Fresno State JR C Taylor Ward
Nevada SR 1B Austin Byler
New Mexico JR 2B Sam Haggerty
New Mexico JR SS Dalton Bowers
San Diego State JR 3B Ty France
San Diego State SR OF Steven Pallares
Fresno State JR OF Brody Russell
New Mexico SR OF Ryan Padilla
San Diego State JR RHP Bubba Derby
UNLV JR LHP Brayden Torres
Fresno State SR RHP Garrett Mundell
Nevada JR RHP Michael Fain
Nevada JR RHP Sam Held
Sometimes I get so wrapped up into doing things for the site that I forget that there is a great big baseball world outside my tiny corner of the internet. As such, I’m way behind on checking in on a lot of the mainstream draft coverage that has been put out since the college season in February. Help me out here: Fresno State JR C Taylor Ward is a first round pick, right? People have caught on to that? He’s pretty much Max Pentecost without the Twitter approved cool guy name. If Pentecost could go eleventh overall, then surely Ward can find a fit in the first day, right? He’s a really good athlete who moves exceptionally well behind the plate. His arm is an absolute howitzer with easy to spot plus to plus-plus raw strength. Offensively he does enough of everything – average or a tick below speed underway, about the same raw power, and a disciplined approach that consistently puts him in good hitter’s counts – to profile as a well above-average regular when both sides of his game are considered.
“The best true catcher is probably Pentecost,” a club executive said. “He’s going in the first round for sure. He doesn’t have a lot of power, it’s more alley and extra-base hits than pure power, but he’s a good hitter, a good athlete and he can run. He can throw and he will get better as a receiver. I think it’s a solid overall player at a tough position to find.”
Sub out Pentecost’s name for Ward’s and you’re all set. His closest competitors for top college catcher in this class (pre-season) for me have all slipped enough that I think there’s real separation between Ward and everybody else. Shaun Chase (Oregon) still has the prodigious raw power that will keep him employed for years to come, but the approach has shown little to no signs of improving. My former top guy, Ian Rice (Houston), has been up and down (to put it kindly) in his first season of D1 baseball. Austin Rei (Washington) seemed poised to have a breakout season and challenge Ward for the top spot, but a torn thumb ligament stalled his season after only 17 at bats. There’s still a question as to whether or not he’ll be back before the end of the season. I could see a scenario where a team would prefer Rei, who I still think goes higher than anybody thinks because of his pitch-framing abilities alone, but the injury obviously makes him one of the draft’s greatest unknowns heading into June.
I don’t actually know where Ward will go in the draft and without having my entire board lined up just yet it is premature to say he’s a no-doubt first round pick for me personally. I do find it hard to imagine that a player with his upside will fall past the first forty picks or so into the second round. This kind of logic doesn’t always hold because it takes but one team to select a player, but if Pentecost, who, I liked more than loved as a prospect, went off the board at eleven last year then I don’t see why Ward would fall multiple rounds past that in what many (not me, but still) consider to be a weaker draft.
Last March I wrote very briefly about Nevada SR 1B/3B Austin Byler and his promising future. Back then I had him ranked seventh out of all draft-eligible college first basemen behind a pretty damn good list of bats. Kyle Schwarber, Casey Gillaspie, Sam Travis, JD Davis, AJ Reed, and Kevin Cron were the only players I had above him then. Coming into this year I had him only behind Boston College 1B/OF Chris Shaw in terms of straight college first base prospects and neck and neck with Central Florida 1B/OF James Vasquez. I haven’t updated those rankings in a while, but I think Byler is comfortably in the top five first base prospect range. Here’s the blurb on Byler from last March…
Slow start notwithstanding, Byler’s power is legit and his approach to hitting, while not reflected just yet in terms of BB/K ratios, is well-suited for professional ball.
Not much has changed in his scouting profile, though he’s turned into even more of a three-true-outcomes monster in 2015. I’ve asked around on Byler and gotten some pretty interesting feedback. On the high end he’s gotten comparisons to Mark Reynolds and Russell Branyan. More to the point, he’s viewed as a hitter who will strike out a ton, walk his fair share, and swat dingers at an impressive clip. I also got a Preston Wilson comparison (hitter only, obviously) that I enjoyed as much for the nostalgia as the utility. A more cautionary comparison is the one that likened him to former first round pick Tyler Colvin. I personally find the continuum from a lefthanded Reynolds (useful power source that can be quite valuable when deployed properly) to Colvin (4A slugger with flashes of promise, but more of an up-and-down bench bat) particularly useful.
As far as a draft prospect comparison, I think Byler could wind up going off the board around the same range as another senior sign slugger from yesteryear (way, way back in 2012), Preston Tucker. Byler could get a bit of a boost because power is in even higher demand now than just three years ago. He could also beat that seven round projection because he’s a more conventionally pleasing looking player for scouts who might worry as much about aesthetics than results. I like the bat enough that I think you start thinking seriously about him somewhere between rounds three and five.
All of the middle infielders from New Mexico that I like (JR 2B/SS Sam Haggerty, JR SS/2B Dalton Bowers, and JR SS Jared Holley) have gotten off to slow starts so far. The consistently positive things I’ve heard about Bowers (in general) and Holley (his plus glove specifically) keep my appreciation for the group alive, but a little more pop out of the trio would make me feel a bit better. San Diego State JR 3B Ty France has one of the draft’s most underrated bats, especially when his natural feel for hitting and functional strength (and subsequent power) are considered. Guys who really get excited about watching a young player swing at bat well come away raving about what France can do at the plate. I haven’t seen enough of him to get that feeling (also: I’m not a scout), but hearing it as often as I have from people who have been around the game forever definitely gets my attention.
The outfield group in the MWC this year is more about depth than high-end talent. There are a lot of maybe/maybe not draftable players, but no sure things. My favorite of the bunch is San Diego State SR OF/RHP Steven Pallares. It’s taken some time for Pallares to get going – it’s the end of March as I write this and he’s already tied his career high in AB – but now that he’s hitting full-time he’s, well, hitting full-time. His arm is both strong and accurate, he’s an above-average runner, and the strides he’s made at the plate are undeniably encouraging.
Below you’ll find my unedited (with one exception) pre-season list of Mountain West 2015 MLB Draft pitching prospects. The only tweak I made was in moving up San Diego State JR RHP Bubba Derby from third to first; all other players are exactly where I put them before the season began. I make special note of that now because this list has not held up well at all. It could be that I have no idea what I’m talking about or that the MWC has an especially volatile group of arms this year or that maybe the elevation or atmospheric conditions or something altogether unexplainable inherent to this conference makes predicting pitching more of a guessing game than even I, a guesser by nature (“Baseball Guesser” should go on my nonexistent business card because, let’s face it, that’s all we’re really doing here), am used to. All I know is that I’m more confused about these pitchers now more than ever.
We know Derby is good, though even with his awesome numbers (12.5 K/9) we’re still not quite sure how good he really is. The fact that he can throw two above-average breaking balls to complement his 88-92 (94 peak) fastball is obviously a very good thing. His 5-11, 185 pound frame, however, could give evaluators some pause when projecting him to carry a full starter’s workload in the big leagues one day. I don’t share those concerns, but I get it. I’d personally like to see or hear more about a usable changeup before going all-in on him as a potential average or better big league starter, but the pieces are there. Behind Derby are two other favorites that don’t get much national acclaim. Fresno State SR RHP Garrett Mundell is extension personified. It’s as if he’s handing the ball off to the catcher. I like that. UNLV JR LHP Brayden Torres has pitched out of the bullpen for the Runnin’ Rebels, but I think he has the depth of stuff, control, and build to start professionally.
Little to nothing has gone right with Nevada’s top draft-eligible pitching prospects this season. JR RHP Michael Fain has an electric arm capable of mid-90s heat and a hard low-80s slider, but his college career has been plagued by inconsistency. He’s got the long, lean frame (6-6, 185) to dream on, so no reason to hop off the bandwagon altogether. His teammate JR RHP Sam Held is another good athlete with a strong fastball (94 peak) and plenty of projection left who hasn’t performed as hoped so far this season.
Finally, since we’re on the subject of Nevada, how about JR 1B/OF Ryan Howell? He’s a junior college transfer (Chabot College) that I have little to no information on, but his numbers leapt off the page when doing a quick check of the conference’s strongest early performers: .400/.485/.790 in 105 AB is no joke. That’s one year after wrecking juco ball to the tune of .292/.464/.571 with 35 BB/25 K in 154 AB. The Oregon State transfer is finally healthy after the long recovery from a torn labrum. He’s played both first and in the outfield in the past, but is manning second for the Wolfpack in 2015 in deference to one of college ball’s most stacked set of corner prospects (Byler at first with Kewby Myer and Trenton Brooks in the outfield corners). I’m not sure how real this hot start is or how he’s holding up at second, but I’m motivated to know more.
2015 MLB Draft Talent – Hitting
- Fresno State JR C Taylor Ward
- Nevada SR 1B/3B Austin Byler
- San Diego State JR 3B Ty France
- Nevada SR 1B/LHP Kewby Meyer
- New Mexico JR 2B/SS Sam Haggerty
- San Diego State SR OF/RHP Steven Pallares
- Fresno State JR OF/SS Brody Russell
- New Mexico SR OF/1B Ryan Padilla
- UNLV JR OF/3B Joey Armstrong
- New Mexico JR OF Aaron Siple
- UNLV SR C/OF Erik VanMeetren
- San Jose State JR 2B Ozzy Braff
- San Diego State rSO C/RHP CJ Saylor
- San Diego State SR 3B/1B Ryan Muno
- New Mexico JR SS/2B Dalton Bowers
- New Mexico JR SS Jared Holley
- San Jose State SR OF Andre Mercurio
- Nevada SR SS Kyle Hunt
- San Diego State rJR OF/C Seby Zavala
- Nevada SR C Jordan Devencenzi
- San Diego State rJR OF Spencer Thornton
2015 MLB Draft Talent – Pitching
- San Diego State JR RHP Bubba Derby
- UNLV JR LHP Brayden Torres
- Fresno State SR RHP Garrett Mundell
- Nevada JR RHP Michael Fain
- Nevada JR RHP Sam Held
- Nevada SR LHP Tyler Wells
- New Mexico rJR LHP Toller Boardman
- UNLV JR RHP Kenny Oakley
- New Mexico JR RHP/SS Drew Bridges
- San Diego State JR RHP Dalton Douty
- New Mexico rJR LHP Alex Estrella
- UNLV rJR LHP Zak Qualls
- UNLV rJR RHP Zack Hartman
- San Diego State JR RHP Mark Seyler
- New Mexico JR RHP Taylor Duree
- Nevada JR RHP Adam Whitt
- UNLV JR RHP/1B Bryan Bonnell
- New Mexico rJR RHP Victor Sanchez
- San Jose State SR RHP/OF Kalei Contrades
- New Mexico JR RHP Mike Gould
- Air Force SR RHP Ben Yokley
- UNLV SR RHP Joey Lauria
- New Mexico SR RHP Jake Cole