13 – Andrew Benintendi
93 – Logan Allen
95 – Austin Rei
122 – Marcus Brakeman
135 – Tate Matheny
241 – Tucker Tubbs
259 – Mitchell Gunsolus
265 – Kyri Washington
268 – Kevin Kelleher
353 – Travis Lakins
368 – Yomar Valentin
399 – Nicholos Hamilton
I’m not sure what to say about OF Andrew Benintendi (13) that hasn’t already been said. His sophomore season was insane. His pro debut was phenomenal. Literally everybody who has seen him play at Arkansas, Lowell, and Greenville in the last calendar year has walked away raving about him. I like the lefthanded AJ Pollock comp I threw on him before the draft as it pertains to his all-around game. Additionally, the fact that as a native Philadelphian I threw out a Chase Utley swing/body comp is serious business. I had somebody recently tell me that they think Benintendi is the best college bat since Anthony Rendon, a player (minus handedness) that he felt Benintendi could approximate in terms of total value as a hitter. So, if you’re scoring at home, that’s Pollock, Utley, and Rendon as possible comps with names like Mark Kotsay, Eric Byrnes, and David Dellucci (Baseball America) also mentioned as starting points. Not bad. Here’s a quick note from during the season just days before Benintendi’s stock began to soar in the public’s eye…
I never went back and mentioned Andrew Benintendi as being draft-eligible in 2015, but he is. That’s good news for me because Benintendi is awesome and getting him one step closer to pro ball makes me happy. He’s more ballplayer than tools freak, so teams that value big amateur production will have him higher than others. That said, he’s plenty talented: above-average or better hit tool, above-average or better speed, solid pop, enough range for center, and a disciplined approach at the plate. He’s really damn good. Baseball America has compared him to Austin Cousino in the past, but Benintendi’s huge sophomore season (.370/.475/.733 with 30 BB/24 K in 146 AB as of this edit) should vault him past Cousino’s 2014 draft spot (80th overall). I’ve heard from some that think I’m too rich on Benintendi’s tools and that’s fine, but I’m buying him as a prospect all the way.
Interestingly enough, I was able to dig up some older stuff on Benintendi in the archives. This was his quick HS scouting bio…
OF Andrew Benintendi (Madeira HS, Ohio): good speed; CF range; average arm; really smart player; above-average hit tool; FAVORITE; 5-10, 180 pounds
Hey, he was a FAVORITE back then! Always good to see.
I’m not a big fantasy guy — mostly out of the seemingly contradictory combination of general laziness and the fear of letting my over-competitive self getting sucked in too deep — but the one league I’ve been in forever allows the twelve owners to roster three minor league players at any given time. Having only thirty-six minor league prospects floating around the league at a time doesn’t exactly incite the most compelling post-draft scramble for new professional talent each June, but it always surprises me to see how long recent draftees sit around waiting for more casual minor league fans to buy in. Since I’m all about “drafting” my own hitters and figuring out pitching on the fly, I’d put Benintendi at or near the top of the 2015 MLB Draft in terms of fantasy value. Boston’s crowded outfield picture complicates things a bit and strong arguments could be made for others (Alex Bregman for sure, maybe Trenton Clark if you want to get crazy), but Benintendi could be on the Michael Conforto path to the big leagues. He’s really good at hitting baseballs. Pick him up in fantasy if you can.
The pre-draft stuff on C Austin Rei (95)…
I still think Rei gets picked way higher than anybody thinks because he’s coming into pro ball at the perfect time with plus pitch framing skills that match what teams want to see most in catching prospects. I’m a really big fan of Rei and think he’s one of the draft’s “safest” prospects with both a high ceiling (above-average regular) and high floor (elite defensive backup). Barring additional injuries, I don’t see how he doesn’t have some sort of big league career.
His defense is enough to keep him employed for a very long time and the flashes of above-average power could give him a chance to play regularly. I was hoping to see his approach take a step forward in 2015, but the torn thumb ligament made judging his actual progress at the plate this spring tricky. His free-swinging ways would still keep me from ranking among the minors best catching prospects, but there’s enough here to see him as a major league mainstay even if he doesn’t reach what some (like me) once considered his above-average regular ceiling.
Of all the players in this class, I might have been most surprised at the early pro struggles of OF Tate Matheny (135). Matheny, valued far more for his his patient approach as a hitter and well-rounded overall game than his raw tools, wasn’t able to do much offensively (9 BB/52 K) in his debut season. It’s only 213 PA, but the lack of raw power (body and swing) could prevent him from reaching an offensive ceiling heavily dependent on on-base skills. I was more willing to overlook the average at best power upside as a college player when he was racking up those .400+ OBPs, but time will tell if he’ll figure out away to adjust to how pro pitchers attack hitters like him at the higher levels.
The rise of many of this class’s toolsier players finally putting it together, especially among the outfield group, has taken some of the shine off of the more solid than spectacular types like Missouri State JR OF Tate Matheny. Matheny still looks like a good bet to fulfill his destiny as a fourth outfielder who won’t kill you in a starting role at times (especially if deployed properly), but teams in the market for upside plays will likely look elsewhere. Such is the life of a guy with no tool worse than average, but no carrying tool either.
OF Jagger Rusconi was called out as an outfielder on draft day, but was primarily a second baseman in high school and in his pro debut. His best offensive skill right now is his legs as the plus runner can wreak havoc on the base paths when given the opportunity. The rest of his offensive game is intriguing — feel for hit, sneaky pop, all kinds of athleticism — though understandably raw. I was set to call this an overdraft (if such things existed) to a degree, but I could see an alternate reality where Rusconi would have turned into a slam dunk top three round pick — maybe like an Andrew Stevenson? — if he had enrolled at USC instead of signing. A friend in Boston who knows me all too well told me that the hope within the Red Sox scouting staff is that Rusconi can be their version of Roman Quinn. Consider my interest piqued.
This was written here about 1B Tucker Tubbs (241) last December…
If SR 1B/3B Tucker Tubbs can rediscover his lost power stroke, he’s got a chance to get popped as a potential four-corners minor league bench bat.
Fast-forward six months and we see that Tubbs did exactly that. The Memphis slugger and the aforementioned Benintendi were two of the eight players that hit the 600 SLG and BB > K benchmarks at the D1 level back when I checked at the end of May. Tubbs wound up just short by the end of the season (.305/.393/.601 with 26 BB/27 K), but that’s still a heck of a senior season. Or, in other words: “He has power and doesn’t strike out much,” said Rikard. “That’s a pretty good formula for some level of success.” Straight from the Red Sox amateur scouting director’s mouth! Lefthanded hitting 3B Mitch Gunsolus (259) could form the other half of a fun platoon with Tubbs one day. While Tubbs missed out on the 600 SLG and BB> K Club by just one walk (or strikeout if you look at it that way), Gunsolus was just a few extra base hits off the mark (.556 SLG with 33 BB/32 K). I love watching Gunsolus hit and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the tenth rounder did enough at the plate to advance all the way up to the big leagues.
Even though the Red Sox went heavy on hitting with their top ten round picks, they found a way to really make it count with the three pitchers they selected in rounds six, seven, and eight. Getting LHP Logan Allen (93) in the eighth round is just silly value. Fast-rising high school arms who see a big uptick in stuff in a short amount of time typically scare me off, but Allen’s plus pitchability, really strong command (I’d go plus), and willingness to throw any of his four potentially average or better pitches (88-92 FB, 94 peak; mid-70s CB that flashes average or better; upper-70s cut-change thing that works; hard slider that might wind up the best of them all) in any count make him a fascinating potential big league starter who really had no business falling out of the top three rounds. RHP Travis Lakins (353) is an athletic young arm with less miles on it as a draft-eligible sophomore than many of his peers. I view him as a really good potential reliever, but I can see why one would look at his athleticism, frame with some projection left, and fastball command and think otherwise. RHP Ben Taylor lives 88-92 and can get it up to 93-94 with nice deception in his windup. Everything — the heater, his breaking ball, even a rarely used changeup — plays up in short bursts. His gigantic senior season (14.23 K/9 and 1.47 ERA in 42 IP) positioned him very nicely for a spot in the top ten rounds and the Red Sox wisely were the ones to give him a shot. Look out for him pitching the sixth innings at Fenway sooner rather than later.
I don’t know quite what it is about RHP Marc Brakeman (122), but something intuitively gives me pause when it comes to his long-term future. He’s got the stuff (88-93 FB, 95 peak; plus to plus-plus sinking low-80s CU; average or better mid- to upper-70s CB) and pedigree to start, but I always walk away from seeing him thinking the sum of the whole doesn’t quite add up. It’s especially hypocritical for me to not like him all that much because his best pitch — seriously, his changeup is as good as any in this class — just so happens to be my offspeed offering of choice. I touched briefly on the intuition thing before the season…
Stanford JR RHP Marc Brakeman is more of a two-pitch prospect (like Twomey) that I’ve referenced above. Armed with a nice albeit inconsistent heater (88-94, 95 peak – though I’ve seen him sit more on the low end of that range at times) and an outstanding low-80s changeup, Brakeman could move up boards quickly once he gets healthy again. I’ve been the low man on him in the past, but that’s more due to an intuition thing than anything I can reasonably express.
A part of me sees his stuff playing up in a big way out of the bullpen; that’s his most likely direct path to the big leagues. In that role, I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest he’s got legitimate late-inning upside on the continuum of Francisco Rodriguez, Tyler Clippard, or Kelvin Herrera, depending on how the fastball works in short bursts. If that’s the outcome, that’s a gigantic victory considering Brakeman’s 16th round standing (overslot bonus or not).
RHP Kevin Kelleher (268) had a slightly auspicious pro debut: 0.1 IP 0 H 4 ER 7 BB 0 K. Ouch. Now you, Mr./Mrs. Negative, could choose to focus on those four earned runs and seven walks, but I, uplifting soul that I am, think Kelleher should be lauded for getting an out. I mean, that’s one more than 99.9999% of the human population ever got, right? It’s also impressive that he’s literally never given up a pro hit yet. We’re all about the silver linings here.
I kid about Kelleher because I really do like him as a prospect. Wrote this about him before the year…
With a dominant FB/SL combination New Orleans JR RHP Kevin Kelleher has big league closer upside. That’s a bolder prediction that I intended to make, but the stuff seems in line with what we’ve come to expect out of late-inning relievers. Players who can get it up to 98 with a hard mid- to upper-80s slider to match aren’t easy to find.
Upside might be a bit rich there, but I don’t think it’s totally crazy. Even without working out the kinks needed to reach his considerable ceiling, I think he’s a big leaguer and surprisingly quick mover. Great pick in the twelfth round.
I almost always kick of my college draft coverage by writing about the ACC because I’m a creature of habit and the ACC is the first conference listed in my running draft Word document. As such, I tend to have more in the archives about ACC players. LHP Brad Stone (NC State) and RHP Trevor Kelley (North Carolina) both were “lucky” enough to get fairly extensive ramblings from me last spring. Here’s Stone…
JR LHP Brad Stone seems poised to take over the mantle as top pitching prospect, but, no knock against him, his stuff (upper-80s heat, usable change, pair of interesting breaking balls) is many steps down from Rodon on his worst day. He’s still the best of what’s around, and an arm worthy of serious draft consideration going forward.
And here’s Kelley…
On the opposite side of the spectrum there’s a guy who is so much what is great about the sport. SR RHP Trevor “Everyday” Kelley has more than lived up to his name this year. Kelley has appeared in 28 out of 39 games (72%) this year. That would come out to around 115 appearances in a 162 game season. To further put that into context, Kelley has more innings pitched right now than all but two Tar Heels pitchers. Guys with six (Hunter Williams) and seven (Moss) starts have significantly less innings than Kelley. One of the secrets of adulthood that I feel qualified to share with younger readers now that I’m a wizened old man less than seven months away from turning thirty is that just showing up is a huge part of getting by in this world. Trevor Kelley clearly has that covered. Some people prefer to do more than just get by, so it should be noted that it turns out you can get ahead by actually making a positive difference (or, you know, at least an effort) after you’ve shown up. I’d say pitching almost two innings per appearance (note: it’s closer to 1.2 innings per outing, but we can round up) with an ERA of 2.36 while striking out close to 7.5 batters per nine is a pretty strong impression to leave after each showing. Kelley’s stuff is more solid than spectacular (86-91 FB with sink, CB flashes plus) and he’s never truly dominated in a relief role, but I’d like to think there’s some draft value to be squeezed out of a reliable rubber-armed reliever who attacks hitters at a funky angle.
Kelley had an excellent senior season (8.19 K/9 and 2.31 BB/9 in 77 [!] relief innings) before doing more of the same upon joining the Red Sox organization. I’m frankly stunned that a player like him could fall to the 36th round. The Rob Wooten comp is easy and maybe even a bit lazy, but it fits. If anything, I think he could wind up having a better pro career thanks to a separating pitch (CB), rubber arm, and funky arm action. It’s a nice middle relief profile. Stone did not have an excellent senior season (7.80 K/9 and 10.80 BB/9 in 15 IP). That’s no reason to write him off as a viable prospect, of course. He changes speeds well and has always missed his fair share of bats. If the control gets in check and he continues to fill out, there could be something there.
On the opposite end of the physical spectrum, LHP Matt Kent, LHP Bobby Poyner, and LHP Logan Boyd are all undersized lefthanders with enough stuff to keep things interesting as they progress through the minors. Kent is a nice organizational arm, Poyner is a little bit better than that, and Boyd falls somewhere in between. I know little about RHP Danny Zandona except for the fact he put up eye-popping numbers (14.18 K/9 in 39 IP) in his senior year at Cal Poly. I’m similarly bereft of information on RHP Adam Lau, a two-way player at UAB who walked the effectively wild tightrope (11.81 K/9 and 5.06 BB/9 added up to a 1.69 ERA in 31 IP) in his junior season. RHP Nick Duron is the third player ever drafted out of Clark College and the first since Randy Myers (!) in 1982. RHP Max Watt, Trent Steele’s oldest and dearest friend, is another pitcher I don’t know much about. Wouldn’t bet against a name like that, though.
Much was written about OF Kyri Washington (265) on this site this past calendar year. Here’s one such excerpt…
JR OF Kyri Washington has as much a claim to the top position player spot in his conference as just about any prospect in the country. Evaluating amateur talent is sometimes only as hard as we make it. Your eyes eventually settle into seeing predictable patterns in the players you see and you find yourself getting unusually adept at recognizing the kind of ability that will become universally lauded as pro-caliber. “Always bet on ______” is more than just a snappy one-off line, but a mantra that serves those who watch a disproportionate amount of baseball well as they assess a prospect’s future. In Washington’s case, his athleticism and raw power qualify as abilities that stack up against almost any current big league player. If those are the traits that you value highly – and, really, who doesn’t? – then Washington is just about as good as it gets in college ball this year.
Conversely, anybody who watches a ton of amateur ball can quickly realize the holes in a mega-talented player’s game. If you’re an “always bet on the hit tool, including the consistent ability to make contact, the capacity to make adjustments within an at bat (or at least a game), and a seemingly innate overall feel for the strike zone and resourcefulness to spit on sometimes-strikes that he can’t do anything with,” well, then you might have some trepidation in championing a player who otherwise has first round tools. I’m on the fence as to whether or not how much of what we consider to fall under the plate discipline/approach to hitting umbrella can be taught, but I do believe that Washington is at the age in his baseball development when figuring it out – maybe not completely, but certainly to a degree – is well within the realm of possibility. That possibility on top of the prodigious raw power and plus athleticism is what makes the prospect of gambling on Washington so appealing. I get it. A comparison that I’ve heard and liked – though it admittedly stretches the limits of my personal firsthand baseball watching days – has stacked up Washington favorably to a young Richard Hidalgo.
I’m not sure I have much to add beyond that. Washington has huge raw power and loads of athleticism, but so many questions about his bat that it’s unclear if it’ll ever matter. “You remember Kentrail Davis? Kinda like that,” was how one scout put it to me when asking about Washington.
They don’t get much rawer than OF Nicholos Hamilton (399), a plus-plus running high schooler out of New York who is incredibly far away from what he’ll eventually be. I had somebody tell me rather prophetically that they’d rather take a chance on going overslot with Hamilton (Note: the Red Sox got him for $100,000, so they didn’t have to dip into their pool money) in the eleventh round than on risking a first round pick on Garrett Whitley.
OF Tyler Spoon, drafted just 1034 spots after his Arkansas teammate Andrew Benintendi, has long been mentioned as a potential professional second base project, but the Red Sox took the idea one step further by having him get some work in behind the plate a little in his debut season. If that experiment works, then Spoon might be a name worth keeping in mind. We’re talking the deepest darkest recesses of your mind, but at least he’d be in there. OF Jerry Downs hit really well in his pro debut. I don’t know much about him, but I’ll be rooting hard for him to become only the eighteenth big league player born in Colombia.
2B Yomar Valentin (368) is a steady glove up the middle with sneaky pop and a high baseball IQ. He was also a really young HS senior (18 this December), something that can also be said for Nick Hamilton. Could be a coincidence or could be that Boston wisely gives extra credit for guys who excel at a young age. 2B Chad De La Guerra has more pop than most middle infielders and picks his spots really well on the base paths. The approach leaves something to be desired, but if he can fake it at short then he might have a shot at working himself into a bat-first utility guy.
C Andrew Noviello is a fascinating player to close on. The local product from Bridgewater-Raynham HS (located just under an hour from Fenway) was a primary second baseman until his senior year of high school. That’s when he began giving catching an honest try in an attempt to make himself more appealing to pro and college teams alike. Good thinking. I also have him in my notes as capable of playing third base and being more than able to hold his own on the mound as a righthanded pitcher. The best part about this is the pick is far more than a team hooking up a local kid and getting some positive PR; Noviello can really hit. If he can show some growth behind the plate in the early going, he’s a real prospect.
22 – James Kaprielian
48 – Kyle Holder
83 – Drew Finley
89 – Jeff Degano
112 – Jeff Hendrix
220 – Kolton Mahoney
228 – Ryan Krill
307 – Isiah Gilliam
397 – Garrett Mundell
403 – Chance Adams
408 – Brandon Wagner
419 – Kane Sweeney
I really liked what the Yankees did in the first few rounds to restock their minor league pitching. RHP James Kaprielian (22) looked for all the world to be a “quick-moving mid-rotation arm who still might have a bit of upside left in him beyond that” before the draft and nothing in his pro debut suggests otherwise. Slick pick. New York could have done a few different things and come out just as well (Walker Buehler and Jon Harris as comparable college arms, Brady Aiken or Ashe Russell or Beau Burrows or Mike Nikorak as higher boom/bust guys, Nick Plummer or DJ Stewart as patient yet unexciting corner outfielders) and it’s always fun for me to speculate about what package a team with two early picks (16 and 30 in this case) might have preferred in hindsight (Kaprielian and Holder or Kevin Newman and Kyle Funkhouser?), but getting a talent like Kaprielian in the middle of the first is something to be pleased about no matter the what-ifs. Stuck a Michael Wacha comp on him a few months ago that I stand by today…
This all brings me to the guy I think Wacha compares to on some level, UCLA JR RHP James Kaprielian. Draft people like me who sometimes try to get too cute for own good have fought it in the past, but there’s no denying that Kaprielian warrants a first round grade this June. Well-built righthanders with four pitches (ding!) and consistently excellent results in a tough conference profile as big league starting pitchers more often than not. I’m going to just go with an excerpt of some of my notes on Kaprielian because they are among the longest running that I have on any player in this college class…
JR RHP James Kaprielian (2015): 87-92 FB, 94-95 peak; potential plus 79-84 CB, commands it well; potential plus 80-85 CU with serious sink; above-average 79-85 SL; good athlete; excellent overall command; 2014 Summer: 88-92 FB, 93 peak; above-average to plus or better 75-79 CB with plus command, still gets it up to 85 depending on situation; average or better upside with 79-82 SL; FAVORITE; average or better upside with mid-80s CU with splitter action; UPDATE: 83-85 SL, flashes above-average; average 78-80 CB with above-average to plus upside; good athlete; commands both breaking balls well; 2015: 89-94 FB; above-average 78-81 CB flashes plus; above-average 83-85 SL; above-average mid-80s CU, flashes better; 6-4, 200 pounds (2013: 12.39 K/9 | 5.09 BB/9 | 2.20 FIP | 40.2 IP) (2014: 9.17 K/9 – 2.97 BB/9 – 106 IP – 2.29 ERA)
The UPDATE and 2015 sections give the most pertinent information (88-94 FB, 95 peak; above-average 78-81 CB, flashes plus; average 83-85 SL, flashes above-average; above-average mid-80s CU with drop, flashes plus; good athleticism; commands both breaking balls ably; plus overall command), but I like including the whole thing (or as much as can be published) to highlight the growth he’s made. Kaprielian is damn good and smart team picking in the latter half of the first round will get a quick-moving mid-rotation arm who still might have a bit of upside left in him beyond that.
Fun with small samples featuring RHP Drew Finley (83). Finley’s pre-draft blurb on this very site mentioned a fastball ranging from 85-90 (early in the scouting season) to 88-92 later (94 peak) with “plus sink” that he commands quite well. It also mentioned that he throws “nothing straight” with a delivery that provides both “good deception” and “good extension.” Knowing that and only that, would you have had Finley pegged as being one of this draft class’s pitchers most prone to fly ball outs? I, for one, would done no such thing. In 32 innings (just 32 innings, mind you), Finley only got 33.7% of his batted ball outs on the ground. Finley is a good prospect, by the way. Really like that fastball (velocity + movement + command = winning pitch), really like his curve, and really like the delivery. He’s a little older than his peers and he likely won’t ever top the output of Rancho Bernardo High’s most famous baseball alum (Cole Hamels!), but I like him as a potential mid-rotation workhorse.
You an see where I ranked LHP Jeff Degano (89) right there in the parentheses. The Yankees took him with the 57th pick. After thinking it over the summer, my own pre-draft rankings be damned, I think they got a steal. He’s older (23 in a few weeks) and raw (Canadian and injured), but the flashes of brilliance are enough to sell you on his upside. I known for a fact that New York is thrilled about landing him where they did. I’ve even heard it floated that some within their developmental staff would like to see him move to relief because they think he could be their homegrown version of Andrew Miller. That’s pretty damn intriguing, but, as always, I’d give the big young lefty a chance to keep starting as long as he can do it. With a mechanical tweak or two, some honest innings under his belt, and more work on the changeup (a pitch I believe in for him), I think there’s sneaky top of the rotation (more two than one) or shutdown closer upside here. That’s not upside that is thrown around lightly here.
RHP Kolton Mahoney (220) could currently be what Drew Finley will be in a few years. There’s less upside (as one would expect) and a higher probability of pitching in relief, but the talent is significant. Brilliant pick and sign at this point in the draft. I also really, really like RHP Garrett Mundell (397). Guys like Mundell, a senior-sign, should not be available outside of the top ten money-saving rounds let alone free to take all the way down in round twenty-three. It’s far too easy an obvious a comp to make, but there’s some shades of former Bulldog Doug Fister in Mundell’s game…
7.40 K/9 – 2.59 BB/9 – 93.2 IP
8.36 K/9 – 3.64 BB/9 – 116.1 IP
7.43 K/9 – 4.70 BB/9 – 45 IP
7.82 K/9 – 3.10 BB/9 – 61 IP
Top set is Fister’s final two seasons at Fresno State, bottom set is Mundell’s final two seasons at Fresno State. Both are big, long-limbed pitchers (as if he “hands ball to catcher” is in my Mundell notes) who rely on keeping the ball down and getting outs on the ground. Even if you put the odds low (25%) that Mundell does anything approaching Fister’s big league work (overrated by advanced metrics in my view, but that’s besides the point), isn’t that somebody worth taking a shot on as a money-saver in rounds nine or ten? Getting Mundell this late is a coup for the Yankee front office.
I’m always stunned when a fairly straight-forward looking prospect (to me) becomes a very divisive one to others, so seeing SS Kyle Holder (48) get roasted as a major reach who can’t play after his disappointing pro debut fascinated me. This is a more complex issue than I have time to cover in my self-restricted state (time to worry more about the 2016 draft and leave 2015 behind), so I’ll do my best to be brief (note: this is not a personal writing strength). Off the bat, I’ll acknowledge that my pre-draft take on him could have been off the mark and those who have seen him more recently are on top of things in a way I am not. I could be wrong about Holder. I’ve been wrong before, I’ll be wrong a lot in the future. That said, I do have some conviction in my pro-Holder opinion that I’m far from ready to back away from.
Holder had a bad debut from a performance perspective. There’s no hiding from that. Typically in these instances, I’d assume that those critical of him would be the type that saw how badly he struggled and opted to pile on from there. In this specific case, however, I noticed very early on that people — smart people! — were underwhelmed at Holder’s game. So how does a guy go from a first round pick of the New York Yankees to (as some have claimed) overmatched org guy who only gets talked about because of his status as a first rounder? Are there legitimate concerns or is something else going on?
We’ll hit the latter point first. I maintain that the Yankees (and myself and many other teams and many other publications) didn’t completely whiff on Holder. Again, it’s certainly possible that he doesn’t have the kind of career many envisioned but that’s true of literally every player drafted each June.
I also think that part of the change in perception about Holder is who is now doing the evaluating. There’s plenty of crossover between amateur scouting and pro scouting — not enough, but still lots — yet I think the higher standard that comes with being a professional colors the evaluation of recent draftees in what is often too unfavorable a light. There’s some “THIS is pro ball and not some piddly little amateur conference now, kid” attitude among some evaluators who take odd pleasure in tearing down the draft’s best players as they enter pro ball. More kindly, I think there’s an attempt at over-correcting the occasionally too optimistic forecasts pushed by amateur scouts — a big part of the job is salesmanship, after all — to provide a necessary counterpoint and give the bosses a fuller picture of the player as they head into the offseason.
As for the former point, yes, there are legitimate concerns about how Holder’s game will translate to pro ball. The biggest concern pre-draft that persists today is his power. We talk a lot about how not every player needs to be a double-digit home run guy to be a successful big league player, but it’s undeniably important that the mere possibility of putting one over the seats every so often changes how a batter is pitched. Power is king, but the threat of power can be almost as important for certain players. Holder will need to show he has at least a little in-game pop before pitchers will realize they need to change how they attack him. Holder’s chance at being a non-zero offensively hinges on his ability to keep getting on base at a solid clip and stealing some bags along the way. There’s often an inverse relationship between a player like Holder’s on-base ability and the amount the opposing pitcher has to worry about the threat of power. I can’t say with absolute certainty that he’ll hit enough to start at shortstop, but, even in the face of his early struggles, I lean toward thinking he’ll make it work. This was the pre-draft take…
San Diego JR SS Kyle Holder is a special talent with the glove. He’s a fantastic athlete with everything you’d want to see out of big league defender: his range, hands, feet, instincts, arm, and touch are all exemplary. There might not be a lot of power to come, but he’s a smart, balanced hitter who works deep counts and battles in every at bat. With a very real clear strength and no obvious weaknesses, the well-rounded Holder could be a dark horse first day candidate. If you shoot for the moon with an all-upside first pick, then going for what could be a quick-moving rock solid big league shortstop with your second pick makes a lot of sense. The comps I have on Holder are among my favorite for any player in this year’s class: Mike Bordick, Walt Weiss, and Orlando Cabrera. I don’t know why, but that strikes me as a fun group of possible outcomes. Bordick and Weiss both feel fair in a plus glove, good command of the strike zone, enough power to keep pitchers’ honest kind of way.
The defense is going to play. I’m personally certain of that, though I’ve read many who have claimed his glove as being overhyped. That, far more so than those concerned about his bat, feels like the kind of amateur/pro scout pettiness that I described above. To paraphrase what I’ve heard: Yeah, he’s a good defender…for a college guy. In the pros he’s just one of many decent gloves. I stand by his defense at shortstop 100%. That tool alone is enough to make him a potential big league player. If the threat of power is enough for him, then the Mike Bordick/Walt Weiss comps will begin to look pretty good. We’ll see.
OF Jeff Hendrix (112). like Holder, had the kind of pro debut you spend all winter trying to forget. On the plus side, he swiped 17 of 18 bases. On the less plus side, well, there’s pretty much everything else. There’s no reason to overreact to a bad few months, though it should go without saying that an impressive debut beats a debut like this any day. Still, I remain a Hendrix fan and think he has as bright future in pro ball as I did many months ago…
Oregon State JR OF Jeff Hendrix is a fine looking prospect who hasn’t gotten much (any?) national attention just yet. If you’re starting to pick up on a trend with the Pac-12 this year, then you’re smarter than you look. On paper, Hendrix sounds damn good: above-average to plus raw power, average to above-average speed, and great athleticism. He’s made steady improvements on the field with little sign of slowing down. It’s rare that an honest to goodness potential top five round gets overshadowed like this – perhaps it has something to do with being teammates with the extremely impressive freshman KJ Harrison – but he’ll get his due before too long.
2B Brandon Wagner held his own in his debut, splitting time between 2B and 3B while getting acclimated to the rigors of the pro game. The Jersey native has presumably been followed by the Yankees for years even after winding up in Texas at Howard College. Nice get in the sixth. 1B Isiah Gilliam (307) had an even better debut season while splitting his time in between the outfield corners. I think he should settle in as a good enough glove in left field to allow his potentially above-average all-around offensive game to get him in the lineup. Getting him signed as a twentieth round pick should get raises for all the individuals who helped convince the higher-ups that he was signable. I’ll do my part to keep expectations in check by referring to him as 29th Round Pick 1B Kane Sweeney (419), but it’s hard not to be a little excited about a .320/.437/.562 debut run. There are strikes against him (age, too many whiffs, 1B only), but I like him enough that an aggressive double-jump in 2016 feels like a fair sink-or-swim assignment.
OF Jhalen Jackson has some swing-and-miss (not good) and some interesting tools to work with (good!). There are miles between where OF Terrance Robertson could wind up and where he is now, but as an overslot high school pick he’s worth knowing. OF Trey Amburgey had an outstanding debut that puts him on the map for me now when I didn’t know a ton about him a few months ago. OF Zach Zehner, the most recognizable name out of this particular subsection of new Yankee outfielders, has a weird amount of fans (at least among people I know) despite never quite solving the riddle that is the strike zone. He has power, speed, arm strength, and size, but he lacks time (24 next August) and the aforementioned plate discipline (18 BB/52 K as a senior). If nothing else, I like how New York diversified their assets here: they went Division II, high school, junior college, and Division I with these respective four outfield picks.
3B Donny Sands was not a name I was familiar with before the draft and for that I’m pretty downtrodden about. I know I’m a one-man show here, but I can’t help but kick myself over whiffing on him. It’s very early yet obviously, but his pro debut is quite encouraging. Perhaps I should temper some of that enthusiasm by pointing out that he’s one of the older players I’ve noticed in his class (19 this past May). Bryan Hoch had a cool story about Sands on MLB.com that included this bit…
The way the game worked, as the 19-year-old recalled Tuesday, was that his mother would set a clock for five minutes and begin tossing the beans. Sands would have to hit each one without missing any for the session to end; if he whiffed, the clock restarted at zero. The idea was his mother’s, cribbed from her experiences living in Mexico.
The beans in question were pinto beans. That’s phenomenal. New favorite prospect.
RHP Chance Adams (403) was the highest drafted reliever by the Yankees, so it’s no shock he’s the best of the bunch. Armed with a low-90s fastball and above-average command, he’s got the chance to pitch late in games as he keeps improving. It stands to reason he feels right at home in the pro game considering he’s basically coming from what amounts to college ball’s closest 2015 facimile: including Adams, the Dallas Baptist staff included five pitchers (Brandon Koch, Cory Taylor, Joseph Shaw, Drew Smith) that went in the first dozen rounds. Not bad.
With a solid one-two fastball (88-92) and slider punch, LHP James Reeves is a fine looking middle relief prospect. His last year of college (10.89 K/9 and 2.65 BB/9 in 95 IP) and his first year in the pros (9.23 K/9 and 4.10 BB/9) both look good from here. The signing of LHP Josh Rogers is an impressive bit of investigative work by the New York scouting staff.
rSO LHP Josh Rogers gets swallowed up by the FUNKHOUSER hype, a perfectly understandable yet unfortunate matter of fact that happens when you share a the top of a rotation with a potential top ten pick and one of the nation’s top freshmen (LHP/1B Brendan McKay). Rogers, a Tommy John surgery survivor, has decent velocity for a lefty (85-90, has been up to 92-93 in the past) and a workable breaking ball. He’s always gotten results when called upon (8.13 K/9 and 2.08 BB/9 last year, 7.65 K/9 and 2.18 BB/9 this year), so, if signable (non-stars with two remaining years of eligibility don’t always jump at the first pro offer they get) there’s really no reason why he shouldn’t be drafted and tried as a pro starter this summer.
Interesting to note that the Yankees chose him to pitch a few late-season innings in Low-A. Little moves like that don’t necessarily mean much more than that’s how the ebbs and flows of the minor league season work (31st round pick RHP Hobie Harris also got some Charleston innings, for example), but they can sometimes clue us outsiders into the what insiders think of the players we spend so much time thinking about ourselves.
RHP Will Carter is more of a ground ball guy than a strikeout specialist. His sinker has some serious juice (87-94, up to 95), but it’s tough to get ahead as a minor league reliever without that put-away pitch in your back pocket. RHP Bret Marks has a fastball (88-92) with similar sink (plus an average or better slider and interesting split-change) with a better history of missing bats. RHP Brody Koerner takes the ground ball thing to the next level (78.8 GB%) with a very slider heavy approach. The fact that the Yankees had an area scout stick with Koerner and a progressive enough front office willing to overlook some ugly run prevention (7.55 ERA in 62 IP at Clemson this year) to see the raw talent the young right possesses. The peripherals remained good (9.15 K/9 and 3.19 BB/9), so, at the risk of speculating irresponsibly, it would seem to me, based on the pro data we have, that much of Koerner’s 2015 problems at Clemson were related to him pissing off the BABIP deities. For that reason and much more, I like Koerner a whole lot. The Yankees drafted Carter, Marks, and Koerner in that order; I happen to like them in the opposite direction.
RHP Josh Roeder has an absolutely electric slider that seriously ranks as one of the best in the class. Paired with good heat (88-92, 94 peak), good command, and a good track record at Nebraska, and you’ve got yourself a pretty good relief prospect. I swear I’m not intentionally trying to be this positive (it’s the YANKEES, after all), but grabbing guys like Roeder and Koerner when the Yankees did is really good work.
RHP Mark Seyler has a good arm (88-92) and a solid track record. RHP Cody Carroll can crank it up to 95 at times (sits low-90s). It’s an odd universe where RHP Paddy O’Brien gets selected by New York and not Boston. RHP Icezack Flemming should become friends with Christian Turnipseed if he’s not already. RHP David Sosebee spots his upper-80s fastball seemingly wherever he likes. I saw RHP Chad Martin at Delaware where he looked like a decent mid-round minor league reliever. RHP Christian Morris has the stuff to start (FB/CB/CU) but not the command.
(Quick scheduling note: due to the fact I’d really like to get going with some 2016 MLB Draft content while also wanting to finish draft recaps for all teams for the first time in site history, I’m attempting to scale back the draft reviews just enough to get everything done without going insane. Thanks to the many team sites and message boards that have linked to these over the summer…and apologies to fans of the teams that are getting the condensed versions now.)
26 – DJ Stewart
78 – Gray Fenter
105 – Ryan Mountcastle
130 – Garrett Cleavinger
150 – Ryan McKenna
263 – Jason Heinrich
267 – Seamus Curran
376 – Cedric Mullins
Seven of Baltimore’s top eight picks (25, 36, 68, 102, 133, 163, 193, 223) fell in my top 267 (26, 78, 105, 130, 150, 263, 267) with many of them lining up really well. The one pick not in my top 500 was RHP Jonathan Hughes, who couldn’t agree to terms with the O’s and will give pro ball another shot in a few years after playing at Georgia Tech. Let’s tackle the early round players first for a change…
Despite a disappointing pro debut, OF DJ Stewart (26) still looks like a solid pick at that point in the draft with big league regular upside. I stand by my February report on him…
Stewart’s build evokes the same kind of bowling ball vibe that has garnered comparisons to a pair of intriguing hitters: Matt Stairs and Jeremy Giambi. Physically those both make a lot of sense to me, but the comps go even deeper than body type. I could very easily see Stewart having the kind of career of either player. If we split the difference with their 162 game averages, then we get a player who puts up a .260/.360/.450 yearly line with 20 HR, 25 2B, 70 BB, and 100 K. A career that mirrors that of Billy Butler feels like a reasonable ceiling projection, though I could see that bumping up to something closer to Carlos Santana territory with a big final college season. Those are all really good hitters, so take the “reasonable ceiling projection” phrasing to heart.
RHP Gray Fenter (78) has some clear strikes against him — he’s an older, slighter high school righthander than you typically see go so high — but he can really pitch. With a fast arm (90-94 FB, 97 peak) and feel for multiple promising secondaries, he looks like a future mid-rotation or better arm with continued improvement. That kind of improvement shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially for a 6’0″ guy who enjoyed the perks of pitching against younger competition throughout his amateur career, but Fenter is so new to pitching that it stands to reason there’s unseen upside left once he figures out some of the heretofore hidden nuances of the craft.
Like Stewart, SS Ryan Mountcastle (105) had a rough pro debut; also like Stewart, I still believe in his bat and the value of the pick. If it works, it’s an average or better big league regular profile. Quite honestly, sorting out this year’s group of high school third basemen was as big a chore as ranking any one singular position player group this. After Ke’Bryan Hayes and Tyler Nevin, you could rank the likes of Austin Riley, Travis Blankenhorn, Trey Cabbage, Mountcastle, Bryce Denton, and Ryan Karstetter in almost any conceivable way and not come up with an indefensible order. Those six players ranked between 88th and 114th on my overall pre-draft board. With a grouping that bunched up, it comes down to personal preference in player archetype as much as anything. In Mountcastle’s case, the fact he was announced as a shortstop and has played the vast majority of pro innings a the six-spot should indicate what the O’s think of his glove; even if he doesn’t stick at short, that’s a vote of confidence for his defense at the hot corner or perhaps second base. I liked Mountcastle less for his glove than his bat, so we’ll see.
LHP Garrett Cleavinger (130) going in the third round blew up my market correction on college reliever theory that I touted at various points in the spring, but I still think the pick is fair value for a potential quick-moving late-inning reliever with closer stuff. His control will have to be watched closely as he progresses, but there’s no need to worry about his ability to miss bats. At Oregon he went 12.16 K/9, 13.78 K/9 and 14.85 K/9 in three seasons. There’s velocity (up to mid-90s), a breaking ball (above-average 78-84 MPH), and deception, so add all that up with his track record and handedness and you’ve got a keeper.
OF Ryan McKenna (150) is a really well-rounded athlete that does everything well (for lack of a better word) but nothing exceptional. I’m not cool with hanging a fourth outfielder ceiling on a high school prospect from a cold weather state (seems needlessly limiting), but the profile kind of fits. I feel as though we’ve seen an uptick in supposed “fourth outfielder types” who grind their way into everyday duty, so maybe that’s where McKenna’s career path takes him. Either way, quality pick at this point. The long-term outlook on OF Jason Heinrich (263) looks a lot better as an outfielder than as a first baseman (the position I thought he’d be limited to), so maybe he has more of a chance than I think. 1B Seamus Curran (267), the rare Baltimore prospect who could be considered young for his HS class, young, held his own as a 17-year old in the GCL. I think the comparisons to Boston College star and San Francisco pick Chris Shaw are apt. It’s a much higher risk profile grabbing a player like this out of high school rather than college, but it could pay off big time down the line.
I went out on a bit of a limb on junior college transfer OF Cedric Mullins (376) back in February…
JR OF Cedric Mullins (Campbell) is a highly speculative pick on my end. I’ve never seen him, though, as I’ve said many times before, I’m not sure how much utility such a viewing would even bring. What I’ve heard about him, however, has been thrilling. Mullins has the chance to show premium tools as a defender in center (both range and arm) and on the base paths (plus speed and a great feel for the art of base stealing led to him going 55/59 on his career junior college attempts) this spring. He also brings a patient approach to hitting, both in how he happily accepts free passes (a walk doesn’t feel like such a passive thing when you know you’re taking second and maybe third once you are there) and works pitchers until he’s in counts favorable for fastball hunting. The only tool he ranks below Washington in is raw power, but, as covered above, the emphasis on the raw cannot be taken lightly. In terms of current functional power, the battle tightens quite a bit. It’s an imperfect comp for an imperfect world, but I can see Mullins approximating the value of another former junior college guy like Mallex Smith, though with a bit more pop and a fraction less speed.
Even though he didn’t quite hit like I expected this past spring — only in the warped world of scouting would a .340/.386/.549 college season be viewed as unfulfilling — the scouting reports remained top notch all spring and summer long. I finally got a chance to see him up close after his pro debut and the experience was as magical as I imagined. I like that switch-hitting Mallex Smith comp and think Mullins has a long, productive big league career ahead of him.
RHP Jay Flaa and LHP Reid Love are both on the older side, but deserve attention as top-ten round picks (money-savers or not) who put up impressive numbers in their pro debuts. Flaa has middle relief upside while Love has a chance to keep starting thanks to a solid heater (86-91), above-average changeup, excellent control, and heaps of athleticism.
I think RHP Ryan Meisinger needs to be taken seriously as a potential future contributor in a big league bullpen. He followed up his huge draft season with a huge pro debut. Don’t believe me? Not cool…when I have ever lied to you before? You’ve got trust issues, man. Here’s the proof if you really aren’t convinced…
College: 15.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 37 IP with a 1.70 ERA
Pro: 13.7 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 23.2 IP with a 1.90 ERA
He’s not a junk-baller getting by without stuff, either. It’s not knockout closer stuff, but it’s solid (88-92 FB, above-average SL). If non-closing relief prospects are your thing, then Meisinger should quickly become a favorite.
RHP Rocky McCord has long been a favorite despite less than stellar collegiate results. The pre-draft report…
Despite coming to the close of what surely has not been the kind of college career he once dreamed of, I’m still all-in on SR RHP Rocky McCord. McCord, who has only thrown 45.1 innings in three years at Auburn, seems destined to be a quality big league reliever thanks to impressive now-stuff (mid-90s FB peak, excellent CU, rapidly improving SL) and a cool name.
He had a solid yet wild debut. I still think he has what it takes to pitch out of big league bullpen, though I admit the lack of a college breakout season (not even in his senior year!) tempers my enthusiasm some.
LHP Robert Strader gave up his final two seasons of eligibility at Louisville to give pro ball a shot. He’s debut went well, though he kept up his wild ways (8.1 BB/9 in college, 5.1 BB/9 as a pro). I’ve got little to nothing on junior college LHP Nick Vespi, but he’s a lefty with size and youth on his side coming off an intriguing debut run. LHP Will Dennis may not miss enough bats to keep advancing, but as a lefthander with some funk to his delivery (“submariner” in my notes) who piles up ground ball outs (67.8%) he’s worth keeping a distant eye on.
Baltimore took my advice (just kidding!) and spent a thirtieth round pick on RHP Andrew Elliott. Here was the pre-season take on him…
We really need to talk more about rSR RHP Andrew Elliott (Wright State). His is a name that you’ll never hear mentioned when talk of the best relief prospects in college baseball comes up. All the man does is get outs. I’ll admit that Elliott’s first season as a pitcher at Wright State (2012) didn’t go quite as well as you’d like to see. He kept guys off the board (3.17 ERA), but didn’t show the kind of bat-missing stuff to sustain it. By 2014, however, he transformed himself into a strikeout machine. If you can put down 13+ batters via strikes per nine while spotting four pitches (FB, SL, CB, CU) whenever and wherever you want them, then you’re a prospect. He’s undersized (6-1, 200), overaged (23), lacks a true plus heater (upper-80s mostly, can hit some 92s, 93s, and 94s), and can be viewed as a one-year wonder as of today, but I’d still happily snap an arm like this up in the mid-rounds and watch as he continues to mow down batters in the minors.
His 2015 didn’t quite match his 2014, but it was still damn good. Then he went out and tossed 26 very effective innings in his first pro season. I like Meisinger a hair better now — it was a coin-flip pre-draft, though I gave Elliott the edge then — but both are my kind of mid-round deep sleeper relief prospects worth loading up on. Even if these guys top out as up-and-down last man in the pen types, that’s money saved on going out and spending stupid money on volatile middle relief help.
LHP Will Shepley fits the mold as another late-round reliever with strong college peripherals and better than you’d think stuff. The game is in such good shape when lefties who can hit 93 with nice curves fall this late (reasonably so) in the draft. RHP Steven Klimek had a rough debut. He’s got an above-average breaking ball, so that’s cool. LHP Xavier Borde can get wild, but, not to sound like a broken record, he’s missed bats in the past and has solid stuff from the left side (88-92 FB, average or better CB). That’s good enough to place you as one of the most promising 1100 amateur players in the country these days.
There aren’t too many top ten round picks that I completely whiff on, but I published nothing about OF Jaylen Ferguson on my site this past year. Asked about him recently and got back the following: “young, raw, promising.” Not particularly helpful considering how generic that is, but it’s all I’ve got.
C Chris Shaw and C Jerry McClanahan and C Stuart Levy and C Tank McSturdy (guess which one I made up) all shared in their struggles this summer as they got their first taste of pro ball. Of the trio, I was easily the highest on Shaw this spring…
I’m still holding out hope that we see Oklahoma JR C Chris Shaw get going on the big stage, especially after the tremendous power displays he put on after relatively slow starts the past two seasons in junior college. Truthfully, the question as to whether or not he’ll hit for power isn’t a debate; Shaw’s success or failure going forward will be determined by the adjustments in approach he is able to make. He’s always been a touch too aggressive for his own good, but his power could mask some of the deficiencies he’s shown at lower-levels. More experienced arms will keep exploiting the holes in his approach unless he makes some changes. The power alone still makes him a high follow, but much of the optimism I felt in January has eroded under the rocky shores of reality.
I’ll be honest: I’m not really holding out much hope any longer. Stranger things have happened, but it doesn’t look great for him right now. His disappointing (to me) year at Oklahoma combined with early pro struggles (not that I’d ever overreact to those…) concern me. His power made him worth a shot in the fifteenth round, but the approach really holds him back as a hitter. McClanahan looks like the org guy that he’s always been…
On the other end of the spectrum is the reliable yet unexciting profile of UC Irvine rSR C Jerry McClanahan. The veteran Anteater’s patient approach at the plate is my kind of prospect, but his lack of power and advanced age make him more organizational depth than future big league backup. Of course, the former can become the latter in certain cases, and there are all kinds of unseen advantages in bringing in quality workers like McClanahan to work with your minor league pitchers.
1B Steve Laurino hit a bit at Marist and could do a little bit of hitting in the pros. 2B Drew Turbin had a big senior-sign type of season (.349/.490/.521), so I’m cool with taking a shot on him in the fourteenth even though he’s almost certainly locked in at second base. SS Branden Becker is intriguing as a surprise sign who flashes a little bit of pop and a whole lot of defensive versatility. 3B Kirvin Moesquit gives you that same kind of defensive flexibility with similar upside with the stick and a massively underrated name. As you can read right here —> UT Frank Crinella was announced as a utility guy on draft day, but played mostly third base with a little second mixed in during his solid debut as a pro.
I grouped this top-ten round prospects, then the rest of the pitchers, and then the rest of the hitters. That means I really shouldn’t close with a pitcher, but I’m a rebel bad boy who breaks all the rules. I mean, sometimes you just have to follow your heart, you know? The world really needs more exposure on this: Baltimore drafted a guy named Christian Turnipseed from Georgia Gwinnett College in the 28th round (pick 853) this year. Turnipseed didn’t allow a single run in 28.1 professional innings in his debut! Only 11 hits allowed with 30 strikeouts and 7 walks! That’s after a final college season where opponents hit just .100 off of him (12 hits in 36 innings!). He struck 15 batters per nine with an ERA of 1.50. And his name is Christian Turnipseed! I vow in writing here to buy myself a shirsey and then ten more for charity if/when such a glorious garment exists.
After a .188/.345/.217 junior season, I was ready to stick 1B Jared Walsh back on the mound and embrace him as a potential lefthanded middle reliever prospect. Maybe I should have paid closer attention to the 15 BB/8 K ratio as a sign of a potential senior season breakout instead. Walsh did just that and then kept hitting upon entering pro ball. It’s a tough profile to get behind as Walsh doesn’t have the usual strength and power associated with first base, but he deserves credit for at least getting a mention here as a 39th round pick. Hitting .325 in your debut season will do that. 1B Nick Lynch didn’t hit .325 in his debut and is older than you’d like in a recent draftee (24 next February), but he flashed enough power as a college slugger to earn himself at least another season of trying to see if he can make it.
2B Tim Arakawa is a nice addition to the franchise in round 23. He’s not the biggest nor the fastest nor the most powerful, but he grinds out professional at bats and puts himself in good situations in the field and on the base paths. It’s a nearly impossible profile to make it as a second base only prospect, but you never know. 2B Hutton Moyer is toolsier than most college second base prospects and it shows. Those tools — above-average speed, average power, average or better glove — got him selected earlier than I would have guessed (7th round) and should continue to give him chances over the next few seasons. Like Arakawa, it’s very likely second base or bust for Moyer, so getting to the highest level will be a challenge.
3B Michael Pierson, another older than you’d like prospect (24 next May), hit like the man among boys in short-season ball that he was. It was the kind of performance that gets your name on the map within an organization, perhaps even leading to a double-jump promotion (right to A+?) heading into next season. The former Appalachian State star has the early edge on some of the previously mentioned 2015 MLB Draft infielders not only for what he did with the bat (.395/.467/.528 with 22 BB/30 K) but also for his slightly more versatile defensive utility (second and third).
Speaking of defensive versatility, I’d love to see 3B Kenny Towns make the long rumored switch to catcher in instructional league this fall. Having watched him play a fair amount of third base over the years, I think it’s fair to say he’s got the hands, arm, and athleticism to potentially pull it off. More to the point, catching is probably his one and only true shot at ever advancing past a certain level in pro ball. If that switch is made then there will be a good bit of competition behind the plate to come out of this draft class. C Izaak Silva is decent organizational depth, but C Dalton Blumenfeld and C Tanner Lubach each have a chance to be more. Blumenfeld, the overslot twelfth round pick, fits the big-bodied, plus arm strength, plus raw power archetype that has recently fallen out of favor some among most teams; their loss could very well be the Angels gain. Lubach is more of a modern catcher — big enough but not huge, hit over power, reliant more on athleticism and smarts defensively — so Los Angeles gets a little bit of variety out of two second-tier backstops. I’ve anticipated a breakout season for Lubach for way too long now, so it might be time to accept the fact it’s not going to happen and readjust expectations. If LA gets a backup catcher out of this group, they’ve done well for themselves.
The man they’d be backing up looks like a really safe bet to be C Taylor Ward (65). My final pre-draft ranking had Ward as more of a second round value than a first rounder, something I wish I hadn’t hedged on. Should have stuck to my mid-season guns…
Sometimes I get so wrapped up into doing things for the site that I forget that there is a great big baseball world outside my tiny corner of the internet. As such, I’m way behind on checking in on a lot of the mainstream draft coverage that has been put out since the college season in February. Help me out here: Fresno State JR C Taylor Ward is a first round pick, right? People have caught on to that? He’s pretty much Max Pentecost without the Twitter approved cool guy name. If Pentecost could go eleventh overall, then surely Ward can find a fit in the first day, right? He’s a really good athlete who moves exceptionally well behind the plate. His arm is an absolute howitzer with easy to spot plus to plus-plus raw strength. Offensively he does enough of everything – average or a tick below speed underway, about the same raw power, and a disciplined approach that consistently puts him in good hitter’s counts – to profile as a well above-average regular when both sides of his game are considered.
“The best true catcher is probably Pentecost,” a club executive said. “He’s going in the first round for sure. He doesn’t have a lot of power, it’s more alley and extra-base hits than pure power, but he’s a good hitter, a good athlete and he can run. He can throw and he will get better as a receiver. I think it’s a solid overall player at a tough position to find.”
Sub out Pentecost’s name for Ward’s and you’re all set. His closest competitors for top college catcher in this class (pre-season) for me have all slipped enough that I think there’s real separation between Ward and everybody else. Shaun Chase (Oregon) still has the prodigious raw power that will keep him employed for years to come, but the approach has shown little to no signs of improving. My former top guy, Ian Rice (Houston), has been up and down (to put it kindly) in his first season of D1 baseball. Austin Rei (Washington) seemed poised to have a breakout season and challenge Ward for the top spot, but a torn thumb ligament stalled his season after only 17 at bats. There’s still a question as to whether or not he’ll be back before the end of the season. I could see a scenario where a team would prefer Rei, who I still think goes higher than anybody thinks because of his pitch-framing abilities alone, but the injury obviously makes him one of the draft’s greatest unknowns heading into June.
I don’t actually know where Ward will go in the draft and without having my entire board lined up just yet it is premature to say he’s a no-doubt first round pick for me personally. I do find it hard to imagine that a player with his upside will fall past the first forty picks or so into the second round. This kind of logic doesn’t always hold because it takes but one team to select a player, but if Pentecost, who, I liked more than loved as a prospect, went off the board at eleven last year then I don’t see why Ward would fall multiple rounds past that in what many (not me, but still) consider to be a weaker draft.
At least the last part came to pass after the Angels popped Ward with pick 26 in the first round. The most important takeaway here is that Ward is a really good player, both offensively and defensively. I think we all knew about his upside as a catcher, present plus to plus-plus arm strength, and well above-average athleticism for the position. The bat, however, was a revelation as a pro: .348/.457/.438 with 39 BB/23 K. He’s hardly coming out of nowhere with a performance like that: those numbers are fairly consistent with what he did in his last two seasons at Fresno State. He was called a future “well above-average regular when both sides of his game are considered” on this site during the season and his play since then has only helped sway some of the last remaining doubters. Nothing against any of the other catchers taken at the top of the draft, but Ward is clearly the best blend of upside and polish…and it’s not even close. Tyler Stephenson is still an excellent prospect, but he’s the only other catcher you’d consider taking over Ward out of this class. This is a great pick made even better by all the insta-hatred it caused on Twitter back on draft night.
(Would I throw that last dig in if Ward struggled rather than excelled in his first 250 or so professional PA? There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I honestly believe that I would. Let’s be real, though: it obviously doesn’t hurt any. I certainly didn’t expect Ward to hit quite like he did, but the Angels drafted a really good prospect with the 26th pick in the first round and the majority of prospect “experts” took turns lining up to lambaste the selection. That’s crazy to me. Everybody is entitled to an opinion, but having an informed one doesn’t really cost all that much extra. At minimum, I’d throw out the idea that opinions about something you might not know everything about be made a bit more quietly and with a little less know-it-all venom. I guess the best way to get noticed in the online scouting world these days is being as loud as possible with your opinions since the bad ones all have a way of getting forgotten over time. Still, there’s a big difference between “I’m not sure about this pick based on what I know about the player and I would have rather had [blank], but it’ll be fun to see where it goes.” and “OMG LOL WORST PICK EVER THIS GUY IS A WALKING BUST DRAFTED TEN ROUNDS TOO SOON I SHOULD BE THE NEW GM OF THE ANGLES JET FUEL CANT MELT STEAL BEEMS!!1!!1”)
I like how this pre-draft piece on SS David Fletcher (133) sounds today…
Loyola Marymount SO SS David Fletcher would be the top shortstop in many conferences across the country. He does a lot of the same things that Holder does well, especially on the defensive side. I’m a tiny less sure about his bat going forward, so consider that my admittedly thin rationale for having him behind both Holder and Sullivan. Being the third best shortstop behind those two guys is still a really, really good thing. He’s stung the ball so far this season, and I’ve heard from those who have seen him often that the improvements are real. Slowly but surely his ceiling has risen with some now willing to make the move from glove-first utility player to potential big league regular. I’m not quite there yet, but I get it. All the shortstops are great.
All The Shortstops are Great! That would be the name of my video yearbook for this year’s draft. Swanson, Bregman, Rodgers, Newman, Martin, Holder, Trahan, Miller, Jackson, Fletcher all selected within the draft’s first two hundred picks…what a group. I talked a lot throughout the spring about how the depth of this year’s shortstop class could help some teams with front offices split on taking a shortstop early pass on the top-tier talents and wait it out. There’s obviously no way of knowing if the Angels FO had those internal discussions — maybe they were hoping either Newman or Martin fell to them, maybe they considered taking Holder but opted to wait — but it’s something to think about. The fun hindsight game gives you two options: Ward (first round C) and Fletcher (sixth round SS) or Holder (first round SS) and Francis Christy (catcher taken one pick after Fletcher in the seventh). Early pro returns there make the Angels look like geniuses!
In more seriousness, Los Angeles found themselves a real keeper in Fletcher. Like Ward, we knew he could do it all defensively, so the strides he’s made as a hitter over the last calendar year are almost icing on the cake. The lack of power is something to be monitored, but if he can just do enough to keep opposing pitchers on their toes, he’s a potential regular at short. Even if that doesn’t happen, he’s got a high-floor as a rather valuable potential utility guy.
I love the pick of Ti’Quan Forbes to Texas in the second round last year. The Angels selection of OF Jahmai Jones (37) in the second round this year gives me a very similar warm and fuzzy feeling. Jones has electric bat speed and plenty of natural raw power. Few, if any, high school players smoked the ball as consistently as he did in my admittedly limited views of the cream of the crop of this year’s class. Maybe my appreciation for him as a prospect is too heavily influenced on my “not a scout” personal observations — it’s human nature to do so and I’ve been guilty of it in the past — but the overall offensive tool set that includes a potential plus hit (could see him hitting .300 one day), above-average or better raw power, and above-average or better speed is exciting even if you haven’t seen him up close. I threw out a tentative Cameron Maybin comp on him before the draft that I think works from a raw ability standpoint but is hard to draw much meaning on beyond that considering Maybin’s generally underwhelming — though, in the real world, projecting a second round pick to ever have a 4.0 WAR season like Maybin once did is generous — career to date.
OF Brendon Sanger (63) was on my short-list of FAVORITES going into the draft, so seeing him go above where many of the expert sites had him ranked makes me very happy for him.
JR OF/2B Brandon Sanger (Florida Atlantic) is a lot of fun to watch as a hitter. He’s a high-contact bat with above-average raw power and average or better speed. Beyond that, Sanger is the kind of player that is tough for me to write about because he’s just so darn well-rounded that his game borders on boring at times. He gets on base so often that you begin to take for granted his outstanding plate discipline. He wears out the gaps as well as almost any other hitter in the country. If he could be counted on playing average or better defense at second base professionally – and I’m not ruling this out, but hedging my bets with the corner outfield projection because that’s what people who have seen him more than I have recommended – then he’d be at or near the top of my list of “Why are we not including this guy among the nation’s best position player prospects?” players. As a corner outfielder he’s a little less exciting, but still one of my favorite bats to watch this spring.
I still don’t think it’s crazy to want to see him get an honest shot at playing second base this fall. It’s a bit of a played-out comp, but I think there’s enough Jason Kipnis to Sanger’s game to make attempting the conversion worth a shot. If it doesn’t work, you move on. I still think the bat is big league regular quality in an outfielder corner. Jones, Sanger, Ward, and Fletcher give the Angels a really impressive quartet of hitting prospects to be excited about from this draft.
OF Jeff Boehm (292) played 1B in his debut season, but I think he has enough athleticism to man an outfield corner again if that’s what the Angels want out of him. He’s got a cannon for an arm, so right field makes sense. Boehm’s always showed some feel for hitting and has flashed some interesting power in the past, so don’t rule out the thirteenth round pick from potentially growing into a useful bench piece. That’s the most realistic ceiling I see for him now, though I was once a bit more bullish about his future…
Boehm flashes all five tools and enough at the plate to potentially profile as a regular in right field. The Kentucky transfer’s arm strength is his best current attribute while his other four tools all have a shot to play average or better as he continues to develop as a position player.
Perhaps one day Boehm will share a big league bench with OF Sam Koenig (281). Koenig’s swing has a lot of moving parts, so inconsistent contact figures to always be an issue to some degree. Thankfully, he has more than enough raw power packed into his 6-4, 220 pound frame to remain an intriguing potential bench bat or platoon option. The fact that he has experience at all of the four-corner spots (1B-3B-LF-RF) makes him appealing in that way. As a fifth-year senior (24 this March) and 27th round pick who didn’t exactly light the world on fire with his pro debut, he’ll have to get hitting quickly to keep getting chances.
rSR OF/3B Sam Koenig (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) is an old favorite who has plenty of raw power, but inconsistent contact skills. He’s even bigger than Timm and Mahoney – listed at 6-5, 220 pounds compared to their measly 6-5, 200 frames – but not nearly the defender at the hot corner as the two more natural infielders. That’s why he’s now listed as an outfielder first. It feels like he’s been on the verge of bursting out since mid-way through his sophomore season and just last year he was off to a blistering start (.424/.500/.667 with 5 BB and 6 K in 33 AB) before going down with an injury. It would be silly to suggest that such a small sample is the smoking gun that will lead to a breakout senior season; no sillier, however, then prematurely dismissing the progress any young, still developing player makes. There’s no need to overreact to Koenig’s aborted 2014 season, so the best (and most obvious) course of action is to keep a close eye on him in 2015 to see if he can finally put it all together.
OF Jared Foster (439) and OF Trever Allen winding up with the same pro club feels right. Both are outstanding athletes who can run, throw, and hit the ball out of the damn stadium if you make a mistake. Both are also senior-signs who never really had that one true breakout season to give you the confidence that they’d grow into anything more than tooled-up backup outfielders with perpetual promise. That’s not to say both didn’t have very good senior seasons…
Foster: .294/.352/.533 – 13 BB/31 K – 7/7 SB – 180 AB
Allen: .345/.387/.505 – 13 BB/33 K – 4/7 SB – 200 AB
Pretty similar production, right? Those raw lines are super and both were key bats at upper-echelon college programs, but the underlying plate discipline numbers are less than ideal. Those rough BB/K ratios carried over to the pro game as one might expect. Still, there are many ways to wind up a successful pro ballplayer. I like my guys to exhibit the kind of strike zone awareness that has the ballpark questioning an umpire’s call when a 50/50 pitch goes against the batter — blame watching 162 games a year of Bobby Abreu (and later Jayson Werth) during my formative baseball watching years for that — but hitters like that who can also do other things at a high-level are rare. You’ve got to embrace imperfect players at a certain point. Foster’s pre-draft blurb sums him up pretty well, I think: “raw, but as much upside for a senior sign as you’ll find.” If the light bulb ever comes on for Foster, he’s an above-average regular. That “if” is pretty gigantic considering we’re talking about a soon-to-be 23-year old prospect and not a teenager out of high school, but you never know. Allen is about a half-step down from Foster in certain physical areas (arm, speed), but if you tried to sell me that he’s better prepared for the pro game than Foster based on the idea that Allen actually started all four years at Arizona State while Foster, when not serving as the reserve QB on the football team, was consistently crowded out of a stacked LSU outfield then I wouldn’t argue.
In the end, I think both players have that one fatal flaw that will make advancing to the big leagues very difficult. Foster will get more chances as a fourth rounder (Allen went in the 25th), so he’ll get the leg up when the politics of promotions comes into play. He’d be my bet to go higher up the chain, but I think toolsy up-and-down reserve outfielder is the most realistic best case scenario. I can’t blame the Angels for going big on tools, though.
A trio of college outfielders picked later by Los Angeles caught my eye for various reasons. OF Kyle Survance was a surprise top ten round pick to me (8th), but his athleticism, speed, and CF range all play. The pre-draft take…
JR OF Kyle Survance is the best of the trio. His power is limited, but his speed and defense should keep him employed for at least a few years. If it clicks for him, it’s a big league skill set.
I saw OF Jordan Serena up close a lot this spring for Columbia. Besides sporting an impressive beard, he ran well, showed good athleticism, and could drive a mistake to the gaps. I like the Angels taking the approach of moving him around the diamond (2B, 3B, SS) while also keeping the knowledge that he can play a mean CF in their back pocket. He’s a solid org player.
Then there’s OF Josh Delph. Delph is weird. The guy has a strange knack for getting on base. I don’t really know how to explain it beyond that. For a corner outfielder with an iffy hit tool and minimal power to put up the kind of consistent on-base figures he has…there’s really no figuring it out. Look at some of his weird lines while at Florida State…
.261/.465/.342 – 34 BB/14 K
.268/.385/.351 – 34 BB/32 K
.279/.410/.358 – 38 BB/42 K
He kept it up as a pro by hitting .313/.441/.354 with 8 BB/8 K. Come on, that’s weird. I really think he was created in a lab somewhere by Mike Martin in an attempt to create the Platonic ideal of a Florida State hitter. Or maybe Delph was drafted because he’s almost this year’s draft exact counterpoint to Jared Foster. Either way, for as much as I value plate discipline, Delph will have a tough time moving up relying on that one awesome skill. I’ll be rooting for him all the same.
My pre-draft rankings cease to mean a whole lot the second the draft ends, if they ever meant anything to anybody else at all. I can admit that. Prospect rankings are merely snapshots in time as real life living breathing players improve, stagnate, and generally evolve in ways that no one person could ever hope to accurately predict with real precision. Still, rankings serve an organizational purpose. Less so on straight prospect rankings, but draft rankings can literally be used to determine who gets picked and when. Every team makes some kind of list before the draft and sticks to it for as long as feasible (in some cases, you’d be stunned how quickly the list is abandoned…though it’s often replaced by smaller positional lists, so I guess it’s all the same thing in a different wrapper), so there is at least some utility in a pre-draft ranking. This is all a long way of saying that the Angels somehow managed to draft only one pitcher off my personal pre-draft list of 500 names. They grabbed seven of my position players, but only one pitcher. More of a weird quirk than an attempt to denigrate the work done by the Los Angeles front office, but an interesting note all the same.
That one pitcher is RHP Grayson Long (62) from Texas A&M. I love that the Angels managed to get Long with pick 104…
Long hasn’t progressed quite as much as I was expecting back then, but that’s not to say he hasn’t progressed at all. It’s been a slow and steady climb for him, and the results so far this year indicate that real honest improvements have been made. Long lives 88-92, but can climb up to 94-95 when needed, though those mid-90s figures are an admittedly rare occurrence. The fact that the long and lean high school version of Long, thought for all the world to be full of projection and potentially of capable of eventually lighting up radar guns once he filled out, hasn’t added much to his fastball can be taken either as a negative (for obvious reasons) or a positive (he’s pitched damn well even without the big fastball and there could yet be some more in the tank coming) depending on your world view. All of those other extras that made me fall for his heater in the first place remain, and I’d call his fastball a plus pitch still even without the knockout velocity. There still isn’t one consistent offspeed pitch that he can lean on from start to start, but there are enough flashes of his change and slider that you can understand what the finished product could look like.
I really believe in Long; he’s one of those players I’d go out on a limb for and really push my team to draft if ever put in such a position of power. I think he’s as good a bet as almost any college pitcher in this class to have a long career in a big league rotation (high-floor!) while still retaining some of that upside we’ve seen over the years to be something even more (high-ceiling!).
Even though I only ranked Long, I did reference a good number of pitchers selected by the Angels this past year. RHP Nathan Bates out of Georgia State had a solid junior year. He’s big (6-8, 200) and throws hard enough (low-90s) to deserve a long look. I saw LHP Ronnie Glenn start as many games at Penn than just about any human not affiliated with the team, school, or his family. He’s a good one. Glenn throws three pitches with a chance to be around average (88-92 FB, 76-78 breaking ball, 78-80 change) with a nice amount of deception in his delivery that figures to give lefthanded hitters fits in the pros. RHP Aaron Rhodes was a stalwart performer in the Florida bullpen over the past few seasons. He’s a tough player to figure out going forward because he plays with his delivery so much that you don’t know which pitcher the real Aaron Rhodes is. The more traditional delivery can give you low-90s sinking velocity (up to 96) with the occasional above-average slider. The sidearm action is more low- to mid-80s, but no less effective. RHP Jacob McDavid out of Oral Roberts has some projection left and a good low-90s heater.
I won’t pretend to know any more about RHP Adam Hofacket than you do, but I’ve heard he throws bowling balls and his pro debut (63.3 GB%) seems to back it up so far. He’s got my attention. I like what little I know about LHP Nathaniel Bertness, a long and lean lefty out of junior college. The 6-5, 185 pound pitcher was a standout basketball player in high school who has only really focused on baseball full-time within the last year or two. Needless to say, I’m intrigued. RHP Samuel Pastrone is an intriguing overslot HS arm out of Nevada who can throw four pitches for strikes who has reportedly made a big leap forward with his velocity over the past calendar year (from 88-92, 94 peak to 90-94, 96 peak).
RHP Travis Herrin is a blank canvass with some upside. RHP Aaron Cox was worth a draft pick even without his fun backstory (though, as an aside, I personally think it’s awesome that his sister/Mike Trout’s girlfriend was [maybe still is?] a teacher…didn’t know that until this year’s draft). RHP Taylor Cobb is a decent arm strength shot in the dark. I thought RHP Cody Pope might have been the first pick ever out of Eastern New Mexico, but he’s not even the first pick drafted out of Eastern New Mexico this year! Whoops. I knew LHP Connor Lillis-White wasn’t the first pick ever out of the University of British Columbia because Jeff Francis was a first rounder back in 2002. LHP Winston Lavendier has a name that just needs to be on a baseball card one day. RHP Jonah Dipoto is off to San Diego to play college ball, a really good decision made even better by what transpired in the Angels front office shortly after the draft in June…
Here are the 2015 Los Angeles draft picks that slipped into my pre-draft top 500…
37 – Jahmai Jones
62 – Grayson Long
63 – Brendon Sanger
65 – Taylor Ward
133 – David Fletcher
281 – Sam Koenig
292 – Jeff Boehm
439 – Jared Foster
I don’t typically put a ton of thought into the organization of these pieces, but this one was a no-brainer. We need to talk about C Nick Dini (407) first. I’d talk about him first, second, third, and forever, but a paragraph or so will have to suffice for now.
Nick Dini hit .392/.489/.625 in his senior season at Wagner. He walked 30 times and struck out only 7 times. He stole 14 bases in 15 tries, a total that boosted his career mark to 33 of 35. He’s relatively new to catching (played it off-and-on throughout his college career), but has taken to it in a full-time role as well as one possibly can. He’s a really good athlete who has experience catching high velocity arm, so the learning curve should continue to be quite manageable for him. At the plate, he’s shown a consistent feel for hitting that puts him years ahead of his peers. His approach is as good as it gets and is power, while not nearly as impressive as his senior season spike suggests, is enough to keep opposing pitching honest enough to let him keep getting on base at a high clip even against better arms. On the downside, he played at Wagner and…he’s short? I guess those are negatives for some, but I don’t care. He’s Austin Barnes 2.0 with a realistic floor of Tucker Barnhart. Just a really good all-around player who will become a fan favorite (and statistically-leaning prospect analyst favorite) sooner rather than later.
(I’m glad we had a chance to do that. People I know in real life are tired of me initiating conversations with “Hey, how about that Nick Dini?” and “Whoa, did you see what Nick Dini did last night?” and “We need to decide on a good nickname for Nick Dini – is ‘Who’ too corny? It works on two levels!”)
1B Taylor Ostrich is a fine senior-sign get in the 34th round. He he can hit, he’ll take a walk, and there’s average or better thunder in the bat. He’s also a strong yet nimble 6-3, 220 pound athlete who has posted average run times underway and fields the position extremely well. With reasonable platoon or bench bat upside (and maybe more…), I’m not really sure what more you could ask for in a pick this late.
Here’s where I was at with C Alex Close before the season…
SR 1B Alex Close (Liberty) has been a favorite for some time – not a FAVORITE, but a favorite – because of his playable present power. If an area guy can sell his bosses on Close as a potential 1B/3B/C hybrid, then he could go higher than even I think.
I stand by the assertion that a 1B/3B/C hybrid is best for his long-term pro future. Even with the defensive versatility, there might be too much swing-and-miss in his approach for him to lock in on his considerable power upside thus negating what he does best as a hitter as a professional. I’m not sure how good his stuff is, but I’ve heard from at least one contact that they’d put him on the mound. That belief was based on his strong senior season as a pitcher, his raw arm strength, and the unfortunate reality that he likely won’t make enough contact to have a real future as a pro hitter. OF Colton Frabasilio gets a lot more interesting when you look back at his college track record (catcher!) and then realize he split time between catcher and left field in his pro debut. The bat isn’t thrilling, but the bar isn’t all that high for a catcher. If he can stick behind the plate, consider him a super deep sleeper to follow.
It appears that the Royals identified outfield as a position group of need heading into the draft. Either that or the board just happened to shake out a whole bunch of outfielders they liked in rounds that made sense. My favorite before the draft was OF Tanner Stanley (67). Stanley does many of the things that I personally like very well: he’s a patient hitter who has a plan at the plate with every at bat, he’s instinctual in the outfield and on the base paths, and he’s got enough physical ability (arm, speed) to make a difference even on days he’s not hitting. As so often is the case in players like Stanley, the transformation of raw power to in-game production is an open question. I put Stanley in the group that has “enough pop to keep opposing pitchers honest” before the draft, but that aspect of his game remains my biggest concern going forward.
Keeping all that about Stanley in mind, I have to admit that I don’t really know why I ranked him quite so highly relative to some of his peers. I’ll wear it, of course, but his was an overly generous ranking that I would scale back if I could do it all again. For example, I’m not sure he’s all that different from OF Cody Jones (495). If anything, Jones runs and defends on a higher level than Stanley. I prefer the latter’s all-around offensive game, but the two are close enough that almost 400 spots on the pre-draft ranking seems silly. The Royals obviously preferred Jones, the sixth rounder, over Stanley, their thirty-sixth rounder.
An argument could also be made for OF Anderson Miller (145) as the top outfielder taken by the Royals. Heck, in terms of draft position he’s it. Miller shares a lot of the same positive traits as Stanley, but comes with more upside and uncertainty. The former two-way star has a chance to really break out now that the shackles of pitching are off. He leads the way in raw power (average or slightly above) of any Kansas City outfield pick. His chief competitor there would be OF Ben Johnson (238). Johnson is a really neat prospect. I’ll allow past me to explain some…
The outfield is where things get really interesting in the Big 12. I know I say this about so many prospects that it probably renders the distinction meaningless, but Texas JR OF Ben Johnson has to be one of this year’s draft’s most fascinating prospects. Johnson’s name has come up over and over again so far this season as a tooled-up prospect finally turning into a deeply skilled player. Or so I thought. All of the chatter over Johnson excited me because I had assumed he was finally doing the things that he’ll need to do to be a better pro. Full disclosure: I haven’t gotten any updates about him this season (since the fall) from anybody I know who has seen him and (I’M NOT A SCOUT) I’ve only personally seen him twice this year on the tube. So I’m not working with all the needed info to make any overarching statements that should be taken as fact. I’m just theorizing that maybe college analysts (and perhaps certain pro scouting staffs that weigh projection significantly ahead of production [they aren’t wrong for this, by the way]) are getting a little ahead of themselves in proclaiming this to be the start of Johnson’s ascension to day one of the 2015 MLB Draft. Johnson has been absolutely phenomenal this season by most every measure: .432/.463/.659 is damn good work in 88 at bats. Maybe he’s made adjustments as a hitter that the public will hear about as some of the best prospect writers begin doing some digging. Maybe (hopefully) I’ll hear something from one of my contacts sooner rather than later that brings some good news on his outburst. Until then, however, I think Ben Johnson is just doing Ben Johnson things. I won’t say that I anticipated this kind of start, but his numbers aren’t out of line with what you’d expect from a player with his kind of tools at the college level. It’s not crazy to say that he, like about a dozen or so players in this and every class, is too physically gifted for the college game. Johnson is a pro-level glove in center with an average or better arm, average or better raw power, and, most interestingly, the kind of jaw-dropping athleticism and game-changing speed that puts the whole package over the top.
Again, Johnson is putting up a ridiculous .432/.463/.659 line so far this year. That’s really great. With only 2 walks to 12 strikeouts, however, I’m not sure how all his considerable offensive gifts will continue to play as he climbs the ladder. For all the positives he brings to the table he still looks like a very high potential pick since athletes like him often provide value well beyond what they do at the plate (running, defending, you get it). That relatively high floor makes Johnson extra appealing; using a supplemental first, second, or third round pick on him is not likely to completely blow up in your face simply because he’s almost too damn athletic to do nothing. On the off chance he puts it together, watch out. If that paragraph reads like I’m hedging my bets on him, then you’re on the right track.
I’m obviously glad I hedged my bets on him, especially after seeing him fall to the eleventh round. Overslot or not, he was outstanding value there. As was written in his pre-draft blurb: “approach remains a mess, but the raw edge to his game, grinder mentality, and outstanding defense make him intriguing despite his flaws.” That’s the kind of guy to gamble on for a little extra dough in round eleven. A quick prospect-to-prospect comparison could work if you’re willing to buy he’s a more talented version of sixth round pick Cody Jones. An even easier comparison would be to former Longhorn Drew Stubbs. I’m sure others have connected those dots elsewhere.
I really liked the pick of the underrated (including here) OF Roman Collins in the fifth. It’s much earlier than I thought he’d go, but he’s a good player and who knows how the rest of baseball viewed him. Before the year I said…
Collins is a guy who falls out of bed ready to hit each morning. I don’t doubt that his big raw power will continue to play against more advanced arms.
His pro debut was outstanding, though presumably he’s figured out a more palatable sleep schedule. I mean, I like to get up at the last possible second before work as well, but I couldn’t actually suggest somebody try to roll out of bed and hit a 90 MPH fastball. Sounds like a great way to get hurt. Lame jokes aside, Collins can hit. I think he was slept on (no pun intended, I swear…but I’m keeping it) by many because of only playing one year of D-1 baseball. He got on my radar before his one and only season at Florida Atlantic after hitting a decent .435/.512/.766 in 209 at bats at junior college in 2014. Then he more than held his own (.296/.394/.481) at FAU while showing off an impressive display of power and speed (above-average in both areas) on a weekly basis throughout the spring. He would have been ranked much higher by me heading into the draft if I had caught on to how smooth his transition was this year; such is life as a one-man operation. The nice thing is by writing this, I can begin to make up for the error. Roman Collins is really good. You should like him too.
OF Luke Willis can really run and defend in center. I’m sufficiently intrigued by the thirtieth rounder out of George Mason (by way of Coastal Carolina). Like many of these outfielders, he’s a very Royals type of player.
For as much as I like and appreciate what the Royals did in the outfield, I can’t quite put my finger on their infield strategy this year. 2B Jonathan McCray is an intriguing junior college talent who has shown some of the pop/speed combo needed to keep advancing as a second base only prospect.
SS Trey Stover can play any infield spot, but doesn’t have the bat to keep going at the moment. Same could be said for SS Brian Bien. SS Austin Bailey has the most advanced stick of this trio of college senior-sign shortstops, but seems like a better fit at second base over the long haul. Maybe you hit on one of the three as a future utility guy, but I don’t love the odds here.
I do love SS Travis Maezes (169) even though I don’t think he’s a shortstop professionally…
I’ve written about Michigan JR 3B/SS Travis Maezes already, so I’ll just give the short version here: his skill set reminds me of the 25th pick of last year’s draft, Matt Chapman. The biggest noticeable difference in their games comes down to arm strength. Maezes has an outstanding arm, but it’s not in the same class as Chapman’s; that’s how crazy Chapman’s arm is. Besides that, the similarities are striking. I think Maezes has a chance to put an average hit tool with average power (maybe a half-grade above in each area) to good use as a professional ballplayer. Even if he doesn’t hit as much as I’ll think, his defensive value (good at third and playable at short, with intriguing unseen upside at 2B and C) should make him a positive player. It’s not the typical profile we think of as “high-floor,” but it works. I’ve talked to a few people who think I’m overstating Maezes’ upside as a pro. That’s fine and it’s relevant and I’m happy to hear from dissenting viewpoints.
Weird doesn’t have to be bad, so I have no problem being the high man on Michigan JR 3B Travis Maezes for now. His hit tool is legit, his power should play average or better, and he has the athleticism, arm strength, and instincts to be a really strong third baseman in the pros. Real life work commitments and frustration at the death of College Splits put me way behind on writing about last year’s draft. If I had written all that I wanted to, I assure you that many glowing pieces on Cal State Fullerton 3B Matt Chapman would have been written. I absolutely loved Chapman as a draft prospect and think he’ll be an above-average pro player for a long time. I don’t bring him up just to relive the past, of course; from a skills standpoint, Maezes reminds me a lot of Chapman. I swear that’s a comparison that I came by honestly through watching them both, hearing from smarter people than myself, and reading whatever has been written about them from the comfort of my couch. Then I looked at the numbers (top Maezes, bottom Chapman) and…
.307/.403/.444 with 54 BB/64 K in 530 PA
.295/.391/.443 with 73 BB/84 K in 702 PA
…whoa. That’s pretty good. Another player comparison that I’ve heard for Maezes that takes me back to my earliest days as a baseball fan is former Phillies 3B Dave Hollins, he of the 162 game average of .260/.358/.420 with 18 HR, 27 2B, 76 BB, and 113 K*.
Maezes’s down junior season (not included in the statistical comparison above) didn’t quite reward my pre-season faith, but he hit well enough to remain a solid top five to ten round prospect in my eyes. Getting him in round 13 is excellent value for Kansas City. I look forward to seeing what they decide to do with him defensively going forward. The thought of his bat waking back up and him being able to handle the move to catcher is quite appealing, though I acknowledge how difficult getting those two things to go right at the same time can be.
I also kind of like SS Gabriel Cancel even though I know of him more than I know him at this point. Still, when looking at the shortstop group drafted by Kansas City this year (Cancel, Emmanuel Rivera, Bailey, Bien, Stover) from a more detached view, I’d be surprised if they got even one big league contributor five years from now.
Since I love to bury the lede, a few words on RHP Ashe Russell (17). Russell is pretty close to an ideal version of pitching projection personified. He has the size, arm action, delivery, and present fastball (90-96, 98 peak) that all just scream first round high school righthanded pitching prospect. I happen to love what he’s doing with his fastball (not just the velocity*, but the life) and his breaking ball (78-84 and a little bit of a hybrid SL/CB for now, but best when thrown more as a true slider) already, so you don’t have to sell me on him needing to grow leaps and bounds ahead of where he presently is. There’s obviously still stuff to work out — commanding that darting fastball, gaining more trust and consistency with the breaker, improving the nascent change — but what’s already there is damn impressive. He’s more of a future two than a three for me if it all comes together. Dayton Moore compared him to Garrett Richards immediately after the draft and that sounds about right to me. I think a younger Shelby Miller also fits.
* I ranted on this once in the very early days of the site, but it always bothered me some that “velocity” is the word used when discussing what’s almost always meant to be “speed.” Velocity is speed and direction, so it should imply movement. So often, however, it’s written (I do it all the time) that a pitch is impressive both for it’s velocity AND it’s movement. That’s redundant, right? I realize language is fluid and different words can have different meanings in different contexts, but if I could go back and change one ultimately inconsequential fundamental thing about baseball writing/scouting, that might be it.
The Royals stayed in the great state of Indiana to nab another top high school prospect in RHP Nolan Watson (90). Watson joins Russell as a potential long-term fixture of what could be a loaded Kansas City rotation one day. He jumped out at me early in the draft cycle because of the Vanderbilt commitment attached to his name; it’s become almost a chicken and the egg thing where you can argue what comes first, but if the Vandy staff puts their seal of approval on you as a young pitcher, the scouting community takes notice. Watson is easy to like because he’s one of those guys who seems to get better with every start. He may not have quite the same upside as Russell, but the well-rounded pitching arsenal he brings to the mound each outing (88-94 FB, 96 peak; average or better 76-80 CB; average or better low-80s CU; low-80s SL with promise) makes him an excellent bet to remain a sturdy starting pitcher into the future. If Russell and Watson are two-fifths of a future KC rotation, as I think they’ll be, I wish the rest of the AL Central luck.
Calling a player your favorite doesn’t necessarily make him the best. We’re clear on that, right? Well RHP Josh Staumont (76) might be my favorite player (apologies to BFF Nick Dini) in this class. He’s just so damn authentic. He takes his huge fastball (93-99, 101 peak) that he holds deep into starts, dynamic breaking ball (80-84 CB with plus upside), and a difficult to control because it moves so much low- to mid-80s split-change, and just does what he does. At Azusa Pacific, he struck out 14.38 batters per nine in almost 70 junior year innings pitched. He kept up with that as best he could (13.05 K/9) as a pro. Unfortunately, all those missed bats came with a price. Staumont walked 7.18 BB/9 at Azusa Pacific. Staumont walked 7.20 BB/9 between the Royals AZL team and Idaho Falls. Miraculously, his ERA at Azusa Pacific was 3.67…and his ERA as a pro is 2.48. That’s the definition of “effectively wild” if I’ve ever seen it. I’m not sure there’s precedent for a pitcher this wild this early in his pro career to climb the ladder all the way to the top (first thought was Randy Johnson, but I’m not going to touch that one…), but I’m not betting against Staumont, his awesome stuff, and his competitive demeanor. I think he can keep advancing even with his wild ways and if he can ever gain even a semblance of control…damn. If you argued on Staumont’s behalf for highest upside pitcher in the entire class, I wouldn’t get in your way.
(A fun/imperfect comp I got for Staumont recently: former Blue Jay minor leaguer and one half of the Phillies return in the Ben Revere trade, Alberto Tirado. Also: Staumont’s GB% in his first 40 professional innings is 70.89. Not a typo! 70.89 GB%!)
Kansas City went pitching with four of their first five picks. We’ve covered Russell, Watson, and Staumont, so let’s meet lucky number five. LHP Garrett Davila was a very slick pick for the Royals in the fifth round. Considered a tough sign by many all spring, KC did their HW on him and knew just what it would take to get his signature on a contract. What they got for their due diligence is a possible lefthanded starter with average-ish stuff (88-92 FB, 93 peak; mid-70s CB) across the board. A little bit of growth and a more refined third pitch and you might be looking at a back-end starting pitcher in a few years.
I think it’s good club policy to target college relievers with solid stuff (86-92 FB, really good 82-84 kCB) and dynamite results (8.50 K/9 to 10.04 K/9 to 11.00 K/9 in three healthy seasons) past round fifteen or so. By that point you’re out of the top ten rounds and you’ve given yourself some time to target potential overslot prospects in the first few double-digit rounds. The Royals did just that this year in waiting until round 16 to make a play for one of college ball’s most accomplished relief pitchers. As noted above, RHP Matt Ditman (402), has had great success with a quality on-two punch of pitches and good control. He’s no spring chicken (23 already), so he’ll have to move quickly, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem for a guy ready to pitch in AA at the start of next season. Love this pick.
I also like the 27th round shot on RHP Jacob Bodner. The Xavier product flashes wipeout stuff at times, but the three C’s (command, control, consistency) have kept him from much more than marginal collegiate results.
I’ve stuck with Xavier rJR RHP Jacob Bodner through the good (flashes of dominance in 2013) and the bad (consistently inconsistent control, 2014 season wiped out due to injury), so might as well stick it out to the end. At his best he has the look of a really good big league reliever, flashing a mid-90s fastball and an above-average slider. His stature (5-11, 180 pounds) will turn some teams off, but he more than makes up for his lack of physicality with some of the best athleticism of any pitcher in his class. He’s an arm strength/athleticism gamble at this point, but one I feel comfortable with considering the lack of relative upside among his Big East pitching brethren.
If he can get one of those C’s under control, he’s a prospect to keep in mind. If he fixes two, he’s the real deal. All three and he’s a no-doubter big league reliever. Easier said then done, naturally, but the talent is there.
RHP Alex Luna is identified in my notes as a “ground ball machine” thanks to a sinking fastball and impressive extension coming out of a 6-5, 200 pound frame. The pro data so far (59.15 GB%) backs it up, but he’ll have to start missing more bats to be taken more seriously as a pro prospect. LHP Andre Davis matches Luna in stature (6-6, 230 pounds), but outstrips him when it comes to velocity (upper-90s when right). It’s a beautiful thing when a SWAC player gets taken this early (8th round), so I’ve got nothing but love for Davis as a pro. If he can begin to harness his newfound crazy velo, he’s one to watch. LHP Joseph Markus matches Davis and Luna in stature (6-7, 220 pounds…and perhaps we’re seeing the start of a theme) with big stuff but little idea where it’s heading. I like that the Royals double-upped with lefthanders with big projection even though the odds of these types of college projects working out aren’t great.
RHP Daniel Concepcion has a little middle relief upside with solid stuff (88-92 FB, good CU), good size (6-4, 225), and a strong track record. LHP Mark McCoy does much of the same, but from the left side. LHP Matt Portland offers similar strengths to McCoy, but with a curveball as his primary secondary offering. LHP Jake Kalish has the goods to start for a bit, but that has as much to do with his decent yet diverse repertoire of pitches as it does with his advanced age (24 already).
One thing that jumped out to me about the Kansas City draft as I wrap this up is the willingness to look past a player’s geographical location in order to find talent. The Royals drafted players from seemingly everywhere. Whether this was a stated mission from within the front office or a happy coincidence, consider the following. The Royals first two picks were pitchers from Indiana high schools. That bit of weirdness set the tone. From there, they drafted players out of Azusa Pacific, Delta State, St. Joseph’s (IN), Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Wagner, and Hartford. Slightly more traditional baseball schools like Xavier, Old Dominion, Liberty, Florida Atlantic (two), and George Mason (two) were also on the menu. Sure, they hit up bigger universities like Rice, Texas, Northwestern (I’m stretching), Rutgers (still stretching), TCU, Michigan, Richmond, San Diego, and VCU, but they also selected seven junior college players including one straight from a Puerto Rican juco. Maybe you could do this with more teams than just the Royals — I’m far too lazy to do an exhaustive search of what team drafted the “weirdest” — but it’s an impressive collection of talent found from places big and small. That scouting staff earned their keep this year, Mike Farrell especially.
Some of the players drafted from all over that wound up on my pre-draft top 500 prospect list…
17 – Ashe Russell
67 – Tanner Stanley
76 – Josh Staumont
90 – Nolan Watson
145 – Anderson Miller
169 – Travis Maezes
238 – Ben Johnson
402 – Matt Ditman
407 – Nick Dini
495 – Cody Jones
I’m pretty sure I’ve made this (obvious) observation before, but there’s a big gap between the college game, especially at the non-D1 level, and pro baseball. The example of C Austin Allen (219) stands out. For me, there’s no surer way to convince somebody of the difficulty of pro ball than to point to the sometimes comical discrepancies between collegiate draft numbers and pro debuts. Allen went from hitting a somewhat decent .421/.473/.728 at Florida Tech to a less impressive .240/.315/.332 in the Northwest League. That’s not a knock on Allen in the slightest, by the way: though those raw stats don’t blow you away, it’s still fair to say he held his own while making a really big transition (on and off the field), plus any and all of his offensive production should be viewed through the prism of a hitter also starting 51 games behind the plate at a position he’s still learning the finer points of how to play. The defensive part is key, as getting as many reps donning the tools of ignorance should be the biggest point of emphasis early on in Allen’s pro development.
A second (obvious) observation: Allen’s upside (average or better hit, plus power, adequate catcher defense) is monstrous. There’s obviously a large gap between what the D-2 catcher/first baseman is and what he could be, but it’s a pretty clear all-star ceiling if it all works. There are worse ideas than bringing in such a boom/bust prospect in the fourth round.
Remember what I said about pro ball being trickier than college ball? C AJ Kennedy begs to differ. Kennedy went from hitting .171/.263/.217 (17 BB/42 K) in 152 junior year at bats at Cal State Fullerton (and .178/.268/.205 the year before) to hitting .276/.337/.345 (7 BB/16 K) in 100 PA against professional pitching. Does that make any sense to anybody out there outside of the San Diego front office or am I the crazy one? Either way, the bat doesn’t matter nearly as much as his outstanding defensive promise behind the dish. When the name Austin Hedges begins getting thrown out as a reference point for a guy’s all-around defensive game, you take notice. Kennedy could reach the big leagues as a backup backstop exclusively on his glove, arm, and mobility alone. I knocked the Danny De la Calle (a somewhat similar profile) pick by Tampa, so highlighting the clear difference in draft resource expenditures (30th round for Kennedy, 9th round for De la Calle) should clear up why I could not like one pick and approve the another. You take the defense-first potential backup in the thirtieth round all day.
(My pre-draft blurb on Kennedy: “plus defender; plus pitch-framer; strong arm; bag is a major question.” Probably one of my finer typos to date. I, for one, still have pretty major questions about Kennedy’s bag. Though now that I think of how that could be interpreted, I rescind my questions and hope only that he keeps his bag safely ensconced behind properly fitting protective gear. Also of note, his HS scouting blurb: “true plus arm; defensive tools are there, but needs reps; questionable upside with bat; swing needs work as it gets too long.” Typo aside, I love it when those things sync up over time.)
It’s cool to see the Padres give C Kyle Overstreet a shot behind the plate as a pro. Even if the Alabama second baseman doesn’t wind up a catcher full-time, the added defensive versatility will give his overall professional outlook a boost. I still think the bat might be a bit too light to call him much more than an org player at this point, but it’s a creative path for a player that many considered a worthy positional swap candidate while still a member of the Tide.
JR 2B Kyle Overstreet is the third Alabama position player with a shot to get drafted. He’s got decent power, a decent approach, and the chance to be a useful bench bat if used properly, especially if he can occasionally handle work behind the plate as speculated.
1B Brad Zunica is a big boy with big power and more feel for hitting than most big boys with big power. Getting a teenager with his pedigree in the fifteenth round is robbery. The fall of 3B Ty France (365) is equally odd. Getting a player as talented as France (365) in the 34th round confuses me, but I highly doubt the San Diego front office minds. As I mentioned pre-draft (below), few under-the-radar college players elicited as many unsolicited responses as France this spring. People who love hitting just wanted to talk about the guy.
San Diego State JR 3B Ty France has one of the draft’s most underrated bats, especially when his natural feel for hitting and functional strength (and subsequent power) are considered. Guys who really get excited about watching a young player swing at bat well come away raving about what France can do at the plate. I haven’t seen enough of him to get that feeling (also: I’m not a scout), but hearing it as often as I have from people who have been around the game forever definitely gets my attention.
The Padres played him almost exclusively at first base this summer (all but one start), so I’m unclear of their long-term intentions with his glove. I admittedly don’t have much to add to the conversation of his defensive future, but, man, getting a guy who can swing it like him with pick 1017 is a major scouting win. And he’s a local product to boot! Maybe one day we’ll see a Zunica/France platoon at Pecto.
Many of the pre-draft worries concerning OF Justin Pacchioli (304) — mainly that his questionable power would push his hit tool down against better pitching — seem to be showing up in pro ball so far, but the speedy, patient, and smart native of beautiful Allentown, Pennsylvania does enough well otherwise to stick as a big league prospect for years to come. I think there are some similarities between his game and that of 2012 Padres supplemental first round pick Travis Jankowski, who played his high school ball less than 90 minutes away from Pacchioli in the great city of Lancaster.
Topping him as a prospect is his own teammate at Lehigh, SR OF/C Justin Pacchioli. I stick the C in front of his name because he has seen some time behind the plate in the past and some think he could move back there as a pro, but since he’s athletic enough, quick enough, and instinctual enough to play average or better defense in center field then that’s probably the smartest path for now. As a hitter, I really like what Pacchioli can do going forward, so much so that I’ll be making the 90 minute trek without complaint to see him this year. His swing and feel for hitting check off all the boxes of what a “hitter” should look like for me, and his track record of success (especially from 2013 onward) is rock solid. I’m not sold on how much functional power he’ll ever hit for and lacking in that area can often cause a hit tool to play down once the competition improves, but I think there’s enough here to call for a steady organizational player with the ceiling of a useful backup outfielder at the highest level.
I’d personally like to see Pacchioli get converted to catcher because then he, Austin Allen, and Kyle Overstreet could race to see who could get improve the most defensively the quickest. That would be fun.
In some respects OF Josh Magee (332) brings a similar skill set to Pacchioli. He’s fast, above-average or better in center, and has a chance to be a high-contact hitter as he climbs the ladder. He also shares Pacchioli’s potential fatal flaw: a very low power ceiling. I tend to think of players like this as easy to like but tricky to love. The offensive margin for error is slim, but there’s more wiggle room for big league utility because of the speed and defense. A pet theory of mine that applies at least somewhat to Magee and Pacchioli (and circles back to Allen, Zunica, and France, all of whom fall under the first category: bat-first players get rewarded the most if they make it to the promised land, but advancement is difficult because it’s all-or-nothing; speed and defense players get more chances along the way, but have less ultimate ceiling (and are paid/generally valued accordingly) since, you know, hitting big is always going to be king. It’s worth pointing out that Magee was a multi-sport star in high school, so some of his rougher edges could get sanded away more quickly than assumed if he takes to the full-time baseball grind as hoped.
OF Aldemar Burgos is a well-rounded prospect with some pop who will take some time. The same could be said for OF Alan Garcia. That’s all I’ve got on them and I won’t pretend to know more.
SS Kodie Tidwell (296) is a good player. Getting a sure-handed middle infielder coming off a .300/.400/.500 (more or less) draft season in the 26th round shouldn’t happen. Some times I don’t really understand the MLB Draft process.
Louisiana-Monroe JR SS Kodie Tidwell is a patient, balanced hitter with all of the requisite defensive tools to stick at shortstop over the long haul. While Trahan was good from day one at Louisiana, Tidwell has slowly yet surely improved in all offensively phases since entering college.
I don’t know what the future holds for Tidwell any more than I do any other player, but the majority of his most favorable outcomes (in my view) feel realistic enough to make him a real prospect worth following as a pro. Maybe he winds up a capable enough shortstop to keep advancing as a utility infielder, maybe the bat plays enough that he’ll end up as an offensive second baseman, or maybe it doesn’t work much at all above AA. Even if you won’t give me equal odds on those outcomes and weight the last possibility more heavily, I’ll take my chances with that kind of player with his kind of track record. Huge steal in the 26th round.
On a similar note, I liked SS Peter Van Gansen (464) back in April…
As if this class needed another shortstop with the upside to one day start in the big leagues, here comes wildly underrated Cal Poly SS Peter Van Gansen and his steady glove, strong arm, and patient approach. He’s on the thin line between future utility player and potential regular right now, though his increased pop in 2015 could convince some teams he’ll hit enough to hold his own at the bottom of a lineup. I’m admittedly higher on him than most, but he checks enough of the boxes that teams like in potential backup infielders that I think he’ll wind up a valuable draft asset.
…and, wouldn’t you know, I still like him today. Relatively high-probability potential utility infielder with a little more upside than that if you believe in the bat, as I kind of do. Nice grab in the twelfth round.
LHP Nathan Foriest (60.3 GB%) is on the older side as a redshirt-senior out of Middle Tennessee State, but he’s missed enough bats in the past (10.41 K/9 his final college year) to have San Diego look past some of his run prevention flaws (9.00 ERA and 6.19 ERA his last two years of school) and believe his iffy control could be fixable with pro instruction. LHP Corey Hale checks both the big (6-7, 255) and ground ball inducing (50%) boxes that San Diego apparently was looking for.
Getting LHP Christian Cecilio back on the mound will be a nice boost for the Padres next season. The 22nd round pick brings a really strong college track record and enough stuff (upper-80s FB that looks faster thanks to a sneaky delivery) to track as a potential lefty reliever as a pro. Likewise, LHP Will Headean intrigues me as a potential back-end starting pitcher and/or middle reliever going forward. He fits the mold as a big (6-4, 200 pounds, slimmed down from 225ish) ground ball inducing (60.5 GB%) college arm. I had his fastball peaking at 89, but in short bursts it stands to add some real velocity, especially as he figures out how to better manipulate his “best shape of his life” body. His curve is already good enough to project as big league average, so you can see the pieces for a useful reliever coming into focus. LHP Jerry Keel has a similar story of getting himself into better shape as he’s now down to a fit and trim (such things are relative, right?) 6-6, 240 pounds. Brace yourselves: he also got a ton of ground ball outs (60.6 GB%) in his pro debut. Said ground ball outs fit in nicely with the scouting reports (86-92 FB with plus sink, good diving low-70s CB he keeps low in zone), so forecasting him as another potential middle relief piece only seems fair. RHP Phil Maton joins AJ Kennedy as a player who has made a mockery about the supposed difficulties of pro ball. That’s what a 16.0 K/9 (46 K%!) and 1.4 BB/9 in 32.2 IP (1.38 ERA) does. Maton had a solid track record to begin with (9.20 K/9 and 1.94 BB/9 in 88 senior year innings), so add him to the potential middle relief pile. RHP Braxton Lorenzini and RHP Elliot Ashbeck both could join the fun as sinker/slider relievers, though only the former has the early returns (54.8 GB%) to back up the reputed ground ball ways.
RHP Lou Distasio has his fans, but having seen him twice (one each the past two seasons) I don’t necessarily count myself as one of his bigger supporters. I’m not a scout, so consider that just one baseball fan’s take and nothing else. I only really bring it up to mention that, yes, he really does have his fans. Many more informed people than me think he could even keep starting as a pro. I guess I also bring it up as some kind of meta-commentary on the internet’s new weird obsession with seeing a player once (in this case twice, but still) and then declaring that what you saw is exactly what the guy is. There’s a reason why the real scouts make it a point to see a player multiple times across many months, internet. I’ve literally seen an internet scout argue with a quoted velocity figure from one of the reputable industry leaders because when he saw the guy he wasn’t throwing all that hard. Maybe instead of arguing and assuming nobody but yourself could possibly have accurate information, you ask questions and try to figure out why the pitcher wasn’t throw as hard as reported elsewhere on that given day? Anyway, I see Distasio as a big fastball-reliant future reliever who flashes big league stuff and, fan or not, is really nice value in the 32nd round.
RHP Blake Rogers in the 37th round (pick 1107!) feels like a steal. It also feels like another smart gamble for San Diego in grabbing a quality arm with control issues and having the confidence in their developmental staff to coach out the wild. Getting a college righthander with a fastball that can hit 94-95 this late (90-94 mostly) is worth it. Also: 65.5 GB% so far. RHP Nick Monroe (377) also falls under the legit stuff (88-92 FB, 94 peak; advanced CU; used to throw a nice CB, but ditched it in favor of a SL), but iffy control (4.83 BB/9 his junior year) player archetype. He also fits the “best shape of his life” type as he’s now down to 6-4, 235 (from 250ish).
I love the pick of RHP Trey Wingenter (139) in the 17th round; heck, I would have approved even if it was ten rounds higher. My stubborn insistence that big things are coming from him will now extend from before his junior year of college (below) to his first full pro season starting next spring…
Put me down as believing JR RHP Trey Wingenter is in store for a monster 2015 campaign. All of the pieces are there for a big season: legit fastball (88-94, 95/96 peak), a pair of breaking balls ranging from average (mid-70s CB) to better than that (mid-80s SL), an average or better CU, a very low-mileage arm (only 36 innings through two college seasons), and an imposing yet still projectionable 6-7, 200 pound frame.
His short-season debut was rough, but his peripherals were fine and he still managed to get those key ground ball outs (51.6 GB%) at a pace I’m sure the Padres liked to see. He’s still a baby when it comes to game experience on the mound with less than 100 innings on his right arm as a collegiate pitcher. Give him some time, coach him up, and let his natural talent shine through. Easy enough, right?
RHP Brett Kennedy is a personal favorite because it’s a law that I have to rep any pitcher born and raised in and around one of the finest beach towns in Jersey (Brigantine). It also doesn’t hurt his personal favorite status that I like him more today than I did pre-draft and I’m trying to make amends for underrating him then. The quick book on him: 90-94 FB, chance for above-average breaking ball, really good college track record (10.03 K/9 as junior), and good pro debut. Additionally, because I can’t resist keeping with the narrative, it should be noted that he’s one of the smaller guys drafted by the Padres (6-0, 200) and didn’t overwhelm with ground ball tendencies in his debut (46.7 GB%).
RHP Trevor Megill (227) is one of those just famous enough (been drafted and discussed before, high-profile Tommy John surgery survivor, brother also plays) college players that is easily identifiable to serious prospect fans as a draft sleeper. I get it: he’s big (6-8, 235…down from his college weight of 250, FWIW), throws a really tough to square up fastball (86-92, 94-95 peak) that he spots really well (especially for a big man), and has enough feel for a few secondary offerings (74-80 CB, 79-81 CU, 78-84 cut-SL) that you can see a starter’s future if it clicks. I think it adds up to a solid enough prospect that it’s fair value more than huge steal in the seventh round, but that’s not meant to take anything away from the promising big man. RHP Jordan Guerrero, the prospect drafted the round before Megill, is an arm strength pick that can miss bats with a heavy heater alone right now. He’s big (6-5, 260) and gets ground ball outs (57.8 GB%). Shocking, right?
We end with the two biggest names and best prospects selected by the Padres this year. While I’m not head-over-heels in love with either pick, both are damn solid additions and very fair values as second and third round picks. RHP Jacob Nix (75), the third rounder, is a sturdy, athletic potential mid-rotation workhorse who relies heavily on his 90-95 (97 peak) fastball. It’s a tad simplistic, but when he can command his best pitch, he’s very tough to hit…and when he can’t, fooling advanced hitters gets a whole lot harder. That’s true of any pitcher, but it’s more relevant for Nix than most. His fastball is lethal when on — enough smart people have said it elsewhere that I hesitate to call it underrated, but, man, fastball command is so damn important and so often breezed by when discussing pitching prospect futures — so he can almost (but not quite) get away with being a one-pitch starter. His fastball command is also really important to him at present because the big righty doesn’t have the kind of secondary stuff just yet to miss consistent bats, though I like his mid-80s changeup more than most neutral observers. I’m not sure what a potential plus fastball (with evolving command), an underrated but still underdeveloped changeup, and a chance for average breaking ball adds up to, but there’s enough natural talent here to dream on a solid number three starter or a late-inning relief ace.
San Diego’s first pick, RHP Austin Smith (84), set the tone for the type of pitcher the Padres seemed ready to target throughout the three day draft process. If you haven’t been beaten over the head at my subtle attempt at mentioning throughout, here you go: he’s big (6-4, 220) and capable of getting ground ball outs (56.5 GB%) at a premium clip. Much of what you’ve just read (hopefully) about Jacob Nix applies to Smith as well. Both guys have athletic, inning-eating frames that allow them to throw hard (88-94, 96 peak) while also showing off an impressive amount of feel for pitching. Smith has a a better breaking ball (77-81 CB with above-average upside), but not quite as polished a changeup at present. I’d hang similar ceilings on them as well, though there’s no trickier prospect for me to make guesses on than a young pitcher.
A full list of 2015 draft prospects selected by San Diego that fell in my pre-draft top 500…
75 – Jacob Nix
84 – Austin Smith
139 – Trey Wingenter
219 – Austin Allen
227 – Trevor Megill
296 – Kodie Tidwell
304 – Justin Pacchioli
332 – Josh Magee
365 – Ty France
377 – Nick Monroe
464 – Peter Van Gansen
This might make me look rather foolish, but the best position player drafted by Tampa was not the guy they took in the first round with the thirteenth overall pick. Nothing against Garrett Whitley (we’ll get to him soon enough), but my favorite pick by the Rays is 2B Brandon Lowe (24). Let’s see what past-me has to say about him…
I’ve noticed that I sometimes struggle when writing about players, hitters especially, that I really like. It’s almost like I don’t know what to say other than I just really, really like him. I just really, really like Maryland rSO 2B Brandon Lowe. His tools don’t jump out at you, but they aren’t half-bad, either: lots of tools in the 45 to 55 range including his glove at second, arm strength, and foot speed. It’s the bat, of course, that makes him an all-caps FAVORITE. Lowe’s hit tool is no joke
Watching Lowe hit is a joy. There’s plenty of bat speed, consistent hard contact from barrel to ball, and undeniable plus pitch recognition. His ability to make adjustments from at bat to at bat and his impressive bat control make him a potentially well above-average big league hitter. And he just flat produces at every stop. He reminds me a good deal of an old favorite, Tommy La Stella. One scout who knew I liked Lowe to an almost unhealthy degree threw a Nick Punto (bat only) comp on him. Most fans would probably take that as an insult, but we both knew it was a compliment. Punto, love him or hate him, lasted 14 years in the big leagues and made over $20 million along the way. Punto’s best full seasons (2006 and 2008) serve as interesting goal posts for what Lowe could do if/when he reaches the top of the mountain. In those years Punto hit around .285/.350/.375. In today’s game that’s a top ten big league hitter at second base. Maybe I’m not crazy enough to project a top ten at his position future for Lowe, but he’ll make an outstanding consolation prize for any team who misses/passes on Alex Bregman, the consensus top college second base prospect, this draft. I’m also not quite crazy enough to think Lowe’s draft ceiling will match that of another similar prospect (Tony Renda of Cal, who went 80th overall in 2012), but the skill sets share a lot of commonalities.
The draft ceiling comp (80) worked out pretty well with Lowe going 87th overall, though you might argue that Renda’s subsequent pro career is a cautionary tale about the difficulty of making it as a true second base prospect. If I had to guess, I could see Tampa attempting to stretch Lowe defensively some to see if he can handle shortstop in a pinch. That obviously would up his floor to a utility future, which would be nice especially to those who don’t believe in him as a future regular at second. I sure as heck do, as you can read from my pre-season take…
It should come as no shock to any long-time reader that rSO 2B Brandon Lowe is my kind of ballplayer. His physical tools skew closer to average than not (glove, arm, speed, raw power), but the man has a knack for consistent hard contact that can’t be taught. He also has a tremendous batting eye that often puts him in good hitting counts. It’s a really tough profile to get too excited about — offensive second basemen who can’t really run are not typically seen as prospects by anybody — but I believe in the bat (.348/.464/.464 with 34 BB/20 K in 181 AB last year) enough to think he’s got a real chance to make it. He’s obviously not the best position player prospect in the ACC this year, but he’s definitely my favorite.
My enthusiasm got the best of me as I completely spaced out on Maryland moving to the Big 10, but the rest of the analysis is what I wanted to get across. Lowe is a FAVORITE for a lot of reasons (clearly), but one of the things I like best is his ability to look good even on a bad night. He can finish a disappointing 0-3 in the box score, but still impress with how he battles throughout at bats, works deep counts, and makes the opposing pitcher reveal all of his secrets. That’s my kind of hitter. I’m anxiously looking forward to his pro debut next season.
While Lowe healed up, other “second basemen” had a chance to make their mark on the Tampa brass this summer. 2B Brett Sullivan (182) and 2B Jacob Cronenworth (208) both ranked among my favorite mid-tier college infielders in this year’s class. I had Sullivan way higher than his draft position (300+ spots) and Cronenworth right on the nose (208 and 208!). Technically announced as a second basemen on draft day, Sullivan actually wound up playing third base over 98% of his innings for Princeton. This further muddles the defensive picture that was already plenty muddled to begin with…
Pacific JR SS/OF Brett Sullivan is an all-caps FAVORITE of mine who compares favorably to Holder in many areas of the game. The one great big obvious difference between the two is defensive projection. I’m obviously confident in Holder being a damn fine defensive shortstop in the big leagues, but I can’t say the same with much certainty about Sullivan. I mean this literally: I can’t say it with certainty because I straight up don’t know right now.
I still don’t know enough about Sullivan the defender to make a knowledgeable claim about his long-term home. Maybe it’s 2B, maybe it’s 3B, maybe it’s in the outfield somewhere: I have no clue. Most likely, it’ll be a combination of all those spots as he attempts to hit his way towards a utility spot down the line. Cronenworth — who, thanks to the best show on television Rick and Morty, I now think of as Cronenberg — hit very well in his debut run in the NYPL. The two-way star from Michigan (he’s a legit prospect on the mound with three average or better pitches and all the expected athleticism) is another player that has enough bat and glove to profile as a really intriguing utility player (he’s played lots of 2B and some SS already). I actually think there could be even more than that, as putting the energy and attention formerly paid to pitching 50ish innings a year can now be applied towards improving as a hitter and fielder. Like Lowe and Sullivan before him, Cronenworth is an all-caps FAVORITE.
Sullivan played third base at Princeton while 2B Blake Butera manned the keystone. A few words on the BC product from late May…
I remain weirdly into Blake Butera as a late-round senior that could hang around pro ball a few years based on his glove, approach, and makeup.
I stand by that, though his lack of discernible pop will obviously impede his progress as pitching continues to improve around him. Despite his limitations, he’s still not a bad org player to land in the 35th round.
All credit to Tampa for correctly gauging the signability of C Chris Betts (36) and getting a deal done this summer. He joins Brandon Lowe and Garrett Whitley as first round offensive talents landed by the Rays with their first three picks. Is that good? It seems good. Betts slipped for reasons of signability and health, but he’s a potential impact regular if it all comes together.
As a player who has been famous in prospect circles for two plus years now, the draft stock of Chris Betts (Wilson HS, California) is currently suffering from a clear case of prospect fatigue (also known as Daz Cameron Syndrome). Teams have seen him so often that they are now firmly in the nit-pick stage of evaluation. Internet folk (like me!) have known about him for so long that they (we!) now worry if placing him at the top of the pile will be considered too boring, too safe, and too predictable a projection.
The obvious head-to-head comparison of Betts and Tyler Stephenson generated some strong opinions throughout the spring. Eventually, Stephenson claimed the top spot on draft day, on this site’s board, and the vast majority of pro boards. I made note of the debate back when it was at its peak…
I think it’s fair (boring, perhaps) to like Betts more as a prospect because of his overall defensive edge. The belief that their bats will be close enough with Betts being the better bet to remain a catcher through his first contract of club control has merit. Close or not, Stephenson still has more upside as a hitter, but the lingering defensive questions mitigate some of the recent excitement about his offensive game. This is hard. The two are very, very close to me. I understand the desire to chase offensive upside with your first round pick, so Team Stephenson has a strong built-in argument that I wouldn’t debate against. If it all clicks, Stephenson should end up the better player — catcher or not — but the odds of it all clicking are a bit higher for Betts.
At minimum, I think it can be agreed upon that these are the top two high school catching prospects in the country without much current competition threatening to knock them off their perch. Both profile as average or better all-around big league catchers who stack up quite well with with any one-two catching prospect punch of the last few years. Asking around on each player didn’t give me the kind of comps I was hoping to hear — the old adage of “don’t force comps” applies to these two players, apparently — but I manage to get one name for Betts and two for Stephenson. Neither of the prospect to prospect comps that you’ll read were given with much confidence and I hesitate to even share them because they were very much “well, if I HAD to compare him to somebody I’ve seen…” kind of comps, so let’s all agree to view these for the entertainment value that they bring more than anything. The name I heard for Betts was Greg Bird (as a hitter only) and the name I heard for Stephenson was (a bigger) Clint Coulter. I mentioned earlier that I got two comps for Stephenson…yeah, the other was Wieters. I believe he was deemed the “Matt Wieters starter kit.” Don’t know why I expected to hear anything differently, but there you go. For the record, since I’m realizing while doing a quick edit of this that I’ve written mostly about Stephenson, Betts can really, really hit. The Bird comp feels a bit rich based on what we know Bird has done as a pro so far, but I think an average or slightly better hit tool and raw power combination could be the end game for Betts. Those abilities combined with a reasonably disciplined approach and a high probability of playing average or better defense behind the plate for years makes Betts a legitimate first round pick.
Betts and Stephenson or Stephenson and Betts. Either way, you’re looking at two quality catching prospects worthy of mid- to late-first round draft consideration. I’m more comfortable with Betts right now, but the upside of Stephenson is not lost on me. Ask me again in a month and you may or may not get the same answer, but I’ll almost certainly have changed my mind a dozen times or so in the interim. I’m glad there’s a few more weeks to think this over.
As previously mentioned, the upside of Stephenson did eventually win the day. That doesn’t mean Betts is without considerable upside in his own right. Greg Bird as a catcher is a seriously valuable player, though the growing pains young catchers go through will mean we’re all going to have to be patient on this one.
I realize that C Danny De la Calle was a senior sign brought in on the cheap ($7,500!) in the ninth round, but I still don’t really get it. I love and appreciate defense as much as the next guy, but…
The high hopes I had for SR C Daniel De La Calle heading into last year were quickly dashed by his struggles at the plate (.224/.315/.241). He’s still so good behind the dish that a professional future can’t be ruled out, but even a pro backup has to hit a little bit.
Somewhat predictably, De la Calle’s 10 BB/57 K ratio as a senior in the ACC translated to a 3 BB/45 K in the NYPL. There’s no need to rush to judgment on a 134 PA sample (.164/.201/.258, by the way), but it’s hardly an aberration based on his larger track record. I don’t enjoy knocking the pick because a) I don’t ever enjoy knocking a pick, and b) I almost always jump up and down with excitement when discussing the intangible value of adding good people who provide veteran leadership (as Baseball America notes, De la Calle is bilingual) to younger minor league teammates, but the ninth round was just too early for a guy who won’t hit enough to get out of AA. Future manager? Sure. Future big league catcher? Highly doubtful.
I don’t know what to say about OF Garrett Whitley (38) that surely hasn’t already been said elsewhere, on this site or on the internet at large. Here’s the old stuff on him…
I’ve waited to get into too much detail on Garrett Whitley (Niskayuna HS, New York) because he’s at or near the top of the list of prospects that most confound me in this class. Quite frankly, I don’t have much detail to get into outside of what you, Mr./Mrs. Informed Reader, already know. His natural ability is obvious and there’s a chance he does enough outside of the batter’s box to contribute to a big league team one day even if he doesn’t hit as much as his peers, but the nagging doubts I have about him developing into the kind of hitter that winds up being a true difference-maker keep me from pumping him up as a potential top ten pick. That said, I’ve heard and read – and much of this is public info that you (yes, you!) might have read as well – that he’s made a huge leap as a hitter this spring. I haven’t had independent sources corroborate this – the geography of the situation is killing me here – but even just seeing the national guys talk him up is obviously quite encouraging. It certainly makes me feel as though my lukewarm opinion on his bat based largely on what I saw last summer (I’m not a scout, but I am a human who will have biases that seep into my evaluations) isn’t a fair way to judge him anymore, if it ever was at all (see previous parenthetical). That’s a long way of saying that I genuinely don’t know what to make of Whitley. One of the failings of trying to cover a country’s worth of prospects by myself as a hobby means that certain players, even top guys like Whitley, can fall through the cracks.
Whitley is this class’s biggest mystery to me. He could wind up a star. He could wind up topping out in AA unable to hit anything but average-ish fastballs. Consider any attempt at my ranking him with his peers with a gigantic block of salt. The few responses I’ve gotten when asking about Whitley (all from guys working well outside Whitley’s area) haven’t helped me achieve increased clarity. One friend thought I was nuts for liking Plummer over Whitley, calling the latter a carbon copy of a young Adam Jones. That’s a comp I haven’t heard before or since, yet I don’t hate it. Another simply shared his own confusion about what to do with Whitley, calling him “the most likely prospect to make or break an executive’s career” in this year’s class. That actually made a lot of sense to me. Whitley has been such a tricky player to scout fairly this spring that hitting on him would be a tremendous victory for a scouting staff. Missing on him, however, would mean blowing an early first round pick. I think picking him at any point after the first few picks or so is justified, but still damn risky. Can’t wait to see which brave team takes the gamble.
Taking Whitley at thirteen seems just late enough to be reasonable considering his ceiling, but there’s a reason why I was told he was “the most likely prospect to make or break an executive’s career” this spring. A quick look back through the archives confirms that he’s one of the rawest top twenty picks in recent memory. Reasonable minds may disagree, but I’d put him on the same level as guys like Austin Meadows and Tim Anderson (2013), DJ Davis (2012), Bubba Starling (2011), and Donavan Tate (2009). The last name is the one that intrigues me most because Tate was seen as a player “too toolsy to fail” in some circles. I don’t mean to suggest that anybody believed he’d be a slam dunk impact big league player, but he was so fast (plus-plus speed) and so graceful in center and so athletic and so confident that it seemed almost hard to believe he’d not at least stay afloat professionally as he worked on what needed to be done in the batter’s box. Nobody drafts a player with a top twenty pick hoping for a fifth outfielder/defensive replacement/pinch-runner, but that was the reasonable floor for Tate…and for Whitley. With that as a floor and an Adam Jones type as a ceiling, the pick begins to make more sense. Still, even with the acknowledgement that I’m perhaps more risk-adverse in the first round than I ought to be, I don’t think I could have pulled the trigger on Whitley this early, especially considering the talent still on the board. If you wanted boom/bust, there was Kolby Allard (I disagree with him being boom/bust, just passing along the narrative that stuck with him this spring for some reason) and Brady Aiken. If you wanted a HS OF with upside, there was Trent Clark and Nick Plummer. If you wanted an up-the-middle defender, you could have gone with Richie Martin or Kevin Newman. Years of watching the Phillies emphasize tools over skills with first round picks has scarred me for life. Grab the toolsy guys in rounds 2-40, but pass on the Greg Golsons and Anthony Hewitts of the world in round one; get me a little bit of security with a real ballplayer (I can’t believe I wrote that…I’ve become my father) in the first.
The obvious counter to all of this is that Whitley is a far more developed prospect than given credit for (Tampa loved him so much they took him 13th, after all) and much of the speculation about his rawness is based on dated information that has been slow to change because so few in the media were able to see him up close this spring. Furthermore, guys with big tools are awesome and far more likely to turn into game-altering superstars than the supposedly safer, often older, and almost always less exciting prospects I claim to prefer. Completely valid points. All of this things must be considered when drafting until a proper balance of risk/reward/upside/certainty is achieved. That’s how the Whitley pick can be defended even by somebody who may not love the player. Tampa managed to steal Brandon Lowe, Chris Betts, Joe McCarthy, and Devin Davis, all top 100 prospects according to this silly site, in addition to adding Whitley. That’s diversification in the form of bats: college second baseman, college outfielder, high school catcher, high school first basemen, and high school outfielder. If one of Lowe or McCarthy strike you as the type of safe-ish prospect I’ve described above, then think of Whitley as that second or third round lottery ticket that is needed to swing the draft but could absolutely do so if he pans out.
Short version: I wouldn’t have done it, but I’m glad a smart organization with a well-regarded developmental program — recent iffy results with hitters notwithstanding — saw something in him to give him a first round opportunity.
OF Joe McCarthy (73), a borderline first round talent in his own right, showed more functional speed than expected in his first crack at pro ball. After stealing 25 bases over his entire college career, McCarthy went out and stole 18/21 bags in his debut 49 game season at Hudson Valley. The strong success rate lines up with his college numbers (25/27) and his physical ability (above-average to plus times to first), so it’s less major shocker than one of those quirks that make following up on recent draftees fun. In more relevant news — not to say that McCarthy being a threat on the bases isn’t relevant — Tampa’s selection of McCarthy begins to make it seem like there’s some Moneyball-ish underlying thinking in this draft. Chris Betts, Brandon Lowe, and Joe McCarthy all arguably fell further in the draft than their talent warranted because of injuries. With none of the injuries looking like they’d cause long-term problems, Tampa’s approach is a textbook example of scooping up depressed assets at their lowest point.
McCarthy is a great athlete who can hit, run, and work deep counts. He’s a natural left fielder, a fact that is both good (since he’s damn good out there) and not so good (more pressure on the bat since he can’t play center). He has a ways to go towards figuring out how to unlock his power (swing and mentality, mostly), though his frame (6-4, 225) suggests the kind of natural strength that can put balls in the gaps and beyond if it clicks.
OF Landon Cray (493) walked 58 times the past two college season with just 22 strikeouts. I’m in. He played mostly left field in his pro debut in deference to Zacrey Law, but he’s more than capable in center with plus speed and keen instincts. I’ve comped him to an old favorite, Tyler Holt, in the past, so a fourth outfielder upside doesn’t feel out of reach. I thought OF David Olmedo-Barrera might return to Cal State Fullerton for a senior season, but the junior with just enough power, speed, and strength to remain interesting opted to sign.
1B Devin Davis (85) is a dude. He’s not yet THE dude — that’s taken — but I liked him a lot before the draft and I love the idea of signing him after waiting all the way until round 25 to take a shot. Here was the pre-draft take…
If pure uncut bat speed is what you’re looking for, then Devin Davis (Valencia HS, California) is your guy. He’s also a really slick defender at first – without too much thought I’d say he’s the best glove out of the top guys listed – with more than enough power to profile as a regular if it all works out. He also has a little bit of growth left (potentially), so an uptick in his existing physical profile, especially in terms of power, remains possible. Projecting high school first base prospects is a dangerous game because out of any HS position group what you see is what you get with the heavy hitters at first, but Davis could have a little bit left in the tank that could help him eventually overtake Naylor or Baker as the best long-term player in this class.
Despite those nice words, I really don’t know what to make of Davis. I like him, sure, but my crystal ball is cloudy beyond that. Figuring out which way high school first basemen will turn out in the pro game remains the biggest mystery in scouting for me. If you’re good at it, contact your local big league franchise immediately and inquire about their willingness to have you volunteer and assist an area scout. Assuming you’re cool with being paid in swag, of course.
OF Kewby Meyer (390) was announced as an outfielder, but he’s a first basemen through and through. The gap between my view on Meyer (390!) and his draft position (1108) is as wide as any I can recall so far, but I stand by my belief that the Nevada product is a wildly underrated hitter with great feel for the strike zone and above-average raw power. He’s not the biggest, he’s not the strongest, and he’s certainly not the fastest, but if he can fake it some in the outfield corners he could make it as a lefty bench bat. That’s something.
3B Matt Dacey (338) split his time in his pro debut at first and third; needless to say, if he can hold his on at the hot corner then he goes from nice value pick as a 21st round pick to straight steal. Even as a first baseman, I like him. From before the season…
There are also an unusual number of potential power bats in the conference; arguably none are better than rSO 1B Matt Dacey (Richmond). His relative inexperience gives hope that he’ll make strides in terms of approach, which would in turn help him further unlock his prodigious raw power. He mashed last year even as he showed signs of that aforementioned raw approach, so the sky is the limit for him as a hitter as he gains experience.
The power is big and it plays. Like Meyer, a fair upside guess would be a platoon player or a bench bat capable of holding down both first and third. At pick 628, why not?
16.34, 10.10, 10.20, and 10.49. Those are the K/9’s of the four college relievers taken by Tampa in rounds four, eight, ten, and eleven. When last I looked at the best of that group, RHP Brandon Koch (129), he was striking out 18.98 batters per nine. And I said this…
There are a lot of good, quick-moving relievers in college baseball – there always are – but Koch might be the best of the bunch when it’s all said and done.
Pretty sure that holds up today. Koch could pitch in the big leagues next year if that’s the path Tampa wants to take with him. His stuff jumped up across the board last season (from 88-94 FB to 93-98; more consistently plus to plus-plus 82-90 cut-SL) and his control, the biggest concern many had in terms of his on-field skill set, showed some signs of improving as a pro.
RHP Reece Karalus (298) pitched in the same Hudson Valley bullpen as Koch after signing. His fastball velocity doesn’t quite match Koch’s, but the silly movement he gets on the pitch levels the playing field. Add that to a plus slider — not quite as good nor hard as Koch’s, but pretty damn good in its own right — and you’ve got a keeper.
Santa Clara JR RHP Reece Karalus is a classic sinker/slider arm that adds a fun wrinkle to the archetype with his plus command and plus control. He’s too good to call a sleeper, but between the way he misses bats, gets ground balls (presumably…would love to dig up the numbers on him), and limits walks he could be a shockingly quick mover once he hits the pro game.
Fastball, slider, command, control. What more can you ask for out of a reliever? RHP Sam Triece has the first two parts down (90-95 FB, above-average 82-84 SL) while he works on the last two. Then there’s RHP Ian Gibaut (421). I like Ian Gibaut.
Forgive me if I copy/paste that paragraph whenever Dillon Tate, Carson Fulmer, and Tyler Jay are brought up this spring. For now, the logic presented above applies to JR RHP Ian Gibaut, who has excelled as a college reliever since first stepping foot on campus at Tulane in 2013. There’s no reason to believe that Gibaut’s success as an amateur reliever would slow down in any way as he transitions to pro ball this summer. Still, I’d be tempted to stretch him out and see how his stuff holds up as a starter. My desire to see him work in a starter’s role isn’t so great that I’d kill a team for thinking he’ll be best in the bullpen as a professional; if anything, it’s more of a selfish curiosity to see what a college reliever with the build, arm action (in my amateur view), and diverse enough set of pitches (above-average 75-78 CB, upper-70s CU that flashes plus [others like it less and I’ll at least acknowledge it’s an inconsistent pitch at present], and hard mid-80s SL) could do in a more taxing role. I’ve heard but not seen firsthand that Gibaut’s velocity is the type that plays up in short bursts, so keeping him in the bullpen would seem to be a perfectly reasonable course of action. If that winds up being how it plays out, then don’t be surprised when Gibaut winds up as one of this year’s fastest moving college relief prospects.
I’m glad he stuck in the bullpen. Some guys are just better there. Let him pump his mid-90s heat in shorter outings and watch him climb the ladder quickly. Speaking of moving quickly, before the draft Koch (“quick-moving”), Karalus (“shockingly quick mover”), and Gibaut (“one of this year’s fastest moving”) were all identified as being particularly close to the big leagues. Much like the double-digit K/9’s quoted above, I think we might have a bit of a trend on our hands here. I love using non-premium picks — you could argue the fourth rounder spent on Koch was “premium,” but he’s really good so I can live with it — on players who have demonstrated a high probability of moving quickly through a system and helping out the big league club in a peripheral way sooner rather than later. Filling out the margins of one’s roster with young, cost-controlled talent at positions of lesser importance (bench bats and middle relief) allows for the big bucks to go elsewhere. And if one of those middle relievers turns into a shutdown closer, so much the better.
As much as I like the closer-upside of Koch, my favorite pitcher (by a hair) drafted by Tampa this year is RHP Benton Moss (136). Maybe he winds up in the bullpen in the long run, but he should be tried as a starter until there’s no doubt remaining that he should move to relief. It’s next to impossible to try to predict the next mostly unheralded arm to break out in a major way — I’m thinking of guys like Keuchel, deGrom, and Kluber here — but I’ll throw Benton Moss out there as a name that years from now people will look back and wonder how he got this good.
I’m shocked that I haven’t written much if at all about SR RHP Benton Moss on the site already because I really think the world of him as a prospect. Off the top of my head, I’d have him as the country’s best senior sign pitching prospect. Smart, athletic, competitive, dependable, and with an arm that can crank it to 95 when he needs to, Moss has all the components of a legitimate big league starting pitcher. He’s added to this repertoire over time (most notably two similar yet distinct pitches: a low- to mid-80s slider and a mid-80s cutter) and can now throw any one of four to five pitches (above-average mid-70s CB and upper-70s CU as well) for strikes in any given count. I have no feel at all for when he’ll be selected this June — his big senior season has to help boost his stock, though his recent arm woes (which he’s come back from, but still) could scare some teams off — but I have the feeling that he’ll wind up a really good value for a really happy team.
RHP Tyler Brashears seems like a guy who could see his stuff tick up a bit after moving to the bullpen as a pro. His success as a starter at Hawaii (1.85 ERA in 101 IP) might be enough to keep him in a rotation, but an extra tick or two to his 87-92 FB (93 peak) and a little added sharpness to an already above-average to plus 76-82 breaking ball could make him dangerous in short bursts. RHP Justin Marsden looks like a really smart overslot signing in round 22. He’s got two average or better pitches already (88-92 FB, 93 peak; mid-70s CB that flashes plus) and the frame to put on a bit more weight. RHP Bryan Bonnell is a big guy (6-5, 200) coming off such a disaster of a junior season (7.39 ERA in 28 IP) that you just know he’s got the kind of good stuff that can get that overlooked. He’s armed with a fastball that lives between 88-92 and a splitter that could grow into an out-pitch in time. His selection intrigues me because of how different his college track record (i.e., not good) is from the majority of the arms drafted by Tampa.
South Florida 2B/SS Kyle Teaf, personal favorite college infielder of mine, was also drafted by Tampa. He’s passing up his shot in pro ball to pursue a career in medical device sales. I’m not sure why I find that so cool, but I do. Whether he’s chasing his own unique dream or believing he’s making a pragmatic mature decision about his long-term future or something else altogether, best of luck to him going forward.
Here are the signed Tampa prospects that ranked on my pre-draft top 500…
24 – Brandon Lowe
36 – Chris Betts
38 – Garrett Whitley
73 – Joe McCarthy
85 – Devin Davis
129 – Brandon Koch
136 – Benton Moss
182 – Brett Sullivan
208 – Jacob Cronenworth
298 – Reece Karalus
338 – Matt Dacey
390 – Kewby Meyer
421 – Ian Gibaut
493 – Landon Cray