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This draft is a disaster. Unsigned third and fourth round picks. Only two high school prospects signed in the first eighteen rounds, and only one more signed from that point on. No player, high school or college, signed past round thirty-five. I can only hope that the Miami Marlins do a better job next year than this lame attempt by Florida.
The good news about any draft is that sometimes one player can redeem darn near the entire thing. This particular draft won’t be a total loss assuming Alonso HS (FL) RHP Jose Fernandez lives up to his promise. I may not have liked Fernandez pre-draft as much as many of my esteemed draft obsessed peers, but I can’t necessarily fault the Marlins for using a first rounder on him either. Detractors of comps will have a field day with these (restricting yourself to only comparing a player to others with the same first name is lazy, they say), but an honest to goodness scout paid to watch baseball mentioned both Jose Contreras (young version) and Jose Valverde as players similar to Fernandez. I thought those comparisons were fun and I wanted to pass them along, but feel free to draw your own conclusions beyond that. Comps aside, Fernandez has an excellent fastball/curveball combination that is pretty much big league ready, and the makings of two potential average additional secondary pitches (raw low-80s changeup and intriguing upper-70s slider). At his best, he looks like an innings eating horse, although not in a literal sense because a) he’s a person and not an actual horse, and b) horses, to the best of my knowledge, eat oats and plants, not innings. Gut instinct (wish I could put it in writing why I have my doubts) has Fernandez’s upside closer to solid than superstar; a career not unlike Jose Contreras’s – you know, minus the whole not pitching in the big leagues until his age-31 season thing – makes sense to me, at least in terms of peak years performance.
RHP Jose Fernandez (Alonso HS, Florida): 90-93 FB, peak 94-97; good 80-83 CB; good enough FB/CB combo to pitch in bigs right now; 81 CU; learning a 78-79 SL; good hitter; 6-4, 235
Washington State LHP Adam Conley reminds me of the famous New England saying I first heard back in my college days up in Boston: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” The saying applies just as easily to Adam Conley: “If you don’t like this prospect, just wait one appearance.” At his best, Conley’s fastball is a plus pitch velocity-wise, and his changeup and slider often both work well as above-average secondary options. There are times, however, when his heater isn’t so hot and neither offspeed pitch is in the strike zone enough to be effective. Much, but not all, of Conley’s Jekyll and Hyde act can be attributed between the difference in his stuff when he starts and when he relieves; because of this, Conley is the rare pitching prospect that I’d rather see pitch exclusively in relief long-term. There’s little harm letting him start for now, I suppose, but a plus fastball, good changeup, and inconsistent though intriguing slider, combined with his difficulties maintaining velocity and command sharpness as a starter, add up to relief ace to me.
Washington State JR LHP Adam Conley: 86-88 FB; peaks at 90-92; up to 94 out of bullpen this spring; hits 95-96 when amped up; above-average 79-83 CU; very rare CB that has now been phased out; SL being added and now used a lot; great command; 6-3, 175 pounds; big peak FB could have been opening day juice; sitting more often 88-92; 6-3, 190 pounds
Neither Sumrall HS (MS) SS Connor Barron nor Wayne County HS (GA) 2B Tyler Palmer signed with Florida. The Marlins loss is college baseball’s gain. Barron is in line to get first crack at replacing BA Vollmuth at shortstop for Southern Mississippi while Palmer stays local by heading to Georgia. Both players offer interesting defensive tools, but Barron’s speed and strength give him the edge in any long-range forecast.
It is easy to see why Barron has been one of the draft’s fastest risers this spring. He has great speed, a strong arm, and a big league frame that makes projecting his bat easy relative to many of his draft class peers. The Reid Brignac comps are popular, and with good reason.
Broken Arrow HS (OK) RHP Mason Hope joined Archie Bradley in what has to be on the short list of scariest high school school 1-2 punches of all-time. Clint Everts and Scott Kazmir — based on what we all thought of them as prep players, not how their respective careers played out – might top the list, but the combination of Lucas Giolito and Max Fried might blow everybody out of the water next June. Hope is currently a two-pitch pitcher, but, boy, are those two pitches impressive. His fastball pops consistently in the low-90s and his curve is a true plus offering when on. Now all we have to do is sit back and watch to see whether or not Hope and the Marlins minor league staff can work together to produce a third consistent pitch. His low-70s changeup has looked good at times and he’ll also show a harder breaking ball – a slider that reaches the upper-70s – every now and again, so there is plenty of hope that the elusive third (and maybe fourth) pitch will be unearthed. It should be noted that Florida scouting director Stan Meek knows Oklahoma as well as any talent evaluator, so adjust your perception of the kid with the soap opera name accordingly.
RHP Mason Hope (Broken Arrow HS, Oklahoma): 90-92 FB, 94 peak; flashes plus CB
Wichita State LHP Charlie Lowell might have less electric stuff than Adam Conley, but he’s far more consistent and a better bet to remain a starting pitcher. He has the three pitches needed to start – good fastball, above-average slider, and solid changeup – and the body and arm action to handle heavy workloads.
34. Wichita State JR LHP Charlie Lowell: 89-92 FB, 93-94 peak; above-average SL; solid CU; 6-4, 235
JC of the Sequoias 1B Ryan Rieger is a really interesting gamble in the seventh round. His power and pedigree (Rieger was once a big-time prep prospect) are beyond reproach, but a broken hamate bone suffered late last season is a red flag for a player so reliant on the long ball. Fun fact that might only interest me: Rieger was committed to Long Beach State before deciding to sign with the Marlins. I think that’s neat because that one-time allegiance to the Dirtbags makes the comp to former Long Beach transfer (via Miami) and current Atlanta farmhand Joey Terdoslavich comp I heard a few weeks fit nicely.
Seminole State JC RHP Dejai Oliver is a fastball/slider relief prospect with big league bloodlines. Another potential reliever with family in pro ball (in this case, a brother) is UC Davis RHP Scott Lyman. There is some definite untapped upside with Lyman, especially when you consider his frame, raw arm strength, athleticism, and the time he has spent focused on hitting rather than pitching. I’d take his upside over Oliver’s, but that’s based largely on the leap of faith that good pro coaching will help turn him from thrower to pitcher.
Arizona State C Austin Barnes had more walks (25) than strikeouts (22) while putting up a .730 OPS in his first taste of pro ball in the New York-Penn League. He’s also a plus-plus defender who might just be good enough defensively to warrant a big league roster spot on the strength of his glove/arm/quick feet alone. I underrated Barnes for too long, but am now fully on the bandwagon.
Georgia Tech RHP Jacob Esch (Round 11) could make the Marlins look really, really smart in a few years. Or he’ll be just another eleventh round pick. If he makes Florida look smart, it’ll be because of a fastball that peaks in the mid-90s (94-95), a relatively fresh arm, great athleticism, and a drive to succeed that legitimately blew me away when hearing about him from those in the know at Georgia Tech.
Florida SS Josh Adams (Round 13) is a fine defensive player who can play anywhere on the infield. He also won’t kill you with the bat. A utility future is the dream, but solid organizational soldier is the most likely outcome. I’ve never been a huge Ryan Jackson fan, so consider my comp of Adams to Jackson more of an indictment of the latter than high praise for the former.
Adams is a long time personal who struggled as one of the veteran anchors of a young Gators lineup last year, but has rebounded a bit in 2011. His scouting reports remain largely favorable, despite his inconsistent performances. Adams will be helped by his positional versatility as he tries to make it in the pros as a utility guy.
Monterey Peninsula JC RHP Nick Grim (Round 14) gets a mention as a guy with early round upside (92-95 fastball, good breaking ball that flashes plus, shows changeup) heading off to school at Cal Poly. He isn’t perfect (command comes and goes, inconsistent velocity, odd hitch in delivery some teams might not like), but there’s enough here to get excited about. Bellevue CC RHP Adrian Sampson (Round 16) is similar to Grim in that both are unsigned junior college standouts, but Sampson won’t head off to a four-year school and instead stick with Bellevue for at least another season. The Tommy John survivor has good stuff (fastball sits in the upper-80s but peaks at 92-93, an above-average breaking ball, and a raw but promising changeup) and surprisingly strong command for a pitcher coming off of injury. His brother’s disappointing run in pro ball might be held against him by some teams, but Adrian should enter pro ball further along the developmental curve than Julian ever reached.
Connecticut LHP Greg Nappo (Round 18) only needed 14 innings in short-season ball before jumping to the South Atlantic League for six starts down the stretch and three late summer long relief appearances. All told, he struck out over a batter per inning (58 K in 55 IP) and showed much improved control (only 12 BB) compared to his inconsistent spring (40 BB in 95.2 IP as a senior). Such an impressive performance isn’t altogether surprising coming from a 22-year old (he actually turned 23 in late August) pitchability lefthander. Greg Nappo is also awesome because, yes, that’s him throwing a pitch in the header of this very site.
SR LHP Greg Nappo‘s upper-80s fastball plays up because of good deception in his delivery. It is still probably a below-average pitch on balance because the command isn’t quite what you’d hope it would be coming from a typical pitchability lefty. He relied quite heavily on the heater, mixing in occasional cutters and an average slow curve that he could drop into the strike zone more easily as the game went on.
Auburn C Tony Caldwell (Round 24) has enough defensive ability to rise up through the low minors as a potential backup catcher. If he hits, he’s a big leaguer. If not, he might top out at as a AAAA stopgap left to sit and wait for an opportunity to arise, i.e. quietly hope for a very minor injury to a catcher that would open the door just a crack.
I had Caldwell pegged as an all defense, no offense non-prospect heading into the year, but his hit tool has made a great deal of progress since last fall. Even without the emerging bat, Caldwell’s defense might have been enough to get him drafted.
Pitching almost exclusively in the GCL, Oregon State RHP James Nygren (Round 33) just straight killed it as a strikeout machine (35 K in 35 total IP) programmed to get groundballs at will (a ridiculous 3.24 GO/AO). He is a quality senior sign who throws nothing straight. At worst, he is David Herndon as a pro.
Oregon State SR RHP James Nygren (2011): 87-90 FB; touching 93; solid SL; nicely developing CU; clocked at 95 back in HS; 6-1, 195 pounds
I’ve always liked watching Pittsburgh OF John Schultz (Round 34) play. I’d be hard pressed, however, to name one tool of his that is clearly big league quality.
JR OF John Schultz (2010 – Pittsburgh) doesn’t have any exceptional tools, but his good plate discipline means he rarely gets cheated at the plate and his good speed can help him take extra bases when needed on the base paths.
I wrote about Iowa Western CC 3B Damek Tomscha (Round 36) last year (see below) after the Phillies took him in the final round out of high school. The latest buzz on Tomscha has pro scouts liking him more as a hard throwing righthanded pitcher as a pro.
Tomscha is a deep sleeper who has plenty of fans within the scouting community. I’m not a member of said community, but count me in as a fan all the same. As a high school guy without high school ball in Iowa, Tomscha’s upside was severely underrated this spring. He’s a really good athlete with a pretty swing, plus arm, and good raw defensive tools. My high pre-draft ranking was probably a bit of overcompensating for his lack of national love on my end, but it should definitely be noted that this your typical 50th round flier. Tomscha’s legit.
A pair of unsigned righthanded pitchers, San Dimas HS (CA) RHP Jacob Ehret (Round 37) and Marquette HS (IL) RHP Joe Ceja (Round 38), figure to hear their names called on draft day after three years at UCLA and Louisville respectively. Ehret is the more advanced prospect, but his path to the mound could be somewhat convoluted considering UCLA’s pitching depth. Ceja is more projectable (rare arm strength + pro body = good chance at upper-90s fastballs by his junior season), but should get an early opportunity to throw for a Louisville team in need of quality arms.
Watch Torrance HS (CA) SS Trent Gilbert (Round 40) if the opportunity arises this spring. He’ll be playing for the Arizona Wildcats, and he’ll be hitting. I haven’t seen or heard what Arizona plans to do with him defensively, but I hope he gets the chance to play second base every day. If that’s the case, he’ll be hitting in the middle of the lineup in no time. If you somehow need to be further sold on Gilbert, know that John Klima, who knows his stuff, loves the kid.
Gilbert swings the bat the exact way I would if a magic genie would finally grant my wish to have a picture perfect lefthanded stroke. I’m darn sure the hit tool will play at the next level, but there are some that think too much of his value is tied up in his bat. That makes some sense to me — there is some power here and a pretty strong arm, but his speed is below-average and his defense is a question mark going forward — but, boy, do I like that hit tool. Many of those defensive questions, by the way, may or may not be Gilbert’s fault. He’s currently in the tricky position of almost being too versatile defensively – I’ve heard some teams like him at 2B, some at 3B, and others still prefer him either at C or CF. Of course, I don’t mean to imply he’ll ever be a world beater at any of those spots, but the opportunity to hear a pro coach tell him, “here’s your new defensive home, practice and play here every day” ought to do him some good.
Heartland CC LHP Jerad Grundy (Round 42), a Miami transfer, should figure prominently in an improved Kentucky pitching staff next season. Coming out of high school he resembled what we saw out of Dillon Peters in this year’s prep class. Like Peters, Grundy has the stuff to start, but may be stuck in the bullpen because of effort in his delivery.
Heartland CC (Illinois) SO LHP Jerad Grundy (2011): 87-92 with movement; hard SL; promising CU; 6-0, 190; Miami transfer
Northeastern LHP Drew Leenhouts (Round 43) wasn’t as good as a junior as he was as a sophomore, but the lefty has the stuff to get picked twenty rounds higher next year. His arm won’t wow you, but he can throw three pitches for strikes and has silky smooth mechanics that portend additional velocity with help from a professional strength and conditioning program.
Northeastern JR LHP Andrew Leenhouts: 87-88 FB; good CB; average CU; command needs work; clean mechanics; 6-3, 200 pounds
In absolutely no particular order, 2011 draft prospects that finished last season with over 10 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched, minimum 50 total innings pitched. For reference’s sake, prospects expected to go in the top three rounds are in bold…
Kentucky JR RHP Alex Meyer
Missouri State JR RHP Dan Kickham
Cal State Fullerton JR RHP Noe Ramirez
Virginia SR RHP Tyler Wilson
Maryland SR RHP Brett Harman
Vanderbilt JR RHP Sonny Gray
Texas A&M JR RHP John Stilson
Texas JR RHP Taylor Jungmann
Baylor JR RHP Logan Verrett
UCLA JR RHP Gerrit Cole
UCLA JR RHP Trevor Bauer
Washington JR RHP Andrew Kittredge
Georgia Tech JR LHP Jed Bradley
Virginia JR LHP/1B Danny Hultzen
Mississippi JR LHP Matt Crouse
Stanford JR LHP Brett Mooneyham
Arizona State JR LHP Mitchell Lambson
TCU SO LHP Matt Purke
Northeastern JR LHP Andrew Leenhouts