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2016 MLB Draft Prospect Preview: HS Second Basemen

I say it all the time (proof here, here, here, and from yesterday), but it’s true: second base prospects are made and not born. A little more detail for those who don’t click links — no judgment, I get it — from last year…

Adding talent like this at second base is a good thing for the game (obvious statements are obvious, but stay with me), and perhaps an acknowledgment that a) a good second basemen is hard to find, b) sending out lesser players to second base isn’t a sound long-term development strategy, and c) offensively, the two positions up the middle have a freakishly similar threshold of acceptance (2B: .251/.309/.364 [.299 wOBA, 89 wRC+]; SS: .250/.307/.363 [.298 wOBA, 87 wRC+]). We’ve been conditioned to think of second basemen as nothing more than “failed shortstops,” but the perception of how difficult it is to play the position well appears to be changing. I realize there simply aren’t enough athletes to go around to field thirty middle infielders with two “shortstops” playing up the middle, but that shouldn’t (and it doesn’t, obviously) stop teams from trying. Let’s embrace second basemen in the same way we have long showered praise on shortstops; the position is important and difficult to play well and more than just guys who couldn’t hack it at short.

Of course, we are still cheating in a way. A good HS second base prospect is still very hard to find. As much as I look at the top names on this list as primary second basemen, I’d still be surprised if any of the above players wind up actually playing much of the position this upcoming spring for their high school teams. That’s just the nature of high school ball.

Guys who play second base at the amateur level, especially in high school, aren’t typically prospects in the most honest sense of the word. To find the players who will eventually man the keystone at the highest level, look for shortstops, third basemen, and even catchers who won’t stick and judge accordingly.

It’s largely a guessing game when trying to figure out who will wind up at second this early in the process. For example, the names on last year’s initial ranking of HS second basemen are about as impressive as any position group…and yet there’s a chance that none of the top names will wind up as second basemen.

There’s still a chance that Alonzo Jones shows enough defensively to play there at Vanderbilt. Kyler Murray seems like the most likely to wind up at second, but that comes with the fairly significant caveat if he chooses baseball over football in the long run. Cornelius Randolph has already been moved out of the dirt, so scratch him the left fielder off. Jagger Rusconi could conceivably move back, but center field seems like his new home (that’s where he was announced on draft day) despite starting his career at second. Jones, Murray, and Randolph all found themselves on different lists — or, in Murray’s case, a different sport — in May than they were in September. Ethan Paul, Pikai Winchester, and Rusconi (kind of) all survived potential position switches and held on through the winter and spring.

I know I can get a little weird with wanting to look back at previous years when I’m supposed to be talking about the draft to come, so, finally, we’re back to the present day. A comp that isn’t a comp that I can’t shake is Carlos Cortes as the next Forrest Wall. Stylistically, it doesn’t work: the two are very different athletes with different bodies and different levels of defensive aptitude. As hitters, however, I think they bring a lot of the same good stuff to the table. Wall went higher (35th) than all but one HS 2B (LeVon Washington in 2009) since I started the site. I think Cortes can top that in 2016. The other player frequently compared to Cortes is Kolten Wong. Wong went 22nd overall to the Cardinals in 2011. That might be his draft ceiling, but it’s a pretty darn nice one.

I’m not a scout, but I’ve seen enough of Cortes to feel comfortable with sharing my general observations about him with those who are. “Boy, that Cortes sure can hit,” I’d say with confidence. “I’m no scout (note: I say this a lot in these chats), but if that’s not a potential plus hit tool then I’m not sure I know what one is,” I’d continue. Picture this all said with supreme confidence. How can you watch a guy like Cortes and not come away loving his bat? The swing works, there’s tons of bat speed, he’s strong enough to punish mistakes (above-average raw power?), and I’m not sure I saw him take a bad plate appearance all summer. As somebody who is constantly preaching about the importance of having a plan of attack with every at bat, that last part really resonated with me. I was so ready for everybody to agree with me and bask in the glow of the “attaboys” I so richly deserved.

Well, it didn’t happen. To say that others like Cortes’ hit tool way less than I do (and I’m not special, by the way: lots of smarter internet folk than I love Cortes’ bat) is an understatement. That’s not a universal belief – few draft thoughts are, especially in December – but what I had figured to be one of the draft’s best singular tools is a bit more of a divisive topic than expected. So if you come here seeking the value of the majority, then think of Cortes as a wait-and-see early round pick. If you’re here for my own amateur opinion, then start printing those “Carlos Cortes: First Day MLB Draft Pick” memorabilia t-shirts now.

(This analysis lacks nuance as it only focuses on Cortes’ hit tool. One could like his hit tool a lot and still view him as a tough player to profile because of his unique defensive skill set. Some might see him as a future utility player who projects as a tweener without a true position. Others could view him as a wait-and-see prospect not because of his bat but because of the hope he can play behind the plate at the next level. He’s a tough guy to judge even before you factor in the varied opinions about his bat. Fun player to track and evaluate, though.) 

In almost any other year (and in many other lists that don’t include Cortes with the second base prospects), Morgan McCullough would be a fine choice for the top spot. He can run, defend, and, most importantly, hit. If it all works he’s a regular at second for a long time, though all of the “there is no such thing as a teenage second base prospect” caveats apply. As much as I like McCullough – and I really do, honest – he strikes me as the kind of guy who falls below where he should go and winds up having to prove himself to pro guys all over again in college. I hope I’m wrong. Will Proctor and Cole Stobbe both might interest teams as potential shortstops at the highest level. Alexander Santos is one of the many New Jersey products in this year’s class with a shot to go in the top ten rounds and make an impact on pro ball. In what might be one of those draft quirks that only interests me, there is or will be a New Jersey prospect on each of these early HS lists except first base.

2B/OF Carlos Cortes (Oviedo HS, Florida)
2B Morgan McCullough (West Seattle HS, Washington)
2B/RHP Will Proctor (Mira Costa HS, California)
2B/SS Shane Martinez (John North HS, California)
2B/SS Alexander Santos (Don Bosco Prep, New Jersey)
2B/SS Cole Stobbe (Millard West HS, Nebraska)
2B Ben Baird (Agoura HS, California)
2B/SS Kobe Lopez (Archbishop Edward McCarthy HS, Florida)
2B/OF Austin Todd (Round Rock HS, Texas)
2B Ryan Reynolds (Ouachita Christian HS, Louisiana)
2B Nathan Blakeney (Wesleyan Christian Academy, North Carolina)
2B Alex Brewer (Forrest HS, Tennessee)
2B Tyler Malone (Woodcreek HS, California)
2B/3B Riley King (Collins Hill HS, Texas)
2B/SS Brigham Mooney (Blue Springs South HS, Missouri)
2B/3B Michael Feliz (IMG Academy, Florida)
2B/SS Paul Benitez (Lake Nona HS, Florida)

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2 Comments

  1. RUStoney33 says:

    Interesting comment about “kids from Jersey.” I don’t know if baseball fans around the country are aware of the density in that state, number of HSs, high level of talent and the fact that there are only eight D1 schools with Princeton being one of them, which means only seven for most NJ HS players. That written, so many very, very high level players leave to play in the south because of the poor NJ spring weather and lack of competitive facilities. Rutgers is getting a new indoor practice facility to share with softball to try to compete in the B1G. Seton Hall–at least they have turf–not sure about indoor complex. Rider and Monmouth in the MAAC–no indoor facilities to speak of. Next level down are FDU, St. Peters, the former with a turf field at least, the latter using county/city owned facilities. NJIT, now playing baseball in the Atlantic Sun Conference–engineering school first and again, limited indoor facilities right now, but with a new complex approved–but not dedicated to baseball. Tough sell to keep high level players in state with games in Feb, March and early April…

  2. RUStoney33 says:

    As time goes by, really feeling like MOST HS kids should go to a college program first. So many skills to master and unless one is ‘lights out ready’ to advance very quickly, probably best for most kids to mature some in college, get moving towards a degree, hone their skills and go when they’re 21, if they continue to develop. Those lower round picks where HS kids will likely not see much money, hoping that sense prevails and most decide to go to school.

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