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2015 MLB Draft Prospects – North Carolina

SR RHP Benton Moss (2015)
JR RHP Reilly Hovis (2015)
JR RHP Trent Thornton (2015)
rJR RHP Chris McCue (2015)
SR RHP Trevor Kelley (2015)
JR RHP Taylore Cherry (2015)
JR OF Skye Bolt (2015)
JR OF Josh Merrigan (2015)
JR 3B/2B Landon Lassiter (2015)
JR C Korey Dunbar (2015)
JR SS/OF Alex Raburn (2015)
SO RHP/SS Spencer Trayner (2016)
SO RHP AJ Bogucki (2016)
SO RHP Zac Gallen (2016)
SO LHP Zach Rice (2016)
SO C Adrian Chacon (2016)
SO 1B Joe Dudek (2016)
SO 2B/SS Wood Myers (2016)
SO OF Tyler Ramirez (2016)
SO OF Adam Pate (2016)
FR 3B/RHP Ryder Ryan (2016)
FR 1B/LHP Hunter Williams (2017)
FR SS/3B Zack Gahagan (2017)
FR RHP JB Bukauskas (2017)
FR RHP Hansen Butler (2017)
FR RHP Jason Morgan (2017)
FR OF/2B Logan Warmoth (2017)
FR RHP Brett Daniels (2017)
FR INF Brooks Kennedy (2017)
FR LHP Nick Raquet (2017)
FR INF/OF Brian Miller (2017)

JR OF Skye Bolt, for whatever reason, has become of the bigger lightning rod names in college baseball this year. I swear on all that is important to me that the wording of the previous sentence was not intentional; sadly, I’m not that clever. The point made is true, however. Bolt has some gigantic fans of his game out there that think he’ll be a first-division regular in center field and a tremendous asset both at the plate and in the field. Bolt also has detractors who think he’s overrated going back to high school. In fact, and this is 100% true, I’ve heard from two pretty solid sources and generally really bright guys that Bolt has become an overrated prospect outside of the industry because of his memorable name and little else. If his name was Sam Barnes (or whatever), nobody would pay him much mind, they argue. It’s a pretty fascinating theory and one that I think has more than a kernel of truth to it when you take a step back and examine how the prospect game has changed and evolved as technology and social media access has grown over the past decade or so, but, as a fan of Bolt’s game based solely on what he does on the field and not what’s on his birth certificate, I won’t worry too much about how the dangers of herd mentality internet scouting and the weird Twitter-driven need to be #cool (it’s the same idea as Prom King Comedy but applied to the young guys — man, I sound old right now — who use the technical yet largely meaningless [or, at least, comically over-complicated] scouting jargon and talk down to those who don’t see ten games a week like they do so much so that eventually everybody else just gives up, accepts their expertise, and watch as these self-proclaimed “scouts” land jobs at formerly reputable places like Baseball Prospectus) for now. I just like Bolt because I think he’s good at baseball and will continue to be good at baseball as a professional.

Bolt is a strong prospect because he has a clear set of skills that are above-average or better: he can run, defend in center, and throw at a big league level already. I have no problems with his bat speed — have seen him hit a good fastball more times than I can count — but he does seem to run into an inordinate amount of trouble picking up offspeed stuff out of the pitcher’s hand. I think there’s more power than he’s shown the past two seasons (think double-digit pop in the bigs) and his approach at the plate has remained consistently patient even as his batted ball luck has fluctuated. If it works I can see the same ceiling as those who like him (everyday player who brings value both at the plate and in the field), though I think a more realistic outcome would be fourth outfielder with a chance to keep hitting himself into something more. That’s a bit of a lame hedge, but sometimes the conservative estimation can be the smart play.

JR C Korey Dunbar isn’t really my kind of prospect due to a questionable approach at the plate, but there’s no denying his defensive upside, raw power, and arm strength. I’ve heard from smart people that he’s a breakthrough or two away from really figuring things out at the plate — he’s one of those guys I get consistent “good approach” notes on despite the lackluster BB/K numbers — so maybe, despite thinking he’s likely the best catching prospect in the conference, I’m underrating him still. No surprise, but I’ve always liked JR 3B/2B Landon Lassiter for his patient approach and versatile glove. He’s taken that versatility up a notch this year by playing in the outfield, so now I don’t think it’s crazy to think of him as a viable utility prospect who can play any spot on the diamond save catcher. The fact that doesn’t have much power and probably can’t be called anything better than average at any one defensive position knocks his already modest prospect stock back down to earth. I’d give him a shot late if he’d be willing to sign (for no real reason, I see him as a potential four-year player at UNC), but admit that I might be seeing something in him that really isn’t there.

I’m shocked that I haven’t written much if at all about SR RHP Benton Moss on the site already because I really think the world of him as a prospect. Off the top of my head, I’d have him as the country’s best senior sign pitching prospect. Smart, athletic, competitive, dependable, and with an arm that can crank it to 95 when he needs to, Moss has all the components of a legitimate big league starting pitcher. He’s added to this repertoire over time (most notably two similar yet distinct pitches: a low- to mid-80s slider and a mid-80s cutter) and can now throw any one of four to five pitches (above-average mid-70s CB and upper-70s CU as well) for strikes in any given count. I have no feel at all for when he’ll be selected this June — his big senior season has to help boost his stock, though his recent arm woes (which he’s come back from, but still) could scare some teams off — but I have the feeling that he’ll wind up a really good value for a really happy team.

JR RHP Reilly Hovis getting hurt (TJ surgery) is a major bummer for a pitcher with a really good arm (90-95 FB, above-average 77-83 SL) that could have been a quick-moving top ten round relief option if healthy. I’d take JR RHP Trent Thornton and let his 87-92 (94 peak) fastball, plus upper-70s breaking ball, and average or better upper-70s changeup get regular turns in a pro starting rotation. Same with rJR RHP Chris McCue, a similar sized (6-0, 175 pounds) bullpen stalwart comparable stuff (86-92 FB that peaks at 94 and a pair of good offspeed pitches in an average 78-80 CU and average CB 72-76 that both flash better) and athleticism. Unfortunately, unlike Thornton, McCue has been slow to regain his form after ending last year banged up. I still like the arm talent, so if he’s healthy he’s worth a pick. JR RHP Taylore Cherry disappeared late from the UNC roster this past offseason. Five minutes of searching reveals nothing. I’ll be honest, I had just assumed he was on the roster all year and when I realized today that I hadn’t heard anything about him this year, I figured it was just because he wasn’t playing all that well. I’d argue very few players have had as disappointing a run from big time HS prospect to whatever it is he’s up to now. From my older notes on him…

RHP Taylore Cherry (Butler HS, Ohio): 92 peak FB in early 2011; big jump in velocity expected but never quite realized; new summer 2011 peak of 94, sitting 91-93; good upper-70s CB, 78-81 that might as well be SL; emerging mid-70s CU that he has upped to 83-85 and is now a plus pitch; exceptional control of huge frame; spring 2012 update: 86-87 two-seam FB, 88-91 four-seam FB; good breaking ball; 78-79 CB; 78 SL; 84-86 CU; at his best can throw 91-94 FB with plus sink as well as a 77-79 CB with above-average upside and a low-80s CU with at least average upside, but hasn’t been at his best for a long time; 6-9, 260 pounds

It sounds almost strange to say, but, with the added benefit of hindsight, it might just be that Cherry peaked as a player early on in his high school senior season. We’re all guilty of equating youth with potential, but sometimes a guy is just going to be as good as he’ll ever get and that’s all there is to it. When a high school scouting blurb includes the phrase “but hasn’t been at his best for a long time,” I’d say that’s a red flag for a player’s pro prospects, especially when injury isn’t to blame. It’s a bummer, but that’s baseball. If we can take any lesson from it, then I think we can look at how importance athleticism is for pitching prospects, especially those with frames that require a little extra balance and flexibility to maintain consistent mechanics.

On the opposite side of the spectrum there’s a guy who is so much what is great about the sport. SR RHP Trevor “Everyday” Kelley has more than lived up to his name this year. Kelley has appeared in 28 out of 39 games (72%) this year. That would come out to around 115 appearances in a 162 game season. To further put that into context, Kelley has more innings pitched right now than all but two Tar Heels pitchers. Guys with six (Hunter Williams) and seven (Moss) starts have significantly less innings than Kelley. One of the secrets of adulthood that I feel qualified to share with younger readers now that I’m a wizened old man less than seven months away from turning thirty is that just showing up is a huge part of getting by in this world. Trevor Kelley clearly has that covered. Some people prefer to do more than just get by, so it should be noted that it turns out you can get ahead by actually making a positive difference (or, you know, at least an effort) after you’ve shown up. I’d say pitching almost two innings per appearance (note: it’s closer to 1.2 innings per outing, but we can round up) with an ERA of 2.36 while striking out close to 7.5 batters per nine is a pretty strong impression to leave after each showing. Kelley’s stuff is more solid than spectacular (86-91 FB with sink, CB flashes plus) and he’s never truly dominated in a relief role, but I’d like to think there’s some draft value to be squeezed out of a reliable rubber-armed reliever who attacks hitters at a funky angle.

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