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2017 MLB Draft Report – Notre Dame

Much to the chagrin of my wife, I take in anywhere between two to four games per week from the start of the amateur season here (mid-March) right up until the end (late-May). Fine, this isn’t entirely true; the old lady is super supportive and actually likes going games to me, but that’s not as fun as portraying her as the stereotypical ball-and-chain. The editor says it makes me more relatable the original way, so it stays. Anyway, I like baseball and try to see as much live action as humanly possible. That’s a good thing for this site…except when it isn’t. The aim here was never to provide a steady stream of firsthand game stories and personal observations. Those are great, of course, but one man attempting to cover an entire country’s worth of amateur prospects that way was never going to fly. The plan was always to read as much as physically possible, reach out to old contacts within the game (and make new ones along the way) to crosscheck, and, sure, see a ton of live baseball, for reasons both business and pleasure, along the way. Eventually enough of those primary, secondary, and tertiary sources add up to something worthwhile to share with fellow baseball obsessives. Hopefully.

Besides having to work through issues of narrowing my focus too drastically at the expense of broader draft interests, the downside to seeing players in person is falling in love with guys despite the better judgment of all other inputs. Calling it a downside is a little harsh; seeing players up close and forming opinions about what they could be is what is fun about being a wannabe scout on the internet. It can, however, get you into trouble when the overarching goal is to be as objective as possible in an otherwise highly subjective world. I saw Kyle Fiala as a freshman and was so thoroughly impressed with his skill set that I haven’t shut up about him since. This made me look pretty smart his first season, smarter yet his sophomore year, and utterly foolish in what should have been his triumphant draft year in 2016. Things haven’t gotten much better early on in 2017. I’d still think about Fiala really late on draft day since it’s worth a shot to see if he can rekindle that sophomore year magic. That’s both the good and the bad of seeing players up close. It’s unfortunate that I maybe got a little carried away in my initial viewing of Fiala and maybe overrated him the last few years because of it…but it’s kind of nice that I have that memory of a pretty damn talented guy that I’d still be willing to bang the table for even as his numbers suggest he’s a non-prospect.

As with Fiala, I was happily on board the Ryan Lidge bandwagon after a successful 2015 season. Pretty much nothing has gone right since. I also really liked Jake Shepski coming into the season. Best not to look at his current numbers if you still want to believe I know what I’m talking about. Maybe I should stop liking guys on Notre Dame for the greater good. If any fans of the team want to take up a collection for me to start publicly trashing their players instead, let me know. It’ll have to wait until next season, however, since their pitching is pretty damn exciting.

Peter Solomon, Brandon Bielak, and Brad Bass give Notre Dame three hard throwing righthanders capable of hitting the mid- to upper-90s. Knowing where those mid- to upper-90s fastballs are going once they leave the hand is an entirely different thing altogether. Solomon, a favorite of many, is a classic case of a young pitcher with too much natural movement for his own good. Nothing he throws is straight, a blessing for a veteran but a curse for most younger pitchers. A bet on Solomon is a bet on him finding a way to harness his explosive his stuff professionally in a way he’s never consistently shown as an amateur. Even with his wild ways, there was a point early on last summer when Solomon looked like a sure-fire first round pick. From a stuff, body, and projection standpoint, that’s exactly what he is. I’d personally be scared to death to take him there (and, for what it’s worth, I felt the same way even as he was blowing up on the Cape), but a subsequent late-summer fade and an inconsistent start to his junior season have almost certainly knocked him out of that range. Now the idea of picking a guy with his kind of premium arm talent past the top hundred picks (give or take) roll by is one I can excitedly get behind. If that feels a little prospect hipster-y, then so be it. When everybody really liked him, I thought his flaws were being glossed over too readily. Now that his prospect buzz has died down significantly, I think where he wins is overlooked. It’ll take a lot of work in pro ball, but an unhittable 88-94 MPH (96 peak) fastball with even a modicum of command combined with two legitimate breaking balls that can flash plus (emphasis on can and flash) and a decent diving 81-86 MPH changeup is a heck of a starting point for your player development staff to work with. If you trust your coaches, Solomon should be a target. If not, leave him for a team that does.

Bielak is wild like Solomon with a tick less impressive stuff across the board. That’s not a knock on Bielak, a legitimate four-pitch pitcher in his own right; Solomon’s stuff is just that good. Bielak has enough of a changeup to start professionally with real mid-rotation upside. Bass feels like the most natural reliever of the trio. Big (6-6, 240), fast (90-95 FB, 97 peak), and sharp (above-average 81-85 SL, flashes plus) plays well in short bursts. He has a softer breaking ball and will throw an occasional change, so maybe a team buys him as good enough to remain in the rotation going forward. In either role, count me in as a big fan. I like all three pitchers depending on when you can get them on draft day. If that’s not a super obvious statement, I’m not sure what is. Still think it has some merit, though: I’m just ballparking rounds here, but Solomon in the second, Bielak in the third, and Bass in the fourth all feel about right to me in terms of relative value.

Evy Ruibal has enough fastball/breaking ball to get a look, especially at his size (6-4, 225). Sean Guenther has similar heat (88-92, 93 peak) with a more well-rounded arsenal. He lacks Ruibal’s clear go-to secondary pitch and certainly can’t match him pound for pound (he’s 5-11, 200), so it’ll be interesting to see what ultimately wins out on draft day. Do you like the short lefty with the longer track record and deep assortment of offspeed stuff or the sturdy righthander with the better breaking ball but more inconsistent results? I like to pretend that the results of the MLB Draft act as some sort of referendum on player types, but hopefully we all realize that’s not the case. The old adage “it only takes one team…” to fall in love with a guy is true. Maybe 29 teams have Player B higher on their board, but that one remaining team prefers Player A…and they get the chance to pick first. Or something like that. I don’t know where I was going with that exactly. Chances are decent that the Ruibal/Guenther “debate” I’ve manufactured in this paragraph will live on another year. Both guys could fit better as 2018 senior-signs…unless that one team out there likes them enough to make the call, of course.

“Crazy wild” is a line right from my notes on Ryan Smoyer. I still like him — one man’s crazy wild is another’s effectively wild — and think his changeup is a good enough pitch to get him deserved pro attention. I know some who feel the same way about Michael Hearne, a mid-80s lefty with standout control. Effectively wild righty with a pro-ready build or the command/control undersized lefty? Feels familiar…

*****

JR RHP Peter Solomon (2017)
JR RHP Brandon Bielak (2017)
JR RHP Brad Bass (2017)
rSR LHP Michael Hearne (2017)
SR RHP Ryan Smoyer (2017)
SR LHP Scott Tully (2017)
JR LHP Sean Guenther (2017)
JR RHP Charlie Vorscheck (2017)
JR RHP Evy Ruibal (2017)
JR OF/RHP Jake Shepski (2017)
SR 2B/SS Kyle Fiala (2017)
SR C Ryan Lidge (2017)
JR OF Jake Johnson (2017)
SO RHP Jack Connolly (2018)
SO OF/RHP Matt Vierling (2018)
rFR OF Eric Feliz (2018)
SO 3B Jake Singer (2018)
SO 3B/1B Nick Podkul (2018)
SO 3B/SS Cole Daily (2018)
FR RHP Zack Martin (2019)
FR LHP Cameron Brown (2019)
FR RHP Anthony Holubecki (2019)
FR INF Michael Feliz (2019)
FR INF Nick Neville (2019)
FR 3B/C Connor Power (2019)
FR 1B/OF Daniel Jung (2019)

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