I’m frantically trying to get my draft ranking locked in during the little bits of free time I have. In a shocking turn of events, I’m scrambling at the last minute…again. While I work on that, I’ve noticed some fun things about the 2018 MLB Draft. That’s what you’ll read below. I may keep adding to this, I may start a new post, or I may just disappear again until next Monday’s rankings are (hopefully) revealed. Hope there’s something worthwhile here in the meantime…
– RHP Jake Lee of Georgia Tech may well be living proof that peripherals aren’t everything. Or maybe he’ll be a huge draft steal — likely next year — as a guy with a shockingly bad ERA (9.68) with better underlying talent (14.32 K/9 and 2.56 BB/9 in 17.2 IP) than his run prevention stats suggest. From a scouting perspective there’s some to like but not much to love (upper-80s fastball, decent breaking ball), so buying on Lee is thinking those peripherals are the truest version of his best self. I’d throw a late round pick — on top of the strikeouts, he has an upper-80s fastball and decent breaking ball — his way if he’s deemed signable.
– After going through the ACC (minus Louisville and Florida State), America East, Ivy League, MEAC, Patriot, and SWAC so far, the two teams with the most pitchers with draft grades from me are North Carolina and…Central Florida. I’m not so bold to say that all eight of the following — Bryce Tucker, Jordan Spicer, Cre Finfrock, Chris Williams, Eric Hepple, Thad Ward, JJ Montgomery, Garrett Westberg — will certainly be drafted, but the fact that they are all talented enough to go pro in 2018 is still pretty cool to me. For the record, I’d say Tucker, Finfrock, Ward, and Montgomery are draft locks. Spicer would be for me, but I don’t speak for the thirty drafting teams. Williams is probably the longest shot as a short righthander who doesn’t quite crack 90 MPH with his heat. Both Hepple (incredibly the only senior of the group) and Westberg did enough for me to get drafted, but, as with Spicer, it’s tough to get inside the hearts and minds of those thirty front offices. I’d put a realistic over/under at 5.5 drafted Central Florida pitchers.
– In news that will almost certainly interest me, Memphis has one of the weirdest pitching staffs in all of college baseball. What makes them weird? When I do my quick search through names on a college team I don’t have scouting notes on, I start by looking at pitchers who have struck out a batter per inning. If you can do that, you get put on the list. Somehow Memphis has five pitchers who just barely hit that mark. It doesn’t sound weird, but it is. You have Hunter Smith (63 K in 64.1 IP), Blake Bennett (35 in 36.1), Danny Denz (45 in 46.2), Riley Cabral (58 in 59.1), and Alex Smith (21 in 21.2). For the record, all by Smith were in my notes already. Bennett and Cabral are both on the preliminary top 500. They are joined by Alex Hicks, Connor Alexander, and Colton Neel. The only lock as of now is Jonathan Bowlan, a pitcher that I absolutely LOVE.
– Southern SS Franky Montesino is a slick defender with obvious on-base skills (.406 career OBP including a .505 junior year mark) and a remarkable one and only one extra base hit in 212 career collegiate at bats. His career ISO is .005. Fellow SS Marshawn Taylor has hit exactly .402 in each of his two seasons at Grambling State after transferring from Eastern Illinois.
– The aforementioned Jake Lee isn’t the only big strikeout pitcher I’ve come across so far. I’m now through all the conferences listed above plus the American and the Atlantic 10, and some really interesting draft names are starting to jump out. Everybody knows about Shane McClanahan and his insane 14.77 K/9 as a starter this past year. There are others who have struck out 14.0+ batters per nine that deserve a little extra Beyond him, there are small sample strikeout studs like Hansen Butler (quality stuff, but short and with inconsistent control) and suspended masters of the K like Chris Farish (beats Butler on size, but same questions about control with the added red flag of not being allowed to pitch in 2018). Then there is RJ Freure, a draft-eligible sophomore from Pittsburgh who has been up to 96 MPH with his heat. He’s probably the biggest name of the non-McClanahan strikeout guys. If you’re digging deeper, then a trio of senior-signs from Wichita State (Chandler Sanburn), Rhode Island (Nick Johnson), and Alabama State (Darren Kelly) are exactly what I’d imagine you’d want. All three can get it up to at least 92 MPH with average or better breaking balls and command. Strictly by the numbers, Kelly has a case for the best draft-eligible pitching prospect. It’s a small sample (23.0 IP), but it’s really tough to argue with 16.04 K/9 (the highest K/9 I’ve found so far) and 0.78 BB/9. If run prevention is your thing, then his 1.96 ERA should probably be good enough. Give me one or more of those guys either from round six to ten as a means of saving some draft cash or even later if you can swing it as teams that demand more velocity continuously pass on these strikeout kings.
– Said in the above paragraph that I’m through the Atlantic 10. I lied. I’m still working on it as we type. Just got to Richmond. Naturally, they have another 14.0+ K/9 draft prospect to highlight. RHP Layne Looney gives Darren Kelly a run for his money as best statistical performer on this list. He’s not big (5-10, 200), but he can run his fastball up to 94 MPH. And a 15.30 K/9 in 30.0 IP ain’t bad, either. He can’t quite match Kelly in the control department (3.90 BB/9), but his ERA (0.60) is pretty special. I’m really intrigued to see where he, Kelly, Sanburn, and Johnson wind up going on draft day…plus whoever else we add to that list as we go.
– Since he’s a senior and a long shot at best to get drafted this is probably my last chance to bring up one of my all-time favorite college players. Virginia Commonwealth 3B Daane Berezo doesn’t have a ton of power — perhaps not shocking considering his 5-6, 170 pound frame — but he gets on base, runs pretty well, and can defend. What makes him a personal favorite of mine, however, has nothing to do with what he does on the field. From his bio: “parents made a spelling error with his first name.” As somebody who had to sign a birth certificate in the last year, I get it. When your mind is that post-baby fog, anything goes. More amusingly, that same bio includes this bit: “Father, Lalo, was drafted by the Cincinatti Reds in 1984 MLB Amateur Draft.” On a bio noting that his parents misspelled his name, VCU misspelled “Cincinnati.” Too perfect.
– Found another to add to our 14.0+ K/9 club: rJR RHP Garrett Pearson of Virginia Commonwealth. Pearson, a 34th round pick out of high school, has barely pitched in four years at VCU — his 2018 innings total (9.1) ties a career high — but has an explosive fastball (when healthy) and a power breaking ball (82-85) to match. His very small sample 15.48 K/9 (in just 9.1 IP) gets him on the list. Another name: RHP Peyton Gray from Florida Gulf Coast. His peripheral vs run prevention stats aren’t quite as extreme as Jake Lee’s (from the first paragraph), but it’s still a little jarring to see a pitcher with a 14.13 K/9 and a 6.75 ERA. The former makes him draftable, but the latter, combined with a fastball that lives mostly 86-88 MPH, might be enough to keep him out of pro ball. This will shock no one, but I’d give him a shot. Now that I’m halfway through the Big 10, we can add RHPJoey Gerber to the list as well. Gerber is probably too good to be a potential draft steal as a conventionally pleasing 6-4, 215 pound mid-90s thrower (96 peak) with an above-average 81-85 slider and ample deception in his delivery, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be picked below where a guy with that kind of scouting profile and a 14.16 K/9 in 28.2 IP should be in a fair and just world.
– Quick notes for Phillies fans who made it this far. As my hometown team, sometimes I hear things about them. Take it all for the rumor and hearsay that it is, but this is what I’ve got. They want Mize and are cautiously optimistic he might fall to them at this point. Callis’s latest mock says Mize/Bart go 1-2 in some order and he’s the best in the business, so maybe that dream is dead before it really has any chance to gain momentum. Liberatore is a legitimate dark horse for the pick despite not being linked to them much (at all?) publicly at this time. There is a ton of internal support for Madrigal to be the guy if Mize is gone, but that’s come down to a divide between those who think he can play shortstop and those who think he’s a second baseman (or potentially center fielder) only. If the side that thinks he can play shortstop wins out, Madrigal could be the pick. Larnarch (who some prefer to Madrigal), Stewart, and Winn also have fans on the inside. There’s also the possibility that they are casually checking in with teams with cost-controlled pitching about who they like at three in the event that somebody fun (Archer?) becomes available sooner rather than later. I’m not sure I buy that, but it’s a fun possibility to at least consider.
Finally, I’ve heard little about Bohm being the pick. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s the guy. If I had to bet, I’d say he is. There’s way too much public smoke about that for the Bohm fire not to blaze in Philadelphia next week. I almost get the impression that they are so locked in on him — and have been for some time — that they are more exploring contingencies at this point. If Mize is there, I think he’s the pick. If he’s not and Bohm is, then it’s Bohm. If both are gone, then I’d flip a coin between Madrigal or one of the HS pitchers (Liberatore if I had to choose). Liberatore over Bohm is a thing I was told to watch out for, but…I just can’t believe that right now. We’ll see in a week.