Washington JR C Austin Rei
Oregon JR 1B/OF Phillipe Craig-St. Louis
Arizona JR 2B Scott Kingery
Arizona JR SS Kevin Newman
Oregon JR 3B Mitchell Tolman
Oregon State JR OF Jeff Hendrix
UCLA JR OF Ty Moore
Washington JR OF Braden Bishop
Arizona State JR C RJ Ybarra
Oregon State JR 1B Gabe Clark
UCLA rJR 2B Kevin Kramer
Stanford JR SS Drew Jackson
Arizona State JR 3B Dalton DiNatale
Oregon rJR OF Scott Heineman
USC JR OF Timmy Robinson
Arizona JR OF Justin Behnke
I’ve touched on both Washington JR C Austin Rei and Oregon SR C Shaun Chase recently, so I won’t go into great depth on either again. I was hoping to see one or both make a serious run for college ball’s top catching prospect in 2015, but a torn thumb ligament for Rei and the continued inability to make adjustments as a hitter for Chase have knocked both out of the running. That said, I still think Rei gets picked way higher than anybody thinks because he’s coming into pro ball at the perfect time with plus pitch framing skills that match what teams want to see most in catching prospects. I’m a really big fan of Rei and think he’s one of the draft’s “safest” prospects with both a high ceiling (above-average regular) and high floor (elite defensive backup). Barring additional injuries, I don’t see how he doesn’t have some sort of big league career.
Arizona State JR C RJ Ybarra has had the kind of year I was expecting to see out of Chase. It doesn’t hurt that their player profiles are so similar: big arms, big power, big bodies, and raw defenders. Ybarra’s better approach gives him the edge as a hitter and prospect for now. Long time readers of the site (all six of you) will remember I’ve long been on the Riley Moore bandwagon. No reason to hop off now that the Arizona senior catcher is having his best season at the plate. For teams looking for athleticism and leadership in their catching prospects, he’s a great fit. Relative to where he’ll likely be picked, I think he winds up being a pretty nifty player. His numbers this year very closely mimic what Stanford JR C Austin Barr has done as of this writing. Barr is another member of the Chase/Ybarra/Graham (see below) group of upside bats with TBD defensive possibilities.
Oregon JR C/RHP Josh Graham is one of the most intriguing two-way talents in the country. I have him listed with the catchers for now, but I’ve heard the split on his pro future is pretty much 50/50 for folks in the game. He’s been up to 96 off the mound in the past (haven’t heard any updates in 2015, but his numbers have been really good) while also showing above-average raw power at the plate. His rawness definitely shows up both as a hitter and in the field, but the upside is significant.
There really aren’t any words to accurately describe USC SR C Garrett Stubbs. He’s a player you really need to see play to understand. Catchers with plus athleticism, above-average speed, and the defensive talent to actually stick behind the plate over the long haul don’t come around every day. I’m not sure that his power spike so far this year is real (track record suggests it is just a typical senior year bump), but if a team buys in to him potentially having even average raw power then you’re talking about a unique skill set with legitimate big league value.
It comes down to a Civil War battle for which first base prospect will wind up the conference’s best bet to be drafted first in 2015. I go back and forth almost daily – don’t be jealous of the exciting life that I live – between Oregon JR 1B/OF Phillipe Craig-St. Louis and Oregon State JR 1B Gabe Clark. It’s slightly more complicated than this, but today it comes down to the hit tool of Craig-St.Louis winning out by a hair over the power upside of Clark. Tomorrow I might go with the power.
I swear I’ve written about Arizona JR 2B/OF Scott Kingery on the internet somewhere before this season, but I can’t find proof of it anywhere. No matter, as I’m happy to write about one of my favorite 2015 draft prospects all over again for the first time. Of course, you can’t really write about Kingery without also writing about his double-play partner JR SS/2B Kevin Newman. Both players have the chance for plus hit tools in the big leagues with enough pop (average for Kingery, a touch less than that for Newman) and speed (above-average to plus for Kingery, average to above-average for Newman) to be really valuable offensive players. Defensively, Newman’s instincts are so damn good that I think he’s a sure-fire shortstop for a long time even without the kind of physical tools some teams demand in the middle infield talent. I hesitate to add that last part because it sells Newman’s actual tools short. Though he’s not plus in any area (except arguably the hit tool), every other non-power tool is at least average and that’s before getting bumped up because of his preternatural feel for the game.
Somebody smart told me that Newman reminded him of Dansby Swanson “without the super-charged athleticism.” He meant it as a compliment for both guys: Swanson is both a talented ballplayer and a freak athlete worthy of top ten consideration while Newman, a back-end first round pick in his eyes, can do almost everything Swanson can do without being gifted freaky tools (i.e., Newman does more with less). The description I got on Kingery was equally impressive. I was told that “he plays second base like a center fielder.” Again, though I can see how this might be perceived as a slight, this was meant in a very good way. Kingery is such a good athlete that his range at second base, especially on balls into the air behind him, is second to none. I was actually on the fence about his glove being able to stick in the infield this year, but only because I thought he could be good at second and potentially great in center. Now I’m confident that he could be an excellent defender at either spot.
If the preceding paragraphs weren’t clear, I’m all-in on both Kingery and Newman as potential first round picks. Tools, athleticism, instincts, approach, track record…not sure what else you could ask for. If these guys were doing what they are doing while playing for a certain ACC school disproportionately, for reasons both fair (proximity) and not so fair (not so thinly veiled fandom) covered by a certain publication, then we’d be getting weekly updates on their progress and the only draft question left would how high they’d go in the first. I’m extremely tempted to put Kingery over Newman, but the magic of being able to play shortstop wins out for now. That may change between now and June.
There are more misses than hits on my 2011 HS second base rankings — boy, I liked Phillip Evans a lot — but USC SR 2B Dante Flores and UCLA rJR 2B/3B Kevin Kramer coming in at 6th and 8th respectively have held up all right. It took Flores three seasons to hit (he was actually really good as a freshman, but let me have my narrative) and it’s fair to wonder if something has really clicked or if it’s the senior season bounce I referenced above. I buy it as real, but take that for what it is since I’m the guy with “hasn’t turned into player many hoped, but still like him” in my notes from Flores after seeing him during last year’s disappointing junior season. Here are some of the old notes from four years ago on Flores…
Flores can definitely swing the bat, but his power upside is limited and he is an average at best runner. He’s a steady defender at second, capable of making plays on balls hit at or near him but lacking the athleticism and instincts to ever wow you at the spot. Prospects who lack positional safety nets — i.e. a spot on the diamond they can play if they can’t hack it at their original spot — make me really nervous. Flores is probably a second baseman or bust, so there is a lot riding on that hit tool.
Kramer’s return to health has gone even better than hoped in 2015. His bum shoulder that kept him out last season is but a distant memory now that he’s back swinging a hot bat. I haven’t heard how much arm strength he’s regained (it was average pre-injury), but if it’s enough for the left side then he’s a prime candidate for above-average big league utility infielder. That might be selling him short as he’s got the swing, hands, and feel to hit enough to play every day at second base at the next level. Here are Kramer’s HS notes from 2011…
Strength, both at the plate and jammed into his throwing arm, describes Kramer’s biggest current asset. I also like his bat a lot — feel like I’ve said that about a half dozen players already, but it’s true — and have a strong intuitive feel on him.
I still have Arizona State JR 2B/RHP Jordan Aboites listed as a primary infielder, but his pro future will likely come on the mound if it comes at all. If that’s the case, I can vouch for his showing up on a Fangraphs list before too long as one of Carson Cistulli’s favorite prospects. Relievers who stand 5-5, 150 pounds with ridiculous athleticism, solid velocity (88-92), and plus breaking balls tend to be fairly popular players. I mean, even I love the guy and I’m an old curmudgeonly jerk.
California SR 2B/3B Chris Paul is another Pac-12 middle infielder who took longer than expected to hit, but appears to have figured something out in 2015. Stanford JR SS/RHP Drew Jackson might be the guy we talk about in a similar vein next season. I’ve come full circle on him, originally thinking he was overhyped back when some mentioned him as a first round sleeper to now believing he’s being undervalued as a toolsy athlete with as yet untapped upside. He’s got the goods to stick at shortstop (his plus-plus arm being his best tool) with enough offensive talent (plus speed, average raw power) to intrigue. I think the combination of his preseason draft expectations and the lure of a Stanford diploma will make him a very tough sign this summer, but that’s just one outsider’s take.
Oregon JR 3B/1B Mitchell Tolman has been under the radar for too long. He’s a steady, versatile (can also play 2B) defender with average speed, ample arm strength, and a patient approach. This is a “in no way is this a comparison” comparison, but Tolman’s profile is a little bit like the college game’s version of Matt Carpenter. Arizona State JR 3B/OF Dalton DiNatale is another guy who can play multiple spots. He’s also got a solid approach and good size. Utah rSO 3B Dallas Carroll is a good athlete with, you guessed it, a good approach, but I mostly wanted to include him since I felt bad for stiffing the Utah offense otherwise. JR 2B Kody Davis and JR SS Cody Scaggari are nice players, too!
Oregon State JR OF Jeff Hendrix is a fine looking prospect who hasn’t gotten much (any?) national attention just yet. If you’re starting to pick up on a trend with the Pac-12 this year, then you’re smarter than you look. On paper, Hendrix sounds damn good: above-average to plus raw power, average to above-average speed, and great athleticism. He’s made steady improvements on the field with little sign of slowing down. It’s rare that an honest to goodness potential top five round gets overshadowed like this – perhaps it has something to do with being teammates with the extremely impressive freshman KJ Harrison – but he’ll get his due before too long.
UCLA JR OF/LHP Ty Moore is living proof that you can have average tools across the board so long as the best of said tools is the bat, whether it’s straight hit or power. Moore has as good a hit tool as you’ll find in this year’s class. The rest of his tools may be more or less average, but that hit tool will keep him getting paid for years to come. It’s a bit of a tricky profile in an outfield corner, but those with confidence in him as a hitter will give him a long look. I’m buying it.
Meanwhile, Washington JR OF/RHP Braden Bishop is the anti-Moore. His tools have always been loud (plus arm strength, plus to plus-plus speed, plus CF range), but his bat has long been a question. By all accounts he has turned a corner as a hitter so far this spring, which is both great to see from a personal perspective and because it adds yet another talented up-the-middle talent to this year’s draft class. USC JR OF Timmy Robinson isn’t quite the same athlete, but works as another potential anti-Moore (or, more aptly, Moore’s inverse prospect) with four average or better tools (all but the hit).
I was very excited to see Oregon rJR OF/3B Scott Heineman back and healthy after getting past a lost 2014 season. There have been signs of rust both at the plate and in the field, but no real drop in his impressive set of tools. I’m starting to think of him more as a potential super utility player (OF, 3B, 2B, maybe some C) at the highest level, though I admit that usage like that might not exactly be all that realistic an outcome knowing what we know about how most big league managers favor more defined roles. I’m also starting to get the feeling that Heineman could be one of those players who, for whatever reason, wind up as better pros than collegiate players.
The positive buzz on Arizona JR OF Justin Behnke coming into the season was unrelenting, so it’s good to see him delivering on his promise in his first year as a Wildcat. He’s an easy to appreciate prospect who wisely plays within himself and accentuates his strengths (speed, defense, plate discipline) with smarts and good baseball instincts. I’m a fan. Arizona State JR OF John Sewald is his brother from another mother at a rival school. Neither player ever gives off the future regular in the big leagues vibe, but both have clear, usable skill sets that help you envision a path to the highest level as a valuable role player.
Though he’s done next to nothing so far this year, Stanford JR OF Zach Hoffpauir remains one of the draft’s most intriguing wild cards. He’s incredibly raw and a little stiff in his baseball movements, but still flashes the athleticism, strength, and power that keep him on follow lists. I’ve cooled a bit on football to baseball conversions, especially those that have trained their bodies to play on the gridiron during their college years, after getting the chance to talk to some really smart people in the game on the subject (both old school types and younger front office members privy to some interesting proprietary research). Washington State rJR OF Ben Roberts never played football for the Cougars, but much of what was written above applies to him all the same: tools aplenty, but hasn’t done it on the field enough to warrant serious draft consideration in 2015. Speaking of tools…I don’t recall if I’ve shared this before and I’m too lazy to check, but seeing in my notes that USC rSR OF Omar Cotto Lozada was once described to me as “if Usain Bolt played baseball” always brightens my day. I’d drop a pick in round forty on the guy just to watch him run.
2015 MLB Draft Talent – Hitting
- Arizona JR SS/2B Kevin Newman
- Arizona JR 2B/OF Scott Kingery
- Washington JR C Austin Rei
- Oregon State JR OF Jeff Hendrix
- UCLA JR OF/LHP Ty Moore
- Washington JR OF/RHP Braden Bishop
- Oregon rJR OF/3B Scott Heineman
- UCLA rJR 2B/3B Kevin Kramer
- Oregon JR 3B/1B Mitchell Tolman
- Stanford JR SS/RHP Drew Jackson
- Arizona State JR C RJ Ybarra
- Oregon SR C Shaun Chase
- Arizona SR C Riley Moore
- USC SR 2B Dante Flores
- USC JR OF Timmy Robinson
- Arizona JR OF Justin Behnke
- Arizona State JR 3B/OF Dalton DiNatale
- Arizona State rSR OF Trever Allen
- Arizona JR OF Zach Gibbons
- Oregon JR C/RHP Josh Graham
- Stanford JR C Austin Barr
- USC SR C Garrett Stubbs
- California SR 2B/3B Chris Paul
- Arizona State JR OF John Sewald
- Oregon JR 1B/OF Phillipe Craig-St. Louis
- Stanford JR OF Zach Hoffpauir
- USC JR SS Blake Lacey
- Oregon State JR 1B Gabe Clark
- Washington State rJR OF Ben Roberts
- UCLA JR 2B Trent Chatterdon
- UCLA JR C Darrell Miller
- Arizona JR 2B/SS Jackson Willeford
- USC rSO SS Reggie Southall
- Oregon rSR OF Steven Packard
- USC rSR OF Omar Cotto Lozada
- Utah JR SS Cody Scaggari
- Utah rSO 3B Dallas Carroll
- UCLA rJR C Justin Hazard