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No catchers. Minimal power. Lots of relievers. Extremely college-heavy. SEC bats. If you’re into brevity, there’s the 2015 Washington Nationals draft in about half a tweet. If you’re up for a few more words on the topic, keep on reading.
I appreciate what OF Andrew Stevenson (115) has done as a pro so far (.322/.373/.402 with 13 BB/20 K and 21/26 SB in 195 PA) not only because that’s a really solid line for any player but also because it validates my view on him from early spring. Prospect evaluation is all about the prospect evaluator and not the prospect, right? That’s what people pay the big bucks to read. Anyway, here is what I wrote then…
LSU JR OF Andrew Stevenson could step into a AA lineup tomorrow (just in time for opening day!) because his defense in center (plus-plus), speed (plus), and hit tool (above-average) are all professional quality right now. He’s one of those players that it would be very hard to imagine not someday carving out a big league role for himself on the basis of his defensive prowess and game-changing speed on the base paths alone. When you add in that hit tool, his emerging pop, and an improved approach at the plate, it’s easy to envision him maturing into a table-setting leadoff hitter guaranteed to give you years of positive defensive and base running value in the bigs. I was high on Stevenson before writing this paragraph, but now I’m more pumped about him than ever.
It’s not AA, but he’s at least one of the few — annoyingly few, in my view — 2015 college draft prospects getting a chance to play in a full-season league already. I compared Stevenson to the draft version of Ben Revere (.326/.383/.404 career minor league player) before the draft, and I’ll stick with that today. Revere has been a pretty valuable player to date and that’s without the ability to play an above-average center field; Stevenson could hit like Revere and wind up a top ten overall big league CF with the way he’ll provide substantial defensive and base running value. Think Brett Gardner or Michael Bourn if it works. Or Sam Fuld (.284/.371/.405 minor league hitter), a comp I got from a source who doesn’t love Stevenson like I do (“extra outfielder, but a good one”) if it doesn’t. I’m clearly bullish on his upside and the likelihood of reaching said upside, though I’ll stick with a Revere-like bat more than Gardner. The Nationals got a good one here.
Fellow SEC OF Rhett Wiseman (146) reminded me of a lefthanded Mikie Mahtook while at Vanderbilt. I’m sticking with that platoon corner outfield bat upside for now. Some pre-draft thoughts…
I’ve run into two interesting schools of thought about Wiseman while putting this together. The first, and I’ll admit that this was my initial view from the start, is that he’s still more tools than skills right now. The tools are quite strong, but the fact that they haven’t turned into the skills many expected by now gives some pause. Still, those tools that were clear to almost all going back to his high school days are still real and still worth getting excited about. The breakout could come any day now for him and when it does we’ll be looking at a potential first-division regular in the outfield. The opposing view believes that Wiseman’s development has gone as scripted and what we’re seeing right now is more or less what we’re going to get with him. He’s a great athlete and a far more cerebral hitter than given credit, but the tools were overstated across the board at the onset of his amateur career and now we’re seeing expectations for him correcting themselves based on what he really is. There really are no pluses in his game and no carrying tool that will help him rise above his future fourth outfielder station. I’m a believer that it’s always wise to bet on athletes having the light bulb turn on before too long, so count me in as still leaning closer to the former (and my original) position. I do understand the concerns about Wiseman potentially topping out as a “tweener” outfield prospect — he hasn’t shown the power yet to work in a corner, but that’s where he’s clearly best defensively — so going on the first day might be off the table. He’s still an intriguing blend of production (good, not mind-blowing) and tools (same) who could wind up a relative bargain if he slips much later than that. I could see him both being ranked and drafted in the same area that I had him listed (110th overall) out of Buckingham Browne & Nichols.
In any event, I don’t think Wiseman’s viewed by many as quite the prospect he was back in high school and a good part of that was the way many — me included — viewed his rawness, age, and relative inexperience as a New England high school product as positives. We all are guilty of assuming there are concretely meaningful patterns we can expect from prospect development and that all young players will continue to get better with age and experience. Development is not linear and can be wildly unpredictable. Some guys are as good as they are going to get at 17 while others don’t figure it out (unfortunately) until way after their physical peak. This speaks to the heart of what makes assessing and drafting amateurs so much fun. We’re all just trying to gather as much information on as many players as possible and then making the best possible guesses as to what we’ll wind up with.
OF Blake Perkins (283) is a really intriguing yet really raw second round gamble. It wasn’t a direct comparison by any means, but one informed source told me after the fact that he believed Washington is hoping Perkins can be another version of Michael Taylor. I can dig it. OF Phil Diedrick was a surprise pick for me, though I guess once you get down to round 29 getting a player selected is really a matter of needing just one area scout pounding the table for his guy. I admittedly don’t know much about Diedrick, but the flashes of college power weren’t enough to overcome the questionable plate discipline for me to rank him in the draftable range. Didn’t see him this year, didn’t talk to anybody who had, so…take my opinion on him with measurable skepticism.
1B David Kerian (216) admittedly has never thrilled me as a hitter, but there’s no denying his senior year production at the plate. Still, the key word there is senior as much as any other; I think we know enough about the importance of age/experience relative to competition that it’s fair to be suspicious about any college senior who puts up numbers out of line with their career marks. He’s more than fine value in the ninth round, but I think his realistic ceiling is more up-and-down bench bat than future regular.
2B Max Schrock (57) in round thirteen is flat robbery. Matt Chapman, Tim Wallach, David Freese, and Kyle Seager were all mentioned as possible comps for Schrock at one time or another on this site. I eventually settled on calling him a “Mark Ellis type of hitter capable of giving you more or less league average production at the plate while making up the difference as needed with smart base running and steady defense” before identifying him as a late-second/early-third round value back in March. My mind didn’t change between then and June. I’d be surprised if he didn’t have a long career in the big leagues, though whether it’s as an everyday second baseman or super-utility player is up to him. Saw him in HS and had this to say then: “[I] hate to resort to the cliché, but he’s a ballplayer – no crazy tools, not a premium athlete, not always aesthetically pleasing watching him play, but will do the things that help you win games…and, yeah, he can hit, too.”
2B Dalton Dulin (274) is a tricky player to love, but an easy player to like. He’s a lot of fun to watch — like Schrock, he’s a “gamer” — who does what he does well (make consistent hard contact, pick his spots on the bases, position himself defensively) really well. The tricky part is he’s also a player with limitations. There’s not a ton of power presently or on the way, and, steady as he is at second, there’s a good chance that’s his only viable long-term pro spot defensively. I still like the pick in the 17th round because Dulin is by all accounts a guy you want on your side between the lines with the acknowledgment that it’s a very tough road for a second basemen with little power. 2B Melvin Rodriguez (373) is like a more extreme version of Kerian in that his big senior year must be viewed through the prism of being an older (24 in Rodriguez’s case) college senior. I like the approach, pop, and potential defensive versatility (maybe 2B, 3B, and corner OF?), but starting your first full season as a minor league player at age 25 is less than ideal.
SS Ian Sagdal (474) was well liked by many I talked to as an offensive player, but his long-term defensive home was an open question. I had somebody compare him to Marcus Semien, so take that one any way you’d like. I thought the abbreviated and underwhelming final college season of SS Angelo La Bruna would cost him a shot to get drafted, but Washington gave him a shot in round 33. I had a guy in the Carolinas absolutely raving about La Bruna prior to the then Duke shortstop’s junior season. Injuries kept that from happening, though I think it’s also fair to speculate about how much upside La Bruna ever had in the first place. 2B Jake Jefferies has always intrigued me from an athletic standpoint, but hasn’t had even a good college season as of yet. Sometimes my notes are incomplete, especially for high school prospects. For 3B Dalton DiNatale, all I had back when he was in HS was “good arm strength.” That’s all well and good, but hardly enough information to do anything with on draft day. Such is the life of attempting to cover a country’s worth of amateurs with an unpaid staff of one. DiNatale took his strong arm to Arizona State where he enjoyed three eerily consistent years of decent but hardly thrilling college production. He’s a thirty-second round organizational player at this point, but I’ll always remember him for my lame attempts at passing off my knowledge of his arm strength as something meaningful.
If RHP Mariano Rivera (198) doesn’t wind up an effective part of a big league bullpen within the next three years, I give up. Some things are just meant to be. From the pre-season…
Bloodlines can be overrated, but I’m buying the potential benefits that Iona JR RHP Mariano Rivera has and will continue to reap as the son of baseball’s all-time best closer. Senior was known for many things such as piling up 652 saves, finishing his career with an inconceivable 205 ERA+, and throwing arguably the greatest singular pitch known to man; while awesome, none of those things (well, maybe some of that cutter magic could rub off…) will translate to helping Junior achieve success on the diamond. It is fair to believe that the insane work ethic and preternatural ability to make adjustments on the mound could be traits passed down from father to son. For now, Rivera is a nice looking relief prospect with enough fastball (88-92, 94 peak) and an above-average slider to compensate for his lack of size and middling track record to date. To a man, every person I spoke to remarked that they believed Rivera would be a better professional than college player.
That last sentence is what stands out most to me. Everybody had Rivera pegged as a better potential pro than a college player and that was before he wound up as a pretty damn good college player in 2015. His improved performance — from 3.50 K/9 in 2013 to 6.43 K/9 in 2014 to 11.96 K/9 in 2015 — not so surprisingly coincided with an uptick of stuff.
LHP Matthew Crownover (161) has reminded me of Adam Morgan for quite some time now, so I’ll stick with that as he enters pro ball. Morgan had to overcome shoulder injuries to reach the big leagues while Crownover is a high school Tommy John survivor who took some time to get back to 100%. There’s not much projection left, but the Clemson southpaw has the three average pitches and command to make a run as a potential fifth starter as is. LHP Taylor Hearn is a fun case as a prospect drafted four straight years. He’s relatively young for a senior, has always put up good numbers, and throws hard. That’s all I’ve got. The fastball of LHP Taylor Guilbeau moves almost too much for his own good at times. It’s a plus pitch even in the upper-80s because of the way it dances, but harnessing it within the strike zone has been a problem for him dating back to his freshman season at Alabama. LHP Grant Borne has similar stuff (FB at 88-92, best secondary pitch is changeup) and ultimate upside (middle relief).
RHP Koda Glover is a really nice looking relief prospect. He had a super junior year at Oklahoma State (10.50 K/9 and 1.88 ERA in 23 IP) and has the fastball (92-96) and slider (above-average at 82-84) to keep missing bats as a pro. I’m in. I’m also a big fan of RHP Andrew Lee (233) as the pre-draft ranking in parentheses indicates. Giving the two-way star from Tennessee a chance to concentrate fully on pitching could make him a surprisingly quick riser through the minor leagues. There’s size (6-5, 220), athleticism, arm speed (upper-80s FB, 93 peak), and a pair of intriguing offspeed pitches. Honestly, what’s not to like? Great pick. RHP Tommy Peterson is a Tommy John survivor (2013) that took some time to return to form, but did so with a bang in 2015 (10.23 K/9 and 2.05 ERA in 43 IP). With a fastball that gets up to the mid-90s, he’s a reliever to keep in mind. RHP Calvin Copping is a sinker/slider arm that could see his upper-80s fastball play up some now that he’s made the move to a professional bullpen. RHP Jorge Pantoja has good size (6-6, 220 pounds), athleticism, and enough fastball (90-93) and slider (average or better low-80s) to keep things interesting. I love SWAC prospects, so he’s a guy I’ll be following closely. It wouldn’t shock me if one of these three eventually wind up pitching in the big leagues one day.
RHP Kevin Mooney (459) can miss bats with his one-two punch of his sinking fastball (88-92, 94 peak) and upper-70s curve with plus promise, but is just too wild to be trusted at this point. Betting on arm talent is smart, so it’s easy to see why Washington liked the local product. RHP Matt Pirro has similar strengths and weaknesses. From earlier in the season…
SR RHP Matt Pirro has a good arm (88-93 FB, 95 peak) with a knuckle-curve that flashes plus, but his below-average control hasn’t gotten much better over the years. Feels like a late round flier on a guy with arm strength is his best bet. Wonder if his bad control stems from bad mechanics; if so, can it be fixed?
RHP Ryan Brinley has a legit fastball (92-94, 95 peak), but his results haven’t quite lined up with his stuff as of yet. RHP Mick VanVossen gets such high marks for his pitchability and baseball IQ that he’s got future pitching coach written all over him. Even with his smarts and average stuff, however, missing bats has never really been his thing. Still, as a 28th round organizational player that can at least hold his own on the mound while hopefully imparting some wisdom to teammates along the way, it’s a nice pick. The one signed HS prospect of note outside of Blake Perkins is LHP Tyler Watson, a very intriguing 34th round pick that the Nationals went above and beyond to work out a deal. The reports and the performance have been nothing short of outstanding to date. I’m sufficiently intrigued.
Nationals taken in my pre-draft top 500…
57 – Max Schrock
115 – Andrew Stevenson
146 – Rhett Wiseman
161 – Matthew Crownover
198 – Mariano Rivera
216 – David Kerian
233 – Andrew Lee
274 – Dalton Dulin
283 – Blake Perkins
373 – Melvin Rodriguez
459 – Kevin Mooney
474 – Ian Sagdal
Vanderbilt JR RHP Walker Buehler
Vanderbilt JR RHP Carson Fulmer
Kentucky JR RHP Kyle Cody
Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter
Texas A&M JR RHP Grayson Long
Missouri JR RHP Alec Rash
Florida JR RHP Eric Hanhold
Arkansas JR RHP Trey Killian
Tennessee JR LHP Drake Owenby
Vanderbilt SO LHP John Kilichowski
Before we get to some updated stuff, here are a few words I’ve written about some of the SEC’s top pitching prospects (or so I thought…if I could get a do-over on some of those Second Team picks above, I sure would) from before the season…
Vanderbilt JR RHP Walker Buehler
Beyond his smarts, pitchability, command, athleticism, and groundball tendencies, Buehler sticks out to me for having two legitimate, distinct above-average to plus breaking balls. They can run into each other at times — I’ve seen an unhealthy amount of baseball in my life and consider myself reasonably bright, but distinguishing between curves, sliders, and even cutters isn’t a personal strength — especially when they are both in the low-80 MPH range, but there’s enough separation between his mostly upper-70s curve (77-83, really) and his “hard CB” from high school (then 78-82) that is now a fully formed 80-85 slider that both get swings and misses. I will say that in my experience viewing him and talking to smarter people who have seen him way more, the two pitches don’t often seem to be in that above-average to plus range within the same game. I’d like to chart a few of his starts to test the validity of this claim, but it’s been said to me that he’ll figure out which breaking ball is working early in the game and then lean on it almost exclusively as his breaker of choice throughout the game. The ability to spin two quality breaking balls on top of an impressive fastball (90-94, 96 peak) and average mid-80s sinking changeup that flashes much better on top of all of Buehler’s previous strengths and two arguable weaknesses (size and inconsistencies with his breaking balls) make him a difficult pitcher to find an instructive comparable player for. Some of the names I’ve tossed out as ceiling comparisons over the past few years include Roy Oswalt, Javier Vazquez, and Julio Teheran. All of those work and don’t work for various reasons, I think. I also think I like Buehler so much as a prospect that I’m cool with dropping the Zack Greinke with a harder curve comp that’s been on my mind with him for a while now. It’s not meant to be a comparison we all get crazy carried away with — Greinke was already in the big leagues at Buehler’s current age, after all — but in terms of the total present prospect package of stuff, pitchability, build, and frame, I think it works very well.
Vanderbilt JR RHP Carson Fulmer
Fulmer has had almost as much success as Buehler through two college seasons with their only significant difference coming in the former’s more common bouts of wildness. It’s not the kind of wildness that raises any kind of red flags, but rather something that falls somewhere between the typical developmental path of an electric young arm and the potential start of a long, fruitful run of being “effectively wild” from now until the day he retires. That aside, the biggest real question about Fulmer will be future big league role. I’d like to think I’ve long shown a willingness to allow players to play themselves from bigger roles (starting, up-the-middle defensive spots, etc.) to smaller roles, so it should be no shock that I’d run Fulmer out as a starter for as long as he shows he is capable of holding down the job in pro ball. A big part of believing in Fulmer as a starter is the fact that his stuff does not appear to appreciably suffer in longer outings. He has the three pitches he’ll need to go through lineups multiple times (mid-90s FB, honest 99 peak; plus low-80s breaking ball; mid-80s changeup with promise) and more than enough deception in his delivery to make him a tough matchup in almost any circumstance. There is some fair cause for concern that his delivery — I’m not expert on these things and I mostly only care that it’s repeatable, but it’s rough enough that even I can see what the fuss is about — won’t allow him to hold up throwing 200+ innings a season. This isn’t the only reason why Buehler is universally regarded as the better prospect (see the silly amount of fawning I do over him above for more), but it’s a big one. Not all drafts are created equal, but I have a hard time imagining Fulmer falling too far on draft day one year after a very similar pitcher in Grant Holmes went 22nd overall.
Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter
Put me down as believing JR RHP Trey Wingenter is in store for a monster 2015 campaign. All of the pieces are there for a big season: legit fastball (88-94, 95/96 peak), a pair of breaking balls ranging from average (mid-70s CB) to better than that (mid-80s SL), an average or better CU, a very low-mileage arm (only 36 innings through two college seasons), and an imposing yet still projectionable 6-7, 200 pound frame.
Missouri JR RHP Alec Rash
Rash has been a hot name in prospect circles (78th ranked prospect in 2012 here) since his high school days. He couldn’t come to terms with the Phillies that same year after being selected with the 95th overall pick. Things haven’t gone quite according to script for him at Missouri (less than 50 combined innings pitched to date), but he’s missed bats when called upon (8.15 K/9 last year) and still flashes pro-caliber stuff. The lack of innings only presents an issue in how it’s limited opportunities for him to further develop the third pitch he’d likely need to start as a professional. Nobody questions his fastball (90-95), slider (low-80s, flashes plus), frame (6-6, 200), athleticism, or work ethic, so it’ll mostly come down to how he looks in an expanded role and whether or not his mid-80s changeup impresses evaluators enough to project him in a starting role going forward. He’ll be a high pick either way, but showing he can start could mean the difference between a top three round selection and a top seven round selection.
Arkansas JR RHP Trey Killian
JR RHP Trey Killian’s performances through two year are confusing. His first year was quite strong (8.59 K/9 and 2.95 BB/9), but he did it in limited innings (36.2). Last year he proved to be more of a workhorse (94 IP) and he did a great job of keeping runs off the board (2.30 ERA), but he missed way less bats (5.94 K/9) yet wound up improving his control (1.72 BB/9). Good, less good, good, good, less good, good…you see how he can confuse even the most brilliant internet baseball writers, right? His track record, stuff (88-92 FB, 94 peak; good cutter; really good yet underused low-80s CU; above-average slider; usable curve), command, and athleticism all add up to strong back of the rotation starter material, so maybe I’m overthinking it with him anyway. Or maybe I’m still waiting on a year when he combines really good peripherals with really good run prevention and we all point to him as a guy who figured it out enough to get the bump to middle of the rotation material. That’s my hope — I want to say expectation, but I’m not quite there — for Killian in 2015. He’s the best returning arm on the Arkansas staff either way.
Tennessee JR LHP Drake Owenby
JR LHP Drake Owenby, the owner of one of the sport’s most difficult to scout fastballs, will need to reign in his serious control issues if he wants to get himself selected in a draft range commiserate with his considerable raw stuff. At his best, he’s got a big league fastball (more on that in a second), a well above-average mid-70s curve that flashes plus, and an underdeveloped but plenty intriguing changeup. His walks have been out of hand to date, but he’s missed bats along the way (8.53 K/9 in 25.1 IP last year) and he’s the kind of athlete you believe will figure out some of his mechanical issues (and corresponding control woes) along the way. As for that aforementioned confounding fastball: at least in my looks, Owenby has added and subtracted from his heater to a degree that I can’t recall an honest to goodness amateur prospect doing so before. My notes have his fastball at literally anywhere between 85-95 (most often 88-92ish, like about 95% of the pitchers I see), and there doesn’t appear to be any external cause (e.g. injury, game situation, weather conditions) for the fluctuations. Owenby is a weird, fun prospect who also just so happens to be, you guessed it, pretty good.
I’ll personally champion Walker Buehler as a candidate to go 1-1 because there’s little in his profile to suggest anything but a consistently above-average big league starting pitcher. Zack Greinke Lite with a firmer curve was my original comparison for him, and I’m sticking with it. Though I’d be fairly surprised if the Diamondbacks of all teams considered either Vandy arm with their pick, I personally believe that Carson Fulmer deserves to be in the 1-1 on merit. There’s something about so many tripping over themselves to talk about Dillon Tate (who is also awesome, just so we’re clear), but unwilling to go there with Fulmer that makes me laugh a bit. Worst case scenario he’s a better version of Joel Peralta (and much quicker moving), middle ground has him becoming an impact reliever like David Robertson, and his ceiling could be a little bit like a (WARNING: weird comp not to be taken literally ahead!) righthanded Gio Gonzalez. Or, if you hate my comps, just think solid middle reliever or elite closer or electric if a tad wild above-average starter. It’s a fun spectrum with both a reasonably high floor and pretty thrilling ceiling.
The third member of the presumed Vanderbilt weekend rotation also happened to rank third on the pre-season version of this list. I had to make a rare edit, however, because keeping Tyler Ferguson that high just straight up makes no sense at all. I hate saying that because he’s a really talented young pitcher, but until he can figure out the root cause for his serious control problems (categorized by some as a case of the dreaded “yips”) then he’ll remain one of the draft’s most mysterious prospects. Area scouts will earn their money and then some if they can properly identify whether or not whatever Ferguson’s got going on is correctable because it’s a fantastic arm otherwise.
Kentucky JR RHP Kyle Cody takes Ferguson’s place in the three spot (jumping all the way up from four!), which is only right because he has been really good this year. Good year + big guy (6-7, 250) + big stuff (mid-90s FB peaking at 98, chance for two average or better offspeed pitches) = serious prospect. I’ve seen and heard some top ten talk for Cody, but that seems a little much. Still, he’s a good one. I go back and forth on him, Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter (covered above and having a solid year), and Texas A&M JR RHP Grayson Long for the best non-Vanderbilt pitching prospect in the conference. It’s Cody for now, but Long seems like the stiffest competition going forward.
As far as unsigned 2012 high school pitchers go, only Buehler, Hunter Virant, Kyle Twomey, Trey Killian, and Keaton Haack ranked ahead of Long. Right behind him were Fulmer, Justin Garza, Alec Rash, Ryan Burr, and Cody Poteet. I dug that up initially because of wanting to talk about Long, but look at those names again. Long is obviously in the SEC now, and check out the rest (in order): SEC, Pac-12, Pac-12, SEC, SEC (Haack started at Alabama), SEC, Big West, SEC, Pac-12, and Pac-12. As a dispassionate observer of who actually wins and loses these games, I stay out of the conference pissing contests…so draw your own conclusions there. As for Long, here’s what I wrote about him back in his HS days…
62. RHP Grayson Long (Barbers Hill HS, Texas): 88-91 FB, 93 peak; good 80 CU; 75-77 CB with upside; SL with plus upside, but still a really inconsistent pitch; delivery ready for the pros; similar prospect to Walker Weickel in many ways, for better or worse; love his FB – command and movement make it a plus pitch even without big present velocity; has fallen off in the eyes of many this spring, but the long-term value is still very high; 6-6, 190 pounds
I like the Weickel comparison not because it was particularly prescient or anything (at this point in each player’s respective development, who knows), but, assuming it has even the slightest shed of validity, we can then compare/contrast each player’s career as if they are the same person living alternate timelines. Or not. It’s an admittedly silly exercise because there are way too many factors to ever pull off a realistic enough experiment to draw conclusions, but I still find it amusing. Anyway….
Long hasn’t progressed quite as much as I was expecting back then, but that’s not to say he hasn’t progressed at all. It’s been a slow and steady climb for him, and the results so far this year indicate that real honest improvements have been made. Long lives 88-92, but can climb up to 94-95 when needed, though those mid-90s figures are an admittedly rare occurrence. The fact that the long and lean high school version of Long, thought for all the world to be full of projection and potentially of capable of eventually lighting up radar guns once he filled out, hasn’t added much to his fastball can be taken either as a negative (for obvious reasons) or a positive (he’s pitched damn well even without the big fastball and there could yet be some more in the tank coming) depending on your world view. All of those other extras that made me fall for his heater in the first place remain, and I’d call his fastball a plus pitch still even without the knockout velocity. There still isn’t one consistent offspeed pitch that he can lean on from start to start, but there are enough flashes of his change and slider that you can understand what the finished product could look like.
If Tyler Ferguson is one of this draft’s bigger mysteries, then Alec Rash and Florida JR RHP Eric Hanhold have to be right there with him. Rash (see above) might be my favorite pitcher who hasn’t actually pitched. Hanhold hasn’t pitched much either (12.1 IP as of 4/11) and been wild when given his shot (7 BB), but I still like the overall package. I’ll stubbornly hold out hope for both because the arm talent is hard to give up on, inconsistent college careers be damned.
Ferguson’s stumble this season has opened the door for draft-eligible sophomore (he’ll be 21 in May) LHP John Kilichowski to slide in as Vanderbilt’s third best 2015 pro pitching prospect. He was great as a freshman last year (8.61 K/9 and 1.57 ERA in 23 IP) and has continued to do good things in 2015 (44 K/11 BB in 37.2 IP). His fastball isn’t an overpowering pitch (86-92), so he wisely leans on a pair of average or better offspeed offerings (mid-70s CB, upper-70s CU) to help him miss bats. Good stuff, solid track record, relatively fresh arm, and plenty of size (6-5, 210) all coming in from the left side? Nice. Statistically he’s had a very similar season to teammate rJR LHP Philip Pfeifer, yet another potential early pick off the Commodores staff. Pfeifer can’t match Kilichowski’s size or track record as a starter, but his fastball is a tick faster (94 peak) and his curve a bit sharper. How much of that can be attributed to his fastball/curveball combo playing up in shorter outings – in fairness, though he’s pitched out of the bullpen exclusively this season he almost always goes multiple innings at a time – or just having flat better stuff is up for the smarter area guys to decide. I give Kilichowski the edge for now based on what I know, but I can see it being a coin flip for many.
Florida rSO RHP Mike Vinson is another pitcher who hasn’t pitched much, but when he has he’s had the chance to show off a nasty cutter that ranks as one of the nation’s best pitches of its kind. I’ve banged the drum for Mississippi rSR RHP Scott Weathersby before, so what’s one more bold statement with a ton of weird qualifiers: of all of college baseball’s current relievers who aren’t primary closing options for their team, he’s the safest bet to pitch in the big leagues.
Tennessee JR RHP/1B Andrew Lee is a fascinating two-way prospect currently killing it on both ends. When he finally gets a chance to concentrate full time on pitching then he could really take off. His teammate, LHP Andy Cox, is one of my favorite “sleepers,” thanks in part to his well-rounded arsenal (88-91 FB, average or better low-80s SL, average or better CU) that could make him an interesting relief to rotation project in the pro ranks.
There are a ton of pitchers that I don’t yet have the time to cover as much as they deserve, but rest assured all of the following have had really good starts to the season worthy of more attention than they are getting: Auburn rJR RHP Justin Camp, Florida SR LHP Bobby Poyner, LSU rSO RHP Hunter Newman, Mississippi rSO RHP Brady Bramlett, Georgia JR LHP Ryan Lawlor, Georgia JR RHP Sean McLaughlin, Georgia rJR RHP David Sosebee, Mississippi State SR RHP Trevor Fitts, Missouri JR RHP Peter Fairbanks, Missouri JR RHP Reggie McClain (the most famous name of the bunch and arguably the best), Missouri JR RHP Breckin Williams, South Carolina JR LHP Jack Wynkoop, Tennessee SR RHP Bret Marks, Texas A&M JR LHP Matt Kent, Texas A&M JR RHP Andrew Vinson, and Texas A&M LHP AJ Minter. All of those players will be higher on an updated ranking.
2015 MLB Draft Talent – Pitching
- Vanderbilt JR RHP Walker Buehler
- Vanderbilt JR RHP Carson Fulmer
- Kentucky JR RHP Kyle Cody
- Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter
- Texas A&M JR RHP Grayson Long
- Missouri JR RHP Alec Rash
- Florida JR RHP Eric Hanhold
- Arkansas JR RHP Trey Killian
- Tennessee JR LHP Drake Owenby
- Vanderbilt SO LHP John Kilichowski
- Vanderbilt JR RHP Tyler Ferguson
- Missouri JR RHP Reggie McClain
- Florida rSO RHP Mike Vinson
- Mississippi rSR RHP Scott Weathersby
- Tennessee JR RHP/1B Andrew Lee
- Tennessee JR LHP Andy Cox
- Texas A&M JR LHP/OF AJ Minter
- Florida rJR RHP Aaron Rhodes
- Kentucky JR RHP Dustin Beggs
- Alabama rJR RHP Jake Hubbard
- Alabama JR RHP Ray Castillo
- Alabama JR RHP Will Carter
- Louisiana State rSO RHP Hunter Newman
- Mississippi rJR LHP Christian Trent
- Mississippi rSO RHP Brady Bramlett
- Texas A&M SO LHP Tyler Stubblefield
- Mississippi rSO RHP Jacob Waguespack
- Mississippi JR RHP Sean Johnson
- Auburn SR RHP Rocky McCord
- Missouri JR RHP Breckin Williams
- Texas A&M JR RHP/INF Andrew Vinson
- Texas A&M JR LHP Ty Schlottmann
- South Carolina JR LHP Jack Wynkoop
- Arkansas SR RHP Jacob Stone
- Tennessee SR RHP Bret Marks
- Mississippi State SR RHP Trevor Fitts
- Louisiana State SR RHP Zac Person
- Tennessee SR RHP Eric Martin
- Tennessee JR RHP Steven Kane
- South Carolina SR LHP Vincent Fiori
- Alabama SR LHP Taylor Guilbeau
- Louisiana State rSO RHP Russell Reynolds
- Tennessee SR RHP Peter Lenstrohm
- South Carolina SR RHP Cody Mincey
- Alabama SR LHP Jonathan Keller
- Mississippi SR RHP Sam Smith
- Kentucky rJR LHP Matt Snyder
- Alabama rSO LHP/OF Colton Freeman
- Alabama JR RHP/C Mitch Greer
- Georgia JR RHP/OF Sean McLaughlin
- Texas A&M SO RHP Cody Whiting
- Mississippi State rSO RHP Paul Young
- Missouri JR RHP Brandon Mahovlich
- Florida JR LHP Danny Young
- Missouri rJR RHP John Miles
- Florida SR LHP Bobby Poyner
- Texas A&M SR RHP Jason Freeman
- Kentucky JR LHP Dylan Dwyer
- Georgia SR RHP Jared Cheek
- Georgia rJR RHP David Sosebee
- Kentucky JR LHP Ryne Combs
- Georgia JR LHP Ryan Lawlor
- Georgia JR RHP David Gonzalez
- Florida JR RHP Taylor Lewis
- Auburn rJR RHP Justin Camp
- Kentucky SR RHP Andrew Nelson
- Vanderbilt rJR LHP Philip Pfeifer
- Mississippi State JR RHP Myles Gentry
- Kentucky SR RHP Spencer Jack
- Arkansas rSR RHP Jackson Lowery
- Auburn SR RHP Jacob Milliman
- Missouri JR RHP Peter Fairbanks
- Texas A&M JR LHP Matt Kent
- Louisiana State SR LHP Kyle Bouman
- Missouri SR RHP Jace James
JR OF Christin Stewart (2015)
JR OF Vincent Jackson (2015)
SR OF Jonathan Youngblood (2015)
JR OF Derek Lance (2015)
JR SS AJ Simcox (2015)
SR C Tyler Schultz (2015)
JR C David Houser (2015)
SR 1B/OF Parker Wormsley (2015)
JR RHP/1B Andrew Lee (2015)
JR LHP Drake Owenby (2015)
JR RHP Steven Kane (2015)
SR RHP Bret Marks (2015)
SR RHP Peter Lenstrohm (2015)
SR RHP Eric Martin (2015)
JR LHP Andy Cox (2015)
SO RHP Kyle Serrano (2016)
SO 1B/C Nathaniel Maggio (2016)
SO RHP Hunter Martin (2016)
SO 3B Jordan Rodgers (2016)
SO 2B/3B Nick Senzel (2016)
FR C Benito Santiago (2016)
FR LHP Zach Warren (2017)
FR SS/2B Brett Langhorne (2017)
Of all the teams profiled so far, none have a 1-2 outfield punch of 2015 draft prospects quite like Tennessee’s duo of JR OFs Christin Stewart and Vincent Jackson. Neither are likely first round prospects, so there are imperfections in their respective games that will be watched closely this spring. Stewart betrayed his patient, pro-ready approach last season in an effort to produce gaudier power numbers. It’s hard to blame him what with power being the most coveted singular tool in baseball these days, but the cost might prove to be greater than what it winds up being worth. On one hand, the change in approach worked as Stewart’s slugging percentage jumped about one hundred points from his freshman season. Unfortunately, the major dip in plate discipline — Stewart’s K/BB almost doubled from his first season to his sophomore year (1.48 to 2.80) — now creates a new question in his game that will need to be answered on the field before June. If all of that sounds overly negative, well, it’s not supposed to. Consider it more of a reality check for a really strong prospect than anything else. I’m still very much a believer in Stewart’s raw power (legitimately plus), hit tool (solidly above-average), and overall approach to hitting, past year production be damned.
South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M haven’t posted 2015 rosters as of this writing, so I can’t say the following with absolute certainty but I’m 99% sure Stewart will finish as the SEC’s top outfield prospect heading into the season. An interesting head-to-head comparison based solely from a scouting standpoint (i.e. ignoring collegiate production to date) in the larger college baseball world would be with Florida State’s DJ Stewart. DJ is ahead, but that’s not a knock on Christin. Another slightly less positive comparison would be to former Volunteer outfielder Kentrail Davis, who has flopped as a pro but still showed enough as a college prospect to go 39th overall in 2009. His wood bat experience has me excited about his upside with the stick, so, at the moment, I’m a believer. He’s pretty good.
The current number two to the top ranked Stewart is Vincent Jackson. Jackson is an outstanding athlete with considerable tools — in particular, his power stacks up quite well with Stewart’s and his plus speed blows him away — who has yet to blow scouts away at Tennessee. Inconsistent performance or not, his size and skill set evoke comparisons to two-time All-Star Alex Rios, a lofty comp at first blush but a little more palatable when you remember Rios’ earliest scouting reports and slow to manifest power as a young professional. Jackson’s blend of size, speed, raw power, athleticism, and defensive upside (above-average arm and range at present) combine to make a pretty enticing prospect. In other words, he’s also pretty good.
Stewart and Jackson are joined in an all-prospect outfield by SR OF Jonathan Youngblood. Youngblood checks off all my boxes in what has become on my favorite draft prospect archetypes, the shockingly raw yet scarily toolsy college outfielder. These are the guys that might as well be high school prospects when it come to the risk/reward calculus that comes into scouting them, to say nothing of the lack of track record that makes no sense from a player that has spent three to four years playing ball after the age of 18. Youngblood is fast (check) and athletic (check) with a strong arm (check) and the natural ability to roam center field (check…in fact, “patrols CF like a veteran” is written explicitly about Youngblood in my notes). He’s also very raw as a hitter with interesting raw power that is still likely a few years and some added muscle (he’s currently listed at 6-3, 185 pounds) away from showing up, if it does so at all (check and check). On top of all, his name is Youngblood. If that’s not the perfect name for our raw yet toolsy college outfield archetype, I’m not sure what is. I guess Jonathan Rawtool would be tough to beat, but Youngblood is a close second.
JR SS AJ Simcox isn’t part of that stacked outfield, but, like Stewart and Jackson before him, he’s pretty good. Though he hasn’t shown the kind of hitting acumen expected of him to date, all those I talked to can’t stop raving about his breakout potential for 2015 and professional upside. His defense is legit — range, hands, and arm are all average or better — and his as yet untapped offensive upside (above-average hit tool, average raw power, above-average speed, decent approach) is enough to give him a real chance to emerge as one of this class’ many shortstops that profile as regular players at the big league level. I write it often, but it bears repeating: I have no allegiance when it comes to college athletics, so I have no reason to prop up any particular program or prospect. Still, I find myself unusually bullish on all of these Volunteers and even I am curious if there’s some unknown reason why. Might as well keep the love-fest going with my appreciation of a pitcher I consider to be one of college baseball’s under-the-radar gems. JR LHP Drake Owenby, the owner of one of the sport’s most difficult to scout fastballs, will need to reign in his serious control issues if he wants to get himself selected in a draft range commiserate with his considerable raw stuff. At his best, he’s got a big league fastball (more on that in a second), a well above-average mid-70s curve that flashes plus, and an underdeveloped but plenty intriguing changeup. His walks have been out of hand to date, but he’s missed bats along the way (8.53 K/9 in 25.1 IP last year) and he’s the kind of athlete you believe will figure out some of his mechanical issues (and corresponding control woes) along the way. As for that aforementioned confounding fastball: at least in my looks, Owenby has added and subtracted from his heater to a degree that I can’t recall an honest to goodness amateur prospect doing so before. My notes have his fastball at literally anywhere between 85-95 (most often 88-92ish, like about 95% of the pitchers I see), and there doesn’t appear to be any external cause (e.g. injury, game situation, weather conditions) for the fluctuations. Owenby is a weird, fun prospect who also just so happens to be, you guessed it, pretty good. JR RHP/1B Andrew Lee has a good arm, lots of size (6-5, 220), and two-way talent. JR RHP Steven Kane, SR RHP Bret Marks, and SR RHP Peter Lenstrohm all feature above-average or better changeups and solid heat (88-92ish range). I don’t know much about JR LHP Andy Cox, but I like what I do know and his 2014 season (8.15 K/9, 3.84 BB/9, and 2.44 ERA in 77.1 IP) portends good things to come.
For as impressive as the Volunteers’ 2015 talent appears, literally all of the conversations I’ve had with those in the know about Tennessee baseball — seriously, every single one — can be summed up with the following phrase: “just you wait.” There is a ton of excitement around the game from otherwise impartial observers about the kind of program that is being built in Knoxville. There are plenty of solid underclassmen to watch like the big (6-5, 250 pound) athletic SO 1B/C Nathaniel Maggio, SO RHP Hunter Martin (nice changeup), FR LHP Zach Warren, and personal favorite SO 2B/3B Nick Senzel. The crown jewel, however, is unquestionably SO RHP Kyle Serrano. I’m fairly certain that this site was the highest on Serrano out there coming out of high school — I should check before making such claims, even when I try to cover myself with the lame “fairly certain” caveat: well, turns out he was 20th here, which was only one spot ahead of where Keith Law him him (so, maybe I wasn’t that much higher on him than everybody…) and a good bit ahead of where he landed at Baseball America (35th) — and nothing he did his freshman season has changed any minds about his long-term upside. His changeup stood out as a potential plus pitch in high school and the pitch remains a high upside offering that flashes plus at present. His velocity has ticked up just a bit (96 peak) and remains more consistently in the low- to mid-90s deeper into starts. The curve, like his changeup, flashes plus at times, and his control, while scary from the outside looking in (more walks than strikeouts this past year), isn’t a major concern going forward. All told, the profile reminds me quite a bit of a young version of Jarrod Parker, the ninth overall pick back in 2007. Sounds like a decent draft/upside parallel to me, but Serrano has two more years to make it a reality. Pretty good chance he does exactly that.