Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Toronto in 2016
30 – TJ Zeuch
46 – Bo Bichette
48 – Zach Jackson
59 – JB Woodman
77 – Cavan Biggio
147 – Josh Palacios
203 – Kyle Weatherly
239 – Travis Hosterman
308 – Bradley Jones
459 – Ridge Smith
1.21 – RHP TJ Zeuch
I really, really, really like TJ Zeuch (30). Even without a slam dunk present offspeed pitch that he can use in times of trouble, Zeuch has managed to consistently mow down whatever competition attempts to get in his way. Strikeouts and ground balls and ground balls and strikeouts. Pretty good recipe for success no matter what. From April 2016…
TJ Zeuch has come back from injury seemingly without missing a beat. I’m a big fan of just about everything he does. He’s got the size (6-7, 225), body control, tempo, and temperament to hold up as a starting pitcher for a long time. He’s also got a legit four-pitch mix that allows him to mix and match in ways that routinely leave even good ACC hitters guessing.
Despite my springtime optimism, I’ve heard from a few smart people since who question Zeuch as a long-term starter. Their reasons, based mostly on concerns about pitch selection and repeating his delivery, tend to make sense. Zeuch can throw a curve, cut-slider, and change, but tends to lean on his power sinker more often than most starting pitching prospects around. I get it. As for his delivery, I don’t know. I respect where they are coming from and I think there’s something to the idea that pros who have watched literally tens of thousands of pitchers have a better idea of what works than what doesn’t, but my non-scout eyes don’t see anything particularly concerning about Zeuch’s mechanics. Still, it’s a legitimate reason why one might not love a pitcher as a starting option even if I don’t necessarily agree with it in this specific instance. The larger point is that these are valid concerns that a reasonable observer can arrive at, so keeping a close eye on how Zeuch holds up to the rigors of pitching every fifth day in the pros is a worthwhile endeavor. I’m confident he’s a starter, but there’s enough noise about him potentially needing to shift roles that you can’t call him the stone cold mortal lock to start you’d want out of your first pick.
He doesn’t quite have the same slider, but Zeuch reminds me a little bit of Tyson Ross coming out of Cal in 2008. Even though his ups and downs over the years, you’d take that outcome (the Padres run specifically) in the mid-first round every time.
2.57 – OF JB Woodman
If you’ve kept up with him as an amateur at all, then you had to have loved JB Woodman’s (59) pro debut. It was nothing if not very JB Woodman-y. Flashes of contact ability, patience, power, and speed with a ton of swing-and-miss to go with it. On the whole, Woodman hit .297/.391/.445 with 85 K and 34 BB in 229 AB. Very Woodman-y. The lefthanded bat from Ole Miss is a fantastic athlete who can run, throw, and defend in center. Those skills alone — he’s at least above-average in each area — should get him to the big leagues eventually a la Kirk Nieuwenhuis or Drew Stubbs before him, but his upside is considerably higher than that. Offensively, what we’ve seen from Woodman so far only scratches the surface. In some respects, he’s the type of tooled-up college performer that can be viewed almost as if he’s a teenager coming out of high school. The upside with Woodman is well above-average regular with potential spurts of star play mixed in, but he has some work to get there yet.
I’ve gone back and forth on a few potential career arcs for Woodman if he hits as hoped. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one is best. Based on feedback I’ve gotten and my own two cents, I’ll offer up the names Michael Saunders, Colby Rasmus, and Joc Pederson as possible ceilings for Woodman. The common themes are self-evident: athletic, power/speed lefthanded hitters who can play up the middle (more or less) with an inclination to striking out a little more than you’d like. That’s the prospect archetype you’re buying with Woodman in round two, and those guys are examples of it working in the pros. My hunch is that Woodman will join that list of “talented but slightly frustrating yet still really valuable in the grand scheme of things” players before his career is out.
2.66 – SS Bo Bichette
On Bo Bichette (46) from December 2015…
Bo Bichette is a really good prospect. Bo Bichette also makes my head hurt. I was never all that high on his brother (“I’d be lying if I said I felt good about his future from an instinctual standpoint” is a thing I said about him once and I ranked him 103rd on my board when he went 51st), so I admittedly went into my evaluation of him with a little bit of a skeptical predisposition. That’s not fair and not a particularly good way of doing business, but I’m human and therefore susceptible to silly biases with a brain desperate to create formations of patterns when there’s really nothing there. Fortunately, I’m also a fairly reasonable human who is all too aware of his own failings, so I did my best to get over whatever agenda my dumb brain tried to stick me with. Bichette is really good and getting better. I’m a believer in his power, his bat speed is no joke, and he takes at bats (works deep counts, utilizes whole-field approach) like a seasoned professional hitter already. I’m not on board with those who’d like to push his glove to second, but I think he’s athletic enough to hand at third for a bit. A strange and arguably nonsensical comparison that came to me when watching him over the summer: Maikel Franco. You watch him and maybe it shouldn’t all work, but it does.
And again from May 2016…
It’s easy to ignore high school statistics for top draft prospects. There are way too many complicating factors that make relying on performance indicators little more than a waste of time at that level, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun with some of the outstanding efforts put forth by some of this country’s best hitters. Take Bo Bichette, for example. All he’s done as a high school ballplayer is hit .545/.650/1.272 in 200 HS PA since his sophomore season. That line includes fifty extra base hits (almost half of which being home runs) with 52 BB and just 18 K. When you’re flirting with an OPS that begins with 2.something, you’re doing something right. It’s hard to put up such monster numbers in a competitive baseball state like Florida without having some pretty intriguing physical abilities to match. Interestingly enough, one of his physical traits that seems to have talked about the most is something that not all agree is a good thing. Bichette’s “weird back elbow thing” has been brought up by multiple contacts as a potential point of concern going forward; others, however, aren’t bothered by it in the least. I suppose like any unique swing setup, it’s only an issue for those who don’t believe in him as a hitter in the first place. If you like him, it’s a fun quirk that will either work as a pro or be smoothed out just enough to keep working after getting in the cage a few dozen times with pro coaching.
If you don’t like him, then it’s hard to get past. This is far from a one-to-one comparison, but the never-ending discussion among scouts about Bichette’s mechanics at the plate reminds me of the internet’s incessant chatter about Maikel Franco’s “arm-bar swing.” Breaking down players’ mechanics to the point that no pro team ever does makes you stand out as super smart on the internet, you see. Less cynically, I’d acknowledge that young hitters are hard to judge, so it’s hard to blame a neutral observer tasked with making a long-term assessment on a prospect’s future for being concerned with a hitter who does something different at the plate. Different can get you fired in this business, after all.
My own stance on hitting/pitching mechanics hasn’t changed much over the years: if it works for the individual and he is comfortable repeating it consistently, let it ride. I get that there are instances where guys can get away with mechanical quirks against lesser competition that need to be noted and potentially tweaked as they advance, but, for the most part, positive results beget positive results. If a kid can hit, let them do what they do until they stop hitting. Then and only then do you swoop in and start making peripheral changes to the approach. Of course, this makes me sound like a caveman: results over process is a terrible way to analyze anything, especially if we’re trying to make any kind of predictive critical assessments. Process is critical, no doubt, but I’m open to all kinds of processes that get results; it should go without saying but just in case, there’s no “right” way to swing a bat. Open-mindedness about the process is as important as any other factor when scouting.
I guess my positive spin on players with unique mechanics is simple: if a guy like Bichette can hit the ball hard consistently with a “wrong” swing, then, as a scout confident in my team’s minor league coaching and development staff, I’d be pretty excited to get him signed to a contract to see what he could do once they “fix” him. Said fix would ideally be a tweak more than a total reconstruction – why completely tear down a productive player’s swing when you don’t have to? – but drafting a player you plan on drastically altering mechanically doesn’t make a ton of sense in the first place anyway.
Draft Bichette for his electric bat speed, above-average to plus raw power, and drastically improved whole-fields approach as a hitter. Draft him because he’s a solid runner who has flashed enough defensive tools to profile at multiple spots (3B, 2B, corner OF) on the diamond. Draft him because you believe that his “weird back elbow thing” can be channeled in a positive direction and turned into a helpful trigger when facing off against high-caliber arms. Don’t draft him to reinvent him as something he’s not.
There’s a lot there, so I’m not sure what more to add after Bichette’s stellar pro debut only confirmed what we already knew: dude can hit. Defensively, the jury is still out on where he’ll eventually land but the general consensus seems to be that it’ll be somewhere worthwhile. Whether that’s second, where Bichette saw time at when not playing shortstop this past summer, third, or in the outfield, his defense should be good enough to provide positive overall value once position is taken into account. With the way he swings the bat, that’ll play. Bichette has clear star upside with a future tied as closely to his bat almost as much as any 2016 draft peer. I’m buying here both because I really like Bichette and because almost everybody I talked to the last few months say that Toronto is the perfect landing spot for a guy like him. Feels like almost too easy a call at this point…
3.102 – RHP Zach Jackson
On Zach Jackson (48) from October 2015…
In addition to teammate AJ Puk, I’ve got three other SEC arms with realistic top ten draft hopes. Jackson’s chance for rising up to the 1-1 discussion depends almost entirely on his delivery and command. If those two things can be smoothed out this spring — they often go hand-in-hand — then his fastball (90-94, 96 peak), curve (deadly), and change (inconsistent but very promising) make him a potential top of the rotation starting pitcher.
I had Zach Jackson really high up in my pre-season rankings last October: eighth overall among college prospects and fifth among college pitchers. If you’ll indulge me with a little self-scouting here, I think the four pitchers I had at the top of my 2016 MLB Draft rankings eight full months ahead of the actual draft is instructive. My list then was Alec Hansen, Matt Krook, AJ Puk, and Jackson. Let’s look at how their college seasons actually played out…
13.08 K/9 – 6.80 BB/9 – 51.2 IP – 5.40 ERA
11.42 K/9 – 8.23 BB/9 – 53.2 IP – 5.03 ERA
12.35 K/9 – 4.52 BB/9 – 73.2 IP – 3.05 ERA
11.21 K/9 – 6.79 BB/9 – 53.0 IP – 5.09 ERA
Certainly seems like I have a type. Maybe this year I’ll chill a little bit on the power stuff/little control types. Eh, probably not. As for Jackson, can we just say that he is a righthanded version of Matt Krook (125th overall pick) and call it a day? Lazy analysis is my favorite kind of analysis, but we really should try to get a little bit deeper. Let’s look back at May 2016…
We’ll go with the pre-season evaluation on Jackson to hammer an old point home…
One of my favorite snippets of my notes comes in the Jackson section: “if he fixes delivery and command, watch out.” Well, duh. I could have said that about just about any upper-echelon arm in this age demographic. With Jackson, however, it reinforces just how special his stuff is when he’s right. I don’t think this college class has a pitch better than his curveball at its best.
I think Jackson’s delivery has made strides in 2016 – if not smoother, then certainly more repeatable – but questions about his command can now be partnered with similar concerns about his control. First round stuff + fifth round command/control = ultimate third round landing spot? I don’t know if the math checks out there, but I think the conclusion might wind up being correct. I also think that the scouting on Jackson can more or less be wrapped up for the season – we know what he is by now – so the attention of anybody assigned to watch him between now and June should be on determining if whatever is getting in the way of his stalled command progress and backwards trending control can be fixed through pro instruction and repetition. Jackson is the kind of maddening talent that can get an area scout promoted or canned, but his success or failure from this point forward is all about how he adapts to the pro development staffers tasked with guiding him along.
“First round stuff + fifth round command/control = ultimate third round landing spot” turned out to play out as guessed. Jackson at his best was probably my favorite college arm in this class to watch. The obvious problem was that he was rarely at his best. Great stuff consistently undermined by below-average command and control isn’t nearly as useful as it should be. Never say never, but I have a hard time seeing Jackson ever developing the kind of command necessary to make it work as a starter. Unleashing his fastball/curveball combination in short bursts against professionals should lead to big things. I’ll go out on a major limb and say that those things will be big enough that Jackson will one day be one of those free agent $10 million/year relief pitchers we’re all talking about during hot stove season.
4.132 – Joshua Palacios
Things to like about Josh Palacios (147): chance for above-average hit tool, above-average speed underway, and average raw power. Things to be concerned about Josh Palacios: average athleticism that doesn’t really play in center, iffy arm strength that doesn’t really play in right. If you’re thinking Palacios is an interesting offensive prospect with the inherent limitations that come with likely being limited to left field in the pros, then you might just be on to something. Of course, this was written before seeing the Jays played Palacios exclusively in center and right in his debut. Probably nothing more than a funny coincidence, but it is possible that Toronto views Palacios differently than we do.
5.162 – 2B Cavan Biggio
Old draft favorites are hard to give up. I’m going down with the Cavan Biggio (77) Future Big League Regular ship if it’s the last thing I do. A quick recent timeline of my Biggio love beginning in October 2015…
Without having seen every Notre Dame game the past two years — I’m good, but not that good — one might be confused as to how a player with Biggio’s pedigree and collection of scouting accolades (“line drive machine; born to hit; great pitch recognition; great approach, patient and aggressive all at once”…and that’s just what has been written here) could hit .250ish through two college seasons. I say we all agree to chalk it up to bad BABIP luck and eagerly anticipate a monster junior season that puts him squarely back in the first round mix where he belongs.
That monster junior season didn’t come to pass, but Biggio still had a solid final season (.311/.473/.454 with 54 BB/32 K and 14/14 SB) for the Irish. That final line (adjusted for competition) feels like the type of player Biggio can be at his peak: solid batting average, plenty of walks, some strikeouts, middling pop, and sneaky speed. More on him including a few comps from January 2016…
Biggio’s hit tool, patience, and ability to play important infield spots at a high level still have him at or near the first round range for me. Not sure if it’s instructive or not, but I like looking back at Biggio’s placement between Tyler O’Neill and Billy McKinney (the two hitters who signed pro deals that sandwiched Biggio in his initial draft year) and using that as a starting point as to what kind of hitter I think he can be as a professional. O’Neill if he sells out some of his patience and contact skills for power and McKinney if he keeps progressing as a hitter as is. McKinney in the infield is a pretty interesting prospect and one that I think can play his way into the first round even in a top-heavy year. Two pros that I’ve heard him compared to so far are Ryan Roberts (realistic floor) and Justin Turner (hopeful ceiling). I can see it.
Justin Turner had another incredible year for the Dodgers, so I think we can toss that comp right on out the window. Still like that (lefthanded) Ryan Roberts floor, though. A new ceiling comp that doesn’t really work but I still like: Derek Dietrich. Here’s Dietrich’s pre-draft report from Baseball America…
He’s a difficult player for scouts to judge because he doesn’t fit an obvious pro profile. His lefthanded bat brings value, as do his strong arm and developing power, and he tied his career high with 14 homers this spring. He plays hard and has been a serviceable college shortstop defensively. Scouts believe he lacks the footwork or athletic ability in his 6-foot-1, 196-pound frame to stay at short, though, and wonder if his footwork can improve enough for him to play at second. Most doubt that and believe third base is his best fit with the glove, and he may not produce enough power to profile as a regular there. He also could prove to be a versatile big leaguer in the mold of Geoff Blum or Scott Spiezio, who both had the advantage of switch-hitting.
Sounds a little Biggio-y to me, though I think Dietrich had a little more power upside whereas Biggio has a better idea at the plate. On to March 2016…
Sometimes I feel as though I’m the last remaining Cavan Biggio fan. I know that’s not literally true, but I do still believe in him as a potential long-time big league regular. Offensively he strikes me as the kind of player who will hit better as a pro than he ever did as a college player. I don’t have much of anything to back that opinion up, but this is a mock draft so unsubstantiated claims are part of the deal.
There you have it. Cavan Biggio: potential long-time big league regular. I think the hit tool (bat speed, pitch recognition, approach) and good enough power/speed are enough for him to profile as an every day contributor offensively while his glove at second should be dependable enough to make him an average or so all-around player. I’m comfortable enough betting on the hit tool that I don’t mind being on an island with that forecast. Now, we wait…
6.192 – DJ Daniels
This marks the fourth player selected by the Blue Jays already with a two-letter first name. They’ve already drafted a TJ, a JB, and a Bo. DJ Daniels is not only the fourth two-letter first namer, but he’s also (probably) the earliest draft pick that I had no pre-draft knowledge of. Without having completed all of the draft reviews yet I can’t say for sure, but I I think Daniels not only takes the crown but he demolishes all comers by at least ten rounds.
Unfortunately, his pro debut was nothing to write home about. An overall line of .100/.176/.125 in 131 PA equaled a wRC+ of 0. I’m fairly certain we’ve seen a few draft prospects with rookie season wRC+ figures in the negatives, so this isn’t the worst start of any 2016 MLB Draft prospect. That’s…something positive to glean from all this, I guess. It could have been worse? Working for Daniels is his outstanding athleticism and steady stream of glowing reports about his work ethic. Sometimes pro developmental staffs can mold these types into players.
7.222 – RHP Andy Ravel
I saw Andy Ravel pitch about an hour from me a few years back at Wilson HS in Reading, PA. I also saw him during his junior season at Kent State. He’s plenty impressive on the mound with a repertoire build more on quantity — 88-92 FB (94 peak), average-ish 79-81 SL, 75-78 CB that flashes average, nascent 78-82 CU with average upside — than quality that could led to a decent career as a crafty reliever if/when he figures out what offspeed he likes best, but I had no idea he was teammates with such a character. When I was looking at Ravel’s player page at Kent State doing some final pre-draft cramming, I couldn’t help but notice a section in his bio with the sentence starter “Is creeped out by ____.” I wondered if this was a standard thing for everybody — Ravel is creeped out by tight spaces, BTW — so I clicked another Kent State player’s name at random to double-check. Sure enough the “Is creeped out by ____” question comes standard in the “getting to know you” section of each player’s bio. Where am I going with this, you may be wondering. Well, the player 100% clicked at random to confirm the original question came standard just so happened to be a young man by the name of Tim Faix. Tim is creeped out by “the Nightman, goblins and ghouls.” Pretty entertaining so far, but there’s more. His “likes” include “the Dayman, karate, friendship and different cheeses.” He’s “interested in bird law.” If ever there was a reason for a team to draft a player based solely on answers from his bio, this is it. The Phillies dropped the ball here.
8.252 – RHP Kyle Weatherly
Kyle Weatherly’s (203) awesome junior college season at Grayson (11.78 K/9 and 2.26 BB/7 in 75.2 IP) confirmed what I thought I knew of him coming into the season: he’s really good. Weatherly’s fastball (90-94, 95 peak) is a weapon with serious sink; even better, unlike many young pitchers with plus movement, the righthander commands the pitch like a seasoned veteran. His slider (78-82) flashes above-average to plus, so a long-term sinker/slider future could very well be in the cards. That profile can work either in relief or as a backend starter. I tend to think he’s equipped to make it as the latter thanks to an already average low-80s changeup with more upside than that. Whether he starts or relieves I can’t say for sure, but I think Weatherly is a big league talent who will provide big league value in some capacity soon.
9.282 – RHP Nick Hartman
I like Nick Hartman quite a bit here in the ninth round. The righthander from Old Dominion was one of those “big stuff, iffy results” guys heading into his draft year, but he took the exact kind of leap you hope to see from a guy with a real chance to pitch in a big league bullpen one day. Even as his ERA remained more or less the same (5.14 to 4.81), his strikeouts went up (6.59 to 9.63) and his walks went down (4.50 to 2.96) all while showing the kind of big stuff (88-94 FB, 96 peak; quality 76-80 breaking ball) needed to avoid iffy results in the pros. You can question the wisdom of going for a college reliever with a fairly limited ceiling with a top ten round pick (I do), but at least the guy they targeted in the spot is good at what he does.
10.312 – LHP Kirby Snead
On a loaded Gators pitching staff (Puk, Dunning, Shore, Anderson, Moss), you’ll be forgiven if the name Kirby Snead doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a legit pro prospect. Heck, Snead is so overlooked that many forget and/or never realized that he was the other guy with AJ Puk on that fateful crane climbing night. But Snead is a dependable lefthanded reliever with decent stuff (87-91 FB, 76-79 SL that flashes above-average, 81-83 CU) and a long track record of success as a Gator. It’s not a sexy profile, but it’s not completely without value. Snead reminds me quite a bit of fellow Gator turned AL East participant Bobby Poyner. Incidentally, the only two men to reach the big leagues with the given first name of Kirby are either in the Hall of Fame (Puckett) or currently pitching in relief for the New York Yankees (Yates). I’d say that augurs good things to come for Snead. If I know anything at all about Kirby’s (and I don’t), then he’s certain to swallow their respective powers and become the HOF reliever he was meant to be.
11.342 – LHP Travis Hosterman
17-years old when drafted. Lefthanded. Upper-80s fastball, peaking at 92. Above-average mid-70s breaking ball. Promising changeup. Good size. That’s Travis Hosterman (239). Sounds good to me.
12.372 – C Ridge Smith
When WordPress notifies me of a rare traffic spike that can be linked back to a different site sending people my way, you’d better believe I’m clicking on the referring site to see what people are saying about me. One common theme I’ve noticed over the years is that many accuse me of using hundreds of words when dozens will do. Can’t say they are wrong, really. Heck, even that opening sentence feels needlessly wordy. Maybe it’s an ego thing and I just like to read my own stuff. Maybe I’m just not a natural at this whole writing business. Whatever the reason, it’s a fair criticism. I do tend to go long far too often when something more concise would do the trick instead. Not so with Ridge Smith (459), one of the most interesting mid-round college catching prospects around. I managed to bring up Ridge three different times over the past ninth months without ever writing more than three sentences at a time about his game.
I’m not sure Ridge Smith is a catcher over the long haul, but he’s got the athleticism to give it a go as a pro. Failing that, he could still put that athleticism (and above-average speed) to good use at either third or an outfield spot.
Ridge Smith is a really nice draft sleeper with experience at a variety of positions and a bat that has produced going on three seasons now.
I like Ridge Smith a lot as a potential Swiss Army knife do-everything defensive prospect at the next level. He can catch, play first and third, and even hang in the outfield.
It was great to see that Toronto played Ridge exclusively at catcher in his pro debut; if he’s going to sneak his way to the big leagues as an everyday player, that’s the position he needs to play. As with most (all?) position player prospects drafted in round twelve or later, his most likely best case scenario is making it as a bench player and spot starter. In that role, your versatility as a defender plays a huge part in your usefulness. I’ve long been a fan of a backup catcher that can play other spots as well, so it should be no shock that I think Ridge has a legit chance of reaching the big leagues in that role.
14.432 – RHP Chris Hall
The fourteenth round is when you start seeing college catchers turned relievers with mid-90s heat, above-average sliders, and inconsistent command go off the board. Hey, there goes Chris Hall.
15.462 – RHP Josh Winckowski
17-years-old when drafted. Righthanded. Upper-80s fastball. Impressive changeup. Usable curve. Good size. That’s Josh Winckowski. I approve.
18.552 – 3B Bradley Jones
I like taking a hearty swing on Bradley Jones (308) in the eighteenth round quite a bit. Though he split his time between only first and third in the pros, the versatile defender played a variety of spots (1B, SS, 3B, OF) as a Cougar. In the same way that twelfth round pick Ridge Smith was praised for his ability to move around the diamond, Jones should be commended for his flexible glove. It probably goes without saying, but the ability to plug multiple holes in a lineup gives any young player a leg up on the many similar hitters vying for eventual big league bench jobs.
20.612 – RHP Angel Alicea
I have a strong affinity for SWAC prospects and Angel Alicea happened to be one of the best in 2016. The athletic righthander followed up his stellar junior season at Alabama State (13.99 K/9 and 3.66 BB/9 in 29.2 IP) with a very similar run in the pros (12.40 K/9 and 2.76 BB/9 in 32.2 IP). That kind of production combined with legitimate pro stuff (90-93 FB, good 80-82 SL) make Alicea a good bit more intriguing than your typical twentieth round pick.
21.642 – RHP Mitch McKown
Nothing on Mitch McKown before the draft, nothing on Mitch McKown after a few minutes of searching the web. All I know is that his abridged sophomore season at Seminole State was a bust (7 H, 11 ER, and 10 BB in 5.0 IP) and his pro debut was somehow arguably worse (9 H, 15 ER, 18 BB, 4 HBP, and 13 WP in 7.2 IP). He was also pretty brutal as a freshman, when a 2.98 K/9 and 4.47 BB/9 turned into a 6.59 ERA in 42.1 IP. I’m rooting hard for McKown to make it because this would be the ultimate “it doesn’t matter how you start” story to encourage all slow starting athletes everywhere. Move over Derek Jeter and your 56 errors in your first full pro season. Step aside Mike Schmidt and his.197 BA through his first two big league seasons. Let me tell you youngsters about Mitch McKown. You may now know him as big league all-star Mitch McKown, but back in the day…
22.672 – RHP Connor Eller
As the most recent of the eight draft picks to come out of Ouachita Baptist in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, Connor Eller stands to be the latest and greatest chance for a player from the school to reach the big leagues in the draft era. With an aggressive approach on the hill, quality heater (88-92, 94-95 peak), a variety of offspeed toys he commands nicely, and a deceptive delivery, Eller has a chance to make it as a funky righthanded reliever.
23.702 – OF Dom Abbadessa
I won’t pretend to be an expert on Dom Abbadessa, but early returns on the highly athletic, plus running, easy defender in center have been positive. It’s a true leadoff CF profile if it works out perfectly with a shot to still leverage his speed and defense as a fifth outfielder if it doesn’t.
24.732 – RHP Mike Ellenbest
I’ve called guys “generic righthanded middle relief prospects” in the past. People don’t like that. I’ve had coaches, parents, and even players admonish me in the comments or via email about their dissatisfaction with that characterization. I get why you wouldn’t want your player/son/self called “generic,” but there’s no harm intended with the phrasing. In fact, I don’t even think generic, in the most literal sense, is all that pejorative. And it’s not like guys are being called generic nobodies. They are still being called “prospects,” generic or not. Anyway, 88-92 MPH with the fastball with a trio of decent but hardly world-beating offspeed pitches (CB, CU, SL) is kind of my general definition of a potential “generic righthanded middle relief prospect.” That’s Mike Ellenbest.
27.822 – C Ryan Gold
There’s some temptation to slag Toronto’s draft because they took so many players that I knew little to nothing about prior to the draft. Ryan Gold is the fifth signed player in a row that have left me scrambling to find something interesting to write. Pointing out Gold’s nice debut (.280/.359/.402 in 92 PA) as a lefthanded hitting teenage catcher is a little interesting, right?
29.882 – RHP Andrew Deramo
I’m not so humble to say that sneaking a Division I prospect by me is a rarity, so nice work by Toronto getting Andrew Deramo from Central Florida through in the twenty-ninth round. I had nothing on Deramo in my notes. That’s not super weird considering the junior college transfer played only one year as a Knight after coming over from Northwest Florida JC (home of Anthony Molina and Jarrett Montgomery, among others, for 2017!), but I typically catch pitchers with strikeout rates like Deramo’s 10.13 K/9. If I had to guess, I’d figure that he came up when I was doing my final pre-draft sweep of the nation only to be disqualified due to his 5.40 BB/9. Intrepid reporter that I am, I can pass along this fine article on Deramo’s signing that mentions a fastball up to 94 MPH. Good velocity, good size (6-6, 210), and good strikeout numbers in his one year at Central Florida add up to a good pick in the twenty-ninth round that I completely whiffed on before the draft.
30.912 – LHP Jake Fishman
Probably my biggest regret every draft season is not getting the time to spotlight the many small school and/or lower-division prospects that I have notes on. Within that regret is another layer of regret specific to certain players that I really want to write about, but keep finding reasons to push back behind other bigger named players. I try to be as inclusive as possible — a few larger media outlets that have expressed some interest in what is done here have literally all given me the same feedback that I’ll forever happily ignore: ditch the deep dive nonsense and focus 95% of your writing on potential first round prospects — but as just one guy with a full-time job, part-time job, wife, and kid on the way, sometimes players (and schools) (and entire levels of competition) don’t make the cut.
That’s a long way of saying that I’m super bummed that I never got around to writing up Jake Fishman on the site this past year. It may seem a tad disingenuous to declare that after the fact, so the decision whether or not to trust me is entirely up to you. A pretty easy case could be made for Jake Fishman as college baseball’s best all-around player in 2016. As a pitcher, his track record is tough to top: 11.59 K/9 and 1.50 BB/9 (0.41 ERA) in 66.0 IP. Those 66 innings came in just nine starts. Elementary school math means that Fishman averaged 7.1 IP per start. Six of his nine starts were complete games. Three of those complete games were shutouts. That’s a special kind of dominance. As a hitter, Fishman finished second on the team in BA (.361), first in OBP (.438), and third in SLG (.489). No truth to the rumor that the do-everything Fishman catered the team’s post-game spread and handled all the laundry himself.
Great college players do not necessarily make great pro prospects. Fishman, however, isn’t some overachieving, limited prospect drafted solely due to his achievements as a college athlete. Fishman can play with the big boys. Drafted as a pitcher allows us to focus only on his pro impact on that side of the ball
With a low-90s fastball (up to 92) with incredible sink — something that stunned my one buddy and likely one of the few people on the planet who saw Fishman during his junior season at Union College AND in his first pro season (“Fastball never moved like that when I saw him at Union”) — and an astute ability to self-scout (same buddy from before: “He remind[ed] me of [Trevor] Bauer, in the best ways. Maybe [more] like a lefty Brian Bannister.”], Fishman’s physical gifts line up with his track record of collegiate dominance. He’s good. Don’t let the thirtieth round distinction fool you; Fishman has the stuff and smarts to pitch in the big leagues.
32.972 – 1B David Jacob
I’ve done this gimmick once before, but it’s getting late and I’ve spent too much time playing around with future White Sox lineups after the big Chris Sale/Adam Eaton trades so…here are my unfinished notes on David Jacob that were originally only meant to be a placeholder…
Coming off a .392/.486/.613 senior season at Division II Quincy,
with 32 BB/12 K in 204 AB
tore up GCL
.304/.392/.472 (21 BB/24 K)
young for class (20-years-old when drafted)
sleeper potential who has hit at every stop – why doubt him now
33.1002 – RHP Brayden Bouchey
On Brayden Bouchey (and a few other things) from March 2016…
Bouchey came into the year with lackluster peripherals (3.75 K/9 and 4.00 BB/9 in 36.1 IP last year) despite intriguing stuff. In weighing performance vs projection, I tend to put more weight on the former when compared to “real” scouts. You can’t scout solely off of statistical output, but it’s a really big piece of the puzzle. This is where the internet can be a bit of a bummer. To get heard, you need to go to extremes. Whether that means extolling the virtues of a player who has put up big numbers with neutral or worse scouting reports (and getting blasted for scouting the box score and discounting projection as a factor) or holding on to beliefs formed in one short look at a player despite all statistical evidence to the contrary (and getting ripped by those who believe development is linear and Heisman Trophies equate to pro success), you need to be LOUD to get recognized. Moderate approaches that attempt to balance a multitude of factors are not nearly as fun to read about, I guess. There’s no need to constantly be hedging one’s bets along the way – that’s simply not realistic – but a little patience, humility, and self-awareness on the part of the evaluator can go a long way.
I personally don’t think there’s anything about baseball that’s all that complicated, at least outside of actually playing it well at a high level. Playing is hard, but watching and forming opinions about what you’ve watched is a pretty straightforward endeavor. With few exceptions, if a player has put up impressive numbers at every level of competition along the way, then said player deserves to keep getting chances until he doesn’t. Conversely, if a player have the kind of physical ability that is apparent to a five-year old on his or her first ever day at the park, he’s entitled to a few extra shots even after he’s shown he’s not yet ready to consistently produce. There’s no need to pick a side: the draft goes forty rounds deep every year for a reason, there’s room for all types to get their shot. Some guys produce and produce and produce without it ever looking like they should be able to do the things they do; others can keep it up against a certain level of competition before their fatal flaws are exploited. Some guys take a really long time to go from toolsy athlete to high-performing ballplayer; others never really get past just being bigger, faster, and more athletic than their peers enough to develop the necessary skills they’ll need later on.
With Bouchey you get the best (or worst, if you’re a glass half-empty type) of both worlds. Coming into the season, his numbers left little to get excited about. His scouting reports, however, were uniformly upbeat: his 88-92 fastball with real sink, promising curve, plus command, deception in his delivery, and intriguing size (6-6, 210) had those who had seen him up close encouraged about his future. In his case, projection appears to be winning out over prior production, at least now that the (small sample size!) results (12.15 K/9 and 3.31 BB/9 in 16.1 IP) have caught up to his talent level. It doesn’t always work out quite this well, so we’ll enjoy it for now…and hope that Bouchey has turned the corner as a prospect. As with Hill, I’m in.
Bouchey went from 3.75 K/9 as a sophomore to 9.26 K/9 as a junior to 13.15 K/9 in his 26 inning professional debut. Go figure. His BB/9 has also climbed with every passing year before peaking (for now?) at 5.88 in the pros. All of the positives listed above — sinking fastball, curve with upside, plus command, deception, size — remain, and now there are some nice peripherals to back it all up. If he can curb some of his recent wild ways, then I see a long career in middle relief for a guy picked after 1,001 other players in the class.
35.1062 – RHP Jared Carkuff
Seriously, the MLB Draft is the best. I’m well aware that the odds of any player outside of the first few rounds making a lasting impact on the big leagues aren’t particularly high. I know there are national draft writers who constantly mock readers who ask questions about non-first round picks; it’s not a nice thing to do and I wish that they’d be more into finding players because, you know, it’s THEIR JOB, but, statistically, they aren’t wrong. I get that going this deep with any one draft class isn’t for everybody. But if you really like baseball, amateur scouting, and/or player development, then finding legitimate big league prospects in the thirty-fifth round is exactly what makes the MLB Draft so much fun. There’s talent everywhere if you’re willing to do the work to find it and nurture it.
Jared Carkuff is a really good relief prospect. He pitched well for four seasons at Austin Peay (8.09 K/9 and 3.24 BB/9 in 55.2 IP as a senior), he pitched well in his first pro season (12.52 K/9 and 1.35 BB/9 in 26.2 IP), and I’m willing to bet he keeps pitching well into his second, third, and fourth pro seasons. Carkuff pitches off a low-90s (94 peak) sinking fastball that pairs quite nicely with an above-average 83-84 MPH slider. He keeps balls on the ground, he misses bats, and, though he’s no spring chicken in the context of a 2016 draftee (23 this past August), he could still stand to put on some good weight on his 6-4, 160 pound frame. Solid present stuff with years of positive results and a little bit of physical projection left? What more could you ask for in the thirty-fifth round. Long live the MLB Draft and long live Jared Carkuff.
37.1122 – LHP Luke Gillingham
Lots to get to about Luke Gillingham, one of college ball’s most famous players over the past few seasons. I’m not 100% positive if that’s a true statement or not — the fame part, not the lots to say part…I’m always sure I have a lot to say about thirty-seventh round picks — but I’m pretty sure I got as many questions over the past twenty-four months about Gillingham as all other draft-eligible college prospects combined. Let’s first go back to March 2015…
JR LHP Luke Gillingham, the aforementioned Navy pitcher putting up video game numbers (again: 13 strikeouts per start) to start the season, was originally tenth on my ranking of pitchers in the conference. I’ve said before that I don’t want to alter these “pre-season” rankings based on overreacting to one month’s worth of data, but I feel like I should be forgiven for making Gillingham one of my few exceptions. Gillingham has been one of college baseball’s best stories this winter, but I’m more interested in understanding the professional implications his hot start could lead to. It’s not exactly a performance out of nowhere as he’s been a prospect since high school who was only under the radar back then due to an injury that wiped out his entire senior season. At Navy he’s consistently missed bats (7.13 K/9 in 2013, 7.81 K/9 in 2014) while showing above-average control of good but not overwhelming stuff highlighted by a mid- to upper-80s fastball that he commands really well. Ultimately, Gillingham is a better college story than pro prospect, but that doesn’t mean his talent needs to be outright dismissed, either. If willing and permitted to start a pro career this summer there’s definitely a draft-worthy talent here.
And then a little more recently in February 2016…
This year I’m happy to update Gillingham’s profile to include some specific numbers on the fastball (85-89) and make mention of improvements with both of his offspeed offerings (curve and change, both of which flash average to above-average). I stand by the assertion that he’s a better college story (human interest, really) than pro prospect, but I think we can move his draft grade up a notch or two now that he’s seen a small but meaningful jump in stuff. He’s still a long shot, but the pros outweigh the cons when considering the “risk” of taking him in the mid- to late-rounds. At best he’s a matchup lefty of some value and at worst he’s a fine ambassador for your organization.
And then just a few days before the draft…
There’s so much to like with this year’s Navy team. Luke Gillingham is the big name as the crafty lefty who has carved up opposing hitters for four straight seasons. When his current year (8.87 K/9 and 1.96 ERA) is seen as a “down season,” in some circles, it says something about his overall track record to date. I think he’s got enough going for him (85-89 FB, low-70s CB that flashes above-average, a much improved CU) that his plus command and deception will keep him pitching professionally for as long as he’d like.
Gillingham’s incredible junior season looks like the outlier year of his college career, but that means that the “real” version of him is an almost a strikeout per inning starting pitcher with impeccable control and well above-average run prevention abilities. Being short on stuff will make his potential climb up the professional ladder more challenging than his college track record (and fame) might suggest, but going on record as the guy who doubted Luke Gillingham in pro ball isn’t something I’m fighting to put on my résumé. I’m thrilled Toronto is giving Gillingham a chance. Even with a fastball that can’t quite crack ninety, he has a shot. Bo Bichette feels like the kind of potential star that can make or break this draft class, so maybe all the words on the double-digit round prospects is overkill…but I love what Toronto did later in the draft almost as much as what any team did in the same post-round twenty or so. Gillingham is a part of that late round haul that could give Toronto a few quality role players and relief options. Getting those guys essentially for free for three seasons (and three more cheap years beyond that) is directly related to saving cash that keeps the established stars around. Late rounds matter.
39.1182 – OF Chavez Young
I think my takes are generally on the measured side around here, so forgive me for wanting to sneak in a scorcher down at the bottom of one of these draft reviews. Nobody actually reads these entire things anyway, right? Here we go: Chavez Young to Toronto in the thirty-ninth round is the literal best pick in the draft. I always say that getting any high school prospect signed in a double-digit round is a major victory. Getting a thirty-ninth (!) high school pick signed is incredible. Best yet, Chavez is a really good prospect! The native of the Bahamas is a fantastic athlete with plus speed, center field range, an above-average to plus arm, and enough offensive upside (solid approach, real pop) to make giving him time to catch up to the speed of pro ball worth it. Fantastic work by Toronto nailing down Young’s number needed to sign and getting him into pro ball. Even if the pick itself doesn’t work out, the process is impossible not to love.
Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017
Chris Lincoln (UC Santa Barbara), Dominic Taccolini (Arkansas), Clayton Keyes (Washington State), Spencer Van Scoyoc (Arizona State)