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2016 MLB Draft – High School Outfielders

I don’t have a particularly compelling angle for how to discuss this year’s group of high school outfielders, so I’ll throw a few different ideas out to see what sticks. Hey, I suppose that’s an angle in and of itself. Love it when things work out like that.

Our first attempted angle focuses on the consensus top two high school outfielders in this class. There are some shades of the Austin Meadows/Clint Frazier dynamic from a few years back with Mickey Moniak and Blake Rutherford battling back and forth at the top this year (bonus points for close geographic proximity between the two prospects in each draft), but neither player fits the mold well enough to push the comp much further than that. Of course, as always, it turns out I’m plagiarizing myself here after writing this back in December

In 2013, we had Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier battle down to the wire to see which prep outfielder from the state of Georgia would wind up the first off the board. In 2016, we’re set to have Mickey Moniak and Blake Rutherford, both from California, go back and forth until June to see who goes higher. Forced narrative or something more? I’m inclined to say it’s more than former than the latter –considering it’s a narrative I personally made up mere minutes ago, that should make some sense – but suggesting that the two head-to-head battles run parallel in some ways isn’t crazy. Despite some internet comparisons that paint him as the Meadows, I think the better proxy for Rutherford is Frazier. Issues with handedness, height, and hair hue aside, Frazier as a starting point for Rutherford (offensively only as Frazier’s arm strength blows the average-ish arm of Rutherford away) can be used because the two both have really good looking well-balanced swings, tons of bat speed, and significant raw power. The parallel gets a little bit of extra juice when you consider Frazier and Rutherford were/are also both a little bit older than their draft counterparts.

The extra bit of youth isn’t what gives Moniak the edge for me, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. What separates Moniak at this present moment is his ability to hit the ball hard everywhere. Sometimes simplistic analysis works. The manner in which Moniak sprays line drives and deep flies to all fields resembles something a ten-year veteran who flirts with batting titles season after season does during BP. Trading off a little bit of Rutherford’s power for Moniak’s hit tool and approach (both in his mindfulness as a hitter and his plate discipline) are worth it for me. Of course, check back with me in a few months…I had Meadows ahead of Frazier for a long time before giving in to the latter’s arm, power, and approach (as a whole-fields power hitter, not necessarily as an OBP machine). History may yet repeat itself, but I’ll take Moniak for now.

I seriously thought the Meadows/Frazier comparison was an original thought, and only realized it wasn’t when I went back to my site to look up what I had written about Meadows back in 2013. Then the post with that excerpt popped up and I realized that thinking about baseball draft prospects as much as I do is driving me slowly insane. People don’t believe me when I say that I forget everything I’ve written as soon as I hit “Publish,” but it’s true. I have no memory of what I write. Drugs, alcohol, marriage? Nope, it’s been baseball that has ruined my brain. Definitely worth it.

Anyway, if we want to keep trying to force a “ghost of draft year’s past” narrative on this year’s group of high school outfielders, then we can add Billy McKinney as the Alex Kirilloff doppelganger and get a little closer to that 2013 trio at the top. I mean, it’s still not great but it is closer, right? Last year’s trio of Kyle Tucker (Rutherford), Nick Plummer (Kirilloff), and Trenton Clark (Mickey Moniak) kind of works, but there are problems with each attempted head-to-head comparison; Moniak as Clark has been mentioned elsewhere (ESPN, I believe) and that’s a good one, Kirilloff as Plummer is problematic in multiple ways, and Rutherford as Tucker just plain doesn’t work. A fun trio that matches up well (kind of) comes if we’re cool with going back to 2011: Bubba Starling (Rutherford), Brandon Nimmo (Moniak), and Josh Bell (Kirilloff). We’ve got the tooled-up overaged guy, the plus approach with a sweet swing guy, and the big strong corner outfielder/first baseman defensive tweener best known for his bat…guy. I suppose that’s the worst case scenario for almost all the 2016 prospects, but there are notable differences for each. Rutherford doesn’t share Starling’s rawness in any way, Moniak has a ton more experience (and scout exposure) than Nimmo against high-level pitching, and Kirilloff and Bell…well, they are actually kind of similar in a lot of ways. Actually, the Moniak and Nimmo parallels aren’t too far off besides the level of competition discrepancy. Check Baseball America’s pre-draft notes on Nimmo…

He’s an above-average runner when he’s healthy, which helps him on the basepaths and in center field, and there’s more to his game than just speed. Nimmo has a pretty, efficient lefthanded swing. He’s short to the ball and has outstanding barrel awareness, consistently squaring balls up and shooting line drives to all fields. He has a good eye at the plate and should be an above-average hitter. As he gets stronger, he could add loft to his swing to turn doubles into home runs.

I still believe in Nimmo as being a useful big league player, but perhaps the scouting profile similarities between the two ought to serve as a little bit of a warning for those already all-in on Moniak. Same could be said for the Starling/Rutherford tie-in, though that’s significantly less worrisome because of the latter being far more of a ballplayer than the former ever was; Starling’s issues weren’t simply because he was older for his class but rather because he was older and underdeveloped from a skills standpoint. Making up for lost time while learning the finer points of the game is hard work, but Rutherford’s actual on-field abilities should make the curve much shorter than Starling’s.

(Incidentally, I learned that we’re taken what a steep learning curve should be and flipped it to mean the opposite of the original intent. We talk about steep learning curves as if they note a difficult initial learning process, but a steep increase translates to a quick increment of skill. Wikipedia notes that the error is likely because of how we’ve taken to interpret the idea as climbing a hill. Climbing a steep hill is more difficult than attempting the same on a less steep version, so we assume a steep learning curve means learning something new will be tricky. Maybe this is all common knowledge, but I’ve been using steep learning curve wrong my whole life. If you’re like me, then you can at least walk away from this post learning something new…even if you think all my baseball takes are nonsense.)

Or maybe all of these forced comps are no more than false flags since, you know, comparing distinct individuals to other distinct individuals may not always tell us what we think (hope?) it does. I do, however, think there’s something to identifying players with similar physical traits, skills, and tools, and analyzing their respective career paths, at least on a very general, very preliminary level. I think we can all (mostly) agree that certain player types seem to succeed while others don’t, so there’s value in using historical data to see what has worked and what hasn’t. Besides Trenton Clark, Moniak has also been compared to Christian Yelich (source: everybody) and Steve Finley (Baseball America); I see a little Adam Eaton in his game, but Moniak is far more physical (bigger, too) at the same stage. One other recent draft name that reminded me of Moniak was this guy

He tied Hinch’s USA Baseball record by playing on his sixth national team, and scouts love his grinder approach and in-game savvy. What’s more, Almora has outstanding tools. The Miami signee, in one scout’s words, “has no issues. He’s got above-average tools everywhere, and they all play. He has tools and he uses them.” He doesn’t turn in blazing times when he runs in showcases (generally he’s a 6.8-second runner in the 60), but his game instincts help him steal bases and cover plenty of ground in center field. Scouts consider his defense major league-ready right now, with plus grades for his accurate throwing arm. With natural hitting rhythm and plenty of bat speed, [he] is a line-drive machine with a loose swing who stays inside the ball, relishes velocity and handles spin. He should have 20-homer power down the line, sufficient if he slows down and can’t play center, and a definite bonus if (as expected) he stays in the middle garden. He plays the game with both ease and energy and may have some projection left in his athletic 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame. The Miami signee is considered one of the draft’s safer picks and could sneak into the first 10 selections.

No comp is perfect, but as far as draft prospect parallels go, that’s not half-bad. If I’m alone on this so be it, but I believe thinking of Moniak as a lefthanded version of Albert Almora, the sixth overall pick in 2012, kind of works. Because we’re already up to five comps, what’s one more? A contact I trust dropped Ender Inciarte as a possible career path and production point of comparison for Moniak, assuming the power never really comes around. I see Moniak as a hitter just a tweak or three away from tapping into some of his average raw power more consistently, so anything in that 45/50 scouting grade band (12-18 HR) feels within reach for him at maturity. For all the comps thrown Moniak’s way this spring, it’s really hard to top the Yelich one. I think that’s one of the better comps of any prospect in recent years. I really like Yelich. I really like Moniak.

Another potential angle with this year’s prep outfielders is one that has been generally underplayed by the experts so far this spring. My sources, such as they are, have led me to believe that there is serious internal debate among many scouting staffs about the respective merits of Rutherford and Kirilloff. The idea that there’s a consensus favorite between the two among big league scouting departments is apparently way off the mark. This may surprise many draft fans who have read about 100x more on Rutherford this spring than Kirilloff, but I think the confusion at the top of the high school outfield class is real. I’d guess that most teams have either Moniak or Rutherford in the first spot; the teams that Moniak first, however, might not necessarily have Rutherford behind him at second. Kirilloff is far more liked by teams than many of the expert boards I’ve seen this spring.

We already ran down a number of the popular comps for Moniak, so we might as well give in to the same temptation with Rutherford. This has surely been a very painful read for the anti-comps crowd out there. My bad. As for Rutherford, the list of comps out there is impressive: Grady Sizemore (Fangraphs), Jim Edmonds (Baseball America), David Justice (swing only from Perfect Game), and Trot Nixon (I forget) are just a few of the big names tossed around this spring. I’ve likened Rutherford to a remixed version of both Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier in the past, and I think there’s a chance that he might wind up as a player who has the best qualities of both of his soon-to-be fellow minor league outfield prospects. One fun outside the box comp that I heard recently was a young, lefthanded version of Moises Alou. It’s not totally crazy. Here are some of the old Alou scouting reports I could dig up…

1990: “All tools above. Good hitting approach – with power. Not good base stealer – as yet. Great body for speed and power. Good stroke – stays inside ball. Very strong arm. Confident young man…plus tools. Good outfielder. Future All Star…perhaps not in CF but in RF. Would exhaust CF first.”

1992: 7 hit, 6 power, 6 speed, 5 arm, 7 glove, 6 range “Good young player. Live body, All Star potential. Good contact type. 10-15 HR. SB potential 20-25. Everyday OF.”

Funny that 6 power meant 10-15 home runs to that one scout (doubly so when we remember the offensive environment at the time), but grades aren’t as easily translated as the bigger publications who push grading every prospect in every tool because that’s the only way to cover minor league prospects would have you think. Did that get a little ranty? Whoops. Anyway, I think a lot of those grades and notes on Alou could be very easily be lifted instead from a report on Rutherford. His upside is that of a consistently above-average offensive regular outfielder while defensively being capable of either hanging in center for a bit (a few years of average glove work out there would be nice) or excelling in an outfield corner (making this switch early could take a tiny bit of pressure off him as he adjusts to pro pitching). His floor, like almost all high school hitters, is AA bat with holes in his swing that are exploited by savvier arms.

It’s really hard to break down two different high school hitters from two different coasts, but I’ll do my best with what I have to compare Rutherford and Kirilloff. This is hardly a definitive take because, like just about any of my evaluations, I’m just one guy making one final call based on various inputs unique to the information I have on hand. I’m not a scout; I’m just a guy who pretends to know things on the internet. I give Kirilloff the slight edge in raw power, a definite arm strength advantage, and a very narrow lead in bat speed. Rutherford has the better swing (very close call), defensive upside (his decent chance to stay in center for a few years trumps Kirilloff’s average corner outfield/plus first base grades), and hit tool. The two are very close when it comes to approach (both plate discipline and ability to drive it to all fields), athleticism (another slight lean Rutherford, but Kirilloff is underrated here), and foot speed. I actually had Kirilloff ahead by a hair going into the NHSI, but Rutherford’s run of fantastic plate appearances on day two were too much to ignore. Both are great prospects and very much worth top half of the first round selections. I can’t wait to see how high they wind up on my final board.

Another solid hook here could have been the rise of the ultra-athletic late-first round helium outfield prospect. We’re talking Brandon Marsh, Taylor Trammel, Connor Capel, Hunter Bishop, John Flowers, Khalil Lee, and Thomas Jones are all outstanding athletes who should begin getting interest from teams beginning around pick twenty to twenty-five. There’s a decent chance that all of those guys are off the board by the end of the second round. Ten prep outfielders were taken in the first two rounds last year (the average is around 8.5 HS OF taken in the top two rounds since 2009), so expecting something similar (the seven I named plus the big three at the top) is well within the realm of possibility. Will Benson (who some still think of as the third member of the prep OF Big Three over Kirilloff), Akil Baddoo (all he does is hit), Jared Shelby (very little buzz about him this spring, but I like him), Avery Tuck (it only takes one team to still believe…), Chase Creek (burner who probably deserves to be on the athlete list), and Josh Stephen (solid all over, especially at the plate) all are candidates to crash the top two round party as well. This leaves out players like Garrett Hodges (love the hit tool), Dylan Carlson (fast-rising bat I’ve heard called a “second round version of Kirilloff”), Francisco Del Valle (big power), Dean Looney (more big power), and Trevyne Carter (another great athlete), not to mention the usual handful of high school athletes at other spots who get called as outfielders on draft day right off the bat.

If we stick with the idea that Moniak, Rutherford, and Kirilloff (in whatever order you like) are the Big Three this year, then that opens the door to all kinds of fun names to lay claim to the fourth spot. My current lean is Brandon Marsh, the highly athletic plus to plus-plus runner out of Georgia. We know he’s got four average or better tools (you can add a plus arm, average or better raw power, and easy center field range to his hot wheels), but, like many prospects of his ilk, we don’t know how his bat will play against professional pitching. Between the swing, the bat speed, and his approach to date, there are lots of encouraging signs, so gambling you at least get an average-ish hit tool out of him seems more than fair. Combined with his other tools, that player is a potential monster. Everything said about Marsh can also be said about Taylor Trammel, minus the arm strength accolades. Trammel can run and defend with the best in his class, but his arm is inconsistent at best. One thing I really like about him is how real his progression has felt this past calendar year. There’s been no surge in buzz about him throughout the spring; instead, it’s been a slow and steady build, as many scouts have noted that the average grades on his sheet have morphed into above-average to plus marks over the course of his final season. Yet another Georgia high school prospect, Will Benson, is currently sandwiched between the two on my rankings. I never really got the Jason Heyward comp for Benson – the most Heyward thing about Heyward is his plus defense, something that Benson is a long way from, if he ever gets there at all – but I like the connection between him and Kyle Lewis. I don’t think he lasts until the second, but he would make for an excellent consolation prize for a team picking at the top of the first round that misses out on the Mercer star with their first pick. Or just grab them both and begin hoping that you’ve just taken care of your outfield corners for the next decade.

You know what? We could have just made this whole thing about California and Georgia. We’ve covered the two big California guys at the top and the preceding paragraph is all about three Georgia boys in a row. And now here I am ready to spend a little time with Akil Baddoo and Garrett Hodges. My list isn’t finalized just yet, but the first draft has six of the first seven and ten of the first fourteen high school outfielders in this class being from either CA or GA. I firmly believe in Baddoo’s bat. I also believe in Baddo because of a David Rawnsley (Perfect Game) comp from earlier this spring. He dropped a Rondell White on Baddo’s game. White was the first prospect that I ever truly loved. Seven-year-old me saw him play during the summer of 1993 for the Harrisburg Senators. His presence on the field was so striking that I instantly became hooked on the fun behind following prospects, tracking player development, and cheering teams on who were committed to building through the farm system. White gave me hope as a baseball fan that the next big thing was always just around the corner. As for Hodges, well, I don’t know if I’m out on an island with him at this point or what, but I firmly believe that he’ll hit. Bat-first prep prospects are tough to love, but I really, really like Hodges.

*****

OF Akil Baddoo (Salem HS, Georgia)
OF Aldrich De Jongh (Trinity Christian Academy, Florida)
OF Alvaro Valdez (Westminster Christian HS, Florida)
OF Andre Nnebe (St. Mary’s HS, California)
OF Avery Tuck (Steele Canyon HS, California)
OF Bailin Markridge (O’Connor HS, Arizona)
OF Ben Lewis (Horizon HS, Arizona)
OF Blake Rutherford (Chaminade Prep HS, California)
OF Brad Demco (Lake Travis HS, Texas)
OF Brandon Marsh (Buford HS, Georgia)
OF Brock Anderson (Sparkman HS, Alabama)
OF Brock Howard (Harmony HS, Florida)
OF Caleb Green (Metter HS, Georgia)
OF Cameron Blake (Round Rock HS, Texas)
OF Chase Cheek (Phillips HS, Florida)
OF Chase Murray (Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Ohio)
OF Chavez Young (Faith Baptist Academy, Florida)
OF Christian Long (Westside HS, Texas)
OF Christian Moya (South Hills HS, California)
OF Clayton Keyes (Bishop Carroll HS, Alberta)
OF Colin Brophy (Notre Dame HS, California)
OF Connor Capel (Seven Lakes HS, Texas)
OF Dalton Griffin (South Effingham HS, Georgia)
OF Dante Baldelli (Bishop Hendricken HS, Rhode Island)
OF Dean Looney (Butler HS, North Carolina)
OF Denilson Elligson (Graceville HS, Florida)
OF Dominic Clementi (Arrowhead HS, Wisconsin)
OF Dominic Fletcher (Cypress HS, California)
OF Donnie Gleneski (Bishop Kenny HS, Florida)
OF Dylan Hirsch (El Camino Real HS, California)
OF EP Reese (North Davidson HS, North Carolina)
OF Eric Rivera (Flanagan HS, Florida)
OF Francisco Del Valle (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
OF Gabe Simons (Ada HS, Oklahoma
OF Garrett Hodges (South Effingham HS, Georgia)
OF Hunter Bishop (Serra HS, California)
OF Hunter Judd (Knoxville Catholic HS, Tennessee)
OF Jack Suwinski (Taft HS, Illinois)
OF Jacob Hirsh (O’Dea HS, Washington)
OF Jake Suddleson (Harvard-Westlake HS, California)
OF Jalen Harrison (St. Anne’s-Belfield HS, Virginia)
OF Jaren Shelby (Tates Creek HS, Kentucky)
OF Jarrett Finger (Grandview HS, Colorado)
OF Jeremy Ydens (St. Francis HS, California)
OF Jerrette Lee (Columbus HS, Georgia)
OF Joe Acker (Marquette University HS, Wisconsin)
OF Joe Faulkner (Cumberland Gap HS, Tennessee)
OF Jordan McFarland (Waterloo HS, Illinois)
OF Jordan Wiley (Richland HS, Texas)
OF Jose Layer (Colegio Angel David, Puerto Rico)
OF Josh Stephen (Mater Dei HS, California)
OF Juan Carlos Abreu (Winter Springs HS, Florida
OF Kace Massner (Burlington Community HS, Iowa)
OF Kameron Misner (Poplar Bluff HS, Missouri
OF Keegan Snowbarger (St. Xavier HS, Kentucky)
OF Keenan Bell (Episcopal HS, Florida)
OF Kingsley Ballao (Maui HS, Hawaii)
OF Kobi Owen (Episcopal HS, Texas)
OF Kobie Taylor (Portsmouth HS, New Hampshire)
OF Landon Silver (Huntington Beach HS, California)
OF Langston Watkins (Louisville Male HS, Kentucky)
OF Luke Lalumia (Grand Ledge HS, Michigan)
OF Marcus Mack (Bellaire HS, Texas)
OF Mason Nadeau (North Penn HS, Pennsylvania)
OF Matthew Fraizer (Clovis North HS, California)
OF Michael Farley (Chico HS, California)
OF Michael Wilson (Colonia HS, New Jersey)
OF Mickey Moniak (La Costa Canyon HS, California)
OF Nick Howie (Garth Webb SS, Ontario)
OF Nick Neville (IMG Academy, Florida)
OF Nick Wilhite (Buford HS, Georgia)
OF Nikolas Dague (Sickles HS, Florida)
OF Otis Statum (Bishop O’Dowd HS, California)
OF Preston Jones (Mountain View HS, Washington)
OF Quin Cotton (Regis Jesuit HS, Colorado)
OF Raymond Hernandez (Fernando Ledesma Continuation, Puerto Rico)
OF Raymond Salaman (Luis Hernaiz Verone HS, Puerto Rico)
OF Robert Bullard (Thurgood Marshall HS, Texas)
OF Ronald Washington (Ridge Point HS, Texas)
OF Ryan Brown (St. James HS, Maryland)
OF Ryan Mejia (Alonso HS, Florida)
OF Ryan Novis (Corona Del Sol HS, Arizona)
OF Spencer Taylor (Trinity Christian Academy, Florida)
OF Taylor Trammel (Mount Paran Christian HS, Georgia)
OF Ted Sabato (Brunswick HS, New York)
OF Terence Norman (Kennesaw Mountain HS, Georgia)
OF Thomas Jones (Laurens District 55 HS, South Carolina)
OF Todd Lott (Trinity Christian Academy, Florida)
OF Tony Schultz (Saints Peter and Paul HS, Maryland)
OF Trace Bucey (Carroll HS, Texas)
OF Tre Turner (Holy Cross HS, Louisiana)
OF Tremaine Spears (Tioga HS, Louisiana)
OF Trevyne Carter (Soddy Daisy HS, Tennessee)
OF Troy Johnston (Rogers HS, Washington)
OF Wyatt Featherston (Green Mountain HS, Colorado)
OF/1B Alex Kirilloff (Plum HS, Pennsylvania)
OF/1B Dylan Carlson (Elk Grove HS, California)
OF/1B Will Benson (The Westminster Schools, Georgia)
OF/3B Armani Smith (De La Salle HS, California)
OF/3B Matthew Gorski (Hamilton Southeastern HS, Indiana)
OF/LHP Austin Langworthy (Williston HS, Florida)
OF/LHP Carter Nelson (Jenks HS, Oklahoma)
OF/LHP Khalil Lee (Flint Hill HS, Virginia)
OF/LHP Kyle Stowers (Christian HS, California)
OF/RHP Brandon Fraley (Caravel Academy, Delaware)
OF/RHP Connor Kimple (Marquette HS, Wisconsin)
OF/RHP John Flowers (Trinity Christian Academy, Florida)
OF/RHP Michael Toglia (Gig Harbor HS, Washington)
OF/RHP Trevor Boone (Tulsa Memorial HS, Oklahoma)

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