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2015 MLB Draft Reviews – Kansas City Royals

Kansas City Royals 2015 MLB Draft Picks

I don’t typically put a ton of thought into the organization of these pieces, but this one was a no-brainer. We need to talk about C Nick Dini (407) first. I’d talk about him first, second, third, and forever, but a paragraph or so will have to suffice for now.

Nick Dini hit .392/.489/.625 in his senior season at Wagner. He walked 30 times and struck out only 7 times. He stole 14 bases in 15 tries, a total that boosted his career mark to 33 of 35. He’s relatively new to catching (played it off-and-on throughout his college career), but has taken to it in a full-time role as well as one possibly can. He’s a really good athlete who has experience catching high velocity arm, so the learning curve should continue to be quite manageable for him. At the plate, he’s shown a consistent feel for hitting that puts him years ahead of his peers. His approach is as good as it gets and is power, while not nearly as impressive as his senior season spike suggests, is enough to keep opposing pitching honest enough to let him keep getting on base at a high clip even against better arms. On the downside, he played at Wagner and…he’s short? I guess those are negatives for some, but I don’t care. He’s Austin Barnes 2.0 with a realistic floor of Tucker Barnhart. Just a really good all-around player who will become a fan favorite (and statistically-leaning prospect analyst favorite) sooner rather than later.

(I’m glad we had a chance to do that. People I know in real life are tired of me initiating conversations with “Hey, how about that Nick Dini?” and “Whoa, did you see what Nick Dini did last night?” and “We need to decide on a good nickname for Nick Dini – is ‘Who’ too corny? It works on two levels!”)

1B Taylor Ostrich is a fine senior-sign get in the 34th round. He he can hit, he’ll take a walk, and there’s average or better thunder in the bat. He’s also a strong yet nimble 6-3, 220 pound athlete who has posted average run times underway and fields the position extremely well. With reasonable platoon or bench bat upside (and maybe more…), I’m not really sure what more you could ask for in a pick this late.

Here’s where I was at with C Alex Close before the season…

SR 1B Alex Close (Liberty) has been a favorite for some time – not a FAVORITE, but a favorite – because of his playable present power. If an area guy can sell his bosses on Close as a potential 1B/3B/C hybrid, then he could go higher than even I think.

I stand by the assertion that a 1B/3B/C hybrid is best for his long-term pro future. Even with the defensive versatility, there might be too much swing-and-miss in his approach for him to lock in on his considerable power upside thus negating what he does best as a hitter as a professional. I’m not sure how good his stuff is, but I’ve heard from at least one contact that they’d put him on the mound. That belief was based on his strong senior season as a pitcher, his raw arm strength, and the unfortunate reality that he likely won’t make enough contact to have a real future as a pro hitter. OF Colton Frabasilio gets a lot more interesting when you look back at his college track record (catcher!) and then realize he split time between catcher and left field in his pro debut. The bat isn’t thrilling, but the bar isn’t all that high for a catcher. If he can stick behind the plate, consider him a super deep sleeper to follow.

It appears that the Royals identified outfield as a position group of need heading into the draft. Either that or the board just happened to shake out a whole bunch of outfielders they liked in rounds that made sense. My favorite before the draft was OF Tanner Stanley (67). Stanley does many of the things that I personally like very well: he’s a patient hitter who has a plan at the plate with every at bat, he’s instinctual in the outfield and on the base paths, and he’s got enough physical ability (arm, speed) to make a difference even on days he’s not hitting. As so often is the case in players like Stanley, the transformation of raw power to in-game production is an open question. I put Stanley in the group that has “enough pop to keep opposing pitchers honest” before the draft, but that aspect of his game remains my biggest concern going forward.

Keeping all that about Stanley in mind, I have to admit that I don’t really know why I ranked him quite so highly relative to some of his peers. I’ll wear it, of course, but his was an overly generous ranking that I would scale back if I could do it all again. For example, I’m not sure he’s all that different from OF Cody Jones (495). If anything, Jones runs and defends on a higher level than Stanley. I prefer the latter’s all-around offensive game, but the two are close enough that almost 400 spots on the pre-draft ranking seems silly. The Royals obviously preferred Jones, the sixth rounder, over Stanley, their thirty-sixth rounder.

An argument could also be made for OF Anderson Miller (145) as the top outfielder taken by the Royals. Heck, in terms of draft position he’s it. Miller shares a lot of the same positive traits as Stanley, but comes with more upside and uncertainty. The former two-way star has a chance to really break out now that the shackles of pitching are off. He leads the way in raw power (average or slightly above) of any Kansas City outfield pick. His chief competitor there would be OF Ben Johnson (238). Johnson is a really neat prospect. I’ll allow past me to explain some…

The outfield is where things get really interesting in the Big 12. I know I say this about so many prospects that it probably renders the distinction meaningless, but Texas JR OF Ben Johnson has to be one of this year’s draft’s most fascinating prospects. Johnson’s name has come up over and over again so far this season as a tooled-up prospect finally turning into a deeply skilled player. Or so I thought. All of the chatter over Johnson excited me because I had assumed he was finally doing the things that he’ll need to do to be a better pro. Full disclosure: I haven’t gotten any updates about him this season (since the fall) from anybody I know who has seen him and (I’M NOT A SCOUT) I’ve only personally seen him twice this year on the tube. So I’m not working with all the needed info to make any overarching statements that should be taken as fact. I’m just theorizing that maybe college analysts (and perhaps certain pro scouting staffs that weigh projection significantly ahead of production [they aren’t wrong for this, by the way]) are getting a little ahead of themselves in proclaiming this to be the start of Johnson’s ascension to day one of the 2015 MLB Draft. Johnson has been absolutely phenomenal this season by most every measure: .432/.463/.659 is damn good work in 88 at bats. Maybe he’s made adjustments as a hitter that the public will hear about as some of the best prospect writers begin doing some digging. Maybe (hopefully) I’ll hear something from one of my contacts sooner rather than later that brings some good news on his outburst. Until then, however, I think Ben Johnson is just doing Ben Johnson things. I won’t say that I anticipated this kind of start, but his numbers aren’t out of line with what you’d expect from a player with his kind of tools at the college level. It’s not crazy to say that he, like about a dozen or so players in this and every class, is too physically gifted for the college game. Johnson is a pro-level glove in center with an average or better arm, average or better raw power, and, most interestingly, the kind of jaw-dropping athleticism and game-changing speed that puts the whole package over the top.

Again, Johnson is putting up a ridiculous .432/.463/.659 line so far this year. That’s really great. With only 2 walks to 12 strikeouts, however, I’m not sure how all his considerable offensive gifts will continue to play as he climbs the ladder. For all the positives he brings to the table he still looks like a very high potential pick since athletes like him often provide value well beyond what they do at the plate (running, defending, you get it). That relatively high floor makes Johnson extra appealing; using a supplemental first, second, or third round pick on him is not likely to completely blow up in your face simply because he’s almost too damn athletic to do nothing. On the off chance he puts it together, watch out. If that paragraph reads like I’m hedging my bets on him, then you’re on the right track.

I’m obviously glad I hedged my bets on him, especially after seeing him fall to the eleventh round. Overslot or not, he was outstanding value there. As was written in his pre-draft blurb: “approach remains a mess, but the raw edge to his game, grinder mentality, and outstanding defense make him intriguing despite his flaws.” That’s the kind of guy to gamble on for a little extra dough in round eleven. A quick prospect-to-prospect comparison could work if you’re willing to buy he’s a more talented version of sixth round pick Cody Jones. An even easier comparison would be to former Longhorn Drew Stubbs. I’m sure others have connected those dots elsewhere.

I really liked the pick of the underrated (including here) OF Roman Collins in the fifth. It’s much earlier than I thought he’d go, but he’s a good player and who knows how the rest of baseball viewed him. Before the year I said…

Collins is a guy who falls out of bed ready to hit each morning. I don’t doubt that his big raw power will continue to play against more advanced arms.

His pro debut was outstanding, though presumably he’s figured out a more palatable sleep schedule. I mean, I like to get up at the last possible second before work as well, but I couldn’t actually suggest somebody try to roll out of bed and hit a 90 MPH fastball. Sounds like a great way to get hurt. Lame jokes aside, Collins can hit. I think he was slept on (no pun intended, I swear…but I’m keeping it) by many because of only playing one year of D-1 baseball. He got on my radar before his one and only season at Florida Atlantic after hitting a decent .435/.512/.766 in 209 at bats at junior college in 2014. Then he more than held his own (.296/.394/.481) at FAU while showing off an impressive display of power and speed (above-average in both areas) on a weekly basis throughout the spring. He would have been ranked much higher by me heading into the draft if I had caught on to how smooth his transition was this year; such is life as a one-man operation. The nice thing is by writing this, I can begin to make up for the error. Roman Collins is really good. You should like him too.

OF Luke Willis can really run and defend in center. I’m sufficiently intrigued by the thirtieth rounder out of George Mason (by way of Coastal Carolina). Like many of these outfielders, he’s a very Royals type of player.

For as much as I like and appreciate what the Royals did in the outfield, I can’t quite put my finger on their infield strategy this year. 2B Jonathan McCray is an intriguing junior college talent who has shown some of the pop/speed combo needed to keep advancing as a second base only prospect.

SS Trey Stover can play any infield spot, but doesn’t have the bat to keep going at the moment. Same could be said for SS Brian Bien. SS Austin Bailey has the most advanced stick of this trio of college senior-sign shortstops, but seems like a better fit at second base over the long haul. Maybe you hit on one of the three as a future utility guy, but I don’t love the odds here.

I do love SS Travis Maezes (169) even though I don’t think he’s a shortstop professionally…

I’ve written about Michigan JR 3B/SS Travis Maezes already, so I’ll just give the short version here: his skill set reminds me of the 25th pick of last year’s draft, Matt Chapman. The biggest noticeable difference in their games comes down to arm strength. Maezes has an outstanding arm, but it’s not in the same class as Chapman’s; that’s how crazy Chapman’s arm is. Besides that, the similarities are striking. I think Maezes has a chance to put an average hit tool with average power (maybe a half-grade above in each area) to good use as a professional ballplayer. Even if he doesn’t hit as much as I’ll think, his defensive value (good at third and playable at short, with intriguing unseen upside at 2B and C) should make him a positive player. It’s not the typical profile we think of as “high-floor,” but it works. I’ve talked to a few people who think I’m overstating Maezes’ upside as a pro. That’s fine and it’s relevant and I’m happy to hear from dissenting viewpoints.

Weird doesn’t have to be bad, so I have no problem being the high man on Michigan JR 3B Travis Maezes for now. His hit tool is legit, his power should play average or better, and he has the athleticism, arm strength, and instincts to be a really strong third baseman in the pros. Real life work commitments and frustration at the death of College Splits put me way behind on writing about last year’s draft. If I had written all that I wanted to, I assure you that many glowing pieces on Cal State Fullerton 3B Matt Chapman would have been written. I absolutely loved Chapman as a draft prospect and think he’ll be an above-average pro player for a long time. I don’t bring him up just to relive the past, of course; from a skills standpoint, Maezes reminds me a lot of Chapman. I swear that’s a comparison that I came by honestly through watching them both, hearing from smarter people than myself, and reading whatever has been written about them from the comfort of my couch. Then I looked at the numbers (top Maezes, bottom Chapman) and…

.307/.403/.444 with 54 BB/64 K in 530 PA
.295/.391/.443 with 73 BB/84 K in 702 PA

…whoa. That’s pretty good. Another player comparison that I’ve heard for Maezes that takes me back to my earliest days as a baseball fan is former Phillies 3B Dave Hollins, he of the 162 game average of .260/.358/.420 with 18 HR, 27 2B, 76 BB, and 113 K*.

Maezes’s down junior season (not included in the statistical comparison above) didn’t quite reward my pre-season faith, but he hit well enough to remain a solid top five to ten round prospect in my eyes. Getting him in round 13 is excellent value for Kansas City. I look forward to seeing what they decide to do with him defensively going forward. The thought of his bat waking back up and him being able to handle the move to catcher is quite appealing, though I acknowledge how difficult getting those two things to go right at the same time can be.

I also kind of like SS Gabriel Cancel even though I know of him more than I know him at this point. Still, when looking at the shortstop group drafted by Kansas City this year (Cancel, Emmanuel Rivera, Bailey, Bien, Stover) from a more detached view, I’d be surprised if they got even one big league contributor five years from now.

Since I love to bury the lede, a few words on RHP Ashe Russell (17). Russell is pretty close to an ideal version of pitching projection personified. He has the size, arm action, delivery, and present fastball (90-96, 98 peak) that all just scream first round high school righthanded pitching prospect. I happen to love what he’s doing with his fastball (not just the velocity*, but the life) and his breaking ball (78-84 and a little bit of a hybrid SL/CB for now, but best when thrown more as a true slider) already, so you don’t have to sell me on him needing to grow leaps and bounds ahead of where he presently is. There’s obviously still stuff to work out — commanding that darting fastball, gaining more trust and consistency with the breaker, improving the nascent change — but what’s already there is damn impressive. He’s more of a future two than a three for me if it all comes together. Dayton Moore compared him to Garrett Richards immediately after the draft and that sounds about right to me. I think a younger Shelby Miller also fits.

* I ranted on this once in the very early days of the site, but it always bothered me some that “velocity” is the word used when discussing what’s almost always meant to be “speed.” Velocity is speed and direction, so it should imply movement. So often, however, it’s written (I do it all the time) that a pitch is impressive both for it’s velocity AND it’s movement. That’s redundant, right? I realize language is fluid and different words can have different meanings in different contexts, but if I could go back and change one ultimately inconsequential fundamental thing about baseball writing/scouting, that might be it.

The Royals stayed in the great state of Indiana to nab another top high school prospect in RHP Nolan Watson (90). Watson joins Russell as a potential long-term fixture of what could be a loaded Kansas City rotation one day. He jumped out at me early in the draft cycle because of the Vanderbilt commitment attached to his name; it’s become almost a chicken and the egg thing where you can argue what comes first, but if the Vandy staff puts their seal of approval on you as a young pitcher, the scouting community takes notice. Watson is easy to like because he’s one of those guys who seems to get better with every start. He may not have quite the same upside as Russell, but the well-rounded pitching arsenal he brings to the mound each outing (88-94 FB, 96 peak; average or better 76-80 CB; average or better low-80s CU; low-80s SL with promise) makes him an excellent bet to remain a sturdy starting pitcher into the future. If Russell and Watson are two-fifths of a future KC rotation, as I think they’ll be, I wish the rest of the AL Central luck.

Calling a player your favorite doesn’t necessarily make him the best. We’re clear on that, right? Well RHP Josh Staumont (76) might be my favorite player (apologies to BFF Nick Dini) in this class. He’s just so damn authentic. He takes his huge fastball (93-99, 101 peak) that he holds deep into starts, dynamic breaking ball (80-84 CB with plus upside), and a difficult to control because it moves so much low- to mid-80s split-change, and just does what he does. At Azusa Pacific, he struck out 14.38 batters per nine in almost 70 junior year innings pitched. He kept up with that as best he could (13.05 K/9) as a pro. Unfortunately, all those missed bats came with a price. Staumont walked 7.18 BB/9 at Azusa Pacific. Staumont walked 7.20 BB/9 between the Royals AZL team and Idaho Falls. Miraculously, his ERA at Azusa Pacific was 3.67…and his ERA as a pro is 2.48. That’s the definition of “effectively wild” if I’ve ever seen it. I’m not sure there’s precedent for a pitcher this wild this early in his pro career to climb the ladder all the way to the top (first thought was Randy Johnson, but I’m not going to touch that one…), but I’m not betting against Staumont, his awesome stuff, and his competitive demeanor. I think he can keep advancing even with his wild ways and if he can ever gain even a semblance of control…damn. If you argued on Staumont’s behalf for highest upside pitcher in the entire class, I wouldn’t get in your way.

(A fun/imperfect comp I got for Staumont recently: former Blue Jay minor leaguer and one half of the Phillies return in the Ben Revere trade, Alberto Tirado. Also: Staumont’s GB% in his first 40 professional innings is 70.89. Not a typo! 70.89 GB%!)

Kansas City went pitching with four of their first five picks. We’ve covered Russell, Watson, and Staumont, so let’s meet lucky number five. LHP Garrett Davila was a very slick pick for the Royals in the fifth round. Considered a tough sign by many all spring, KC did their HW on him and knew just what it would take to get his signature on a contract. What they got for their due diligence is a possible lefthanded starter with average-ish stuff (88-92 FB, 93 peak; mid-70s CB) across the board. A little bit of growth and a more refined third pitch and you might be looking at a back-end starting pitcher in a few years.

I think it’s good club policy to target college relievers with solid stuff (86-92 FB, really good 82-84 kCB) and dynamite results (8.50 K/9 to 10.04 K/9 to 11.00 K/9 in three healthy seasons) past round fifteen or so. By that point you’re out of the top ten rounds and you’ve given yourself some time to target potential overslot prospects in the first few double-digit rounds. The Royals did just that this year in waiting until round 16 to make a play for one of college ball’s most accomplished relief pitchers. As noted above, RHP Matt Ditman (402), has had great success with a quality on-two punch of pitches and good control. He’s no spring chicken (23 already), so he’ll have to move quickly, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem for a guy ready to pitch in AA at the start of next season. Love this pick.

I also like the 27th round shot on RHP Jacob Bodner. The Xavier product flashes wipeout stuff at times, but the three C’s (command, control, consistency) have kept him from much more than marginal collegiate results.

I’ve stuck with Xavier rJR RHP Jacob Bodner through the good (flashes of dominance in 2013) and the bad (consistently inconsistent control, 2014 season wiped out due to injury), so might as well stick it out to the end. At his best he has the look of a really good big league reliever, flashing a mid-90s fastball and an above-average slider. His stature (5-11, 180 pounds) will turn some teams off, but he more than makes up for his lack of physicality with some of the best athleticism of any pitcher in his class. He’s an arm strength/athleticism gamble at this point, but one I feel comfortable with considering the lack of relative upside among his Big East pitching brethren.

If he can get one of those C’s under control, he’s a prospect to keep in mind. If he fixes two, he’s the real deal. All three and he’s a no-doubter big league reliever. Easier said then done, naturally, but the talent is there.

RHP Alex Luna is identified in my notes as a “ground ball machine” thanks to a sinking fastball and impressive extension coming out of a 6-5, 200 pound frame. The pro data so far (59.15 GB%) backs it up, but he’ll have to start missing more bats to be taken more seriously as a pro prospect. LHP Andre Davis matches Luna in stature (6-6, 230 pounds), but outstrips him when it comes to velocity (upper-90s when right). It’s a beautiful thing when a SWAC player gets taken this early (8th round), so I’ve got nothing but love for Davis as a pro. If he can begin to harness his newfound crazy velo, he’s one to watch. LHP Joseph Markus matches Davis and Luna in stature (6-7, 220 pounds…and perhaps we’re seeing the start of a theme) with big stuff but little idea where it’s heading. I like that the Royals double-upped with lefthanders with big projection even though the odds of these types of college projects working out aren’t great.

RHP Daniel Concepcion has a little middle relief upside with solid stuff (88-92 FB, good CU), good size (6-4, 225), and a strong track record. LHP Mark McCoy does much of the same, but from the left side. LHP Matt Portland offers similar strengths to McCoy, but with a curveball as his primary secondary offering. LHP Jake Kalish has the goods to start for a bit, but that has as much to do with his decent yet diverse repertoire of pitches as it does with his advanced age (24 already).

One thing that jumped out to me about the Kansas City draft as I wrap this up is the willingness to look past a player’s geographical location in order to find talent. The Royals drafted players from seemingly everywhere. Whether this was a stated mission from within the front office or a happy coincidence, consider the following. The Royals first two picks were pitchers from Indiana high schools. That bit of weirdness set the tone. From there, they drafted players out of Azusa Pacific, Delta State, St. Joseph’s (IN), Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Wagner, and Hartford. Slightly more traditional baseball schools like Xavier, Old Dominion, Liberty, Florida Atlantic (two), and George Mason (two) were also on the menu. Sure, they hit up bigger universities like Rice, Texas, Northwestern (I’m stretching), Rutgers (still stretching), TCU, Michigan, Richmond, San Diego, and VCU, but they also selected seven junior college players including one straight from a Puerto Rican juco. Maybe you could do this with more teams than just the Royals — I’m far too lazy to do an exhaustive search of what team drafted the “weirdest” — but it’s an impressive collection of talent found from places big and small. That scouting staff earned their keep this year, Mike Farrell especially.

Some of the players drafted from all over that wound up on my pre-draft top 500 prospect list…

17 – Ashe Russell
67 – Tanner Stanley
76 – Josh Staumont
90 – Nolan Watson
145 – Anderson Miller
169 – Travis Maezes
238 – Ben Johnson
402 – Matt Ditman
407 – Nick Dini
495 – Cody Jones

Big 12 2015 MLB Draft All-Prospect Team

Oklahoma JR C Chris Shaw
Texas Tech JR 1B Eric Gutierrez
Kansas JR 2B Colby Wright
Texas JR SS CJ Hinojosa
Oklahoma JR 3B Kolbey Carpenter
Texas JR OF Ben Johnson
Texas Tech JR OF Tyler Neslony
Kansas State SR OF Max Brown

Texas Christian JR LHP Alex Young
Texas Christian JR RHP Riley Ferrell
Texas Christian rSO RHP Mitchell Traver
Oklahoma rJR LHP Adam Choplick
Texas SR RHP Parker French

I normally start with the hitters here because I’m a creature of habit bound by my small-minded attempt at maintaining some semblance of consistent order in an otherwise chaotic world. Today we’re breaking that habit not because of personal growth, but simply because the pitching in the Big 12, most notably at TCU, is worth talking about. I’m way late to the party, I know, but the collection of arms they have in Fort Worth is something to be celebrated.

Oklahoma rJR LHP Adam Choplick is a 6-8, 260 pound lefthander who can reach the mid-90s and for whatever reason very little has been written about him nationally. My contribution to help remedy that: he’s really good. I’d love to know more about Texas SR RHP Parker French’s batted ball data. He has some serious worm-killing stuff (88-94 FB with sink, 97 peak; good 78-84 CU with sink; good mid-80s cut-SL) and has succeeded over the years without striking out a ton of hitters. That last bit is a tad worrisome because pro hitters are not college hitters, but if he can be a 60% groundball guy in the pros then who knows.

Oklahoma State is loaded in its own right with draft-eligible pitchers. rJR RHP/OF Conor Costello has the depth of stuff to start and the athleticism to repeat his delivery through long outings. He’s also a decent enough hitter that letting him start in the National League could lead to some fun at bats. JR RHP Koda Glover uses a 92-95 MPH fastball and intriguing offspeed stuff (no, that’s not just that code that I need more info on him…except I do, which must be an incredible coincidence) to miss bats at a high rate. SO RHP Trey Cobb comes from a star-studded Oklahoma high school class with a sinker/slider mix that should keep him employed for a long time. SR RHP Jon Perrin could be a good bang for your buck as a potential fifth starter/middle relief type available on the cheap come drat day.

I’ve written all that (and my brief note on Choplick, can’t forget that beauty) while totally forgetting I’ve covered Kansas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State already. So, read those if you want more on any of those schools. I think we’ve waited long enough to finally get to the main event that is Texas Christian University. They might not be able to match Vanderbilt in terms of pure ceiling (Buehler and Fulmer are tough to beat), but their balance of star power, hard throwers, polished veterans, and Preston Morrison (he gets his own category) is special.

I think you almost need to find a rare three-headed coin to determine the best pitcher from TCU (and thus the best in the conference) between JR LHP Alex Young, JR RHP Riley Ferrell, and rSO RHP Mitchell Traver. All three guys fit nice neat little archetypes, so they make for a fun and relatively easy group to discuss. Young is the sure-fire starter going forward with a legit classic four-pitch mix (FB, CU, CB, SL), average overall command (above-average FB command, which is nice) and solid athleticism/size. He’s also put up numbers since day one on campus (8.41 K/9 in 2013, 8.37 K/9 in 2014), so there’s not too much need to project some kind of crazy unrealistic future where he turns into something that he’s not. The delta between his ceiling and floor is a tiny one as at his best he’s probably a mid-rotation workhorse and at his worst he figures to be a fifth starter/bullpen weapon. He’d fit in as a really swell second or third pick for a team that would prefer to reach for the stars with their first rounder. He has to be on the short list as one of the “safest” draft prospects or “quickest movers” to the big leagues. Ferrell is the future back end of the bullpen stalwart with closer upside. Like Young (and most big-time college relief prospects) Ferrell has a small gap between his dream scenario (elite closer) and his most likely scenario (good reliever who gets to the big leagues in a hurry). Also like Young, Ferrell’s track record at TCU is impeccable; with a trail of missed bats lying in his wake (11.02 K/9 in 2013, 13.90 K/9 in 2014, 14.50 K/9 so far this year), what you see is what you get. At his best he’s in the upper-90s with the heat and a plus mid-80s slider as the putaway pitch; at his less than best (like, say, on the second half of a back-to-back), his fastball sits low-90s with a slider that flashes but doesn’t have quite the same shape. I think he likely will fall in somewhere between last year’s top two relievers, Nick Burdi (pick 46) and Michael Cederoth (pick 79), were drafted last year. That seems fair for now. Traver is the wild card. His health has held up so far this year and his stuff has been as advertised. If you can’t get excited for a 6-7, 250 pound capable of hitting the mid-90s (90-94, 96 peak) with a plus mid-80s slider and a usable changeup who is finally healthy after missing the better part of two seasons with arm injuries (Tommy John back in 2013 did a number on him), then you’re reading the wrong site. I’ve gotten an interesting range of comps for Traver including a solid starter (Gil Meche), a quality reliever (Nick Masset), and a personal favorite of mine that will go down as a starting member of the what could have been team (Dustin McGowan). I like to occasionally look a comparison cousins, my lame turn of phrase for two prospects connected by being once compared to the same player. The only other time I’ve used a Dustin McGowan comp was when it was mentioned to me last year as a possible outcome for Tyler Kolek. That’s…interesting.

Those are the top names at TCU, but far from the only ones. SO LHP Tyler Alexander is a potential back of the rotation starter who has good stuff with excellent command. rSO RHP Brian Trieglaff can get it up to 94, SR LHP Travis Evans throws three pitches for strikes (including a good breaking ball), and rSR RHP Trey Teakell is an outstanding senior sign with the size (6-5, 175), repertoire (87-92 FB, low-80s CU, upper-70s CB, hard splitter), and, big shocker, sterling track record to warrant top ten round consideration. Finally we get to SR RHP Preston Morrison, college baseball’s weirdest pitcher. Morrison gets results with a mid-80s fastball with serious sink and a variety of offspeed offerings (72-74 CB, 69-74 SL, 76-81 CU) that comes in from a funky sidearm but not quite sidearm angle. I rule nothing out when it comes to Morrison’s pro future, though I think a middle relief ceiling as a guy who gives hitters a totally different look from most big league relievers feels like a fair best case scenario right now.

I’m still holding out hope that we see Oklahoma JR C Chris Shaw get going on the big stage, especially after the tremendous power displays he put on after relatively slow starts the past two seasons in junior college. Truthfully, the question as to whether or not he’ll hit for power isn’t a debate; Shaw’s success or failure going forward will be determined by the adjustments in approach he is able to make. He’s always been a touch too aggressive for his own good, but his power could mask some of the deficiencies he’s shown at lower-levels. More experienced arms will keep exploiting the holes in his approach unless he makes some changes. The power alone still makes him a high follow, but much of the optimism I felt in January has eroded under the rocky shores of reality.

I won’t move Shaw off the top spot out of a combination of wanting to keep these lists consistent with my pre-season thoughts and the prospect of him still having high-level power at the next level, but one of the two Cowboys right behind him would give him a run for his money in a revised ranking. I wish SR C/OF Gage Green was more of a sure thing to stay behind the plate because his offensive game has shown a lot of growth over the years. I also really like SR C Bryan Case, the much better glove of the two, though he’s a tough player to fairly judge due to his lack of playing time. When given a chance to play he’s hit, so I think there’s something there. After a bit more thought, I’d say that Oklahoma JR C Anthony Hermelyn would also be right up there near the top of this list in a re-ranking. His hit tool is interesting, he has a strong defensive profile with no doubts about his arm strength (been clocked as high as 94 MPH off the mound), and his plate discipline is trending in the right direction. All in all, not a bad group of catchers

Texas Tech JR 1B/LHP Eric Gutierrez is one of my favorite power hitters in a class desperately in need of some good ones. Some teams might be turned off than his less than ideal frame (5-10, 205), but so long as he keeps mashing he has a better than average shot to hear his name called in a signable range this June. Kansas State rSR 1B/LHP Shane Conlon has always intrigued me due to his reasonable power upside, average speed, and plus glove. It’s a a fun profile and one I hope we get a chance to keep following in pro ball.

Kansas JR 2B/SS Colby Wright has been a baseball magnet this season (11 HBP in 65 official AB!). I liked his pop, patience, and glove combination coming into the year, and nothing has moved me off that as of yet. I think he’s the best of a lackluster group of Big 12 second basemen. At shortstop it’s still Texas JR SS/3B CJ Hinojosa’s top spot to lose. Much has been written on these very pages already about Hinojosa, so I’ll spare you any needless rehashing and just leave you with my Marco Scuatro comp and call it a day. Almost. We’re now far enough along with the season (20 games in already, time flies), so it’s silly for me to keep pretending that these are strictly previews and not, at least in part, ongoing assessments. The rankings are more or less unchanged from where I stood pre-season, but I do try to pepper the commentary with some updates where applicable. Hinojosa’s slow start (.197/.337/.310) is notable, though it’s a) only 71 AB, and b) not as bad when you look at some underlying numbers (most notably 14 BB/11 K). I’m a little bit concerned and would consider dropping him in future overall prospect rankings, but he still is a good prospect with top five round upside.

Texas Tech rSO SS/2B Cory Raley could be a fascinating utility player prospect with the chance for more. He has the ability to be really good at second and playable at short with enough speed, athleticism, and size to buy him time as he figures out how to hit. So far so good as hitter for Raley this winter, so consider me sufficiently intrigued at what now appears to be a lower than deserved ranking. I also have to mention TCU rJR SS Keaton Jones, a player so good with the glove that he’ll get drafted almost no matter what he does at the plate this spring. The fact that he’s more than holding his own as a hitter for the first time collegiately is icing on the mid-round cake. I’m glad I went with Oklahoma JR 3B Kolbey Carpenter as the conference’s top third baseman. He impressed all those I talked to last spring with his power upside and steady glove, so it’s nice to see him off to a hot start this season. Like second base, however, it’s worth noting that he’s the best of a very thin group of potential future pros. That in no way detracts from his underrated play, of course. I have a good intuitive feeling about Carpenter as a draft prospect.

The outfield is where things get really interesting in the Big 12. I know I say this about so many prospects that it probably renders the distinction meaningless, but Texas JR OF Ben Johnson has to be one of this year’s draft’s most fascinating prospects. Johnson’s name has come up over and over again so far this season as a tooled-up prospect finally turning into a deeply skilled player. Or so I thought. All of the chatter over Johnson excited me because I had assumed he was finally doing the things that he’ll need to do to be a better pro. Full disclosure: I haven’t gotten any updates about him this season (since the fall) from anybody I know who has seen him and (I’M NOT A SCOUT) I’ve only personally seen him twice this year on the tube. So I’m not working with all the needed info to make any overarching statements that should be taken as fact. I’m just theorizing that maybe college analysts (and perhaps certain pro scouting staffs that weigh projection significantly ahead of production [they aren’t wrong for this, by the way]) are getting a little ahead of themselves in proclaiming this to be the start of Johnson’s ascension to day one of the 2015 MLB Draft. Johnson has been absolutely phenomenal this season by most every measure: .432/.463/.659 is damn good work in 88 at bats. Maybe he’s made adjustments as a hitter that the public will hear about as some of the best prospect writers begin doing some digging. Maybe (hopefully) I’ll hear something from one of my contacts sooner rather than later that brings some good news on his outburst. Until then, however, I think Ben Johnson is just doing Ben Johnson things. I won’t say that I anticipated this kind of start, but his numbers aren’t out of line with what you’d expect from a player with his kind of tools at the college level. It’s not crazy to say that he, like about a dozen or so players in this and every class, is too physically gifted for the college game. Johnson is a pro-level glove in center with an average or better arm, average or better raw power, and, most interestingly, the kind of jaw-dropping athleticism and game-changing speed that puts the whole package over the top.

Again, Johnson is putting up a ridiculous .432/.463/.659 line so far this year. That’s really great. With only 2 walks to 12 strikeouts, however, I’m not sure how all his considerable offensive gifts will continue to play as he climbs the ladder. For all the positives he brings to the table he still looks like a very high potential pick since athletes like him often provide value well beyond what they do at the plate (running, defending, you get it). That relatively high floor makes Johnson extra appealing; using a supplemental first, second, or third round pick on him is not likely to completely blow up in your face simply because he’s almost too damn athletic to do nothing. On the off chance he puts it together, watch out. If that paragraph reads like I’m hedging my bets on him, then you’re on the right track.

Hot start or not, I still lump Johnson in with fellow toolsy outfield peers like Florida JR OF Harrison Bader and Clemson JR OF Steven Duggar for the moment. Just because those guys rank 5-6-7 (further down if you consider any of Ian Happ, Richie Martin, or BC’s Chris Shaw outfielders) on my “current” (as current as anything draft-related can be that’s three weeks old) college outfield list does not mean I view them as ordinary, mid-round prospects. I didn’t write nearly enough about last year’s draft than I would have liked, but I’ll say this without the benefit of hindsight (not that a few weeks of pro ball should change anybody’s mind about anybody): I’d take this year’s toolsy outfielders above any college outfielder from last year with the exception of Michael Conforto, Bradley Zimmer, Mike Papi, and maybe (if he’s really an OF, which I’m still unsure of) Connor Joe. That’s above last year’s 37th overall pick, Derek Fisher, for what it’s worth.

In other non-Ben Johnson Big 12 outfield news, Texas Tech JR OF Tyler Neslony’s positive approach and power upside make him a strong bat worth knowing. His plate discipline has backed up a bit since last year here in the early going, so almost all caveats with such players apply. Same with Kansas State SR OF Max Brown, a rare senior sign that doubles as one of the draft’s finer physical specimens. The 6-5, 200 pound plus runner showed well in limited at bats last year, but, stop me if you’ve heard this before, his approach at the plate needs significant work. A crazy argument could be made that he might be the most valuable draft property of the three already mentioned Big 12 outfielders based solely on his talent (below Johnson to be sure, but he’s no slouch), projected round (no idea, but I’d be surprised if it was all that high), and potential bonus demands (no leverage).

The only draft-eligible outfielder listed below having an above-average season by my measures – I mean, Johnson clearly is and I’m being way too hard on him so pay no mind to the only part – is Oklahoma JR OF Craig Aikin, an above-average runner and glove with an interesting leadoff approach to hitting. Since we scratched the “only” from the previous sentence allow me to also recognize TCU SR OF Cody Jones as having a fine start to his 2015 season. He’s an even more interesting senior sign with his blazing speed, plus CF range, strong arm, and very selective approach. I don’t see enough power out of him to profile as more than a backup, but you could do worse when looking for a future speed and defense fourth or fifth outfielder.

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Hitting 

  1. Texas JR SS/3B CJ Hinojosa
  2. Texas JR OF Ben Johnson
  3. Texas Tech JR OF Tyler Neslony
  4. Kansas State SR OF Max Brown
  5. Oklahoma JR C Chris Shaw
  6. Oklahoma JR OF Hunter Haley
  7. Kansas SR OF/RHP Dakota Smith
  8. Oklahoma State JR SS/2B Donnie Walton
  9. Texas Tech JR 1B/LHP Eric Gutierrez
  10. Kansas rJR OF Steve Goldstein
  11. Kansas SR OF Connor McKay
  12. Oklahoma State SR C/OF Gage Green
  13. Oklahoma State SR C Bryan Case
  14. Kansas JR 2B/SS Colby Wright
  15. Texas Tech SR SS Tim Proudfoot
  16. Texas Christian SR OF Cody Jones
  17. Oklahoma JR 3B Kolbey Carpenter
  18. Oklahoma JR OF Craig Aikin
  19. Texas Christian JR OF Nolan Brown
  20. Texas SR OF Collin Shaw
  21. Texas Christian SR 3B/2B Derek Odell
  22. Kansas State rSR 1B/LHP Shane Conlon
  23. Oklahoma JR C/RHP Anthony Hermelyn
  24. Kansas State SR 2B/OF Carter Yagi
  25. Oklahoma State SR 2B/OF Tim Arakawa
  26. Texas SR 2B Brooks Marlow
  27. Kansas SR 2B/SS Justin Protacio
  28. Texas Tech rSO SS/2B Cory Raley
  29. Texas Christian JR 2B Garrett Crain
  30. Kansas rJR OF Joe Moroney
  31. Texas Tech JR C Kholton Sanchez
  32. Texas Tech JR C Tyler Floyd
  33. Baylor JR 1B Mitch Price
  34. Texas Tech SR 2B Bryant Burleson

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Pitching

  1. Texas Christian JR LHP Alex Young
  2. Texas Christian JR RHP Riley Ferrell
  3. Texas Christian rSO RHP Mitchell Traver
  4. Oklahoma rJR LHP Adam Choplick
  5. Texas SR RHP Parker French
  6. Texas Tech JR RHP Matt Withrow
  7. Oklahoma State rJR RHP/OF Conor Costello
  8. Baylor SR RHP Austin Stone
  9. Oklahoma State JR RHP Koda Glover
  10. Oklahoma State SO RHP Trey Cobb
  11. Texas Christian SO LHP Tyler Alexander
  12. Texas Christian rSO RHP Brian Triegflaff
  13. Texas Christian SR LHP Travis Evans
  14. Texas Christian rSR RHP Trey Teakell
  15. Texas rSR RHP Ty Marlow
  16. Oklahoma JR LHP/1B Jacob Evans
  17. Kansas JR RHP Hayden Edwards
  18. Oklahoma JR RHP Blake Rogers
  19. Oklahoma State SR RHP Jon Perrin
  20. Baylor rSR LHP Brad Kuntz
  21. Texas Tech JR RHP/OF Quinn Carpenter
  22. Kansas State rJR RHP Nate Williams
  23. Oklahoma rSR RHP Robert Tasin
  24. Baylor rJR RHP Ryan Smith
  25. Texas JR RHP Chad Hollingsworth
  26. Texas Tech SR RHP Dominic Moreno
  27. Texas JR LHP Travis Duke
  28. Oklahoma JR RHP RHP Corey Copping
  29. Texas Christian SR RHP Preston Morrison
  30. Kansas State rSO RHP Nate Griep
  31. Oklahoma State rSR LHP Tyler Nurdin
  32. Kansas State JR RHP Levi MaVorhis
  33. Kansas State rSO RHP Colton Kalmus
  34. Oklahoma State JR LHP Alex Hackerott
  35. Texas JR LHP Ty Culbreth
  36. Texas Tech SR LHP Cameron Smith
  37. Texas Tech SR RHP Corey Taylor
  38. West Virginia JR RHP Jeff Hardy
  39. Texas Tech JR RHP Dalton Brown
  40. Baylor SR RHP Sean Spicer
  41. Kansas State rSO RHP Blake McFadden
  42. Oklahoma JR LHP Jeffrey Curran
  43. West Virginia rJR LHP Ross Vance