Everybody seems to love SS Jeremy Pena. We’re talking top three round buzz in some quarters kind of love. I won’t go so far as to say I don’t get it, so let’s just say I’m more in the “like” camp than the “love” side. He’s a good bet to stick at shortstop, so that alone makes him a prospect of some note. He has a plus arm, above-average to plus speed, and average raw power that could result in double-digit home run seasons at his peak. Sounds really good, right? So what is it about him that I can’t quite bring myself to love? Call it a combination between old scouting intuition (note: I know I’m not a scout and try not to pretend to be, but we’re all baseball watchers who get instinctual feelings about certain players and after thousands of games observed it’s only fair to occasionally listen to your gut every now and then) and a personal aversion to overly aggressive college hitters with statistical red flags in the BB/K categories. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t still like Pena. As mentioned, just being a viable pro shortstop gives him value at the jump. That’s good. All of those average or better tools (power, speed, arm, potentially the glove) are good, too. Even with the approach as is, Pena has a shot to be a potential regular up the middle or at third with a floor as an offensive backup infielder. That’s a really nice overall prospect profile.
I should also point out that I’m wrong about guys a lot. While I generally believe that the track record of guys with Pena’s brand of aggressive college hitting in pro ball isn’t great (not exactly a hot take, I think), there are notable exceptions that I’ve missed on in the past. The first two that come to mind are Paul DeJong (who I ranked 37 spots lower than when he was actually picked) and Marcus Semien (“isn’t enough there to project as a big leaguer at this point”). Both conveniently enough work as potential comps for Pena in pro ball. Here’s a quick statistical comparison of what the three did while in school…
.326/.427/.547 with 17.8 K% and 12.1 BB% in 528 AB
.285/.367/.428 with 14.8 K% and 11.3 BB% in 495 AB
.297/.355/.432 with 17.1 K% and 6.9 BB% in 553 AB
Top is DeJong, middle is Semien, and bottom is Pena. DeJong was a fourth round pick and Semien was a sixth round pick. If you really like Pena, then I could see that as a potential draft range for him this June. You could also use last year’s similarly tooled up shortstop prospect, Kevin Smith out of Maryland, as a reference point. Smith, an eventual fourth round pick (ranked 35 spots lower than where he was picked, FWIW), hit .267/.331/.455 with 17.0 K% and 7.6 BB% in 675 AB in his college career. Those numbers are probably the closest match out of the three pros to what Pena has done to date. So maybe the fourth to sixth round range fits. Then again, the numbers above could also potentially indicate that the sixth round is more of a draft ceiling for Pena, who is likely to enter pro ball with the least impressive resume of the group. Call the range from rounds six to ten (with an outside shot at round four or five) and I think you’re on the money with where Pena could go. The upside, like Semien, is a league average hitter who provides defensive value at short, second, and third. The downside is getting buried under an avalanche of strikeouts in AA.
C Christopher Bec is one of those hitters that I don’t know a ton about outside of the stat line, but feel confident enough in based primarily on the numbers to put him on my own “maybe” senior-sign list. That’s what playing a position of need will do for you. Bec hit in high school, at Miami-Dade, and he’s still hitting at Maine. Hard not to like that. 3B/2B Danny Casals is a solid defender at the hot corner with enough arm to stay there in pro ball. A junior year breakout at the plate has him squarely in the draft mix. I like these Maine hitters.
Grows up in Maine, attends high school in Maine, leads the University of Maine pitching staff…now all RHP Justin Courtney has to do is get selected by the Red Sox so he can play minor league ball in Portland and he’s all set. Eventually getting to AA is well within reach for the 6-5, 225 pound righthander with strong secondary stuff (cutter, breaking ball) and enough fastball (86-91). What Courtney lacks in present velocity he makes up for (in part) by extension and deception in his delivery. Unfortunately, all of this is on hold as he recovers from Tommy John surgery with the full intention of returning to Maine as a fifth-year senior in 2019. So, assuming we stave off nuclear annihilation another year, we can revisit this conversation in twelve months.
RHP Nick Silva has never been known as a consistent strike thrower. That’s not exactly ideal for a pitching prospect but certainly forgivable when you can run the fastball up to 95 MPH. His offspeed stuff (low-80s CU, low-70s CB) remains a work in progress, but Silva’s success getting swings and misses with his heat might be enough to jump to pro ball a year ahead of graduation. It also doesn’t hurt that Silva’s uncle is Alex Rodriguez. I’m not quite sure how it helps during the draft process — visibility? maybe? — but I know it doesn’t hurt.
RHP John Arel is a tough guy to figure. Working for him is his size (6-7, 275), out pitch (an above-average slider), enough velocity (up to 92), and a 2016 season that showed what he can do at his best (9.20 K/9 and 2.39 BB/9 in 75.1 IP with a 3.94 ERA). Working against him is his size (too big?), a lack of velocity (sits only 86-90), and back to back underwhelming seasons (2017 was a disaster, 2018 has been good in terms of ERA but bad everywhere else). Weighing the pros and cons gets you a 50/50 at best late round senior-sign type. RHP Chris Murphy has similar size (6-5, 270), strengths (88-92 FB, quality SL), and weaknesses (not nearly enough missed bats to make up for well below-average control). He has an extra year of eligibility before we talk about him as a potential 50/50 (at best) senior-sign in 2019. I’ve got nothing on LHP Eddie Emerson besides his fun high strikeout/high walk totals over the years. Disastrous 2018 ERA aside, as a lefty who has missed some bats over the years he may be worth watching in 2019.
JR RHP Nick Silva (2018)
SR RHP Justin Courtney (2018)
rSR RHP Jonah Normandeau (2018)
rJR RHP Chris Murphy (2018)
SR RHP John Arel (2018)
SR LHP Connor Johnson (2018)
rSR RHP Zach Winn (2018)
JR LHP Eddie Emerson (2018)
JR SS Jeremy Pena (2018)
SR C Christopher Bec (2018)
JR 3B/2B Danny Casals (2018)
SR OF Brandon Vicens (2018)
SR C Jonathan Bennett (2018)
rJR 2B/SS Caleb Kerbs (2018)
JR OF Colin Ridley (2018)
SO RHP Cody Laweryson (2019)
rFR RHP Matt Geoffiron (2019)
RHP/1B Matthew Pushard (2019)
SO 1B/OF Hernen Sardinas (2019)
SO C Cody Pasic (2019)
FR OF/LHP Ben Terwilliger (2020)