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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – New York Yankees

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by New York in 2016

11 – Blake Rutherford
37 – Nick Solak
65 – Dominic Thompson-Williams
117 – Nolan Martinez
214 – Mandy Alvarez
295 – Tim Lynch
371 – Joe Burton
375 – Connor Jones
384 – Taylor Widener
449 – Keith Skinner

Complete List of 2016 New York Yankees Draftees

1.18 – OF Blake Rutherford

Delvin Perez and Nolan Jones were the only players on my board that I would have considered over Blake Rutherford (11) where the Yankees selected him. That makes this a slam dunk pick for New York. Whatever trepidation there was before the draft about staying away from anointing Rutherford a real deal 1-1 candidate ceased to matter the moment he started falling past the first handful of picks. Rutherford at 1-1 (or the surrounding area) was justifiable, but admittedly tough to swallow. Rutherford at 1-18 is flat robbery. A quick look at the timeline that got us here beginning in December 2015…

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

Pretty cool that Rutherford is now teammates with Clint Frazier with the Yankees. Well, I guess they aren’t technically teammates yet but rather organization-mates. You get the idea. Here are their respective professional debuts with Frazier on top and Rutherford on the bottom…

.297/.362/.506 – 31.1 K% and 8.7 BB% – 196 PA
.351/.415/.570 – 23.1 K% and 10.0 BB% – 130 PA

Not a bad start for the Yankees latest potential star prospect. We’ll jump now to April 2016 to see what was said about Rutherford then…

At some point it’s prudent to move away from the safety of college hitters and roll the dice on one of the best high school athletes in the country. Blake Rutherford is just that. Him being older than ideal for a high school senior gives real MLB teams drafting in the top five something extra to consider, but it could work to his advantage developmentally in terms of fantasy. He’s a little bit older, a little bit more filled-out, and a little bit more equipped to deal with the daily rigors of professional ball than your typical high school prospect. That’s some extreme spin about one of Rutherford’s bigger red flags — admittedly one that is easily resolved within a scouting department: either his age matters or not since it’s not like it’s changing (except up by one day like us all) any time soon — but talking oneself into glossing over a weakness is exactly what fantasy drafting is all about. I like Rutherford more in this range (ed. note: For the sake of context, this was originally written in a mock that had Rutherford going 11th) in the real draft than in the mix at 1-1.

There’s a bit of a fantasy spin to that, but the larger point about Rutherford being better equipped to deal with the minor league grind straight away better than many of his high school class peers held up in his debut. When Rutherford starts next season in Charleston as a 19-year-old (20 in May, but still), nobody will be talking about his age relative to the competition anymore. That doesn’t change the pre-draft evaluation where his age most certainly should have been factored in as he was doing his thing against younger pitchers, but that’s all old news by now. Outside of the potential desire to track certain developmental progress indicators, those pre-draft evaluations can more or less be thrown out now that he’s 130 plate appearances into his pro career.

It took me until May 2016 before I managed to succinctly describe how I viewed Rutherford as a prospect…

His upside is that of a consistently above-average offensive regular outfielder while defensively being capable of either hanging in center for a bit (a few years of average glove work out there would be nice) or excelling in an outfield corner (making this switch early could take a tiny bit of pressure off him as he adjusts to pro pitching). His floor, like almost all high school hitters, is AA bat with holes in his swing that are exploited by savvier arms.

I’d update that now to raise Rutherford’s ceiling (above-average regular, sure, but some years of star quality output seem well within reach) and more or less nix the idea of him playing center much longer (pro guys were a lot harder on his defense than the amateur evaluators) while keeping the floor basically the same (maybe bump him up to AAA, but the difference there is minute). No player in this class save AJ Puk has been picked apart in quite the same way as Rutherford. I’m not absolving myself from guilt as I know I’ve done the same over the past year or so. So much time and energy have been spent trying to talk ourselves out of him being the type of prospect that could go first overall that his combination of polished skills and toolsy upside, a blend of talent unique to him in this entire class of hitters, has gone underappreciated. This pick really is as good as it gets in the draft’s first round.

2.62 – 2B Nick Solak

Nick Solak (37) in three quotes…

October 23, 2015

The day you find me unwilling to champion a natural born hitter with a preternatural sense of the strike zone is the day I hang up the keyboard. Solak is a tough guy to project because so much of his value is tied up in his bat, but if he build on an already impressive first two seasons at Louisville in 2016 then he might just hit his way into the draft’s top two rounds.

April 4, 2016

Nick Solak can flat hit. I’d take him on my team anytime. He’s likely locked in at second in the infield, so I don’t know how high that profile can rise but I have a hunch he’ll be higher on my rankings than he winds up getting drafted in June. I’m more than all right with that.

April 21, 2016

Nick Solak is an outstanding hitter. He can hit any pitch in any count and has shown himself plenty capable of crushing mistakes. His approach is impeccable, his speed above-average, and his defense dependable. I think he’s the best college second baseman in this class.

If you’re getting the impression that I think Nick Solak is a good hitter, then you’re on the right track. I straight up LOVE this pick for New York. I got a recent DJ LeMahieu (shorter version) comparison for Solak that I think is pretty smart. Yankees would surely be thrilled with getting that kind of hitter in the second round.

3.98 – RHP Nolan Martinez

I loved the Blake Rutherford pick. I loved the Nick Solak pick. I love the Nolan Martinez (117) pick. Three for three for the Yankees so far. Martinez is all about projection at this point. The 6-2, 165 pound righthander has a fastball (87-94, 96 peak) with crazy movement and a low- to mid-70s breaking ball with above-average upside. Those two pitches alone could be enough for him to get pro hitters out right now. It’s a lot of fun to imagine what they could do with a few years of growth behind them. Further development of a low- to mid-80s changeup could make Martinez a long-term fixture in a big league rotation. It’s not hard to imagine some good weight being added to his frame, a few extra ticks added to his fastball (could see him sitting mid-90s by the time he’s in his early-20s), a little more power added to his slider, and overarching improvements in command as the highly athletic two-way high school star begins to devote himself full-time to pitching. Martinez is a really tough player to put a ceiling on right now. I’m honestly not sure how good he can be. I’m not even sure he even realizes just yet how good he can be. Tremendous pick by New York.

4.128 – RHP Nick Nelson

I didn’t necessarily love the Nick Nelson pick, but that doesn’t stop me from loving this quote from his 2015 player page at Gulf Coast State JC. His answer to”Best Sports advice given to you” was “To be the best…you have to be the best!” Could be wrong, but I think something got lost in translation there. Typo or not, I think I actually like this version better. Sometimes direct and literal is the way to go. All advice should be so pointed. Maybe if somebody had given me this advice as a younger man, I’d be the best. Maybe…

As for Nelson the ballplayer, I wasn’t as up on him before the draft as I could have been. I can see what the Yankees liked about him: he’s an athletic, sturdily built guy coming from a two-way background with plenty of arm strength. If you’re buying him, you’re thinking that some of his issues — control and underdeveloped offspeed stuff — can be ironed out with full-time dedication to working out on the mound. I’m not quite there, but it’s easy to be incredulous without having seen him. On paper, it sure seems like he has a long ways to go before he’ll provide the value I’d want from a fourth round pick.

I can’t prove it, but players like Nelson strike me as the type that area scouts are willing to pound the table on. The pieces are there, but he hasn’t come all that close to putting it together yet. I think many scouts actually prefer guys like this. I sounds mean even though it’s not the intent, but I think players like this make some scouts feel more important in their role. It’s “easy” to point to a finished product and say “yeah, get him” because anybody who has seen a ballgame or two can likely do the same. Players like Nelson are the hidden gems of the industry that separate the “real” scouts from the wannabes. Hitting on an established name is never a bad thing, but getting a player like Nelson right is a true notch on the belt worth bragging about. I don’t know, maybe I’m projecting too much. Just a theory.

5.158 – OF Dominic Thompson-Williams

The college outfielders ranked third through ninth on my final board all came out of the SEC. That is some seriously useless trivia. It is somewhat topical here, however, in that Dominic Thompson-Williams (65), the man ranked eighth on said list, had this written about him at the time of said ranking: “lost some in the SEC shuffle, but raw tools stack up with anybody here.” Nothing has changed over the summer, so consider that statement a true testament to Thompson-Williams’s obvious physical gifts. His athleticism, speed, and center field range are enough to get him to the big leagues, and his burgeoning pop and approach at the plate give him a chance at a future much greater than that. As my pre-draft ranking can attest, I’m a believer in Thompson-Williams finding a way to continually get better as he figures out how good he can really be. Tremendous value pick here by the Yankees.

6.188 – RHP Brooks Kriske

Brooks Kriske has the goods to pitch out of a big league bullpen one day. His fastball (88-94, 96 peak) and slider (low-80s) both have the chance to be above-average offerings and his mid-80s changeup could be serviceable assuming he doesn’t scrap it completely in the pros. A good frame (6-3, 190) and strong senior season (10.71 K/9 in 35.1 IP) bolster his case. The sixth round feels a bit early to me for these kind of guys, but a quick look at league-wide drafting trends shows that rounds five to ten are the college reliever sweet spot. Fair enough.

7.218 – C Keith Skinner

Nobody cares, but Keith Skinner (449) going in the top ten rounds helped me win a bet. He’s now one of my favorite players in pro ball. Those two things may or may not be related. Skinner’s glove behind the plate leaves some to be desired, but his power and approach at it make a seventh round pick worth it. I’m not that complicated a guy sometimes; if you hit .382/.466/.486 with 36 BB/14 K in a college season, you get noticed.

8.248 – 1B Dalton Blaser

Dalton Blaser, a highly productive college performer known best for a measured approach at the plate, went one pick before a similarly productive college performer known best for a measured approach at the plate. I’m less enthused about the Yankees eighth round pick than the guy who comes next, but can respect the rationale behind the pick.

9.278 – 1B Tim Lynch

Here he is! Tim Lynch (295) was a damn fine pick in the ninth round. He’s got a disciplined approach with legitimate big league thunder in his bat. The first base only profile makes the road to the highest level predictably challenging, but his brand of lefty power could help get him there. I think he’s got a very realistic shot to be at least a productive platoon bat with a real chance for more than that. For the cost of a ninth round pick and ten grand, that’s a steal.

10.308 – LHP Trevor Lane

Effectively wild and athletic. Those were the three pertinent words most often used to describe Trevor Lane to me. His pro debut also pointed to something else interesting about his profile: ground balls everywhere. So an effectively wild, athletic, ground ball inducing lefthanded reliever. That’s Trevor Lane.

11.338 – LHP Connor Jones

Connor Jones (375) was the man behind this should have been bold prediction that didn’t quite get there because I wimped out with all kinds of qualifying language…

It may be a little out there, but a case could be made that the other Connor Jones actually has more long-term upside than the righthanded Virginia ace. This Jones has gotten good yet wild results on the strength of an above-average or better fastball from the left side and a particularly intriguing splitter.

There’s a lot to like when it comes to Jones’s raw stuff. His fastball flirts with plus from the left side (88-94, 95 peak), his breaking ball (78-81 CB) flashes average or better, and a newly refined splitter could act as a needed strikeout pitch at the pro level. He’s also a really good athlete coming off a nice season at Georgia and a very nice trial in the GCL.

12.368 – RHP Taylor Widener

If a fast-moving reliever drafted outside of the top ten rounds is your thing, look no further than Taylor Widener (384). Check what the former Gamecock did in his pro debut: 13.86 K/9, 1.64 BB/9, 0.47 ERA in 38.1 IP. Those numbers aren’t all that out of line with what he did in his final year at South Carolina: 10.94 K/9, 2.12 BB/9, 4.06 ERA in 51.0 IP. His fastball/cut-slider combination is obviously good enough to miss bats, and his athleticism and command are on point. I like getting Widener here a heck of a lot more than I do getting Nelson and Kriske where they did. Heck, draft position aside, I just plain like Widener better. Great pick.

13.398 – RHP Brian Trieglaff

Armed with a fastball that’s been up to 96 and an above-average low-80s slider, Brian Trieglaff has the stuff to move relatively quickly in relief. His control has been inconsistent over the years and his 6-1, 190 pound frame is far from the classic intimidating late-game mound presence, but the good outweighs the bad for this thirteenth rounder. I’ll take this Widener/Trieglaff back-to-back over Nelson (fourth round) and Kriske (sixth round).

14.428 – OF Jordan Scott

There are two Jordan Scott’s on the Minor League Players section of Fangraphs when you search the name. One was born in 1991, the other in 1997. Knowing that this Jordan Scott had the latter birthday instantly gave me a dozen more gray hairs. I also got a gray hair — the disappointment kind, not the old man variety — when I realized that the only Jordan Scott I’ve written about on the site was a different Jordan Scott altogether. Decent righthanded pitcher from Liberty aside, this Jordan Scott had a solid debut in the Gulf Coast League, a not unfamiliar theme shared by many of the younger 2016 Yankees draftees. His would-be college coach seemed to offer high praise for the one who got away…

“Jordan may be the best athlete in this class,” Mountaineers head coach Randy Mazey said after Scott signed a letter of intent with WVU in November. “He can play multiple positions, hit home runs, steal bases and is also a great defender.”

Jordan Scott is now officially on my radar.

15.458 – LHP Tony Hernandez

I’ve got next to nothing on Tony Hernandez, fifteenth round pick of the Yankees. “Big fastball from the left side” is all I’ve got. I can at least note that his two junior college teams both have ties to the organization. Hernandez was first at Lackawanna College in Scranton, home of the Yankees AAA affiliate. He was most recently at Monroe College in Rochester. I do realize New York is a big state and that Rochester is over five hours away from Yankee Stadium, but when you’ve got no pre-draft notes on a guy you have to find a way to make connections when you can. Turns out a few extra seconds of exhaustive investigating reporting (some might call it Googling), makes this connection get a little better. Hernandez apparently attended the New Rochelle campus at Monroe (about thirty minutes from the Stadium), so all’s well that ends well. Here’s a quick piece from the Monroe website that caught my eye…

Hernandez, who idolized former Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and Red Sox ace Jon Lester, was a member of this season’s Mustangs baseball team that went 38-16 overall and won a Regional Championship before being eliminated in the Eastern District final.

Either they know something we don’t or they meant Alex Fernandez, who retired from baseball when Hernandez was four-years-old. I really like to think that somebody at Monroe has a time machine or something and just broke a major offseason scoop. Probably not, though. Stupid boring reality.

(Damn. I do these draft reviews in stops and starts, so this particular player capsule was written in early September. Puts the Fernandez mistake “joke” in a totally different light. Stupid boring reality? More like stupid awful reality. Wild how the death of somebody you’ve never met can still make you feel physically ill just thinking about it a month after the fact.)

17.518 – 3B Mandy Alvarez

The Yankees challenged seventeenth round pick Mandy Alvarez (214) with an aggressive assignment to Low-A Charleston shortly after signing and he responded with a solid run in the South Atlantic League. Such a run wasn’t totally unexpected for the mature . I think he’s just good enough in all other phases of the game to stick at third base; if that’s the case, I believe in Alvarez’s bat enough to think he could be right around a league average big league player in time. I’ll even go a step further and say that I think his realistic floor is that of a quality bat-first utility guy. Getting a player with that kind of range of outcomes with pick 518 is nothing short of tremendous value for the Yankees.

Tangential thought alert! Drafting can be as hard as you make it sometimes. The Yankees made it look pretty easy in 2016. Look at their college position player picks in the top ten rounds: Solak, Thompson-Williams, Keith Skinner, Blaser, and Lynch. The combined collegiate BB to K ratio for those players (at the time of the draft) was 167 to 114. Think they have a type? In the interest of full disclosure, all but the ultra-athletic rangy in center Thompson-Williams from this group can be called bat-first prospects, so, yeah, there could be some defensive growing pains along the way, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Yankees clearly went out of their way to target prospects with above-average feel for hitting, average or better pop for their respective positions, and highly advanced plate discipline. Kudos to them for that. If you’re curious like I was, that 167 to 114 combined walk to strikeout ratio turned into a still solid 109 to 142 mark in the pros. I’d put the over/under of future big league players out of that group at 2.5 and still be inclined to bet the over with little hesitation.

18.548 – RHP Greg Weissert

On Greg Weissert from February 2016…

Greg Weissert can throw three pitches for strikes – 88-93 FB, 78-79 CU, mid-70s CB – and has missed bats at the kind of clip (10.45 K/9) to warrant his spot at the top [of the Atlantic 10].

Sounds about right. And he’s a local product (Fordham!) to boot. Weissert will attempt to be the best modern Fordham alum since Pete Harnisch. I didn’t know that Pete Harnisch was a Ram. How about that? Don’t ever let it be said that this site doesn’t teach you something new every now and then. If you knew that already then at least this site taught me something.

19.578 – OF Evan Alexander

Evan Alexander got $100,000 to sign as a nineteenth round pick. That alone makes him a name worth watching. Beyond that, all I know is that the Yankees have liked him for a long time going back to seeing him up close and personal in Jupiter of last season. That’s all I’ve got.

20.608 – RHP Miles Chambers

Miles Chambers is one of a handful of Yankees draftees with nice peripherals and ugly run prevention stats in their debuts. The righthander from Cal State Fullerton has fairly generic potential middle relief stuff (88-92 FB, SL that comes and goes). Could be better, could be worse.

21.638 – OF Timmy Robinson

I don’t always quote myself in these things, but I liked the Timmy Robinson passage from April 2016…

Timmy Robinson‘s tools are really impressive: above-average to plus raw power, average to above-average speed, above-average to plus arm, above-average to plus range, and all kinds of physical strength. That player sounds incredible, so it should be noted that getting all of his raw ability going at the same time and translating it to usable on-field skills has been a challenge. He’s gotten a little bit better every season and now looks to be one of the draft’s most intriguing senior-signs.

There’s no telling if Robinson will amount to anything more than a slightly too aggressive tooled-up just-missed ballplayer, but his physical gifts more than warrant a gamble in the twenty-first round. I like this pick.

23.698 – RHP Braden Bristo

For whatever reason I had Braden Bristo as a lefthander in my notes. Don’t let that stupid inaccuracy on my part obscure the real deal part of his quick scouting blurb. Bristo has a really fast arm that has been up to 96 in the past (90-94 generally). Both his command and control have seen ups and downs, but getting a fastball like that — lefthanded, righthanded, anyhanded — in the twenty-third round is a pretty good deal. I also had an honest to goodness dream the night after finishing this that I can’t really remember anything from except for stopping in the Braden Bristo Bistro for a glass of water. Guess the “joke” popped into my head when seeing his name (boo), I forgot about it (thankfully), and then recovered it (noooo) from deep down in the stupidest recesses of my brain while sleeping. That’s how dreams work, right?

24.728 – OF Joe Burton

Having already picked off my tenth ranked college first baseman, the Yankees go back and grab number twelve in big Joe Burton (371). Burton, the rare junior college player that I got a chance to see in person (albeit in a workout session and not a real game), is a mountain of a man with underrated athleticism, a quick bat, and a chance to hang in left field professionally. That’s exactly where he played exclusively in his debut run with the Yankees, so maybe they’ll find a way to make it work. There’s still considerable swing-and-miss to his game, but Burton’s encouraging start in pro ball reinforces his standing on the prospect map.

25.758 – OF Edel Luaces

I had nothing on Edel Luaces prior to the draft. I have nothing on Edel Luaces now. I can tell you he’s now one of four players with the given name Edel to have played professional baseball. There’s also been an Edelano (Long), Edelkis (Reyes), and Edelyn (Carrasco). No idea if any of those gentlemen went by Edel. Anyway, here’s a nice interview with Luaces via Robert M. Pimpsner.

27.818 – LHP Phillip Diehl

Thanks to above-average control and an average or better slider, Phillip Diehl is a better version of Tyler Honahan, another college lefty taken nine rounds later by New York. Both guys have enough fastball — 88-91 in the case of Diehl — to make it as a lefty specialist if the chips fall in their favor.

28.848 – RHP Will Jones

I’ve got nothing on Will Jones. Good peripherals in his debut. Not so much in the runs allowed department. Points for being an athletic two-way standout at Lander University with a low-90s heater and rapidly improving cutter. An athletic Yankee reliever known best for sawing off bats with nasty cutters? You don’t think? Nahhh…

30.908 – OF Ben Ruta

I’ve long been in favor of going with what you know in later rounds. I assume the Yankees know the prospects at Wagner College, a school that plays their home games in the very same park as the Staten Island Yankees. Ruta has pro size, a strong arm, and solid speed. He also has the exact kind of approach (college career 77 BB to 83 K) that seemingly all Yankees draftees must have to warrant draft consideration. You could do a lot worse in the thirtieth round.

36.1088 – LHP Tyler Honahan

Here’s another example of going what you know. Tyler Honahan played his collegiate home games just ninety minutes east of Yankee Stadium at Joe Nathan Field. In this case, going with what they know could result in a useful lefty reliever down the road. Honahan has always had solid stuff from the left side — 88-93 FB, 77-83 CU with upside — and his track record of missing bats is strong, so it was no shock to see him pitch effectively in his first shot at pro ball. The odds are against any thirty-sixth round pick, but Honahan can at least point to clearly defined big league skills to help his cause.

39.1178 – RHP Brian Keller

An excellent senior season (8.91 K/9, 1.80 BB/9 and 2.88 ERA in 100.0 IP), above-average command, and a fastball up to 93 were enough to get Brian Keller drafted. I would have guessed that combination would have been enough to get him drafted ahead of the thirty-ninth round (“mid-rounds” was my prediction during the season), but that’s neither here nor there at this point. It was enough to get him his chance at pro ball and he is more than making the most of it so far. Improving on all of your impressive senior season stats is good, right? Because Keller’s debut did just that: 11.20 K/9, 1.54 BB/9, and 0.88 ERA in 41.0 IP. Keller has a chance to be Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s first big league player. Very easy player to root for.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Miles Sandum (San Diego), Nate Brown (Florida), Zack Hess (LSU), Juan Cabrera (?), Bo Weiss (North Carolina), Blair Henley (Texas), Zach Linginfelter (Tennessee), Sam Ferri (Arizona State), David Clawson (BYU), Corey Dempster (USC), Bryson Bowman (Western Carolina), Gage Burland (Gonzaga)

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2016 MLB Draft First Round Analysis

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

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

December 2015…

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

May 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early April 2016…

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

Late April 2016…

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

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

April 2016…

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

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

April 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late April 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early May 2016…

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

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

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

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

October 2015…

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

April 2016…

On talent alone, Cal Quantrill deserves to be right there with Jefferies as a potential top ten overall pick contender. Last year’s Tommy John surgery and the subsequent lost time in 2016, however, complicate the matter, though it’s hard to say how much. Quantrill’s 77-81 MPH change-up is one of my favorite pitches in this entire class. Easy velocity (89-95, 96 peak), a pair of interesting breaking balls, all kinds of pitchability, and that change-up…what more could you want? Good health, I suppose. A few late season starts would go a very long way in easing the minds of big league scouting directors charged with making the decision whether or not to cut a multi-million dollar check (or cheque in the case of the Canadian born Quantrill) to the Stanford righthander. I recently wondered aloud about how teams will perceive Quantrill in this his draft year…

The attrition at the top of the college pitching pile has left Cal Quantrill, yet to pitch in 2016 as he recovers from last year’s Tommy John surgery, one of the college game’s most intriguing mound prospects. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? I wonder if the star student out of Stanford knew this and staged the whole elbow injury to allow time for his competition to implode all over the place. That’s a joke. Not a good one, but a joke all the same.

I also have said on the record that I’d consider taking him sight unseen (in 2016) with a pick just outside the draft’s top ten. You might say I’m bullish on Quantrill’s pro prospects.

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

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

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

December 2015…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 2016…

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

May 2016…

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

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

February 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 2016…

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

May 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 2015…

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

April 2016…

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

May 2016…

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

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

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

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

December 2015…

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

April 2016…

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

May 2016…

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

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

December 2015…

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

April 2016…

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

May 2016…

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

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

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

October 2015…

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

December 2015…

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

March 2016…

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

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

April 2016…

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

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

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

December 2015…

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

April 2016…

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

May 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

December 2014…

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

December 2015…

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

April 2016…

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

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

December 2015…

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

May 2016…

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

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

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

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

April 2016…

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

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

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

January 2016…

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

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

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

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

December 2015…

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 2015…

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

May 2016…

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

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

October 2015…

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

February 2016…

As much as I like all three of those pitchers, there’s still a decent-sized gap between Eric Lauer and the field. Lauer, the third lefthander in my MAC top four, combines the best of all of the prospects below him on the rankings. There isn’t a box that he doesn’t check when looking for a potentially quick-moving above-average mid-rotation big league starting pitcher. He’s an athletic (like Plesac) lefthander (like Deeg/Akin), with good size (like Deeg/Plesac), very strong performance indicators (10.78 K/9 and 2.72 BB/9), above-average heat (88-94) that he commands like a pro, and a complete assortment of offspeed pitches (74-77 CB, 78-82 SL, emerging CU) he can throw in any count. One could quibble by noting there’s no singular knockout pitch here – maybe with continued work one of his secondaries can become a consistent plus pitch, but certainly not presently – so maybe Lauer’s best case scenario outcome isn’t quite that of some of his peers across the country, but that’s a nitpick for a still impressive ceiling/high floor starting arm. Maybe you don’t love him – I kind of do, clearly…but maybe you don’t – but he’s still a prospect that’s hard not to at least like.

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

October 2015…

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

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

April 2016…

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

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

May 2016…

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

1.29 Washington Nationals | Florida RHP Dane Dunning (-)

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

May 2016…

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

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

October 2015…

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

April 2016…

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

May 2016…

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

2016 MLB Draft – High School Outfielders

I don’t have a particularly compelling angle for how to discuss this year’s group of high school outfielders, so I’ll throw a few different ideas out to see what sticks. Hey, I suppose that’s an angle in and of itself. Love it when things work out like that.

Our first attempted angle focuses on the consensus top two high school outfielders in this class. There are some shades of the Austin Meadows/Clint Frazier dynamic from a few years back with Mickey Moniak and Blake Rutherford battling back and forth at the top this year (bonus points for close geographic proximity between the two prospects in each draft), but neither player fits the mold well enough to push the comp much further than that. Of course, as always, it turns out I’m plagiarizing myself here after writing this back in December

In 2013, we had Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier battle down to the wire to see which prep outfielder from the state of Georgia would wind up the first off the board. In 2016, we’re set to have Mickey Moniak and Blake Rutherford, both from California, go back and forth until June to see who goes higher. Forced narrative or something more? I’m inclined to say it’s more than former than the latter –considering it’s a narrative I personally made up mere minutes ago, that should make some sense – but suggesting that the two head-to-head battles run parallel in some ways isn’t crazy. Despite some internet comparisons that paint him as the Meadows, I think the better proxy for Rutherford is Frazier. Issues with handedness, height, and hair hue aside, Frazier as a starting point for Rutherford (offensively only as Frazier’s arm strength blows the average-ish arm of Rutherford away) can be used because the two both have really good looking well-balanced swings, tons of bat speed, and significant raw power. The parallel gets a little bit of extra juice when you consider Frazier and Rutherford were/are also both a little bit older than their draft counterparts.

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

I seriously thought the Meadows/Frazier comparison was an original thought, and only realized it wasn’t when I went back to my site to look up what I had written about Meadows back in 2013. Then the post with that excerpt popped up and I realized that thinking about baseball draft prospects as much as I do is driving me slowly insane. People don’t believe me when I say that I forget everything I’ve written as soon as I hit “Publish,” but it’s true. I have no memory of what I write. Drugs, alcohol, marriage? Nope, it’s been baseball that has ruined my brain. Definitely worth it.

Anyway, if we want to keep trying to force a “ghost of draft year’s past” narrative on this year’s group of high school outfielders, then we can add Billy McKinney as the Alex Kirilloff doppelganger and get a little closer to that 2013 trio at the top. I mean, it’s still not great but it is closer, right? Last year’s trio of Kyle Tucker (Rutherford), Nick Plummer (Kirilloff), and Trenton Clark (Mickey Moniak) kind of works, but there are problems with each attempted head-to-head comparison; Moniak as Clark has been mentioned elsewhere (ESPN, I believe) and that’s a good one, Kirilloff as Plummer is problematic in multiple ways, and Rutherford as Tucker just plain doesn’t work. A fun trio that matches up well (kind of) comes if we’re cool with going back to 2011: Bubba Starling (Rutherford), Brandon Nimmo (Moniak), and Josh Bell (Kirilloff). We’ve got the tooled-up overaged guy, the plus approach with a sweet swing guy, and the big strong corner outfielder/first baseman defensive tweener best known for his bat…guy. I suppose that’s the worst case scenario for almost all the 2016 prospects, but there are notable differences for each. Rutherford doesn’t share Starling’s rawness in any way, Moniak has a ton more experience (and scout exposure) than Nimmo against high-level pitching, and Kirilloff and Bell…well, they are actually kind of similar in a lot of ways. Actually, the Moniak and Nimmo parallels aren’t too far off besides the level of competition discrepancy. Check Baseball America’s pre-draft notes on Nimmo…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another solid hook here could have been the rise of the ultra-athletic late-first round helium outfield prospect. We’re talking Brandon Marsh, Taylor Trammel, Connor Capel, Hunter Bishop, John Flowers, Khalil Lee, and Thomas Jones are all outstanding athletes who should begin getting interest from teams beginning around pick twenty to twenty-five. There’s a decent chance that all of those guys are off the board by the end of the second round. Ten prep outfielders were taken in the first two rounds last year (the average is around 8.5 HS OF taken in the top two rounds since 2009), so expecting something similar (the seven I named plus the big three at the top) is well within the realm of possibility. Will Benson (who some still think of as the third member of the prep OF Big Three over Kirilloff), Akil Baddoo (all he does is hit), Jared Shelby (very little buzz about him this spring, but I like him), Avery Tuck (it only takes one team to still believe…), Chase Creek (burner who probably deserves to be on the athlete list), and Josh Stephen (solid all over, especially at the plate) all are candidates to crash the top two round party as well. This leaves out players like Garrett Hodges (love the hit tool), Dylan Carlson (fast-rising bat I’ve heard called a “second round version of Kirilloff”), Francisco Del Valle (big power), Dean Looney (more big power), and Trevyne Carter (another great athlete), not to mention the usual handful of high school athletes at other spots who get called as outfielders on draft day right off the bat.

If we stick with the idea that Moniak, Rutherford, and Kirilloff (in whatever order you like) are the Big Three this year, then that opens the door to all kinds of fun names to lay claim to the fourth spot. My current lean is Brandon Marsh, the highly athletic plus to plus-plus runner out of Georgia. We know he’s got four average or better tools (you can add a plus arm, average or better raw power, and easy center field range to his hot wheels), but, like many prospects of his ilk, we don’t know how his bat will play against professional pitching. Between the swing, the bat speed, and his approach to date, there are lots of encouraging signs, so gambling you at least get an average-ish hit tool out of him seems more than fair. Combined with his other tools, that player is a potential monster. Everything said about Marsh can also be said about Taylor Trammel, minus the arm strength accolades. Trammel can run and defend with the best in his class, but his arm is inconsistent at best. One thing I really like about him is how real his progression has felt this past calendar year. There’s been no surge in buzz about him throughout the spring; instead, it’s been a slow and steady build, as many scouts have noted that the average grades on his sheet have morphed into above-average to plus marks over the course of his final season. Yet another Georgia high school prospect, Will Benson, is currently sandwiched between the two on my rankings. I never really got the Jason Heyward comp for Benson – the most Heyward thing about Heyward is his plus defense, something that Benson is a long way from, if he ever gets there at all – but I like the connection between him and Kyle Lewis. I don’t think he lasts until the second, but he would make for an excellent consolation prize for a team picking at the top of the first round that misses out on the Mercer star with their first pick. Or just grab them both and begin hoping that you’ve just taken care of your outfield corners for the next decade.

You know what? We could have just made this whole thing about California and Georgia. We’ve covered the two big California guys at the top and the preceding paragraph is all about three Georgia boys in a row. And now here I am ready to spend a little time with Akil Baddoo and Garrett Hodges. My list isn’t finalized just yet, but the first draft has six of the first seven and ten of the first fourteen high school outfielders in this class being from either CA or GA. I firmly believe in Baddoo’s bat. I also believe in Baddo because of a David Rawnsley (Perfect Game) comp from earlier this spring. He dropped a Rondell White on Baddo’s game. White was the first prospect that I ever truly loved. Seven-year-old me saw him play during the summer of 1993 for the Harrisburg Senators. His presence on the field was so striking that I instantly became hooked on the fun behind following prospects, tracking player development, and cheering teams on who were committed to building through the farm system. White gave me hope as a baseball fan that the next big thing was always just around the corner. As for Hodges, well, I don’t know if I’m out on an island with him at this point or what, but I firmly believe that he’ll hit. Bat-first prep prospects are tough to love, but I really, really like Hodges.

*****

OF Akil Baddoo (Salem HS, Georgia)
OF Aldrich De Jongh (Trinity Christian Academy, Florida)
OF Alvaro Valdez (Westminster Christian HS, Florida)
OF Andre Nnebe (St. Mary’s HS, California)
OF Avery Tuck (Steele Canyon HS, California)
OF Bailin Markridge (O’Connor HS, Arizona)
OF Ben Lewis (Horizon HS, Arizona)
OF Blake Rutherford (Chaminade Prep HS, California)
OF Brad Demco (Lake Travis HS, Texas)
OF Brandon Marsh (Buford HS, Georgia)
OF Brock Anderson (Sparkman HS, Alabama)
OF Brock Howard (Harmony HS, Florida)
OF Caleb Green (Metter HS, Georgia)
OF Cameron Blake (Round Rock HS, Texas)
OF Chase Cheek (Phillips HS, Florida)
OF Chase Murray (Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Ohio)
OF Chavez Young (Faith Baptist Academy, Florida)
OF Christian Long (Westside HS, Texas)
OF Christian Moya (South Hills HS, California)
OF Clayton Keyes (Bishop Carroll HS, Alberta)
OF Colin Brophy (Notre Dame HS, California)
OF Connor Capel (Seven Lakes HS, Texas)
OF Dalton Griffin (South Effingham HS, Georgia)
OF Dante Baldelli (Bishop Hendricken HS, Rhode Island)
OF Dean Looney (Butler HS, North Carolina)
OF Denilson Elligson (Graceville HS, Florida)
OF Dominic Clementi (Arrowhead HS, Wisconsin)
OF Dominic Fletcher (Cypress HS, California)
OF Donnie Gleneski (Bishop Kenny HS, Florida)
OF Dylan Hirsch (El Camino Real HS, California)
OF EP Reese (North Davidson HS, North Carolina)
OF Eric Rivera (Flanagan HS, Florida)
OF Francisco Del Valle (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
OF Gabe Simons (Ada HS, Oklahoma
OF Garrett Hodges (South Effingham HS, Georgia)
OF Hunter Bishop (Serra HS, California)
OF Hunter Judd (Knoxville Catholic HS, Tennessee)
OF Jack Suwinski (Taft HS, Illinois)
OF Jacob Hirsh (O’Dea HS, Washington)
OF Jake Suddleson (Harvard-Westlake HS, California)
OF Jalen Harrison (St. Anne’s-Belfield HS, Virginia)
OF Jaren Shelby (Tates Creek HS, Kentucky)
OF Jarrett Finger (Grandview HS, Colorado)
OF Jeremy Ydens (St. Francis HS, California)
OF Jerrette Lee (Columbus HS, Georgia)
OF Joe Acker (Marquette University HS, Wisconsin)
OF Joe Faulkner (Cumberland Gap HS, Tennessee)
OF Jordan McFarland (Waterloo HS, Illinois)
OF Jordan Wiley (Richland HS, Texas)
OF Jose Layer (Colegio Angel David, Puerto Rico)
OF Josh Stephen (Mater Dei HS, California)
OF Juan Carlos Abreu (Winter Springs HS, Florida
OF Kace Massner (Burlington Community HS, Iowa)
OF Kameron Misner (Poplar Bluff HS, Missouri
OF Keegan Snowbarger (St. Xavier HS, Kentucky)
OF Keenan Bell (Episcopal HS, Florida)
OF Kingsley Ballao (Maui HS, Hawaii)
OF Kobi Owen (Episcopal HS, Texas)
OF Kobie Taylor (Portsmouth HS, New Hampshire)
OF Landon Silver (Huntington Beach HS, California)
OF Langston Watkins (Louisville Male HS, Kentucky)
OF Luke Lalumia (Grand Ledge HS, Michigan)
OF Marcus Mack (Bellaire HS, Texas)
OF Mason Nadeau (North Penn HS, Pennsylvania)
OF Matthew Fraizer (Clovis North HS, California)
OF Michael Farley (Chico HS, California)
OF Michael Wilson (Colonia HS, New Jersey)
OF Mickey Moniak (La Costa Canyon HS, California)
OF Nick Howie (Garth Webb SS, Ontario)
OF Nick Neville (IMG Academy, Florida)
OF Nick Wilhite (Buford HS, Georgia)
OF Nikolas Dague (Sickles HS, Florida)
OF Otis Statum (Bishop O’Dowd HS, California)
OF Preston Jones (Mountain View HS, Washington)
OF Quin Cotton (Regis Jesuit HS, Colorado)
OF Raymond Hernandez (Fernando Ledesma Continuation, Puerto Rico)
OF Raymond Salaman (Luis Hernaiz Verone HS, Puerto Rico)
OF Robert Bullard (Thurgood Marshall HS, Texas)
OF Ronald Washington (Ridge Point HS, Texas)
OF Ryan Brown (St. James HS, Maryland)
OF Ryan Mejia (Alonso HS, Florida)
OF Ryan Novis (Corona Del Sol HS, Arizona)
OF Spencer Taylor (Trinity Christian Academy, Florida)
OF Taylor Trammel (Mount Paran Christian HS, Georgia)
OF Ted Sabato (Brunswick HS, New York)
OF Terence Norman (Kennesaw Mountain HS, Georgia)
OF Thomas Jones (Laurens District 55 HS, South Carolina)
OF Todd Lott (Trinity Christian Academy, Florida)
OF Tony Schultz (Saints Peter and Paul HS, Maryland)
OF Trace Bucey (Carroll HS, Texas)
OF Tre Turner (Holy Cross HS, Louisiana)
OF Tremaine Spears (Tioga HS, Louisiana)
OF Trevyne Carter (Soddy Daisy HS, Tennessee)
OF Troy Johnston (Rogers HS, Washington)
OF Wyatt Featherston (Green Mountain HS, Colorado)
OF/1B Alex Kirilloff (Plum HS, Pennsylvania)
OF/1B Dylan Carlson (Elk Grove HS, California)
OF/1B Will Benson (The Westminster Schools, Georgia)
OF/3B Armani Smith (De La Salle HS, California)
OF/3B Matthew Gorski (Hamilton Southeastern HS, Indiana)
OF/LHP Austin Langworthy (Williston HS, Florida)
OF/LHP Carter Nelson (Jenks HS, Oklahoma)
OF/LHP Khalil Lee (Flint Hill HS, Virginia)
OF/LHP Kyle Stowers (Christian HS, California)
OF/RHP Brandon Fraley (Caravel Academy, Delaware)
OF/RHP Connor Kimple (Marquette HS, Wisconsin)
OF/RHP John Flowers (Trinity Christian Academy, Florida)
OF/RHP Michael Toglia (Gig Harbor HS, Washington)
OF/RHP Trevor Boone (Tulsa Memorial HS, Oklahoma)

The Philadelphia Phillies and 1-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 MLB Draft Mock Draft – Territorial Rights

The 2016 MLB Draft will be here before we know it, so that can only mean one thing: it’s MOCK DRAFT season. It’s been a few years since I published a mock draft around here, but I figured it was finally time to get back in the game. Of course, since I can’t offer much in the way of insider intel — I’m not BA-era peak Jim Callis over here — putting together a mock would be pretty much pointless. With the proper analysis attached to each pick mock drafts can be fun and interesting reads, not to mention a great way of exposing casual fans — the number of people who Google “2016 mlb mock draft” that find this site is insane, at least relative to the four people who read on their own volition otherwise — to players they might have not yet heard of. I might attempt a mock like that between now and June. Or not. Either way, this ain’t it.

So until then (or not) we’ll have some fun and take the idea of a mock draft to the logical extreme. If “mock” means to make something seem laughably unreal or impossible, let’s make our mock draft as unreal or impossible as we can. Our fourth edition of this 2016 MLB Mock Draft is based on territorial rights. Teams can only draft a player that currently plays amateur ball in within the confines of their state. Easy enough, right? Unfortunately this means no Jay Groome, Nick Senzel, Riley Pint, Delvin Perez, Corey Ray, Alec Hansen, Connor Jones, Josh Lowe, Bryan Reynolds, Matt Krook, Dakota Hudson, Anthony Kay, Joe Rizzo, Jordan Sheffield, Will Craig…and on and on and on and on. It does, however, allow for some fun mid-first round steals and a few interesting decisions when picking players from states both big and small. Let’s do it…

1 – Philadelphia Phillies – Holy Ghost Prep SS/3B Nolan Jones

My home state of Pennsylvania has nine D1 schools with baseball programs covering five different conferences. I’ve seen four of the schools already — Penn, Lafayette, St. Joe’s, Villanova — and have a shot to see all nine by the end of the season if I plan my schedule out creatively. There are some solid prospects at those universities — David Bednar stood out so far — who will most definitely be drafted this June, but the real strength of the 2016 Pennsylvania draft class is in the prep talent. My very preliminary look at this year’s high school class has around a dozen names that could get drafted this year out of the state. The best is Nolan Jones, a prospect good enough to be on the short list of the Phillies in a non-nonsense mock draft (i.e., what we call “real life”). Jones has all the tools to be a plus defender at the hot corner with the raw power and aptitude for hitting that could make him one of the best all-around infielders to come out of this class. He’s a really exciting prospect…and a truer “local” prospect to Philadelphia than a certain Jersey lefty, if you’re into that sort of thing.

2 – Cincinnati Reds – Ohio State OF Ronnie Dawson

Cincinnati had a surprisingly high number of options despite being limited to picking only from Ohio. With eleven D1 schools to choose from — some of which were not instantly recognizable to me as Ohio schools, like Wright State and…fine, just Wright State — there was plenty of college talent to make up for the lack of interesting high school prospects. Ronnie Dawson barely beat out teammate Troy Montgomery, Sean Murphy, and the TBD eventual pick of the Indians below. I cringe a little when I hear some of the terms scouts use to describe players — a far worse practice in football than baseball, admittedly — but one of those terms I hate applies too well to Dawson to ignore: he’s a beast. Big, strong, athletic, powerful, fleet of foot…there’s no other way to put it, he’s a beast.

3 – Atlanta Braves – Mercer OF Kyle Lewis

Turns out Georgia, one of the strongest states for high school draft prospects in recent years, actually has less D1 schools that play ball (seven) than either Pennsylvania or Ohio. Go figure. Josh Lowe, Carter Kieboom, Will Benson, Taylor Trammel, and Alex Speas (among many others) keep that impressive prep tradition alive in 2016, but the Braves, long rumored to covet a college bat early on draft day, can’t pass up the biggest, baddest name in the college game. Locking down a future fixture in the middle of your order isn’t a bad way to accelerate the rebuild. Between those high school players and Lewis, Georgia just might be my favorite prospect state in this year’s class.

4 – Colorado Rockies – Air Force RHP Griffin Jax

I debated on a few high school arms before finally settling on Regis Jesuit RHP Bo Weiss as the pick here. Then I realized I totally blanked on Air Force being right around Colorado Springs. That made the selection a little bit easier and a little bit harder all at once. I’d take either Griffin Jax or Jacob DeVries over any of the admittedly intriguing group of 2016 Colorado prep pitchers (really like Paul Tillotson and Travis Marr is interesting, too), but choosing between the two Air Force co-aces isn’t easy. Jax gives you a little more certainty than DeVries — who might have a little bit of recently acquired Rockies closer Jake McGee in him now that I think about it — with the added benefit of being no slouch in the upside department in his own right. I really think Colorado is building something potentially special. While a rock solid mid- to late-rotation arm might seem like the sexiest pick, Jax is the kind of guy you can take for granted (in a good way) as a useful big league piece without worrying about him stalling out for anything but an injury.

5 – Milwaukee Brewers – Verona Area HS C Ben Rortvedt

Much has been made about this year’s high school class having talented players spring out of traditionally unconventional places. One of the better examples of that is how top-heavy the prep prospects in Wisconsin are this year. There’s depth to be sure, but it’s the top tier guys that really make the state stand out. As I cycled through names I kept finding myself saying “Oh yeah, it’ll be him,” before getting to the next name and reconsidering. Nate Brown and Gavin Lux, in particular, are players that would almost certainly be the best in their class in any other year. Instead, the Brewers attempt to get their catcher of the future in Ben Rortvedt, a wholly impressive defensive player who combines outstanding physical strength with above-average agility behind the dish.

6 – Oakland Athletics – La Costa Canyon HS OF Mickey Moniak

If the draft is held on a day that ends in a Y, then that must mean that California is loaded with pro prospects. This pick came down to Mickey Moniak vs Blake Rutherford, easily the most fascinating prospect head-to-head battle in this class right now. I’d get more enjoyment watching Moniak run down fly balls in Oakland’s big dumb ballpark than Rutherford hit balls out of it, so Moniak takes it.

7 – Miami Marlins – Miami C Zack Collins

I’ll keep banging the drum for Zack Collins as a legitimate top ten pick as long as it takes for somebody to take note. If Kyle Schwarber can go fourth overall, then why not Collins? If anything, I think Collins is the better draft prospect of the two.

8 – San Diego Padres – Chaminade Prep OF Blake Rutherford

The Padres might be best served by these rule changes than any other team in this mock. Their future real life haul should be pretty impressive — holding three picks in the top twenty-five makes them the envy of every scouting department — but the damage they could do just by poaching half of the top half-dozen prospects from California could wind up just as extensive. Whether you love Rutherford or still have reservations about his game (or find yourself gutless riding the fence…like me!), getting him with the eight overall pick is fun.

9 – Detroit Tigers – Michigan 1B/LHP Carmen Benedetti

Search for “Carmen Benedetti” on this site. I’ve written a lot about him lately. Assuming you don’t — and good for you not being bossed around by some baseball nerd on the internet — the quick version is he’s really good at baseball, both the hitting/fielding part and the pitching part. I’ve likened him to Brian Johnson more than once, and I think he’s shown enough as a position player to get a shot in the field first. The raw power might not scream slam dunk future big league regular at first base, but the overall offensive and defensive profile could make him an above-average regular for a long time.

10 – Chicago White Sox – Illinois RHP Cody Sedlock

I appreciate that of the eleven schools that play D1 baseball in Illinois, eight have Illinois directly in the university name. That made my life a lot easier when searching my database. My mind still kept wanting to give the White Sox Corey Ray, but that would be against our hastily put together yet very important ironclad rules. Future big league starter Cody Sedlock isn’t a bad consolation prize. Bradley, Chicago State, and Northwestern are the three Illinois schools without Illinois in the name…just in case you were wondering.

11 – Seattle Mariners – Federal Way HS 1B/OF Christian Jones

It was a close call between Ian Hamilton and Christian Jones, but the bat trumped the arm in the end. That’s often my personal preference on these things. Jones has been on the radar for me as much for the sound he makes on contact than any visual observation I’ve made. If he can play the outfield professionally, as many are beginning to think, then so much the better.

12 – Boston Red Sox – Boston College RHP Justin Dunn

With apologies to the dynamic duo of Dustin Hunt and Aaron Civale at Northeastern, it’s Justin Dunn and his easy upper-90s heat that finds himself on the fast track to Fenway’s bullpen. If Dunn (or Jesse Adams, John Nicklas, Mike King, or any other Eagle) does get drafted by Boston this June, then he’ll be the first to turn the trick since Jed Rogers in 2001 and only the sixth BC to the Red Sox draft connection fo all-time. How about that? Dunn (and/or the rest) would also attempt to have a pro career that finished with positive bWAR, something that has been done only once (!) in school history so far. Of the six Boston College players to reach the big leagues, five had/have negative career bWAR. Only Tony Sanchez’s 0.4 figure is in the black.

13 – Tampa Bay Rays – Florida LHP AJ Puk

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

14 – Cleveland Indians – Kent State LHP Eric Lauer

I’ll quote myself on Lauer, if you’ll allow it…

There isn’t a box that he doesn’t check when looking for a potentially quick-moving above-average mid-rotation big league starting pitcher. He’s an athletic (like Plesac) lefthander (like Deeg/Akin), with good size (like Deeg/Plesac), very strong performance indicators (10.78 K/9 and 2.72 BB/9), above-average heat (88-94) that he commands like a pro, and a complete assortment of offspeed pitches (74-77 CB, 78-82 SL, emerging CU) he can throw in any count. One could quibble by noting there’s no singular knockout pitch here – maybe with continued work one of his secondaries can become a consistent plus pitch, but certainly not presently – so maybe Lauer’s best case scenario outcome isn’t quite that of some of his peers across the country, but that’s a nitpick for a still impressive ceiling/high floor starting arm. Maybe you don’t love him – I kind of do, clearly…but maybe you don’t – but he’s still a prospect that’s hard not to at least like.

15 – Minnesota Twins – Minnesota C Austin Athmann

There’s no young Joe Mauer hiding in the the Gopher State this year, but the Minnesota University battery of Dalton Sawyer to Austin Athmann gives the Twins two intriguing draft options right off the top. Again we go hitter over pitcher when the talent levels appear close from the outside looking in. Athmann has a strong arm and really solid 2016 numbers. Good enough for me.

16 – Los Angeles Angels – Cal RHP Daulton Jefferies

I like this pick because it helps make this feel more like a mock draft than a random assortment of players listed according to arbitrary rules. The Angels would have their pick from a ton of talented California prospects, but here they opt for the relatively safety of Daulton Jefferies. As much fun as going for a home run pick would be — Avery Tuck, one of the many prep arms, and Lucas Erceg all come to mind — the Angels simply can not afford to come away from this draft with a serious early round hit. Jefferies is as close to big league ready as any college starter in this class, so it’s a pretty perfect marriage.

17 – Houston Astros – Rice RHP Jon Duplantier

I’ve typed and deleted a few different variations of how down Texas is this year, but can’t bring myself to go through with it. There are a handful of high school prospects as always — less than usual it seems — and all of the college programs seem down. Those might be too broad generalizations — I’m waiting for a fan of one of the schools in Texas (not Dallas Baptist, though, because they are awesome and everybody should know that) to call me out any second now — but A&M (the best of the bunch), Baylor, Rice, TCU, Tech, and, most egregiously, Texas all seem down relative to the standards we’ve come to expect. None of that should diminish the accomplishments and credentials of Jon Duplantier, who has pitched his tail off all season long. Despite rarely mentioned as a potential first round pick, Duplantier has sneaky top of the rotation upside. The only red flag is the university he pitches for; thankfully, that risk is mitigated some by the fact his history of missing time with relatively minor injuries has prevented his coach from overworking him so far. Smaller injuries might have prevented him from getting overworked to the point of larger injuries. Ironic, right? If Duplantier flops in the pros, I’m out on Rice pitchers forever.

18 – New York Yankees – Shenendehowa HS RHP Ian Anderson

Fans of twenty-nine other teams would not like this one bit. Ian Anderson, a dark-horse 1-1 candidate, has everything you’d want to see in a high school righthander with worlds of projection left. He also helps my pet theory that there’s an easy shortcut to amateur scouting: just follow the recruits. If a player is committed to Vanderbilt, like Ian Anderson is, move him up ___ spots on your board. Let the college teams do the hard work for you! Vanderbilt, Florida, UCLA, LSU…if a guy has a commitment to a school on that level, then you should want to draft him. I loved Anderson as much as anybody as he began to put his name on the national map, but once he had that Vandy commit in his back pocket he started looking better than ever.

19 – New York Mets – Henninger HS LHP Jeff Belge

Jeff Belge would help replenish the Mets pitching pipeline. That’s about all I’ve got. Belge got off to a fast start as a prospect relative to his peers thanks to his imposing size (6-6, 240) and present arm strength (85-92 FB, up to 94-95). Others have caught and exceeded him in this class, but he’s still a talented young lefty capable of using three offspeed pitches and blowing fastballs by the opposition.

20 – Los Angeles Dodgers – Stanford RHP Cal Quantrill

Plus fastball, plus change, plus pitchability, and flashes of two different breaking balls with upside. Get Cal Quantrill back on a mound and watch him fly up boards as we get closer to June. Sight unseen from last spring, I’d still consider taking him just outside the top ten picks or so.

21 – Toronto Blue Jays – York Mills Collegiate Institute C Andy Yerzy

Covering the entire country is one thing, but trying to develop solid contacts in Canada and Puerto Rico gives me that extra degree of difficulty that makes me want to bang my head against the wall at times. I do like what I know about Andy Yerzy and Austin Shields. Are they the top two Canadian prospects for 2016? Beats me. But they are my favorites for now.

22 – Pittsburgh Pirates – Plum HS OF Alex Kirilloff

Pittsburgh opts to stay close to home with the nod going to the local prep star over the local college star. Even with the successful recent return to health of the very talented TJ Zeuch, the potential plus all-around bat of Alex Kirilloff is too tempting to pass up on. Hey, it worked with the Neil Walker pick, so why not go to the Pittsburgh high school baseball well again in the first round? As a hitter, Kirilloff can really do it all: big raw power, plus bat speed, a mature approach, and a hit tool so promising that almost every scout has agreed that he’s an advanced hitter who happens to hit for power rather than the other way around. He’s the rare high school prospect who could hit enough to have confidence in him as a pro even if eventually confined to first base.

23 – St. Louis Cardinals – Missouri SS Ryan Howard

The Cardinals can only hope that I still have the patience to do these silly mocks next year. Instead of trying to decide on which prospect to reach on like this, they’d have the luxury of debating between Tanner Houck and Jake Burger. Because it’s 2016 and not 2017, however, Ryan Howard resembles the most sensible pick. I think he probably tops out as a quality utility infielder in the big leagues, but focusing on the “in the big leagues” part rather than the “utility infielder” aspect makes it worthwhile.

24 – San Diego Padres – San Diego SS Bryson Brigman

I’m not sure I have much more to add on Brigman at the moment than what I wrote recently about him…

Doing so would allow me to regularly see Bryson Brigman, a prospect that has begun to remind me a lot of Arizona’s Scott Kingery from last year’s draft. Kingery was a second round pick (48th overall) and I could see Brigman rising to a similar level by June. Like Kingery last year, Brigman’s defensive future remains a question for scouts. Fortunately for both, the question is framed more around trying him in challenging spots than worrying about having to hide him elsewhere on the diamond. Brigman has an above-average to plus defensive future at second back in his back pocket already, so his playing a solid shortstop in 2016 is doing so with house money. In much the same way that former second baseman Alex Bregman wore everybody down with consistent above-average play at short last college season, Brigman has proved to many that he has what it takes to stick at shortstop in pro ball. Brigman’s appeal at this point is pretty clear: tons of defensive potential in the middle infield, contact abilities that elicit the classic “he could find a hole rolling out of bed” remarks from onlookers, and enough of the sneaky pop/mature approach offensive extras needed to be an impactful regular in the big leagues. I’ll stick with the Kingery – who smart people told me here could play shortstop if needed, a position since corroborated by those who have seen him in the pros (I’ll be seeing him for myself on Saturday, FWIW) – comparison for now, but I wouldn’t object to somebody who offered up a mix of the best of both Kingery and his old double play partner Kevin Newman. That would obviously be some kind of special player, but Brigman doesn’t seem too far off. I’ve said before I hate when people throw around terms like “first round player” so loosely that you could count 100 first rounders in their eyes in the months leading up to June, but I’ll be guilty of it here and call Brigman a first round player as of now. I’ve really come to appreciate his game since the start of the season.

25 – San Diego Padres – Santa Barbara HS RHP Kevin Gowdy

I haven’t been able to sneak Kevin Gowdy on to one of these mocks just yet, so it’s great that he finally made the cut. It wasn’t easy, what with guys like Matt Manning, Reggie Lawson, Nick Lodolo, Corbin Burnes, and Lucas Erceg all vying for the second to last California spot, but he made it. Since we’re firmly in the quote yourself section of the mock by now, here’s me from the comments section earlier this week on Gowdy: “Love Gowdy. Command, deception, and frame are all really promising. Puts his fastball where he wants it better than most of his college-aged peers. Velocity is good and breaking ball looks legit. And on top of all that, his delivery is a thing of beauty to me. I normally leave mechanics alone — don’t care what it looks long as long as the pitcher can repeat it consistently — but Gowdy’s stand out as being particularly efficient. I’m a big fan. Likely a top five prep pitcher in this class.”

26 – Chicago White Sox – Carmel Catholic HS C Cooper Johnson

I do not know if Cooper Johnson will hit enough to be a viable big league player. I do know that he can defend the heck out of his position. I had him on a Russell Martin (high), Francisco Cervelli (medium), and Austin Hedges (low) spectrum after seeing him over the summer. We’re getting late enough in this draft that even the low outcome for him would give you enough value back. Gambling on a defensive weapon behind the plate figuring things out just enough as a hitter seems like a smart bet to me.

27 – Baltimore Orioles – Maryland RHP Mike Shawaryn

Many words were written about Mike Shawaryn in yesterday’s post, so I’ll refer any new readers to that first and foremost. If you recall, my conclusions about Shawaryn centered on the idea that he has the chance to be one of the draft’s best undervalued assets, assuming his 2016 funk is attributable more to fatigue than anything else. Draft him in the second or third round — late first is pushing it, but so go the rules of the mock — and give him all the time off he needs to feel 100% again. There are lots of health-based assumptions here that I really shouldn’t be making, but I figure the underlying point is that the real Shawaryn is still really good when rested and ready gives me a little bit of moral leeway. Anyway, please don’t let this happen in real life. Shawaryn, a man (maybe) in need of a team with an expert minor league medical staff, should be kept as far a way as possible from whatever it is that’s causing all of Baltimore’s pitching prospects to fall apart.

28 – Washington Nationals – Georgetown RHP David Ellingson

This really isn’t fair to the team in our nation’s capital, but they had the top pick in back-to-back years with a generational talent waiting for them AND somehow got to watch a bunch of teams let a pair of injured stars fall into their laps. It’s only right that they get some bad draft luck for a change. The player pool is all but limited to George Washington, Georgetown, and a very small group of high school players. David Ellingson could give them some middle relief help in a few years. That’s literally better than passing on the pick, right?

29 – Washington Nationals – Georgetown RHP Matt Smith

What’s really messed up about the Nationals being stuck only picking players from DC is how close (yet so far) they are to an absolute hotbed of baseball talent. How nice would Connor Jones look in this spot? Or any one of the good to great high school prospects found in Virginia this year? We’re talking Joe Rizzo, Khalil Lee, Zach Hess, Noah Murdock, Bobby Nicholson…the list goes on. Like his once and future teammate Ellingson, Matt Smith could be a nice middle reliever down the line. That’s good, too!

30 – Texas Rangers – Alamo Heights HS RHP Forrest Whitley

A big Texan with power stuff going to the Rangers. Narratives everywhere! Though I guess he had to be a Texan automatically because that’s the whole point of the draft. And he’s the best of an underwhelming crop from the state. You could argue Nick Banks here, but I’ll go with a pitcher over the hitter to change things up. Can you tell that we’re only a few picks away from the finish line?

31 – New York Mets – Buffalo RHP Mike Kaelin

The Mets have cleaned up in some of the other drafts we’ve done so far, so I don’t feel too bad with them being challenged in our geographical version of things. Thomas Hackimer would be an equally fine pick to Mike Kaelin, but I have too much of a soft spot for the undersized reliever from Buffalo to pass on him now.

32 – Los Angeles Dodgers – Steele Canyon HS OF Avery Tuck

With all the talent in California this year — I named names in the last San Diego pick — some might be surprised to see Avery Tuck emerge as the final pick from the Golden State. I’m an unabashed fan of upside, what can I say?

33 – St. Louis Cardinals – De Smet Jesuit HS LHP Erik Miller

Making the best of being limited only to the great state of Missouri, the Cards nab the state’s best high school prospect in Erik Miller. A three-pitch lefthander with enviable size (6-5, 220), present velocity (88-93), and deception in his delivery isn’t a bad way to spend a first round pick.

34 – St. Louis Cardinals – Missouri RHP Reggie McClain

The Cardinals would have to be so jealous of the Padres in a draft like this. Reggie McClain as a consolation prize isn’t the worst thing in the world. In fact, I like the redshirt-senior quite a bit as a late single-digit round senior-sign option. Easy to love his changeup, control, and athleticism. It’s just that Howard, Miller and McClain isn’t exactly Rutherford, Brigman, and Gowdy.

2016 MLB Draft Prospect Preview: HS Outfielders

In 2013, we had Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier battle down to the wire to see which prep outfielder from the state of Georgia would wind up the first off the board. In 2016, we’re set to have Mickey Moniak and Blake Rutherford, both from California, go back and forth until June to see who goes higher. Forced narrative or something more? I’m inclined to say it’s more than former than the latter –considering it’s a narrative I personally made up mere minutes ago, that should make some sense – but suggesting that the two head-to-head battles run parallel in some ways isn’t crazy. Despite some internet comparisons that paint him as the Meadows, I think the better proxy for Rutherford is Frazier. Issues with handedness, height, and hair hue aside, Frazier as a starting point for Rutherford (offensively only as Frazier’s arm strength blows the average-ish arm of Rutherford away) can be used because the two both have really good looking well-balanced swings, tons of bat speed, and significant raw power. The parallel gets a little bit of extra juice when you consider Frazier and Rutherford were/are also both a little bit older than their draft counterparts.

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

I know more than a few Phillies fans that are dreaming about a 1-2 punch of Jason Groome and Brandon McIlwain at the top of the draft. The obvious tie-in for the casual fan is that both players are local, but bonus demands are what make it truly interesting. Money saved on a high school arm with the first pick could end up spend on the draft’s top two-sport talent only available so late due to a high price tag. McIlwain has game-changing speed, athleticism that ranks at or near the top of the entire class, and the kind of bat speed, coordination, and pitch recognition that is typically not associated with a four-star QB recruit. Check this out

[He] has true bat speed and strength, and makes adjustments against better pitching. His other tools are outrageous: he’s a plus-plus runner with Gold Glove potential in center field and a strong throwing arm that grades out above-average as well. [He] plays with supreme confidence that goes hand-in-hand with his well-above-average athletic ability.

That’s Baseball America’s pre-draft report on Donavan Tate. I think there are definitely some similarities between the amateur version of Tate and McIlwain now. I’m not suggesting McIlwain will rise to Tate’s draft heights (3rd overall pick) nor do I think McIlwain’s pro career will go up in smoke like Tate’s, but simply looking at their respective tool sets as amateurs shows many similarities. I liked Tate a lot then, so it should be no shock that I like McIlwain a lot now.

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

The gap between Benson and Avery Tuck is as tiny as it gets. I can easily see Tuck being the first of the two off the board; in fact, he might be the most likely contender of the current top tier prospects to knock Moniak/Rutherford out of the number one spot for the position group. Like Benson, Tuck is a physical specimen who looks like he was born to put on the uniform. He’s strong (though not quite on Benson’s level) with room to fill out, he’s got a really strong arm, and his athleticism is second to none. There is some swing-and-miss to his game (like Benson) that will have to be addressed, but if he can even approach an average future hit tool…well, that’s a top fifteen pick with the chance to rise higher than that. My personal feelings about Tuck’s power align with what I think about Carlos Cortes’s hit tool. In my conversations with people smarter than myself (impossible, right?), there seem to be far more questions about each (Tuck’s power, Cortes’s hit) than what I’ve seen with my novice eyes. So, as with the conversation on Cortes, if you want the consensus that I’ve gotten, then consider Tuck a really promising potential first round outfielder with average or better raw power, tons of bat speed, elite athleticism, and some real contact questions. If you want my own amateur view, then consider all that accurate but up the power to an easy plus (25+ HR at peak) with the kind of present power not typically seen in guys his age.

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

OF Mickey Moniak (La Costa Canyon HS, California)
OF Blake Rutherford (Chaminade Prep HS, California)
OF Brandon McIlwain (Council Rock North HS, Pennsylvania)
OF/1B Will Benson (The Westminster Schools, Georgia)
OF Avery Tuck (Steele Canyon HS, California)
OF/1B Alex Kirilloff (Plum HS, Pennsylvania)
OF Jaren Shelby (Tates Creek HS, Kentucky)
OF Akil Baddoo (Salem HS, Georgia)
OF Chase Cheek (Phillips HS, Florida)
OF Garrett Hodges (South Effingham HS, Georgia)
OF Francisco Del Valle (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
OF Taylor Trammel (Mt. Paran Christian HS, Georgia)
OF Josh Stephen (Mater Dei HS, California)
OF/LHP Khalil Lee (Flint Hill HS, Virginia)
OF Christian Long (Westside HS, Texas)
OF Dean Looney (Butler HS, North Carolina)
OF Ronald Washington (Ridge Point HS, Texas)
OF Kobie Taylor (Portsmouth HS, New Hampshire)
OF Keenan Bell (Episcopal HS, Florida)
OF Thomas Jones (Laurens 55 HS, South Carolina)
OF/LHP Austin Langworthy (Williston HS, Florida)
OF Trace Bucey (Carroll HS, Texas)
OF Michael Farley (Chico HS, California)
OF Jordan Wiley (Richland HS, Texas)
OF/LHP Andrew Baker (Ridge Community HS, Florida)
OF Langston Watkins (Louisville Male HS, Kentucky)
OF Andre Nnebe (St. Mary’s HS, California)
OF Wyatt Featherston (Green Mountain HS, Colorado)
OF Dominic Fletcher (Cypress HS, California)
OF Bailin Markridge (O’Connor HS, Arizona)
OF Dalton Griffin (South Effingham HS, Georgia)
OF Dominic Clementi (Arrowhead HS, Wisconsin)
OF EP Reese (North Davidson HS, North Carolina)
OF Connor Capel (Seven Lakes HS, Texas)
OF Spencer Taylor (Trinity Christian Academy, Florida)
OF/RHP Trevor Boone (Tulsa Memorial HS, Oklahoma)
OF Terence Norman (Kennesaw Mountain HS, Georgia)
OF Jose Layer (Colegio Angel David, Puerto Rico)
OF Jarrett Finger (Grandview HS, Colorado)
OF Ryan Mejia (Alonso HS, Florida)
OF Marcus Mack (Bellaire HS, Texas)
OF Gabe Simons (Ada HS, Oklahoma)
OF Robert Bullard (Thurgood Marshall HS, Texas)
OF Matthew Fraizer (Clovis North HS, California)
OF Caleb Green (Metter HS, Georgia)
OF/LHP Kyle Stowers (Christian HS, California)
OF Luke Lalumia (Grand Ledge HS, Michigan)
OF Raymond Hernandez (Fernando Ledesma Continuation, Puerto Rico)
OF Nick Neville (IMG Academy, Florida)
OF Raymond Salaman (Luis Hernaiz Verone HS, Puerto Rico)
OF Ryan Brown (St. James HS, Maryland)
OF Denilson Elligson (Graceville HS, Florida)
OF/RHP Brandon Fraley (Caravel Academy, Delaware)
OF Kingsley Ballao (Maui HS, Hawaii)
OF Dylan Hirsch (El Camino Real HS, California)
OF Hunter Judd (Knoxville Catholic HS, Tennessee)
OF Landon Silver (Huntington Beach HS, California)
OF Juan Carlos Abreu (Winter Springs HS, Florida)
OF Cameron Blake (Round Rock HS, Texas)
OF Jerrette Lee (Columbus HS, Georgia)
OF Brock Anderson (Sparkman HS, Alabama)
OF/3B Armani Smith (De La Salle HS, California)
OF Chase Murray (Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Ohio)
OF Michael Wilson (Colonia HS, New Jersey)
OF Colin Brophy (Notre Dame HS, California)
OF Brad Demco (Lake Travis HS, Texas)
OF Jalen Harrison (St. Anne’s-Belfield HS, Virginia)
OF Keegan Snowbarger (St. Xavier HS, Kentucky)
OF Jeremy Ydens (St. Francis HS, California)
OF Nick Howie (Garth Webb SS, Ontario)
OF Clayton Keyes (Bishop Carroll HS, Alberta)
OF Dante Baldelli (Bishop Hendricken HS, Rhode Island)
OF Tremaine Spears (Tioga HS, Louisiana)
OF Aldrich De Jongh (Trinity Christian Academy, Florida)
OF Alvaro Valdez (Westminster Christian HS, Florida)
OF Ryan Novis (Corona Del Sol HS, Arizona)
OF Mason Nadeau (North Penn HS, Pennsylvania)
OF Jack Suwinski (Taft HS, Illinois)
OF Nikolas Dague (Sickles HS, Florida)
OF Joe Faulkner (Cumberland Gap HS, Tennessee)
OF Donnie Gleneski (Bishop Kenny HS, Florida)
OF Eric Rivera (Flanagan HS, Florida)
OF Jordan McFarland (Waterloo HS, Illinois)
OF Christian Moya (South Hills HS, California)
OF Tony Schultz (Saints Peter and Paul HS, Maryland)
OF Ben Lewis (Horizon HS, Arizona)