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2015 MLB Draft Reviews – Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox 2015 MLB Draft Picks 

13 – Andrew Benintendi
93 – Logan Allen
95 – Austin Rei
122 – Marcus Brakeman
135 – Tate Matheny
241 – Tucker Tubbs
259 – Mitchell Gunsolus
265 – Kyri Washington
268 – Kevin Kelleher
353 – Travis Lakins
368 – Yomar Valentin
399 – Nicholos Hamilton

I’m not sure what to say about OF Andrew Benintendi (13) that hasn’t already been said. His sophomore season was insane. His pro debut was phenomenal. Literally everybody who has seen him play at Arkansas, Lowell, and Greenville in the last calendar year has walked away raving about him. I like the lefthanded AJ Pollock comp I threw on him before the draft as it pertains to his all-around game. Additionally, the fact that as a native Philadelphian I threw out a Chase Utley swing/body comp is serious business. I had somebody recently tell me that they think Benintendi is the best college bat since Anthony Rendon, a player (minus handedness) that he felt Benintendi could approximate in terms of total value as a hitter. So, if you’re scoring at home, that’s Pollock, Utley, and Rendon as possible comps with names like Mark Kotsay, Eric Byrnes, and David Dellucci (Baseball America) also mentioned as starting points. Not bad. Here’s a quick note from during the season just days before Benintendi’s stock began to soar in the public’s eye…

I never went back and mentioned Andrew Benintendi as being draft-eligible in 2015, but he is. That’s good news for me because Benintendi is awesome and getting him one step closer to pro ball makes me happy. He’s more ballplayer than tools freak, so teams that value big amateur production will have him higher than others. That said, he’s plenty talented: above-average or better hit tool, above-average or better speed, solid pop, enough range for center, and a disciplined approach at the plate. He’s really damn good. Baseball America has compared him to Austin Cousino in the past, but Benintendi’s huge sophomore season (.370/.475/.733 with 30 BB/24 K in 146 AB as of this edit) should vault him past Cousino’s 2014 draft spot (80th overall). I’ve heard from some that think I’m too rich on Benintendi’s tools and that’s fine, but I’m buying him as a prospect all the way.

Interestingly enough, I was able to dig up some older stuff on Benintendi in the archives. This was his quick HS scouting bio…

OF Andrew Benintendi (Madeira HS, Ohio): good speed; CF range; average arm; really smart player; above-average hit tool; FAVORITE; 5-10, 180 pounds

Hey, he was a FAVORITE back then! Always good to see.

I’m not a big fantasy guy — mostly out of the seemingly contradictory combination of general laziness and the fear of letting my over-competitive self getting sucked in too deep — but the one league I’ve been in forever allows the twelve owners to roster three minor league players at any given time. Having only thirty-six minor league prospects floating around the league at a time doesn’t exactly incite the most compelling post-draft scramble for new professional talent each June, but it always surprises me to see how long recent draftees sit around waiting for more casual minor league fans to buy in. Since I’m all about “drafting” my own hitters and figuring out pitching on the fly, I’d put Benintendi at or near the top of the 2015 MLB Draft in terms of fantasy value. Boston’s crowded outfield picture complicates things a bit and strong arguments could be made for others (Alex Bregman for sure, maybe Trenton Clark if you want to get crazy), but Benintendi could be on the Michael Conforto path to the big leagues. He’s really good at hitting baseballs. Pick him up in fantasy if you can.

The pre-draft stuff on C Austin Rei (95)…

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.

His defense is enough to keep him employed for a very long time and the flashes of above-average power could give him a chance to play regularly. I was hoping to see his approach take a step forward in 2015, but the torn thumb ligament made judging his actual progress at the plate this spring tricky. His free-swinging ways would still keep me from ranking among the minors best catching prospects, but there’s enough here to see him as a major league mainstay even if he doesn’t reach what some (like me) once considered his above-average regular ceiling.

Of all the players in this class, I might have been most surprised at the early pro struggles of OF Tate Matheny (135). Matheny, valued far more for his his patient approach as a hitter and well-rounded overall game than his raw tools, wasn’t able to do much offensively (9 BB/52 K) in his debut season. It’s only 213 PA, but the lack of raw power (body and swing) could prevent him from reaching an offensive ceiling heavily dependent on on-base skills. I was more willing to overlook the average at best power upside as a college player when he was racking up those .400+ OBPs, but time will tell if he’ll figure out away to adjust to how pro pitchers attack hitters like him at the higher levels.

The rise of many of this class’s toolsier players finally putting it together, especially among the outfield group, has taken some of the shine off of the more solid than spectacular types like Missouri State JR OF Tate Matheny. Matheny still looks like a good bet to fulfill his destiny as a fourth outfielder who won’t kill you in a starting role at times (especially if deployed properly), but teams in the market for upside plays will likely look elsewhere. Such is the life of a guy with no tool worse than average, but no carrying tool either.

OF Jagger Rusconi was called out as an outfielder on draft day, but was primarily a second baseman in high school and in his pro debut. His best offensive skill right now is his legs as the plus runner can wreak havoc on the base paths when given the opportunity. The rest of his offensive game is intriguing — feel for hit, sneaky pop, all kinds of athleticism — though understandably raw. I was set to call this an overdraft (if such things existed) to a degree, but I could see an alternate reality where Rusconi would have turned into a slam dunk top three round pick — maybe like an Andrew Stevenson? — if he had enrolled at USC instead of signing. A friend in Boston who knows me all too well told me that the hope within the Red Sox scouting staff is that Rusconi can be their version of Roman Quinn. Consider my interest piqued.

This was written here about 1B Tucker Tubbs (241) last December…

If SR 1B/3B Tucker Tubbs can rediscover his lost power stroke, he’s got a chance to get popped as a potential four-corners minor league bench bat.

Fast-forward six months and we see that Tubbs did exactly that. The Memphis slugger and the aforementioned Benintendi were two of the eight players that hit the 600 SLG and BB > K benchmarks at the D1 level back when I checked at the end of May. Tubbs wound up just short by the end of the season (.305/.393/.601 with 26 BB/27 K), but that’s still a heck of a senior season. Or, in other words: “He has power and doesn’t strike out much,” said Rikard. “That’s a pretty good formula for some level of success.” Straight from the Red Sox amateur scouting director’s mouth! Lefthanded hitting 3B Mitch Gunsolus (259) could form the other half of a fun platoon with Tubbs one day. While Tubbs missed out on the 600 SLG and BB> K Club by just one walk (or strikeout if you look at it that way), Gunsolus was just a few extra base hits off the mark (.556 SLG with 33 BB/32 K). I love watching Gunsolus hit and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the tenth rounder did enough at the plate to advance all the way up to the big leagues.

Even though the Red Sox went heavy on hitting with their top ten round picks, they found a way to really make it count with the three pitchers they selected in rounds six, seven, and eight. Getting LHP Logan Allen (93) in the eighth round is just silly value. Fast-rising high school arms who see a big uptick in stuff in a short amount of time typically scare me off, but Allen’s plus pitchability, really strong command (I’d go plus), and willingness to throw any of his four potentially average or better pitches (88-92 FB, 94 peak; mid-70s CB that flashes average or better; upper-70s cut-change thing that works; hard slider that might wind up the best of them all) in any count make him a fascinating potential big league starter who really had no business falling out of the top three rounds. RHP Travis Lakins (353) is an athletic young arm with less miles on it as a draft-eligible sophomore than many of his peers. I view him as a really good potential reliever, but I can see why one would look at his athleticism, frame with some projection left, and fastball command and think otherwise. RHP Ben Taylor lives 88-92 and can get it up to 93-94 with nice deception in his windup. Everything — the heater, his breaking ball, even a rarely used changeup — plays up in short bursts. His gigantic senior season (14.23 K/9 and 1.47 ERA in 42 IP) positioned him very nicely for a spot in the top ten rounds and the Red Sox wisely were the ones to give him a shot. Look out for him pitching the sixth innings at Fenway sooner rather than later.

I don’t know quite what it is about RHP Marc Brakeman (122), but something intuitively gives me pause when it comes to his long-term future. He’s got the stuff (88-93 FB, 95 peak; plus to plus-plus sinking low-80s CU; average or better mid- to upper-70s CB) and pedigree to start, but I always walk away from seeing him thinking the sum of the whole doesn’t quite add up. It’s especially hypocritical for me to not like him all that much because his best pitch — seriously, his changeup is as good as any in this class — just so happens to be my offspeed offering of choice. I touched briefly on the intuition thing before the season…

Stanford JR RHP Marc Brakeman is more of a two-pitch prospect (like Twomey) that I’ve referenced above. Armed with a nice albeit inconsistent heater (88-94, 95 peak – though I’ve seen him sit more on the low end of that range at times) and an outstanding low-80s changeup, Brakeman could move up boards quickly once he gets healthy again. I’ve been the low man on him in the past, but that’s more due to an intuition thing than anything I can reasonably express.

A part of me sees his stuff playing up in a big way out of the bullpen; that’s his most likely direct path to the big leagues. In that role, I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest he’s got legitimate late-inning upside on the continuum of Francisco Rodriguez, Tyler Clippard, or Kelvin Herrera, depending on how the fastball works in short bursts. If that’s the outcome, that’s a gigantic victory considering Brakeman’s 16th round standing (overslot bonus or not).

RHP Kevin Kelleher (268) had a slightly auspicious pro debut: 0.1 IP 0 H 4 ER 7 BB 0 K. Ouch. Now you, Mr./Mrs. Negative, could choose to focus on those four earned runs and seven walks, but I, uplifting soul that I am, think Kelleher should be lauded for getting an out. I mean, that’s one more than 99.9999% of the human population ever got, right? It’s also impressive that he’s literally never given up a pro hit yet. We’re all about the silver linings here.

I kid about Kelleher because I really do like him as a prospect. Wrote this about him before the year…

With a dominant FB/SL combination New Orleans JR RHP Kevin Kelleher has big league closer upside. That’s a bolder prediction that I intended to make, but the stuff seems in line with what we’ve come to expect out of late-inning relievers. Players who can get it up to 98 with a hard mid- to upper-80s slider to match aren’t easy to find.

Upside might be a bit rich there, but I don’t think it’s totally crazy. Even without working out the kinks needed to reach his considerable ceiling, I think he’s a big leaguer and surprisingly quick mover. Great pick in the twelfth round.

I almost always kick of my college draft coverage by writing about the ACC because I’m a creature of habit and the ACC is the first conference listed in my running draft Word document. As such, I tend to have more in the archives about ACC players. LHP Brad Stone (NC State) and RHP Trevor Kelley (North Carolina) both were “lucky” enough to get fairly extensive ramblings from me last spring. Here’s Stone…

JR LHP Brad Stone seems poised to take over the mantle as top pitching prospect, but, no knock against him, his stuff (upper-80s heat, usable change, pair of interesting breaking balls) is many steps down from Rodon on his worst day. He’s still the best of what’s around, and an arm worthy of serious draft consideration going forward.

And here’s Kelley…

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.

Kelley had an excellent senior season (8.19 K/9 and 2.31 BB/9 in 77 [!] relief innings) before doing more of the same upon joining the Red Sox organization. I’m frankly stunned that a player like him could fall to the 36th round. The Rob Wooten comp is easy and maybe even a bit lazy, but it fits. If anything, I think he could wind up having a better pro career thanks to a separating pitch (CB), rubber arm, and funky arm action. It’s a nice middle relief profile. Stone did not have an excellent senior season (7.80 K/9 and 10.80 BB/9 in 15 IP). That’s no reason to write him off as a viable prospect, of course. He changes speeds well and has always missed his fair share of bats. If the control gets in check and he continues to fill out, there could be something there.

On the opposite end of the physical spectrum, LHP Matt Kent, LHP Bobby Poyner, and LHP Logan Boyd are all undersized lefthanders with enough stuff to keep things interesting as they progress through the minors. Kent is a nice organizational arm, Poyner is a little bit better than that, and Boyd falls somewhere in between. I know little about RHP Danny Zandona except for the fact he put up eye-popping numbers (14.18 K/9 in 39 IP) in his senior year at Cal Poly. I’m similarly bereft of information on RHP Adam Lau, a two-way player at UAB who walked the effectively wild tightrope (11.81 K/9 and 5.06 BB/9 added up to a 1.69 ERA in 31 IP) in his junior season. RHP Nick Duron is the third player ever drafted out of Clark College and the first since Randy Myers (!) in 1982. RHP Max Watt, Trent Steele’s oldest and dearest friend, is another pitcher I don’t know much about. Wouldn’t bet against a name like that, though.

Much was written about OF Kyri Washington (265) on this site this past calendar year. Here’s one such excerpt…

JR OF Kyri Washington has as much a claim to the top position player spot in his conference as just about any prospect in the country. Evaluating amateur talent is sometimes only as hard as we make it. Your eyes eventually settle into seeing predictable patterns in the players you see and you find yourself getting unusually adept at recognizing the kind of ability that will become universally lauded as pro-caliber. “Always bet on ______” is more than just a snappy one-off line, but a mantra that serves those who watch a disproportionate amount of baseball well as they assess a prospect’s future. In Washington’s case, his athleticism and raw power qualify as abilities that stack up against almost any current big league player. If those are the traits that you value highly – and, really, who doesn’t? – then Washington is just about as good as it gets in college ball this year.

Conversely, anybody who watches a ton of amateur ball can quickly realize the holes in a mega-talented player’s game. If you’re an “always bet on the hit tool, including the consistent ability to make contact, the capacity to make adjustments within an at bat (or at least a game), and a seemingly innate overall feel for the strike zone and resourcefulness to spit on sometimes-strikes that he can’t do anything with,” well, then you might have some trepidation in championing a player who otherwise has first round tools. I’m on the fence as to whether or not how much of what we consider to fall under the plate discipline/approach to hitting umbrella can be taught, but I do believe that Washington is at the age in his baseball development when figuring it out – maybe not completely, but certainly to a degree – is well within the realm of possibility. That possibility on top of the prodigious raw power and plus athleticism is what makes the prospect of gambling on Washington so appealing. I get it. A comparison that I’ve heard and liked – though it admittedly stretches the limits of my personal firsthand baseball watching days – has stacked up Washington favorably to a young Richard Hidalgo.

I’m not sure I have much to add beyond that. Washington has huge raw power and loads of athleticism, but so many questions about his bat that it’s unclear if it’ll ever matter. “You remember Kentrail Davis? Kinda like that,” was how one scout put it to me when asking about Washington.

They don’t get much rawer than OF Nicholos Hamilton (399), a plus-plus running high schooler out of New York who is incredibly far away from what he’ll eventually be. I had somebody tell me rather prophetically that they’d rather take a chance on going overslot with Hamilton (Note: the Red Sox got him for $100,000, so they didn’t have to dip into their pool money) in the eleventh round than on risking a first round pick on Garrett Whitley.

OF Tyler Spoon, drafted just 1034 spots after his Arkansas teammate Andrew Benintendi, has long been mentioned as a potential professional second base project, but the Red Sox took the idea one step further by having him get some work in behind the plate a little in his debut season. If that experiment works, then Spoon might be a name worth keeping in mind. We’re talking the deepest darkest recesses of your mind, but at least he’d be in there. OF Jerry Downs hit really well in his pro debut. I don’t know much about him, but I’ll be rooting hard for him to become only the eighteenth big league player born in Colombia.

2B Yomar Valentin (368) is a steady glove up the middle with sneaky pop and a high baseball IQ. He was also a really young HS senior (18 this December), something that can also be said for Nick Hamilton. Could be a coincidence or could be that Boston wisely gives extra credit for guys who excel at a young age. 2B Chad De La Guerra has more pop than most middle infielders and picks his spots really well on the base paths. The approach leaves something to be desired, but if he can fake it at short then he might have a shot at working himself into a bat-first utility guy.

C Andrew Noviello is a fascinating player to close on. The local product from Bridgewater-Raynham HS (located just under an hour from Fenway) was a primary second baseman until his senior year of high school. That’s when he began giving catching an honest try in an attempt to make himself more appealing to pro and college teams alike. Good thinking. I also have him in my notes as capable of playing third base and being more than able to hold his own on the mound as a righthanded pitcher. The best part about this is the pick is far more than a team hooking up a local kid and getting some positive PR; Noviello can really hit. If he can show some growth behind the plate in the early going, he’s a real prospect.

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2 Comments

  1. mekonsrock says:

    Enjoy your work immensely, Rob, especially the draft preview material. Dumb and mildly awkward question: I’d like to make a modest donation as a thanks for your copious and literate writings — but where is a link to do so?

    • Rob Ozga says:

      This is honestly the nicest thing anybody has said here since I started the site. Thank you. Knowing that even one person out gets something positive out of the work I do here makes it all worth it. I also really appreciate the offer of the donation, but the kind words are more than enough. Something about keeping this thing completely free appeals to me in a weird way, I guess. Thanks again.

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