wade
- Illinois rSO SS Adam Walton
- Michigan State SR C/1B Blaise Salter
- Indiana rSR OF Scott Donley
- Michigan State SR 1B Ryan Krill
- Minnesota JR 2B/SS Connor Schaefbauer
- Ohio State JR 2B/3B Troy Kuhn
- Iowa SR OF/2B Eric Toole
- Nebraska SR C Tanner Lubach
- Maryland JR OF Anthony Papio
- Indiana SR C/OF Brian Hartong
- Purdue JR OF/RHP Kyle Johnson
- Minnesota SR OF Jake Bergren
- Nebraska SR OF Austin Darby
- Illinois SR 1B/SS David Kerian
- Nebraska SR 3B/1B Blake Headley
- Maryland JR C Kevin Martir
- Ohio State JR 3B/1B Jake Bosiokovic
- Northwestern rSR C Scott Heelan
- Minnesota rSR SS Michael Handel
- Rutgers SR OF Vinny Zarrillo
- Iowa JR 1B/RHP Tyler Peyton
- Indiana SR 2B/OF Casey Rodrigue
- Iowa SR OF Dan Potempa
- Illinois SR OF Casey Fletcher
- Ohio State SR C Aaron Gretz
- Nebraska JR 2B/SS Jake Placzek
- Nebraska SR SS Steven Reveles
- Iowa rSR 2B Jake Mangler
- Ohio State SR C Connor Sabanosh
- Penn State JR OF James Coates
- Ohio State JR 1B/OF Zach Ratcliff
- Michigan SR C/OF Kevin White
- Purdue JR 2B Michael Vilardo
2015 MLB Draft Talent – Pitching
- Illinois JR LHP Tyler Jay
- Indiana rSO RHP Jake Kelzer
- Indiana JR LHP Scott Effross
- Iowa JR RHP/C Blake Hickman
- Maryland JR LHP Jake Drossner
- Ohio State SO RHP Travis Lakins
- Maryland JR LHP Alex Robinson
- Maryland JR RHP Kevin Mooney
- Minnesota JR LHP Dalton Sawyer
- Michigan JR RHP/3B Jacob Cronenworth
- Maryland JR RHP Jared Price
- Ohio State rSO RHP Shea Murray
- Illinois JR LHP Kevin Duchene
- Michigan State rSO LHP Cameron Vieaux
- Nebraska SR RHP Josh Roeder
- Michigan State SR RHP Mick VanVossen
- Minnesota rJR RHP Lance Thonvold
- Nebraska JR RHP Colton Howell
- Illinois rSR RHP Drasen Johnson
- Indiana SR RHP Luke Harrison
- Iowa JR RHP Calvin Mathews
- Michigan State JR LHP Anthony Misiewicz
- Indiana JR RHP Christian Morris
- Iowa JR RHP Tyler Radtke
- Maryland rJR LHP Zach Morris
- Ohio State SR RHP Trace Dempsey
- Illinois rSR RHP/2B Reid Roper
- Northwestern SR RHP Brandon Magallones
- Nebraska SR LHP Kyle Kubat
- Michigan JR LHP Evan Hill
- Ohio State SR LHP Ryan Riga
- Ohio State JR RHP Jake Post
- Rutgers JR LHP Mark McCoy
- Michigan State rSR LHP/OF Jeff Kinley
- Nebraska SR RHP Chance Sinclair
- Indiana JR LHP Will Coursen-Carr
- Iowa SR RHP Nick Hibbing
- Maryland SR RHP Bobby Ruse
- Minnesota SR RHP Ben Meyer
- Indiana JR LHP Sullivan Stadler
- Illinois JR LHP JD Nielsen
- Illinois rSR LHP Rob McDonnell
- Indiana rSO RHP Thomas Belcher
- Indiana JR RHP Evan Bell
- Indiana rJR LHP Kyle Hart
- Indiana rSR RHP Ryan Halstead
- Michigan rJR RHP Matthew Ogden
- Minnesota rJR LHP Jordan Jess
- Rutgers rSO LHP Max Herrmann
- Indiana rSO RHP Kent Williams
- Iowa JR LHP Ryan Erickson