1B/OF Seth Beer is the obvious headliner. Lost in the all the nitpicking about his game in recent months is the fact that he’s a really, really good hitter. His “down” sophomore season was when he hit .298/.478/.606 with 64 BB/35 K in 218 AB. I think taking a step back and appreciating the fact that a year like that can in any way be considered disappointing is necessary to fully understand where Beer stands as a prospect. I’ve mentioned this before, but it feels as if there’s some backlash about Beer among draft writers for reasons that go beyond what occurs on the field. Beer is a popular name for baseball fans who typically don’t worry much about amateur ball, and I think certain segments of the draft writing world don’t like it when their corner of the internet gets exposed to mainstream fans. Scoffing at those who really only name Beer on name value — “he’s a nice college slugger, but nothing special as a pro prospect,” they say — gives them some of the gatekeeping credibility that so many baseball prospect types seem to crave.
Of course, the possibility that the narrative outlined above exists only in my head is real. If we pretend the premise above is totally wrong, then we can at least get back to talking about Beer as a baseball prospect only. That might be for the best as I probably should try to avoid burning any more bridges than I already have. The criticisms about Beer’s game come in two forms. There are the knocks on him as a hitter and athlete coming from those who don’t think he has the physical traits needed to continue to hit at a high level as he advances against better pitching. There are also those who focus on his limited utility as a fielder. Many look at him as either a bad first baseman or a bad left fielder with not a whole lot of hope of ever improving on that side of the ball. As with all criticism, I find that such remarks tend to reveal more about the critic than the subject.
It’s true that Beer may not be able to keep this up against better pitching. I’d argue that’s true of any amateur, but that’s something nobody wants to hear. I’ll also concede that the scouting points made against him (ordinary bat speed, more passive than patient, less than ideal swing mechanics, lack of athleticism) are all at least arguable in their own right. HOWEVER, I’d also argue — sacrilege alert! — that a lot of those factors are so overwhelmingly subjective in nature that separating one’s personal biases from what one sees on the field in real time is almost impossible. If you are predisposed to liking Beer, his bat speed is fine. If you’re not a fan, then it could be his fatal flaw. Same with his swing mechanics; most, but not all, of the scouts I know (admittedly younger and more pragmatic than the majority, at least in my view) subscribe to the belief that if the swing gets results, then it’s pretty enough. Some, however, can watch a guy hit .800 over a weekend series against three future pro starting pitchers and still walk away complaining about something he saw that he didn’t like. There’s obvious value in those who look at the finer points of the game and see patterns that help them make judgments on micro-level issues that have macro-level ramifications. But there’s also value in stepping back and looking at the big picture body of work a player has produced, and using that data to inform larger decisions. I don’t mean to say that only facets of the game that can be quantified have worth, but rather that the opinions of scouts and internet draft writing wannabes (like me!) should not be taken as gospel when the larger body of work suggests something different.
If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m a big fan of Beer as an offensive talent. Ultimately, it’s important to realize that Beer isn’t a 17-year-old high school kid facing low-80s (at best) pitching on all-dirt infields at parks without fences. He’s a mature 21-year-old college star who has dominated all comers for two full seasons (and counting) while playing for one of the best programs in the country in an ultra-competitive conference. I can understand why Beer freaks some people out. The very livelihood of scouts depends on projection. With Beer, there’s a lot less to project than most early round draft prospects. He’s done it. He’s doing it now. And there’s little to suggest he won’t keep doing it in the pros. The extent to which he does it remains a fun open question, but I’m buying him as a strong enough all-around hitter (contact, power, and patience all grade out high, with no qualms at all about his quick bat and well-balanced swing) to profile as a regular (at least) at whatever position he settles in at. Speaking of…
The defensive issues are harder to defend. Best case scenario puts him as a playable left fielder. Medium case scenario gives you an average or so defensive first baseman. Worst case scenario leaves you with a below-average first baseman that you’d probably rather stick at designated hitter. When the good outcome is just okay and the bad outcome is extremely concerning, you’re in a tough spot. We all know how high the bar is for any hitter who lives on that end of the defensive spectrum. If you have any of the doubts about his bat as outlined above, then passing on Beer early in the draft is justifiable. I don’t, though I can admit that I’m more sure about his hopeful floor (average regular) than his ceiling.
Not for nothing, but I really like the Perfect Game comparison of Beer to Ben Grieve. I’ve sat here for an embarrassing amount of time trying to think of a better name, but I’ve got nothing. Leaner Lucas Duda? Lefty Jason Bay? Less athletic (and hopefully less allergic to lefties) Matt Joyce? Logan Morrison? As for his draft standing, well, if Brent Rooker could go 35th in last year’s draft, why can’t Beer do the same? I like Beer as a high-probability future regular with a better than average shot at being an above-average overall player with an outside chance at offensive stardom. The all-around package comes built in with a nice mix of certainty (in as much as any prospect is certain, so not really at all) and upside.
C/1B Chris Williams has long been a player where the scouting reports have outpaced his on-field production. I was guilty of buying in last year with the expectation being he’d show some signs of maturity as a hitter and continue to develop into a reliable defender behind the dish. The two things more or less happened as Williams cut down on his strikeouts (but didn’t exactly bump up his BB%) and cemented himself as a steady enough presence defensively to remain a catcher through the early part of his pro career. It’s early in the process, but it’s hard to imagine too many senior-sign catchers more attractive than Williams. One fun comp I recently got for Williams: Chase Vallot.
SS/2B Grayson Byrd still has some utility infielder possibility, though I admit that last year’s underwhelming output has those odds slipping. A slow start to his 2018 season certainly doesn’t help. On the other end of the spectrum there’s 3B Patrick Cromwell. Cromwell didn’t do much in his first shot at college draft eligibility, but now finds himself off to a scorching start as a senior. I really like him from a scouting standpoint as a true third base prospect in a class lacking in that area. Cromwell may not have a carrying tool, but he’s so damn well-rounded that it’s hard to find a reason not to like him. OF Drew Wharton is a similar player in that vein — above-average speed and arm, solid athlete, pro size — who had yet to do much as a collegiate player coming into this season. Like Cromwell, he’s off to a strong start in 2018 that could be enough to get him a shot as a senior-sign even without the type of track record of success typically associated with the type. It’s early, but I’m buying.
OF/C Robert Jolly is my kind of college hitter (53 BB/49 K and counting), but is limited enough otherwise (notably in the power department) that he’ll likely need to convince a team he can still catch to be a viable draft prospect. I’ve heard similar chatter surrounding OF/2B Jordan Greene, another versatile, athletic, and undersized college utility player who could benefit greatly from being thought as a primary catcher as a professional. If nothing else, I’d like to see Greene tried as a catcher because he’d instantly be one of the fastest backstops in pro ball. 3B/1B Justin Hawkins would see his stock rise if teams buy into him at the hot corner. He certainly has the arm and athleticism for it, so it becomes more of a matter of gaining consistency through repetition.
I love Ryley Gilliam, one of the draft’s clear top relief prospects. He’s always had a quality heater (88-94, up to 96) and a plus breaking ball (77-81 curve), and he’s now added a hard upper-80s cutter with legitimate plus upside. Two fun names have come up when talking Gilliam: Will Clinard from Vanderbilt and Scott Bittle from Ole Miss. Bittle is one of my all-time favorite draft prospects and a really intriguing recent “what if” among prospect obsessives, so hearing that named tied to Gilliam is pretty damn exciting.
RHP/1B Brooks Crawford has been a standout performer in his two plus years at Clemson. He’ll give you great size (6-5, 220), a solid fastball (87-92, 94 peak), and a pair of quality offspeed pitches (average 77-82 breaking ball with plus upside, above-average 80-85 changeup). Crawford also gets really high marks for his raw power dating back to his high school days. The overall package of stuff, size, and athleticism is easy to fall for, though I admit I have no feel whatsoever how Crawford is viewed within the industry. As appealing as he is to me, there’s been little to no buzz about him so far this spring. Maybe I’m off, but there seem to be a lot of ingredients for a backend starter/good middle reliever here.
LHP Jake Higginbotham may not be for every team as an small lefthander without premium velocity, but his breaking ball is good enough that some will overlook the rest. LHP Mitchell Miller needs innings, but the flashes of quality stuff (88-94 heat, 78-81 breaking ball with above-average upside, burgeoning 84-86 changeup) make him a name to know. Florida Atlantic transfer and Tommy John surgery survivor RHP Ryan Miller is a solid middle relief prospect who can hit the mid-90s with his fastball.
Looking ahead to future years is more exciting at some schools than others. There’s plenty to like at Clemson for 2018, but the next two classes are at least as much fun. Beyond the super obvious love for top prospect SS Logan Davidson everybody feels (myself included), I’m really excited about RHP Owen Griffith next year. Even beyond that, the 2020 class looks stacked. LHP/OF Sam Weatherly, RHP Spencer Strider, OF Kier Meredith, and OF Bryce Teodosio all have early round upside.