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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – Oakland Athletics

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Oakland in 2016

12 – LHP AJ Puk
36 – C Sean Murphy
63 – RHP Daulton Jefferies
122 – RHP Logan Shore
159 – RHP Brandon Bailey
190 – RHP Mitchell Jordan
215 – OF Tyler Ramirez
222 – RHP Skylar Szynski
229 – 3B JaVon Shelby
283 – LHP Dalton Sawyer
304 – OF Kyle Nowlin
346 – OF Luke Persico
393 – 2B Nate Mondou
499 – OF Cole Gruber

Complete List of 2016 Oakland Athletics Draftees

1.6 – LHP AJ Puk

I vaguely remember writing a little bit about AJ Puk (12) somewhere along the line. Let’s check.

Ah, here’s something way back from June 2013…

LHP AJ Puk (Washington HS, Iowa): 85-90 FB, 91-92 peak; uses two-seam a lot; good 72-76 CB; shows 79-81 CU, pitch has improved some; hides ball well; emulates Sean Marshall; 6-6, 220 pounds

So young! And then again about a year ago from October 2015…

Extension, deception, and power would be three words that come immediately to mind when describing Puk. He’s every bit of 6-7, 225 with a delivery that hides the ball damn well. His power comes both with his left arm (92-96, 98 peak) and at the plate (he’d quickly be among the better hitting pitchers in the game), so it’s no big shock that some guy on the internet (that’s me) sees some similarities between him and the prospect version of Madison Bumgarner.

I’ve stressed it plenty since then, but couldn’t hurt to do it again here: prospect version of Madison Bumgarner. Prospect version. Bumgarner the prospect turning Bumgarner the big league ace was an absolute best-case scenario outcome. Could it happen for Puk? It’s not an impossibility, no. Is it likely? Also no. Let’s move forward to February 2016…

My non-scout view on Puk hasn’t changed much since he’s debuted as a Gator: he’s an excellent prospect who has always left me wanting after seeing him pitch up close. I wasn’t up close this past weekend, but I did check out his start against Florida Gulf Coast via the magic of the internet. Again, for all of Puk’s strengths he’s still not the kind of college prospect that gives off that 1-1 vibe when watching him. Even when he was cruising — 11 pitch first inning, 19 total pitches through two (15 strikes), and a 1-2-3 swinging strikeout to end the second that went slider, fastball, change — it was still on a very fastball-heavy approach with little evident feel for his offspeed stuff. His slider picked up from there and he mixed in a few nice changeups, but neither offering looked like a potential big league out-pitch.

In the third inning his defense let him down — literally and figuratively, as he made one of the two errors in the inning — but what really hurt him was his command falling apart. These are all players learning on the job so I don’t want to sound too negative, but he failed to locate an 0-2 pitch and that was what really led to his undoing. On the plus side, his velocity was good for a first start (90-94, 96 peak), his delivery looks better, the aforementioned handful of nice changeups were encouraging, and he responded really well in the fourth inning after losing his way in the third. I still struggle with his underdeveloped offspeed stuff, inconsistent command, and puzzling lack of athleticism (where did it go from HS?), but 6-7, 225 pound lefthanders who can hit 96 (98 at times last year) are worth being patient with.

That was early in the season, but it sounds more or less like the Puk that we currently know and love. Another overview on Puk from April 2016…

The Rays take advantage of our draft rules to land arguably this draft’s top college pitching prospect. Even coming off an aborted start due to a balky back, AJ Puk is currently trending up as he rides the roller coaster that has taken him from underrated (this time last year) to overrated (much of the offseason) to potentially a tad underrated once again. He probably never should have been pushed so heavily as a potential 1-1 guy — in the mix, sure, but not as the favorite/co-favorite — but his value settling even just a few picks after feels about right. It sounds a bit superficial because maybe it is, but 1-1 guys get picked apart in a way that even potential top five candidates do not. The focus has been on Puk’s inconsistent slider, underwhelming change, and spotty command. That’s what he can’t do. What he does well — pitch off an explosive mid-90s fastball, flash a dominant mid-80s slider, and use his 6-7, 225 pound frame to every advantage possible — he does really darn well. Needless to say he’d be a steal at thirteen.

Is a steal at thirteen also a steal at six? With so little separation between prospects at the top of this class, I buy it. In fact, I think Puk’s placement on my final pre-draft ranking (12th) created that first giant tier of “elite” prospects, at least by the standards of this class. The dozen at the top included Groome, Pint, Moniak, Lewis, Perez, Collins, Senzel, Ray, Lowe, Jones, Rutherford, and Puk. Most were rumored as potential 1-1 considerations at one point or another, and all would have been justifiable picks by the Phillies, in my view. The drop began right after Puk with the second tier of prospects that included Craig, Kieboom, Kirilloff, Erceg, Anderson, and Garrett. So, does that make Puk a steal at six? Sure!

Next stop takes us to the early days of May 2016 when it was time to really hone in on Puk and offer some possible comps and career paths for the big lefty…

I’ve long been in the “like but not love” camp when it comes to Puk, partly because of my belief there were superior talents ahead of him in this class and partly because of the handful of red flags that dot his dossier. The three biggest knocks on Puk coming into the season were, in some order, 1) command, 2) inconsistent quality of offspeed offerings, and 3) good but not great athleticism. It says a lot about what he does well that he’s risen as a prospect in my mind despite not really answering any of the questions we had for him coming into the season. All of this has held up so far…

Extension, deception, and power would be three words that come immediately to mind when describing Puk. He’s every bit of 6-7, 225 with a delivery that hides the ball damn well. His power comes both with his left arm (92-96, 98 peak) and at the plate (he’d quickly be among the better hitting pitchers in the game), so it’s no big shock that some guy on the internet (that’s me) sees some similarities between him and the prospect version of Madison Bumgarner.

I’ll be quick to point out again that it says “prospect version of Madison Bumgarner” without speaking to what the San Francisco ace grew into as a finished product in the big leagues. Bumgarner is a kind of special player who just kept adding on and getting better as he progressed up the chain. That’s not something that you can predict for any other prospect, though you can’t really rule it out either. You don’t know either way, is the point. Putting Bumgarner aside for now, I think there are two recent-ish draft lefthanders that can help create a basis for what to expect out of AJ Puk in the early stages of his pro career. In terms of a realistic prospect upside, Puk reminds me a great deal of recently promoted big league pitcher Sean Manaea.

Their deliveries are hardly identical – Puk is more over the top while Manaea slings it from more of an angle, plus Puk has a more pronounced step-back with his right foot at the onset and a longer stride, both aspects of his delivery that I personally like as it gives him better balance throughout – but they aren’t so different that you’d point to mechanics as a reason for tossing the comparison aside. They have similar stuff starting with fastballs close in velocity and movement (Puk has been 90-94 this year, up to 97), inconsistent yet promising low- to mid-80s sliders that flash above-average to plus (82-86 and more frequently showing above-average this year for Puk), and changeups still in need of development that clearly would be classified as distant third pitches (Puk’s has been 82-88 so far). Both have missed a lot of bats while also having their ups and downs in the control department with Puk being better at the former while Manaea maintained a slight edge at the latter. Both are also very well-proportioned, physical lefthanders with intimidating size with which they know how to use to their advantage.

A cautionary comparison for Puk might be current Mariners minor leaguer James Paxton. Paxton and Puk are closer mechanically – more similar with the height of their leg kick and overall arm action, though Paxton is more deliberate across the board — than Manaea and Puk, but the big difference between the former SEC lefthander and the current SEC lefthander is the breaking ball. Paxton’s bread and butter is a big overhand curve, a pitch that remains unhittable to this day when he can command it. Puk’s slider has its moments and it’s fair to expect it to develop into a true big league out-pitch (I do), but it’s not quite on that level yet. Paxton’s career has stalled for many of the same reasons some weren’t particularly high on Puk coming into the season: up and down fastball velocity partly attributable to a series of nagging injuries (also a problem of Manaea’s at times), an underdeveloped changeup, and consistently inconsistent command. I think Puk is ahead of where Paxton was at similar points in their development and prefer his ceiling to what we’ve seen out of Paxton to date, but the realistic floor comp remains in play.

One additional notable (or not) similarity between Puk, Manaea, Paxton, and Sean Newcomb, a fourth player often thrown into the mix as a potential Puk point of reference (it’s not bad, but Newcomb’s control issues are greater than anything Puk has dealt with), comes via each player’s respective hometown. We’ve got Cedar Rapids (IA), Valparaiso (IN), Ladner (BC), and Brockton (MA). That’s two raised in the Midwest, one in Canada, and one in New England. When you start to piece everything together, the similar career trajectories for each young pitcher (so far) begin to make some sense. All come from cold weather locales, all are large men with long limbs (thus making coordinating said limbs more of a challenge), and all are lefthanders, a fact that may or may not matter to you depending on your view of whether or not lefties really do develop later than their righthanded counterparts.

Put me down for a realistic Sean Manaea type of upside, a James Paxton floor, and the crazy pipe dream where literally everything works out developmentally ceiling of Madison Bumgarner. Do those potential career paths add up to a 1-1 draft pick? I’m not sure I have a good answer for that yet.

There’s more to judging a pitcher than K/9 and BB/9, but look at how similar Manaea (7.71 and 2.30) and Paxton (7.88 and 2.63) were in the respective age-24 seasons. That barely has anything to do with what we’re talking about, but I still think it’s cool. As for Puk, I’m sticking with those there names (plus a fourth to come) as possible career arcs for him to follow. He could come out and establish himself as a big league starter right away like Manaea seems to have done. He could have a few up-and-down seasons before settling in as a rotation fixture like Paxton. Or he could hit that 1% outcome (or whatever number you want to give it, this isn’t scientific), have some things click for him in the pros, and go full Bumgarner on the league. Or he could follow the path of this fourth guy we touched on later in May 2016…

I’m cheating and tacking Puk back on at the end here even after he got his own post last week. Like many draft-obsessed individuals, I watched his most recent start against South Carolina with great interest. I’ve seen Puk a few times in person and tons of times on the tube, but it wasn’t until Saturday night that the comparison between him and Andrew Miller really hit me. I saw about a dozen Miller starts in person back in his Tar Heel days (in a very different time in my life) and watching Puk throw brings back all kinds of memories, good and bad. The frustrating thing about this comp is that it doesn’t really tell us much. Maybe we can use it as a baseline floor for what Puk could become – though Miller’s dominance out of the pen is a tough expectation to put on anybody as a realistic worst case scenario – but pointing out the similarities between the two (size, length, extension, delivery, mound demeanor, fastball, slider, underdeveloped change…even similar facially minus Miller’s draft year mustache) hardly means that Puk is destined to the same failed starter fate. I mean, sure, maybe it does, but there’s so much more that goes into being a successful big league starter than what gets put down on a scouting card. I love comps, but they are meant to serve as a starting point to the conversation, not to be the parting shot. Every player is unique and whatever extra reasons are out there for Miller not making it in the rotation should not be held against Puk. Maybe that’s obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to say it again. I do think that Puk, barring injury, has a pretty clear big league skill set in some capacity (maybe not -0.15 FIP out of the bullpen good, but still good) even if he doesn’t reach his ultimate ceiling. In that way he is similar to Miller, so at least there’s that to fall back on. The odds that you get nothing out of Puk, again barring injury, are slim to none. For the risk-averse out there, that’s a comforting thought.

I’m 100% sure that nobody copied that thought from me, but the Puk/Miller comps started popping up left and right in the last few weeks heading into the draft in June. It was a weird coincidence (truly); that comp seemed to come together for a lot of the internet almost exactly at the same time. For good reason, too: Puk and Miller share a lot of similarities, as I attempted to outline above. There are certainly worse names to be compared to than Bumgarner, Miller, Manaea, and Paxton. Speaking of which, let’s see what Oakland scouting director Eric Kubota thinks

AF: So looking at this group of pitchers, is there anyone you might compare Puk to?

EK: For Puk, as a starting pitcher, I would say James Paxton, although physically he may be more Andrew Miller-ish. But his stuff I think is similar to Paxton.

Would you look at that? Turns out this Eric Kubota character is a pretty smart guy. I have a hunch he’s got a front office future if he’s interested.

1.37 – RHP Daulton Jefferies

If you follow the above link, you’ll see one of the best draft traditions the internet has to offer. Bill Moriarity of Athletics Farm has talked with A’s scouting director Eric Kubota about Oakland’s most recent draft for years now. His interview can also be found on Athletics Nation, my preferred landing spot due to the lively comment section that follows the piece. It’s a really well done interview (as always) and it gets the highest possible recommendation from me. Even if you’re not an A’s fan, you should check it out. If you did, you’d already know that Kupota compared Daulton Jefferies (63) to Mike Leake. That comparison was floating around pre-draft (via Perfect Game), as were comps to Walker Buehler (D1 Baseball) and Sonny Gray (PG again). Depending on how you feel about each guy, that could be a potential spectrum of outcomes for the young righthander out of Cal. In an odd coincidence, I actually gave Jefferies to Oakland in one of my weird mocks that wasn’t really a mock that everybody was confused by and/or hated…

A high performing college player who defies conventional scouting wisdom going to Oakland? That’ll work. Jefferies is really, really good.

Clearly, I’m a fan of Jefferies’s work. Before the season even began, I wrote this about him…

To have Jefferies, maybe my favorite draft-eligible college pitcher to watch, this low says way more about the quality at the top of this year’s class then his long-term pro ability. Jefferies brings three potential above-average to plus pitches to the mound on any given night. I like the D1 Baseball comparison to Walker Buehler, last year’s 24th overall pick. Getting Jefferies in a similar spot this year would be something to be excited about.

And finally from April 2016…

Jefferies is a rock-solid future big league starting pitcher. I love Daulton Jefferies. An overly enthusiastic but well-meaning friend comped Jefferies to Chris Archer after seeing him this past summer. That’s…rich. It’s not entirely crazy, though. Velocity-wise, at his best, Jefferies can sit 90-94 and touch 97. He’s been more frequently in the 88-92 band this spring (94 peak). He’s also focused far more on his low- to mid-80s slider than his mid- to upper-70s curve. I thought both had the potential to be above-average breaking balls at the big league level, but I can’t blame him for going all-in on his potentially devastating slider. Then there’s the compact, athletic delivery and plus fastball command and above-average mid-80s change-up that flashes plus and…well, you can see why he’d get such a lofty comp. Lack of size or not, Jefferies has the kind of stuff that could make him a number two starter if everything goes his way developmentally. That’s big time. High ceiling + high floor = premium pitching prospect. I think Jefferies draft floor is where Walker Buehler, a player that D1 Baseball comped to him earlier this year, landed last year. That would be pick 24 in the first round for those of you who haven’t committed Walker Buehler’s draft position to memory yet. A case could be made (and it kind of has above, right?) that slipping any further than that would be ridiculous value for his new pro team. I think he’s worth considering in the top ten depending on how the rest of the board shakes out.

I wimped out on my final ranking of Jefferies because I was spooked by the combination of his slight build (I know, I know…), velocity loss, and reported shoulder soreness, so consider all the praise above valid even in the face of what could look to be a dumb ranking in time. If healthy, Jefferies is a big league starting pitcher. Done deal in my mind. The only question then becomes how high up the rotation he can rise. Can he be a two? I don’t see why not. Three potential plus pitches and standout control seem to help support that case. I agree with those who see some of the prospect version of Mike Leake in Jefferies right now, but I think the finished product will wind up a better all-around pitcher than the $85 million man. If that’s enough to be a two for you, then he’s a future two.

2.47 – RHP Logan Shore

Living in Philadelphia, I happen to know more than a few Phillies fans who were hoping to grab AJ Puk and Logan Shore (122) with their first two picks. I think most fans were fine landing Mickey Moniak and Kevin Gowdy instead, but there has to be some lingering jealousy that Oakland got to live the Puk/Shore dream from a few spots lower on the draft board. Some words on the “other” Florida ace from May 2016…

Logan Shore has made similar progress over the last few seasons: 6.37 K/9 to 6.75 K/9 to 9.05 K/9. He’s always had solid fastball velocity and a devastating changeup. This year he’s found a few more ticks with the heater (more so in how he maintains it rather than a peak velocity jump), gained a little more consistency with his breaking ball, and arguably improved that already potent circle-change into something even scarier to opposing hitters. He’s gotten stronger, smarter, and better. I mentally wrote him off as one of the draft’s most overrated arms coming into the spring – thankfully I never wrote that on the site, but I’m man enough to admit I’ve had those thoughts on more than one occasion – but now I see the error in my ways. When a young arm has big-time stuff and command beyond his years, be patient with his development and don’t rely on one metric to make an ultimate judgment on his future. Shore is good and quite possibly still getting better.

Love the changeup, question the rest. That’s where I eventually landed on Shore before the draft. He commands his fastball as well as anybody, but was too often upper-80s (87-91, 93 peak) rather than low-90s (89-93, 95 peak) this past season. I think I’ve come around to valuing fastball command and movement (he’s got that, too) so much (and rightfully so), that velocity gets taken for granted a little bit. Shore’s fastball is still at least an average pitch if not slightly better at the lower velocity, but every little bit less heat you throw with pushes the degree you can get away with mistakes down a notch. I’ll put on my own personal “not a scout” scout hat and question Shore’s breaking ball outright. I know some like it just fine, but I’ve never seen it as anything much more than flashing average on his best days. It’s a fifth starter or so profile as is, but with significant room to improve if he can get back to that low-90s range more consistently and/or he figures out how to tighten up that slider. Assigning starter number designations isn’t a perfect science (and I say that knowing I just threw a “number two starter” ceiling on Daulton Jefferies), but I think we can all understand the gap in value between a fifth starter type (Shore now) and a potential third starter (if he can fill in the gaps in his game).

For what it’s worth, Eric Kubota said that Shore “reminds [him] of Jake Peavy a little bit.” Young, San Diego Peavy? No way. Mid- to late-career White Sox/Red Sox/Giants Peavy? I can see it.

3.83 – C Sean Murphy

If Logan Shore might have gone a little high for my personal tastes, then Oakland made up for it and then some by getting a borderline first round talent all the way down in the third round. Sean Murphy (36) is really good. His defense alone should carry him to the upper-minors (if not the big leagues) and his offense has a chance to make him an all-around above-average impact player. I’ll throw out Jonathan Lucroy as a best-case scenario and Max Pentecost — a former first round pick, it should be noted — as a comparable prospect contemporary. The love of Murphy isn’t new, of course. Here we are from March 2016 (with an embedded quote from October 2015 thrown in for good measure)…

I think I was pretty optimistic about Sean Murphy in the pre-season…

Watching Murphy do his thing behind the plate is worth the price of admission alone. We’re talking “Queen Bee” level arm strength, ample lateral quicks on balls in the dirt, and dependable hands with an ever-improving ability to frame borderline pitches. He’s second in the class behind Jake Rogers defensively — not just as a catcher, but arguably at any position — but with enough bat (unlike Rogers) to project as a potential above-average all-around regular in time. I expect the battle for top college catching prospect to be closely contested all year with Thaiss, Okey, and Murphy all taking turns atop team-specific draft boards all spring long.

…but there’s a chance that even the praise and his lofty ranking (22nd among college prospects, top three college catcher) undersold how good a player he is. Murphy has a chance to be a game-changing talent defensively as well as a significant contributor offensively. If you ever sat down and counted up all of the players that various experts considered first rounders you’d wind up with a first round approaching triple-digit selections; for that reason, I hesitate to call Murphy a future first round pick. I think it’s much easier to identify him instead as a first round talent, a minor distinction that speaks more about his ability as a player than an attempt to explain the vagaries of how teams draft. I have no idea if Murphy will be a first round pick in June. I don’t even know if he’ll wind up as one of the top thirty or so (“first round”) players on my final big board before the draft. What I do know is that he’s talented enough to warrant a first round pick, so fans of any team picking him then should be pleased. I also know that college players I like in that late-first to mid-second round range have had a tendency of slipping some on draft day, what with there being so many talented players that sorting through the top 100 can produce lists with all kinds of different orders. Brandon Lowe (ranked him 24/drafted in the third), Scott Kingery (25/second), David Thompson (35/fourth), and Harrison Bader (42/third) are all examples of this kind of player from last year. Those were all serious value picks in my mind, and I can see Murphy’s (late-first to third round) selection being written about in much the same way in a few months.

I’ll say this about more than a few guys before June 9th, but Sean Murphy will become one of the draft’s best values the moment he falls out of the first round. I think he’s going to be a really good big league starting catcher for a long time.

There you go. A’s scouting director Eric Kubota called Murphy a “Mike Matheny type.” Matheny had a career .239/.293/.344 line, good for a wRC+ of 62. That’s…not good. My memory and the numbers at least back up the oft-held assertion that his defense was pretty darn great. Maybe that’s where Kubota was coming from. The one red flag with Murphy’s game is how much power he’ll be able to produce as a professional hitter. I think there’s enough here for double-digit homers and plenty of gappers, but the possibility that his power plays lighter than expected is out there. The fact that he hit for more power than ever as a junior recovering from a broken hamate is a good (if not confusing) point in his favor. A slightly less offensive Lucroy feels like a reasonable ceiling with a solid floor of useful backup (and future manager?) a la Matheny.

4.112 – RHP Skylar Szynski

I like Skylar Szynski (222) just fine. Good fastball (88-94, 95 peak), potential above-average 76-80 breaking ball, and a hard 84-86 changeup, all boosted some thanks to advanced command from a teenager. It’s a nice package. A future in the pen could be in the cards unless Szynski can introduce something a little softer into his repertoire, but time is very much on his side there. I also liked Eric Kubota’s honest answer when asked about a comp for Szynski: “I honestly didn’t have a great one, but one of my scouts said Collin McHugh.” Honesty AND trusting a comp a scout passed on? Nice.

5.142 – 3B JaVon Shelby

A year ago I was banging the JaVon Shelby (229) as the next Ian Happ drum. A mere 67 strikeouts in 198 junior year at bats later and I think that call might have been off just a bit. It was never a direct one-to-one comp, but it’s still not a good look today. My bad. Delusional Happ optimism aside, I remain a fan of Shelby’s game. Here was an April 2016 take on him…

JaVon Shelby is a good prospect who might suffer some from the expectation that he’d finish the year as a great prospect. His physical gifts – above-average to plus speed, ample bat speed, impressive arm strength, athleticism that has allowed him to play third, the outfield, and improve every game at second – and scorching junior year start were great, but now he’s settled more into a good range. Good is still good, of course…it just isn’t great. Maybe the heightened expectations and failure to live up to them says more about us – me, specifically – than him. I still like Shelby quite a bit, but the red flag that is his approach remains. He checks every other box, so I’d still give him a chance sooner rather than later on draft day to see if the pro staff could work with him to figure things out.

Figuring out a way to improve Shelby’s approach at the plate and minimize a hole or two in his swing will probably be the difference between him being a regular and potential star at third base or him trying to make it as a power over hit, free swinging super-sub.

6.172 – RHP Brandon Bailey

Daulton Jefferies to Logan Shore to Brandon Bailey (159) to Mitchell Jordan to Seth Martinez…the A’s have a type when it comes to college starting pitchers. The heavy emphasis on command and offspeed-heavy repertoires makes the AJ Puk look even funnier (though not in a bad way) as this draft drags on. Time will tell if Oakland’s overarching approach will pay off, but I know for sure that I like the singular selection of Bailey here a lot. The righthander from Gonzaga has everything you’d want in a pitching prospect. He has a solid fastball (88-94), above-average 78-81 changeup, a mid-70s curve that flashes above-average, and a usable low- to mid-80s slider. He commands all of those pitches beautifully and sets up opposing hitters with what looks like relative ease. The whole package reads like a potential first round pick, but two factors have held Bailey’s prospect stock back. When I said he had everything you’d want in a pitching prospect that also included a few red flags you don’t: an injury history (he’s a Tommy John survivor) and an underwhelming physical profile (listed at 5-10, 175). First round command + fifth round stuff + tenth round red flags = a rough average of around a fifth round selection. That’s about where I ranked him (159th is a late-fifth rounder) and about where the A’s took him in the early-sixth round. I think he’s a future big league starter and potentially a damn good one, height be damned.

7.202 – OF Tyler Ramirez

Sometimes it kind of sort of maybe feels like I know a little bit about what I’m talking about. On Tyler Ramirez (215) from March 2016…

Ramirez doesn’t have a carrying tool that makes him an obvious future big league player, but he does a lot of things well (power, speed, glove) and leverages an ultra-patient approach to put himself in consistently positive hitter’s counts. His profile is a little bit similar to his teammate Zac Gallen’s in that both are relatively high-floor prospects without the kind of massive ceilings one would expect in a first day pick. Gallen is the better prospect, but I think many of the national guys are sleeping on Ramirez. I’ve been guilty of overrating Tar Heels hitters in the past, but Ramirez looks like the real deal. Former Carolina outfielder Tim Fedroff, a seventh round pick in 2008, seems like a reasonable draft day expectation in terms of round selected. I’d happily snap up a guy like Ramirez in that range.

Boom! Seventh round! Lucky guess aside, I think the point that the seventh round would be a great time to take a chance on a bat like Ramirez’s is the more pertinent one. A few weeks before the draft I actually compared Ramirez’s production as a junior to that of Bryan Reynolds from Vanderbilt. At that point they were really close — Ramirez’s power started to sag down the stretch — and they finished with relatively similar final years. It probably means nothing — even a numbers guy like me knows there’s more to this whole player projection thing than that — but it still creates a fun comparison to track going forward. An actual comparison I’ve gotten for Ramirez since signing is Randy Winn. Checked my archives and it turns out that I’ve used that once before on Ryan Boldt. Since I was curious, it turns out that Ramirez finished 215th on my draft rankings and Boldt came in 234th. Stands to reason that both should have long, successful careers with sustained runs of above-average play as everyday guys before eventually being traded for an over-the-hill mentally checked out manager.

8.232 – LHP Will Gilbert

Every system needs a few potential matchup lefthanders. That’s my attempt at an explanation for the A’s going with Will Gilbert in the eighth round. That and him being a money-saving senior-sign, of course. Gilbert has always gotten results despite ordinary stuff (87-90 FB, average or better 80-84 SL) and size (5-11, 170 pounds). Not much of an upside play, but can’t argue with #results.

9.262 – LHP Dalton Sawyer

On Dalton Sawyer (283) from April 2016…

Sawyer seems destined for the bullpen, a spot where his fastball (up to 94), mid-70s breaker, and effectively wild ways could get him to the big leagues sooner rather than later.

Six months later and that still sounds about right to me. Wish I had something more insightful to add, but think past-me nailed it. Or, you know, not at all. This was Eric Kubota on Sawyer after the draft…

Well, he’s another tall lefty. We’ve seen him up to 93-94 mph. He definitely had a good year as a starter this year and he’s going to go out as a starter. He’s a left-handed pitcher who’s physically imposing with velocity and a good changeup, so we’ll see where that takes him. One of my scouts said Sawyer reminded him of Jim Kaat. So if any of your readers remember Jim Kaat…

So maybe he will remain a starter. I suppose this Kubota guy might know better than an internet nobody like me, though I at least have the benefit of not having to worry about being strategic about setting player expectations. And, whoa, a Jim Kaat reference! That’s pretty cool. We’ll see if Sawyer has a Gold Glove or sixteen in his future, too.

10.292 – RHP Mitchell Jordan

On Mitchell Jordan (190) from March 2016…

I can’t get enough of Mitchell Jordan. His command, control, pitchability, and willingness to throw any pitch in any count make him a lot of fun to watch at this level. There will be understandable questions about how his slightly below-average fastball velocity (upper-80s, though it can sit low-90s and hit 93 on his best days) will translate to the pro game, but put me down as a believer that his command of the pitch coupled with the unpredictability of his pitch selection (happy to go CB, SL, or CU in plus or minus counts) will make him a viable long-term big league starting pitcher with continued development. He reminds me some of Kyle Hendricks, an eighth round pick out of Dartmouth in 2011. Feedback on Jordan has returned a wide range of potential draft outcomes with some saying as high as the third and others insisting his ceiling as fifth starter/swingman puts him closer to the bottom of the single-digit rounds than the top. Hendricks lasting until the eighth round has turned out to be a great value, so we’ll see if teams learned their lesson and pop Jordan sooner in 2016.

Jordan didn’t quite match Hendricks’s eighth round outcome, but he didn’t quite match his draft year excellence, either. Fair enough, I figure. Jordan was still very good from both a peripheral and stuff standpoint, so that fifth starter/swingman ceiling remains. Anecdotally, Jordan feels like the kind of pitching prospect that Oakland seems to get the most out of. I’m far more bullish on Jordan seeing success in the big leagues than I probably should be for a tenth round pick.

11.322 – SS Eli White

On Eli White from August 2015…

A fourth college shortstop, draft-eligible sophomore Eli White, understandably couldn’t agree to terms as a 37th round pick and will head back to Clemson to try again this year. I’d be surprised if his stock didn’t jump thirty or so rounds before next June rolls around.

Round 37 to round 11 isn’t quite a thirty round jump, but it’s close. White’s athleticism, speed, range at short, and flashes of offensive promise give him a shot to play regularly at short. All those positives ticked off in the previous sentence are exactly what teams look for in utility guys, too. I think White is a big league player based on that alone. Just for fun, let’s go back again in the archives to December 2015…

White is a good athlete who can really run with tons of bat speed and a high probability of sticking at shortstop. I compared him to Daniel Pinero last year and think he could have a similar impact in 2016.

They came by it differently, but White and Pinero wound up having very similar offensive debuts if you’re willing to lean on wRC+ as the best all-encompassing offensive stat out there. Check it out…

.261/.371/.317 – 16.0 K% and 13.7 BB% – 114 wRC+ – 175 PA
.279/.348/.361 – 24.3 K% and 9.7 BB% – 115 wRC+ – 267 PA

Top is Pinero (ninth round pick), bottom is White (eleventh round pick). There’s really no point to this other than I thought it was cool. I guess we could stretch a little and say that both guys are maybe regulars on the left side of the infield, but certainly toolsy enough to have long careers as backups otherwise.

12.352 – OF Luke Persico

Despite piling up well over 700 PA during his three years at UCLA, Luke Persico (346) is almost closer to a high school position player prospect than a college guy. That’s both a good and bad thing, though I tend to lean to the positive with the former Bruin. Despite a rough debut with Vermont, I have little personal doubt that Persico will hit as a pro. His kind of polish at the plate is what you want when drafting a major college guy this early in the draft. The big offensive question for Persico has long been and will continue to be whether or not he can ever find a way to consistently tap into his huge raw power during game situations. The gap between his brand of raw power and what he’s shown to date is one more often seen in teenager hitters who haven’t yet faced consistent big-time competition. Persico is at least an average runner with an arm to match, so it’ll be interesting to see if Oakland decides to play around with him defensively in the coming years. He played exclusively in the outfield in his debut, but his experience in the infield (1B, 2B, 3B) make him an intriguing potential Swiss Army knife defender if the A’s deem him playable at those spots. That kind of defensive intrigue is something we see more often with high school prospects than established three-year college starters. You see where I’m getting the college prospect with high school questions narrative from now? My hunch here is that Oakland looks at Persico, one of the younger players in this year’s college class, as a hitter with enough upside to be a potential regular in the outfield — or at least a high-level reserve — that they’ll opt to keep him focused on hitting as his primary developmental task rather than try to force him back in the dirt.

13.382 – 2B Nate Mondou

On Nate Mondou (393) in January 2016…

I wanted to mention the Daniel Murphy comparison I got for JR 2B/OF Nate Mondou that I heard recently, but I couldn’t remember the major media outlet that had it first. I could have missed it elsewhere, but I think mentioning it again would be one of those instances where I plagiarize myself. I hit thirty a few months back and my memory has gone up in flames since. In addition to Murphy, I’ve also heard Todd Walker as a reference point for Mondou’s bat. Lefty bats who love to attack early in the count, provide average or better power, and can hang in at the keystone spot are always going to be valued highly by pro clubs. Or at least they should.

I first tossed that Daniel Murphy comp out for Mondou in October of last year. Safe to say that a lot has changed out Murphy’s perceived value in the last twelve months or so. Timing really is everything. Mondou’s 2016 season saw an uptick in plate discipline — few more walks, few less whiffs — at the expense of some power. It’ll be interesting if we see more of the same as a professional. So far, that’s exactly what he’s done at Vermont.

14.412 – RHP Nolan Blackwood

On Nolan Blackwood from January 2016…

JR RHP Nolan Blackwood intrigues the heck out of me as a big (6-6) lanky (175 pounds) submariner with a legit fastball (88-91) and sustained success keeping runs off the board. His peripherals aren’t anything to write home about (4.11 K/9 last year), but the shiny ERA (0.52) is fun. A few more whiffs and continued success doing whatever he’s doing to get guys out (I’d love to see the batted ball data on him as I suspect he’s getting his fair share of ground ball outs and weak contact) would help him move way up the rankings.

That last line issued a challenge to Blackwood (in a pretend universe where he read it, of course) and he rose to the occasion. Blackwood bumped that K/9 from 4.11 as a sophomore to 7.54 as a junior. He gave up a few more runs (3.76 ERA), but that’s forgivable as that shiny 2015 ERA looked unsustainable from the outside looking in. Even better, that high GB% suspicion seemed to be on the money as Blackwood’s batted ball breakdown at MLB Farm had him at a 62.7 GB% in his debut. On top of all that, his velocity bumped just a bit to a more consistent 88-92 with an increasing number of 93’s sprinkled in as the year went on. I think we’ve got a future big league reliever here. If that’s the case, Blackwood would attempt to be only the third positive value player to come out of Memphis since 1981. He’ll have a long way to go to top Memphis’s best ever alum, Dan Uggla. I had no idea that he went to Memphis. Learned something new today.

15.442 – LHP Ty Damron

I have Ty Damron as a potential back of the rotation arm lefthander with the chance for three average or better pitches in his 88-93 fastball, upper-70s breaking ball, and a workable change. Ultimately, it looks like underwhelming command and below-average control could push him to the pen. That might be a blessing in disguise assuming his stuff plays up in shorter bursts the way it does for most pitchers. Now we’ve got a power lefty coming out of the bullpen all of a sudden. Cool. Maybe not as cool as the guy I now always think of when I read his name, but cool nonetheless.

16.472 – OF Anthony Churlin

I have absolutely nothing on Anthony Churlin. He plays baseball. That’s all I know.

17.502 – RHP Seth Martinez

Seth Martinez is the quintessential undersized athletic college workhorse with limited pro projection. There’s a chance he can keep doing his four-pitch mix thing with above-average overall command in a professional rotation, but I think he might be best served shifting to relief. Martinez as a starter is the kind of up-and-down arm you have stashed in AAA as the unofficial seventh or eighth member of a rotation. Martinez doing the sinker/slider thing with the occasional change added in for good measure out of the bullpen could be a long-term bullpen fixture.

18.532 – C Skyler Weber

Skyler Weber is one of the many highly athletic, average or better running catchers that I’ve profiled from this draft class so far. Starting to sense a trend here. I don’t see him hitting enough to be a big leaguer, but I’m never opposed to betting on an athletic backstop.

19.562 – RHP Sam Gilbert

Sam Gilbert, a righthanded reliever coming off of two lackluster seasons with Kansas, is a prime example of the limits of this site. I do my best to cover as much as I can but, alas, I’m only one man (with a wife, a full-time job, a part-time job, etc.), so liberties — I won’t call them shortcuts, but you can if you want — have to be made at times. Seeing a 6-0, 185 pound college reliever from Kansas with a 5.84 K/9 (2015) and 6.12 K/9 (2016) is pretty close to an insta-skip. Well, maybe he has elite control, I think. Nah: 4.86 BB/9 (2015) and 4.81 BB/9 (2016). Fine, his peripherals are ugly but might he have magic run prevention skills? He might…not: 4.62 ERA (2015) and 6.10 ERA (2016). So what in the world was Oakland thinking here? Sam Gilbert is an outstanding athlete with a two-way background who is still relatively new to pitching. His fastball climbed from upper-80s to low-90s to mid-90s as his time in Lawrence rolled on. Mediocre numbers or not, you take a chance on a highly athletic fresh-armed mid-90s throwing righthander in the nineteenth round every single time. Sometimes I catch guys like this, sometimes I don’t.

(Gilbert didn’t pitch this year for Oakland and I couldn’t pin down an exact reason why. If anybody knows anything, I’m all ears.)

21.622 – OF Kyle Nowlin

Wrote about Kyle Nowlin (304) last June after the Phillies selected him in the thirtieth round in 2015…

The second player selected from the Ohio Valley after Bosheers, Nowlin is an honest five-tool outfielder with real power (.690 SLG), speed (18/24 SB), athleticism, and, keeping up with one of the new scouting director’s first rules, an average or better hit tool. Asking around after the draft resulted in a surprise admission from a contact who said he preferred the all-around offensive game of the 31st round pick Nowlin over that of Kyle Martin, the fourth round pick. He said that if he came back for a senior season he would have the chance to jump up twenty or more rounds and potentially get into the single-digit round range as a high-priority 2016 senior-sign.

Like the player taken a round after him (stay tuned for that!), I thought Nowlin had sneaky eighth/ninth/tenth round upside as a money-saving senior-sign. Baseball did not agree with me. During Nowlin’s senior season, I wrote this: “I’m fascinated to see how Nowlin’s high BB% and K% will translate to pro ball; maybe it’s a cop-out, but I think he’s either going to be a really good player or a total washout with little middle ground.” With the benefit of a little more time and reflection, I think there’s definitely more of an opportunity for some middle-ground outcomes for Nowlin. I think a “really good player” could mean a bench bat/platoon option, but, if you disagree with that verbiage, then there’s a potential middle-ground outcome that is neither “really good” nor a “total washout.” It might take some hanging around as a supposed AAAA hitter to reach those heights, so there’s another potential middle-ground outcome that makes sense to me. A perfect world outcome for Nowlin that became all the more fitting after we found out what team had drafted him: righthanded Matt Stairs.

22.652 – C Roger Gonzalez

On Roger Gonzalez from February 2016…

I’m intrigued by Roger Gonzalez, a plus defender behind the plate and a potential contributor at it. The Miami transfer had a fine junior season and now rates as one of this class’s better senior-signs at the position.

As one might infer from the pre-draft take above, I thought Gonzalez could creep into the back of the top ten round mix as a money-saving senior-sign. He obviously didn’t, so getting him in the twenty-second round is a big win for Oakland. I’m a little surprised that he didn’t crack my top 500 heading into the draft. I think Gonzalez has a realistic big league backup backstop floor. He’s a legit defender, switch-hitter, and a good athlete with a history of taking good at bats and doing damage to pitches he can handle. Not sure what more you could want in a mid-round college catching prospect.

24.712 – OF Rob Bennie

Rob Bennie is an interesting power/speed guy with a good bit less in the way of plate discipline (22 BB/41 K as a redshirt-junior at East Stroudsburg) than one might expect from an Oakland draftee. The former Virginia Cavalier has a brother, Joe, who was drafted by Oakland in 2013. Joe has slowly but surely climbed the ladder, but has hit (or not hit, in a manner of speaking) a road block in his late-season promotion to AA. Rob should be so fortunate; hit your way to AA and then anything can happen.

25.742 – OF Jeramiah McCray

Listed as both Jeramiah McCray and Jeremiah McCray, but I’m pretty sure the former spelling is correct. That’s all I’ve got. Where’s Eric Kubota with a comp when you need him?

26.772 – 1B Charley Gould

Charley Gould can flat swing it. He was a far more interesting prospect as a catcher back in the day, but still should be a solid organizational masher at first base in the short-term. Whether or not he plays long enough to see that destiny through, however, remains to be seen. Turns out Gould is listed as being on the “voluntarily retired list” on his MiLB player page. Two minutes of searching couldn’t find anything out beyond that. If this is it for him in pro ball, we wish him luck on all future professional endeavors.

27.802 – OF Cole Gruber

I was 17-years-old when Moneyball came out. To say that Michael Lewis’s book shaped my baseball worldview would be an understatement. Still, I can admit that drawing a clear line between Oakland’s drafting in 2016 to those Moneyball days is a major stretch. But even with all the changes the last thirteen years have brought, the A’s seem to land a few personal favorite prospects of mine every draft. I can’t help that it makes me think we’re more on the same page than we probably are. Maybe I just want to believe. Anyway, Cole Gruber (499) joins Roger Gonzalez and Josh Vidales (below) as big-time favorites that Oakland managed to snag past round twenty. Here’s what was said about Gruber in March 2016…

Cole Gruber joins Taylor in what may be the country’s best pair of senior-sign hitters in one lineup. Gruber has always hit and has the bat speed to give confidence that he’ll keep doing so going forward, but his true calling card is his combination of speed and range in CF. When the first word out of one’s mouth after watching a prospect patrol center is “easy,” then you know you’ve got a keeper. Count me in as a big fan of his game, both aesthetically in the here and now and how it will translate to the pros.

And then in May 2016…

Cole Gruber will enter pro ball with two clear big league tools with his speed (43/50 SB this year) and CF range. I think he’s a solid mid- to late-round target.

Gruber finished his college career swiping 99 of 116 bases, good for an 85% success rate. He then went out and stole 28 of 30 bases (93%) in just 35 games in his debut. The guy knows how to steal a base. Between that skill and his range in the outfield, I think he can carve out a big league role down the line. And his name always makes me think of this.

28.832 – 2B Josh Vidales

Josh Vidales and this site go way back. Let’s take a quick tour through the years starting in December 2014…

I wish JR 2B Josh Vidales had even a little bit of power (.327 and .306 slugging the past two seasons) because his approach (88 BB/51 K career), defense (plus) and speed (26/34 SB career, not a burner but picks his spots really well) all rate high enough to be an entertaining prospect to follow professionally. The fact that he’s currently seen as a second base or bust (though, again, he’s fantastic there) defensive prospect works against him, though I wonder — I honestly don’t know — if that’s something he can change minds about this spring. If he could be trusted on the left side of the infield, then we’re talking a strong potential utility future, even without the power. For all his flaws, I’d still want him to be a member of my organization.

Then again in January 2016…

I’m all about SR 2B Josh Vidales. I can’t help it. He upped his SLG to .387 last year. That’s not great, but it’s an improvement. It also gave him his best ISO (.087) in his career. He kept getting on base with a .397 consistent to what he’s done in the past (now up to 123 BB/74 K career), swiped a few more bags (32/43 SB career), and played his usual brand of excellent defense at second. It’s not unusual to see spikes in production during a player’s senior season — far too often draft outlets overrate players on this basis, something I’ve been guilty of in the past — so hopefully Vidales enjoys the same fate this spring. If that’s the case, I think his consistent year-to-year output should get him drafted; this indirectly yet directly contradicts my previous point about overrating seniors, but this would be the case of a steady player having a better than usual senior year and not a guy having a breakout senior season out of nowhere. Consider the bigger than expected senior season prediction my attempt at wish-casting that others begin to see Vidales as I do. He’s an excellent college player and an honest pro prospect.

And finally in March 2016…

Vidales has been my guy for a while: he’s small (5-8, 160), he can defend the heck out of second base, and he’s an on-base machine. It’s a scary profile to project to pro ball, but I’d still take him late in the draft as an org second baseman and let the chips fall where they may.

I should have known that a team like Oakland would love Vidales as a player as I do. And, damn, did he go out and reward them (and me) for that love: how does .345/.437/.507 with 20 BB/16 K and 5/6 SB in 175 PA sound? Yes, he was a 22-year-old (he actually turned 23 in August) dominating teenagers in the AZL. But he still dominated! That has to count for something. Even if this is the peak of his pro career, I’ll take it. If he keeps hitting, well, that’s even better. There are few active players I root harder for than Vidales.

29.862 – RHP Matt Milburn

All I had on Matt Milburn before the draft were his consistently stellar numbers piled up over the years at Wofford. The guy got better every season before putting it all together for an outstanding (in terms of peripherals) senior season (9.40 K/9 and 2.65 BB/9 in 98.2 IP) with the Terriers. He then followed that up with a 10.82 K/9 and 0.49 BB/9 in 36.2 innings as a pro. The short-season competition wasn’t quite what it could have been for the 23-year-old, but standout peripherals are standout peripherals. I’ve made a point so far to mention that it’s his peripherals that are impressive…now why could that be? For whatever reason — and I honestly don’t know — his run prevention stats have always been pedestrian. His ERA as a senior with those great peripherals? 4.47. His awesome pro debut? 4.66 ERA. Weird, right?

30.892 – RHP Nick Highberger

Nick Highberger was always one of those “better stuff than results” guys while at Creighton. He has enough of the sinker/slider thing going to be an effective reliever, but he’s never been able to miss enough bats to have you feel really good about making that kind of actual prediction. I’m still on the fence because he still doesn’t miss those bats, but, man, can Highberger’s stuff kill some worms. His GB% could be so high that it wouldn’t surprise me if he became a bit of a cult favorite on certain corners of the internet who are into that sort of thing.

31.922 – RHP Sam Sheehan

Sam Sheehan (14.26 K/9, 5.35 BB/9, 1.48 ERA, 30.3 IP) was the closer this past spring for NAIA power Westmont. Solid, Still, I find the odds that the Oakland brass truly believes that two of the forty best amateur players available to them in the country came from Westmont to be quite long, but I’m just a guy on the internet. What do I know?

32.952 – C Colin Theroux

(Major copy/paste foul here. I have no idea how it happened. Only the second half of poor Colin Theroux’s draft profile was salvaged. Sorry, buddy. We join the second half already in progress…)

in his only year of D-1 ball (minus that one AB he had for Nevada as a freshman) will work out for the A’s. Maybe. In fairness, Collin Theroux did hit .273/.430/.500 with 39 BB/43 K in 202 PA at San Joaquin Delta in 2015 (with a successful run with the Madison Mallards in the Northwoods League to boot), so maybe there’s some hope after all. It would be a Disney-worthy story if he made it, I know that much.

33.982 – C Jarrett Costa

Jarrett Costa hit .333/.441/.492 with 27 BB/28 K in 183 AB for NAIA power Westmont this past spring. Solid. Still, I find the odds that the Oakland brass truly believes that two of the forty best amateur players available to them in the country came from Westmont to be quite long, but I’m just a guy on the internet. What do I know?

34.1012 – SS Casey Thomas

I’m sure Casey Thomas is a nice guy, but I’m not feeling this one. ISO in 2015: .046. ISO in 2016: .072. ISO in his pro debut: .017. Next!

40.1192 – 2B Brett Bittiger

Son of an A’s scout. Been around enough to have once been a forty-first (!) round pick of Oakland back in 2011. Hit .204/.252/.253 in his career at Division II Pace. I’m no fan of nepotism picks, but Pace is my sister’s alma mater so we’ll let it slide here.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Shane Martinez (Arizona), Matthew Fraizer (Arizona), Brady Schanuel (Mississippi), Michael Farley (San Jose State), Danny Rafferty (Bucknell), Christian Young (Niagara County CC), Brigham Hill (Texas A&M)

2016 MLB Draft First Round Analysis

Digging through the archives to give a little context on some of the first round picks so far. This will update as long as I stay awake tonight…

1.1 – Philadelphia Phillies | La Costa Canyon HS OF Mickey Moniak (3rd on BDR BIG 500)

December 2015…

The extra bit of youth isn’t what gives Moniak the edge for me, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. What separates Moniak at this present moment is his ability to hit the ball hard everywhere. Sometimes simplistic analysis works. The manner in which Moniak sprays line drives and deep flies to all fields resembles something a ten-year veteran who flirts with batting titles season after season does during BP. Trading off a little bit of Rutherford’s power for Moniak’s hit tool and approach (both in his mindfulness as a hitter and his plate discipline) are worth it for me. Of course, check back with me in a few months…I had Meadows ahead of Frazier for a long time before giving in to the latter’s arm, power, and approach (as a whole-fields power hitter, not necessarily as an OBP machine). History may yet repeat itself, but I’ll take Moniak for now.

May 2016…

Actually, the Moniak and Nimmo parallels aren’t too far off besides the level of competition discrepancy. Check Baseball America’s pre-draft notes on Nimmo…

He’s an above-average runner when he’s healthy, which helps him on the basepaths and in center field, and there’s more to his game than just speed. Nimmo has a pretty, efficient lefthanded swing. He’s short to the ball and has outstanding barrel awareness, consistently squaring balls up and shooting line drives to all fields. He has a good eye at the plate and should be an above-average hitter. As he gets stronger, he could add loft to his swing to turn doubles into home runs.

I still believe in Nimmo as being a useful big league player, but perhaps the scouting profile similarities between the two ought to serve as a little bit of a warning for those already all-in on Moniak. Same could be said for the Starling/Rutherford tie-in, though that’s significantly less worrisome because of the latter being far more of a ballplayer than the former ever was; Starling’s issues weren’t simply because he was older for his class but rather because he was older and underdeveloped from a skills standpoint. Making up for lost time while learning the finer points of the game is hard work, but Rutherford’s actual on-field abilities should make the curve much shorter than Starling’s.

(Incidentally, I learned that we’re taken what a steep learning curve should be and flipped it to mean the opposite of the original intent. We talk about steep learning curves as if they note a difficult initial learning process, but a steep increase translates to a quick increment of skill. Wikipedia notes that the error is likely because of how we’ve taken to interpret the idea as climbing a hill. Climbing a steep hill is more difficult than attempting the same on a less steep version, so we assume a steep learning curve means learning something new will be tricky. Maybe this is all common knowledge, but I’ve been using steep learning curve wrong my whole life. If you’re like me, then you can at least walk away from this post learning something new…even if you think all my baseball takes are nonsense.)

Or maybe all of these forced comps are no more than false flags since, you know, comparing distinct individuals to other distinct individuals may not always tell us what we think (hope?) it does. I do, however, think there’s something to identifying players with similar physical traits, skills, and tools, and analyzing their respective career paths, at least on a very general, very preliminary level. I think we can all (mostly) agree that certain player types seem to succeed while others don’t, so there’s value in using historical data to see what has worked and what hasn’t. Besides Trenton Clark, Moniak has also been compared to Christian Yelich (source: everybody) and Steve Finley (Baseball America); I see a little Adam Eaton in his game, but Moniak is far more physical (bigger, too) at the same stage. One other recent draft name that reminded me of Moniak was this guy

He tied Hinch’s USA Baseball record by playing on his sixth national team, and scouts love his grinder approach and in-game savvy. What’s more, Almora has outstanding tools. The Miami signee, in one scout’s words, “has no issues. He’s got above-average tools everywhere, and they all play. He has tools and he uses them.” He doesn’t turn in blazing times when he runs in showcases (generally he’s a 6.8-second runner in the 60), but his game instincts help him steal bases and cover plenty of ground in center field. Scouts consider his defense major league-ready right now, with plus grades for his accurate throwing arm. With natural hitting rhythm and plenty of bat speed, [he] is a line-drive machine with a loose swing who stays inside the ball, relishes velocity and handles spin. He should have 20-homer power down the line, sufficient if he slows down and can’t play center, and a definite bonus if (as expected) he stays in the middle garden. He plays the game with both ease and energy and may have some projection left in his athletic 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame. The Miami signee is considered one of the draft’s safer picks and could sneak into the first 10 selections.

No comp is perfect, but as far as draft prospect parallels go, that’s not half-bad. If I’m alone on this so be it, but I believe thinking of Moniak as a lefthanded version of Albert Almora, the sixth overall pick in 2012, kind of works. Because we’re already up to five comps, what’s one more? A contact I trust dropped Ender Inciarte as a possible career path and production point of comparison for Moniak, assuming the power never really comes around. I see Moniak as a hitter just a tweak or three away from tapping into some of his average raw power more consistently, so anything in that 45/50 scouting grade band (12-18 HR) feels within reach for him at maturity. For all the comps thrown Moniak’s way this spring, it’s really hard to top the Yelich one. I think that’s one of the better comps of any prospect in recent years. I really like Yelich. I really like Moniak.

1.2 – Cincinnati Reds | Tennessee 3B Nick Senzel (7th)

April 2016…

Nick Senzel is really good. I’ve compared him to Anthony Rendon in the past – the exact phrasing from my notes is “Rendon lite?” – and I think he’ll have a good long career as an above-average big league player. He also reminds me a little bit of this guy…

.338/.452/.561 – 31 BB/14 K – 16/17 SB – 148 AB
.393/.487/.592 – 45 BB/38 K – 13/14 SB – 262 AB

Top is Senzel, bottom is Kyle Seager. I’ve used the Seager comp a few (too many) times over the years, most recently on Max Schrock last season. Speaking of Schrock, how did he fall as far as he did last year? That one still blows my mind. Anyway, in an attempt to move away from the tired Seager comp, another name popped up…

.338/.452/.561 – 31 BB/14 K – 16/17 SB – 148 AB
.351/.479/.530 – 46 BB/26 K – 11/14 SB – 185 AB

Top is still Senzel. Mystery bottom guy was written up like so by Baseball America after his pro debut…

“He has a short, compact swing and hits the ball to all fields, and he handles breaking pitches well because of strong balance. Though he’s a physical 6-foot-1 and has good strength, [REDACTED] has a line-drive swing that doesn’t produce natural loft, leading some to project him to have below-average power. He earns high marks for his defense, with good feet and hands to go with an above-average arm at third base. He’s also versatile enough to have played second base, shortstop and left field for Team USA. He’s a good athlete and a solid-average runner.”

I would have linked his pre-draft report from BA, but they have the absolute worst log-in page on the entire internet. Anyway, the passage above was typed up from the 2009 Prospect Handbook. We’re talking about a guy who once played infield in the SEC. He had a similar draft year statistically. And he’s really broken out in his late-20s. Any guesses? When I’ve done mystery comps like this in the past I wouldn’t reveal the player. Then I’d search my site about a different player years later, come across the mystery comp post, and have no idea myself who I was talking about. So, yeah, it’s Logan Forsythe. My future self thanks my present self. I like Senzel to hit the big leagues running a bit more easily than Forsythe (i.e., I don’t think Senzel will enter his age-28 season with an OPS+ of 85), so maybe that would bump Senzel up over Forsythe as a guy with a higher floor. A couple of peak years like Forsythe’s seems like a reasonable ceiling projection. That’s a damn fine player. Supports the original claim: Nick Senzel is really good.

1.3 – Atlanta Braves | Shenendehowa HS RHP Ian Anderson (17th)

Early April 2016…

A pre-season FAVORITE who has only gone on to bigger and better things in the interim, Ian Anderson can make a case for being the top prep righthander in this class. He’s one of the handful of young arms with the potential for three plus pitches — 88-94 fastball (95 peak), 77-80 breaking ball, and a 80-85 change — but what truly separates him from the pack is his ten years in the big league veteran command. Fantasy owners rightfully scared off by high school pitchers — so far from the big leagues with so much time to get hurt! — not named Groome and Pint would be wise to include Anderson in that big three on draft day. One scout friend of mine called Anderson a “more explosive Aaron Nola.” A little bit of upside (or a lot), a little bit of certainty (very little, but still more than most HS arms)…where do I sign up?

Late April 2016…

Ian Anderson, a dark-horse 1-1 candidate, has everything you’d want to see in a high school righthander with worlds of projection left. He also helps my pet theory that there’s an easy shortcut to amateur scouting: just follow the recruits. If a player is committed to Vanderbilt, like Ian Anderson is, move him up ___ spots on your board. Let the college teams do the hard work for you! Vanderbilt, Florida, UCLA, LSU…if a guy has a commitment to a school on that level, then you should want to draft him. I loved Anderson as much as anybody as he began to put his name on the national map, but once he had that Vandy commit in his back pocket he started looking better than ever.

1.4 – Colorado Rockies | Saint Thomas Aquinas HS RHP Riley Pint (2nd)

April 2016…

A fantasy pick on a guy like Riley Pint is truly going all-in on upside. There have been a lot of challengers to his throne this spring, but Pint’s raw stuff is still the most impressive of any high school arm in this class. He’s the only prep prospect that I’m confident in putting future plus grades on three different pitches. Jay Groome, Ian Anderson, Alex Speas, Austin Bergner, and Forrest Whitley all could get there, but Pint’s already convinced me. He’s the singular most talented pitching prospect in the country. So why is listed as a mid-first round pick and not a slam dunk 1-1 here? If you’re reading this on your own volition — and I certainly hope there’s no crazed lunatic out there forcing random people to visit my site; that’s my job! — then you already know. Pint’s delivery has many of the smarter public talent evaluators concerned about how he’ll hold up pitching every fifth day. I’m less concerned about that because I’m fairly stubborn in my belief that there’s no such thing as “bad mechanics” since the mere act of throwing a baseball is bad and unnatural by definition. I’m just looking for a guy with athleticism who can repeat whatever he is doing on the mound consistently with an open-mindedness to receiving instruction and a willingness to adjust aspects of his craft as needed. I think Pint fits that bill. The one knock on the fire-balling righthander that I think could have some merit is the concern over his risk of injury going forward. Again, this isn’t something that I’m crazy with concern about — pitchers get hurt, so you have to be ready for that inevitability with any pitching prospect — but the idea that Pint’s most obvious selling point (100 MPH!) could also be his biggest red flag (too much velocity too soon) intrigues the heck out of me. That’s straight out of Shakespeare or The Twilight Zone or something. Red flags or not, Pint’s arm talent is unmistakable. He’s well worth a shot here and likely a whole heck of a lot higher. He’d be on my shortlist at 1-1 if I had a say.

1.5 – Milwaukee Brewers | Louisville OF Corey Ray (8th)

April 2016…

I don’t have much to add about all of the good that Ray brings to the field each game. If you’ve made your way here, you already know. Instead of rehashing Ray’s positives, let’s focus on some of his potential weaknesses. In all honesty, the knocks on Ray are fairly benign. His body is closer to maxed-out than most top amateur prospects. His base running success and long-term utility in center field may not always be there as said body thickens up and loses some athleticism. Earlier in the season Andrew Krause of Perfect Game (who is excellent, by the way) noted an unwillingness or inability to pull the ball with authority as often as some might like to see. Some might disagree that a young hitter can be too open to hitting it to all fields – my take: it’s generally a good thing, but, as we’ve all been taught at a young age, all things in moderation – but easy pull-side power will always be something scouts want to see. At times, it appeared Ray was almost fighting it. Finally, Ray’s improved plate discipline, while part of a larger trend in the right direction, could be a sample size and/or physical advantage thing more than a learned skill that can be expected each year going forward. Is he really the player who has drastically upped his BB% while knocking his K%? Or is just a hot hitter using his experience and intimidating presence – everybody knows and fears Corey Ray at the college level – to help goose the numbers? It should also pointed out that Ray’s gaudy start only ranks him seventh on the Louisville team in batting average, fourth in slugging, and ninth in on-base percentage. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s worth noting.

(I mentioned weaknesses I’ve heard, so I think it’s only fair to share my thoughts on what they mean for him going forward. I think he’s a center fielder at least until he hits thirty, so that’s a non-issue for me. The swing thing is interesting, but it’s not something I’m qualified to comment on at this time. And I think the truth about his plate discipline likely falls in between those two theories: I’d lean more towards the changes being real, though maybe not quite as real as they’ve looked on the stat sheet so far this year.)

So what do we have with Ray as we head into June? He’s the rare prospect to get the same comp from two separate sources this spring. Both D1Baseball and Baseball America have dropped a Ray Lankford comp on him. I’ve tried to top that, but I think it’s tough to beat, especially if you look at Lankford’s 162 game average: .272/.364/.477 with 23 HR, 25 SB, and 79 BB/148 K. Diamond Minds has some really cool old scouting reports on Lankford including a few gems from none other than Mike Rizzo if you are under thirty and don’t have as clear a picture of what type of player we’re talking about when we talk about a young Ray Lankford. One non-Lankford comparison that came to mind – besides the old BA comp of Jackie Bradley and alternatives at D1 that include Carlos Gonzalez and Curtis Granderson – was Charlie Blackmon. It’s not perfect and I admittedly went there in part because I saw Blackmon multiple teams at Georgia Tech, but Ray was a harder player than anticipated to find a good comparison for (must-haves: pop, speed, CF defense; bonus points: lefthanded hitter, similar short maxed-out athletic physique, past production similarities) than I initially thought. I think Blackmon hits a lot of the targets with the most notable difference being body type. Here’s a quick draft year comparison…

.396/.469/.564 – 20 BB/21 K – 25/30 SB – 250 AB
.331/.398/.611 – 18 BB/20 K – 31/36 SB – 157 AB

Top is Blackmon’s last year at Georgia Tech, bottom is Corey Ray (so far) in 2016. Here is Blackmon’s 162 game average to date: .287/.334/.435 with 16 HR, 29 SB, and 32 BB/98 K. Something in between Lankford (great physical comp) and Blackmon (better tools comp) could look like this: .280/.350/.450 with 18 HR, 27 SB, and 50 BB/120 K. That could be AJ Pollock at maturity. From his pre-draft report at Baseball America (I’d link to it but BA’s site is so bad that I have to log in and log out almost a half-dozen times any time I want to see old draft reports like this)…

Pollock stands out most for his athleticism and pure hitting ability from the right side. He has a simple approach, a quick bat and strong hands. Scouts do say he’ll have to stop cheating out on his front side and stay back more on pitches in pro ball…He projects as a 30 doubles/15 homers threat in the majors, and he’s a slightly above-average runner who has plus speed once he gets going. Pollock also has good instincts and a solid arm in center field.

Minus the part about the right side, that could easily fit for Ray. For good measure, here’s the Pollock (top) and Ray (bottom) draft year comparison…

.365/.445/.610 – 30 BB/24 K – 21/25 SB – 241 AB
.331/.398/.611 – 18 BB/20 K – 31/36 SB – 157 AB

Not too far off the mark. I’m coming around on Pollock as a potential big league peak comp for Ray. I think there are a lot of shared traits, assuming you’re as open to looking past the difference in handedness as I am. A friend offered Starling Marte, another righthanded bat, as an additional point of reference. I can dig it. Blackmon, Pollock, and Marte have each had above-average offensive seasons while showing the physical ability to man center field and swipe a bunch of bags. I also keep coming back to Odubel Herrera as a comparable talent, but I’m not sure I’m ready to go there just yet. He fits that overall profile, though. A well-rounded up-the-middle defender with above-average upside at the plate and on the bases who has the raw talent to put up a few star seasons in his peak: that’s the hope with Ray. The few red flags laid out above are enough to make that best case scenario less than a certainty than I’d want in a potential 1-1 pick, but his flaws aren’t so damning that the top ten (possibly top five) should be off the table.

1.6 – Oakland Athletics | Florida LHP AJ Puk (12th)

Late April 2016…

I’ve been tough on AJ Puk in the past, but I think I’m finally ready to give in. I’m at peace with him being the first overall pick in this year’s draft. I mean, we all knew the Phillies were all over him going back to when Pat Gillick went south down to Gainesville to watch him throw during fall ball, but only know am I ready to accept it as a good thing. Or, perhaps more accurately, I can now accept it at least as a non-bad thing. This was written here back in October…

If I had to predict what player will actually go number one this June, I’d piggy-back on what others have already said and put my vote in for AJ Puk. The Phillies are my hometown team and while I’m not as well-connected to their thinking as I am with a few other teams, based on the snippets of behind the scenes things I’ve heard (not much considering it’s October, but it’s not like they aren’t thinking about it yet) and the common sense reporting elsewhere (they lean towards a quick-moving college player, preferably a pitcher) all point to Puk. He’s healthy, a good kid (harmless crane climbing incident aside), and a starting pitcher all the way. Puk joining Alfaro, Knapp, Crawford, Franco, Williams, Quinn, Herrera, Altherr, Nola, Thompson, Eickhoff, Eflin, and Giles by September 2017 makes for a pretty intriguing cost-controlled core.

(It’s pretty great for Phillies fans that they can now swap out Giles’s name for Velasquez, Appel, and Eshelman. I’ve saved this analysis for friends and family I like to annoy with this sort of thing via email, but there are so many Cubs/Phillies rebuild parallels that it’s freaky. The only bummer is that there is no Kris Bryant in this class and that the Phillies might be too good in 2016 to land a Kyle Schwarber type next June. Still, where the Cubs were last year, I expect the Phillies to be in 2018. Enjoy this down time while you can, Mets and Nationals. The Phillies are coming fast.)

Now that May is here it’s time to accept the inevitability of Puk wearing red pinstripes…or, more immediately, Clearwater Thresher red and blue. I’ve long been in the “like but not love” camp when it comes to Puk, partly because of my belief there were superior talents ahead of him in this class and partly because of the handful of red flags that dot his dossier. The three biggest knocks on Puk coming into the season were, in some order, 1) command, 2) inconsistent quality of offspeed offerings, and 3) good but not great athleticism. It says a lot about what he does well that he’s risen as a prospect in my mind despite not really answering any of the questions we had for him coming into the season. All of this has held up so far…

Extension, deception, and power would be three words that come immediately to mind when describing Puk. He’s every bit of 6-7, 225 with a delivery that hides the ball damn well. His power comes both with his left arm (92-96, 98 peak) and at the plate (he’d quickly be among the better hitting pitchers in the game), so it’s no big shock that some guy on the internet (that’s me) sees some similarities between him and the prospect version of Madison Bumgarner.

I’ll be quick to point out again that it says “prospect version of Madison Bumgarner” without speaking to what the San Francisco ace grew into as a finished product in the big leagues. Bumgarner is a kind of special player who just kept adding on and getting better as he progressed up the chain. That’s not something that you can predict for any other prospect, though you can’t really rule it out either. You don’t know either way, is the point. Putting Bumgarner aside for now, I think there are two recent-ish draft lefthanders that can help create a basis for what to expect out of AJ Puk in the early stages of his pro career. In terms of a realistic prospect upside, Puk reminds me a great deal of recently promoted big league pitcher Sean Manaea.

Their deliveries are hardly identical – Puk is more over the top while Manaea slings it from more of an angle, plus Puk has a more pronounced step-back with his right foot at the onset and a longer stride, both aspects of his delivery that I personally like as it gives him better balance throughout – but they aren’t so different that you’d point to mechanics as a reason for tossing the comparison aside. They have similar stuff starting with fastballs close in velocity and movement (Puk has been 90-94 this year, up to 97), inconsistent yet promising low- to mid-80s sliders that flash above-average to plus (82-86 and more frequently showing above-average this year for Puk), and changeups still in need of development that clearly would be classified as distant third pitches (Puk’s has been 82-88 so far). Both have missed a lot of bats while also having their ups and downs in the control department with Puk being better at the former while Manaea maintained a slight edge at the latter. Both are also very well-proportioned, physical lefthanders with intimidating size with which they know how to use to their advantage.

A cautionary comparison for Puk might be current Mariners minor leaguer James Paxton. Paxton and Puk are closer mechanically – more similar with the height of their leg kick and overall arm action, though Paxton is more deliberate across the board — than Manaea and Puk, but the big difference between the former SEC lefthander and the current SEC lefthander is the breaking ball. Paxton’s bread and butter is a big overhand curve, a pitch that remains unhittable to this day when he can command it. Puk’s slider has its moments and it’s fair to expect it to develop into a true big league out-pitch (I do), but it’s not quite on that level yet. Paxton’s career has stalled for many of the same reasons some weren’t particularly high on Puk coming into the season: up and down fastball velocity partly attributable to a series of nagging injuries (also a problem of Manaea’s at times), an underdeveloped changeup, and consistently inconsistent command. I think Puk is ahead of where Paxton was at similar points in their development and prefer his ceiling to what we’ve seen out of Paxton to date, but the realistic floor comp remains in play.

One additional notable (or not) similarity between Puk, Manaea, Paxton, and Sean Newcomb, a fourth player often thrown into the mix as a potential Puk point of reference (it’s not bad, but Newcomb’s control issues are greater than anything Puk has dealt with), comes via each player’s respective hometown. We’ve got Cedar Rapids (IA), Valparaiso (IN), Ladner (BC), and Brockton (MA). That’s two raised in the Midwest, one in Canada, and one in New England. When you start to piece everything together, the similar career trajectories for each young pitcher (so far) begin to make some sense. All come from cold weather locales, all are large men with long limbs (thus making coordinating said limbs more of a challenge), and all are lefthanders, a fact that may or may not matter to you depending on your view of whether or not lefties really do develop later than their righthanded counterparts.

Put me down for a realistic Sean Manaea type of upside, a James Paxton floor, and the crazy pipe dream where literally everything works out developmentally ceiling of Madison Bumgarner. Do those potential career paths add up to a 1-1 draft pick? I’m not sure I have a good answer for that yet.

Early May 2016…

I’m cheating and tacking Puk back on at the end here even after he got his own post last week. Like many draft-obsessed individuals, I watched his most recent start against South Carolina with great interest. I’ve seen Puk a few times in person and tons of times on the tube, but it wasn’t until Saturday night that the comparison between him and Andrew Miller really hit me. I saw about a dozen Miller starts in person back in his Tar Heel days (in a very different time in my life) and watching Puk throw brings back all kinds of memories, good and bad. The frustrating thing about this comp is that it doesn’t really tell us much. Maybe we can use it as a baseline floor for what Puk could become – though Miller’s dominance out of the pen is a tough expectation to put on anybody as a realistic worst case scenario – but pointing out the similarities between the two (size, length, extension, delivery, mound demeanor, fastball, slider, underdeveloped change…even similar facially minus Miller’s draft year mustache) hardly means that Puk is destined to the same failed starter fate. I mean, sure, maybe it does, but there’s so much more that goes into being a successful big league starter than what gets put down on a scouting card. I love comps, but they are meant to serve as a starting point to the conversation, not to be the parting shot. Every player is unique and whatever extra reasons are out there for Miller not making it in the rotation should not be held against Puk. Maybe that’s obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to say it again. I do think that Puk, barring injury, has a pretty clear big league skill set in some capacity (maybe not -0.15 FIP out of the bullpen good, but still good) even if he doesn’t reach his ultimate ceiling. In that way he is similar to Miller, so at least there’s that to fall back on. The odds that you get nothing out of Puk, again barring injury, are slim to none. For the risk-averse out there, that’s a comforting thought.

1.7 – Miami Marlins | Florence HS LHP Braxton Garrett (18th)

LHP Braxton Garrett (Florence HS, Alabama): 87-92 FB, 94 peak; above-average to plus 74-81 CB, best at 80-83 this spring; average to above-average 79-86 CU with plus upside, best at 82-86; 87 cut-SL; plus command; impressive control; damn smart; ESPN comps: Cole Hamels and Jon Lester; FAVORITE; 6-3, 190 pounds

1.8 – San Diego Padres | Stanford RHP Cal Quantrill (20th) 

October 2015…

A case could be made that Quantrill is the most complete, pro-ready college arm in this year’s class. The fact that one could make that claim even after losing almost an entire season of development speaks to the kind of mature talent we’re talking about. Pitchability is a nebulous thing that isn’t easy to pin down, but you know it when you see it. Quantrill has it. He also has a plus changeup and a fastball with serious giddy-up.

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.

1.9 – Detroit Tigers | Sheldon HS RHP Matt Manning (23rd)

RHP Matt Manning (Sheldon HS, California): 90-96 FB with sink, 98-99 peak; above-average 73-79 CB, plus upside; CB runs into an above-average 77-80 SL; 86 CU; plus athlete; Mike Rooney comp: Phil Bickford; leans heavily on FB, pitching off it as well as any other arm in this class; FAVORITE; 6-6, 190 pounds

1.10 – Chicago White Sox | Miami C Zack Collins (6th)

December 2015…

I love JR C/1B Zack Collins as a prospect. His brand of power isn’t typically seen in amateur prospects. His approach, which will always include lots of swings and misses especially on the slow stuff, has matured enough that I think he’ll post average or better on-base numbers as a pro. He’s what we would charitably call a “work in progress” behind the plate, but all of the buzz out of fall practice (always positive and player-friendly, it should be noted) seems to indicate he may have turned the corner defensively. The comparisons to Kyle Schwarber make all the sense in the world right now: they are both big guys who move better than you’d think with defensive questions at their primary position, massive raw power, the ability to unleash said power in game action, and a patient approach that leads to loads of walks and whiffs. The edge for Schwarber comes in his hit tool; I think Schwarber’s was and will be ahead of Collins’s, so we’re talking the difference between above-average to average/slightly below-average. That hit tool combined with plus raw power, an approach I’m fond of, and the chance of playing regularly behind the plate (with an all-around offensive profile good enough to thrive elsewhere) make Collins one of my favorite 2016 draft prospects.

In what has to be a sign that I’ve been doing this too long (and/or I’m getting old and my brain is turning into mush), I kept coming back to a lefthanded hitting Mike Napoli comparison for Collins. I remembered seeing that for Kyle Schwarber (first mentioned by Aaron Fitt, I believe) and liking it, so the continued connection made sense. What I didn’t remember was this…

1B/C Zack Collins (American Heritage HS, Florida): impressive bat speed; good approach; really advanced bat, close to best in class; above-average to plus raw power; really good at 1B; might be athletic enough for corner OF; much improved defender behind plate; Mike Napoli comp by me; FAVORITE; 6-3, 215 pounds

That was from June of 2013. I had no idea I went with the Napoli comparison already. I’m plagiarizing myself at this point. Speaking of things I’ve written about Collins in the past…

Collins’ monster freshman season has me reevaluating so much of what I thought I knew about college hitters. I see his line (.298/.427/.556 with 42 BB/47 K in 205 AB) and my first instinct is to nitpick it. That’s insane! In the pre-BBCOR era, you might be able to get away with parsing those numbers and finding some tiny things to get on him about, but in today’s offensive landscape those numbers are as close to perfection as any reasonable human being could expect to see out of a freshman. Player development is rarely linear, but if Collins can stay on or close to the path he’s started, he’s going to an unholy terror by the time the 2016 draft rolls around. Here’s a quick look at what the college hitters taken in the first dozen picks in the BBCOR era (and Collins) did as freshmen (ranked in order of statistical goodness according to me)…

Kris Bryant: .365/.482/.599 – 33 BB/55 K – 197 AB
Michael Conforto: .349/.437/.601 – 24 BB/37 K – 218 AB
Colin Moran: .335/.442/.540 – 47 BB/33 K – 248 AB
ZACK COLLINS: .298/.427/.556 – 42 BB/47 K – 205 AB
Kyle Schwarber: .300/.390/.513 – 30 BB/24 K – 230 AB
Casey Gillaspie: .274/.378/.442 – 34 BB/43 K – 215 AB
DJ Peterson: .317/.377/.545 – 15 BB/52 K – 246 AB
Hunter Dozier: .315/.363/.467 – 12 BB/34 K – 197 AB
Max Pentecost: .277/.364/.393 – 21 BB/32 K – 191 AB

I’d say Collins stacks up pretty darn well at this point. Looking at this list also helps me feel better about their being a touch too much swing-and-miss in Collins’ game (see previous heretofore ignored inclination to nitpick). It is also another data point in favor of that popular and so logical it can’t be ignored comparison between Collins and fellow “catcher” Kyle Schwarber. Baseball America also threw out a Mark Teixeira comp, which is damn intriguing. I won’t include Teixeira’s freshmen numbers because that was back in the toy bat years, but from a scouting standpoint it’s a comp that makes a good bit of sense.

Hinting at a comparison to a Hall of Very Good player like Teixeira was jumping the gun a little, but I’m as bullish on Collins’s future than ever after his strong sophomore season at the plate. Here’s the same comparison as above updated with sophomore season statistics…

Kris Bryant: .366/.483/.671 – 39 BB/38 K – 213 AB
Michael Conforto: .328/.447/.526 – 41 BB/47 K – 247 AB
Colin Moran: .365/.434/.494 – 21 BB/24 K – 170 AB
ZACK COLLINS: .302/.445/.587 – 57 BB/64 K – 242 AB
Kyle Schwarber: .366/.456/.647 – 42 BB/37 K – 235 AB
Casey Gillaspie: .299/.447/.517 – 62 BB/35 K – 234 AB
DJ Peterson: .419/.490/.734 – 33 BB/29 K – 248 AB
Hunter Dozier: .357/.431/.595 – 29 BB/42 K – 227 AB
Max Pentecost: .302/.374/.410 – 22 BB/27 K – 212 AB

Just going off of raw numbers, I’d put Collins fourth out of this group in 2014. Using the numbers above, I’d probably knock him down to the fifth spot with a couple of new names now ahead of him. Also, I erroneously claimed that all those guys were taken in the draft’s first dozen picks when Casey Gillaspie didn’t get selected until the twentieth pick. Doesn’t change the premise, but still worth noting. If we go back to the first dozen picks as a cut-off, then we’d have to add these guys from 2015…

Dansby Swanson: .333/.411/.475 – 37 BB/49 K – 22/27 SB – 282 AB
Alex Bregman: .316/.397/.455 – 27 BB/21 K – 12/18 SB – 244 AB
Andrew Benintendi: .376/.488/.717 – 50 BB/32 K – 24/28 SB – 226 AB
Ian Happ: .322/.443/.497 – 32 BB/35 K – 19/24 SB – 171 AB
ZACK COLLINS: .302/.445/.587 – 57 BB/64 K – 7/8 SB – 242 AB

Seeing Swanson and Bregman at the top like that makes you appreciate how historically significant having so many college shortstops go early last really was. If we expanded this to the top twenty, we’d have to add fellow shortstops Kevin Newman and Richie Martin. Having players with real defensive value skews the data some, but if we all agree to put it in context in our own terms then we should be fine. Long story short here: Zack Collins is in very good company when stacked up against peers who went very high in the draft. As a first baseman only, I’d predict (maybe boldly, maybe not) that he still would be selected on the draft’s first day. If his rumored improvements behind the plate are real, then I don’t see why he can’t keep mashing his way into top ten consideration just like Kyle Schwarber before him.

April 2016…

I’m close to out of superlatives for Zack Collins’s bat. If he can catch, he’s a superstar. If he can’t, then he’s still a potential big league power bat capable of hitting in the middle of the championship lineup for the next decade. I realize first basemen aren’t typically sought after at the top of the draft. There are perfectly valid reasons for that. But any time you have the chance at a potential top five bat at any given position, I think it’s all right to bend the rules a little. Positional value is important, but so is premium offensive production. Collins hitting and hitting a lot as a professional is one of the things I’m most sure about in this draft class.

May 2016…

He’s the one I’ve comped to Schwarber stylistically. I actually think Collins is the better catcher and could stick there as a pro. Still might be best moving him out from behind the plate. I’ve just come up with a terrifying comp for him…Joey Votto. Maybe he’s one of those hitters that we shouldn’t compare young guys to, but then again…at the same age, Votto hit .256/.330/.425 with 52 BB/122 K in A+ ball. I could see Collins going to A/A+ this year after the draft and doing similar stuff.

1.11 – Seattle Mariners | Mercer OF Kyle Lewis (4th)

February 2016…

I’m an unabashed Kyle Lewis fan. I’m also a fan of hitters who can control the strike zone, spoil pitchers’s pitches, work favorable counts, and punish baseballs when ahead. Right now, that description only partially describes Lewis…and even that requires a more optimistic outlook than some are willing to take at this point in time. So how can those two statements be reconciled? It’s a dangerous thing for my credibility to admit, but call it an educated hunch that the 20-year-old Lewis will figure things out as a hitter. It goes back to something I mentioned in the comments section a few weeks back: guys either learn to hit or they don’t. That’s my paraphrased take from this scout’s quote talking about the likelihood of Jahlil Okafor improving his outside shot as a professional: “He needs to become a better shooter and free throw shooter. He either will or he won’t.” Scouts work very hard evaluating amateur and minor league talent across the country, so their collective insight into projecting a young hitter’s future is not to be dismissed. But…can we ever really know how a guy is going to react when thrown into the professional environment? A 95 MPH fastball with movement is a 95 MPH fastball with movement at any level. Plus speed, outstanding glove work, and the ability to miss bats are all translatable skills when honed properly. Hitting is an entirely different animal.

A big part of what makes hitting unique is that it can mean different things to different evaluators. There’s no wrong way to define “hitting,” so long as it remains consistent report to report. When I personally talk hitting, I’m including everything that I think goes into what separates a good hitter from a not so good hitter. If that means there’s overlap with other tools (power, most notably) and abilities (athleticism, hand-eye coordination, work ethic), then so be it. Hitting can be broken up into all kinds of smaller sub-components, but the three central facets are “hitting” (contact skills, bat-to-ball ability, mechanics), power (fairly self-explanatory), and approach (having a plan at the plate, both early and late in counts). The hitting and power components are relatively easy to identify with practice — there’s a reason they are two of the oft-cited five tools — but approach has always been the great mystery of amateur scouting. This is problematic for guys like me who place a great deal of importance on the approach piece of the pie; without an approach up to a certain standard, the hit and power tools will suffer greatly. I know some scouts will argue for hit over power (i.e., the Kansas City and Pittsburgh approach to scouting and development) or power over hit (where many teams are still at as they struggle to adjust to a post-PED world), but I’ll always be approach over hit/power, with no real preference on the last decision.

So what do I look for in young hitters and what does this ultimately have to do with liking Kyle Lewis and his current sub-optimal (per performance metrics) approach so much? I want to see athleticism (both traditional and baseball-specific), ease of mechanical repeatability (swing path, pre-swing movements, and upper- to lower-half coordination are all interesting to me, but ultimately I’m pragmatic: don’t really care how it looks as long as the hitter is comfortable, productive against top competition, and able to consistently do the same thing over and over), a high frequency of “hard” contact (easier judged now thanks to new technology at the pro level, but still a subjective call at the amateur level), and evidence of a planned approach (more about “self-scouting” and less about trying to guess what the hitter is seeing out of the pitcher’s hand — often labelled “pitch recognition,” but a really hard thing for an outsider to claim in my opinion) with every single plate appearance.

The relative importance of hitting the ball to all fields is something I go back and forth on; it’s obviously a good thing, but I think there’s still room in our shift-filled game for a slugger with extreme pull-side power to succeed if he’s good enough at it. For now, I consider it a bonus and not a prerequisite for being an average or better pro hitter. I’m also somewhat divided in thought when it comes to bat speed. As somebody who grew up with a front row seat — well, upper-deck  (sections 420/421!) but it still counts — to watching Chase Utley play every day, I’m not about to downplay the importance of swinging a quick bat. Bat speed is undeniably important, but damn hard to judge in a nuanced way. That could be a personal failing of mine and not a universal issue among real deal scouts, but I’m not sure how the human eye can possibly determine bat speed beyond differentiating between “whoa,” “decent,” and “slow.” Maybe you could attempt to circle back to existing scouting language and separate a bit more (plus, above-average, average, below-average), but even that only teases out one extra descriptive layer. Short of measuring bat speed electronically, we’re left at doing our best to approximate what we see in an instant.

There’s also always going to be the most basic aspect of scouting: how does he look when he’s doing what he does. Think of this as an informed “gut” instinct. That’s so much of what scouting is: educated guesses. I wish I had access to some kind of special proprietary video library of every hitter of the past few decades to compare what I’m seeing right this second to what has worked for others historically, but I don’t. Thankfully, our brains are designed to cycle through all that our eyes have perceived and form patterns based on positive outcomes. That magic video library is inside each and every one of us obsessives who watches baseball on a daily basis. This will always be the most subjective aspect of scouting — everybody has a “type” and we’re all preconditioned to prefer those who fit that mold — but that doesn’t mean it’s not without value. And, yes, Kyle Lewis is my type, thank you very much.

Acknowledging that we all have our own preconceived notions about what is best lends further credence to the idea that sweeping proclamations about whether or not a young guy will hit aren’t wise. We can all make our best guesses — some of us having to do so with millions of dollars on the line — but ultimately these hitters will or won’t hit as pros. There’s already some interesting “expert” noise out there about Florida OF Buddy Reed’s swing being unsuitable to the challenges of the pro game. That’s a fair criticism (when substantiated beyond the boring blanket statement of “I just don’t like that swing”), but consider me preemptively bummed out to read (in the event of him being a great pro) how it wasn’t a scouting miss per se but rather a developmental success. No way could it be that his swing wasn’t misidentified as a bad one. Nooo, it was the impossible to predict reworking of his swing as a pro that led to his (again, entirely hypothetical) pro success. In other words, be careful what you read about a young hitter’s ability to adjust to the pro game. Nobody on the outside really knows — heck, neither do the supposed insiders! — so beware anybody who claims to have some kind of soothsaying abilities when prognosticating raw amateur bats. These guys are often the first to explain away their misses under the guise of unforeseen pro development. Here I am thinking that making that determination was part of the scouting process — silly me!

Kyle Lewis hit .367/.423/.677 last year in a decent college conference. That’s good, clearly. His 19 BB/41 K ratio is less good. So why buy the bat? As a hitter, I like what I’ve seen and heard about his righthanded swing. I like that he seemingly improved his approach (aggressively hunting for “his” pitch showed good self-scouting while getting ahead more frequently late in the year demonstrated a fuller understanding of what it will take to succeed against top-level competition) and started chasing fewer pitchers’s pitches as the season went on. I like his physical projection, public and privately shared intel about his work ethic, bat speed (I’ve seen some “whoa” cuts from him), and how his athleticism allows his upper- and lower-body to work in concern with one another with each swing. Believe me, I understand doubting him now as a potential top ten pick and dark horse to go 1-1 in this draft based on a wait-and-see approach to his plate discipline; if improvements aren’t made in his draft year BB/K ratio, all the positive scouting buzz will matter a lot less to me come June. But part of college scouting early in the season is identifying players set to make the leap as juniors. I think Lewis’s leap as a more mature, thoughtful, and explosive hitter has already begun, and it’ll be reflected on the field this upcoming season. I’ve thrown out a Yasiel Puig comp in the past for his ceiling and I’m sticking with that for now. As an added prospect to prospect bonus, his game reminds me some of Anthony Alford. Your mileage might vary on how in the draft a player like that could go, but it sure sounds like a potential premium pick to me.

1.12 – Boston Red Sox | Barnegat HS LHP Jay Groome (1st)

April 2016…

Working in Jay Groome’s favor is how advanced he is for a teenager. Unlike with many high school prospects, the expectation of a five year (give or take) waiting period does not apply. A big league cameo in September 2019 a month after turning 21-years-old is in play. Whether we’re talking fantasy or real life, nobody has to be told how rare true big league ace upside is. Adding Groome to the Phillies sudden — love how only in a baseball rebuild could eighteen months or so be considered sudden — pitching surplus would give them a potential difference-maker to pair with their otherwise more good than great (yet plentiful) collection of young hurlers.

May 2016…

I’ll warn everybody now that what you are about to read is the most annoyingly negative report on a pitcher coming off of a six-inning, fourteen strikeout performance as you could possibly imagine. That may be a pretty big stunner (or not, I’m no mind reader) to regular readers who ought to know two things about me by now: 1) I’m relentlessly positive about prospects, and 2) I’ve had Groome as my first overall prospect in this draft since late last summer and never really considered making a switch after seeing the big lefty throw three earlier times this winter/spring. I walked away from last night’s effort wondering if Groome’s stranglehold on the top spot should finally be loosened. Part of the thinking there is that Groome came into this start with an almost impossibly high bar set by his previous performances over the past calendar year. I wanted to see him go out there tonight and cement his status as the draft’s clear top prospect, and finally, mercifully, end the 1-1 discussion once and for all. If that sounds like the idiocy of getting on a player for not meeting my own arbitrarily set standards for his performance, then you’re exactly right. I’m not proud of that attitude, but I think a hyper-critical eye is needed when trying to separate a top ten talent (which Groome certainly is) from a potential 1-1 candidate (which he was 100% going in…and still could be even after a dominating statistical night that somehow left me wanting more).

Groome came out firing in the first with a string of low-90s fastballs (93, 94, 92, 93) before dropping a picture perfect 78 MPH curveball that made the Gloucester Catholic’s leadoff man’s knees buckle and the crowd of scouts and execs behind home plate (as well as a few thousand of their closest friends) audibly “oooh.” Incredibly, that was just the first of five different “oooh” curves he’d throw all night: there were two more in the fifth inning and two more after that in his sixth and final frame. I had that pitch ranging from 74-78 on the evening. Everything about the pitch is plus to plus-plus, though I think you could quibble some with a slightly slowed arm speed on the offering that tips it just enough for HS hitters to notice, but not nearly enough for them to react. The pitch is so good that there’s a chance he can get away with the slight pause in pro ball for a while; obvious point is obvious, but that’s really high praise. Groome’s curve is special and that alone makes him a top ten prospect in this class.

After going 93, 94, 92, 93, and 78 on the first batter, Groome went 93, 77, 92, 94, and 93 to the second hitter. That basic pattern — work off the fastball, mix in one curve per plate appearance — was followed by Groome for much of the game. I won’t say my notes were perfect — my focus on the fast-paced, well-pitched (though admittedly not particularly crisply played otherwise) game was a solid 98% throughout, but taking in the atmosphere occasionally led to a missed radar reading or two — but I only had Groome dropping two curves to the same batter on four occasions. This strategy obviously worked (14 strikeouts is 14 strikeouts) with the threat of a bigger fastball than he wound up showing, average fastball command that flashed better in certain at bats, and that devastating curve ranking as the reasons why in ascending order of importance.

Everything you’ve already seen, read, or heard about Groome’s mechanics held up. They are close to picture perfect. I’ve long been on the record of only caring about mechanical extremes, and I’d say with great confidence that Groome’s arm action and delivery are on that happy tail of the bell curve. With his frame, bulked up from a boy late last summer to a rock solid man by now (though I’d argue with some loss of athleticism), his age, and those textbook mechanics, it’s easy to imagine a day in the not so distant future where Groome is a consistent mid-90s arm if he wants to be. Of course, that’s all projection at this point: Groome’s velocity on this day fluctuated from those early game low-90s peaks to a strange middle inning dip to the mid- to upper-80s. I was almost positive while watching live that he wasn’t working in his changeup — some around me thought otherwise, for what it’s worth* — but I had him with an 85, 86, 87, and four 89’s between innings three and five. After thinking about it some more I could buy the mid-80s pitches being his attempt at the change to give the scouts a little taste of his third pitch; if so, I’ve seen it look better, but the arm action sure looked like the fastball, so at least there was that. Still, the 89’s for a well-rested teenage arm on a nice night weren’t exactly typical of what we’ve come to expect out of a potential first overall pick. He rebounded some in his final inning, sitting 90-91 with his fastball while relying more on the curve than in any other part of the game to that point. His final pitch of the night was a 92 MPH fastball that was swung through for eighth strikeout in a row to end the game and fourteenth overall.

(* Groome himself identified the pitch as a change: “As far as my command goes, I think that’s pretty good, but I need to show a little more depth to my changeup. I’m not really getting out in front of it and left a couple up high today. They fouled it off, they didn’t really make me pay. Later on down the road, I have to get that good depth on it.”)

This is the point in the report where I’m supposed to make a grand conclusion about what I saw out of Groome on the night. Well, I’ve got nothing. I selfishly wanted to see Groome at his very best — again, it’s worth pointing out that the man had fourteen strikeouts in six innings and that’s not his best — so that I could walk away ready to declare the race for 1-1 and top spot on my board over. The obvious good news is the confirmation that his curve and mechanics are both 1-1 caliber. His fastball has been in the past, but wasn’t on this night. I’m not terribly concerned about one good but not great velocity night — the fastball was still commanded fairly well (average to above-average), had such obvious late life that even my old eyes could see it, and came out of a deceptive enough slot that it had hitters taking bad swings all evening long — but I think the summer showcase version of Groome’s heater is (unsurprisingly) less the real thing than what we’ve seen out of him this spring. His changeup remains an open question, but that’s not atypical for a big-time high school arm with Groome’s brand of one-two punch locked and loaded for bear most starts. The development of his physique continues to surprise me — it’s as if he finds a way to pack on a pound or three of good weight every time I see him — but I do worry some that he’s getting close to the danger zone of sacrificing some looseness and athleticism, both facets of his game that excited me so much about him last summer, for strength. Add it all up (above-average fastball with plus upside, clear plus curve, changeup with a chance to be average, elegant mechanics, and a pro-ready body) and it’s clear that Jay Groome is a really, really good pitching prospect. What isn’t clear, however, is whether or not he’s the best amateur prospect in the country. For some, not yet knowing is knowing; when the risk of taking a teenage arm gets factored in, Groome not being a slam dunk pick above the rest means the risk is too great to pass on similarly valued peers (Puk, Lewis, Moniak, Rutherford, Perez, Ray, whomever) with more certainty. I think that’s where the Phillies are currently at in their evaluation. Between Groome’s staggering perfect world ceiling and moderate (for a HS arm) floor (less projection in his body than most, plus his mechanics portend good things to come) and the less than thrilling options that surround him at the top of the class, I’d have a hard time removing his name from 1-1 consideration if I was in charge of such a pick.

1.13 – Tampa Bay Rays | Pope HS 3B Josh Lowe (9th)

December 2015…

When I go through my mental rolodex of every player I’ve seen up close, few stand out as more impressive than Lowe. He makes the most challenging sport to play well look easy, often comically so. As a third baseman, I’d put him down for plus tools in foot speed, arm strength, and raw power. Then there’s also his obvious exceptional athleticism – guys who can pitch and hit and field at his level tend to only get away with it by being pretty special athletically – and a measured, smart approach to hitting that is almost as if he has the strike zone knowledge of, you guessed it, a top pitching prospect.

April 2016…

I know Mickey Moniak has the alliterative name thing going for him, but Josh Lowe is the closest thing to a Marvel-style super hero in this year’s high school class. What can’t he do? Three clear plus tools (power, arm, speed) with two sure to help in fantasy, stellar defense at the hot corner, elite athleticism, and the fallback option of taking his talents (90-95 FB, intriguing CU and SL) to the mound. Lowe has the raw talent to be one of the best third basemen in baseball.

May 2016…

He’s a little bit of a higher variance prospect than [Nolan] Jones – more upside if it all clicks, but less certainty he turns into a solid professional than I’d put on Jones – so if I was a real scouting director with real future earnings on the line, I’m not sure I’d take him quite as high as he could wind up on my final rankings. The possibility, however, that he winds up as the best player to come out of this class is very real. He reminds me just a little bit of an opposite-hand version of this guy

Bryant entered the summer with lofty expectations, but he often looked overmatched at the plate during the showcase circuit last summer. When he’s on, he’s a treat to watch. He has a lean, 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame and light-tower power that draws comparisons to a young Troy Glaus. The power, however, mostly shows up during batting practice or when he has a metal bat in his hands. There are a lot of moving parts to his swing and he has trouble barreling balls up with wood, so how much usable power he ends up having is a big question. He has a long, loopy swing and he never changes his approach when he’s struggling. He’s athletic for a big guy and may be able to handle third base. He has the arm for it, and some scouts said they wouldn’t be shocked if he eventually ended up on the mound. Some scouts love Bryant’s power enough to take him in the back half of the first round, while others turned him in as a token gesture and have little interest in him–especially for the price it will take to lure him away from his San Diego commitment.

I really, really like Josh Lowe, if that’s not already clear. I mean, I did once kind of compare him to Babe Ruth. I think a team would be justified taking either Lowe or Jones in the top ten…and quite possibly the top five…or maybe even top three. Let me stop now before I really get too far ahead of myself.

 1.14 – Cleveland Indians | Westminster Schools OF Will Benson (57th)

December 2015…

Will Benson has gotten the Jason Heyward comp for just about a full year now because that’s what happens when you’re a Georgia high school player built like he is (6-6, 220) with a future right fielder profile. The comparison ceases to work when you factor in pesky factors beyond size and geography; the inclusion of baseball ability (defense and plate discipline, most notably) muddles it up, but it’s still good fun at this point in the draft process. Even though he’s not Heyward, Benson does a lot well. He’s got electric bat speed, he moves really well for a big guy, and he’s as strong as you’d expect from looking at him. If he cleans up his approach and keeps working on his defense then maybe those Heyward comparisons will begin to look a little bit smarter. Or not! It’s December and we’re talking about teenagers, so nothing is written in ink.

April 2016…

The name Will Benson brings about all kinds of colorful opinions from those paid to watch him regularly. To call him a divisive prospect at this point would be an understatement. If you love him, then you love his power upside, defensive aptitude, and overwhelming physicality. If you’re cool on him, then he’s more of a future first baseman with a questionable hit tool, inconsistent approach, and overrated athleticism. I’m closer to the love said than not, but I think both the lovers and the haters can at least agree that his bat speed is explosive, his frame is intriguing, and his sheer strength as a human being should beget some monstrous BP performances.

May 2016…

I never really got the Jason Heyward comp for Benson – the most Heyward thing about Heyward is his plus defense, something that Benson is a long way from, if he ever gets there at all – but I like the connection between him and Kyle Lewis. I don’t think he lasts until the second, but he would make for an excellent consolation prize for a team picking at the top of the first round that misses out on the Mercer star with their first pick. Or just grab them both and begin hoping that you’ve just taken care of your outfield corners for the next decade.

 1.15 – Minnesota Twins | Plum Senior HS OF Alex Kirilloff (15th)

December 2015…

Alex Kirilloff is a clear step down athletically from the rest of the top tier, but, man, can he hit. If I would have kept him at first base on these rankings then there’s no question he would have finished atop that position list. He’s behind potential stars like Moniak, Rutherford, McIlwain, Benson, and Tuck for now, but that’s for reasons of defensive upside and athleticism more than anything. By June, Kirilloff’s bat might be too loud to be behind a few of those names. Seeing him this spring is a high priority for me; considering his high school plays home games about five hours away from me (to those that don’t know: Pennsylvania is a sneaky long state), that should say a lot about what I think of him as a prospect. The fact that I could stop off and get a Colossal Fish & Cheese sandwich (delicious on its own and made better with the side of nostalgia that comes with it as it was part of my first official meal as a married man last summer) only sweetens the deal. Recent draft trends have pushed athletic prep outfielders up draft boards at the expense of bigger bats, but I think Kirilloff is good enough to break through.

April 2016…

As a hitter, Kirilloff can really do it all: big raw power, plus bat speed, a mature approach, and a hit tool so promising that almost every scout has agreed that he’s an advanced hitter who happens to hit for power rather than the other way around. He’s the rare high school prospect who could hit enough to have confidence in him as a pro even if eventually confined to first base.

May 2016…

Another potential angle with this year’s prep outfielders is one that has been generally underplayed by the experts so far this spring. My sources, such as they are, have led me to believe that there is serious internal debate among many scouting staffs about the respective merits of [Blake] Rutherford and Kirilloff. The idea that there’s a consensus favorite between the two among big league scouting departments is apparently way off the mark. This may surprise many draft fans who have read about 100x more on Rutherford this spring than Kirilloff, but I think the confusion at the top of the high school outfield class is real. I’d guess that most teams have either [Mickey] Moniak or Rutherford in the first spot; the teams that Moniak first, however, might not necessarily have Rutherford behind him at second. Kirilloff is far more liked by teams than many of the expert boards I’ve seen this spring.

It’s really hard to break down two different high school hitters from two different coasts, but I’ll do my best with what I have to compare Rutherford and Kirilloff. This is hardly a definitive take because, like just about any of my evaluations, I’m just one guy making one final call based on various inputs unique to the information I have on hand. I’m not a scout; I’m just a guy who pretends to know things on the internet. I give Kirilloff the slight edge in raw power, a definite arm strength advantage, and a very narrow lead in bat speed. Rutherford has the better swing (very close call), defensive upside (his decent chance to stay in center for a few years trumps Kirilloff’s average corner outfield/plus first base grades), and hit tool. The two are very close when it comes to approach (both plate discipline and ability to drive it to all fields), athleticism (another slight lean Rutherford, but Kirilloff is underrated here), and foot speed. I actually had Kirilloff ahead by a hair going into the NHSI, but Rutherford’s run of fantastic plate appearances on day two were too much to ignore. Both are great prospects and very much worth top half of the first round selections. I can’t wait to see how high they wind up on my final board.

1.16 – Los Angeles Angels | Virginia C Matt Thaiss (27th)

October 2015…

Comps aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I’ve always defended them because they provide the needed frame of reference for prospects to gain some modicum of public recognition and leap past the indignity of being known only as soulless, nameless abstract ideas on a page until they have the good fortune of reaching the big leagues. Matt Thaiss played HS ball not too far off from where I live, so I saw him a few times before he packed things up and headed south to Virginia. I never could find the words to describe him just right to friends who were curious as to why I’d drive over an hour after work to see a random high school hitter. It wasn’t until Baseball America dropped a Brian McCann comp on him that they began to understand. You can talk about his power upside, mature approach, and playable defense all you want, but there’s something extra that crystallizes in your mind when a player everybody knows enters the conversation. Nobody with any sense expects Thaiss to have a carbon copy of McCann’s excellent professional career, but the comp gives you some general idea of what style of player is being discussed.

December 2015…

I still like Matt Thaiss as the draft’s top college catcher (with Zack Collins and the reports of his improved defense coming on very fast), but Okey and a host of others remain just a half-step behind as we enter the spring season.

March 2016…

Not everybody is convinced that Thaiss is the real deal, but I am. His one big remaining question heading into the year (defense) has been answered in a decidedly positive manner this spring. He showed enough in high school to garner Brian McCann comps from Baseball America, he hit as a sophomore, and he’s off to a blistering start (including a nifty 15 BB/2 K ratio) in 2016. He’s going early in this draft due in part to our odd rules, but he’s a first round selection on merit.

1.17 – Houston Astros | Alamo Heights HS RHP Forrest Whitley (26th)

April 2016…

You really shouldn’t have a first round mock draft that doesn’t include at least one big prep righthander from Texas. It just doesn’t feel right. Whitley, standing in at a strapping 6-7, 240 pounds, has the requisite fastball velocity (88-94, 96 peak) to pair with a cadre of power offspeed stuff. We’re talking a devastating when on upper-80s cut-slider and an average or better mid-80s split-change that has been clocked as high as 90 MPH. I’m not sure how power on power on power would work against pro hitters — this is NOT a comp, but I guess Jake Arrieta has found a way to do it — but I’m looking forward to finding out.

RHP Forrest Whitley (Alamo Heights HS, Texas): 88-94 FB, 96-97 peak; above-average to plus 82-90 cut-SL; above-average 76-81 CB, flashes plus (some call truer SL); average or better 79-87 split-CU, up to 90; legit four-pitch mix; 6-7, 225 pounds

1.18 – New York Yankees | Chaminade Prep HS OF Blake Rutherford (11th)

December 2015…

Despite some internet comparisons that paint him as the Meadows, I think the better proxy for Rutherford is Frazier. Issues with handedness, height, and hair hue aside, Frazier as a starting point for Rutherford (offensively only as Frazier’s arm strength blows the average-ish arm of Rutherford away) can be used because the two both have really good looking well-balanced swings, tons of bat speed, and significant raw power. The parallel gets a little bit of extra juice when you consider Frazier and Rutherford were/are also both a little bit older than their draft counterparts.

April 2016…

At some point it’s prudent to move away from the safety of college hitters and roll the dice on one of the best high school athletes in the country. Blake Rutherford is just that. Him being older than ideal for a high school senior gives real MLB teams drafting in the top five something extra to consider, but it could work to his advantage developmentally in terms of fantasy. He’s a little bit older, a little bit more filled-out, and a little bit more equipped to deal with the daily rigors of professional ball than your typical high school prospect. That’s some extreme spin about one of Rutherford’s bigger red flags — admittedly one that is easily resolved within a scouting department: either his age matters or not since it’s not like it’s changing (except up by one day like us all) any time soon — but talking oneself into glossing over a weakness is exactly what fantasy drafting is all about. I like Rutherford more in this range in the real draft than in the mix at 1-1.

May 2016…

We already ran down a number of the popular comps for Moniak, so we might as well give in to the same temptation with Rutherford. This has surely been a very painful read for the anti-comps crowd out there. My bad. As for Rutherford, the list of comps out there is impressive: Grady Sizemore (Fangraphs), Jim Edmonds (Baseball America), David Justice (swing only from Perfect Game), and Trot Nixon (I forget) are just a few of the big names tossed around this spring. I’ve likened Rutherford to a remixed version of both Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier in the past, and I think there’s a chance that he might wind up as a player who has the best qualities of both of his soon-to-be fellow minor league outfield prospects. One fun outside the box comp that I heard recently was a young, lefthanded version of Moises Alou. It’s not totally crazy. Here are some of the old Alou scouting reports I could dig up…

1990: “All tools above. Good hitting approach – with power. Not good base stealer – as yet. Great body for speed and power. Good stroke – stays inside ball. Very strong arm. Confident young man…plus tools. Good outfielder. Future All Star…perhaps not in CF but in RF. Would exhaust CF first.”

1992: 7 hit, 6 power, 6 speed, 5 arm, 7 glove, 6 range “Good young player. Live body, All Star potential. Good contact type. 10-15 HR. SB potential 20-25. Everyday OF.”

Funny that 6 power meant 10-15 home runs to that one scout (doubly so when we remember the offensive environment at the time), but grades aren’t as easily translated as the bigger publications who push grading every prospect in every tool because that’s the only way to cover minor league prospects would have you think. Did that get a little ranty? Whoops. Anyway, I think a lot of those grades and notes on Alou could be very easily be lifted instead from a report on Rutherford. His upside is that of a consistently above-average offensive regular outfielder while defensively being capable of either hanging in center for a bit (a few years of average glove work out there would be nice) or excelling in an outfield corner (making this switch early could take a tiny bit of pressure off him as he adjusts to pro pitching). His floor, like almost all high school hitters, is AA bat with holes in his swing that are exploited by savvier arms.

1.19 – New York Mets | Boston College RHP Justin Dunn (35th)

December 2014…

There are some interesting pitchers to monitor including strong senior sign candidate RHP John Gorman and statistical favorite JR LHP Jesse Adams, but the best two arms on the staff from where I’m sitting are both 2016 prospects (SO RHPs Justin Dunn [huge fan of his] and Mike King).

December 2015…

JR RHP Justin Dunn has the chance to have the kind of big junior season that puts him in the top five round conversation this June. Like Adams and Nicklas, Dunn’s size might be a turn-off for some teams. Unlike those guys, it figures to be easier to overlook because of a potent fastball/breaking ball one-two punch. Though he’s matured as a pitcher in many ways since enrolling at BC, he’s still a little rough around the edges with respect to both his command and control. His arm speed (consistently 90-94, up to 96) and that aforementioned low-80s slider are what put him in the early round mix. If he can continue to make strides with his command and control and gain a little consistency with a third pitch (he’s shown both a CB and a CU already, but both need work), then he’ll really rise. That’s a pretty obvious statement now that I read it back, but I think it probably can apply to about 75% of draft prospects before the season begins. No sense in hiding from it, I suppose.

April 2016…

I came very close to putting Justin Dunn in the top spot. If he continues to show that he can hold up as a starting pitcher, then there’s a chance he winds up as the best pitching prospect in this conference by June. I’d love to see a better change-up between now and then as well.

1.20 – Los Angeles Dodgers | Indian Trail HS SS Gavin Lux (73rd)

December 2015…

I’m a huge fan of Gavin Lux and think he could wind up in the first round conversation come June.

May 2016…

Lux is a really intriguing young hitter with the chance to come out of this draft as arguably the best all-around hitter (contact, pop, patience) in this high school class. That may be a bit rich, but I’d at least say his straight hit tool ranks only below Mickey Moniak, Carlos Cortes, and Joe Rizzo. If his bat plays above-average in all three phases – he could/should be there with contact and approach while his raw power floats somewhere in that average to above-average range – then he’d certainly be in the mix. A fun name that I’ve heard on Lux that may or may not have been influenced by geography: a bigger, stronger Scooter Gennett. Here’s some of what Baseball America had on Gennett in his draft year…

He profiles as an offensive second baseman, while Florida State intends for him to start at shortstop as a freshman. He’s a grinder with surprising power and bat speed for his size (a listed 5-foot-10, 170 pounds), and though he can be streaky, his bat is his best tool. He’s a better runner on the field than in showcase events, but he’s closer to average than above-average in that department. Defensively he gets the most of his ability, with his range and arm better suited for the right side of the infield than the left. He’s agile, though, and a solid athlete. Gennett would be a crucial get for Florida State, if he gets there. Most scouts consider him a third-to-fifth round talent.

A bigger, stronger, and arguably better (especially when likelihood to stick at short is factored in) Gennett feels about right, both in terms of draft stock (second to fourth round talent, maybe with a shot to sneak into the late first) and potential pro outcome. It should be noted that Lux’s defensive future is somewhat in flux. I think he’s athletic enough with enough arm to stick at short for a while, but there are many others who think he’s got second base written all over him. A lot of that likely has to do with his arm – it’s looked strong to me with a really quick release, but there’s debate on that – so I’d bet that there’s little consensus from team to team about his long-term position. Teams that like him to pick him high in the draft will like him best as a shortstop, so it’s my hunch that he’ll at least get a shot to play in the six-spot as a pro to begin his career.

1.21 – Toronto Blue Jays | Pittsburgh RHP TJ Zeuch (30th)

April 2016…

TJ Zeuch has come back from injury seemingly without missing a beat. I’m a big fan of just about everything he does. He’s got the size (6-7, 225), body control, tempo, and temperament to hold up as a starting pitcher for a long time. He’s also got a legit four-pitch mix that allows him to mix and match in ways that routinely leave even good ACC hitters guessing.

Pittsburgh JR RHP TJ Zeuch: 88-94 FB with plus sink, 96-97 peak; average or better 74-81 CB, flashes plus; 82-88 cut-SL, flashes average; 82-86 CU, flashes above-average; legit four-pitch mix; young for class; FAVORITE; 6-7, 225 pounds (2014: 6.63 K/9 – 2.75 BB/9 – 55.2 IP – 2.75 ERA) (2015: 9.20 K/9 – 2.56 BB/9 – 88.1 IP – 3.89 ERA) (2016: 9.57 K/9 – 2.46 BB/9 – 69.2 IP – 3.10 ERA)

1.22 – Pittsburgh Pirates | Wake Forest 1B Will Craig (13th)

January 2016…

I think I’m going to keep touting JR 1B/RHP Will Craig as the righthanded AJ Reed until he starts getting some serious national recognition. I cited that name in the college draft preview from October, so might as well keep mentioning it over and over and over…

Do you like power? How about patience? What about a guy with power, patience, and the athleticism to pull off collegiate two-way duty? For everybody who missed on AJ Reed the first time around, Will Craig is here to give you a second chance. I won’t say he’ll be the first base prospect that finally tests how high a first base prospect can go in a post-PED draft landscape, but if he has a big enough junior season…

I love Craig. In past years I might back down some from the love from reasons both fair (positional value, certain scouty quibbles about bat speed and timing) and not (seeing him ignored by all the major media outlets so much that I start to question my own judgment), but I see little way that will be the case with Craig. Sure, he could force my hand by cratering out with a disappointing junior season (a la Ryan Howard back in the day), but that would only shift him from sleeper first round talent to sleeper fifth round value. His is a bat I believe in and I’m willing to ride or die with it.

1.23 – St. Louis Cardinals | Colegio Individualizado PJ Education School SS Delvin Perez (5th)

December 2015…

One of the few things I’m sure about with this is class is that it’s loaded with prospects who have the glove to stick at short. Perez leads the way as a no-doubt shortstop who might just be able to hit his way into the top half of the first round. I’d like to see (and hear) more about his bat, but the glove (range, footwork, release, instincts, everything), arm strength, athleticism, and speed add up a potential first round prospect. If that feels like me hedging a bit, you’re exactly right. Teams have and will continue to fall in love with his glove, but the all-mighty bat still lords above every other tool. In some ways, he reminds me of a bigger version of Jalen Miller from last year. He won’t fall as far as Miller (95th overall pick), but if we could all agree that mid-third is his draft floor then I’d feel a lot better about myself.

The Miller half-comp splits the difference (as a prospect, not as a pro) between two other recent comps for Perez that I see: Francisco Lindor and Oscar Mercado. Long-time readers might remember that I was driving the Mercado bandwagon back in the November before his draft year…

I’m on board with the Mercado as Elvis Andrus 2.0 comps and was out ahead of the “hey, he’s ahead of where Francisco Lindor was at the same stage just a few years ago” talk, so, yeah, you could say I’m a pretty big fan. That came out way smarmier than I would have liked – I’m sorry. The big thing to watch with Mercado this spring will be how he physically looks at the plate; with added strength he could be a serious contender for the top five or so picks, but many of the veteran evaluators who have seen him question whether or not he has the frame to support any additional bulk. Everything else about his game is above-average or better: swing, arm strength, speed, range, hands, release, pitch recognition, instincts.

I bet big on his bat coming around and lost. Mercado went from fifth on my very first board (ten months ahead of the draft, but it still counts) to 81st on the final version to the 57thoverall pick of the draft in June. He’s the cautionary tale (for now) of what a young plus glove at shortstop with a questionable bat can turn out to be. On the flip side, there’s Francisco Lindor…

Lindor’s defensive skills really are exemplary and there is no doubt that he’ll stick at shortstop through his first big league contract (at least). As for time/age, well, consider this a preemptive plea in the event Lindor struggles at the plate next season: the guy will be playing his entire first full pro season at just eighteen years old. For reference’s sake, Jimmy Rollins, the player I compared Lindor’s upside to leading up to the draft, played his entire Age-18 season at Low-A in the South Atlantic League and hit .270/.330/.370 in 624 plate appearances. A year like that wouldn’t be a shocker unless he goes all Jurickson Profar, a name Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks recently evoked after watching Lindor, on the low minors. Either way, I’m much happier with this pick now than I would have been a few months ago. Cleveland saw the opportunity to land a superstar talent at a premium defensive position and went for it, high risk and all.

That pick (and I really shouldn’t say just the pick itself: all of the subsequent development credited to both the individual player and the team should be noted as well) has obviously gone about as well as humanly possible. It’s like the total opposite of what happened to Mercado! Lindor is already a star and looks to be one of the game’s best shortstops for years to come. I’m not ready to hang that kind of outcome on Perez, but I think it’s at least within the realm of realistic paths. I’d say not quite Lindor (15th ranked prospect by me), not quite Mercado (81st), and something more like Miller (46th) is my most honest take on how I generally view Perez at this precise point in time. As the Mercado example shows, drastic change can never be ruled out.

May 2016…

The MLB Draft: go big on upside or go home, especially early on day one. And if you’ve got the smarts/guts enough to do just that, then make it a shortstop when possible. And if you’re going to gamble on a high risk/high reward shortstop, make it as young a shortstop as you can find. And if that young shortstop also happens to have game-changing speed, an above-average to plus arm, plus raw power, and a frame to dream on, then…well, maybe Delvin Perez should be talked more about as the potential top overall prospect in this class then he is. I know there’s some chatter, but maybe it should be louder. What stands out most to me about Perez is how much better he’s gotten over the past few months. That, combined with his youth, has his arrow pointed up in a major way.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard from a few different independent sources that are steadfast in their belief that Perez will be the clear best player from this class within three years or less. To say that said reports have helped push me in the recent direction of Perez as a serious candidate to finish in the top spot on my own board would be more than fair. When I think of Perez, I can’t help but draw parallels to Brandon Ingram, freshman star at Duke and sure-fire top two pick in next month’s NBA Draft; more specifically, I think of Perez as the baseball draft version of Ingram (young, indicative of where the game is headed, and the next evolutionary step that can be traced back to a long line of similar yet steadily improving players over the years) when stacked up to Blake Rutherford’s Ben Simmons (both excellent yet perhaps slightly overhyped prospects getting too much love due to physical advantages that won’t always be there). I’m not sure even I buy all of that to the letter (and I lean towards Simmons as the better NBA prospect, so the thing falls apart quickly), but there are certain characteristics that make it fit…and it’s a fun hook.

Also for what it’s worth, I’ve heard from a few friends who are far from sold on Perez the hitter. That’s obviously a fair counterpoint to all of the enthusiasm found in the preceding avalanche of words. Will Perez hit enough to make the kind of impact worthy of the first overall selection? This takes me back to something tangentially related to Kyle Mercer, another potential 1-1 candidate, back in February

It goes back to something I mentioned in the comments section a few weeks back: guys either learn to hit or they don’t. That’s my paraphrased take from this scout’s quote talking about the likelihood of Jahlil Okafor improving his outside shot as a professional: “He needs to become a better shooter and free throw shooter. He either will or he won’t.” Scouts work very hard evaluating amateur and minor league talent across the country, so their collective insight into projecting a young hitter’s future is not to be dismissed. But…can we ever really know how a guy is going to react when thrown into the professional environment? A 95 MPH fastball with movement is a 95 MPH fastball with movement at any level. Plus speed, outstanding glove work, and the ability to miss bats are all translatable skills when honed properly. Hitting is an entirely different animal.

In other words, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. The Perez supporters –myself included, naturally – obviously believe in his bat, but also believe that he won’t necessarily have to hit a ton to be a damn fine player when you factor in his defensive gifts and plus to plus-plus speed. That’s part of what makes drafting a highly athletic shortstop prospect with tons of youth on his side so appealing. Even if the bat doesn’t fulfill all your hopes and dreams, the chances you walk away with at least something is high…or at least higher than at any other position. It gives players like Perez a deceptively high floor. I’ll annoyingly repeat what I said about Rodgers here one more time…

That’s a player worthy of going 1-1 if it all clicks, but there’s enough risk in the overall package that I’m not willing to call him the best player in this class. Second best, maybe. Third best, likely.

That’s what I said last year about Rodgers before eventually ranking him third overall in his class. I have similar thoughts about Perez, but now I’m reconsidering the logic in hedging on putting him anywhere but first overall. A sky high ceiling if he hits and a reasonably realistic useful big league floor if he doesn’t makes him hard to pass on, especially in a class with so few potential stars at the top. He’s blown past Oscar Mercado and Jalen Miller, and now shares a lot of the same traits that have made Francisco Lindor a future star. I don’t see Perez as the type of player you get fired for taking high, but rather the kind of player that has ownership looking at you funny for passing up after he makes it big. All that for a guy who nobody can say with compelling certainty will ever hit. I love the draft.

1.24 – San Diego Padres | Carroll HS SS Hudson Sanchez (248th)

December 2015…

Hudson Sanchez is another favorite and I’m intrigued to see if he’s still got any significant growing left in him; if so, he might be one of those players who can hang at short, but winds up so close to what we envision the ideal third baseman to be that there’s really no other option but to play him at the hot corner in pro ball. Have to appease the Baseball Gods, after all.

May 2016…

Hudson Sanchez, a righthanded bat with some thump out of Texas, is on the opposite side of the age spectrum as one of this class’s youngest prospects. Though not quite the same prospect, it’s worth keeping in mind that Sanchez is just a few weeks behind Perez.

1.25 – San Diego Padres | Kent State LHP Eric Lauer (52nd)

October 2015…

I loved Andrew Chafin as a prospect. Everybody who has been around the Kent State program for a while that I’ve talked to agree that Lauer is better. I can see it: he’s more athletic, has better fastball command, and comes with a cleaner medical history.

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.

1.26 – Chicago White Sox | Louisville RHP Zack Burdi (33rd)

October 2015…

Of all the rankings outside of the top ten, this is the one that could make me look dumbest by June. Burdi is a really tough evaluation for him right now because even after multiple years of being on the prospect stage it’s unclear (to me, at least) what role will eventually lead to him maximizing his ability. I’m reticent to throw him in the bullpen right away — many do this because of his last name, I think — because he’s shown the kind of diversity of stuff to stay in a rotation. Whether or not he has the command or consistency remain to be seen. Still, those concerns aren’t all that concerning when your fallback plan means getting to go full-tilt in the bullpen as you unleash a triple-digit fastball on hitters also guarding against two impressive offspeed pitches (CU, SL). It’s almost a win-win for scouting directors at this point. If he has a great spring, then you can believe him in as a starter long-term and grade him accordingly. If there’s still doubt, then you can drop him some but keep a close eye on his slip while being ready to pounce if he falls outside of those first few “don’t screw up or you’re fired” picks. You don’t want to spend a premium pick on a potential reliever, clearly, but if he falls outside of the top twenty picks or so then all of a sudden that backup bullpen plan is good enough to return value on your investment.

1.27 – Baltimore Orioles | Illinois RHP Cody Sedlock (67th)

April 2016…

Despite all the words and attention spent on Shawaryn, I gave very serious consideration to putting Cody Sedlock in the top spot. Properly rated by many of the experts yet likely underrated by the more casual amateur draft fans, Sedlock is a four-pitch guy – there is a weirdly awesome high number of these pitchers in the Big 10 this year — with the ability to command three intriguing offspeed pitches (SL, CB, CU) well enough for mid-rotation big league potential. I try not to throw mid-rotation starter upside around lightly; Sedlock is really good.

1.28 – Washington Nationals | Walton HS 3B Carter Kieboom (14th)

May 2016…

Carter Kieboom was with the third base prospects in my notes up until about a month or so ago. The buzz on him being good enough to stick at shortstop for at least a few years grew too loud to ignore. In fact, said buzz reminds me quite a bit about how the slow yet steady drumbeat for Alex Bregman, Shortstop grew throughout the spring last season. Beyond the defensive comparison, I think there’s actually a little something to looking at Kieboom developing as a potential Bregman type impact bat over the next few seasons. He checks every box you’d want to see out of a high school infielder: hit (above-average), power (above-average raw), bat speed (yes), approach (mature beyond his years), athleticism (well above-average), speed (average), glove (average at short, could be better yet at third), and arm (average to above-average, more than enough for the left side). He’d be neck and neck with Drew Mendoza for third place on my third base list, but he gets the bump to second here with the shortstops. At either spot, he’s a definite first round talent for me.

1.29 Washington Nationals | Florida RHP Dane Dunning (-)

A copy/paste error this morning kept Dunning off of the top 500 rankings. Now I’m paranoid that he’s not the only name missing since I tend to copy/paste in bunches. Anyway, Dunning has a really good arm. Going off memory, I think he was ranked somewhere just after the 200 mark near the Matt Krook, Matthias Dietz, Greg Veliz, and Tyler Mondile band of pitchers. My inexplicably unpublished notes on him…

JR RHP Dane Dunning: 88-94 FB with plus sink, 96 peak; average or better 81-83 SL; no longer uses good mid-70s CB as much; average 82-87 CU, flashes above-average with plus upside; improved command; good athlete; 6-3, 200 pounds

2014: 11.57 K/9 – 4.71 BB/9 – 21 IP – 5.14 ERA
2015: 8.25 K/9 – 3.45 BB/9 – 60.1 IP – 4.05 ERA
2016: 10.28 K/9 – 1.45 BB/9 – 68.1 IP – 2.50 ERA

1.30 – Texas Rangers | North Florida Christian LHP Cole Ragans (86th)

LHP Cole Ragans (North Florida Christian HS, Florida): 86-92 FB, 93 peak; average or better 71-77 CB, above-average upside; average 74-81 CU with sink; plus athlete; good deception; Sean Newcomb 2.0; PG comp: Jon Lester; 6-4, 185 pounds

1.31 – New York Mets | Connecticut LHP Anthony Kay (69th)

March 2016…

Much as I like him, I don’t necessarily view Anthony Kay as a first round arm. However, the second he falls past the first thirty or so picks he’ll represent immediate value for whatever team gives him a shot. He’s a relatively high-floor future big league starter who can throw four pitches for strikes but lacks that one true put-away offering. Maybe continued refinement of his low-80s changeup or his 78-84 slider gets him there, but for now it’s more of a steady yet unspectacular back of the rotation. Nathan Kirby (pick 40 last year) seems like a reasonable draft ceiling for him, though there are some similarities in Kay’s profile to Marco Gonzales, who went 19th in his draft year. I like Kay for his relative certainty depending on what a team does before selecting him; his high-floor makes him an interesting way to diversity the draft portfolio of a team that otherwise likes to gamble on boom/bust upside plays.

1.32 – Los Angeles Dodgers | Louisville C Will Smith (41st)

Louisville JR C Will Smith: average hit tool with a swing geared towards contact; average to above-average arm; steady glove; average at best power; easy average or better speed; plus athleticism is what separates him from a long list of comparable bats below him; 6-0, 190 pounds

2014: .221/.333/.273 – 10 BB/9 K – 3/3 SB – 77 AB
2015: .242/.333/.331 – 19 BB/27 K – 2/4 SB – 178 AB
2016: .380/.476/.573 – 18 BB/12 K – 9/10 SB – 150 AB

1.33 – St. Louis Cardinals | Elk Grove HS OF Dylan Carlson (151st)

May 2016…

Dylan Carlson (fast-rising bat I’ve heard called a “second round version of Kirilloff”)

1.34 – St. Louis Cardinals | Mississippi State RHP Dakota Hudson (19th)

October 2015…

Hudson is the biggest mystery man out of the SEC Four Horsemen (TM pending…with apologies to all the Vandy guys and Kyle Serrano) because buying on him is buying a largely untested college reliever (so far) with control red flags and a limited overall track record. Those are all fair reasons to doubt him right now, but when Hudson has it working there are few pitchers who look more dominant. His easy plus 86-92 cut-slider is right up there with Jackson’s curve as one of the best breaking balls in the entire class.

April 2016…

As for the actual data above, I’d say that Hudson’s number is eye-opening and wholly consistent with the kind of stuff he throws. Are we sure he isn’t the best college pitching prospect in the country?

May 2016…

No comp is perfect, but I still like the Taijuan Walker ceiling on Hudson. I don’t know if he hits the same peaks as Walker – the Seattle star is the better athlete, plus took full advantage of the strength training, pro coaching, and King Felix good vibes osmosis available to him after signing as a teenager – but the two share a lot of stuff similarities.

The Philadelphia Phillies and 1-1

I grew up less than twenty miles from City Hall in downtown Philadelphia. After a college detour in Boston, I returned to my hometown where I have now lived a ten minute subway ride from Citizens Bank Park the better part of the past decade. I’d say a good 80% of my friends and family who are into baseball would call themselves Phillies fans. So it’s probably no stunner that the Phillies having the first overall pick in next month’s MLB Draft has been a go-to topic of discussion of late. It’s not as though people are stopping me on the street frantically asking about PUK OR GROOME, but I have gotten emails and texts from people I haven’t talked to in months curious if I knew anything about which way the Phillies are leaning. Those messages back where always “off the record,” but it occurred to me that there’s really no point in being secretive. I’m not a journalist. I’m not a reporter. Integrity? What’s that? And there’s always the distinct possibility that I’m making stuff up to get sweet sweet page views on the website I haven’t made a single penny off of in eight years. So I’ll lay out a little bit of what I’ve heard and deduced from talking to some of my friends in the game. I should note that said friends are largely in low places; the highest ranking sources I can count on aren’t particularly high up on the decision-making chain. I think they are reliable contacts all the same, but I think that’s something worth keeping in mind. Here we go…

I think that the Phillies are far less enamored with AJ Puk than the national media would have you believe. While it’s true that their preference since last October has been to use their first pick on a quick-moving college starting pitcher, the idea that they zeroed in on Puk has been blown way out of proportion. While I’m not personally sure what to make of this — as far as I know, Pat Gillick’s one and only fall ball appearance was in Gainesville, and that has to mean something, right? — it does make some sense in the larger draft context. The odds of any team focusing so intently on one player so early in the process is a little hard to believe. Of course, the obvious question then becomes if not Puk then which college pitcher might they prefer? I legitimately have no idea. My own two cents says there’s no college pitcher with the kind of upside worth spending the first overall pick on. This class has lots of depth, lots of relatively high floor mid-rotation types, and a few young guys with number two starter ceilings, but you need to be greedier than that when you’re picking first. Which brings me to…

I think Jay Groome is still very much in the mix for Philadelphia at 1-1. There’s a lot to unpack with this one, but I’m 100% not buying the Phillies not having serious interest in Groome. Common sense alone says they are at least doing their due diligence, independent sources confirm real interest in the young lefty, and my own two eyes have seen high-ranking Phillies front office personnel every single time Groome has touched a mound this spring. The Phillies may not want to take a high school pitcher with their first pick, but if Groome or one of his 2016 HS peers can separate themselves from the pack between now and June then it might just force their hand.

I think a lot of the perceived uncertainty at the top of the draft is something that the Phillies are trying their best to work to their advantage, especially as it pertains to contract negotiations. I think they have been very vocal in a private public way (i.e., well-placed leaks to the industry’s biggest draft writers) about their preference for a college arm. I think that’s being done strategically. Long story short, I think the Phillies have a vested financial interest in making the number one pick as big a mystery for as long as they can. That may not be a particularly revelatory observation, but I think many are taking the reported rumors about which way the Phillies are leaning as facts rather than messaging straight from the front office.

I think this would have been a lot more controversial before so many started to turn on him these last few weeks, but I think the internet — myself included — likes Groome a lot more as a prospect than many actual scouting departments. Not one team source I spoke to was willing to claim Groome as the clear number one high school pitching prospect on their current “board.” A few said that he was in the top spot but it was still too close to call (there are no actual boards stacked up just yet, but teams are getting closer by the day to setting some meaningful albeit flexible rankings) while others said he was part of a larger mix of prospects that includes Riley Pint, Ian Anderson, Braxton Garrett, and Charles King. I’ve heard that Groome’s draft floor is much lower than many on the outside think. I think this is something to keep in mind if/when the Phillies pass on Groome; doing so is a perfectly legitimate baseball decision, even if some of the louder internet voices (again, potentially even a dope like me) disagree. There’s no consensus at the top this year, so it’s hard to make a “bad” pick in terms of process. Results…we’ll have to wait and see. I’d still take Groome if the decision was mine, but I’ve admittedly softened on the idea that it’s him or bust at this point.

I think that a disproportionate amount of attention — I’m guilty of this as well, clearly — has been spent on the pitchers the Phillies are considering at the top of the draft. Prep outfielders Blake Rutherford (a favorite of some of the older brass) and Mickey Moniak (for those who want a do-over of 2010 when Christian Yelich was taken before they had their shot at him) are both very much in play for the top spot while college outfielders Kyle Lewis and Corey Ray are long shots at best. The two high school guys are in the midst of a huge week for them as certain members of the Phillies brass — perhaps a former manager known for his ability to identify and develop hitters — are getting some extended up close and personal looks. Interestingly enough, I’ve heard no buzz — like, seriously none at all — about Delvin Perez. Could be that he’s far enough off the radar that his name doesn’t even realistically come up. Could be that the Phillies are running the ultimate smokescreen. Odd to not hear his name come up at all, though.

I think the possibility of an underslot first overall pick out of left field (though likely not literally a left fielder…) is real. Zack Collins is a name that came up more than once to help get this plan rolling. High school prospects Josh Lowe (Almaraz Georgia connection) and Nolan Jones (fair amount of Phillies heat throughout the spring and very strategic in their deployment) were also mentioned. My personal take here is that I’m more excited about the players mentioned — all guys who should be in the 1-1 mix, but aren’t for whatever reason — than the strategy behind it. My hunch is that take is likely the opposite view of many Phillies fans, an endearingly anxious bunch when it comes to the draft. I’d generally like the money saving strategy (the more lottery tickets the better), but for such a plan to work you need overslot guys to pay later. That’s almost impossible to predict in real time. It’s a great approach in theory, but far too risky a strategy in practice. I don’t think the first overall pick in a year like this is the time to play games. Get the best guy and go from there.

I think in thirty days in beautiful Secaucus, the Phillies are most likely to take Blake Rutherford with the first overall pick than any other player. I think I’d put his odds at 30%, Moniak’s at 20%, Puk’s at 15%, Groome’s at 10%, and the field at 25%. I think I’m not at all confident about those predictions, but they’re the best I’ve got.

2016 MLB Draft – SEC

If you’re one of the small handful of daily readers, you can go ahead and skip this post. You’ve already seen it. Not that you needed my permission or anything, but you’re free to pass all the same. The intent here is to get all of the college content in one place, so below you’ll find everything I’ve written about the 2016 class of MLB Draft prospects currently playing in the SEC. Then I’ll have a college baseball master list post that will centralize everything I’ve written about the 2016 MLB Draft college class all in one place. It’s a rare bit of inspired organizational posting around here, so I’m trying to strike while motivated… 

Hitter Follow List
Hitters 2.0
Outfielders
Pitcher Follow List
Friday Night Arms 
AJ Puk

2016 MLB Draft – May GB% Update

It’s been a month, so let’s update our batted ball findings…

Virginia RHP Connor Jones – 67.04%
Florida LHP AJ Puk – 37.88%
Oklahoma RHP Alec Hansen – 48.48% (*)
Mississippi State RHP Dakota Hudson – 68.22%
Cal RHP Daulton Jefferies – 52.63%
Florida RHP Logan Shore – 55.28%
Winthrop LHP Matt Crohan – 34.48%
Kent State LHP Eric Lauer – 45.92%
Vanderbilt RHP Jordan Sheffield – 51.28%
Connecticut LHP Anthony Kay – 47.18%
Rice RHP Jon Duplantier – 61.29%

And by request…

New Orleans RHP Shawn Semple – 43.44%

* Hansen’s numbers are from when he was a starter only. I’m here to help, but going through every single game to find data for relievers is too much even for me.

A full season (to date) line of 9.25 K/9, 3.25 BB/9, and 68.22 GB% is a pretty fascinating all-around statistical profile for Hudson. The only one that tops that is this mystery righthander’s 9.56 K/9, 1.88 BB/9, and 76.40 GB%. That’s the newest addition to our data set, Pittsburgh RHP TJ Zeuch. Short-lived mysteries are what I live for. It’s only been seven starts and I obviously don’t have data on every single draft-eligible arm in this class, but I’d have to imagine his impressive run since coming back from injury has to rank as one of, if not the very best, GB% in the country.

I’ve been low-key critical of Jones lately, but I think some of his underwhelming peripherals can be explained by his dominant ground ball tendencies. He could be one of those guys who learns how to sacrifice a few grounders for more swings and misses once he enters the pro game. He certainly has the stuff to do it, so perhaps getting away from the college environment — much as I like and respect Brian O’Connor and his staff — will help him unleash the beast that is his nasty mid-80s slider more regularly. Pitch to contact is a very amateur friendly concept, which is ironic considering the fielding quality (and, in some cases, field quality) at that level. Jones striking out more batters as a pro than as a college star might not seem like the most sensible gamble to take at face value, but the theories behind it are not without merit.

Does Puk’s heavy fly ball ways potentially scare off the Phillies some knowing that he’d pitch half his games at Citizens Bank Park? Philadelphia’s home park has a bit of an inflated reputation as a home run hitter’s haven, but it still averages eighth in baseball per ESPN’s HR park factor since 2011. This is the definition of a nitpick, but if you’re choosing between Puk and a similarly talented player, any tie-breaker can matter.

 

Hudson, Sheffield, Tyler, Jackson, Shore, Webb…and Puk

Look at the first seven names on this list. That’s an incredible amount of talent. Weird stuff can happen to pitchers, but I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to claim that all seven will be big league arms within a few seasons after getting drafted. We’ll hit on the pitchers ranked second through seven and a few more after that. Number one was already taken care of here. Let’s see what else we’ve got…

Dakota Hudson

No comp is perfect, but I still like the Taijuan Walker ceiling on Hudson. I don’t know if he hits the same peaks as Walker – the Seattle star is the better athlete, plus took full advantage of the strength training, pro coaching, and King Felix good vibes osmosis available to him after signing as a teenager – but the two share a lot of stuff similarities.

Jordan Sheffield

For as much as we as fans, writers, and/or internet scouts want to believe otherwise, prospects don’t really have anything to prove to anybody. Control what you can control on the field and let the chips fall where they may beyond that. Having said that, the young Vanderbilt righthander has done just about everything I had hoped to see out of him in 2016. Others may still have questions about how his command and smaller stature will hold up pitching every fifth day professionally – perfectly valid concerns, for what it’s worth – but I’m personally all-in on Sheffield as a starting pitching prospect. He knows how to pitch off the fastball (if anything you can make the case he falls in love with it at times), his curve and/or his change can serve as an above-average to plus pitch on any given day, and his junior year leap can’t be ignored. Let’s look at the pre-season take…

It’s a lazy comp, sure, but the possibility that Sheffield could wind up as this year’s Dillon Tate has stuck with me for almost a full calendar year. He’s undersized yet athletic and well-built enough to handle a starter’s workload, plus he has the three pitches (FB, CU, CB) to get past lineups multiple times. If his two average-ish offspeed that flash above-average to plus can more consistently get there, he’s a potential top ten guy no matter his height.

…so that we can revisit that lazy comp. By the numbers, here’s what we’ve got…

11.09 K/9 – 3.31 BB/9 – 2.29 ERA – 70.2 IP
9.67 K/9 – 2.44 BB/9 – 2.26 ERA – 103.1 IP

Top is Sheffield so far, bottom is Tate’s draft year. I asked around and nobody particularly liked the Tate comparison, but more because of the belief that Sheffield is a fairly unique pitcher than that it’s a bad comp. The only alternate name I heard was a tepid Edinson Volquez 2.0 endorsement. I actually kind of dig that one. At the same age, Volquez was listed at a mere 6-1, 160 pounds, a far cry from his current listed 6-0, 220 pounds. He was known back then for his electric fastball (check), plus changeup (check), and above-average slider, a pitch that eventually morphed into his present above-average curve (check). I can definitely some young Volquez in Sheffield’s game.

Robert Tyler

I didn’t intend for this to be an all comp all the time post, but I can’t get the Ryan Madson comparison (first noted by Keith Law) out of my head whenever I think about Tyler. I really want to believe in his breaking ball being good enough to let him be the starting pitcher that Madson never could be, but nobody I’ve spoken to seems to think he can stay in the rotation as a big leaguer. That won’t stop me from stubbornly continuing to believe Tyler, one of the youngest players in his class, won’t find a way to harness his spike-curve more effectively more often. He has the size, command, ability to hold his velocity, and smarts to make it as a starter. I’d be willing to spend a second round pick – maybe a late first depending on how the board breaks – to get him signed, sealed, delivered, and working with my pro staff (coaching and medical) to see firsthand whether or not a more consistent breaker is in that electric right arm of his.

Zach Jackson

We’ll go with the pre-season evaluation on Jackson to hammer an old point home…

One of my favorite snippets of my notes comes in the Jackson section: “if he fixes delivery and command, watch out.” Well, duh. I could have said that about just about any upper-echelon arm in this age demographic. With Jackson, however, it reinforces just how special his stuff is when he’s right. I don’t think this college class has a pitch better than his curveball at its best.

I think Jackson’s delivery has made strides in 2016 – if not smoother, then certainly more repeatable – but questions about his command can now be partnered with similar concerns about his control. First round stuff + fifth round command/control = ultimate third round landing spot? I don’t know if the math checks out there, but I think the conclusion might wind up being correct. I also think that the scouting on Jackson can more or less be wrapped up for the season – we know what he is by now – so the attention of anybody assigned to watch him between now and June should be on determining if whatever is getting in the way of his stalled command progress and backwards trending control can be fixed through pro instruction and repetition. Jackson is the kind of maddening talent that can get an area scout promoted or canned, but his success or failure from this point forward is all about how he adapts to the pro development staffers tasked with guiding him along.

Logan Shore

I have a friend who leans very heavy on statistics when it comes to his personal brand of minor league prospect evaluation. I consider myself a little more balanced between scouting reports and certain performance indicators (with a slight statistical lean if anything), but his approach works for him and I let him do his thing. If nothing else, our shared view on what stats matter for young players means we rarely disagree on general prospect valuation. One recent spat, however, highlights the danger of immersing oneself too deep in one side of the stats vs scouts “debate.” This friend was a very vocal critic of Phillies minor league pitcher Zach Eflin and his long history of underwhelming strikeout numbers. I’ve liked Eflin for over four years now – you can check the archives – and have obviously stayed with him despite the lack of standout peripherals as a young pro. Be patient, I told him. He’s working on things, I told him. Don’t count him out just yet, I told him. Now despite being in AAA, Eflin still has plenty to work on once he lands in the big leagues. But only the most stubborn critic would deny that he’s finally on the final stage of development – refinement – and well past the “will he or won’t he?” bit of prospect purgatory. His more consistent premium velocity combined with his newfound curve has helped him go from 5.14 K/9 to 6.52 K/9 to 6.54 K/9 to 4.65 K/9 (first year with the Phillies with a heavy emphasis on working through some stuff) to his current 7.52 K/9 through four starts in 2016. He’s slowly but surely gotten stronger, smarter, and better, and the results have finally begun to caught up. It’s a beautiful thing.

Logan Shore has made similar progress over the last few seasons: 6.37 K/9 to 6.75 K/9 to 9.05 K/9. He’s always had solid fastball velocity and a devastating changeup. This year he’s found a few more ticks with the heater (more so in how he maintains it rather than a peak velocity jump), gained a little more consistency with his breaking ball, and arguably improved that already potent circle-change into something even scarier to opposing hitters. He’s gotten stronger, smarter, and better. I mentally wrote him off as one of the draft’s most overrated arms coming into the spring – thankfully I never wrote that on the site, but I’m man enough to admit I’ve had those thoughts on more than one occasion – but now I see the error in my ways. When a young arm has big-time stuff and command beyond his years, be patient with his development and don’t rely on one metric to make an ultimate judgment on his future. Shore is good and quite possibly still getting better.

Braden Webb

Braden Webb doesn’t have the track record of many of his SEC peers, but the man does not lack for arm talent. Explosive heat (90-94, up to 96-97), an easy above-average to plus 73-79 curve, and a rapidly improving 80-85 change. All of the ingredients of a big league starting pitcher are here. Grabbing Webb at any point past round one would be a major coup for whatever team is lucky/smart enough to do so.

AJ Puk

I’m cheating and tacking Puk back on at the end here even after he got his own post last week. Like many draft-obsessed individuals, I watched his most recent start against South Carolina with great interest. I’ve seen Puk a few times in person and tons of times on the tube, but it wasn’t until Saturday night that the comparison between him and Andrew Miller really hit me. I saw about a dozen Miller starts in person back in his Tar Heel days (in a very different time in my life) and watching Puk throw brings back all kinds of memories, good and bad. The frustrating thing about this comp is that it doesn’t really tell us much. Maybe we can use it as a baseline floor for what Puk could become – though Miller’s dominance out of the pen is a tough expectation to put on anybody as a realistic worst case scenario – but pointing out the similarities between the two (size, length, extension, delivery, mound demeanor, fastball, slider, underdeveloped change…even similar facially minus Miller’s draft year mustache) hardly means that Puk is destined to the same failed starter fate. I mean, sure, maybe it does, but there’s so much more that goes into being a successful big league starter than what gets put down on a scouting card. I love comps, but they are meant to serve as a starting point to the conversation, not to be the parting shot. Every player is unique and whatever extra reasons are out there for Miller not making it in the rotation should not be held against Puk. Maybe that’s obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to say it again. I do think that Puk, barring injury, has a pretty clear big league skill set in some capacity (maybe not -0.15 FIP out of the bullpen good, but still good) even if he doesn’t reach his ultimate ceiling. In that way he is similar to Miller, so at least there’s that to fall back on. The odds that you get nothing out of Puk, again barring injury, are slim to none. For the risk-averse out there, that’s a comforting thought.

AJ Puk

(I originally wrote JA Puk in the title before noticing it and correcting it shortly before posting. That’s unremarkable except for the fact that I recently was given a Pirates JA Happ as a stylistic comp for Puk — more fastballs, more sliders/less curves, more changeups — that I had completely forgotten about until I made that typo. Funny how the brain works sometimes…)

I’ve been tough on AJ Puk in the past, but I think I’m finally ready to give in. I’m at peace with him being the first overall pick in this year’s draft. I mean, we all knew the Phillies were all over him going back to when Pat Gillick went south down to Gainesville to watch him throw during fall ball, but only know am I ready to accept it as a good thing. Or, perhaps more accurately, I can now accept it at least as a non-bad thing. This was written here back in October…

If I had to predict what player will actually go number one this June, I’d piggy-back on what others have already said and put my vote in for AJ Puk. The Phillies are my hometown team and while I’m not as well-connected to their thinking as I am with a few other teams, based on the snippets of behind the scenes things I’ve heard (not much considering it’s October, but it’s not like they aren’t thinking about it yet) and the common sense reporting elsewhere (they lean towards a quick-moving college player, preferably a pitcher) all point to Puk. He’s healthy, a good kid (harmless crane climbing incident aside), and a starting pitcher all the way. Puk joining Alfaro, Knapp, Crawford, Franco, Williams, Quinn, Herrera, Altherr, Nola, Thompson, Eickhoff, Eflin, and Giles by September 2017 makes for a pretty intriguing cost-controlled core.

(It’s pretty great for Phillies fans that they can now swap out Giles’s name for Velasquez, Appel, and Eshelman. I’ve saved this analysis for friends and family I like to annoy with this sort of thing via email, but there are so many Cubs/Phillies rebuild parallels that it’s freaky. The only bummer is that there is no Kris Bryant in this class and that the Phillies might be too good in 2016 to land a Kyle Schwarber type next June. Still, where the Cubs were last year, I expect the Phillies to be in 2018. Enjoy this down time while you can, Mets and Nationals. The Phillies are coming fast.)

Now that May is here it’s time to accept the inevitability of Puk wearing red pinstripes…or, more immediately, Clearwater Thresher red and blue. I’ve long been in the “like but not love” camp when it comes to Puk, partly because of my belief there were superior talents ahead of him in this class and partly because of the handful of red flags that dot his dossier. The three biggest knocks on Puk coming into the season were, in some order, 1) command, 2) inconsistent quality of offspeed offerings, and 3) good but not great athleticism. It says a lot about what he does well that he’s risen as a prospect in my mind despite not really answering any of the questions we had for him coming into the season. All of this has held up so far…

Extension, deception, and power would be three words that come immediately to mind when describing Puk. He’s every bit of 6-7, 225 with a delivery that hides the ball damn well. His power comes both with his left arm (92-96, 98 peak) and at the plate (he’d quickly be among the better hitting pitchers in the game), so it’s no big shock that some guy on the internet (that’s me) sees some similarities between him and the prospect version of Madison Bumgarner.

I’ll be quick to point out again that it says “prospect version of Madison Bumgarner” without speaking to what the San Francisco ace grew into as a finished product in the big leagues. Bumgarner is a kind of special player who just kept adding on and getting better as he progressed up the chain. That’s not something that you can predict for any other prospect, though you can’t really rule it out either. You don’t know either way, is the point. Putting Bumgarner aside for now, I think there are two recent-ish draft lefthanders that can help create a basis for what to expect out of AJ Puk in the early stages of his pro career. In terms of a realistic prospect upside, Puk reminds me a great deal of recently promoted big league pitcher Sean Manaea.

Their deliveries are hardly identical – Puk is more over the top while Manaea slings it from more of an angle, plus Puk has a more pronounced step-back with his right foot at the onset and a longer stride, both aspects of his delivery that I personally like as it gives him better balance throughout – but they aren’t so different that you’d point to mechanics as a reason for tossing the comparison aside. They have similar stuff starting with fastballs close in velocity and movement (Puk has been 90-94 this year, up to 97), inconsistent yet promising low- to mid-80s sliders that flash above-average to plus (82-86 and more frequently showing above-average this year for Puk), and changeups still in need of development that clearly would be classified as distant third pitches (Puk’s has been 82-88 so far). Both have missed a lot of bats while also having their ups and downs in the control department with Puk being better at the former while Manaea maintained a slight edge at the latter. Both are also very well-proportioned, physical lefthanders with intimidating size with which they know how to use to their advantage.

A cautionary comparison for Puk might be current Mariners minor leaguer James Paxton. Paxton and Puk are closer mechanically – more similar with the height of their leg kick and overall arm action, though Paxton is more deliberate across the board — than Manaea and Puk, but the big difference between the former SEC lefthander and the current SEC lefthander is the breaking ball. Paxton’s bread and butter is a big overhand curve, a pitch that remains unhittable to this day when he can command it. Puk’s slider has its moments and it’s fair to expect it to develop into a true big league out-pitch (I do), but it’s not quite on that level yet. Paxton’s career has stalled for many of the same reasons some weren’t particularly high on Puk coming into the season: up and down fastball velocity partly attributable to a series of nagging injuries (also a problem of Manaea’s at times), an underdeveloped changeup, and consistently inconsistent command. I think Puk is ahead of where Paxton was at similar points in their development and prefer his ceiling to what we’ve seen out of Paxton to date, but the realistic floor comp remains in play.

One additional notable (or not) similarity between Puk, Manaea, Paxton, and Sean Newcomb, a fourth player often thrown into the mix as a potential Puk point of reference (it’s not bad, but Newcomb’s control issues are greater than anything Puk has dealt with), comes via each player’s respective hometown. We’ve got Cedar Rapids (IA), Valparaiso (IN), Ladner (BC), and Brockton (MA). That’s two raised in the Midwest, one in Canada, and one in New England. When you start to piece everything together, the similar career trajectories for each young pitcher (so far) begin to make some sense. All come from cold weather locales, all are large men with long limbs (thus making coordinating said limbs more of a challenge), and all are lefthanders, a fact that may or may not matter to you depending on your view of whether or not lefties really do develop later than their righthanded counterparts.

Put me down for a realistic Sean Manaea type of upside, a James Paxton floor, and the crazy pipe dream where literally everything works out developmentally ceiling of Madison Bumgarner. Do those potential career paths add up to a 1-1 draft pick? I’m not sure I have a good answer for that yet.

I think it is fair to say that the Puk to Philadelphia movement is propped up in part by the simple notion that somebody has to go first in this draft. There’s an undeniable element of winning the 1-1 race by default at play here – some players have risen to at least get their names in the conversation, but, no matter how much I’ve tried to will it to happen, that obvious 1-1 player does not yet exist in this class – so that should be something taken into consideration when putting Puk’s potential pro prospect status in context. You won’t be able to look at him as being the kind of slam dunk impact talent that many expect to see at the top of a major sport’s draft board, but perhaps that expectation shouldn’t exist for the baseball draft in the first place. My first two drafts with this site active had true “can’t miss” guys in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, but has any draft from 2011 to the present day really had a first overall pick that felt like a sure thing? Maybe Brady Aiken in 2014, but that’s a hard claim to put on a high school pitcher by definition. Carlos Rodon, the third pick that year, felt surer, but even he had a draft season when he was picked apart for things such as fastball command, a dip in velocity, an underdeveloped changeup, average athleticism, and spotty control. Hey, am I nuts or are do those concerns remind you of anybody from this class? Kris Bryant was absolutely that guy in 2013, but the Astros confused us all by going with Mark Appel in the top spot. Carlos Correa, the actual 1-1 in 2012, was pretty close to that level, as was Lucas Giolito, the number two prospect even with the injury red flag (behind Correa) on my board. Both were high school prospects with at least some doubt – health for Giolito, slightly underscouted summer and spring for Correa – so I could go either way on them. You could argue for Gerrit Cole in 2011 as well, but there’s a little bit of hindsight bias there as he’s closer to a present day Puk as a college prospect than many want to remember. Not that I’m the one true authority on these things, but I actually had Anthony Rendon ahead of Cole in that class, so that’s a potential argument against Cole being a clear-cut number one from day one.

Long stroll through recent draft history short, I don’t think the fact we have uncertainty at the top of this year’s draft is all that rare. Puk might feel a bit underwhelming, but that’s selling his flashes of dominance on the mound short. When he’s right, he’s a worthy 1-1 pick. He’s got a big fastball he can lean on through skillful adding and subtracting, a slider that he can throw for strikes or bury depending on the situation, and a good enough changeup that keeps hitters from sitting on the breaking ball. Getting him right more consistently and for longer stretches of time will be the challenges he and his pro developmental staff will have to overcome.

(For as much as I’ve come around on Puk, I still think Jay Groome is the best prospect in this class and the closest thing to the classic 1-1 type available.)