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2018 MLB Draft Profile – Virginia

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RHP Evan Sperling – good but wild
RHP Derek Casey – good, not wild

I’ve done this bit before, but I like it enough so I’m doing it again. Those were my placeholder notes on RHP Evan Sperling and RHP Derek Casey designed to serve as a jumping off point for a larger discussion about each young Virginia pitcher. If you’re not into a couple hundred words on each guy, then those quick synopses should work. If you want more…

Both Sperling and Casey were lumped together in my notes because they are both good (as one can plainly read in the exhaustive notes written above) and coming off of Tommy John surgery. Clever, right? Both guys also took their tags far more to the extreme last season than this current one. Sperling (“good but wild”) missed bats (10.34 K/9) but walked a ton of guys (7.05 BB/9) in his 38.1 shaky (7.51 ERA) innings. Casey (“good, not wild”) was good (3.79 ERA in 71.1 IP) and not wild (2.65 BB/9), but didn’t show quite the same strikeout stuff (7.32 K/9). Literally everything (outside of Casey’s slightly higher ERA, but there’s so much noise with these small sample ERA’s that I don’t sweat it) is better this year. Strikeouts are up (13.53 K/9 for Sperling, 12.06 K/9 for Casey) and walks are down (4.06 BB/9 for Sperling, 2.11 BB/9 for Casey). Weaknesses are shrinking and strengths are growing. Really can’t ask for much more than that.

Of course, looking up the stats is easy. Important, sure, but easy. You probably come here for the scouting reports, such as they are. Sperling has premium size (6-6, 215) and velocity (a wide range of 87-94 depending on health and role, but up to 96 in short bursts is eye-catching no matter what) with an average to above-average mid- to upper-70s breaker that goes between a curve and slider. He’s shown enough proof of a changeup existing in the past that keeping him in the rotation isn’t out of the question in pro ball. If that works, there’s enough here to be a big league starting pitcher. If not, Sperling’s stuff and effectively wild ways would play well in the bullpen. Casey, the more athletic of the two, can’t quite match that size (6-1, 200) or arm strength (though I have him up to 94-95 in the past, he was more 85-90ish in his return last season) but comes with a more pro-ready changeup (average or better) and a soft mid-70s curve that flashes average in its own right. Increased velocity — which may have already happened since, full disclosure, I don’t have anything from 2018 on him yet — would increase his ceiling, though I think the profile still makes a ton of sense as a backend big league starter if it all works out.

How does a 6-4, 200 pound lefthander with enough fastball (85-92, 94 peak) and a wide assortment of quality offspeed pitches (above-average 76-84 CU, average 75-83 CB, above-average 82-86 cut-slider) only miss 5.24 batters per nine in their sophomore season? I don’t know, but maybe LHP Daniel Lynch can fill us in one day. I’d only think to ask because those low strikeout numbers are but a thing of the past. As of this writing, he’s sitting at a far more fitting 10.45 K/9 through six starts. All is right in the world again. I like Lynch a lot as a potential big league starting pitcher. This year’s Virginia squad may be struggling by their admittedly high standard, but that doesn’t mean I still can’t like a ton of their pitching prospects.

LHP Bennett Sousa had a K/9 of exactly 12 last year in 33 innings pitched. Bennett Sousa has a K/9 of exactly 12 (as of this writing*) in 21 innings pitched this year. There should be no at this point that Sousa has the ability to miss bats. Limiting free passes? Now that’s an open question. As is whether or not his good yet not great stuff — namely a fastball between 88-92 MPH (94 peak) and a low-80s slider with promise — will continue to help him pile up strikeouts in the pros remains to be seen. The good news is the likely draft capital needed to find out what you really have in the senior lefthander figures to be well worth the risk. That’s a nice way of saying Sousa, though equipped with that low-90s heat and strong collegiate strikeout rate, figures to fall long enough on draft day to be considered good value when he’s eventually selected.

*Now that’s I’ve gone back to finish this and post it, I see his K/9 is up to 12.38 in 24 IP. I could just make the change in the original sentence, but let me have this little bit of cheap narrative heat. Also, for the sake of completeness, Lynch’s K/9 is up to 11.11 after his seventh start.

RHP Chesdin Harrington fits the polished lefty with an upper-80s fastball and above-average changeup player archetype like a glove. That glove, however, actually goes on Harrington’s left hand, so maybe we need to rethink the handedness requirement for this particular archetype. A healthy Harrington, who is currently on the shelf with a bum elbow, is a draft-worthy talent even without premium velocity. An injured one may be tougher to wrestle away from such a good school, especially if he has two years of eligibility remaining as expected. LHP Riley Wilson missed a lot of bats (12.95 K/9) while also missing the strike zone a lot (6.78 BB/9) in his 14.2 innings last season. The upper-80s lefty will probably have to come back for a senior season in 2019 to get more draft notice, though getting innings in an ever-crowded Cavalier bullpen is easier said than done. The same path seems likely for RHP Grant Donahue, a sinker/slider relief prospect that could work himself into the 2019 senior-sign mix if everything breaks right.

Injuries are the worst. OF/RHP Cameron Simmons was poised for a fantastic draft season, but a serious shoulder injury will wipe away his entire junior year. How big a blow is this to the top of this June’s draft? Those who have seen Simmons more than I have were adamant that he was ready to flip his 23 BB/40 K from last season all the way around as a junior. An athlete like Simmons who can run, throw, and hit for power with a cleaned up approach at the plate? That’s a potential first round sleeper. Alas, we’ll either have to wait a year for him to try it all again or see if a team that has really done its homework can draft him in a spot high enough to buy him out of those last two years of collegiate eligibility.

OF Jake McCarthy managed to get thirteen games in before going down with an injury of his own. A bum wrist has kept him out of the lineup since early March, though he could be in line to return before the close of the current month. Jake’s older brother Joe was a ridiculous steal by Tampa as a fifth round pick back in 2015. I don’t think Jake was going to fall that far and I still wouldn’t be surprised to see him taken earlier than that if deemed signable this spring. McCarthy is a legitimate four tool (only a lousy arm holds him back) potential impact player. He may never quite give you star-level offensive production, but his game-changing speed and above-average center field range should make him a potential regular regardless. I’ve been told “Kevin Kiermaier without the arm” as one frame of reference for McCarthy that makes some sense. I’m not about to project him as that kind of defender — those types of center fielders are rare — but I think it’s smart to think of McCarthy as being part of the larger Kiermaier, Pillar, Dyson, Bourjos, Inciarte, and Gentry prospect genus. There’s a wide range of ability within that group, so maybe putting him with all those guys doesn’t tell you as much as you’d like…but it’s better than nothing, at least as a starting point.

3B/1B Nate Eikhoff is easy to like as a steady bat who can hold his own at the hot corner. The lack of power and no clear carrying tool makes him tough to love. If teams think he can play up the middle at all, then his stock as a potential utility player goes up. That’s where 2B/SS Andy Weber is. Weber is a good athlete and capable defender at all of the infield spots. There might be just enough bat to work himself into regular time up the middle, but the strong backup infielder floor is intriguing enough if it doesn’t. If I was a little bolder, I’d make the same call for 2B Jack Gerstenmaier. From a tools standpoint, he’s rock solid: average or better hit tool, defense at second, and speed. It’s the lack of at bats and time away from the game hurts him. Also working against him is present unknowns about his ability to play effective defense anywhere but the keystone. If he can, then you can put Gerstenmaier and his 113 career at bats in your folder of deep deep deep long shot sleeper prospects. 3B/2B Justin Novak interests me more as a potential catcher conversion project than anything else. His bat is light, but there’s enough defensive versatility (experience at second, third, short, and catcher) to potentially get him a shot as a “seat filler” in pro ball. It’s not glamorous work, but somebody has to do it.

I still believe in OF/3B Charlie Cody as a potential big league player, but I can admit my conviction in that belief has been shaken quite a bit over the past calendar year. His early season power loss is notable as is the decreased likelihood he’ll get a shot to keep playing third base at the next level. A third baseman with power? Sign me up. A corner outfielder currently rocking a .026 ISO? Hard pass. I have a long enough memory to not totally bail on the Cody bandwagon — after all, I am the guy who had Cody as a fourth round value last year and one ranked him as a top five third base prospect coming out of high school — but I’ll admit it is getting a little lonely on this ride.

It appears I may have jumped the gun in busting out the HBP% stat on Notre Dame infielder Nick Podkul last week. C Caleb Knight may just be the one true king of getting hit by very fast baseballs after all. My rough math (as of this writing) has him at a whopping 9.6% career HBP rate. That is absolutely insane. If you include his two years at junior college (thus increasing the sample to an even meatier 697 collegiate PA), that figure drops down to a still wild 6.6%. No matter how you look at it, Knight knows how to take a pitch off the body like very few ballplayers before him. It’s worth noting that the Virginia catcher’s approach at the plate includes more than just “wait until something gets close and lean it.” Knight has a career 42 BB/43 K mark over two seasons as a Cavalier. With a little bit of pop to go with that, there’s enough offensively working for Knight that he could carve out a long career as a minor league catcher with a shot to one day reach the big leagues as a backup if you buy into his defense behind the plate.

As excited as I am about what RHP Bobby Nicholson and LHP Andrew Abbott have shown so far this year, I’m almost that nervous about the offensive future of the Virginia program. It’s tough to look too far ahead, but there isn’t a ton for me to get excited about offensively here. There’s certainly a lot of pressure on guys like SS/3B Tanner Morris and SS Andrew Papantonis to help prop up the offensive future of the team.

rSR RHP Mack Meyer (2018)
SR LHP Bennett Sousa (2018)
rJR RHP Derek Casey (2018)
JR LHP Daniel Lynch (2018)
rSO RHP Evan Sperling (2018)
JR RHP Grant Donahue (2018)
JR RHP Chesdin Harrington (2018)
rJR LHP Riley Wilson (2018)
JR OF/RHP Cameron Simmons (2018)
rSO OF Jake McCarthy (2018)
SR 3B/2B Justin Novak (2018)
SR C Caleb Knight (2018)
JR C Cameron Comer (2018)
JR 3B/1B Nate Eikhoff (2018)
JR 2B/SS Andy Weber (2018)
JR OF/3B Charlie Cody (2018)
SR 2B Jack Gerstenmaier (2018)
SO RHP Bobby Nicholson (2019)
SO RHP Noah Murdock (2019)
SO C Drew Blakely (2019)
SO SS Cayman Richardson (2019)
SO OF Jalen Harrison (2019)
FR RHP Griff McGarry (2020)
FR LHP Andrew Abbott (2020)
FR RHP Kyle Whitten (2020)
FR LHP Robb Adams (2020)
FR SS/RHP Devin Ortiz (2020)
FR SS Andrew Papantonis (2020)
FR 1B/OF Alex Tappen (2020)
FR OF Christian Hinka (2020)
FR C Brendan Rivoli (2020)
FR SS/3B Tanner Morris (2020)

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