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2016 MLB Draft – High School Shortstops

A brief history of the top high school shortstops selected and their respective ages in their draft year…

2015: Brendan Rodgers – turned 19 that August
2014: Nick Gordon – turned 19 that October
2013: JP Crawford – turned 19 that next January
2012: Carlos Correa – turned 18 that September
2011: Francisco Lindor – turned 18 that November
2010: Manny Machado – turned 18 that July
2009: Jiovanni Mier – turned 19 that August

Delvin Perez, set to turn 18-years-old this November, will join that club in a few weeks. He’ll be younger than everybody on that list, though Lindor, the player I used as the best case scenario comp for Perez at the start of the draft process, was only ten days older than Perez when comparing their respective draft years. We’ll come back to him shortly.

If we deem the past few seasons as too recent to make fairly assess, then we’re left with a ton of quick-moving impact big league talent at the position. There’s are many reasons why Major League Baseball is in the midst of yet another shortstop renaissance, and the recent influx of talented prep prospects has a lot to do with it. Take a look at this stretch of big league players (guys with * were drafted as shortstops but moved off sooner rather than later)…

2012: Correa, Addison Russell, Corey Seager
2011: Lindor, Javier Baez, Trevor Story, Mookie Betts*
2010: Machado, Ryan Brett*, Garin Cecchini*, JT Realmuto*
2009: Nick Franklin, Chris Owings, Billy Hamilton*, Enrique Hernandez*, Scooter Gennett*

You also have Gavin Cecchini, Daniel Robertson, and Roman Quinn on the way, though there’s a chance that all of the above will have asterisks by their name eventually if they don’t have one already. Then there’s also clear asterisks Michael Taylor (a negative value player to date, but there’s plenty of time to change that) and Mychal Givens, who really should have been on the mound in the first place. We’re just using that 2009-2012 draft band here; if we include the past three classes, we’ve got Crawford, Gordon, and Rodgers, among others, on the way. That’s a healthy group of high school shortstops drafted this decade.

If so inclined to use recent history as a guide, then the point here is pretty simple: when in doubt, draft a prep shortstop. We’ve seen how high school catchers, first basemen, and second basemen have proven to be questionable investments over the years. High school shortstops, on the other hand, have had a great deal of success. Nothing here is conclusive, nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Let’s talk about high school shortstops.

One of the fun things about having a site like this for so long is having a long track record, good and bad, to look back on. I find looking back at the bad to be particularly illuminating. A crucial element to evaluation, in any walk of life, is the willingness and ability to self-scout. My own track record with the top high school shortstops of recent years is spotty at best. I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things along the way, but that can be a tough thing to see when you’re still in the middle of the seemingly never-ending year-to-year draft game. My evolution can be seen somewhat when looking at my experiences with Manny Machado in 2010, Francisco Lindor in 2011, Carlos Correa in 2012, and eventually Brendan Rodgers in 2015…and hopefully Delvin Perez in 2016.

This quick, admittedly self-indulgent journey begins with both Machado and Correa as I explained the latter’s high ranking at one point using the former’s far too low ranking as the learning experience that it was…

Correa represents my mea culpa for underrating Manny Machado in 2010. Their scouting reports read very, very similar, and are best summed up by the abundance of “above-average” and “plus” sprinkled throughout. Correa can throw with the best of them, and his foot speed, bat speed, approach, and range are all well above-average. He’ll need plenty of at bats against quality pitching, so his drafting team will have to be patient, but his experience against high velocity arms is encouraging.

I had Machado thirteenth on my final 2010 board. That means he was behind AJ Cole, Karsten Whitson, Stetson Allie (perhaps there’s a lesson there about HS arms…), Brandon Workman, Deck McGuire (or low-ceiling college arms…), and Justin O’Conner (think I’ve learned my lesson about non-elite HS catchers by now). Austin Wilson (ranked fifth) also stands out as a bad miss this year; there’s maybe some Will Benson or Blake Rutherford parallels with him, depending on how you look at things. As far as Machado, I just flat missed on his physical tools. Missing on aptitude or work ethic or willingness to take instruction or even projection of physical growth is one thing, but what I saw and heard of Machado was drastically different than how he really played the game. You could say I underrated his tools, but I’d go a step further and say I just flat didn’t appreciate him for what he was and could be. There could have been some contrarian bias in me then that I hope has gotten beaten out of me by now; sometimes guys are hyped for good reason, so going against the grain to be different is just flat stupid. If he’s good, say he’s good. If that means you have the same top five as everybody else, so be it. That exact contrarian streak kept bubbling up here as I had assumed most of the spring that Carter Kieboom would overtake Delvin Perez on this rankings one he showed everybody he could hang at shortstop. I LOVE Kieboom, as I hope I’ll clearly explain below. Perez just has that extra gear of athleticism, speed, and range that puts him in the same class as too many of the recent shortstop hits to ignore. One such hit is Francisco Lindor.

My take on Lindor after his limited debut season (20 PA) showed just enough personal growth that I’ll give myself a tiny gold star for the day…

Without repeating myself pre-draft too much (check all the bold below for that take), here’s where I stand on Monteverde Academy (FL) SS Francisco Lindor. Of all the positives he brings to the field, the two biggest positives I can currently give him credit for are his defense and time/age. Lindor’s defensive skills really are exemplary and there is no doubt that he’ll stick at shortstop through his first big league contract (at least). As for time/age, well, consider this a preemptive plea in the event Lindor struggles at the plate next season: the guy will be playing his entire first full pro season at just eighteen years old. For reference’s sake, Jimmy Rollins, the player I compared Lindor’s upside to leading up to the draft, played his entire Age-18 season at Low-A in the South Atlantic League and hit .270/.330/.370 in 624 plate appearances. A year like that wouldn’t be a shocker unless he goes all Jurickson Profar, a name Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks recently evoked after watching Lindor, on the low minors. Either way, I’m much happier with this pick now than I would have been a few months ago. Cleveland saw the opportunity to land a superstar talent at a premium defensive position and went for it, high risk and all.

That last line is where there’s some progress shown: “Cleveland saw the opportunity to land a superstar talent at a premium defensive position and went for it, high risk and all.” I think that belief informs where I’m at with Perez right now. There’s almost no denying the enormity of his ceiling, but the risk factor is very real. The list of successful prep shortstops who no longer play shortstop above helps mitigate some of those concerns as it seems that importance of being able to slide down the defensive spectrum can’t be overstated enough. Draft for stardom, hope for the best, and be willing and ready pivot developmentally to another defensive spot if necessary. Of course, if you get the stardom part wrong as I did with Machado, then your evaluation is doomed from the start. I at least allowed for that stardom with Lindor, so, yeah, some growth there. Not a ton, but some. I’ll take it.

I think I had mostly learned my lesson by the time it came to rank the aforementioned Carlos Correa first overall in 2012. That lesson was applied, more or less, last year when discussing Brendan Rodgers…

That’s a player worthy of going 1-1 if it all clicks, but there’s enough risk in the overall package that I’m not willing to call him the best player in this class. Second best, maybe. Third best, likely. The difference in ranking opinion is minute, but for a decision-maker picking within those first few selections it can mean the difference between job security for years to come (and, perhaps eventually, a ring…) or an outright dismissal even before getting to see this whole thing through.

The MLB Draft: go big on upside or go home, especially early on day one. And if you’ve got the smarts/guts enough to do just that, then make it a shortstop when possible. And if you’re going to gamble on a high risk/high reward shortstop, make it as young a shortstop as you can find. And if that young shortstop also happens to have game-changing speed, an above-average to plus arm, plus raw power, and a frame to dream on, then…well, maybe Delvin Perez should be talked more about as the potential top overall prospect in this class then he is. I know there’s some chatter, but maybe it should be louder. What stands out most to me about Perez is how much better he’s gotten over the past few months. That, combined with his youth, has his arrow pointed up in a major way.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard from a few different independent sources that are steadfast in their belief that Perez will be the clear best player from this class within three years or less. To say that said reports have helped push me in the recent direction of Perez as a serious candidate to finish in the top spot on my own board would be more than fair. When I think of Perez, I can’t help but draw parallels to Brandon Ingram, freshman star at Duke and sure-fire top two pick in next month’s NBA Draft; more specifically, I think of Perez as the baseball draft version of Ingram (young, indicative of where the game is headed, and the next evolutionary step that can be traced back to a long line of similar yet steadily improving players over the years) when stacked up to Blake Rutherford’s Ben Simmons (both excellent yet perhaps slightly overhyped prospects getting too much love due to physical advantages that won’t always be there). I’m not sure even I buy all of that to the letter (and I lean towards Simmons as the better NBA prospect, so the thing falls apart quickly), but there are certain characteristics that make it fit…and it’s a fun hook.

Also for what it’s worth, I’ve heard from a few friends who are far from sold on Perez the hitter. That’s obviously a fair counterpoint to all of the enthusiasm found in the preceding avalanche of words. Will Perez hit enough to make the kind of impact worthy of the first overall selection? This takes me back to something tangentially related to Kyle Mercer, another potential 1-1 candidate, back in February

It goes back to something I mentioned in the comments section a few weeks back: guys either learn to hit or they don’t. That’s my paraphrased take from this scout’s quote talking about the likelihood of Jahlil Okafor improving his outside shot as a professional: “He needs to become a better shooter and free throw shooter. He either will or he won’t.” Scouts work very hard evaluating amateur and minor league talent across the country, so their collective insight into projecting a young hitter’s future is not to be dismissed. But…can we ever really know how a guy is going to react when thrown into the professional environment? A 95 MPH fastball with movement is a 95 MPH fastball with movement at any level. Plus speed, outstanding glove work, and the ability to miss bats are all translatable skills when honed properly. Hitting is an entirely different animal.

In other words, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. The Perez supporters –myself included, naturally – obviously believe in his bat, but also believe that he won’t necessarily have to hit a ton to be a damn fine player when you factor in his defensive gifts and plus to plus-plus speed. That’s part of what makes drafting a highly athletic shortstop prospect with tons of youth on his side so appealing. Even if the bat doesn’t fulfill all your hopes and dreams, the chances you walk away with at least something is high…or at least higher than at any other position. It gives players like Perez a deceptively high floor. I’ll annoyingly repeat what I said about Rodgers here one more time…

That’s a player worthy of going 1-1 if it all clicks, but there’s enough risk in the overall package that I’m not willing to call him the best player in this class. Second best, maybe. Third best, likely.

That’s what I said last year about Rodgers before eventually ranking him third overall in his class. I have similar thoughts about Perez, but now I’m reconsidering the logic in hedging on putting him anywhere but first overall. A sky high ceiling if he hits and a reasonably realistic useful big league floor if he doesn’t makes him hard to pass on, especially in a class with so few potential stars at the top. He’s blown past Oscar Mercado and Jalen Miller, and now shares a lot of the same traits that have made Francisco Lindor a future star. I don’t see Perez as the type of player you get fired for taking high, but rather the kind of player that has ownership looking at you funny for passing up after he makes it big. All that for a guy who nobody can say with compelling certainty will ever hit. I love the draft.

Carter Kieboom was with the third base prospects in my notes up until about a month or so ago. The buzz on him being good enough to stick at shortstop for at least a few years grew too loud to ignore. In fact, said buzz reminds me quite a bit about how the slow yet steady drumbeat for Alex Bregman, Shortstop grew throughout the spring last season. Beyond the defensive comparison, I think there’s actually a little something to looking at Kieboom developing as a potential Bregman type impact bat over the next few seasons. He checks every box you’d want to see out of a high school infielder: hit (above-average), power (above-average raw), bat speed (yes), approach (mature beyond his years), athleticism (well above-average), speed (average), glove (average at short, could be better yet at third), and arm (average to above-average, more than enough for the left side). He’d be neck and neck with Drew Mendoza for third place on my third base list, but he gets the bump to second here with the shortstops. At either spot, he’s a definite first round talent for me.

Falling behind Perez and Kieboom are names like Gavin Lux, Grae Kessinger, Nonie Williams, and Nicholas Quintana. I’m not sure there’s a bad way to rank those guys at this point. Lux is a really intriguing young hitter with the chance to come out of this draft as arguably the best all-around hitter (contact, pop, patience) in this high school class. That may be a bit rich, but I’d at least say his straight hit tool ranks only below Mickey Moniak, Carlos Cortes, and Joe Rizzo. If his bat plays above-average in all three phases – he could/should be there with contact and approach while his raw power floats somewhere in that average to above-average range – then he’d certainly be in the mix. A fun name that I’ve heard on Lux that may or may not have been influenced by geography: a bigger, stronger Scooter Gennett. Here’s some of what Baseball America had on Gennett in his draft year…

He profiles as an offensive second baseman, while Florida State intends for him to start at shortstop as a freshman. He’s a grinder with surprising power and bat speed for his size (a listed 5-foot-10, 170 pounds), and though he can be streaky, his bat is his best tool. He’s a better runner on the field than in showcase events, but he’s closer to average than above-average in that department. Defensively he gets the most of his ability, with his range and arm better suited for the right side of the infield than the left. He’s agile, though, and a solid athlete. Gennett would be a crucial get for Florida State, if he gets there. Most scouts consider him a third-to-fifth round talent.

A bigger, stronger, and arguably better (especially when likelihood to stick at short is factored in) Gennett feels about right, both in terms of draft stock (second to fourth round talent, maybe with a shot to sneak into the late first) and potential pro outcome. It should be noted that Lux’s defensive future is somewhat in flux. I think he’s athletic enough with enough arm to stick at short for a while, but there are many others who think he’s got second base written all over him. A lot of that likely has to do with his arm – it’s looked strong to me with a really quick release, but there’s debate on that – so I’d bet that there’s little consensus from team to team about his long-term position. Teams that like him to pick him high in the draft will like him best as a shortstop, so it’s my hunch that he’ll at least get a shot to play in the six-spot as a pro to begin his career.

I really like Kessinger’s hands, range, and first step actions at short. He’s just a half-step behind Perez – if that – defensively. Offensively he’s more athlete with bat speed than finished product, but you could do a lot worse than what he gives you as a starting point. Williams matches Kessinger’s athleticism, speed (both of the bat and foot variety), and defensive upside, but the latter area is where Kessinger’s present value trumps where Williams is currently at. Williams could get there, but Kessinger has the head start. Many have slid Williams to center field on their boards, but he’s come on fast as an infielder since his inconsistent showing in the dirt this past summer. The defensive gap between Kessinger and Williams is potentially made up by the advantage that Williams has shown in the power department. He’s currently more physical than Kessinger with a swing geared toward more natural pop. Two similarly talented players with just enough differences to keep things interesting; I like Kessinger by a hair, but that could flip by June.

I’m running out of time, but I’m still not quite sure what to feel about Quintana as a prospect. I like him a lot, but I’m not quite sure yet how high “a lot” will get him on the board. Though most I talked to saw him moving off of shortstop sooner rather than later – second, third, and even catcher were mentioned as long-term spots for him – I kind of like the strong armed righthander to stick at short for the foreseeable future. Offensively, I believe. Quintana can hit and hit for power. If his approach comes around, then defensive questions won’t loom quite as large.

Jose Miranda is a particularly well-rounded shortstop with a strong hit tool, solid approach, and reliable hands. Grant Bodison is a little older than his peers, but with a plus arm, plus speed, and an average or better shot to stick at shortstop, he’s a fine prospect. His approach as a hitter has always stood out as particularly intriguing, so I’m more willing to overlook the extra few month lead he has on much of his current competition than I might be otherwise. Hudson Sanchez, a righthanded bat with some thump out of Texas, is on the opposite side of the age spectrum as one of this class’s youngest prospects. Though not quite the same prospect, it’s worth keeping in mind that Sanchez is just a few weeks behind Perez. Only one team will get Perez in the first round, so the value of nabbing players like Kieboom (second if you’re very lucky), Lux (same), and then one or more of Kessinger, Williams, Quintana, Jaxon Williams, Miranda, Bodison, Hamilton, Sanchez, Francisco Thomas, Cam Shepherd, and Alexis Torres (all third round or later) will certainly be on the forefront of twenty-nine other teams’ minds in this upcoming draft.

*****

SS Anthony Prato (Poly Prep Country Day School, New York)
SS Austin Masel (Belmont Hill HS, Massachusetts)
SS Austyn Tengan (Cypress HS, California)
SS Brady Whalen (Union HS, Washington)
SS Branden Fryman (Tate HS, Florida)
SS Brandon Chinea (Florida Christian HS, Florida)
SS Brandon Hauswald (University School of Jackson, Tennessee)
SS Brian Rey (Deltona HS, Florida)
SS Cameron Cannon (Mountain Ridge HS, Arizona)
SS Camryn Williams (Gaither HS, Florida)
SS Carter Aldrete (Montery HS, California)
SS Cayman Richardson (Hanover HS, Virginia)
SS David Hamilton (San Marcos HS, Texas)
SS Delvin Perez (International Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS Duncan Pence (Farragut HS, Tennessee)
SS Francisco Thomas (Osceloa HS, Puerto Rico)
SS Grae Kessinger (Oxford HS, Mississippi)
SS Grant Bodison (Mauldin HS, South Carolina)
SS Grant Little (Midland Christian HS, Texas)
SS Hunter Lessard (Sunrise Mountain HS, Arizona)
SS Jeremy Houston (Mt Carmel HS, Illinois)
SS Kevin Rolon (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS Kevin Welsh (Northern Burlington HS, New Jersey)
SS Logan Davidson (Providence HS, North Carolina)
SS Matthew Rule (Kearney HS, Missouri)
SS Mitchell Golden (Marietta HS, Georgia)
SS Nicholas Novak (Stillwater HS, Minnesota)
SS Nick Derr (Sarasota Community HS, Florida)
SS Nonie Williams (Turner HS, Kansas)
SS Palmer Ford (Virgil Grissom HS, Alabama)
SS Peter Hutzal (Ernest Manning SS, Alberta)
SS Ryan Layne (West Jessamine HS, Kentucky)
SS Sal Gozzo (Sheehan HS, Connecticut)
SS Samad Taylor (Corona HS, California)
SS Tyler Roeder (Jefferson HS, Iowa)
SS Zachary Watson (West Ouachita HS, Louisiana)
SS/2B Alexis Torres (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS/2B Cam Shepherd (Peachtree Ridge HS, Georgia)
SS/2B Gavin Lux (Indian Trail Academy, Wisconsin)
SS/2B Jakob Newton (Oakville Trafalgar SS, Ontario)
SS/2B Nicholas Quintana (Arbor View HS, Nevada)
SS/2B Will Brooks (Madison Central HS, Mississippi)
SS/3B Carter Kieboom (Walton HS, Georgia)
SS/3B Hudson Sanchez (Southlake Carroll HS, Texas)
SS/3B Jose Miranda (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS/3B Josh Hollifield (Weddington HS, North Carolina)
SS/CF Jaxon Williams (BF Terry HS, Texas)
SS/OF DeShawn Lookout (Westmoore HS, Oklahoma)
SS/OF Jaylon McLaughlin (Santa Monica HS, California)
SS/RHP Quincy McAfee (Westside HS, Texas)
SS/RHP Will Proctor (Mira Costa HS, California)

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