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Hard to say at this point how strong Pittsburgh is from a prospect perspective, but, man, are a lot of the notable players on this roster off to really good starts in 2017. Could be a case of a team with a lot of good college players overachieving, but it makes me wonder a bit if I should start asking around more about guys like Sam Mersing, Josh Mitchell, Josh Falk, and Matt Pidich. All have been good to start the season. The two guys I have exciting notes on — Isaac Mattson and Blair Calvo — both seem draft-worthy from here. Mattson is a control artist with solid stuff (88-92 FB, good CB) and consistently strong peripherals. Calvo is out in 2017 with a knee injury, but has a pair of pitches (90-95 FB, average SL) that should play well in pro ball even after missing these important developmental innings.
Liam Sabino should have “Vanderbilt transfer” listed prominently on his bio as that’s presently the most intriguing thing about him. That’s not a knock on Sabino, a talented guy with speed, athleticism, and plenty of defensive aptitude, but rather praise for Vanderbilt…and, fine, maybe a little bit of a knock on Sabino’s limited college experience to date. If he can get on the field, he could rise quickly. PJ DeMeo has ample power and considerable swing-and-miss. I like what I’ve seen so far out of Caleb Parry and am eager to learn more about him, especially defensively. Frank Maldonado and Jacob Wright both could eventually get opportunities as senior-signs down the line. Parry, Maldonado, and Wright all belong with the group of overachieving pitchers mentioned above as “hmm, maybe this guys are better than I thought” types. Both Maldonado and Wright are well-rounded overall players with disciplined approaches at the plate. Those in the know have pointed me towards Nick Banman as Pittsburgh’s top 2017 bat. His size and power are certainly eye-catching, so gathering more info about him will be a priority this spring.
JR RHP Isaac Mattson (2017)
JR RHP Blair Calvo (2017)
SR RHP Sam Mersing (2017)
rJR LHP Josh Mitchell (2017)
rJR RHP Matt Pidich (2017)
SR RHP Josh Falk (2017)
JR 1B/3B Nick Banman (2017)
rJR OF Frank Maldonado (2017)
rSR OF Jacob Wright (2017)
JR 3B/1B Kaylor Kulina (2017)
rJR C Caleb Parry (2017)
SR 1B/3B PJ DeMeo (2017)
SR C Manny Pazos (2017)
rSO SS Liam Sabino (2017)
rFR RHP Derek West (2018)
SO RHP Tyler Garbee (2018)
SO RHP Collin Liberatore (2018)
SO RHP/OF Yaya Chentouf (2018)
SO SS/2B David Yanni (2018)
FR RHP Dan Hammer (2019)
FR LHP Peyton Reesman (2019)
FR RHP RJ Freure (2019)
FR OF Nico Popa (2019)
FR 1B Zach Zientarksi (2019)
FR 2B Alex Amos (2019)
I’m down on this year’s college hitting class on the whole, but you really wouldn’t know it based on the first two positions previewed. We took care of the catchers a few weeks back; that group is admittedly more of a list of personal favorites rather than guys I genuinely believe will crash the top one hundred pick party. First base, however, looks pretty damn loaded to me. A strong emphasis on up-the-middle defenders has caused fans and front office types alike to reevaluate the relative importance of big bats confined to first base. This is a pretty easy concept to grasp, but since I knew it felt familiar writing about it — pretty sure I do this every year — and took the time to look it up, here’s a true blast from the past on the topic from almost six (!) whole years ago…
What I think I’ve always been fascinated about with respect to first base prospects is the high stakes gamble that comes with taking a first baseman early on draft day. If your athletic five-tool up-the-middle draft prospect doesn’t hit as expected, you’ve still got — wait, let me get my calculator — four tools, including defense and the ancillary positional value boost, remaining. If your first base prospect doesn’t hit (and hit a ton), then you’re left with nothing but regret.
Snappy writing! Here’s a guy on the internet talking to himself again, this time from May 2013…
Taking shots on bat-first guys in those rounds [5-10] has always been a favorite draft practice of mine. All things being equal you’d rather have a toolsy, athletic prospect perched atop the defensive chain (C/SS/CF), but those guys aren’t always hanging around in the middle rounds waiting to be signed easily. Bringing in a handful of guys you know can hit in every draft seems like a smart idea as well. Drafting is such an inexact science/art that you can’t point to any one player as the model prospect for a given strategy, but I’m going to do it anyway. The Diamondbacks drafted the tenth college first baseman off the board in 2008 with pick 246 in the eighth round. Paul Goldschmidt could never hit another ball hard for the rest of his career — spoiler: that won’t happen — and they would still have gotten tremendous value for the pick. Heck, move up a few rounds and you’ll find Brandon Belt to the Giants in the fifth. There are equal and opposite examples that knock down the argument a bit — still waiting on AJ Kirby-Jones to hit — but too often college first basemen are knocked unfairly as throwaway picks outside of the first few rounds. There will always be a need for guys who can hit. These guys can hit.
Good call on Goldschmidt not immediately retiring after finishing that post. Was holding my breath on that one. Once more from March 2014…
College first basemen are some of the most difficult players to rank this early in the draft process because, of any amateur position, first base is the spot I utilize data almost as much as scouting reports. There are many things to look for in young batters when it comes to projecting the hit and power tool; for starters, you’re looking for swing mechanics (balance, rotation, gather, load, fluidity, repeatability, etc.), vision (tracking pitches), bat to ball contact (cliché or not, there is a unique sound you’re hoping to hear), bat speed, and, one of my biggest things for power, how well the hitter’s upper and lower body work together. Seeing and hearing about these things is vitally important, but, more so than any other tools (and to paraphrase national treasure Rasheed Wallace), bat don’t lie. If you can hit, your production will reflect it.
I stand by this today. Too many like to bust on people who “scout the box scores,” but, you know what, you can learn a whole heck of a lot based on information found in box scores. Those box scores reflect real world events that actually happened on a baseball field. You can’t learn everything from them, of course, but I’m not sure anybody is arguing that. I’d still bet if you found a list of most productive college hitters and adjusted for park/schedule/age, those players would stack up really well with either draft position, professional success, or both. This gets trickier the more you begin to factor in the aspects of scouting that aren’t reflected in a basic box score (i.e., this would work a lot better for one-dimensional sluggers than five-tool athletes at premium defensive spots), but I think using on-field performance indicators as a starting point (if nothing else) makes sense. ANYWAY, last one from December 2015 back when I had my act together and was posting real draft thoughts six months ahead of the big day rather than two…
(This may totally undercut the previous point, but it’s crazy enough to me that I don’t mind. You want the list of first day college first basemen taken since I started the site back in 2009? We’ve got Chris Shaw, Casey Gillaspie, CJ Cron, and…that’s it. Three guys in seven drafts. That probably shouldn’t amaze me, but it does. As we’ve repeated already, many first basemen are made and not born. College first day guys who can also handle and may eventually play 1B full-time include Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, and Stephen Piscotty. I think all can be corner outfielders at worst, but reasonable minds may disagree. If you’re feeling kind you could also add Bryce Brentz, Kyle Parker, and Michael Choice to that list. I’m not sure I see a future big league first baseman of worth out of that trio, but you never know, right? I suppose the point here is that recent historical trends point towards college first basemen lasting longer than one might think. Or maybe it’s a coincidence based on the fact that we’ve had an unusually underwhelming group of college sluggers in this time frame. Or maybe it’s an arbitrary endpoints thing. Who knows!)
Embarrassing confession time: I don’t know how many picks constitute the “first day” of the draft. Does it change year to year? It must. Do the rounds they televise change? Or is it always the first two? Does that include the supplemental second round? After an exhausting thirty seconds of trying my best to remember, I still wasn’t 100% sure. Thankfully, it’s 2017 and Google exists, so SB Nation to the rescue. I am glad I double-checked rather than just relying on memory — probably would have gone first round and comp picks only — because we can now add 2016 second rounder Pete Alonso to the list. That’s four guys in eight drafts. Will Craig could be the fifth guy, but Baseball Reference has him listed as a 3B on their draft page so that’s that. If I expand my list to Top 100 picks, then we can add AJ Reed, Sam Travis, Daniel Palka, Alex Dickerson, Rich Poythress, Tyler Townsend, and Ben Paulsen to the list. Those last three, all taken in the top 100 — top 90 if you want to be precise — in 2009, my first year doing this for the site, are probably the reason why I didn’t use Top 100 as a cutoff in the first place. So that’s eleven college first basemen in eight drafts taken within the first 100 picks. Wording it that way doesn’t give it quite the same punch as four guys in eight drafts, but it’s still not a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.
If you’ve read this far, thank you and sorry for losing the plot. The point of everything above, if there is one at all, is fairly open-ended. I think there’s something to these recent draft trends; real big league teams would be wise to take note and set their own big boards accordingly. Ultimately, my personal hypothesis is that college first basemen remain undervalued draft day assets. Nobody following the modern game will tell you the recent movement towards athleticism and defense is anything but brilliant, lest they get made fun of Twitter for having an opinion that breaks from consensus. I like athletes and premium defenders as much as they next guy. BUT…you need players who can hit, too. And if we’re trying to apply a lesson to any of the rambling mess that preceded this, then maybe all it takes to “win” on draft day is a general awareness of the larger trends going on across baseball. Pick a bat or two you like and wait it out. If you believe there’s any predictive power in yesterday’s post, then at least one or two of the players listed in this top ten will fall outside of the draft’s top ten rounds. That’s wild to me. These are good players! If all of baseball is zigging towards one type of player, then maybe consider zagging towards the big bats. Just a thought.
Hey, 2017 college first basemen! Almost forget about them. Here’s a list…
- Virginia JR 1B/OF Pavin Smith
- Louisville JR 1B/LHP Brendan McKay
- Kentucky JR 1B/OF Evan White
- Wake Forest JR 1B Gavin Sheets
- Michigan State rSO 1B/LHP Alex Troop
- Oregon State JR 1B/C KJ Harrison
- Binghamton rSO 1B/3B Justin Yurchak
- BYU JR 1B/C Colton Shaver
- Florida JR 1B/C JJ Schwarz
- UCLA JR 1B/3B Sean Bouchard
And here are some 2016 lines to kick things off…
.329/.410/.513 with 36 BB/23 K in 228 AB
.333/.414/.513 with 24 BB/33 K in 228 AB
That’s freaky, right? Nearly identical triple-slash lines, same number of at bats, and almost perfectly inverted BB/K ratios. Top is Pavin Smith, bottom is Brendan McKay. There’s been some divergence in their numbers so far in 2017…
.328/.394/.597 – 16 BB/5 K – 134 AB
.388/.508/.633 – 24 BB/16 K – 98 AB
…but not so significantly that any pre-season beliefs should be tossed out. McKay is a really great prospect. When you factor in his ability as a pitcher — and likelihood that he remains a pitcher rendering everything written below little more than a potential backup plan — I’d give him an edge over Smith as an overall prospect. As a hitter and hitter only, I lean Smith. Before we get to him, the skinny on McKay as a hitter…
As for McKay specifically, well, I think he’s just a more appealing hitting prospect than a pitcher. As you’ll read below, this isn’t an opinion that I can justify objectively as much as a weird hunch I’ve had while watching him over the years. McKay’s hit tool (above-average to plus), power (above-average to plus), and approach (SHOCKER – above-average to plus) all fit the bill for a middle of the order big league first baseman. The excellent Sam Monroy dropped Logan Morrison’s name when discussing McKay; I’ll go a little richer and say he reminds me of Eric Hosmer. Keeping in mind both guys are still active and at different points in their respective careers, it should be noted that my “rich” comparison (106 career wRC+) has only outhit Morrison (105 wRC+) by a whole point to date. Anyway, the good version of Hosmer (.300/.360/.460) is a really damn good hitter and exactly the type of prospect I’d deem worth using a first round pick on. The not so good version, unfortunately, is just a guy. That’s a bummer, but there’s still hope. If you’re seeing “bad Hosmer” after a predetermined increment of time passes (two full seasons?), then the plan to get McKay back on the mound and pitching again should be rolled out posthaste. I don’t think this is what will happen — I’d bet tonight’s pizza money that he gets drafted and signed as a pitcher — and I’m not yet entirely convinced it’s what should happen, but, as I’ve said, it’s my current lean as of April 5, 2017.
As for Smith, I’m still not really sure what he doesn’t do well. It’s a true plus hit tool with a picture perfect swing, outstanding plate coverage, and standout pitch recognition. His raw power is above-average to plus and already showing up in games. He’s a well above-average glove at first with enough athleticism and arm strength (88-93 FB pre-TJ surgery) to at least give some teams pause when considering his long-term defensive position. Seriously, what’s not to like about him as an offensive player?
If we wanted to nitpick — and we DO — then it’s worth pointing out that there have been some whispers about less than ideal bat speed. Fine, I guess. I struggle with identifying bat speed outside of the extremes, so I’m happy to tip my cap to anybody who can tag a guy with an above- or below-average swing of the bat using only the naked eye. I can’t, so I try not to judge. Can’t say I’ve noticed anything all that remarkable — good or bad — about Smith’s bat speed, and at some point his outstanding three years of hitting high-level amateur pitching should win out anyway. It’s the current Rowdy Tellez argument manifesting itself in college ball. I like Tellez. I like Smith.
I’ve also heard some BASEBALL MEN chatter about Virginia hitters struggling to adjust to pro ball. Can’t say I really buy that one, though I suppose the murderer’s row of Phil Gosselin, Jarrett Parker, John Hicks, and Chris Taylor haven’t exactly lit the world on fire in the pros. Brandon Guyer, Ryan Zimmerman, and Mark Reynolds give the Cavaliers a little more clout, but that’s going way back. I remember liking guys like Tyler Cannon, Dan Grovatt, Steve Proscia, Stephen Bruno, and Reed Gragnani with little to nothing to show for it in terms of pro success. Mike Papi, Derek Fisher, and Daniel Pinero seem primed to turn the reputation around…if you think the reputation needed turning around in the first place. And then there’s this guy…
.338/.427/.518 with 74 BB/55 K and 4/5 SB in 554 AB
.323/.394/.515 with 78 BB/68 K and 5/12 SB in 637 AB
Top is Matt Thaiss’s career numbers at Virginia. Those were good enough to get him selected sixteenth overall last year. Bottom is what Smith has done so far. Feels like there’s a comparison to be made between the two hitters in there somewhere. Like Thaiss last year, mid-first round feels like a fair landing spot for Smith as of now.
Pumping Evan White up as a potential regular at first base takes a little more of a leap of faith considering his underwhelming plate discipline (29 BB/75 K) through two seasons at Kentucky. Despite the ugly numbers, however, scouts who have seen a lot of White up close have maintained that his approach isn’t that of a hacker who will never get it but a far more mature hitter who shows the kinds of flashes of pitch recognition and patience that give them confidence he’ll wind up with a manageable or better BB/K ratio in the long run. Those two sentences were written before the season, believe it or not. This is absolutely not a comp, but the feedback I got on White over the offseason reminded me a bit about what I was consistently told about Kyle Lewis last winter. The approach looks bad on the stat sheet for now, but all scouting signs point to better days ahead. They were right on Lewis and they seem to be right on White so far.
Smith and McKay are both clearly great prospects, but White, while not the best (yet) of this group, is my favorite. He has such a funky profile that is unlike almost anybody I’ve ever covered. How into White am I? I was at a bachelor party this past weekend boring my brother and the father of the groom-to-be about “this freaky athletic first baseman at Kentucky who could seamlessly make the move to center field.” White is a fantastic athlete who is an easy plus defender at first. He’s got the above-average to plus arm and above-average foot speed to handle the outfield, a move that would make perfect sense if the prospect of him playing transcendent defense at first didn’t exist. George Horton, via D1 Baseball, compared him to JT Snow. In addition to Snow, I heard a really good comp for White recently…and I have one of my own to offer. I’ll let you decide which is which: Jeff King (on the lower end) and Derrek Lee (on the upper end). A spectrum from King to Snow (if you can forgive the handedness) to Lee seems like a fair range of big league outcomes for White.
Reading up on Alex Troop this past offseason, the same thought kept occurring to me over and over: Troop is the cold weather version of Brendan McKay. Hyperbolic? Sure, but only a little. Troop is really good and not nearly discussed enough as one of the college game’s best two-way prospects. Most smart people I’ve checked in with prefer him on the mound. I get it. He’s 86-92 with his fastball with an easy plus 77-80 CU (one of my favorites of its kind in this entire class) and a usable 79-80 breaking ball. Still, I can’t shake the thought of what a 6-5, 210 pound present hit over power type (with power coming on fast) and a seasoned veteran’s approach at the plate could do once dedicated to hitting full time.
If you’re not buying the Troop/McKay parallels, let me try another prospect to prospect comparison. There’s a lot about Gavin Sheets, mainly as a hitter, that reminds me of Evan White. Both are hit over power types with lots of athleticism. Wake Forest is a great place to hit, but I’m buying Sheets’s bat in a big way right now.
It’s only natural to lump KJ Harrison, Colton Shaver, and JJ Schwarz together as prospects. All three have experience behind the plate, but, as their presence on this list suggests, are likely to move full-time to first base in the pros. I’m typically slower to move prospects down the defensive spectrum if I can help it, but sometimes the most likely outcome is exactly how things play out. “It’s always the person you least suspect” is nonsense, after all. It’s almost always the person you most suspect! So maybe it’s time to stop overthinking things here and start buying into the defensive groupthink a little more freely. We’ll see.
Harrison is the most likely of the three to remain a catcher, so he gets bonus points for that. He also gets bonus points for really knowing how to hit. Most of the feedback I had on this group of players had some combination of McKay, Smith, and Harrison as the top trio of hitters. Watching Harrison work is a joy. He takes some of the most professional amateur at bats around. He can hit it anywhere on the field, deftly taking what the pitchers give him and willing to shoot the ball the other way or up the middle when necessary. I think pro scouts and coaches are really going to love Harrison in a way that us amateur chumps don’t quite appreciate just yet.
Shaver is the least likely of the three to remain a catcher. Power bats from Shaver’s part of the country are a little scary due to park factors inflating offense, but the BYU slugger’s power is prodigious enough to play in any park in the country. That power coupled with a mature approach make him a bat to watch, slow offensive start to 2017 or not. Speaking of slow starts…
I brag a lot about not overreacting to small samples, but when those small samples cease to be all that small…well, that’s a different beast altogether. JJ Schwarz’s dip in production and increasingly tepid scouting reports are tough to ignore. “Defense and body took major step back in 2016” is a line taken directly from my notes that scares me every single time I read it. His athletic profile fascinates me. Schwarz improved a lot in both areas as a freshman, took that aforementioned step back in 2016 as a sophomore, and then took a small step ahead on the Cape this past summer. Through it all I never really considered his bat to be anything but a weapon going forward — major bat speed (I know, I know…I’m a hypocrite), serious power, and a freshman season so good you could always point to as proof that he can do it — but this spring has been undeniably underwhelming. I started the season thinking we’d be having the same debates we had last year about Zack Collins, but now think Schwarz’s closest college comparison might be Matt LaPorta. Read into that what you will.
ACC bats make up three of the top four prospects on this list. Number seven on the list comes from Binghamton by way of another ACC school (Wake Forest). Justin Yurchak hit in 2015. He’s hit in 2017. It’s not a huge sample, but sometimes spotting a hitter who can hit isn’t exactly rocket science. My only question with Yurchak right now is about his defense. It’s a happy question, too. Is Yurchak miscast with the first basemen here? Can he play a good enough third base to stick there in the pros? I don’t know the answers to those questions yet — if you do, let me know — but I’m excited to find out more about him over the next two months. I know he can hit, and that’s more than enough for now.
Sean Bouchard is still a little too aggressive for his own good, but his power, arm, and athleticism will check a lot of boxes for teams. Bouchard isn’t really my type, but finding a tenth guy for this list was a bigger challenge than anticipated. My hunch is that will change by June when I have a little more time to dig deeper and find bats more to my liking. But if Bouchard keeps up his .300/.400/.600 pace then he’ll be tough to push out ugly BB/K or not…
A few other names of note are listed below. It’s hardly an exhaustive list…we have to save something for June, right?
Chipola JC SO 1B/OF Reynaldo Rivera
Duke JR 1B Justin Bellinger
Georgia Tech JR 1B/OF Kel Johnson
Hartford SR 1B/3B David MacKinnon
Hawaii JR 1B Eric Ramirez
Michigan JR 1B/3B Drew Lugbauer
Seattle JR 1B Sean Sutton
Southern Illinois Edwardsville SR 1B Keaton Wright
UNC Wilmington JR 1B Mason Berne
Seven years ago I made an attempt to look at some historical draft trends including this piece on college first basemen and the MLB Draft. The plan this year was to reference it quickly and move on, but the pull of looking at past drafts was too strong. Despite all of my claims of wanting — no, needing — to prioritize generalized 2017 MLB Draft content above all else, I instead sunk far more time than I’d like to admit on updating a post written almost a decade ago. I need help.
2002 – 2011
MLB Draft first base (1B) prospects selected out of college (four-year or junior college) designated as such by Baseball Reference
MLB starters (hitter): 18
MLB starters (pitcher): 2
Total MLBers: 54
(“Starters” is a bit of a misnomer as you’ll see in the list below, but I think it gets the point across so long as you aren’t aggressively literal with it.)
Ryan Shealy, Nick Swisher, Conor Jackson, Adam Lind, Mike Dunn, Steve Pearce, Tyler Flowers, Chris Davis, Lucas Duda, Mitch Moreland, Sean Doolittle, Stephen Vogt, Yonder Alonso, Justin Smoak, Ike Davis, Brandon Belt, Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Bour, CJ Cron, Alex Dickerson
(The overall math doesn’t change much if you want to toss a few of these names out, but I tried to be generous with the “starter” label when possible. Some degree of personal bias — most notably a longstanding belief that Shealy deserved better — also may or may not have crept into this section.)
Basic Math (MLB Impact)
1.8 starting position players/year
5.4 big league players/year
(Averages don’t really work this way, but I’d still argue a reasonable expectation for any given draft class is two long-term starters and three additional big league players out of said class’s college first base prospect pool.)
Basic Math (MLB Draft)
49.1 players from data set drafted each year
10.2 players from data set drafted in top ten rounds each year
Colleges with Multiple MLB Players Drafted and Signed from 2002 – 2011
California – 2
Tulane – 2
Loyola Marymount – 2
South Carolina – 2
Arizona State – 3
Mississippi State – 2
UNLV – 2
(Not sure this tells us anything at all, but seeing schools pop up multiple times while doing this felt noteworthy enough to me to jot down. Once it’s jotted down, it either gets deleted or posted…so why not post it? Schools out west seem disproportionately successful here. Nothing to it probably, but there you go.)
2002 (46 college 1B total; 13 college 1B in top ten rounds)
Starter at 1B: Ryan Shealy (11-321, Florida)
Starter (non-1B): Nick Swisher (1-16, Ohio State)
Reached Majors, Little Value: Brad Eldred (6-163, Florida International), Paul McAnulty (12-355, Long Beach State)
Notes: Pretty good year for HS 1B as Prince Fielder (1-7), James Loney (1-19), James McDonald (11-331), and Travis Ishikawa (21-637) all provided some value in some way
2003 (42 college 1B total; 10 college 1B in top ten rounds)
Starter at 1B: Conor Jackson (1-19, California)
Reached Majors, Little Value: Michael Aubrey (1-11, Tulane), Josh Whitesell (6-177, Loyola Marymount), Carlos Corporan (12-339, Florida Gateway JC)
Note: Not a single HS 1B in this class ever sniffed the big leagues; Corporan made it, but as a catcher
2004 (56 college 1B total; 15 college 1B in top ten rounds)
Starter at 1B: Adam Lind (3-83, South Alabama)
Starter (non-1B): Mike Dunn (33-999, Southern Nevada CC)
Reached Majors, Little Value: Joe Koshansky (6-170, Virginia), Rhyne Hughes (8-225, Pearl River CC), Tommy Everidge (10-307, Sonoma State), Chris Carter (17-506, Stanford)
Notes: Dunn is a little like a less talked about version of Sean Doolittle (see below); two pretty solid finds at the HS ranks in Mike Carp (9-254) and Kyle Blanks (42-1241)
2005 (48 college 1B total; 7 college 1B in top ten rounds)
Starter at 1B: Steve Pearce (8-241, South Carolina)
Starter (non-1B): Tyler Flowers (33, 1007, Chipola JC)
Reached Majors, Little Value: Jordan Brown (4-124, Arizona), Jeff Larish (5-150, Arizona State)
Notes: The one and only HS player to make it here was Logan Morrison (22-666)
2006 (44 college 1B total; 11 college 1B in top ten rounds)
Starter at 1B: Chris Davis (5-148, Navarro JC)
Reached Majors, Little Value: Mark Hamilton (2-76, Tulane), Aaron Bates (3-83, North Carolina State), Brett Pill (7-206, Cal State Fullerton)
Notes: only HS player here to make the highest level was Lars Anderson (18-553); I distinctly remember really liking Whit Robbins back in the day…
2007 (42 college 1B total; 8 college 1B in top ten rounds)
Starter at 1B: Lucas Duda (7-243, USC), Mitch Moreland (17-530, Mississippi State)
Starter (non-1B) Sean Doolittle (1-41, Virginia), Stephen Vogt (12-365, Azusa Pacific)
Reached Majors, Little Value: Matt LaPorta (1-7, Florida), Joe Mahoney (6-189, Richmond), Steven Hill (13-412, Stephen F. Austin), Clint Robinson (25-756, Troy), Efren Navarro (50-1450, UNLV)
Notes: Doolittle is a reliever and not a starter but you get what I was going for there; tremendous year for HS 1B with Freddie Freeman (2-78) and Anthony Rizzo (6-204) emerging as stars at the position, Giancarlo Stanton (2-76) doing the same in the outfield, and even Andrew Lambo (4.146) eventually getting the call
2008 (51 college 1B total; 11 college 1B in top ten rounds)
Starter at 1B: Yonder Alonso (1-7, Miami), Justin Smoak (1-11, South Carolina), Ike Davis (1-18, Arizona State)
Reached Majors, Little Value: Brett Wallace (1-13, Arizona State), David Cooper (1-17, California), Allan Dykstra (1-23, Wake Forest), Matt Clark (12-375, LSU), Tyler Moore (16-481, Mississippi State), Xavier Scruggs (19-575, UNLV)
Notes: Eric Hosmer (1-3) was the big star in the class; seven first basemen — six out of college alone — taken in the first 23 picks will blow my mind until the day I die
2009 (57 college 1B total; 10 college 1B in top ten rounds)
Starter at 1B: Brandon Belt (5-147, Texas), Paul Goldschmidt (8-246, Texas State), Justin Bour (25-770, George Mason)
Reached Majors, Little Value: Ben Paulsen (3-90, Clemson), Ryan Wheeler (5-156, Loyola Marymount), Nate Freiman (8-234, Duke), Sean Halton (13-406, Lewis-Clark), Chris McGuiness (13-408, The Citadel), Darin Ruf (20-617, Creighton), Cody Decker (22-654, UCLA)
Notes: Jon Singleton (8-257) is the only HS player so far to reach the big leagues; Rich Poythress (2-51, Georgia) and Tyler Townsend (3-85, Florida International) were top one hundred pick busts
2010 (53 college 1B total; 9 college 1B in top ten rounds)
Reached Majors, Little Value: Andy Wilkins (5-158, Arkansas), Jason Rogers (32-969, Columbus State)
Notes: Christian Yelich (1-23) is the only positive value player in this entire class; top ten college prospects included Hunter Morris, Mickey Wiswall, Blake Dean, Kyle Roller, AJ Kirby-Jones, Tony Plagman, David Rohm, and Aaron Senne
2011 (52 college 1B total; 8 college 1B in top ten rounds)
Starter at 1B: CJ Cron (1-17, Utah)
Starter (non-1B): Alex Dickerson (3-91, Indiana)
Notes: a whopping five HS 1B were drafted in the top ten rounds highlighted by Dan Vogelbach (2-68)
So why stop at 2011? Well, stopping here leaves us with a nice and easy line of demarcation, mainly being the 2012 MLB Draft was the first to go forty rounds rather than fifty. It also gives us a clean ten years of data to look at. Round numbers sure are pretty. Finally, it makes for five years worth of “new” data to look at going forward. It also doesn’t hurt that making judgments on players selected just a few years ago can lead to some embarrassing guesses about their futures…check the link at the top if you don’t believe me. Here’s the data for the past five drafts…
2012 (34 college 1B total; 9 college 1B in top ten rounds)
2013 (42 college 1B Total; 10 college 1B in top ten rounds)
2014 (46 college 1B Total, 10 college 1B in top ten rounds)
2015 (42 college 1B Total, 8 college 1B in top ten rounds)
2016 (38 college 1B Total, 5 college 1B in top ten rounds)
That comes out to an average of 40.4 college 1B selected in each draft with 8.4 of them going off the board in the first ten rounds. That’s down from the 49.1 and 10.2 results from the ten-year period detailed above. The former result makes sense considering the deletion of ten rounds at the end of the draft, but the dip in top ten college first base prospects off the board is interesting. How does any of this apply (if at all) to this year’s college first base class? Stay tuned…
Carl Chester is a special athlete with game-changing plus-plus speed, insane range in center, and a damn strong arm to boot. Those three premium tools will keep him employed for a long time to come. I still have a few doubts about how much he’ll hit, but many people smarter than I believe in both the hit tool and power playing at or around the average range at maturity. If that comes to fruition, Chester would be a superstar. Even something less — as I’d forecast, knowing full well the odds are clearly in my favor by going the pessimistic route on any player’s hopeful ceiling — could put Chester somewhere between an average big league center fielder and a potential all-star in any given year. I got a Charlie Tilson draft comp on him recently that I don’t hate. I like Tilson just fine, but at first glance that seems a little light in terms of upside for a tooled-up player like Chester. When you consider the draft version of Tilson, a second round pick in 2011, however, the comparison comes together a bit. Chester in round two seems like a thing that could happen this June.
Johnny Ruiz will find a home in pro ball based on his speed and above-average defense in the middle infield. The way he plays the game reminds me of a guy who should be playing about seven hours northwest (ed. note: Florida is a gigantic state) in Tallahassee. He has some utility player upside if it breaks right. Chris Barr is a joy to watch defensively, but hasn’t been able to get the bat going again after what looked like a breakout 2015 season. Michael Burns and JD Davison can both run, but that’s all they’ve shown so far. Brandon Gali is at least a interesting as another potential utility infielder. Hunter Tackett was expected to transition smoothly back to D1 ball after some time in junior college, but things don’t always go according to plan. His above-average power and considerable bat speed keep him very much on the draft radar, slow start or not.
Miami’s rotation has three draft-worthy arms at the top. Both Michael Mediavilla and Jeb Bargfeldt do the crafty lefthander thing pretty well. Both guys live in the upper-80s with average or better changeups. Mediavilla has both the edge in size (6-5, 225 to Bargfeldt’s 6-0, 175) and track record, so he wins this semi-final matchup to face off with teammate Jesse Lepore for top 2017 Hurricanes pitching prospect. Lepore has a tick more velocity (85-92) with a pair of solid offspeed pitches (74-76 breaking ball, 77-78 changeup) with comparable size (6-4, 215) to Mediavilla. In the end, I’d go with the big lefty in a narrow victory by virtue of handedness, deception, and performance to date.
Cooper Hammond and his 78-82 MPH sinkers from a wacky submarine delivery that brings back fond memories of Chad Bradford remains on the shelf after last May’s Tommy John surgery. I’d put him on my personal board assuming he comes back healthy, but that could be a minority view. Enrique Sosa, another Hurricane arm working his way back from an arm injury (shoulder in his case), is probably the more conventionally appealing prospect at full health. Amazing what an extra ten miles per hour will do for a guy’s prospect stock. There is no such thing as a sleeper, but if there was then Kevin Pimentel might qualify. He’s healthy and performing well for a second straight year. At his best, Pimentel is 88-92 (94 peak) with his fastball and capable of throwing two impressive offspeed pitches (average change, low-80s breaker that flashes plus). I’m excited for what he’s done so far this year and for what he’s capable of going forward.
JR LHP Michael Mediavilla (2017)
JR RHP Jesse Lepore (2017)
rJR RHP Cooper Hammond (2017)
rSR RHP Enrique Sosa (2017)
rSO RHP Keven Pimentel (2017)
rSR RHP Ryan Guerra (2017)
JR LHP Jeb Bargfeldt (2017)
rJR RHP Mike Perez (2017)
JR OF Carl Chester (2017)
SR C Joe Gomez (2017)
SR 2B Randy Batista (2017)
rSR 3B/1B Edgar Michelangeli (2017)
SR 2B/SS Johnny Ruiz (2017)
rSR 1B/OF Chris Barr (2017)
JR OF Hunter Tackett (2017)
JR OF JD Davison (2017)
rSO C Alex Sanchez (2017)
JR SS/2B Brandon Gali (2017)
rJR OF Michael Burns (2017)
SR OF Barry Buchowski (2017)
FR RHP/1B Greg Veliz (2018)
SO RHP Andrew Cabezas (2018)
SO RHP Frankie Bartow (2018)
SO 3B/SS Romy Gonzalez (2018)
FR RHP Mason Studstill (2019)
FR RHP Evan McKendry (2019)
FR RHP Connor Manous (2019)
FR RHP Daniel Rivero (2019)
FR C Mike Amditis (2019)
The system for writing up team reports is pretty simple. I copy all the team information I have directly from my notes into a Gmail draft, separate the pitchers from the hitters, and start pecking away at the keyboard. The presence of Brendan McKay on the Louisville roster breaks my system. I now need a third group because he’s just too damn good at both pitching and hitting to make any definitive call about his professional spot just yet. My personal lean sends him out as a hitter first. The reasons are mostly general — in almost all 50/50 situations like this, I prefer starting prospects out as hitters because I think the day-to-day development for a young hitter is more important over the long haul than that of a pitcher. Hitters need reps to keep growing. Pitchers, at a certain point in their development, are more or less what they’ll be. This is the logic some teams use when “rushing” raw minor league pitchers with big arms; every body only has X amount of bullets in the chamber, so “wasting” them anywhere but the big leagues doesn’t make sense. Put it another way, I think it’s a lot easier to pick pitching back up after years away from doing it than it is to reacclimate yourself as a hitter.
(4/8/2017 EDIT: Keith Law recently mentioned the idea of Hunter Greene starting out his pro career as a hitter before transitioning to the mound in his first full season. He’d give his arm a break this summer while also giving his drafting team a firsthand look at what he can do [or can’t do] at the plate. Thought this was pretty brilliant and I’m annoyed I didn’t throw it out there first. I think a similar idea can apply to McKay. Let him hit this summer to rest his arm. If he’s great, maybe let him keep hitting. If he’s not so great, begin gearing him up to start next year as a pitcher again. If he’s neither great nor not so great…well, I guess that might make things a little complicated. No more than when deciding on draft day, though.)
As for McKay specifically, well, I think he’s just a more appealing hitting prospect than a pitcher. As you’ll read below, this isn’t an opinion that I can justify objectively as much as a weird hunch I’ve had while watching him over the years. McKay’s hit tool (above-average to plus), power (above-average to plus), and approach (SHOCKER – above-average to plus) all fit the bill for a middle of the order big league first baseman. The excellent Sam Monroy dropped Logan Morrison’s name when discussing McKay; I’ll go a little richer and say he reminds me of Eric Hosmer. Keeping in mind both guys are still active and at different points in their respective careers, it should be noted that my “rich” comparison (106 career wRC+) has only outhit Morrison (105 wRC+) by a whole point to date. Anyway, the good version of Hosmer (.300/.360/.460) is a really damn good hitter and exactly the type of prospect I’d deem worth using a first round pick on. The not so good version, unfortunately, is just a guy. That’s a bummer, but there’s still hope. If you’re seeing “bad Hosmer” after a predetermined increment of time passes (two full seasons?), then the plan to get McKay back on the mound and pitching again should be rolled out posthaste. I don’t think this is what will happen — I’d bet tonight’s pizza money that he gets drafted and signed as a pitcher — and I’m not yet entirely convinced it’s what should happen, but, as I’ve said, it’s my current lean as of April 5, 2017. I kind of talked myself into starting him on the mound below, but we’ll pretend I didn’t for the sake of not wanting to delete these last two paragraphs. Instead, let’s use this as means of highlighting how damn amazing McKay is as both a pitcher and a hitter right now. It’s really hard to choose which way to go with him. Even hardscrabble BASEBALL MEN paid to have strong opinions are currently straddling the fence. The fact that we can even have this discussion speaks to McKay’s unique gifts on both sides of the ball. All right, moving on…
The depth of the Louisville pitching staff is simply incredible. My pretend editor says that “simply incredible” is bad writing, but I don’t care. That’s the first thing that came to mind when checking out this staff. Every pitcher strikes out a batter per inning. Every pitcher not coming off of major surgery has demonstrated above-average control. Damn near every pitcher hits 92 MPH or better with at least one average or better secondary. It’s the kind of pitching staff that could step right into AA next week and hold its own as a unit. If there are three better pitching staffs top to bottom in college baseball, I’d be surprised.
It’s tough to pick between Kade McClure and Lincoln Henzman as the surer bet — in as much as any young pitcher is a “sure bet” — professionally. The output has been similar, the velocity is similar (88-92, 94 peak), the breaking balls are similar (average 76-83 hybrid pitch for McClure, average 83-87 cut-slider for Henzman)…there’s not a whole lot of separation here. McClure has the size advantage (6-7, 230 to Henzman’s 6-2, 200) while Henzman, my preference by the slimmest of margins, shows the better present changeup at 84-87 MPH with splitter action. I think both wind up as big league contributors within a few years. If it’s upside you seek, then Riley Thompson could very well leapfrog both juniors. Thompson, a draft-eligible redshirt-freshman coming off Tommy John surgery, flashes monster stuff (mid-90s fastball that can touch 98, quality 78-82 breaking ball, low-80s change) when everything is working.
Then there’s Brendan McKay. It always comes back to McKay. He’s so good that I bolded his name twice. As a pitcher there is a lot to like; perhaps more appropriately, there’s little to nothing not to like about him as a pitching prospect. On the days he has his best fastball going — more 90-94 than 87-91 — he’s a legitimate three above-average offering pitcher with little to no projection needed. That’s a good thing for McKay as there isn’t a ton of physical projection left from a body standpoint. Fortunately, with three above-average present pitches there’s not a ton of need for more. If anything, you could draft him as a pitcher with some degree of expectation that devoting 100% of his time and energy on throwing would make him an even more dangerous all-around pitcher. He’s firmed up the low end velocity of his fastball so far this year and now largely pitches from 89-94 MPH, a positive development considering how heavily he’ll learn on the pitch when he’s commanding it (a frequent occurrence). He pairs the heat with what is now a steady plus 82-84 MPH changeup (up from average or a tick above his first two seasons) and his usual above-average to plus 77-84 MPH curve. Three pitches, ample athleticism, and standout command make him one of the draft’s closest to the big league talents. Obvious comps have been made to two-way stars of the past like Danny Hultzen, Sean Doolittle (tough to top this one), and Brian Johnson (this one is my own). One contact mentioned that McKay reminded him of a young Al Leiter. I like that. Outside of the frequent mentions of him being a finalist for the award in his name, I’m not sure I’ve seen John Olerud mentioned as an offensive comp yet — I know this is the pitching portion, humor me — but I think that makes a ton of sense, too. Just had to slip that in there since the mention of Leiter reminded me of his Mets days playing with Olerud. I really want to write “moving on…” again, but I’ve already used that. I’m terrible at transitions. Let’s just get on with it.
For as much as I like McKay as a pitcher, the sum of his parts falls a just bit short of what I personally envision the whole could be. I can admit that this is kind of a BS reason to knock McKay down the board a few spots as a pitcher, but sometimes a guy can look REALLY good on paper and just be really good in real life. If scouting is some part science and some part art, I guess it’s the latter that’s keeping me from loving McKay as much as the former suggests I should. I still really like him, both as a pitcher and a hitter, but not quite on the level where I’d be considering him with the first overall pick. Probably not with a top five pick, though that’s a take that’s far from set in stone.
If I had to make imaginary odds for McKay’s big league outcome, I’d put him at 50% mid-rotation starter, 20% legit number two, 20% bust (sixth starter, middle relief, never makes it past AA…however you choose to define it), and 10% ace. Offensively, I’d go 50% “good Hosmer,” 40% “underwhelming Hosmer,” and 10% bust (bench bat, platoon guy, never make it past AA…again, whatever). I debated long and hard about deleting this whole paragraph, but I trust you enough as an audience to not get too hung up on my entirely improvised odds here.
Beyond the big four of McClure, Henzman, Thompson, and McKay, there’s plenty of other interesting draft-worthy depth on staff. Jake Sparger does the sinker/slider thing with imposing size (6-5, 200), Rabon Martin could have a future as a matchup lefty, and Shane Hummel‘s mid-70s changeup should be enough to get him some senior-sign attention.
Lost somewhat in McKay Mania is a loaded lineup of returning position player prospects poised to be picked early. There are two FAVORITE’s among the Cardinals 2017 hitting prospects and that’s not counting everybody’s favorite McKay and star shortstop Devin Hairston. Both FAVORITE’s have some questions defensively that need answering, but are strong enough with the bat in their hands to put those queries on the back burner for now. FAVORITE #1 is Drew Ellis, a draft-eligible sophomore who can really hit. Ellis’s potential above-average hit tool, plus raw power, and mature beyond his years approach at the plate make him one of this class’s top overall bats. The lack of attention the physical (a strong 6-3, 210 pounder), versatile (experience at 3B, 1B, and in the OF) masher gets on the national prospect stage confuses me. If a team believes in him defensively at the hot corner — I see no reason not to at this point, but who knows — then I don’t think a first day draft grade is out of line for Ellis. Hitters hit and Ellis hits like a hitter. Or something like that. I like his bat as much as McKay’s and he has a shot to play a more demanding defensive spot, so I don’t think an eventual home in the first round, if not in reality than on my personal board, is out of line. From FAVORITE to first day to first round…now that’s how you talk yourself into a prospect.
FAVORITE #2 is Colby Fitch, 2016 thirty-second overall pick Will Smith’s “backup” last season behind the plate. I love Will Smith and there’s more to talent evaluation than the numbers, but go ahead and check to see what the two guys did head-to-head the very year Smith went to the Dodgers with the third-to-last pick of the first round. Fitch is every bit the hitter Smith is with enough arm and athleticism to make it work in an outfield corner in the event you’re not sold on him long-term as a catcher. I am, but time will tell. Either way, he’s a FAVORITE.
I could definitely see a team talking themselves into Logan Taylor earlier than the consensus might anticipate; his range in center is special and he offers more with the bat than most senior-sign glove-first types. I’m in on him as one of this year’s most appealing draft seniors. A step or two below is Colin Lyman, another senior who should have enough speed, arm, athleticism, and contact ability to get himself in the pro ball fifth outfielder mix. Though I like him as a prospect, I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say about Ryan Summers. He has a nice power/speed going on and I know some teams are open to the idea of shifting him back to catcher in pro ball. The aforementioned Devin Hairston gets buried at the end here (and, like McKay, gets the double-bold treatment for his troubles) despite being arguably a top three college shortstop in this class. He does everything well — though arguably nothing spectacularly — on both sides of the ball with a 99.99% chance of remaining at shortstop through his first MLB contract. You don’t have to be a conventional star offensive talent to provide star value if you can stay up the middle, and Hairston could end up that kind of player in the long run.
JR RHP Kade McClure (2017)
rJR RHP Lincoln Henzman (2017)
rFR RHP Riley Thompson (2017)
SR RHP Jake Sparger (2017)
JR LHP Rabon Martin (2017)
SR RHP Shane Hummel (2017)
JR 1B/LHP Brendan McKay (2017)
JR SS/2B Devin Hairston (2017)
SO 3B/OF Drew Ellis (2017)
JR C/1B Colby Fitch (2017)
SR OF Colin Lyman (2017)
rJR OF/C Ryan Summers (2017)
SR OF Logan Taylor (2017)
rFR RHP Bryan Hoeing (2018)
rFR RHP Noah Burkholder (2018)
SO RHP Sam Bordner (2018)
SO LHP Adam Wolf (2018)
SO 2B Devin Mann (2018)
SO OF Josh Stowers (2018)
SO C Zeke Pinkham (2018)
FR LHP Nick Bennett (2019)
FR RHP Michael McAvene (2019)
FR LHP/OF Adam Elliott (2019)
FR SS Tyler Fitzgerald (2019)
FR 3B/SS Justin Lavey (2019)
FR OF Dan Oriente (2019)
FR INF Logan Wyatt (2019)
The 2017 pitching crop at Georgia Tech is fairly uninspired. If/when Patrick Wiseman gets on the mound for some steady innings, that could change. He’s got imposing size (6-5, 230) and a big fastball (88-93, 95 peak) when right. Jonathan King is yet another ACC crafty lefty who might appeal to some — upper-80s fastball, two quality offspeed pitches, deceptive, athletic — but as a 24-year-old (in a week) redshirt-senior coming off an arm injury who didn’t miss a ton of bats when healthy…I mean, there’s no nice way to really finish that story. Ben Parr (85-90 FB) and Zac Ryan (85-92 FB, good 78-80 CB/SL) could get looks as relief prospects in the pros; I give the edge to Parr as a lefty with better size and a more impressive track record.
On the other side of the ball, the name that jumps out right away is Trevor Craport. I really like Trevor Craport. I like him so much that we’re almost at the point where I’m actively seeking out bad news about him to temper my expectations for him. Craport had a quietly great 2016 season and is doing more of the same so far in 2017. His power, arm strength, and athleticism are all average or better. He’s a competent glove at third base who also has intriguing upside as a catching conversion project if his drafting team so desires. There’s just a ton to like about his game. In a lackluster third base college class, he has a great shot to rise way up boards this spring.
Wade Bailey is a rock solid middle infielder in a class in need of some good prospects there. He’s a good defender at second with solid speed, quick hands, and a little more pop than his frame might suggest. I approve. I also approve (to a slightly lesser degree) of Ryan Peurifoy, a personal favorite heading into last year who completely fell apart in all phases of the game. He’s rebounded just enough in the early going this year that I’m comfortable vouching for him as a draft-worthy potential big league backup outfielder. He’s got the speed, arm, and defensive instincts for the job, so it’ll be up to him to continue to be a non-zero offensively to get his shot or not. Coleman Poje is only in my notes because of 28 reasonably interesting at bats last year (.214/.314/.429 for those curious). His power and manageable BB/K ratio so far in 2017 has me thinking he’s done a better Kel Johnson impression than Kel Johnson himself. I’m intrigued.
Speaking of Kel Johnson, it’s about time we addressed the biggest name in the Ramblin’ Wreck 2017 draft universe. Johnson’s plus power puts him among a select group of amateur prospects in this class. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, impressive as that power might be, he’s looking more and more like a one-tool prospect with every empty plate appearance. All the power in the world can’t help you when you swing and miss like he does. Toss in a highly questionable defensive forecast and I think you’re looking at a platoon player/bench bat at best. He’d be an undeniably fun one of those, so at least there’s that. I’m out on him unless he comes much cheaper than anticipated on draft day. Or he starts socking dingers left and right between now and June. Either way.
SR LHP Ben Parr (2017)
SR RHP Zac Ryan (2017)
JR RHP Patrick Wiseman (2017)
rJR RHP Ben Schniederjans (2017)
JR RHP Jared Datoc (2017)
rSR LHP/OF Jonathan King (2017)
JR 3B/C Trevor Craport (2017)
JR 2B/SS Wade Bailey (2017)
JR 1B/OF Kel Johnson (2017)
SR OF Ryan Peurifoy (2017)
SR OF Keenan Innis (2017)
rSR OF Coleman Poje (2017)
SO RHP Jonathan Hughes (2018)
SO RHP Tristin English (2018)
SO RHP Burton Dulaney (2018)
SO RHP Micah Carpenter (2018)
SO RHP Jake Lee (2018)
SO RHP Keyton Gibson (2018)
SO RHP Bailey Combs (2018)
SO RHP Robert Winborne (2018)
SO C Joey Bart (2018)
SO OF/1B Brandt Stallings (2018)
SO SS/2B Carter Hall (2018)
FR RHP Garrett Gooden (2019)
FR LHP Connor Thomas (2019)
FR LHP Jay Shadday (2019)
FR RHP/SS Xzavion Curry (2019)
FR RHP/2B Austin Wilhite (2019)
FR LHP/OF Nick Wilhite (2019)
FR C Kyle McCann (2019)
FR OF Chase Murray (2019)
FR 2B/SS Parker McCoy (2019)
I like Taylor Walls a lot. I think there’s a good chance he can keep playing shortstop in the pros. If that’s the case, then he has a chance to go much higher than wherever I’m likely to end up ranking him. That potential relatively low ranking stems from the fact that I’m far less than certain than many seem to be about his chances of developing into an everyday shortstop. In all honesty, I don’t really know what to make of his defense just yet. My eyes say “sure why not,” my ears (i.e., contacts I know and trust) say “nope,” and BIG DRAFT (BA, PG, D1) collectively seem to think of him as a lock to stick at short. That’s confusing. It adds up to “inconclusive, needs more evidence” for me, so I guess that’s my official position for now. Feel free to draw your own conclusions as you see fit. Frankie Piliere, who has been pumping out great stuff for some time now but has taken it to another level so far in 2017, compared Walls to Brock Holt earlier this year. I like that a lot. I’ve gotten two comps for him — Walls, not Piliere — that I like for the throwback vibes if nothing else: the young versions of Mark McLemore and Luis Alicea. Between those three comps — long-term big league role players with flashes of starting-caliber output, all — and the generally positive scouting notes on Walls (great glove at second, good glove at short; enough arm strength for the left side of the infield; above-average speed; typical Florida State approach as a hitter), it’s fair to think of him as a relatively high-floor prospect with starting middle infielder upside. The higher the odds you place on him remaining at shortstop, the higher he should be on your board.
This is a completely anecdotal statement based largely on the recent memory of Ben DeLuzio wearing the gold and garnet, but it feels like Florida State, a school famous for piling up free passes on the offensive side of the ball, has a big-time hitter every season who completely bucks the extreme patience trend. Enter Dylan Busby, the proud owner of a 49/167 (and counting!) career BB/K ratio. Athletically gifted enough to play anywhere on the diamond — 50/50 split on first or third (my preference as to not waste his above-average arm) as his long-term spot based on info I received — and capable of some of most majestic home runs (easy plus raw power) in all the land, Busby has a lot going for him. He’s not my kind of prospect, but the power/speed athletic profile will surely entice teams willing to overlook his present free-swinging ways.
Rhett Aplin has been really strong in his Florida State debut. There’s power, arm strength, and the usual Seminole emphasis on plate discipline there. I know some that are excited at the prospect of him getting on the mound eventually, but I think his offensive game is plenty to be happy about for now. Quincy Nieporte didn’t have the breakout 2016 some (me) were expecting, but he’s been damn good to start his final season in Tallahassee. The world will always need senior-signs with power, so keep Nieporte on your draft radar. “Strong and slow” was how one contact described him. I like that.
There are probably enough decent middle infielders in this class to keep Matt Henderson from getting a chance in pro ball. That’s a shame if only for the fact Henderson might be the weirdest player in college baseball. If I told you that there was a quality glove at second (playable at short) with above-average to plus speed putting up on-base percentages of .420 (in 2016) and .397 (so far in 2017) in one of college ball’s best lineups, then you’d be sold on that as a sure-fire draft target, right? But what if that guy also hit just .230 (in 2016) and is hitting .204 (so far in 2017) with dangerously little power? Bit of a tougher sell, I’m guessing. I’d begrudgingly remove Henderson from my hypothetical draft board even before taking into account the likelihood that his one offensive strength (taking four balls and walking to first) would get weakened in a hurry once pro pitchers got wise to his total lack of sock. It still doesn’t hurt to point out how weird and wonderful Henderson is in the college setting. He could play for my college team anytime.
I think all nine of the draft-eligible Florida State arms listed below could be drafted this June. That’s a ton of picks off of one staff. Let’s rank them based on that very likelihood…
9 – Ed Voyles – Good 2016, slow start in 2017; changeup (flashes plus) and size (6-7, 200) both working in his favor
8 – Alec Byrd – long track record of success should matter more than his ugly 2017 to date; decent velocity (86-91) from the left side with some projection left (6-4, 180)
7 – Steven Wells – argument could be made he could be ranked lower due to relative inexperience on the mound, but stuff (89-93 FB, mid-70s CB) and athleticism make him a project worth taking on
6 – Will Zirzow – misses bats with a well-rounded repertoire (good 73-76 CU, 73-74 CB) without premium velocity (86-88 FB)
5 – Cobi Johnson – a true wild card as he comes back from last April’s Tommy John surgery; at his best, arguably the best stuff of any draft-eligible pitcher here (87-92 FB, 94 peak; plus 73-74 CB; average CU; 81-83 cut-SL)
4 – Jim Voyles – more success than his brother with a more relief friendly featured offspeed pitch (plus 78-80 SL)
3 – Drew Carlton – floor of an effective sinker/slider reliever with the ceiling of a useful back of the rotation starter thanks to a quality if underutilized 79-82 MPH changeup
2 – Andrew Karp – the template for Johnson as he returns from injury; like Johnson, a big HS recruit known for legit stuff (87-92 FB, 94 peak; 84-86 SL; 77-81 CB; good 79-82 CU); finally putting it all together
1 – Tyler Holton – just about everything written about Charlie Barnes of Clemson earlier in the week — 85-90 FB (92 peak), 75-79 breaking ball with promise, nasty 76-78 changeup, command for days — applies to Holton with a strong case to be made that the Seminoles draft-eligible sophomore is the better long-term prospect; big fan of this guy and his expert pitchability
For the record, that countdown is less about my own personal feelings about each than guesses about draftability. My prep love of Johnson might push him all the way to the top of a straight ranking by personal preference. Wouldn’t argue with anybody who had Holton, Karp, or Carlton in the top spot, however. All are really good pro prospects.
JR RHP Cobi Johnson (2017)
JR RHP Drew Carlton (2017)
rSO RHP Andrew Karp (2017)
SR LHP Alec Byrd (2017)
rJR RHP Ed Voyles (2017)
SR RHP Jim Voyles (2017)
rJR RHP Will Zirzow (2017)
SO LHP/OF Tyler Holton (2017)
JR RHP/OF Steven Wells (2017)
JR OF/LHP Rhett Aplin (2017)
SR 1B Quincy Nieporte (2017)
JR 2B/SS Taylor Walls (2017)
SR C Bryan Bussey (2017)
JR 3B/1B Dylan Busby (2017)
SR 2B/SS Matt Henderson (2017)
SR OF/3B Hank Truluck (2017)
SO RHP Cole Sands (2018)
SO RHP Chase Haney (2018)
rFR RHP Alex Carpenter (2018)
SO RHP Ronnie Ramirez (2018)
rFR RHP Dillon Brown (2018)
SO C Cal Raleigh (2018)
SO OF/C Jackson Lueck (2018)
SO OF Donovan Petrey (2018)
FR LHP Clayton Kwiatkowski (2019)
FR RHP Brandon Reitz (2019)
FR RHP Justin Sorokowski (2019)
FR LHP/OF Drew Parrish (2019)
FR OF/RHP JC Flowers (2019)
FR 3B Drew Mendoza (2019)
FR 2B/OF Nick Derr (2019)
FR SS Tyler Daughtry (2019)
FR OF Ryan Mejia (2019)
Lefthanders that stand 6-10, 230 pounds are always a lot of fun, especially when they attack hitters from a really funky angle with more power (85-90, 92 peak) than most sidearmers we see. That’s James Ziemba. Karl Blum is plenty big in his own right — not 6-10, 230, but 6-5, 210 ain’t nothing to mess with — with quality stuff (88-93 heat, average or better 79-81 breaking ball) and little to no idea where anything is going. Chris McGrath is a good arm (93 peak, good SL) that needs innings. Mitch Stallings can get it up to 90 MPH with a nice 79-81 changeup. Luke Whitten is like a much smaller Ziemba in that he’s got an effective fastball (87-93) and slider (low-80s) combo that comes at you from a much lower slot than the norm. I have nothing on Nick Hendrix — a rarity for an accomplished fifth-year college player at a major university — but his peripherals are always good so maybe there’s something there. If you’re scoring at home, that’s six potentially draftable pitchers for Duke with five of them bringing it from the left side.
The seventh intriguing 2017 arm for Duke might be my favorite of the bunch. What Ryan Day lacks in stature (5-11, 165) he more than makes up for in arm strength (90-94 FB) and athleticism. I’ll admit to some trepidation with him as his general effectiveness has consistently overshot his mediocre peripherals, but two-way talents like Day are often guilty of blooming later rather than sooner. He’s one to watch for sure. An eighth intriguing 2017 arm is also Duke’s first intriguing 2017 bat. Two-way Jack Labosky is either a third baseman or a righthanded pitcher depending on where you stand. Like fellow ACC two-way standout Donovan Casey at Boston College, Labosky’s best bet in the pros is on the mound. Based on a quick check with some smarter people I’ve asked that’s a bit of a minority view, but I’m sticking with it for now. While I appreciate Labosky’s thump and defensive prowess at the hot corner, I think his sinking fastball (89-90 MPH) and diving change (79-80 MPH, flashes plus) make him a better long term bet as a pitcher. That’s an opinion highly subject to change with three months of daylight separating us from draft day.
Maybe it’s me overvaluing versatility, but I can’t help be a little intrigued at Peter Zyla and his history at second, outfield, and catcher. He could be a useful 2018 senior-sign if teams are less enamored with versatility than I am. My notes on Jalen Phillips include the question “time to bail?” so you might have some clue as to where I’m leaning on him. The long-awaited breakout simply hasn’t happened…yet. Time is clearly running out for the redshirt-senior. In a similar vein, Justin Bellinger felt poised for a monster 2017 after making a ton of progress as a hitter from his freshman to sophomore seasons. So far, not so much. Still, it’s way too early to give up on him; quite the opposite, in fact, as he remains one of the most appealing first base prospects in this college class, early struggles or not. Hard not to fall for his size, power, and underrated feel for hitting when he’s at his best.
As much as I try to stay away from publicly commenting on future classes — not for the lame claim it’s “too early” that others use, but for the fact these already long pieces would be untenably long — I can’t help but throw a little love Jimmy Herron‘s way. Herron, an early FAVORITE for 2018, is legit. Plus runner, plus arm strength, intriguing power upside, great approach…it’s a really appealing package. From both a tools and performance standpoint, Griffin Conine isn’t all that far behind. Future looks great for the Blue Devils outfield.
rJR RHP Karl Blum (2017)
rJR LHP James Ziemba (2017)
rSR LHP Nick Hendrix (2017)
JR LHP Chris McGrath (2017)
SR LHP Kevin Lewallyn (2017)
JR LHP Mitch Stallings (2017)
JR LHP Luke Whitten (2017)
JR RHP/SS Ryan Day (2017)
JR 3B/RHP Jack Labosky (2017)
JR 1B Justin Bellinger (2017)
rSR OF/1B Jalen Phillips (2017)
JR 2B/SS Max Miller (2017)
JR 2B/OF Peter Zyla (2017)
JR OF Michael Smicicklas (2017)
SO RHP Al Pesto (2018)
SO RHP Hunter Davis (2018)
SO OF Griffin Conine (2018)
SO OF Kennie Taylor (2018)
SO OF Jimmy Herron (2018)
SO SS Zack Kone (2018)
SO SS Zack Kesterson (2018)
SO C Chris Proctor (2018)
FR LHP Adam Laskey (2019)
FR LHP Graeme Stinson (2019)
FR RHP Coleman Williams (2019)
FR LHP Bill Chillari (2019)
FR RHP Cam Kovachik (2019)
FR RHP/1B Matt Mervis (2019)
FR C Chris Dutra (2019)
FR OF Chase Creek (2019)
FR 3B Erikson Nichols (2019)
I love what Clemson does when building their starting staff. Charlie Barnes represents this Clemson ideal as well as anybody. His velocity is hardly overwhelming at 85-90 MPH, but he’s deceptive, crafty as hell, and can put any one of his three average or better offspeed pitches anywhere he wants in any count. It’s a profile that I personally love, though I can’t help but wonder how it translates to the upper-levels of pro ball. Somebody remind me in the offseason to do a a quick study about highly successful mid-to upper-80s college arms fare in the pros. In the meantime I’m left to ponder whether or not I’m falling too much in love with Barnes as a college pitcher and forgetting the ultimate aim here is projecting skill sets to pro ball?
I hope that’s not the case, but I’d be lying if I said I knew it wasn’t with any real certainty. My half-assed attempt at “research” while we wait for a less busy time of year (LOL) to come: per Fangraphs, only 12 of the 73 (16%) qualified starting pitchers last season averaged fastballs under 90 MPH. The only sub-90 MPH lefty out of that twelve, surprisingly enough, was Dallas Keuchel. Is Barnes a candidate to be the next Kuechel? I’m not saying that because, as we all know and Keuchel’s path demonstrates, player development is a funny game. Still, there’s at least some precedent, outlier or not, that suggests making it with a fastball that barely clips ninety is possible if you’ve got enough else going for you. If the Keuchel non-comparison comparison doesn’t work for you, then maybe you can be talked into Barnes following a path reminiscent of late-career Jeff Francis, Mark Buehrle, Ted Lilly, Doug Davis, and, the patron saints of lefties doing big things with (relatively) small fastballs, Tom Glavine and Jamie Moyer.
Again, we’re not actually comparing Barnes to any of those specific guys — a more sensible comparison both in terms of draft stock and pro upside might be Tommy Milone (or, if you’re into peer to peer comps, Josh Reagan of South Carolina, Jared Poche’ of LSU, and Gunner Leger of Louisiana…really, there’s a ton of college lefties like this in this year’s class) — but merely highlighting of a few of the success stories over the years. Barnes is Barnes, a guy good enough in other areas (plus 76-77 CU, average 71-75 CB, 77-82 cut-slider) to excel even without major heat. Tricky long-term player to project or not, I’m currently buying Barnes as a real draft talent. If he falls to the same range as Milone, a tenth rounder in 2008, then I’m really buying.
Clemson has other pitchers to write about, too. Exhaustive research was not done, but I believe Pat Krall is the last remaining Temple baseball prospect still bouncing around college ball. That could be wrong, so don’t go out trying to win any bar bets with that fact. What is right (I think), is that Krall is the best Temple guy remaining by a healthy margin. He’s like a slightly less exciting version of Barnes: similar velocity (mid-80s), similarly nasty changeup (mid-70s), and enough of a breaking ball to tie it all together. The stuff may not blow you away, but he’s got the makeup, size (6-6, 200), and track record of success to get on the draft boards of smart teams out there. Plus, his changeup is really good, and who doesn’t love a great changeup? There are worse mid- to late-round matchup lefties to gamble on, so I heartily endorse Krall as a draft-worthy player…and it’s not just my own Philadelphia/Temple bias kicking in.
It’s really hard not to like Alex Eubanks as well. He’s been consistently good to great on the bump, and his stuff more than holds up. What he lacks in big velocity — he is a Tiger, after all — he makes up for in movement (86-93 with serious sink), command, and quality offspeed offerings (81-84 changeup, 83-88 cutter, 80-84 slider, 77-78 curve). That’ll play.
Tyler Jackson has good stuff (88-92 FB, good 80-82 CU, low-80s SL) and flat knows how to miss bats. He did it at USC Upstate and he’s doing it at Clemson. There’s a place in pro ball for a guy like him. I know nothing (yet) of Patrick Andrews‘s stuff, but he’s another guy who just plain gets results. Ryan Miller, like Jackson an incoming transfer (in Miller’s case from FAU), has come back from TJ surgery armed with a big fastball up to 96 MPH. I’m intrigued. Jake Higginbotham, draft-eligible as a sophomore but still on the way back from a 2016 arm injury, has flashed really impressive stuff from the left side at his best. I’d be trying to pin down his potential willingness to sign all spring if he was in my scouting backyard. Jeremy Beasley and Paul Campbell are currently (as of 3/27) eighth and tenth in innings for this year’s Clemson’s team respectively. Beasley stands 6-4, 215 pounds and lives in the low-90s with a plus split-change. Campbell lives 90-94 (hits 96) and throws a decent curve. Both are draft-worthy talents who are barely seeing the field at this point. The short version of everything I’ve written so far: Clemson has some serious depth on the mound. Let’s take a look at the other side of the ball and see how the Tiger hitters stack up.
Personal favorite — but not quite FAVORITE — Chase Pinder seems to have the fourth outfielder profile going for him with a chance to play regularly if he can ever find a way to more consistently tap into his above-average raw power. It’s very easy to like his defense in center, arm, and speed, all average or better tools, otherwise. It also doesn’t hurt that Pinder has what might be one of the five to ten best pure hit tools in all of college baseball right now. That’s exciting. Relatively high-floor player with sneaky starter ceiling.
Reed Rohlman doesn’t have quite the same athletic profile as Pinder, but he’s certainly no slouch at the plate. With similar offensive strengths (loads of hard contact) and questions (over the fence power), he’s a solid mid-round prospect. Pinder being a surer early-round prospect goes to show the importance of positional value, athleticism, and speed. Presbyterian transfer Weston Jackson has some work to do before quieting critics — like me — wondering how his offensive game would adjust from moving from the Big South to the ACC. I was really excited to see what Grayson Byrd and KJ Bryant would do this spring, but both are off to relatively slow starts. At their best, both can run, defend, and throw at premium defensive spots. I also thought Patrick Cromwell would hit the ground running — or, more accurately, just plain hit — but he’s been slow to get going as well. All four names are worth watching as the spring continues to unfold.
Chris Williams got his shot to follow Chris Okey and he’s taken full advantage. He’s athletic enough to have spent time at both first and third while waiting Okey out. Now that he’s getting steady time behind the dish, he’s proven to be a solid all-around defender with an average arm. His calling card has been and will continue to be his raw power and physicality at the plate. When he struggled last year, he still hit for power. Now that he’s rolling, watch out. I’m more or less in on Williams and think he’s got a shot to close the gap between himself and Pinder as Clemson’s top 2017 position player prospect. It’s not a great year for college catching as I see it, so the opportunity to rise way up the board is in play. I’m still not all the way there with him — the approach still leaves plenty to be desired — but his strengths (power bat with a strong likelihood to remain a catcher) tend to fit the wishlist of certain drafting teams more than others.
You can’t write about Clemson without mentioning the big guy, so here goes: Seth Beer is a star and deserves all the hype he’s gotten since first stepping on campus. He’s great. His long-term defensive forecast scares me, but any doubts about his bat qualify as the definition of nitpicks. In what might be a slightly spicy take, I think Logan Davidson is arguably on the same tier. Defense matters, after all. In any event, it’s hard to adequately describe how much I enjoy watching each player do what they do best. Great college players and outstanding pro prospects, both.
rSR RHP Tyler Jackson (2017)
rSR RHP Patrick Andrews (2017)
JR LHP Charlie Barnes (2017)
SR LHP Pat Krall (2017)
JR LHP Alex Schnell (2017)
JR RHP Ryan Miller (2017)
SO LHP Jake Higginbotham (2017)
rSO RHP Alex Eubanks (2017)
JR RHP Jeremy Beasley (2017)
JR RHP Paul Campbell (2017)
rSR OF Weston Jackson (2017)
JR OF Chase Pinder (2017)
JR C/1B Chris Williams (2017)
JR 3B/2B Adam Renwick (2017)
rJR OF/1B Reed Rohlman (2017)
rSR 1B/OF Andrew Cox (2017)
rSO SS/2B Grayson Byrd (2017)
rSO OF KJ Bryant (2017)
JR 3B Patrick Cromwell (2017)
JR OF Drew Wharton (2017)
JR C Robert Jolly (2017)
SO RHP Ryley Gilliam (2018)
SO RHP/1B Brooks Crawford (2018)
SO 1B/OF Seth Beer (2018)
SO SS/2B Grant Cox (2018)
SO 2B/C Jordan Greene (2018)
FR LHP Mitchell Miller (2019)
FR RHP Blake Holliday (2019)
FR LHP Jacob Hennessy (2019)
FR RHP Travis Marr (2019)
FR RHP Owen Griffith (2019)
FR LHP Ron Huggins (2019)
FR SS Logan Davidson (2019)
FR C Kyle Wilkie (2019)
Jacob Stevens has looked more like his senior year of high school self than his BC freshman year self, and that’s a really good thing for his prospect stock going forward. Stevens, damn impressive in his first year as an Eagle (8.48 K/9 and 2.54 ERA in 74.1 IP), saw a slight dip in stuff across the board as he made the otherwise seamless transition from high school star to college ace. His velocity is back up to his teenage highs (89-93) and a pair of average-ish offspeed pitches (75-78 breaking ball, low-80s change) should allow him to remain in the rotation. A sturdy frame, clean mechanics, and pinpoint fastball command all help the cause as well. I’m not in love with the profile — inconsistent control, limited projection, and the lack of a clear knockout pitch give me pause — but I get the appeal.
John Witkowski and Brian Rapp are both solid relief prospects worth watching; the former fits the sinker/slider middle relief archetype while the latter has a little more velocity (up to 95), a little more offspeed depth, and a little more upside. Despite his lack of traditional starter size, I don’t hate the idea of keeping Rapp stretched out in the pros. Vanderbilt transfer Brendan Spagnuolo is interesting – Vanderbilt doesn’t recruit guys who aren’t interesting, after all – but needs innings to showcase his stuff. Carmen Giampetruzzi is a new name for me (and what a name at that), so all I’ve got on him is what anybody else can read from his impressive early season stat page.
Meanwhile Donovan Casey is one of the better two-way prospects in this class. A case can be made for him either as a pitcher (88-92 FB, 94 peak; really good CU; breaking ball that’ll flash) or as a hitter (above-average to plus speed/arm, intriguing power upside), though I now think I’m finally on board with putting the plus athlete on the mound and letting his athleticism and arm strength take over from there. It’s funny because I’ve always been left cold by Casey as a position player — the raw tools are thrilling, but you’ve got to start hitting eventually — yet am now pretty damn excited about Casey as a pitching prospect. ABoA: Always Bet on Athleticism.
In terms of guys who strictly play the field, Boston College doesn’t have a ton to offer in 2017. Your best bet is to look strictly up the middle with players like Casey, Johnny Adams, and Jake Palomaki. Adams, a steady glove at short, has some talent, but it’s probably time to put an end to any real pro prospect chatter with him. His bat has stalled to the point of no return for me. I love Palomaki’s glove at second, base running acumen, and approach, but his lack of pop puts a hard cap on his ceiling. He will probably be somewhere on my 2017 draft list, but he’d look even better as a 2018 senior-sign prospect.
SO RHP Jacob Stevens (2017)
rSO RHP Brendan Spagnuolo (2017)
rSR RHP Luke Fernandes (2017)
SO RHP John Witkowski (2017)
JR LHP Carmen Giampetruzzi (2017)
JR RHP Brian Rapp (2017)
rJR RHP Bobby Skogsbergh (2017)
SR OF/RHP Michael Strem (2017)
JR RHP/OF Donovan Casey (2017)
SR SS/3B Johnny Adams (2017)
JR 2B/3B Jake Palomaki (2017)
JR OF Scott Braren (2017)
JR 1B Mitch Bigras (2017)
SO LHP Dan Metzdorf (2018)
SO LHP Zach Stromberg (2018)
SO RHP Thomas Lane (2018)
SO RHP Sean Hughes (2018)
SO RHP Jack Nelson (2018)
SO C Gian Martellini (2018)
SO OF Dominic Hardaway (2018)
FR RHP Matt Gill (2019)
FR OF Dante Baldelli (2019)
FR SS Brian Dempsey (2019)
FR OF Jack Cunningham (2019)
FR C Aaron Soucy (2019)
Monday, April 3 – MLB Draft Reports on Boston College and Clemson
Tuesday, April 4 – MLB Draft Reports on Duke and Florida State
Wednesday, April 5 – MLB Draft Reports on Georgia Tech and Louisville
Thursday, April 6 – MLB Draft Reports on Miami and North Carolina
Friday, April 7 – Top 10 College First Basemen
I’m digging the recent interactive element with the site, so I figured I’d let everybody in even more and lay out exactly what’s in store in the coming days.
Posts on BC, Clemson, Duke, FSU, Georgia Tech, and Miami have already been written. I’ve started and/or finished NC State (done), Notre Dame, Pittsburgh (done), Virginia, Virginia Tech (done), and Wake Forest, so expect to see the rest of the ACC published by the end of next week. I know I can’t keep up this pace forever and there’s not nearly enough time between now and the draft to get every team some deserved ink, but I enjoy writing the team “previews,” they don’t take all that long since the research has been long completed, and they are the kind of “evergreen” topics that are always nice to have in reserve if things get crazy outside of our internet baseball draft bubble. Oh yeah, I’m also planning on seeing Rutgers/Villanova (Jawuan Harris!) on Wednesday, Xavier/Nova (Zac Lowther…hopefully) on Friday, and at least one HS game somewhere in there. Fun week.
The 1B rankings are done, but I still need to add the actual analysis. That means my agenda for the week includes finishing the rest of the ACC teams (for this week and next) and Friday’s 1B post. That’s a pretty light week all things considered, so the question now becomes…what else should I do? I’m leaning towards trying to get done the 2B and 3B rankings as well as a quick conference preview for the America East. After that…I’m open once again to any specific ideas.
I feel a little unprepared to do definitive top __ lists, but, as a self-proclaimed man of the people, I’ll do my best to deliver. That’s my (hopefully) not too weaselly way of making it clear that these lists are somehow both technically only good for the day they are published yet still well-researched enough (again, hopefully) to be useful all the way through June. If that sounds like an impossible contradiction, then, well, maybe it is. I’m a little rusty when it comes to the whole writing thing, so bear with me. Speaking of writing, the rankings you’ll read over the next few days are a bit more off the cuff than how I usually like to do things around here. Maybe more writing and less thinking will somehow magically equal a better product. If nothing else it’ll be closer to what many of the mainstream outlets put out, so at least there’s that. ZING!
Typically lists published here are ones that don’t change day-to-day, week-to-week, or even month-to-month. For better or worse, I’m a stubborn ranker. That stubbornness kicks into high gear when dealing with college players with multiple seasons of scouting reports (many going back to high school) and data from which meaningful conclusions can be drawn. The tails of the bell curve are noticed — seasons of A+ ascensions and D- disappointments are hard to ignore, after all — but most college guys are what we think they are at this point in the game. It’s one of the reasons I’ve shied away from pre-season rankings in the past; there wouldn’t be a ton of changes between them and my final lists in June, so the whole thing would be far more repetitive than instructive.
That’s a long-ish way of saying that these rankings were largely formulated before the start of the college year despite the fact that we are already six weekends worth of action into the season. And despite the fact that these rankings will be over two months old by the time the draft rolls around in June, I consider them more concrete than maybe I should. There’s always going to be some built-in fluidity with any ranking, but I think there’s less in mine than you’ll find elsewhere on the internet. Changes to my rankings going forward will be based more on what I see and hear — whether that’s new info coming in or merely sources and/or public information confirming/disputing existing notes — than whether or not a player goes 7-12 in a given weekend.
Players underrepresented on these lists include both current junior college and non-D1 prospects and past junior college players who have transferred into D1 schools this spring. I should have a better read on both groups by June, so bear with me if I’m missing a favorite of yours at this time. These lists are works in progress, so I’m always willing to hear how stupid I am for leaving so-and-so off. It’s how we learn.
Rambling mess of an introduction finally out of the way, let’s talk college baseball. Today the focus is on what might be my favorite position…let’s talk catchers.
- Oral Roberts JR C Matt Whatley
- St. Joseph’s JR C Deon Stafford
- San Diego JR C Riley Adams
- Wisconsin-Milwaukee JR C Daulton Varsho
- Houston JR C/SS Connor Wong
- Hartford JR C Erik Ostberg
- Dallas Baptist JR C Matt Duce
- Kennesaw State JR C Griffin Helms
- UNC Wilmington JR C Nick Feight
- Clemson JR C/1B Chris Williams
I love this top four to perhaps an uncomfortable degree. Back when I first started thinking about this year’s college class, Matt Whatley stood out as the type of prospect who’d be slept on until being a June pop-up guy, a little bit like a non-power conference version of Will Smith last season. WRONG. Whatley’s name has been at or near the top of the list of every single contact I’ve communicated with this spring. For me, it’s the profile as much as the player that is incredibly appealing. A catcher with outrageous athleticism, legit plus speed (for now), well above-average defensive tools (including an easy above-average arm), and real deal above-average power is pretty much the dream at the position.
Putting him on top of the list should have been a no-brainer, but it took a last minute change to knock Deon Stafford out of the top spot. I can’t get enough of Stafford. That’s a bold (and maybe weird) claim unto itself made even bolder (and definitely weirder) considering my proximity (less than ten minutes) from St. Joseph’s campus. I’ve seen plenty of Stafford over the past three years with multiple dates lined up to see him between now and the draft. My #notascout observations on him are fairly straightforward: fantastic athlete, average or better speed (timed him above-average to first on a single last weekend), above-average to plus arm strength (though I haven’t gotten a clean in-game pop from him yet this season to update this), at least above-average raw power, average or better hit tool, patient yet aggressive approach, great build/physical strength, clear leadership skills and passion for the game (as noted by my wife, who’s far more into that type of thing, on multiple occasions), and an overall plus package of defensive tools (mobility, hands, release, fearlessness).
The following paragraph got away from me a bit, so feel free to skip ahead to our third-ranked college catching prospect one paragraph down if so inclined. My feelings won’t be hurt.
I’ve long held the belief that there are two brands of successful catcher archetypes: there are small(er), athletic, hit/approach over power prospects on one side and bigger, stronger, power over hit players on the other. Put another way, it’s disciplined hitting athletes versus plus raw power/plus arm strength big men. The former group is in fashion these days while the latter, though perhaps a dying breed as front offices reemphasize defense at defensive positions in the post-PED era, still seems to hold a special place in the hearts (for good reason) of old-timers around the game. I was born in Philadelphia in 1985 and I’m a big fan of talking about myself, so indulge me as I relate my own personal experiences with catchers as it relates to the two archetype theory. This year is the first year in my 31 years on the planet where the Phillies will have a season without Darren Daulton, Mike Lieberthal, or Carlos Ruiz behind the plate. Blowing past how wild that catcher transition has been, the fact is relevant to our discussion because it shows a bit of the ebbs and flows of the two styles of catchers. Lieberthal and Ruiz were athletes who caught. Daulton felt more like a catcher by birth. Current Phillies starting catcher, Cameron Rupp, definitely fits more in that power/arm strength/size group. This may be interesting only to me, but I think there’s something there. If nothing else, it’s proof that one’s own worldview, baseball or otherwise, is dramatically shaped by one’s narrow view of what’s directly ahead of him. Maybe my entire catcher belief system would be different if I had only grown up a fan of one of the 29 other teams. ANYWAY…
The preceding paragraph was meant to set up the fact that Riley Adams is a bit of a throwback to the big (6-4, 225) strong (above-average to plus raw power and arm strength) catchers of yesteryear. Interestingly enough, that height/weight combo, depending on the source, puts him right in between Matt Wieters (a frequent point of comparison used for Adams as a prospect) and Stephen Vogt (listed at 6-3 some places, 6-0 in others…so that’s super helpful). Perhaps expecting a type of player in that Wieters/Vogt universe gives you some context as to what Adams could be. Or maybe, given the disappointing nature of Wieters’s MLB career (made all the more tough to swallow juxtaposed to the memories of how sensational he looked at Georgia Tech) and circuitous route Vogt took to get where he is today, linking Adams to those guys offers little substance beyond “hey, these guys were all big so they must be similar.” Though I hinted at the comparison, my take on Adams leans towards the latter position. He’s a big catcher, yes, but he’s also pretty damn athletic with a reasonable clue at the plate (i.e., he’s smart enough to make adjustments beyond straight fastball hunting every AB). I guess what I’m saying is don’t be fooled by those who spend too many words trying to frame Adams as a big catcher and big catcher only. It’s a lazy thought that I’ve been guilty of in the past — the very recent past, depending on your reading of what I wrote above — and something that is ill-suited for the actual player being discussed. Adams ought not to be pigeonholed as any one type of prospect archetype; he has the raw talent to potentially transcend the two and wind up the first catcher drafted this June.
If you opted to read the eminently skippable paragraph above, you should remember the seemingly gratuitous Darren Daulton reference. Hopefully you enjoyed it because here’s another: Daulton Varsho, son of former Phillies player, bench coach, and interim manager Gary Varsho, pretty much had to have been named after Darren Daulton. It’s possible the Varsho’s just liked the name, but I have to believe there’s a somewhat deeper connection there. I hope that’s the case, as it’s a much more interesting story. Anyway, Daulton Varsho is really good. He takes professional at bats, defends the position like a veteran, and gets high marks for his makeup. Sense a pattern there? He’s also yet another great athlete we can add to this class of great athletes, though unlike a few of his top of the class peers he has some questions about his arm strength that will need to be vetted before some teams go all-in on him as a long-term option behind the dish. “Average at best” sums up most of the feedback I’ve received to date; if that’s the consensus, different teams will value him accordingly based on organizational priorities at the position. I love a big flashy arm as much as the next guy, but, as many on the internet seem now believe, consider arm strength to be a bit overrated in the larger picture of what makes a quality defensive catcher. If the blocking, framing, and pitch-calling are there, then I can live with an adequate arm. And if we’re literally talking arm strength and not taking into account footwork and release (my notes are unclear on the specifics of “average at best arm” for Varsho at this time), so much the better.
Rounding out the top five is Connor Wong from Houston. You may want to sit down for this, but Wong’s athleticism and plan of attack at the plate are what separates him from many otherwise similarly skilled contemporaries. Shocking that an athlete with patience would rank high on this list, yet here we are. In Wong’s case, there’s really no denying his chops. He has the fluidity behind the plate you’d expect from a former shortstop, a position some think he could still handle in a pinch, and occasional outfielder. Wong has been a little slow to pick up on some of the finer points of catching technique since making the switch — his feet are fine, but his hands still can get him in trouble — so it’s fair to wonder if a multi-position utility future could be his most useful long-term defensive deployment. I’m not completely sold on Wong’s power coming around enough to make him an impact starter at the next level, but the offensive strengths, including average to above-average speed and a knack for consistent hard contact against quality pitching, outweigh the weaknesses at this time.
I believe in Erik Ostberg’s bat perhaps more than I should, and I’m hopeful his defense comes around a bit between now and June. Matt Duce is an underappreciated hitter who I’ll stump for multiple times this spring. As a plus athlete with real speed and size, Griffin Helms is a big bet on tools becoming skills in a hurry. Nick Feight is a more compact version of the big catcher archetype described above. He’s solid at 5-11, 200 pounds with monster power and his fair share of defensive questions. I should point out that I misspell his name as Freight 98% of the time (as I originally did both here and in my notes), so if you ever notice me doing so feel free to call me out. Chris Williams is similar, but with a touch less perfect world offensive upside and a bit more defensive certainty; he’s been one of my few concessions to a 2017 college season “riser” as the buzz on him so far this spring has been hard to ignore.
Proof that these lists were a bit rushed comes in the form of the teams that were late to get their updated rosters up this winter and were punished by being the last group of schools entered into my database. Looking at you Louisville, North Carolina, Connecticut, Michigan, Rutgers, Kansas, UC Davis, Western Kentucky, New Mexico, San Jose State, Oregon State, Washington, Auburn, Mississippi State, South Alabama, and North Dakota. Prospects from those teams weren’t included in my initial draft of this post, so let me scramble really quickly past my bedtime here to make the proper additions…
Colby Fitch from Louisville is a legitimate FAVORITE who would rank somewhere in the top five if I was willing to take the thirty seconds to make the edit official. As it is, he sits here as 3.5 (behind Adams, just a hair ahead of Varsho) thanks to his athleticism (what else?), approach (shocker!), strong arm, and impressive if somewhat short track record with the bat. I actually recently wrote about him for a team profile project that I might just be sick enough in the head to try on the site, so here goes…
FAVORITE #2 is Colby Fitch, 2016 thirty-second overall pick Will Smith’s “backup” last season behind the plate. I love Will Smith and there’s more to talent evaluation than the numbers, but go ahead and check to see what the two guys did head-to-head the very year Smith went to the Dodgers with the third-to-last pick of the first round. Fitch is every bit the hitter Smith is with enough arm and athleticism to make it work in an outfield corner in the event you’re not sold on him long-term as a catcher. I am, but time will tell.
The choppy writing should make more sense in the context of the overall piece…coming soon! Probably. We’ll see. Quicker, shorter, more sloppily edited work seemed to be the consensus of the many who wrote in with suggestions — return emails should all be sent by the end of the day, BTW — so that’s what I’m going to attempt to do in between working on some longer form stuff. Back to our regularly scheduled catcher talk…
Joey Morgan (Washington), Jared Barnes (South Alabama), and, big personal favorite, Nelson Mompierre (Missouri) can join the honorable mentions along with these catchers who also just missed the cut…
- Arizona SO C Cesar Salazar
- East Tennessee State JR C/1B Hagen Owenby
- Florida JR C Michael Rivera
- LSU JR C Mike Papierski
- LSU SR C Jordan Romero
- Mercer SR C Charlie Madden
- Murray State SR C Tyler Lawrence
- Oregon JR C Tim Susnara
- San Jacinto JC FR C/1B Herbert Iser
- San Jacinto JC SO C Wyatt Cross
- Stanford JR C Bryce Carter
- TCU JR C Evan Skoug
- Texas-Arlington SR C Brady Cox
- UMBC SR C Hunter Dolshun
Thanks to everybody who stuck around over the past few months, especially those who dropped a line in the comments or via email wondering about the latest update. As the title suggests, yes, I am back and ready to get posting again regularly. 2017 has largely been about research, compiling notes, and watching live baseball, but it’s past time to get back into a steady routine writing around here.
Now what do you want to read? I’m sitting on a mountain of amateur baseball information with no real plan of how to get it from my screen to yours. College/conference team previews? Prospect lists by position? First person accounts? Irresponsible hot takes? In a perfect world it would be all of the above, but, due to real world job obligations and a baby coming sooner rather than later, prioritizing content feels like more of a necessity this draft season than in years past. My initial hunch is that a top __ list is the way to go, so making a bunch of position lists before putting them altogether to create a first go of a 2017 Top 30? 50? 100? might make sense.
Open to just about anything, so hit me up in the comments or via email (robozga at gmail dot com) to chat. In the meantime, I’m shooting for something actually draft-related to go live on the site by the end of the week.
Top 500 Prospects Drafted by San Diego in 2016
20 – Cal Quantrill
52 – Eric Lauer
66 – Buddy Reed
83 – Reggie Lawson
134 – Mason Thompson
202 – Lake Bachar
248 – Hudson Sanchez
262 – Tre Carter
302 – Boomer White
417 – Ethan Skender
429 – David Bednar
1.8 – RHP Cal Quantrill
One team needed to be bold and take the chance on Cal Quantrill’s (20) surgically repaired right elbow in the first round. Good for San Diego for being that team. Getting a guy who would have been squarely in the 1-1 mix if healthy with the eighth overall pick is exactly the kind of draft day gamble a team like the Padres ought to be taking. There were safer players to be had when their spot in the first round came up, but they went big. I respect that. On Quantrill from April 2016…
On talent alone, Cal Quantrill deserves to be right there with Jefferies as a potential top ten overall pick contender. Last year’s Tommy John surgery and the subsequent lost time in 2016, however, complicate the matter, though it’s hard to say how much. Quantrill’s 77-81 MPH change-up is one of my favorite pitches in this entire class. Easy velocity (89-95, 96 peak), a pair of interesting breaking balls, all kinds of pitchability, and that change-up…what more could you want? Good health, I suppose. A few late season starts would go a very long way in easing the minds of big league scouting directors charged with making the decision whether or not to cut a multi-million dollar check (or cheque in the case of the Canadian born Quantrill) to the Stanford righthander. I recently wondered aloud about how teams will perceive Quantrill in this his draft year…
The attrition at the top of the college pitching pile has left Cal Quantrill, yet to pitch in 2016 as he recovers from last year’s Tommy John surgery, one of the college game’s most intriguing mound prospects. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? I wonder if the star student out of Stanford knew this and staged the whole elbow injury to allow time for his competition to implode all over the place. That’s a joke. Not a good one, but a joke all the same.
I also have said on the record that I’d consider taking him sight unseen (in 2016) with a pick just outside the draft’s top ten. You might say I’m bullish on Quantrill’s pro prospects.
The Padres went with Quantrill with a pick just inside the draft’s top ten, but otherwise we were on the same page here. Two small things from my pre-draft notes on Quantrill that I think are worth pulling out…
injury and a year’s lost development are factors to consider, but hardly deal-breakers;
This bears repeating as often as tolerated. Quantrill missed a whole damn season and still went eighth overall in the draft. Crazier yet, nobody around the game really batted an eye. I realize part of that was the relative weakness at the top of this year’s draft class pushing anybody who has ever showed any semblance of impact upside up the board, but still. A major injury and a critical year of development lost didn’t slow down the Quantrill hype train one iota. That has to mean something, right? Then there was this…
as much as I love him (easily the top arm in the college class if healthy), many focus on the injury red flag and gloss over his still underseasoned breaking ball
There’s my actual concern with Quantrill and the primary reason I dropped him a little bit lower on my board than I had originally anticipated I might. Quantrill’s fastball is legit: 90-96 MPH, mature command, serious movement. His changeup is, as I said in April, one of my favorite pitches in the entire class. At 77-81 MPH, it has tons of separation from his heater and comes out of his hand in much the same fashion. It’s also a bit of a diver, making it a really difficult pitch to square up if you’re willing and able to pull the trigger on it in the first place. Those two pitches give Quantrill a really high floor from the jump; it’s a tired comp that I use on all plus fastball/changeup righthanders with projection, but a successful career in relief a la Ryan Madson (sub in Joaquin Benoit, Tyler Clippard, or your favorite CU-heavy RP if you’re sick of me using Madson) seems like a more than respectable low-end outcome.
To achieve something more, however, Quantrill will have to do what Madson and so many others like him have failed to accomplish. Quantrill will have to master his breaking ball. For now, it’s a mid-70s curve that has slowly morphed into a harder 80-84 MPH slider. Whatever version you prefer, it’s really no more than an average at best pitch as of now. In Quantrill’s favor is time (especially when factoring in innings lost due to injury and the increased ease of throwing quality breaking balls the more distance is put between the present and a past elbow surgery), athleticism (it’s not an exact science, but better athlete = better delivery = more consistency = more frequent quality opportunities to work in breaking ball = better breaking ball), and makeup (bloodlines, work ethic, smarts, etc.). I’m willing to bet his slider becomes at least an average pitch for him, if not better. With his existing plus fastball/changeup combo, that would make him a potential game one playoff starting caliber pitcher. It’s not a perfect comp for a variety of reasons, but Quantrill’s upside could be just about a half-step down from what Zack Greinke has done in the big leagues so far.
1.24 – SS Hudson Potts
Fairly loud rumors of a pre-draft deal led Hudson Potts (née Sanchez) to going off the board to San Diego in the first round. Money saved with his selection was meant to go to Jay Groome earlier in the round, but Boston foiled those plans by taking the big prep lefty from Jersey with the twelfth overall pick. The Padres pressed on with their guy anyway and could be rewarded for their faith with a really solid all-around ballplayer. “Does so many things well” was the simple yet true line from Hudson Potts’s (248) pre-draft notes on the site. Chance for average hit, average to above-average power, average speed, average arm, well above-average (plus upside) defense at the hot corner…that’s pretty much the definition of a well-rounded prospect. His long-term defensive home will be something to monitor going forward — most thought third base (61.0 innings played there in his debut) for sure, but I know there are some who saw him this summer who think that short (210.2 IP) could work, not to mention a vocal minority who think his arm plays best at second (54.0 IP) — and his offensive game should take some time to mature (having played his entire first pro season at 17, Potts is one of the youngest prospects in this class), but a consistent above-average regular is an upside worth “overdrafting” in the first round.
1.25 – LHP Eric Lauer
On Eric Lauer (52) from February 2016…
As much as I like all three of those pitchers, there’s still a decent-sized gap between Eric Lauer and the field. Lauer, the third lefthander in my MAC top four, combines the best of all of the prospects below him on the rankings. There isn’t a box that he doesn’t check when looking for a potentially quick-moving above-average mid-rotation big league starting pitcher. He’s an athletic (like Plesac) lefthander (like Deeg/Akin), with good size (like Deeg/Plesac), very strong performance indicators (10.78 K/9 and 2.72 BB/9), above-average heat (88-94) that he commands like a pro, and a complete assortment of offspeed pitches (74-77 CB, 78-82 SL, emerging CU) he can throw in any count. One could quibble by noting there’s no singular knockout pitch here – maybe with continued work one of his secondaries can become a consistent plus pitch, but certainly not presently – so maybe Lauer’s best case scenario outcome isn’t quite that of some of his peers across the country, but that’s a nitpick for a still impressive ceiling/high floor starting arm. Maybe you don’t love him – I kind of do, clearly…but maybe you don’t – but he’s still a prospect that’s hard not to at least like.
Very little to quibble with when it comes to Eric Lauer. I guess you could make a strained comparison between Lauer’s lack of a sure strikeout pitch and Hudson Potts’s lack of a clear carrying tool, but the former has two truly outstanding years at Kent State (and one merely very good one) under his belt to help assuage that concern. If a guy doesn’t have that one go-to pitch to sit opposing batters down, then how exactly do you explain 2015 (10.78 K/9, 1.99 ERA), 2016 (10.82 K/9, 0.69 ERA), and his pro debut (10.74 K/9, 2.03 ERA)? Even without premium velocity (88-92, 94 peak), Lauer misses bushels of bats with a full collection of offspeed offerings. His 72-78 curve is at least an average pitch, his 80-86 cut-slider is consistently above-average, and his 83-85 changeup should be at least an average pitch with continued work. That kind of diversity on top of pinpoint fastball command (easy above-average to plus) makes Lauer a damn near ideal candidate for a very long successful career as a mid-rotation starting pitcher. I’d put his ceiling at even higher than that: mid-rotation starting pitcher with flashes of greatness possible in any given season. Part of this enthusiasm stems from the perspective gained from being away from the pre-draft bubble — I can’t prove it, but stands to reason that prospects with flashier skill sets gain the edge on steadier performers in the immediate days before the draft; it’s as true in other sports as it is in baseball, there’s no shame in trying to hit a solid single rather than always swinging from the heels — and part of it comes from the steady stream of positive comments I’ve gotten on Lauer since turning pro. There’s something about Lauer that makes smarter baseball men and women than myself want to compare him to some really excellent big league pitchers. I’ve heard “bigger, badder Wei-Yin Chen,” “better conditioned Hyun-Jin Ryu,” and Jose Quintana (intrigued by this, though Quintana has all but ditched his slider/cutter now). I’ll throw out my own JA Happ comp. I’ll also throw out an almost certainly irresponsible comparison that even the person making didn’t want to tell me at first: Cliff Lee. A ceiling like any of those guys and a reasonable fifth starter/swingman floor (if healthy) make Lauer one of the draft’s most appealing low-risk/high-reward prospects. San Diego got him with a pick far more in line with his talent than my pre-draft ranking suggested.
2.48 – OF Buddy Reed
The evaluation on (66) Buddy Reed is refreshingly straight forward: plus to plus-plus speed, above-average to plus arm, easy plus center field range, and no idea whether or not he’ll hit enough to ever be more than a speed/defense fifth outfielder. I think his non-offensive skills are so impressive that he’ll be a big league player at some point regardless of what he does or doesn’t do at the plate. When you see guys like Tony Gwynn Jr., Sam Fuld, Leonys Martin, Juan Lagares, Kevin Pillar, Jarrod Dyson, Craig Gentry, Nyjer Morgan, and Peter Bourjos all compile over 1,000 plate appearances this decade without a single one of them putting up a wRC+ of 90 in that time span, it becomes pretty clear that center field defense and speed will always be a priority for some teams at the highest level. One contact put his floor as Justin Maxwell: good defender and useful in a platoon and off the bench against LHP (Reed is a switch-hitter). I can dig it.
If, however, Reed figures things out as a hitter, then watch out. An athlete like this with something going for him at the plate could be a potential superstar. Of course, there’s very little evidence in Reed’s scouting background and performance on the field that suggest a breakout is coming. This is where I respectfully bow out of the deep scouting conversation and leave it to those who want to break down his swing plane and pitch recognition and bat speed and bat control and whatever else they claim either held him back when he doesn’t make it or changed drastically if he does. Tossing around nebulous scouting terms is a fantastic way to cover yourself in whatever direction a player’s career takes him. “It wasn’t my evaluation that was wrong, it’s just that the player developed unexpectedly by changing his approach/swing/mechanics/whatever in the pros.” Pretty brilliant way to keep things as “inside baseball” as possible while propping yourself up as one of the few blessed souls capable of watching grown men play a sport with a critical eye. It’s all junk science and anybody who tells you differently is just fighting to protect their own self-interests. It’s the way the world works. You have to sound authoritative enough to keep an audience while being sure to speak the right insider language to keep all the dummies not smart enough to crack the inner-circle at bay. The most infuriating thing of all about this is how quickly an outsider assimilates to the inside. The example would be an internet nobody like me getting hired by a team and suddenly completing changing his position on how much smarter those IN THE INDUSTRY are about the game. Happens all the time. People go from being curious and asking questions and having fun on the internet to super serious bullies who mock those who show the same curiosity and joy for the game they once exhibited. Everybody wants to belong to something bigger, I guess. If that means turning their back on their actual beliefs to parrot the self-preserving company line, then so be it.
Anyway, I’ve used the shrugging emoticon ( ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) one time too many during these draft reviews, so I’ll stay away from it here. But if you asked me whether or not Reed would hit enough to be an above-average all-around contributor in the big leagues, that would be my honest answer. My instincts say probably not — despite some of the snark in the paragraph above the scouting buzz is not meaningless, plus the historical track record of college hitters with career .275/.353/.384 lines (84 BB/156 K) isn’t great — but spending a second round pick to find out feels well worth it, especially if your own scouts have seen something in Reed that others have not. He’s a big league player for me whether he hits or not; now we wait and see what kind of hitter he’ll turn out to be.
2.71 – RHP Reggie Lawson
This is a really cool draft by San Diego. They keep drafting players I like that I didn’t even know I liked as much as I do until thinking about them some more. I like players like that. Players like that tend to be players I’m particularly intrigued in, but would be too chicken to draft as high as necessary to actually land them. Reggie Lawson (83) is exactly like that. Crazy athletic, tremendous fastball movement, burgeoning power breaking ball, and inconsistent yet improved command. That’s a fun prospect.
A really off-the-wall comparison for Lawson that I think works: Tommy Greene. That may not be the most flattering of comps at first glance — on one hand, sure you’d take a guy good enough to start 97 games in the big leagues; on the other, only 97 games and a 93 ERA+ isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire — but peak healthy Tommy Greene was really good. In fact, I’d argue that Greene was legitimately great in 1993 — an admittedly magical year for a 7-year-old fan that has no doubt warped my own baseball worldview including defending Greene against all comers — and could have been on the verge of a major breakout (he was only 26 in 1993) if not for a string of unfortunate arm injuries that wound up ending his career in the big leagues shortly after his 30th birthday. You don’t have to take my word for it, though: “He could have been a great pitcher,’’ former major league advance scout Eddie Lyons told staff writer Chuck Carree. “He could have been another Catfish Hunter.’’ Or this…
“Believe me, it is easy to catch guys like this,” said cather Darren Daulton, who has seen Greene complete his last five games. “He reminds me of Doc Gooden. A power pitcher who’s developed breaking pitches and has command of them. Guys with stuff like that, they’re illegal in seven states.”
A healthy Greene shares that big fastball/power breaking ball starting point with Lawson — 88-94 and up to 96 with his heat; above-average mid-70s breaking ball that flashes plus when thrown with a little extra behind it — not to mention exceptional athleticism and a chance to be a non-zero at the plate. Toss in a usable change with a chance to be average in time and Lawson has the kind of upside that could give him a few seasons that resemble 1993 Tommy Greene.
3.85 – RHP Mason Thompson
From my notes on Mason Thompson (134): “if healthy, look out.” The third round feels like an opportune time for San Diego to bet on the return to full health of Thompson’s right arm. At his best (and healthiest), Thompson sits 88-92 (94 peak) with a quality mid-70s curve and a standout low-80s changeup that flashes plus. Thompson’s upside is high enough that he’s on the short list of players I’m most excited to see for myself in 2017. Between this pick, Cal Quantrill, Eric Lauer, Reggie Lawson, and Lake Bachar, San Diego low-key replenished their starting pitching depth before round five had the chance to wrap up. When you add in potential relief arms like Lucchesi, Stillman, Dallas, Sheckler, Scholtens, Galindo, Zimmerman, and Bednar, you can begin to see an argument for the Padres having one of if not the best pitching drafts in 2016.
4.144 – RHP Joey Lucchesi
Joey Lucchesi likes to throw fastballs. Joey Lucchesi has a really good fastball. Joey Lucchesi is really good at baseball…
12.08 K/9 – 3.00 BB/9 – 2.19 ERA – 111.0 IP
12.00 K/9 – 0.64 BB/9 – 1.29 ERA – 42.0 IP
Top is what he did at Southeast Missouri State as a senior and bottom is what he did in the pros after signing. The man can flat miss bats. Equipped with a quality heater (90-94) and decent curve coming out of a funky delivery, Lucchesi has a long career of big league relief work written all over him.
5.144 – RHP Lake Bachar
ABA: Always Bet on Athleticism. If you follow that rule during the MLB Draft, you’re more than likely to come out ahead, especially as it pertains to pitchers. Lake Bachar (202) is an athlete. He also throws a fastball that can get up to 95 (90-94 typically), a pair of average breaking balls (83-85 slider, mid-70s curve) with more upside than that, and a usable but raw low-80s change. I like this one a lot.
6.174 – RHP Will Stillman
This is not one of my better takes because the two have less in common the more you think about it, but here goes: Will Stillman is like the Eric Lauer of relievers. Ignoring all the obvious differences leaves us with two college pitchers who consistently produced with well-rounded arsenals but still have plenty of doubters in certain circles who think of them as “stat” picks and not “scout” picks. Stillman has long had a good fastball (88-92, 94 peak), but took it up a notch in the pros (more 92-96 than not). He leans on the heat, but can also throw a pair of quality offspeed pitches (curve, change). The 6-4, 180 pound righthander could still have a little more in the tank as he continues to fill out. Even slight improvements in control — Stillman walked 4.99 batters per nine in his senior season at Wofford (his best full season mark) and 4.89 batters per nine in his pro debut — would make him a potential late-inning option for San Diego down the line. I get that I’m repeating myself too often, but, man, I like this pick, too. The Padres big league pitching staff in 2017 might be one of the worst we’ve seen in some time, but the pitching depth they are accumulating in the minors could change that in a hurry.
7.204 – LHP Dan Dallas
Any lefthanded teenager capable of living in the low-90s (87-92, specifically) with his fastball who can also throw a decent low-70s curve is all right in my book. That’s Dan Dallas. There may not be a ton of projection left in his game, but his present stuff is solid enough to justify a seventh round shot.
8.234 – LHP Ben Sheckler
I won’t pretend to be an expert on Cornerstone University’s first ever MLB draft pick, but everything I’ve come to learn about Ben Sheckler since draft day sounds pretty good. The 6-8, 240 pound lefthander couldn’t be built much more differently than the pitching prospect taken just one round earlier (Dan Dallas), but similar relief upside with an outside shot to keep starting seems like a fair forecast for the pair. Sheckler is an ascending talent who gets major sink on a low-90s fastball (90-94), a pitch he used in tandem with an emerging slider to get ground balls on a whopping 71.15% of all batted balls against him in his debut.
Since I knew nothing of Sheckler as of a few weeks ago when I began writing this thing up, I asked around if there were any decent comps for him. I got three fun ones, but all came with qualifiers. Ben Sheckler reminded people of Brett Anderson (“but not quite that good”), Chad Qualls (“but lefthanded”), and Marc Rzepczynski (“but much bigger”). The Anderson career path seems only obtainable if Sheckler can improve either his curve or circle-change enough to give hitters something slower to think about. Landing on a career like Qualls’s or Rzepczynski’s wouldn’t be a bad outcome at all for an eighth round pick.
9.264 – RHP Jesse Scholtens
On Jesse Scholtens from March 2016…
Jesse Scholtens, a transfer from Arizona, can crank it up to the low-90s with his fastball, a pitch complemented nicely with an average or better breaking ball. There’s clear senior-sign reliever potential with him and perhaps a little bit more if his changeup continues to develop.
Sounds about right for Scholtens, a quality senior-sign that has enough stuff (sinking 88-94 FB, average to above-average cut-slider, usable changeup) to potentially remain in the rotation in pro ball. That puts his ceiling somewhere between future fifth starter and quality middle reliever. Could definitely see the whole relief thing working out for him in the long run. Another nice pitching addition here.
10.294 – 2B Boomer White
Boomer White (302) has been one of the tougher evaluations in this draft class for me going back quite some time. The handful of firsthand reports I’ve gotten on him over the years have been uniformly positive. From raves about his hit tool (plus for some!), above-average raw power, and defense at the hot corner, you would think that White would be an easy player to project as a future above-average regular. Add on a really strong track record of hitting with a dominant senior season (.398/.476/.533 with 33 BB/14 K and 10/14 SB) as the cherry on top, and there really shouldn’t have been anything all that tricky about any of this. Boomer White: future regular. Easy, right?
In the high-stakes world of internet draft guessing, nothing’s easy. I’m not a scout, but my own looks at White in 2016 were not quite what I was hoping to see. I think White will hit, so that’s good. Beyond that, I never saw the kind of power projection that I’d feel comfortable getting up to average at his peak and defense at third that bordered on unplayable in the pros. Again, I’m not a scout but seeing these things up close was discouraging enough I had a hard time forgetting them when it came time to finalize a ranking.
Two comps for White that come to mind that may have some utility for you: Hernan Perez (if you believe he can play a few non-OF spots effectively) and Robbie Grossman (without the switch-hitting). I’m partial to the Grossman comp; I could see White grinding for years in the minors like Grossman before finally getting a shot to play in his late-20s on a bad team willing to give him a shot. No telling if he’ll take the opportunity and run with it like Grossman has so far.
11.324 – OF Tre Carter
I’ve called a lot of eleventh round picks perfect fits for the eleventh round, but Trevyne Carter (262) might really be the one true perfect fit. The eleventh round is when you should be rolling the dice on the boom/bust prospect that may have priced himself out of a single-digit round. That may not exactly be what happened to Carter — his $100,000 bonus technically doesn’t make him an overslot signing — but the same logic applies to him as a boom/bust prospect with some of the most impressive athletic bona fides in this class and all kinds of speed on the bases and in center. Carter’s athletic profile and physical projection make him one of the draft’s most intriguing and overlooked outfield prospects. His pro debut — .298/.411/.383 with 9 BB/10 K in 56 PA — came in a small sample, but was chock full of encouraging signs. The intersection of Carter’s physical gifts and small sample on-field polish suddenly makes him one of the most interesting round eleven prospects to follow.
13.384 – RHP Joe Galindo
With a big fastball up to 98 MPH, above-average slider, and a 6-4, 225 pound frame, Joe Galindo is a college relief prospect straight out of central casting. Toss in stellar strikeout numbers (14.59 K/9) and a boatload of walks (7.45 BB/9) that led to the definition of effectively wild (2.48 ERA) in his junior season. A late-season broken hand at New Mexico State will keep him from debuting in the pros until 2017, but his ready-made late-inning stuff should make him a quick riser through the system if he can curb some of his wild ways.
15.444 – OF Jack Suwinski
Jack Suwinski, like Tre Carter another high school outfielder who got a six-figure signing bonus, can hit. That’s about all I’ve got on him, but it’s enough. Suwinski can hit (and throw and defend enough for a corner). He reminds me a little bit of Josh Stephen, eleventh round pick of the Phillies. The comp works both on the field (both are generally unheralded bat first prep outfield prospects) and with the checkbook (Stephen got $600,000 to sign while Suwinski got $550,000).
16.474 – C Chris Mattison
Chris Mattison hit .384/.447/.708 with 18 BB/39 K and 9/12 SB in his draft year at Southeastern. If he can keep catching in the pros — and the Padres internally believe he can — then he’s a reasonably interesting mid-round follow based on his position and power. I’m a bit scared off by his plate discipline, but it’s the sixteenth round so you can’t have it all.
17.504 – SS Chris Baker
The Padres deserve a ton of credit for their pre-draft evaluation on Chris Baker. They saw a sure-handed shortstop with solid pop and an improving approach at the plate that many others didn’t see. This cool article breaks it down…
“Our scouts had seen him play there plenty of times,” said Conner. “We had seen him in high school and some with the Huskies. That is a big thing in our organization, to have multiple looks at guys so we can see their progression or regression and have a more informed idea of the player.”
The whole article is worth a read, but this part also stood out to me as being particularly important…
“For me, I had one at-bat against UCLA when the pitcher threw me a fastball away, and even though I was thinking away, I still fouled it off,” he said on the moment when things began to turn around for him. “And I thought then that if I had so much time that I didn’t need to rush it. It’s strange, but certain things can just click for you.
Pretty neat that one foul ball can be the start of something much bigger. I’ve heard many similar stories like that — one that comes to mind is about a guy who took a close pitch (a strike, as it turned out) he’d normally have swung at and that became his moment of “Hey, I can do this” — and they never cease to bring me joy. My “nine to five” job allows me to be on the front lines of moments like that everyday, so getting to read about them in the sport I love is a pretty nice way to bridge the gap between my “real life” and whatever this site attempts to do.
Anyway, Chris Baker is a really good get this late in the draft. Any time you can nab a legitimate shortstop capable of hitting .299/.384/.432 with 14/18 SB in 264 AB in his pro debut — better marks across the board save a couple points of batting average than what he did as a junior at Washington — then that’s a win. I commend San Diego for sticking with Baker over the years and think they’ll be paid back with a high-level utility player who has a chance for more if his defense keeps progressing at short.
18.534 – 1B Jaquez Williams
There’s no such thing as a bad signed high school draft pick past round ten. Even when that signed high school draft pick strikes out in 40.8% of his first 98 professional turns at the plate. Jaquez Williams is a big lefthanded power bat with a strong track record catching up to velocity. It’s not the prospect archetype one might typically associate with a $100,000 post-tenth round bonus (i.e., I wouldn’t have targeted him specifically), but, hey, it’s only money, right? And, lest we’ve forgotten already, there’s no such thing as a bad signed high school draft pick past round ten.
19.564 – OF AJ Brown
I know nothing about AJ Brown, star two-sport athlete who will continue to do the two sport thing by playing both baseball with the Padres in the summer and football with Ole Miss in the fall. No word at this time on what job will pay better.
20.594 – RHP Dom DiSabatino
I saw Dominic DiSabatino twice in high school, once in a workout setting and again during game action in Delaware. He was a big human with a monster arm and not a ton of foot speed, so my brain automatically tied him to another oversized prep shortstop I once saw a lot of at Bishop Eustace HS in New Jersey. That would be one Billy Rowell, first round pick and pro flop with Baltimore. Rowell’s struggles don’t have anything to do with DiSabatino, not only because one man’s issues have no place handicapping another’s future but also because DiSabatino will start his pro career not at shortstop but on the mound. Fair enough, though DiSabatino’s sophomore season at Harford was a good deal more impressive with the bat (.411/.519/.738 with 48 BB/36 K and 13/19 SB) than as a pitcher (4.2 IP). I still like what the Padres are doing giving DiSabatino a shot pitching
21.624 – OF Taylor Kohlwey
There was lots of positive buzz on Taylor Kohlwey sent this way throughout the spring. He’s got size (6-3, 200), speed (plus), and, most compelling of all, a legit above-average hit tool. That’s not the type of overall tools package you typically see fall to the twenty-first round. There’s definite fourth outfielder upside with Kohlwey. One contact said that he thought Kohlwey could wind up as a similar player to current Padres center fielder Travis Jankowski. That would be a great potential outcome in the twenty-first round.
22.654 – RHP Evan Miller
Nice work by San Diego realizing that Evan Miller was draft-eligible as a sophomore after his second year at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne. Miller’s two years as a Mastodon generated some fascinating numbers: 9.75 K/9, 6.09 BB/9, and 5.38 ERA in 152.1 IP. Miller also hit 19 batters and threw 37 wild pitches in those 31 career games (29 starts). If you know what to make of him going solely off those numbers, then you are far more attuned to the draft process than I am. Thankfully, we have a bit more than just the numbers to work with. We also know Miller throws hard (up to the mid-90s) with a nasty breaking ball that morphs between a truer hard slider and a variation on the traditional cut-fastball. He’s also been known to drop in a very occasional changeup. Getting locked in to just one key offspeed pitch — maybe the slider, maybe the cutter, maybe a cut-slider hybrid — should help him across the board (command, control, actual quality of stuff, etc.) in pro ball. I’m bullish on getting a pitcher with Miller’s arm talent this late.
23.684 – 2B Nate Easley
Nate Easley hit .403/.485/.655 with 36 BB/37 K and 29/36 SB in his draft year at junior college power and 2016 NJCAA Champion Yavapai College. He followed that up with a strong showing (.261/.385/.340 with 46 BB/59 K and 13/17 SB) in pro ball. Early returns on his conversion from center field to his father’s old position (second base) have been very encouraging. A patient approach, plus speed, and good defense up the middle could take him pretty far.
His dad made over $25 million in the big leagues and he started as a thirtieth round pick. The twenty-third round pick has a nice head start on his old man. My completely made up numbers — 25 million divided by 30 rounds times the difference of 7 rounds — means that Nate will finish his career with just under $31 million in the bank. Don’t argue with me, it’s math.
25.744 – C Luis Anguizola
Wisconsin-Whitewater, Cornerstone, Southeastern, Wisconsin-La Crosse, Chico State, and Baldwin-Wallace are just some of the universities that San Diego found prospects to their liking in the 2016 MLB Draft. That’s pretty badass. They dug particularly deep in finding Luis Anguizola out of Loyola University in New Orleans. Anguizola put up monster numbers (.428/.491/.738 with 26 BB/29 K) on a 22-33 NAIA squad. Context on those numbers matter. Anguizola’s BA was almost 200 points ahead of any other qualifier on the team. No other batter with more than eight at bats hit over .300. His OBP was 100 points better than anybody else. His SLG was almost 300 (!) points better than anybody else. Anguizola had a ridiculous offensive year any way you look at it. Good news about his pro debut: .279/.389/.356 with 17 BB/24 K and a 121 wRC+ may not be .428/.491/.738, but it’s not nothing. The less good news: Anguizola will be 23-years-old entering his first full pro season. That’s not a killer, but it does mean he has to get his rear in gear if he wants to establish himself as a debonair prospect. What’s a debonair prospect, you may be wondering. Well, Google didn’t recognize my original word choice of bonafide (written improperly as one word when it’s really two, so, hey, I’ve learned something new today), and for some reason wants to correct it to debonair. Debonair prospect should be a thing. Anyway, the even less good news: 23 of Anguizola’s 25 pro starts came at first base. He was announced as a catcher on draft day, but that dream seems less likely by the day. As a catcher, Anguizola would be a really REALLY interesting prospect. As a first baseman, he’s merely interesting. Still take that in a twenty-fifth round pick, of course.
27.804 – RHP Chasen Ford
I’ve seen Chasen Ford pitch at Yale. He’s looked good. Fastball ranging from 87 to 92 MPH, quality if still inconsistent breaking ball, good tempo on the mound, reasonably athletic, repeatable mechanics…all positive things. His results in the Ivy League, however…not so positive. Nobody really cares about twenty-seventh round picks as much as I do (or we do, assuming you’re reading this on your own volition), so this isn’t really true…but don’t late-round picks like Ford feel like mini-referendums on the age old scouts vs stats debate. If you only knew about Ford’s scouting report, you’d be on board. Bonus points for making the transition from standout California high schooler to star student-athlete at Yale, too. If you only knew the results of Ford’s time on the mound at Yale (4.65 K/9 and 3.05 BB/9 as a junior), then he’d be squarely in the middle of the UDFA pile. Since the debate isn’t really a debate at all — we all know this, but I’ll say it anyway: it’s not scouts vs stats, but rather scouts AND scouts working in harmony that make a front office tick — I’ll stay on the sidelines by coming down smack dab in the center. Ford’s scouting reports (including what I’ve personally seen) would have been enough for me to put him on my 40-round draft board at first, but his significantly below-average peripherals over the years would have bumped him off by the time I was ready to finalize the preference list. So I get why the Padres took him even if I wouldn’t have done so myself.
28.834 – SS Ethan Skender
I love this pick. Ethan Skender (417) won’t necessarily knock you over with loud tools, but the hoary cliché that I avoid on 99% of these pick reviews — “he’s a ballplayer” — rings true here. Skender can flat hit. That alone should make him interesting. Combine it with sneaky pop for a guy with his build and enough athleticism to stick up the middle (short for now, maybe second in the long run due to an average arm), and you’ve got yourself a keeper. I’m not quite ready to call a twenty-eighth round pick a future regular in the big leagues, but…fine, I’ll call it now. Skender is really good. Starter upside at second with a damn good shot to have a long, fruitful career in a utility role as a fallback.
30.894 – RHP Dalton Erb
Dalton Erb is a big guy (6-8, 250) with underwhelming velocity (but quality fastball movement) who pitched just all right at Chico State (7.68 K/9 and 3.62 BB/9) as a junior. He’s also “allergic to bees though his dad is a beekeeper.” Like rain on your wedding day, I guess.
31.924 – 1B GK Young
18 BB/38 K, 19 BB/50 K, and 23 BB/63 K. Those were GK Young’s K/BB ratios in his three years at Coastal Carolina. Not great. He’s got impressive present power and a strong arm, but the days of hoping he’d return to his catching roots have long since passed. That leaves us with an all-or-nothing first base prospect. Interestingly enough, Young’s junior year BB/K ratio (23/63) was almost identical to his professional debut BB/K ratio (23/63). A Chanticleer can’t change his spots.
33.984 – RHP Mark Zimmerman
Very cool pick here. Mark Zimmerman should be on any short list of most accomplished 2016 amateur baseball players. The two-way star at Baldwin-Wallace was second in the team in at bats and first in innings pitched. He made the most of both his time in the batter’s box (.368/.472/.540 with 30 BB/17 K and 17/17 SB) and on the mound (10.83 K/9 and 1.79 BB/9). Two draft rules I’ll always follow: bet big on athletes and, all else being equal, let the two-way guy pitch. Zimmerman’s athleticism is obvious to all who have seen him play up close — admittedly a very small number of people — so allowing him to concentrate full time on the mound could reap serious rewards. He’s already got a low-90s heater and quality slider, so a career in middle relief feels well within reach. Thirty-third round pick or not, I’m buying.
34.1014 – 3B Denzell Gowdy
I’m not an expert on Denzell Gowdy, but universal praise of his athleticism and work ethic make him a pretty interesting thirty-fourth round pick to track. His stellar draft season at Darton JC (.356/.473/.620 with 35 BB/37 K) certainly doesn’t hurt, either. Gowdy’s defensive versatility — he played second, third, and in the outfield in his debut — make him a worthwhile sleeper utility name to know.
35.1044 – RHP David Bednar
David Bednar is a really good looking arm that has the stuff to keep starting in pro ball. Not every team may be sold on his size or delivery as a starter, but he’s got the arm speed, depth of arsenal, and demeanor to stay in the rotation. I saw him throw at Penn and came away particularly impressed with his fastball (88-94, 96peak) and slider (above-average, flashed plus) combination. I’d love to see what kind of damage focusing in on those two pitches could produce coming in short bursts out of the bullpen. It’s silly to project any thirty-fifth round pick as a future big league player — the odds are decidedly stacked against such a prediction — but, in honor of my favorite stand-up comic, let’s get silly. David Bednar: future big league reliever.
Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017
Jamie Sara (William & Mary), Jared Poche’ (LSU), Hunter Bishop (Arizona State), Grae Kessinger (Mississippi), Collin Sullivan (South Florida), Ariel Burgos Garcia (Keiser), Quinn Hoffman (Harvard), Ryan Rolison (Mississippi), Will Solomon (?), JJ Bleday (Vanderbilt), Chris Burica (Creighton)
Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Kansas City in 2016
123 – Chris DeVito
170 – Logan Gray
183 – Khalil Lee
201 – AJ Puckett
253 – Nicky Lopez
404 – Jace Vines
455 – Dalton Griffin
2.67 – RHP AJ Puckett
Not having a pick until after sixty-six prospects have already been chosen presents a unique challenge for any drafting team. The Royals opted to approach this conundrum by selecting a college performer with a long track record of success and a high probability of reaching his modest yet plenty useful ceiling. Fair enough. AJ Puckett (201) carved up hitters for three straight seasons at Pepperdine as one of the west coast’s most underappreciated collegiate arms. He’s been really good yet never dominant peripherally — 7.74 K/9, 7.52 K/9, and 8.61 K/9 — though his junior year dip in ERA to 1.27 after two seasons of 3.60 and 4.36 ball could obviously qualify as dominant run prevention in most quarters. Still, his good yet never dominant strikeout numbers dovetail nicely into a discussion about his good yet not dominant stuff. Puckett’s biggest strength is his ability to throw three average or better pitches for consistent strikes. His fastball ranges from 88 to 94 MPH (96 peak) with solid sink. His 73-78 MPH curve is an average pitch, but only in the sense that it sometimes flashes much better (above-average to plus) and sometimes has very little bend and gets hammered. Puckett’s changeup (79-85 MPH) isn’t all the way there yet, but shows signs of being an average to above-average pitch with continued use in the pros. With some projection left in his 6-4, 180 pound frame, a best case scenario could be a career not unlike what we’ve seen out of Alex Cobb to date.
3.103 – OF Khalil Lee
If you’re going to go safe with the first pick, then it only makes sense to swing for the fences with the next one. Highly athletic two-way prep star Khalil Lee (170) certainly qualifies as a big cut from the heels that could either result in a majestic home run or the cooling breeze of a major whiff and miss. Of course, that presupposes that boom/bust prospects result in all-or-nothing players; a swing for the fence can just as easily result in a double high off the wall or a sac fly. Prospect evaluation can mean many things to many people, but one thing it ain’t (or shouldn’t be) is an exercise in projecting binary outcomes. Anyway, Lee’s upside is considerable and the arrow on his likelihood of getting there is pointing up after a tremendous pro debut that saw him turn tools to skills quicker than just about anybody outside of the Kansas City front office could have anticipated.
Lee has the physical ability to be a star if he can remain in center feel as expected. He’d still have above-average regular upside in a corner — we know he has more than enough arm for right field — but the thought of him maintaining enough quickness and flexibility as he fills out to stick up the middle is particularly exciting. Offensively, Lee has the bat speed, swing plane, and muscle to hit for real power, average speed to do a little damage on the bases, and the keen understanding of the strike zone one might expect from a legitimate pitching prospect. There’s a lot to like when the overall package is taken into account.
4.133 – RHP Jace Vines
Draft-eligible sophomore Jace Vines (404) looks like a classic sinker/slider (88-92, 94 peak for the former; 83-86 and flashing plus for the latter) reliever to me with an outside shot at sticking in the rotation depending on how his changeup develops over time. I don’t hate it.
5.163 – SS Nicky Lopez
On Nicky Lopez (253) from March 2016…
Creighton’s best pro prospect for 2016 is Nicky Lopez, a slick fielding shortstop with plus speed and serious athleticism. Like the rest of the names at the top his bat might keep him as more utility player than starter. He’s a fine prospect in his own right, so hopefully this doesn’t come across the wrong way…but Lopez benefits greatly from being draft-eligible in 2016 and not 2015. Last year he might have gotten swept away with all the excellent college shortstop prospects getting popped early and often on draft day; this year, he stands out as one of the better options at the position for no other reason than the fact there’s little doubt he’ll stick there as a professional.
From that point on, Lopez grew on me a little bit with every passing day. Guys who hit .306/.417/.444 with twice as many walks (26) as strikeouts (13) in their draft year tend to do that. Beyond the obvious awesome plate discipline indicators, what I liked about Lopez is the steady increase in functional power (.038 ISO in 2014, .089 ISO in 2015, .138 ISO in 2016) and continued strong base running (83.3% career success rate). Those kind of secondary offensive skills and his longstanding quality defense at short — above-average range, plus arm, soft hands — elevate Lopez’s ceiling to a potential regular at short. If that’s too rich for you, then Lopez’s hot start should at least up the odds of him reaching his existing upside as a high-level utility guy.
6.193 – OF Cal Jones
Cal Jones is a classic, old school Royals draft pick. Take a special athlete with legit plus speed and more than enough range for center, and see if you can coach him up into a viable big league hitter. Great find by the Kansas City scouting staff. Now the really hard part comes for the development staff tasked with guiding Jones through the ups and downs of pro ball. I’m oddly optimistic on this one.
7.223 – RHP Travis Eckert
The Royals may have found themselves a late-bloomer in Travis Eckert, a steady yet unspectacular performer in two years at Oregon State who saw his stuff jump up across the board upon entering pro ball. What was once a fairly standard three-pitch command-oriented repertoire has been elevated to a slightly more interesting all-around profile thanks to a faster fastball (more flashes of mid-90s than his old 88-93 heat) and tighter 77-81 MPH breaking ball. Those two pitches combined with his solid 79-85 MPH changeup give him the requisite mix many teams require for a future in the rotation. I wouldn’t have put that that expectation on him six months ago — his immediate post-draft evaluation would have been something between unlikely middle relief help to minor league depth — but sometimes pro ball just agrees with a guy.
8.253 – 1B Chris DeVito
On Chris DeVito (123), the highest ranked player drafted by the Royals in this class, from March 2016…
I’m not yet sure what to make of Chris DeVito as an all-around prospect, but the confidence that he’ll hit as a pro grows by the week. The improvements he has made as a hitter, especially as he’s found a way to retain his big power while significantly decreasing the length of his swing, are real. One friend of mine affectionately refers to him as the “western Zack Collins.” My prospect love for Collins runs far too deep for me to go there, but I still like it. If DeVito can convince pro teams he can catch professionally, there’s no telling how high he can rise. I’m unsure if that’ll be the case – literally unsure: haven’t heard much in either direction about his glove, so I legitimately do not have an updated opinion on the matter – but I look forward to finding out more about his defense in the coming weeks. He’s a potentially great (top five round?) prospect – though I’d caution taking his offensive production with his offensive environments in mind — if he catch, and a good one (round six to ten?) if he’s forced to first base.
Of course, the Royals drafted DeVito, that same friend said after the fact, they already have his right-handed hitting counterpart in Chase Vallot. DeVito played exclusively first base in his pro debut, a sure sign that his number one job as a Royal will be to hit. Whether or not he’ll do so enough to be an everyday option going forward remains to be seen. I remain bullish on the Red Hercules as a plus power bat with patience and enough feel for contact to make a meaningful offensive impact at the highest level, so count me in on DeVito as a future regular.
9.283 – RHP Walker Sheller
Walker Sheller could be a quick-moving middle relief option for Kansas City as a funky strike-throwing fastball (87-93 MPH, 95 peak) and slider (low-80s, average but flashes better) righthander. It’s not the most explosive stuff or the highest ceiling, but it’s the kind of skill set that should play well in short bursts in the pros.
10.313 – LHP Richard Lovelady
It should be a pretty fun race to the big leagues between Walker Sheller and tenth rounder Richard Lovelady, a lefty reliever who can run it up to the mid-90s (sits 88-92ish) with a quality mid- to upper-70s breaking ball and usable upper-70s change. Good college numbers (10.26 K/9 and 4.93 BB/9) and a strong pro debut (10.80 K/9 and 3.24 BB/9) paint a pretty picture of a potential big league reliever.
11.343 – OF Vance Vizcaino
A big redshirt-sophomore season year at Stetson seemed to set Vance Vizcaino up for stardom at the college level, but his 2016 was a step back in just about every offensive area. That dip in production allowed the Royals to wait it out and and snag Vizcaino in the eleventh round. Getting someone closer to the 2015 version of Vizcaino would be a steal, but I can’t help but think that season will look more and more like an aberration the longer his career goes on. It isn’t that Vizcaino is a bad prospect — he isn’t — but he’s the epitome of an outfield tweener. He’s playable in center, sure, but much better in a corner. His speed is impressive, no doubt, but not quite on the level that I’d call it a clear carrying tool. His power is decent, yes, but not good enough to profile as a regular, especially in an outfield corner. Add it all up and the Tennessee transfer could be a useful backup outfielder in time if everything goes right. There’s no shame in profiling as a bench player, but I’d want a little more in a round that has turned into one where most teams target high upside, overslot gambles. That’s not Vizcaino.
12.373 – RHP Jeremy Gwinn
I was no Jeremy Gwinn expert in the spring and I’m no Jeremy Gwinn expert now. What I do know about him, however, I like. He’s got size at 6-5, 200 pounds. He’s got a good fastball at 90-94 MPH (95 peak). He can reach back and use one of three offspeed pitches (SL, CB, CU) in any count. His numbers at Colby CC this past year (11.85 K/9 and 2.39 BB/9 in 79.0 IP) were excellent. There is a lot to like here.
13.403 – 2B Logan Gray
Plate discipline is at or near the top of my list of required skills for any college hitter I’ll champion. It does seem, however, that every year there is a player or two who I can’t help but like in spite of consistently ugly BB/K ratios. One of those guys this year was Logan Gray (170). An optimistic take from April 2016…
All Logan Gray does is hit. There’s no point in me doubting him anymore. I’m sure there are scouts who don’t love every aspect of his swing or his bat speed or the way he circles the bases after hitting yet another home run, but at some point his extended run of hitting, hitting, and hitting some more has to matter. His athleticism and speed should translate to some steals (double-digits upside?) as he climbs the ladder and his power should play.
And a slightly more measured take from June 2016 right before the draft…
Logan Gray’s approach never took the step forward I was hoping to see (his sophomore to junior numbers are eerily similar), but he’s still so tooled up otherwise that he’s more than justified being a long-time FAVORITE. This class is dying for real third base prospects, so a raw yet highly athletic guy like Gray is very much welcomed.
There is so much about Gray’s game to like. He can run, he has power, he’s a great athlete, he’s capable of playing multiple spots…but the elephant in the room has been and figures to continue to be his approach. The downside to his game couldn’t have been made more clear in his 132 plate appearance debut in the Royals organization. Gray struggled to make contact (.187 BA), was unable to get into his plus raw power (.073 ISO), struck out a ton (34.8%), and barely walked at all (4.5 BB%). I’m not hopping off the bandwagon altogether after just 132 lousy plate appearances, but the fact that his struggles were so on the nose with what he’s had issues with in the past is more than a little concerning. Still, players with the kind of natural ability that Gray has shown don’t come around all that often, especially at the low low price of a thirteenth round pick. I had Gray valued at something closer to the fifth round — too early, probably, but defensible in this class when upside is taken into account — so it should go without saying that I love it in round thirteen. Whether or not Gray ever figures things out at the plate and gets past AA won’t make this pick any less clever to me. Process over results forever.
14.433 – RHP David McKay
David McKay joins a big group of relief prospects that could include every pitcher taken by Kansas City past their first overall selection. Competition for innings should be fierce in the early going, so McKay will need to impress as much as possible with his strong fastball (88-93) and breaking ball (once a plus slider, now far more of a curve as he’s adjusted to life post-Tommy John surgery) when called upon. So far, he’s done just that…
8.32 K/9 – 3.05 BB/9 – 44.1 IP – 2.64 ERA
7.96 K/9 – 3.14 BB/9 – 74.2 IP – 3.74 ERA
Top is what McKay did in his pro debut, bottom shows his redshirt-sophomore season at Florida Atlantic. Can’t knock the man for being consistent, that’s for sure. I like this pick a lot.
15.463 – LHP Mike Messier
I know it happened almost three weeks ago, but I still can’t get over Jaromir Jagr passing Mark Messier for second place on the all-time NHL points list. Jagr was old (but awesome) when I had the pleasure of watching him nightly with the Flyers and that was five years ago. This has nothing to do with Mike Messier and I apologize for that. Turning our attention back to baseball, kudos to the Royals for sticking with Messier despite a somewhat rocky junior season (4.75 ERA, highest among the three weekend starters) at Bellarmine. His peripherals remained solid (10.50 K/9 and 2.63 BB/9) and his stuff (88-92 FB) never wavered. Lefthanders with a certain baseline of velocity will always appeal to teams on draft day.
16.493 – OF Nick Heath
The pre-draft take on Nick Heath…
I like rJR OF Nick Heath as a potential high-contact, athletic, plus running center fielder, but the complete lack of power undermines what he does well otherwise. He’s more fun college player than serious pro prospect until he can start driving a few more balls to the gaps. They can’t all be power hitters, but the threat of power is a must in the pro game.
That feels pretty fair to me. Heath does enough well to potentially keep rising and make it as a reserve speed/defense outfielder, but the absence of power keeps his ceiling low. Solid depth piece at this point in the draft.
17.523 – RHP Dillon Drabble
A drabble is a short work of fiction of around one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity, testing the author’s ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in a confined space. Sounds a little bit like Twitter on a slightly larger scale. I’m much too dumb to write fiction, but let’s try to write a drabble about Dillon Drabble.
Dillon Drabble was drafted in the seventeenth round by Kansas City out of Seminole State JC in Oklahoma. He pitched well as a sophomore (10.45 K/9 and 3.19 BB/9) using a solid fastball (88-92) and cut-slider combination to get more than his fair share of swings and misses and a boatload of ground ball outs. He kept it up in his pro debut, notable mostly for a whopping 65.15 GB% on all batted balls in his 60.1 innings pitched. One contact who saw them both pitch in 2016 said he preferred Drabble to Kansas City’s similarly skilled fourth round pick, Jace Vines.
102 words! So close! I didn’t even get to talk about the comic strip as planned. Can’t win ’em all.
18.553 – LHP Vance Tatum
Two players named Vance in one draft class has to be a record, right? Vance Tatum is a fine find this late in the draft. The big lefty from Mississippi State has always done the job when called upon (7.73 K/9 and 3.45 BB/9 in 96.2 career college IP) thanks to enough velocity (85-91 FB), a true plus changeup, and a usable 76-81 MPH breaking ball. An imperfect comp for him that may have some merit, especially if he picks up a little velocity: Luis Avilan.
19.583 – RHP Tyler Fallwell
No matter what Fangraphs says, it’s Tyler Fallwell and not Falwell. The real Fallwell had a final draft year at Cochise (10.96 K/9 and 3.62 BB/9) and throws three pitches (88-92 MPH fastball, up-and-down slider, decent changeup) for strikes.
20.613 – RHP Anthony Bender
With a 9.94 K/9, 2.76 BB/9, and 1.65 ERA, Anthony Bender made his abbreviated sophomore year (16.1 IP) at Santa Rosa count. Armed with a fastball that could flirt with triple-digits in time (up to 97 already), Bender is exactly what you want in a mid-round quick-moving potential reliever.
21.643 – OF Dalton Griffin
I like a lot of elements in Dalton Griffin’s (455) game. He’s a solid runner with a strong arm, enough range to handle all three outfield spots (not at the same time though, that would be nuts), and a mature approach at the plate. Or, if that one sentence synopsis of Griffin doesn’t do it for you, how about just celebrating the fact that literally any high school prospect signed this late is worth getting at least a little excited about.
22.673 – RHP Cody Nesbit
Sometimes, just knowing a guy’s numbers can be enough. Cody Nesbit dominated this past spring at San Jacinto JC to the tune of a 15.60 K/9 and 2.00 BB/9. Knowing nothing beyond that, I’d still say that’s enough for me.
The Royals gave Nesbit $100,000 to sign. For those new at this, that’s the maximum amount allowed to a draft pick past the tenth round without dipping into the bonus pool allotment. The fact that Nesbit, a dominant junior college arm, got one hundred grand is wholly unremarkable. The fact that Nesbit is the is the twelfth Royal in a row to get a real signing bonus — ten of whom got six-figure bonuses — is pretty damn great. I love that Kansas City threw around that extra cash to get the players they wanted. I also love that the players got some real money upfront to help supplement their meager minor league salaries. I know Major League Baseball isn’t a charity, but if I was in charge of the draft room I’d push hard to give literally every player taken past round ten the full $100,000. There’s no penalty to doing so with the only real cost being a few extra bucks missing from the owner’s bottom line. I know it’s easy to say since it’s not my money, but the amount of good will around the game and potential for positive PR could pay for itself in time. A relatively small investment — the Royals signed 27 guys past round ten, so that would be $2.7 million if they followed my plan to the letter — that opens up the talent pool and could engender good feelings that resonate for years to come? Seems like something you could sell an open-minded owner on to me.
23.703 – OF Kort Peterson
UCLA has a deserved reputation of being a pitching factory in recent years. Everybody knows the big names like Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, but the Bruins have put big league pitchers like Charles Brewer, Erik Goeddel, Matt Grace, Rob Rasmussen, and Adam Plutko in the big leagues since 2009. James Kaprielian will join those guys shortly — he’s far more Cole/Bauer than any of those others — with Griffin Canning, Jake Bird, Justin Hooper, and Kyle Molnar all waiting in the wings. But the Bruins deserve equal credit for recruiting, developing, and sending off a slew of interesting high-contact, well-rounded offensive players to the pro ranks of late.
Maybe the group of Eric Filia, Kevin Kramer, and Tyler Heineman doesn’t have quite the same star power of that Cole/Bauer/Kaprielian trio, but all three are professional hitters who could carve out long pro careers if things fall the right way for them. I’d put Kort Peterson in that same class. Peterson doesn’t have any clear standout tools, but he’s a smart hitter with enough speed, range, and power to make a little noise in pro ball. His biggest selling point is his athleticism, so there’s more growth potential here than his good but not great college track record might suggest. I think my own track record (such as it is) of being bearish on college players who haven’t put up great numbers as amateurs (like Peterson) should indicate that I like the former UCLA outfielder’s overall skill set more than most.
24.733 – C Mike McCann
A torn thumb ligament cut short Mike McCann’s breakout junior season at Seattle, but the Royals made him a twenty-fourth round pick anyway. I heartily approve. McCann’s bat is ahead of his glove for me, but I still think he has the smarts if not the physical gifts to remain a catcher for the foreseeable future. A case could certainly be made that you’d rather have the smart catcher who can think along with your young pitching in the middle rounds than a bigger armed, better all-around defensive player lacking in the baseball IQ department. I’d take the latter guy early — big league tools are big league tools, after all — but, knowing what we know about the realistic success rate of players drafted at this point, getting a guy who will help with the overall development of his teammates makes perfect sense to me. Make no mistake, McCann is no slouch as a prospect in his own right. In a class loaded with college catching, his half-season (.319/.491/.445 with 37 BB/19 K) stands up to almost anybody’s. Great value here.
25.763 – 1B Robby Rinn
Robby Rinn is an older prospect (turned 24 this past October) confined to first base, so he’ll have to hurry up and start hitting if he wants to keep getting steady playing time in pro ball. His pro debut was fine (.280/.341/.386, 109 wRC+), but it was all in the AZL. That’s not Rinn’s fault — you can only play where you’re assigned — but he has to hope now that the Royals move him a lot quicker than that starting next spring. I believe in him as a hitter, but acknowledge that the odds are against him for a whole bunch of reasons.
26.793 – 3B John Brontsema
I don’t really understand this one. John Brontsema was already in my 2017 MLB Draft notes as a potential senior-sign — he has a solid glove and can play multiple spots — because I figured his unexciting junior season (.289/.364/.389 with 16 BB/44 K) would cause him to go undrafted. The Royals saw differently. Brontsema has rewarded that faith so far with a .337/.386/.396 (13 BB/33 K) debut.
27.823 – LHP Rex Hill
Rex Hill fell a little bit further than a three-pitch lefthander with good size (6-3, 200) probably should have. Perhaps it has something to do with Hill’s upper-80s fastball not being what pro teams want. I’d take it when combined with two average or better offspeed pitches (77-81 change, upper-70s breaking ball) and the chance he’ll gain a tick or two of velocity in a more consistent relief role. Worth a shot.
28.853 – C Yordany Salva
Yordany Salva hit .276/.339/.429 with 15 BB/33 K and 12/14 SB in his sophomore season at Broward CC. That’s all I’ve got. Typically those numbers wouldn’t be enough to be on my draft list, but the Royals obviously like him. We’ll see. Early reports on his defense have been positive, so at least there’s that to build on.
1/17 EDIT: As Shaun Newkirk of Royals Review points out, Salva has already been released by the Royals. It was fun while it lasted.
29.883 – RHP Grant Gavin
From 10.29 K/9 and 3.53 BB/9 (2.64 ERA) in 30.2 IP at Central Missouri to 8.57 K/9 and 0.91 BB/9 (2.01 ERA) in 49.1 IP in his pro debut: not a bad spring and summer for Grant Gavin. With a fastball up to 94 MPH, emerging offspeed stuff (CB and CU), and plenty of athleticism, Gavin could wind up one of this draft’s sneakier quick-moving relief prospects.
30.913 – RHP Geoff Bramblett
An established workhorse pitcher from the SEC with solid stuff across the board — 87-93 fastball, good low-70s breaking ball, improving sinking changeup — and plus athleticism still on the board tor the Royals in the thirtieth round? This is a pick you run to the phone to make. Nice work here.
31.943 – RHP Malcolm Van Buren
There’s literally nothing not to like about Kansas City taking a shot on Malcolm Van Buren in the thirty-first round. Athleticism, velocity (low-90s, up to 93), intriguing assortment of offspeed stuff (CB, CU, SL), and a 6-4, 185 pound frame with plenty of growth potential. The only issue here is his recent Tommy John surgery, but teams knew about the heading into the draft. If anything, strictly from a draft value perspective from the Royals point of view, Van Buren’s injury can be considered a positive. A healthy Van Buren goes twenty rounds sooner. As if I didn’t like this pick enough, the selection of Van Buren gives me an excuse to link to the classic clip you see below. When (fine, if) I sit down and try to determine my favorite picks across baseball from this draft, it’ll be hard to leave this one off.
34.1033 – RHP Nathan Webb
Very cool piece from a story on Nathan Webb, a pitcher I pretty much know nothing else about…
Safe to say he is the only member of the draft class who already has been presented with a World Series ring from the team.
That’s right, Webb, a right-handed pitcher, is one of four members of his high school team who works on the Royals’ grounds crew. The crew received rings.
“More than a replica,” said Lee’s Summit North baseball coach Mike Westacott. “They were really nice.”
How great is that? Good for the Royals.
35.1063 – C MJ Sanchez
When I start compiling notes for these draft reviews, I do so by collecting any and all relevant links that can add to the discussion about a given player. For reasons not particularly clear to me now, I found this link and decided it was worth saving. I can only guess that it had something to do with correctly guessing that the Jets would trade up to take Mark Sanchez. From there I linked Mark Sanchez to MJ Sanchez since MJ’s given name is also Mark. This is what passes for analysis in the thirty-fifth round. For what it’s worth, Sanchez hit well (.323/.384/.455 with 13 BB/15 K) in his redshirt-junior season at California Baptist. Have to figure that experience catching Tyson Miller, the highest drafted player in Lancers history, doesn’t hurt, either. It certainly helped Sanchez get multiple looks from scouts when he might have otherwise been given just a passing glance. I love it when a big-time prospect helps draw in scouts and gives exposure to talented teammates. I’m convinced there are way more good players out there than there are scouts on the road capable of seeing everybody. If you’re good they’ll find you, but getting a little serendipitous help along the way makes things a lot easier.
36.1093 – RHP Alex Massey
Alex Massey going all the way back to 2012 (!) at Tulane…
2012: 8.06 K/9 – 2.45 BB/9 – 51.1 IP
2014: 9.92 K/9 – 4.13 BB/9 – 32.2 IP
2015: 7.47 K/9 – 4.70 BB/9 – 88.1 IP
2016: 7.89 K/9 – 3.11 BB/9 – 75.0 IP
Four pretty solid seasons, all in all. Massey did it with a good sinking fastball (88-92 as a starter, but can run it up to 94-95 in shorter outings) and an above-average slider. That’s more than enough to warrant inclusion in the great big future middle relief pile the Royals have assembled through this draft.
37.1123 – RHP Justin Camp
Justin Camp had a weird college career at Auburn. He was basically the same guy in 2013, 2014, and 2016, but something much more in 2015. What do you do with that? I guess if you’re the Royals you take it in the thirty-seventh round and hope for the best. Camp has good stuff — 90-93 FB, low-70s CU, low-80s breaking ball — with decent command. Tough to see him being much more than an organizational arm, but he’s a bit more talented than your typical bottom of the draft selection.
39.1183 – C Chase Livingston
Chase Livingston was drafted by a MLB baseball team — the defending champs no less! — and I was not, so he’s clearly got plenty going for him and doesn’t need my approval in any way whatsoever. That’s why I don’t feel bad in pointing out that he might have the worst body of work of any 2016 MLB Draft pick. Livingston hit .202/.273/.267 with 25 BB/86 K in 337 AB at Rhode Island. His big senior year saw him put up a career-best .309 SLG as he hit .216 with a .275 OBP (11 BB/39 K). Naturally, he turned into a much better hitter (or had a nice run of fortune on balls in play in a small sample) in pro ball as he hit .273/.375/.273 (8 BB/11 K) in 66 PA split between two levels of rookie ball. With college numbers like his, the only way I can begin to rationalize this pick is to assume Livingston is the world’s greatest defensive catcher. It’s basically Nichols’ Law of Catcher Defense come to life.
40.1213 – RHP Taylor Kaczmarek
Some teams end with pointless nepotism picks, others pick players they have developed lasting long-term relationships with — the Royals originally drafted Taylor Kaczmarek out of South Mountain CC in 2012 — battling their way back from beating acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Kaczmarek is a feel-good story to be sure, but he’s not some total charity case selection: the reliever from San Diego has been up to 90 MPH with his fastball in the past.
Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017
Luke Bandy (Dallas Baptist), Kam Misner (Missouri), Joey Fregosi (?)