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2017 MLB Draft Report – North Carolina

JB Bukauskas is the best 2017 draft-eligible college starting pitching in the country. That may have qualified as a hot take — or at least a warm one — if I had published it over the offseason when the thought first entered my mind, but I have to imagine the rest of the industry is now on board with the idea that Bukauskas, all 6-0, 200 pounds of him, is the real deal. What more does a guy need to do to take over that top spot? Bukauskas was good as a freshman, great as a sophomore, and has been otherworldly so far as a junior. His fastball is an easy plus pitch (91-96, 97-98 peak), his plus to plus-plus 82-89 MPH slider is the best of its kind in this class, and his changeup, appropriately underused against overmatched college competition, has above-average upside. From a stuff standpoint, he checks every box. So what’s the catch? Or is there one? Let’s explore.

When just about the only negative you can say about a guy is that he isn’t quite as tall as you’d like, then he must be pretty good. I don’t mean to be flip, either. Size matters a little bit — there are fair questions about durability, fastball plane, and a lack of historical success for shorter pitchers — but only a little bit. If Bukauskas had the size thing working against him AND another clear question mark surrounding his game, I could see cause for potential concern. But there are literally no non-nitpicky questions about him as a prospect right now outside of his frame. Maybe the delivery? I don’t see much in the way of inconsistencies in how he repeats it, but your mileage might vary.

I feel like I missed on Marcus Stroman even though I ranked him 18th when he went on to be drafted 22nd. Being light on him as long as I was — the summer into his junior year I was comparing him to Kelvim Escobar, Al Alburquerque, and Fautino De Los Santos — taught me a lesson. It even inspired a post a few months later that just so happens to lead us right back to Bukauskas’s prospect stock. The two names mentioned in that post: Stroman (my comp) and Lance McCullers (Perfect Game’s excellent comp). A pitching prospect on that same tier is what you’re buying in Bukauskas. That’s a top ten guy, maybe top five, and, if something happens to Hunter Greene between now and mid-June, a dark horse 1-1 contender.

Trevor Gay and Hansen Butler both need innings, but are more than talented enough to warrant serious draft consideration in June. Gay is a really funky sidearmer who can muster up serious fastball sink to go along with a low-80s slider that flashes plus. Butler is undersized, but damn good when healthy and at his best. “Good yet overlooked” is in my notes on Brett Daniels. I’m a sucker for a good changeup, so my affection for Daniels should make sense. Jason Morgan has a good firm (82-87) changeup of his own plus a pair of average offspeed pitches on top of it (75-81 true breaking ball, 80-85 cut-slider). It also doesn’t hurt that he looks the part at 6-6, 215 pounds.

When jotting quick notes about spring performances down for each 2017 draft-eligible prospect, I’ll write whatever word comes to mind. It’s my own game of free association. Logan Warmoth and Brian Miller got the same one word note: “stud.” With the bar already sky high for both returning stars, Warmoth and Miller have found a way to exceed expectations in the early going of 2017. Their individual production has been stellar, but it’s the scouting buzz both young men have received that has advanced their prospect stock in a major way this spring. I won’t go this far with Warmoth, but a source I trust has told me that he’s the closest thing he’s seen to Alex Bregman since Alex Bregman. True, Bregman has only been out of college for one full season, but the sentiment is understood. Warmoth is a surprisingly polarizing player that clearly has big fans as well as a small yet vocal (to me) group of detractors. Both sides seem to agree that there’s little to no doubting his offensive game at this point. Warmoth is a proven commodity with the stick, hitting for tons of hard line drive contact and legitimate over the fence pop going on fourteen months now. The debate on Warmoth is focused more on his athletic profile and long-term best fit defensively. I’ve gotten grades on his run times to first ranging from 45 to 60 with every increment in between showing up at least once. There is similar uncertainty about his arm strength; some have it as more than enough for the left side of the infield while others see it as the clear reason why second base makes the most sense for him sooner rather than later.

I’d personally mark him off as a slightly above-average hit, average raw power (touch less in-game), average to above-average runner, average thrower, and average (maybe a tick more) defender. That’s a monster prospect at shortstop and a damn near elite one at second. Once you factor in his extended track record of success against high-level amateur pitching and the loads of positive chatter about his work ethic, it’s easy to see why many are calling him a first round lock. Maybe the Bregman comp isn’t as far off as I first thought…

Brian Miller is another premium Tar Heel prospect with a fun mix of athleticism and skills. I’m more bullish on his physical profile than most — like Warmoth, you’ll see his speed range from above-average all the way up to plus-plus — and think he grades out very similarly to his middle infield counterpart across the board. Above-average hit, average raw power (some like it a bit more, so I could still be swayed), plus speed, average arm, and above-average center field range all add up to another potential North Carolina first round pick. That’s three so far if you’re scoring at home. This team is really damn good.

Zack Gahagan is yet another divisive prospect with some defensive questions that will need to be answered in pro ball. Is he a second baseman or a third baseman? Will his plus raw power ever translate to anything more than average in-game production? Does he have the approach to profile as a regular? All open questions at the moment. Kyle Datres is a FAVORITE for his wide array of above-average to plus tools. Like every other position player profiled already, Datres does everything well with no clear weaknesses in his game. As much as I like Warmoth, I could see a case for Datres, an easy plus athlete, being the better long-term investment for a team willing to buy him out of his last two years of college. I’m not yet ready to make that case and the few smart people I’ve ran the idea by all said I was nuts (also, for the record, they all said they expect him back in Chapel Hill next year), but it’s a strong enough hunch that I’ll be following the two guys extra closely these next two months.

As of this writing, Adam Pate has one of the weirder early season lines you’ll ever see: .056/.414/.056 with 11 BB/5 K. 88% of his OPS is tied to his OBP. Wacky stuff. If we look past the odd start, we can see that Pate is a solid senior-sign potential backup outfielder in the pros. He runs well, has a plus arm, and can go get it in center. His understanding of the strike zone and willingness to take what is given at the plate even in the face of (small sample) offensive struggles is another nice perk to his game. Fellow senior outfielder Tyler Lynn is a FAVORITE from last season. He was more good than great in his first year as a Tar Heel, but has stepped his game up this spring. I’m buying his bat in a big way. Lynn is one of the nation’s best potential senior-signs.

I didn’t realize that Cody Roberts was an age-eligible sophomore back when I was putting that list of top 2017 MLB Draft catching prospects together. Roberts is a phenomenal athlete with a great arm and a bat that finally seems to be catching up to his glove. He’s my type of catching prospect. It’s a really interesting year for college catching and the addition of Roberts name into the mix makes it that much more exciting.

*****

JR RHP JB Bukauskas (2017)
JR RHP Jason Morgan (2017)
JR RHP Hansen Butler (2017)
JR RHP Brett Daniels (2017)
rSO RHP Trevor Gay (2017)
SO C/RHP Cody Roberts (2017)
JR 2B/SS Logan Warmoth (2017)
JR OF Brian Miller (2017)
JR 3B/SS Zack Gahagan (2017)
SR OF Adam Pate (2017)
SO 3B Kyle Datres (2017)
SR OF Tyler Lynn (2017)
FR RHP Austin Bergner (2018)
SO RHP Taylor Sugg (2018)
SO RHP Cole Aker (2018)
rFR RHP Josh Hiatt (2018)
SO RHP Rodney Hutchison (2018)
SO SS Utah Jones (2018)
SO OF Brandon Riley (2018)
SO C Brendan Illies (2018)
SO OF Josh Ladowski (2018)
FR RHP Tyler Baum (2019)
FR RHP Luca Dalatri (2019)
FR RHP Robbie Peto (2019)
FR RHP Bo Weiss (2019)
FR LHP Zach Attianese (2019)
FR C Brandon Martorano (2019)
FR 2B/SS Ike Freeman (2019)
FR 1B Michael Busch (2019)
FR OF Laney Orr (2019)
FR 3B/2B Ashton McGee (2019)
FR RHP Evan Odum (2019)

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1 Comment

  1. Dennis says:

    JB will prob get the usual Sonny Gray comps, but man, if he can touch that peak velocity with a little more consistency and stay there deeper in games…. he could look as dominant as a healthy young rich harden.

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