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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – Boston Red Sox

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Boston in 2016

1 – Jay Groome
76 – CJ Chatham
90 – Shaun Anderson
98 – Mike Shawaryn
213 – Bobby Dalbec
324 – Stephen Nogosek
416 – Santiago Espinal

Complete List of 2016 Boston Red Sox Draftees

1.12 – LHP Jay Groome

Jay Groome (1)

That link takes care of a lot of my thoughts on Groome, the draft’s best long-term prospect for my money. For those less inclined to click a link, the most relevant excerpt…

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.

I’m not saying that’s the definitive Jay Groome take. Everything written above came from a game report from one Groome start. That outing was only one of five different times (once last summer, once in the winter, three times in the spring) that I saw Groome pitch in person. I’m not a scout so take all of the above with the usual grain of salt that comes with a fan’s observations of the game — though I’ll rudely point out for the millionth time here that watching baseball isn’t exactly rocket science no matter what those with a vested interest in creating that precise mythology within the industry would like for us all to believe — but I generally feel confident in my overall evaluation of Groome based on the combination of having seen him at multiple stages of his teenage development, having traded firsthand accounts for games and showcases that I’ve missed with others in the game, and absorbing all possible public published information on him.

In short, Groome is the truth. Sky high expectations caused some draft fans (and evaluators) to turn on him as the spring dragged on, but even at his “worst” he was still flashing easy first round stuff. There was some grumbling in the stands during a game where he struck out fourteen batters in six innings. I know scouting isn’t a performance-based thing, but, come on, that should at least tell you something about the guy.

I can’t get behind the Clayton Kershaw comparisons for Groome because Kershaw is in a different stratosphere altogether from the rest of the big leagues right now, but I’ll still throw out a very lofty comparison for Groome that I don’t think I’ve shared on the site before. Watching the young lefthander from Jersey’s evolution over the past eighteen months reminds me a lot of a young Andy Pettitte. We can’t help but think of Pettitte now and go right to his dominant cutter, but he didn’t start to throw the cutter consistently until the 2004 season (when he was 32-years-old) and he didn’t technically swap it out for his slider until 2008 (when he was 36-years-old). The 18-year-old Groome has plenty of time to reinvent himself a half-dozen times or so before he gets to the late-career portion of his big league run. Groome reminds me more of the early-career version of Pettitte, the one with a consistently above-average heater that could hit the mid-90s, plus curve, and above-average change. That’s the Pettitte that was written up as a soon-to-be 23-year-old back in 1995 courtesy of the always excellent Diamond Minds scouting database…

andy-pettitte-scouting-report

So much about Groome reminded me of Pettitte after his last start against Gloucester Catholic that I was kicking myself (not literally, I’m not that flexible) on the whole ride home for not putting it together sooner. Their mechanics, the use of a knuckle-curve, the body types…watching Groome was like going back in time and seeing a young Pettitte for the first time. The scary part here is that I think Groome has a chance to be a better version of Pettitte. Call him Pettitte 2.0. That’s Hall of Fame upside. That’s what I think Jay Groome can accomplish.

(Self-indulgent post-script to the Groome/Pettitte comparison. I, like many others I’d imagine, have a hard time remembering what young versions of established stars looked like. The days before MLB.TV made watching the over-the-top amount of baseball we all do today a lot harder back then. I do, however, remember what a young Andy Pettitte looked like. Of course, entirely selfish reasons brought me to him in my own early teenage years. Pettitte, having just turned 27-years-old, was very much on the trade block in 1999. The Yankees had a deal in place with my hometown Philadelphia Phillies contingent on a few other dominoes falling that same deadline. The return for Pettitte would have been rather bleak in hindsight: Reggie Taylor, Adam Eaton, and Anthony Shumaker. New York didn’t get the reliever they wanted elsewhere, so they pulled out of the deal at the last minute.

2.51 – SS CJ Chatham

On CJ Chatham (76) from March 2016…

CJ Chatham is an intriguing modern shortstop who has opened eyes throughout the game with his huge start to 2016. In no means is it a direct comparison, but what he’s doing so far is similar to what Kyle Lewis has done at Mercer. Chatham, like Lewis, has done everything possible to turn a perceived weakness (approach) into a strength. Going from a 8 BB/39 K as a freshman and 10 BB/28 K as a sophomore to his draft year 10 BB/7 K ratio is something worth getting excited about. With Chatham’s seemingly improved approach, scouts can now freely focus on the other positives in his game (above-average range, above-average to plus arm, a 6-4, 185 pound frame to dream on) and begin forecasting a big league regular out of the overall package. In a class with a serious talent void at the top of the college shortstop rankings, Chatham has emerged as a legit contender to be the very first off the board and a top hundred pick. He’s that good.

Chatham’s patient start at the plate didn’t quite foreshadow a true shift in approach — he walked 13 times with 27 strikeouts from the time of that original writing forward to bring his totals on the season to 23 BB/34 K — but that didn’t stop the Red Sox (and many other teams) from being hot on his trail on draft day. I’m sure part of that had to do with the scarcity of true shortstops in this class, but plenty also had to do with Chatham’s dreamy 6-4, 185 pound frame, above-average to plus raw power, and outstanding defensive tools that could make him an above-average glove at short or a true plus defender at the hot corner.

It’s probably silly to make too much out of any player’s professional debut, but something about Chatham’s .259/.319/.426 line at Lowell to begin his career stands out to me. Call it an attempt at informed prospect projection or a wild ass hunch, but Chatham’s most realistic upside with the bat falling around .260/.320/.425 just feels right to me. Those marks would put him 13th (BA), 13th (OBP), and 14th (SLG) among qualified shortstops in 2016. Slap some above-average defense on him and that’s a top ten player at the position. For what it’s worth, that .260/.320/.425 ballpark projection gets us pretty close to what Troy Tulowitzki (.254/.318/.443) did this past year on his way to a just ahead of league average (102 wRC+) offensive showing. That line would also put him close to the career averages of guys like Jimmy Rollins (career .264/.324/.418 hitter), Jhonny Peralta, and Rich Aurilia. I highlighted the Rollins career stat line not only because it’s as close as you can find to that hypothetical .260/.320/.425 shortstop we’ve created, but also to reiterate the limits of performance-based expectation comparisons. Chatham and Rollins are too very different players from a scouting perspective; ten seconds of watching them makes that obvious to even the most casual of baseball fan. Thankfully, that’s not the intent of a performance comp. Different types of players can still bring about similar long-term value. A career like what Rollins, Peralta, or Aurilia did (or are in the process of doing) seems within reach for the Red Sox second round selection.

3.88 – RHP Shaun Anderson

I’m really excited to see what direction the career of Shaun Anderson (90) goes in pro ball. It’s really easy to see Anderson remaining in the bullpen and being one of this year’s quickest moving draftees. He’s got the plus to plus-plus fastball that is a good enough pitch for him to use it an entire inning at time. There’s velocity (88-94, 96 peak), movement (tons), and the ability to command it (all the more impressive when you factor in that crazy movement); in short, his heater checks off everything you’d want in the pitch. Anderson also throws an above-average to plus cut-slider that can also turn into a truer slider with a bit more bend when it takes a little off of it. In the bullpen, that fastball/cutter mix could be enough to mow down batters at a similar clip that he did at Florida.

As a starter, all bets are off. One of the easiest and most difficult things to do is to project a college reliever with all the attributes of a starting pitcher to a pro rotation spot. It’s easy because it just makes sense. If a guy has the body, delivery, temperament, and stuff to start, but circumstances as a college athlete forced him in the bullpen then dreaming on him in his “natural” role makes sense. Easy, right? What’s difficult about the whole thing is how challenging the actual transition really is. A plus fastball in short outings may just be above-average (if that) as a starter. A lesser fastball then allows hitters to more easily prepare for the premium offspeed stuff, and even that assumes said offspeed stuff remains as good as it was in fewer innings. There’s also the simple issue that some bodies, no matter how they look, are better equipped for one role over the other. Conventional wisdom be damned, there are big guys who tire more easily as starters and little guys who seem to get better the more innings they throw. I’m not saying there’s no way of telling how a player will react until actually put into the new role, but…actually, I guess that is what I’m saying. Projecting is what we do, but to call it an inexact science is an insult to actual science.

I’d like to think Anderson can maintain all of the stuff he’s shown in his three years (worth noting here he pitched 43.0 innings his junior year after just 39.0 IP his first two seasons) at Florida, but I really have no idea. If he can, then he’s a potential mid-rotation starter with the chance for a little more than that. If he’s destined to the bullpen (my personal hunch), then he could become a major relief weapon for the Red Sox sooner rather than later. With a legit four-pitch mix (emphasizing fastballs and cutters), above-average command, ample deception in his delivery, and plus control, Anderson could potentially be deployed in any number of ways out of the pen. A bullpen with both him and Stephen Nogosek capable of putting out fires and going multiple innings at a time could be a ton of fun.

4.118 – 3B Bobby Dalbec

Where to begin with Bobby Dalbec (213)? Let’s start with a flashback to March 2016…

Dalbec deserves a lot of credit for battling back from a slow start to now have a more than respectable 2016 overall batting line. He also deserves respect for being one of the realest 2016 MLB Draft prospects out there. What you see is what you get with Dalbec: massive power, lots of whiffs, and a fair amount of walks. His arm and athleticism help make up for a lack of easy lateral quickness at the hot corner, so sticking at third should remain an option for the foreseeable future. The older, popular, and common comp for him has been Troy Glaus; on the flip side, I’ve heard Chris Dominguez as a possible outcome. The Glaus ship appears to have sailed, so something in between that and Dominguez would be a fine professional result.

And then again from April 2016…

Bobby Dalbec continues to confound. More and more people I’ve spoken to are becoming open to the idea of sending him out as a pitcher in pro ball. As frustrating as he can be at the plate, I don’t think I could throw his kind of power away that easily, even if only on a temporary basis. I also don’t think I’d touch him in the first five rounds. The comparison shared with me before the season to Chris Dominguez feels more and more prescient by the day.

I had Dominguez ranked 41st on my final board back in 2009 before he was drafted 86th overall by the Giants. I’m not sure what it says (if anything) about my own evolving view on prospecting or how the industry itself has changed or how the game has shifted, but I can say with 100% certainty that Dalbec won’t rank anywhere close to where Dominguez once landed on my personal ranks. I can also say with about 95% certainty that he won’t be drafted as high as Dominguez was in 2009. Of course, a player’s draft ranking ultimately is not about where he falls on the average of all teams’ boards but rather where he eventually falls on the board of the one team that drafts him. That’s where that 5% uncertainty comes in: all it takes is one team to look at Dalbec’s two clear plus tools (raw power, arm strength) and believe they can tweak his swing to make enough contact to allow his natural ability to shine through. His upside is very real, as is the possibility he tops out as an all-or-nothing AA power hitter. I’m out on him for now, but I understand the appeal. Chicks dig the long ball.

There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to Dalbec, a prospect who has been in the spotlight since his senior year at Legend HS. Any conversation about Dalbec tends to center around four different things, two positive and two negative. Working for the big slugger from Arizona has always been and will always be his prodigious raw power and cannon for a right arm. If you like Dalbec, you like his power upside and enormous arm enough to override any of the negatives to come. If you’re not as into Dalbec, then the power isn’t enough to distract from the massive amount of swing-and-miss in his game (career 81 BB/179 K as a Wildcat) and the arm strength isn’t enough to look past the defensive questions (many of which have been answered positively, to be fair) that have followed him for years. Best case scenario you’re getting a power-hitting third baseman. Worst case scenario you’re left with a first baseman with a long Swiss cheese swing unable to make enough contact to allow the power to play.

If we go back to my pre-draft comparisons, I’d say his future will probably result in a player not nearly as good as Glaus yet not quite as disappointing as Dominguez. I think that outcome would be fine value for a fourth round pick like Dalbec. Upside to be a lineup fixture and home run champion threat, downside that sees him flaming out in AA (and potentially making a return to the mound…), and most realistic middle ground as a four-corners power bat that will always rack up strikeouts but can be a positive value player for years if deployed properly. The approach scares me off enough that the downside makes this a slight reach, but, as mentioned earlier, it’s not so crazy a reach that it can’t also be considered fine value. All depends on how you weigh the possibilities of his potential outcomes.

(We’re about to get a little weird here based on a curiosity I had about Dalbec’s pro start. Feel free to skip this if you’re not about small sample size outputs and whether or not they can tell us anything.)

To Dalbec’s credit, the big righthanded bat went out after a long college two-way season and hit bomb after bomb in his pro debut. Dalbec’s awesome start to his pro career got me wondering just how many players have slugged .674 (as he did) in short-season rookie ball and failed to reach the big leagues. Small sample noise and misleading levels of competition often point towards early career success not being particularly predictive. I get that. But this isn’t run-of-the-mill early career success. This is leading the league in slugging (if he had qualified) by over 150 points over the top qualifier. That’s destroying the league. Does that mean anything? Let’s find out…

As mentioned, Dalbec signed too late to get a full season in and therefore didn’t qualify for the league leaderboard — Darick Hall and his .518 SLG led the league in his stead — but that slugging percentage would have been out all but one qualified hitter in the past dozen years. Dalbec’s .674 SLG is second only to Roman Wick and his silly .378/.475/.815 line in 141 PA for State College in 2014. If you can tell me anything about Roman Wick beyond the fact I just shared, then you’re probably related to him. For the sake of science, I went back and found every player in the New York-Penn League to slug .550 or better. These guys managed to do it over the past twelve seasons: Stone Garrett (.581), Roman Wick (.815), Travis Taijeron (.557), Cory Vaughn (.557), Marcell Ozuna (.556), Neil Medchill (.551), Miguel Fermin (.628), Ryan Patterson (.595), Michael Hollimon (.557). Cory Patton (.555), and Nolan Reimold (.550). That’s not a particularly encouraging list. If we expand the search for guys over .500 SLG, then we have the following…

Darick Hall, Garrett, Wick, Chris Breen, Conor Bierfeldt, Jesus Solorzano, David Washington, Taijeron, Dean Green, Danny Muno, Vaughn, Ozuna, Rylan Sandoval, Ryan Fisher, David Anderson, Darrell Cecillani, Jonathan Rodriguez, Medchill, JD Martinez, Sebastian Valle, Sean Ochinko, Deangelo Mack, Leandro Castro, Fermin, Luis Sumoa, Phil Disher, Ben Lasater, Todd Martin, Damon Sublett, Casper Wells, Patterson, Hollimon, Patton, Reimold, Neil Sellers, Francisco Plasencia

Some of those guys are too early in their careers to label and others were at least good enough to hang in the big leagues for a bit, but I don’t think it’s all that controversial a take to say that the track record of .500+ SLG players in the NYPL ain’t great. Of the 36 players listed above, there are only two (Ozuna and Martinez) that I would consider to be developmental success stories. Two out of thirty-six. This quick look back doesn’t mean that Bobby Dalbec will join the failed prospect crew or that he’s any more likely to struggle than his lesser-slugging peers (though you could probably float a theory about hitters who show big power early in their career as being free-swinging outliers and that such an approach leads to early power success but no long-term sustainability); it only means that early power success in the NYPL does not guarantee anything beyond that.

5.148 – RHP Mike Shawaryn

On Mike Shawaryn (98) from April 2016…

Shawaryn’s big 2015 (10.71 K/9 and 1.71 ERA in 116.0 IP) set him up as a potential first round pick coming into the year, but a slight dip in production and stuff has many cooler on him now than before. He’s always been in that ten to fifteen range for him as a 2016 college arm, so the recent downtick in stuff isn’t something I’m too worked up about. At his best, he’s got enough fastball (87-94, 95 peak), a changeup with big upside, and a breaking ball that seemingly improves every time out (even as he’s had some rocky starts this year). Breaking down his individual pitches is obviously important, but the main selling point with Shawaryn was always going to be his above-average to plus command, standout control, and deceptive motion. Assuming his decline is more fatigue – he’s approaching almost 250 college innings in his career; for context’s sake, that’s about a hundred more than AJ Puk and over twice as many as Alec Hansen – than injury (though separating the two can be tricky without proper pre-draft medical screening), Shawaryn might be the perfect candidate for a team in round two (or three if they are lucky) willing to draft a potential mid-rotation starting pitcher with the intent not to pitch him competitively the summer after signing. Draft him, sign him, get him working with your top player development staffers, and focus more about 2017 rather than getting onto the field immediately. If it turns out he’s feeling good and looking good sooner rather than later, so be it. But he’s the type of smart young pitcher that could begin his first professional season at High-A without much concern. That’s the path I’d consider taking with him, but maybe I’m making more out of a few good rather than great starts than I really ought to.

I think that holds up really well today. If you want the short version, we could go back to this from October 2015…

A long draft season could change this, but Shawaryn looks all the world to be a rock solid bet to wind up a mid-rotation big league starting pitcher. Never a star, but consistently useful for years going forward.

I think that’s on target as well: “never a star, but consistently useful.” Shawaryn is going to have a long career as a mid-rotation starting pitching in the big leagues. That’s excellent value in round five. Love this pick.

6.178 – RHP Stephen Nogosek

On Stephen Nogosek (324) from March 2016…

Another college reliever! Stephen Nogosek is one of the most interesting of his kind in this year’s class. He’s not the two-pitch fire-balling righthander with the plus breaking ball that teams view as a classic late-inning type. Nogosek commands four pitches for strikes, relying more on the overall depth of his repertoire than any one singular go-to offering. Many speculate that his delivery lends itself to shorter outings, but I’m not convinced that a pro team won’t at least consider using him in the rotation at some point.

And again from April 2016…

If it’s a true college reliever you want, then Stephen Nogosek out of Oregon is your best bet. He’s a little bit like [Ian] Hamilton in that he’s got the raw stuff to start – an honest four-pitch mix seems wasted some in relief – but his command would make longer outings untenable at this time. As a reliever, however, he’s effectively wild. Pitching out of the pen also puts him on the short list of fastest potential movers.

The sixth round feels like a great spot to land a high-probability/reasonable-ceiling potential quick-mover in Nogosek. The funky, undersized righthander can use any one of his three offspeed offerings — upper-70s SL that flashes plus, solid mid-80s CU, average or better upper-70s CB — while also commanding a quality 88-94 MPH (up to 95) fastball. I don’t think there’s closer upside here, but it shouldn’t take much for Nogosek to have a long career as a dependable seventh inning reliever.

7.208 – OF Ryan Scott

Hitting .435/.516/.713 at the D-I level should get you drafted in the top ten rounds, right? Tuns out that’s exactly what it does. I didn’t have anything on Scott besides the easy to Google knowledge of his awesome senior year performance, so let’s just go ahead and repeat that: .435/.516/.713. That’s ridiculous. The stat-inclined portion of my brain is really rooting for Scott to have a long, successful pro career.

8.238 – C Alan Marrero

Alan Marrero walked or struck out in 62.9% of his 70 plate appearances in his debut with the Red Sox. That’s nuts. I have a feeling that number will go just a touch in his first full pro season next year. I’m sure the Red Sox are counting on it even though they likely are more excited about Marrero’s athleticism, arm strength, and standout defense behind the plate than anything he’ll do as a hitter. Like a few other catchers in the 2016 MLB Draft class — both Jake Rogers and Cooper Johnson spring to mind — Marrero’s defense could very well be so good that the baseline offensive standard for his bat will be almost so low he can’t help but reach it. In other words, Marrero’s defense is just about big league quality already. Expecting anything special at the plate is just getting greedy.

9.268 – OF Matt McLean

Here’s a little bit on Matt McLean from March 2016 with a bonus Granger Studdard (twenty-second round pick) reference thrown in for good measure…

On (kind of) the other end of the spectrum is Matt McLean of Texas-Arlington. McLean is a good runner and savvy all-around ballplayer who (to my knowledge) isn’t being talked up by anybody as a serious draft prospect. I’m not sure whether he is or isn’t, but the way he commands the strike zone has my respect. McLean is off to a similar start as Studdard (12 BB/4 K), but differs in that it’s part of a longer track record of doing so (40 BB/19 K last year). When looking to fill out rosters late during the draft, I’d recommend McLean to my scouting director every time. I’m high on the McLean’s on the world not only for what they could become in their own right – solid org guys can occasionally turn into useful pieces over time – but also because of the unseen positives that bringing players like this into an organization can provide. I don’t think McLean possesses any magic plate discipline dust that would rub off on his teammates, but having my young guys exposed to his consistent professional approach to the game, calculated plan of attack as a hitter, aggressive yet smart style of play in all phases, and determination to succeed no matter what couldn’t hurt.

Everything written about McLean there holds up today, I think. He went earlier than I had anticipated back in March, but did so as a $10,000 bonus senior-sign. McLean’s last two seasons at Texas-Arlington produced a cumulative mark of 76 BB/41 K. He’s still only a fifth outfielder if literally everything breaks right for him developmentally, but damn if I don’t think there’s a larger value to bringing players like this into the system. Maybe I’m nuts.

Also, I’m probably just a touch too young to get this in a more meaningful way but I’m up enough on nostalgic pop culture references to think of this every single time I read McLean’s name.

10.298 – SS Santiago Espinal

I’m buying Santiago Espinal (416) as a potential big league utility player even with his glaring lack of pop. He makes a ton of quality contact, works deep counts, defends his spot well at both second and short, and can put up above-average run times. One thing worth noting with Espinal is his age: despite playing only one college season, the former Miami-Dade shortstop is already 22-years-old. It puts his outstanding freshman season (.432/.492/.562 with 20 BB/11 K and 15/20 SB) at the junior college level in a different light. Liking Espinal, however, is liking what you’ve got already with him. His brand of on-base ability and reliable defense up the middle isn’t something that needs much projecting past what he can already do.

12.358 – RHP Matthew Gorst

Matthew Gorst had a good year. He did this at Georgia Tech as a junior: 10.10 K/9 and 2.39 BB/9 and 0.55 ERA in 49.0 IP. He then followed that up with this pro debut: 9.00 K/9 and 2.00 BB/9 and 2.67 ERA in 27.0 IP. I’m still personally wary of a college reliever without premium stuff (88-93 FB, 84-87 cutter, 77-81 SL) with a limited track record of success, but Boston clearly must believe Gorst turned a corner in 2016. Pro results are certainly backing that up for now.

14.418 – LHP Robby Sexton

The Red Sox signed only three lefthanded pitchers in this draft class. You know about Jay Groome. You might not know quite as much about the two college lefties Boston scooped up from the Midwest. We’ll cover Kyle Hart from Indiana shortly, so let’s take a closer look at Robby Sexton from Wright State now. In brief, I like Robby Sexton more than I do most mid-round college pitchers with good but not great track records at non-power conference universities. Lefthanders who can pull off the sinker/slider combo are some of my favorite relief prospects to follow. That’s what you’re getting with the athletic Sexton.

16.478 – C Alberto Schmidt

My public notes on Alberto Schmidt were sparse — “good athlete; strong arm; older for class” — but I heard lots of nice things about him (both as a person and prospect) behind the scenes leading up to the draft. If you heard such nice things then you probably should have ranked him higher then, you might be thinking. Not a bad point, I’d counter. Maybe I should have ranked him higher (or, you know, at all). Yeah, you’d repeat, maybe you should have. Yeah, I’d say. Yeah, you’d say.

17.508 – C Nick Sciortino

The seventeenth round feels just a little too early for me to take a local product org player, but the Red Sox went out and took Boston College catcher Nick Sciortino anyway. His defense is good and his arm is solid, but I’m not sure he’ll ever do enough offensively to be anything but a handy catcher to shuffle around affiliates as needed.

19.568 – LHP Kyle Hart

A buddy of mine was insistent this spring that Kyle Hart could get big league lefthanders out right now. I’m not sure if that’s was said in part because of Hart’s present old man game — mid-80s fastball, advanced change, lots of slow curves, impeccable control — rather than a literal ability to get big league hitters out. Sometimes players with such limited physical projection wind up being a touch overrated because of a general assumption that they are better than they really are since they’re already likely as good as they’ll get. I just read that back and I have no idea if it’ll make sense to anybody but myself. Confusing attempt at a larger point aside, I still like the crafty, athletic Hart. Him getting big league lefties out at some point next year wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

20.598 – SS Nick Lovullo

On Nick Lovullo from February 2016…

Lovullo has the bloodlines, athleticism, and steadying infield presence to be a really solid org guy with the chance for more. His bat has improved each year at Holy Cross, so a big senior season is well within range. Nobody is asking for my seal of approval, but having seen Lovullo play on a few different occasions, I can certainly vouch for him as a player that does all the little things beautifully.

And then again right before the draft…

Nick Lovullo had an odd season. He only hit .225, but bolstered his OBP with a whopping 40 walks. I’ve always liked his approach, athleticism, and reliable defense up the middle, so I’ll overlook that .225 (and the dismal 6/15 SB success rate) and keep him on my draft board. He’ll make a fine future Red Sox minor leaguer.

I’m not going to go too crazy patting on my back for connecting the obvious dots here, but, hey, it is nice to win one every now and then. I think “solid org guy with the chance for more” remains a fair assessment of Lovullo’s upside. Like the Sciortino pick in the seventeenth round, this felt a bit early to me — I predicted Lovullo to Boston in the fortieth round, a spot more commensurate to his prospect value for me — but what do I know. Fair to wonder now if we see a quiet “Lovullo to Arizona for future considerations” type deal in the not too distant future…

22.658 – OF Granger Studdard

On Granger Studdard from March 2016…

Granger Studdard is another personal favorite of mine out of the Sun Belt due to his power upside, athleticism, arm strength, and speed. The last three facets of his game are far stronger than you see out of a typical first base prospect, so it’s not shock that the majority of those I spoke to who like him as well prefer him as a corner outfielder. That defensive versatility only boosts his stock. The most interesting thing about Studdard to me is how scouts have raved about his approach since his first year at Texas State. Much like what has been said about Kyle Lewis at Mercer, the buzz surrounding Studdard has been about how he really knows how to hit and approaches every plate appearance like a seasoned veteran. Like Mercer, however, the results didn’t seem to back it up: Studdard hit well in both of his college seasons, but did so while putting up BB/K ratios of 19/42 and 20/62. The disconnect between the scouting take and the on-field indicators figured to come to a head in his draft season, and, so far, the scouts look like they know a thing or two about the game. SMALL SAMPLE SIZE, but Studdard has walked twelve times in 2016 with only five strikeouts to his name. If that’s real, then you can put his standing as one of the best under-the-radar mid-major bats in the county in ink.

So was it real? Technically, yes. Studdard finished his junior year with 37 walks to 26 strikeouts. The more patient approach seemingly came at a cost of some power, however: his .285/.389/.380 line more closely resembled his freshman season (.270/.364/.385) than his sophomore year (.281/.345/.485). It’s how to deduce why that is without having seen Studdard multiple times throughout his final season at Texas State. Was he being pitched around? Is this just a small sample aberration? Was his sophomore year power spike the real outlier? Is there something in Studdard’s scouting dossier (swing, approach, pitch recognition, etc.) that explains it better? Anything I’d offer would just be a guess at this point. In any event, the reasons for liking Studdard are still reasons that explain why I currently like Studdard. He struggled in his debut at the plate, but 38 of his innings in the field came in either left or right. That’s a good sign for his prospect stock going forward.

23.688 – OF Juan Carlos Abreu

As an older high school talent (he’ll be 20 next May) with a game built on speed and a strong arm — two nice tools, to be sure, but arguably fourth and fifth in terms of importance if you were to rank them — Juan Carlos Abreu was more of a peripheral prospect on the radar for me this spring. Worth a shot as a twenty-third round pick, I guess.

24.718 – RHP Hunter Smith

Maybe some teams were turned off by Hunter Smith’s ugly 6.19 ERA in his draft year at North Carolina Greensboro. That’s about all I’ve got by way of explanation for Smith’s drop to the twenty-fourth round in this year’s draft. He’s got the size (6-3, 200), fastball (87-93, 95 peak), and offspeed stuff (above-average slider that flashes plus and an average or better change) to get stretched back out as a starter next year if that’s something Boston is willing to try. If not, I think he’s got a bright future in relief. Big fan of Hunter Smith.

25.748 – RHP Francisco Soto

Now I’m no Nancy Drew, but I consider my internet sleuthing abilities to be at least above-average. Francisco Soto is the first player drafted this year that I’m not sure actually exists. I mean, fine, he exists: he pitched twelve innings for the GCL Red Sox after signing after all. But my quick research on Soto’s time at Allen CC in Kansas has yielded nothing meaningful to date. He’s listed at 6-5, 220 pounds, so he’s got good size. That’s literally all I’ve got.

26.778 – RHP Jared Oliver

Mid-90s velocity (up to 97) is never a bad thing, so I get where the Red Sox are coming from when taking a chance on Jared Oliver. It’s just that he’s got a lot of work to do (7.12 BB/9 at Truett-McConnell) and not a whole of time to do it (24-years-old to start next season).

33.988 – OF Chad Hardy

Underwhelming junior college numbers? How does .297/.358/.513 with 13 BB/29 K sound? Brutal first 90 PA of pro ball? A hard to look at .163/.191/.233 with 3 BB/32 K. A 60-game suspension for testing positive for Tamoxifen? Why not add it to the pile at this point, right? I’m not here to bust on Chad Hardy’s disastrous first year with the Red Sox; if anything, I can empathize with a young man’s desperation when faced with a pressure-packed situation filled with “do-or-die” feelings of urgency. Hardy making it to AA — let alone the big leagues — would be a success I’m not prepared to see with this pick. Hope it works out all the same.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Carter Henry (Houston), Jake Wilson (Bowling Green), Austin Bergner (North Carolina), Carter Aldrete (Arizona State), Jordan Wren (Georgia Southern), John Rave (Illinois State), Aaron McGarity (Virginia Tech), Jeff Belge (St. John’s), Christian Jones (Washington), Tyler Fitzgerald (Louisville), Cam Shepherd (Georgia), Jordan Scheftz (Central Florida), Vince Arobio (Pacific), Beau Capanna (New Mexico), Trevor Stephan (Arkansas), Michael Wilson (Stony Brook), Nick Quintana (Arizona)

2015 MLB Draft Reviews – Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox 2015 MLB Draft Picks 

13 – Andrew Benintendi
93 – Logan Allen
95 – Austin Rei
122 – Marcus Brakeman
135 – Tate Matheny
241 – Tucker Tubbs
259 – Mitchell Gunsolus
265 – Kyri Washington
268 – Kevin Kelleher
353 – Travis Lakins
368 – Yomar Valentin
399 – Nicholos Hamilton

I’m not sure what to say about OF Andrew Benintendi (13) that hasn’t already been said. His sophomore season was insane. His pro debut was phenomenal. Literally everybody who has seen him play at Arkansas, Lowell, and Greenville in the last calendar year has walked away raving about him. I like the lefthanded AJ Pollock comp I threw on him before the draft as it pertains to his all-around game. Additionally, the fact that as a native Philadelphian I threw out a Chase Utley swing/body comp is serious business. I had somebody recently tell me that they think Benintendi is the best college bat since Anthony Rendon, a player (minus handedness) that he felt Benintendi could approximate in terms of total value as a hitter. So, if you’re scoring at home, that’s Pollock, Utley, and Rendon as possible comps with names like Mark Kotsay, Eric Byrnes, and David Dellucci (Baseball America) also mentioned as starting points. Not bad. Here’s a quick note from during the season just days before Benintendi’s stock began to soar in the public’s eye…

I never went back and mentioned Andrew Benintendi as being draft-eligible in 2015, but he is. That’s good news for me because Benintendi is awesome and getting him one step closer to pro ball makes me happy. He’s more ballplayer than tools freak, so teams that value big amateur production will have him higher than others. That said, he’s plenty talented: above-average or better hit tool, above-average or better speed, solid pop, enough range for center, and a disciplined approach at the plate. He’s really damn good. Baseball America has compared him to Austin Cousino in the past, but Benintendi’s huge sophomore season (.370/.475/.733 with 30 BB/24 K in 146 AB as of this edit) should vault him past Cousino’s 2014 draft spot (80th overall). I’ve heard from some that think I’m too rich on Benintendi’s tools and that’s fine, but I’m buying him as a prospect all the way.

Interestingly enough, I was able to dig up some older stuff on Benintendi in the archives. This was his quick HS scouting bio…

OF Andrew Benintendi (Madeira HS, Ohio): good speed; CF range; average arm; really smart player; above-average hit tool; FAVORITE; 5-10, 180 pounds

Hey, he was a FAVORITE back then! Always good to see.

I’m not a big fantasy guy — mostly out of the seemingly contradictory combination of general laziness and the fear of letting my over-competitive self getting sucked in too deep — but the one league I’ve been in forever allows the twelve owners to roster three minor league players at any given time. Having only thirty-six minor league prospects floating around the league at a time doesn’t exactly incite the most compelling post-draft scramble for new professional talent each June, but it always surprises me to see how long recent draftees sit around waiting for more casual minor league fans to buy in. Since I’m all about “drafting” my own hitters and figuring out pitching on the fly, I’d put Benintendi at or near the top of the 2015 MLB Draft in terms of fantasy value. Boston’s crowded outfield picture complicates things a bit and strong arguments could be made for others (Alex Bregman for sure, maybe Trenton Clark if you want to get crazy), but Benintendi could be on the Michael Conforto path to the big leagues. He’s really good at hitting baseballs. Pick him up in fantasy if you can.

The pre-draft stuff on C Austin Rei (95)…

I still think Rei gets picked way higher than anybody thinks because he’s coming into pro ball at the perfect time with plus pitch framing skills that match what teams want to see most in catching prospects. I’m a really big fan of Rei and think he’s one of the draft’s “safest” prospects with both a high ceiling (above-average regular) and high floor (elite defensive backup). Barring additional injuries, I don’t see how he doesn’t have some sort of big league career.

His defense is enough to keep him employed for a very long time and the flashes of above-average power could give him a chance to play regularly. I was hoping to see his approach take a step forward in 2015, but the torn thumb ligament made judging his actual progress at the plate this spring tricky. His free-swinging ways would still keep me from ranking among the minors best catching prospects, but there’s enough here to see him as a major league mainstay even if he doesn’t reach what some (like me) once considered his above-average regular ceiling.

Of all the players in this class, I might have been most surprised at the early pro struggles of OF Tate Matheny (135). Matheny, valued far more for his his patient approach as a hitter and well-rounded overall game than his raw tools, wasn’t able to do much offensively (9 BB/52 K) in his debut season. It’s only 213 PA, but the lack of raw power (body and swing) could prevent him from reaching an offensive ceiling heavily dependent on on-base skills. I was more willing to overlook the average at best power upside as a college player when he was racking up those .400+ OBPs, but time will tell if he’ll figure out away to adjust to how pro pitchers attack hitters like him at the higher levels.

The rise of many of this class’s toolsier players finally putting it together, especially among the outfield group, has taken some of the shine off of the more solid than spectacular types like Missouri State JR OF Tate Matheny. Matheny still looks like a good bet to fulfill his destiny as a fourth outfielder who won’t kill you in a starting role at times (especially if deployed properly), but teams in the market for upside plays will likely look elsewhere. Such is the life of a guy with no tool worse than average, but no carrying tool either.

OF Jagger Rusconi was called out as an outfielder on draft day, but was primarily a second baseman in high school and in his pro debut. His best offensive skill right now is his legs as the plus runner can wreak havoc on the base paths when given the opportunity. The rest of his offensive game is intriguing — feel for hit, sneaky pop, all kinds of athleticism — though understandably raw. I was set to call this an overdraft (if such things existed) to a degree, but I could see an alternate reality where Rusconi would have turned into a slam dunk top three round pick — maybe like an Andrew Stevenson? — if he had enrolled at USC instead of signing. A friend in Boston who knows me all too well told me that the hope within the Red Sox scouting staff is that Rusconi can be their version of Roman Quinn. Consider my interest piqued.

This was written here about 1B Tucker Tubbs (241) last December…

If SR 1B/3B Tucker Tubbs can rediscover his lost power stroke, he’s got a chance to get popped as a potential four-corners minor league bench bat.

Fast-forward six months and we see that Tubbs did exactly that. The Memphis slugger and the aforementioned Benintendi were two of the eight players that hit the 600 SLG and BB > K benchmarks at the D1 level back when I checked at the end of May. Tubbs wound up just short by the end of the season (.305/.393/.601 with 26 BB/27 K), but that’s still a heck of a senior season. Or, in other words: “He has power and doesn’t strike out much,” said Rikard. “That’s a pretty good formula for some level of success.” Straight from the Red Sox amateur scouting director’s mouth! Lefthanded hitting 3B Mitch Gunsolus (259) could form the other half of a fun platoon with Tubbs one day. While Tubbs missed out on the 600 SLG and BB> K Club by just one walk (or strikeout if you look at it that way), Gunsolus was just a few extra base hits off the mark (.556 SLG with 33 BB/32 K). I love watching Gunsolus hit and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the tenth rounder did enough at the plate to advance all the way up to the big leagues.

Even though the Red Sox went heavy on hitting with their top ten round picks, they found a way to really make it count with the three pitchers they selected in rounds six, seven, and eight. Getting LHP Logan Allen (93) in the eighth round is just silly value. Fast-rising high school arms who see a big uptick in stuff in a short amount of time typically scare me off, but Allen’s plus pitchability, really strong command (I’d go plus), and willingness to throw any of his four potentially average or better pitches (88-92 FB, 94 peak; mid-70s CB that flashes average or better; upper-70s cut-change thing that works; hard slider that might wind up the best of them all) in any count make him a fascinating potential big league starter who really had no business falling out of the top three rounds. RHP Travis Lakins (353) is an athletic young arm with less miles on it as a draft-eligible sophomore than many of his peers. I view him as a really good potential reliever, but I can see why one would look at his athleticism, frame with some projection left, and fastball command and think otherwise. RHP Ben Taylor lives 88-92 and can get it up to 93-94 with nice deception in his windup. Everything — the heater, his breaking ball, even a rarely used changeup — plays up in short bursts. His gigantic senior season (14.23 K/9 and 1.47 ERA in 42 IP) positioned him very nicely for a spot in the top ten rounds and the Red Sox wisely were the ones to give him a shot. Look out for him pitching the sixth innings at Fenway sooner rather than later.

I don’t know quite what it is about RHP Marc Brakeman (122), but something intuitively gives me pause when it comes to his long-term future. He’s got the stuff (88-93 FB, 95 peak; plus to plus-plus sinking low-80s CU; average or better mid- to upper-70s CB) and pedigree to start, but I always walk away from seeing him thinking the sum of the whole doesn’t quite add up. It’s especially hypocritical for me to not like him all that much because his best pitch — seriously, his changeup is as good as any in this class — just so happens to be my offspeed offering of choice. I touched briefly on the intuition thing before the season…

Stanford JR RHP Marc Brakeman is more of a two-pitch prospect (like Twomey) that I’ve referenced above. Armed with a nice albeit inconsistent heater (88-94, 95 peak – though I’ve seen him sit more on the low end of that range at times) and an outstanding low-80s changeup, Brakeman could move up boards quickly once he gets healthy again. I’ve been the low man on him in the past, but that’s more due to an intuition thing than anything I can reasonably express.

A part of me sees his stuff playing up in a big way out of the bullpen; that’s his most likely direct path to the big leagues. In that role, I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest he’s got legitimate late-inning upside on the continuum of Francisco Rodriguez, Tyler Clippard, or Kelvin Herrera, depending on how the fastball works in short bursts. If that’s the outcome, that’s a gigantic victory considering Brakeman’s 16th round standing (overslot bonus or not).

RHP Kevin Kelleher (268) had a slightly auspicious pro debut: 0.1 IP 0 H 4 ER 7 BB 0 K. Ouch. Now you, Mr./Mrs. Negative, could choose to focus on those four earned runs and seven walks, but I, uplifting soul that I am, think Kelleher should be lauded for getting an out. I mean, that’s one more than 99.9999% of the human population ever got, right? It’s also impressive that he’s literally never given up a pro hit yet. We’re all about the silver linings here.

I kid about Kelleher because I really do like him as a prospect. Wrote this about him before the year…

With a dominant FB/SL combination New Orleans JR RHP Kevin Kelleher has big league closer upside. That’s a bolder prediction that I intended to make, but the stuff seems in line with what we’ve come to expect out of late-inning relievers. Players who can get it up to 98 with a hard mid- to upper-80s slider to match aren’t easy to find.

Upside might be a bit rich there, but I don’t think it’s totally crazy. Even without working out the kinks needed to reach his considerable ceiling, I think he’s a big leaguer and surprisingly quick mover. Great pick in the twelfth round.

I almost always kick of my college draft coverage by writing about the ACC because I’m a creature of habit and the ACC is the first conference listed in my running draft Word document. As such, I tend to have more in the archives about ACC players. LHP Brad Stone (NC State) and RHP Trevor Kelley (North Carolina) both were “lucky” enough to get fairly extensive ramblings from me last spring. Here’s Stone…

JR LHP Brad Stone seems poised to take over the mantle as top pitching prospect, but, no knock against him, his stuff (upper-80s heat, usable change, pair of interesting breaking balls) is many steps down from Rodon on his worst day. He’s still the best of what’s around, and an arm worthy of serious draft consideration going forward.

And here’s Kelley…

On the opposite side of the spectrum there’s a guy who is so much what is great about the sport. SR RHP Trevor “Everyday” Kelley has more than lived up to his name this year. Kelley has appeared in 28 out of 39 games (72%) this year. That would come out to around 115 appearances in a 162 game season. To further put that into context, Kelley has more innings pitched right now than all but two Tar Heels pitchers. Guys with six (Hunter Williams) and seven (Moss) starts have significantly less innings than Kelley. One of the secrets of adulthood that I feel qualified to share with younger readers now that I’m a wizened old man less than seven months away from turning thirty is that just showing up is a huge part of getting by in this world. Trevor Kelley clearly has that covered. Some people prefer to do more than just get by, so it should be noted that it turns out you can get ahead by actually making a positive difference (or, you know, at least an effort) after you’ve shown up. I’d say pitching almost two innings per appearance (note: it’s closer to 1.2 innings per outing, but we can round up) with an ERA of 2.36 while striking out close to 7.5 batters per nine is a pretty strong impression to leave after each showing. Kelley’s stuff is more solid than spectacular (86-91 FB with sink, CB flashes plus) and he’s never truly dominated in a relief role, but I’d like to think there’s some draft value to be squeezed out of a reliable rubber-armed reliever who attacks hitters at a funky angle.

Kelley had an excellent senior season (8.19 K/9 and 2.31 BB/9 in 77 [!] relief innings) before doing more of the same upon joining the Red Sox organization. I’m frankly stunned that a player like him could fall to the 36th round. The Rob Wooten comp is easy and maybe even a bit lazy, but it fits. If anything, I think he could wind up having a better pro career thanks to a separating pitch (CB), rubber arm, and funky arm action. It’s a nice middle relief profile. Stone did not have an excellent senior season (7.80 K/9 and 10.80 BB/9 in 15 IP). That’s no reason to write him off as a viable prospect, of course. He changes speeds well and has always missed his fair share of bats. If the control gets in check and he continues to fill out, there could be something there.

On the opposite end of the physical spectrum, LHP Matt Kent, LHP Bobby Poyner, and LHP Logan Boyd are all undersized lefthanders with enough stuff to keep things interesting as they progress through the minors. Kent is a nice organizational arm, Poyner is a little bit better than that, and Boyd falls somewhere in between. I know little about RHP Danny Zandona except for the fact he put up eye-popping numbers (14.18 K/9 in 39 IP) in his senior year at Cal Poly. I’m similarly bereft of information on RHP Adam Lau, a two-way player at UAB who walked the effectively wild tightrope (11.81 K/9 and 5.06 BB/9 added up to a 1.69 ERA in 31 IP) in his junior season. RHP Nick Duron is the third player ever drafted out of Clark College and the first since Randy Myers (!) in 1982. RHP Max Watt, Trent Steele’s oldest and dearest friend, is another pitcher I don’t know much about. Wouldn’t bet against a name like that, though.

Much was written about OF Kyri Washington (265) on this site this past calendar year. Here’s one such excerpt…

JR OF Kyri Washington has as much a claim to the top position player spot in his conference as just about any prospect in the country. Evaluating amateur talent is sometimes only as hard as we make it. Your eyes eventually settle into seeing predictable patterns in the players you see and you find yourself getting unusually adept at recognizing the kind of ability that will become universally lauded as pro-caliber. “Always bet on ______” is more than just a snappy one-off line, but a mantra that serves those who watch a disproportionate amount of baseball well as they assess a prospect’s future. In Washington’s case, his athleticism and raw power qualify as abilities that stack up against almost any current big league player. If those are the traits that you value highly – and, really, who doesn’t? – then Washington is just about as good as it gets in college ball this year.

Conversely, anybody who watches a ton of amateur ball can quickly realize the holes in a mega-talented player’s game. If you’re an “always bet on the hit tool, including the consistent ability to make contact, the capacity to make adjustments within an at bat (or at least a game), and a seemingly innate overall feel for the strike zone and resourcefulness to spit on sometimes-strikes that he can’t do anything with,” well, then you might have some trepidation in championing a player who otherwise has first round tools. I’m on the fence as to whether or not how much of what we consider to fall under the plate discipline/approach to hitting umbrella can be taught, but I do believe that Washington is at the age in his baseball development when figuring it out – maybe not completely, but certainly to a degree – is well within the realm of possibility. That possibility on top of the prodigious raw power and plus athleticism is what makes the prospect of gambling on Washington so appealing. I get it. A comparison that I’ve heard and liked – though it admittedly stretches the limits of my personal firsthand baseball watching days – has stacked up Washington favorably to a young Richard Hidalgo.

I’m not sure I have much to add beyond that. Washington has huge raw power and loads of athleticism, but so many questions about his bat that it’s unclear if it’ll ever matter. “You remember Kentrail Davis? Kinda like that,” was how one scout put it to me when asking about Washington.

They don’t get much rawer than OF Nicholos Hamilton (399), a plus-plus running high schooler out of New York who is incredibly far away from what he’ll eventually be. I had somebody tell me rather prophetically that they’d rather take a chance on going overslot with Hamilton (Note: the Red Sox got him for $100,000, so they didn’t have to dip into their pool money) in the eleventh round than on risking a first round pick on Garrett Whitley.

OF Tyler Spoon, drafted just 1034 spots after his Arkansas teammate Andrew Benintendi, has long been mentioned as a potential professional second base project, but the Red Sox took the idea one step further by having him get some work in behind the plate a little in his debut season. If that experiment works, then Spoon might be a name worth keeping in mind. We’re talking the deepest darkest recesses of your mind, but at least he’d be in there. OF Jerry Downs hit really well in his pro debut. I don’t know much about him, but I’ll be rooting hard for him to become only the eighteenth big league player born in Colombia.

2B Yomar Valentin (368) is a steady glove up the middle with sneaky pop and a high baseball IQ. He was also a really young HS senior (18 this December), something that can also be said for Nick Hamilton. Could be a coincidence or could be that Boston wisely gives extra credit for guys who excel at a young age. 2B Chad De La Guerra has more pop than most middle infielders and picks his spots really well on the base paths. The approach leaves something to be desired, but if he can fake it at short then he might have a shot at working himself into a bat-first utility guy.

C Andrew Noviello is a fascinating player to close on. The local product from Bridgewater-Raynham HS (located just under an hour from Fenway) was a primary second baseman until his senior year of high school. That’s when he began giving catching an honest try in an attempt to make himself more appealing to pro and college teams alike. Good thinking. I also have him in my notes as capable of playing third base and being more than able to hold his own on the mound as a righthanded pitcher. The best part about this is the pick is far more than a team hooking up a local kid and getting some positive PR; Noviello can really hit. If he can show some growth behind the plate in the early going, he’s a real prospect.

Boston Red Sox 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Boston 2011 Draft Selections

Without having any knowledge of what actually goes on inside Boston’s draft room, it sure seems like the Red Sox general approach to drafting is simple: find the best guy, offer fair amounts of money, and let the chips fall where they may. Four years of college in Boston turned me off to the Red Sox – it was more the oversaturated coverage and delusional fan base (you guys are New England’s Yankees, not some scrappy underdog that all of America roots for, alright?) than a commentary on the job the front office was doing – but I still greatly admire the way they draft. Quibble with the names at the top of the draft if you’d like, but the plan there is undeniably awesome. Here’s what they came up with on the draft’s first day: a good college arm who has shown flashes of greatness, arguably the top prep bat who slipped because of defense and signability, a high school lefthander who might as well be twins with Tyler Skaggs in terms of long-term projection, and a key cog from the two-time defending national champions who also happens to be a plus defender at a critical position. That’s an easy to like quartet from a talent perspective alone, but what I admire most there is the way Boston knowingly diversified their investment. They hit four different demographics (high school bat, high school arm, college bat, college arm) with their first four picks. As Bart Simpson once said, “that ain’t not bad.”

Connecticut RHP Matt Barnes gets a little bit of a bad rap as a “safe” college choice with the ceiling of a mid-rotation arm. Being a safe prospect with mid-rotation upside isn’t typically a bad thing, but Barnes has the chance for four above-average pitches. I wouldn’t disagree with somebody who believed Barnes most likely positive outcome was a solid mid-rotation starting pitcher, but his ceiling is closer to a frontline big leaguer in the mold of Daniel Hudson.

Connecticut JR RHP Matt Barnes: 90-93 FB, 95-96 peak; has hit 97-98 in past; great movement on FB; great FB command; holds velocity well, still hitting 90-92 late; good 82-84 CU that gets better every time out; 72-76 CB that is now firmed up enough that  it is a potential plus 75-80 CB; 78-83 SL with plus upside, but doesn’t use it often; work needs to be on delivery and command of offspeed stuff; some debate on whether CB or SL is better breaking pitch, a good sign; uses CB more to get outs on balls in play, SL for swings and misses; 6-4, 200

Much of Cleveland HS (New Mexico) C Blake Swihart’s value is tied up in whether or not he’s equipped to handle full-time catching duties going forward. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard from those in the know that Boston is 100% committed to keeping him behind the plate and won’t even entertain a “Wil Myers” (their words) type move to right field. He might not be a natural behind the plate, but his elite athleticism and arm strength are exactly the kind of defensive tools a good coaching staff can build on. There’s not nearly as much doubt about his ability to hit because, well, he can really, really hit.

The hardest prospects to write about are the ones at the top of lists like this. What more can be said about Swihart that hasn’t already been said? The Texas commit has shown all five tools (hit, power, defense, arm, and speed) this spring, an extreme rarity for a catcher at any level. I realize speed is easily the least important tool you’d need to see in a catching prospect, but Swihart’s average running ability works as a proxy for his outstanding athleticism. In that way, Swihart is the prototype for the next generation of catchers. After an almost decade long flirtation with jumbo-sized backstops (e.g. Joe Mauer and Matt Wieters), baseball is going back towards an emphasis on athleticism and defense behind the dish.

A no-brainer to stick behind the plate (the aforementioned athleticism and reported 95 MPH-caliber arm from the mound will help), Swihart’s biggest tool is his bat. Plus opposite field power and consistent line drives are not the norm for a typical prep prospect, but Swihart’s hit and power tools both project as plus in the future.  I stand by my belief that Swihart will catch for a long time as a professional, but his great athleticism and plus bat might convince a team to fast track Swihart’s development by switching him to third base or right field. It should also be noted that Swihart has a little extra leverage because he’ll be draft-eligible again in 2013 after his sophomore season.

Forgive me if I’m a tad over the top in my praise of Edison HS (CA) LHP Henry Owens, but the guy embodies everything that I want in a pitching prospect. In a word, Henry Owens is projection. He has a good fastball, a curve that looks a little like a young Zito’s, and enough other fun secondaries (flashes of a plus change, a much improved cutter, a slider that gets swings and misses when on) to think he has the chance to be an above-average starting pitcher at the professional level.

LHP Henry Owens (Edison HS, California): 88-92 FB with more coming, 93-94 peak; crazy FB movement; plus FB command; plus control; potential plus 67-72 CB with big break, getting stronger each start; strong 77-79 CU with plus upside; shows 74-77 SL, but still a raw pitch; new cutter shows more promise; holds velocity well; Tyler Skaggs comp?; 6-5, 185 last summer, now up to 6-6, 200

I can get comp crazy when I’m at a loss for in-depth analysis, so can we all agree that South Carolina OF Jackie Bradley is the American version of Leonys Martin and move on? I’m far from sold on Bradley’s bat, but his defense in center should make him at least an average regular during his peak years.

[special defensive tools in CF, plus to plus-plus ability; interesting hit tool; above-average to plus speed, closer to plus; good athlete; above-average to plus arm; legit pro power potential with average upside; gap power for now; very quick bat; gifted across the board; mature approach; fully recovered from broken hamate bone; 20/20 upside; 5-10, 175; DOB 4/19/90]

As much as I hate to say it, I’m definitely getting a Greg Golson vibe from Grand Street HS (NY) OF Williams Jerez. Jerez looks rather dashing in uniform and possesses certain tools – most notably his eye-popping arm strength – that really stand out, but he’s so far away from being a good ballplayer that I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around what exactly it would take, not to mention how long it would take, for him to reach his ceiling. There’s a part of me that would love to see what his arm, size, and athleticism would look like when put on the mound, but that’s coming from a guy who swore Anthony Gose would be a fireballing relief prospect by now.

[plus athlete; good speed, but might not have instincts for CF; plus arm; extremely raw; average raw power; 6-4, 190]

Columbus HS (GA) C Jordan Weems seemed like an odd selection at the time, but different teams value different things, especially when it comes to catchers. I just think there is too much work to be done at the plate (though, admittedly, his swing looks fine and his whole fields approach is nice to see from a young hitter) to justify taking him over more advanced catching prospects. He’s already a solid defender with a legit plus arm, so there is something to work with here even if the bat never develops into what you’d want from a starter.

My favorite pitch in baseball is the changeup, so it should come as no surprise that I’m rooting extra hard for Cal State Fullerton RHP Noe Ramirez. I’ve already been obnoxious with the comps, so why not go the extra mile and mention a changeup-based comparison between Ramirez and Phil Humber? When Ramirez has command of his slider, he’s tough to hit.

Cal State Fullerton JR RHP Noe Ramirez: once straight 85-90 FB with occasional hard sink is now more consistently 88-92 (93 peak) with more consistent, more drastic sink; delivery is deceptive and adds miles to the FB; plus FB command; plus-plus 82-84 CU learned from Ricky Romero; paid it forward by helping Gerrit Cole with his CU grip; emerging 75-80 SL that has put on velocity and is now 82-85; SL is good but inconsistent; shaky command of offspeed pitches; 6-3, 180

Besides being an accomplished bowler, Overton HS (TN) SS Mookie Betts is also a pretty talented baseball player. He’s probably not a shortstop over the long haul, but his athleticism and sure hands should play at any number of spots on the diamond. His progress with the bat should be interesting to watch; there isn’t much power upside, but those who saw him in high school came away with his approach to hitting and patience at the plate.

I liked San Jacinto JC LHP Miguel Pena out of high school. I still liked him after his first year at San Jacinto. Now I’m not sure how I feel about him. He has the three pitches needed to start, but the lack of a big league out pitch hurts.

87-90 FB, peak 92; hard thrower with right hand as well; really good CU; plus control; lots of positive word of mouth has me sold, but admittedly little is still known about Pena relative to other names on list

Free State HS (KS) LHP Cody Kukuk has all the makings of a frontline big league pitcher. Whether or not he gets there is anybody’s guess, but there’s no questioning the upside his projectable frame, above-average fastball, and solid upper-70s slider give him a chance to do some major damage to big league bats.

LHP Cody Kukuk (Free State HS, Kansas): 88-91 FB, 93 peak; good 78 SL; CB; CU; good athlete; 6-4, 185

Playing football and baseball for Ole Miss trumped a big contract with the Red Sox, at least in the mind of Pascaquola HS (MS) OF Senquez Golson. As a big fan of the tradition and atmosphere of SEC sports (not to mention the “scenery,” if you catch my drift), I can’t really fault Golson for picking The Grove over bus rides to and from Lowell. It remains unclear if Golson will ever really emerge as an early round pick because, by all accounts, his heart belongs to the gridiron. That would be a shame because he’s a really good baseball prospect. I’m often slow to come around to raw but toolsy high school outfielders, but Golson’s five tool ability was too great to ignore. He’s obviously a sensational athlete with legitimate plus-plus speed who is able to translate at least some of that athleticism (mostly in the way he defends in center, but also in a hard to describe swing that just looks like something only a great athlete could pull off) to the diamond. His other tools – most notably above-average raw power and a stronger than expected arm – make him a potential middle of the order possibility down the line. If Jake Locker can get picked in the tenth round, then surely Golson, who figures to play more baseball than Locker at the college level, will get early round consideration in three years as well.  If, and that’s a Todd Coffey sized if right there, if Golson gets enough at bats at the college level, I genuinely think he’s a potential top ten overall pick as the first college bat off the board.

[great athlete; plus-plus speed; plus defensive upside in CF; strong arm; Jared Mitchell comp; quick bat; above-average raw power; 6-0, 180]

If Kent State 3B Travis Shaw can stick at the hot corner, he’s an interesting prospect. As a likely 1B/3B/DH long-term, however, expectations with the bat rise above what he might be capable of at the plate.

Lacking lateral quickness and agility, Shaw’s future at third base is a major question as he enters pro ball. If he can stay at third base — good pre-pitch positioning and quicker than you’d expect reactions give him his best shot — then his big power, great approach, and strong track record with wood would make him a fast riser on draft boards. Most of the industry leaders are already moving him off of third, however, so perhaps I’m being unrealistic in thinking he could someday grow into an average-ish fielder there. Probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: if he is a first baseman at the next level, his value takes a big hit.

Scouts that saw Wisconsin-Stevens Point OF Cody Koback this past spring came away talking about his potential as a lefty bashing righthanded backup outfielder with speed. Not having seen him myself, that assessment sounds about right to me. A best case scenario comp that I heard through the grapevine was fellow small school double digit round prospect Matt Joyce. It’s far from perfect – Joyce has more power and bats lefty, Koback hits righty and is more of a speedster – but comps rarely are. I still love ‘em…

We’ll start our look at players of note taken after the top ten rounds with some “bad” news: the talented unsigned players. When you draft as aggressively as Boston does, you do so knowing there is little to no chance every player you draft will sign a pro contract. The group of prospects signed by Boston is excellent. The group of prospects Boston wasn’t able to sign is also pretty damn impressive. The high school trio of Menchville HS (VA) RHP Deshorn Lake (Round 12), Byrnes HS (SC) RHP Daniel Gossett (Round 16), and Don Bosco Prep (NJ) LHP Jordan Gross (Round 40) all went unsigned but all should reemerge in three years as big-time draft prospects. Lake is very raw, but showed enough present stuff to go along with his well above-average athleticism to qualify as a very interesting follow at East Carolina. Gossett has quality ACC reliever stuff at the ready should he find himself in position to get innings early on in his stay at Clemson. Gross doesn’t have quite the stuff as Lake or Gossett, but offers plenty of projection as a lefthander capable of approaching 90 MPH with the makings of a pair of quality offspeed pitches (mid-70s change and a low-70s curve).

RHP Deshorn Lake (Menchville HS, Virginia): 88-91 FB, 93-94 peak; good 77-82 SL; 80-81 CU with upside, but needs reps; raw, but lots of projection; 6-2, 180 pounds

Maybe I’m nuts, but seeing Louisiana State RHP Matty Ott (Round 13) sign a pro contract really surprised me. Matty Ott just felt like a player who would play college baseball forever. His fastball is a bit short, but he gets enough consistent movement on it to make it an above-average pitch on balance. His slider can get big league hitters out, but seems to have regressed some since his spectacular freshman season. I’d still like to see him get a chance to start, but questions of health, lack of a third pitch, and Boston’s organizational starting pitching depth might keep that from happening.

Louisiana State JR RHP Matty Ott: 87-89 FB; does a lot with the FB, cutting it and sinking it very effectively; very inconsistent 78-81 SL; great command and deception; plus control; big problem is lack of an out pitch; 6-2, 200 pounds

SO RHP Matty Ott (2011) is exactly the kind of player that makes following the sport fun. He somehow pulls off always appearing both fiery and cool while on the mound, he gets big time results (69 K to 6 BB in 50.1 IP) through unconventional means (his funky low ¾ delivery is only a hair or two from dropping officially down to sidearm), and he is by all accounts a wonderful example of what a student-athlete ought to be. His hard, sinking high-80s fastball works really well in concert with a high-70s big league ready slider that makes life miserable for both lefties and righties alike. Ott’s prospect stock is in limbo because he doesn’t fit any kind of traditional baseball archetype. He hasn’t currently shown the stuff needed to start (although I’ll happily go on record in saying I think he’d blossom if given the opportunity to refine a third pitch), and he doesn’t have the knockout fastball that so many teams require out of their late inning aces. Maybe it is a personal blind spot of mine, but, archetypes be damned, I like players like Ott that get just get guys out. He has two big league pitches at present (fastball is a little short, but the movement bumps it up a grade) and has time to polish up a third offering. He won’t be a first rounder, heck he may not even be a candidate to go in the top 150 or so picks, but he could wind up his college career as a high floor, close to the majors kind of prospect. If you read this thing regularly you know I value upside and star potential very highly, but in a world that Brandon Lyon can get a $15 million contract, you’d better believe there is value in locking in a player like Ott for six cost-controlled big league years.

Kentucky RHP Braden Kapteyn (Round 15) has the stuff (good FB, hard SL, flashes an above-average CU) to start, but will likely remain a reliever in pro ball due to a funky delivery that he has difficult repeating. If you didn’t know any better, you’d say he looked like a position player trying to pitch. Oh, wait. If he ever makes it as a starting pitcher I hope it’ll be with a National League club because watching him swing the bat every fifth day would be a lot of fun. He hasn’t had the health issues of Joe Savery, but a similar career path (iffy run as starter, brief but promising return to hitting, return to pitching in a more comfortable relief role) is one possible outcome.

Kentucky JR RHP Braden Kapteyn: 89-94 FB; hard 88 SL; potential above-average CU; lots of moving parts in delivery; great hitter; 6-4, 215 pounds

My notes on Liberty RHP Blake Foslund (Round 17) say a lot without saying much. His fastball is big league quality, but the breaking stuff, command, and control are all not where they need to be. A year of success at Liberty could get him drafted on the first day next June. Arm strength like his don’t come around too often, so I’m betting on a huge junior season for the former prep star.

Liberty SO RHP Blake Forslund: 92-95 FB, 97-98 peak

JC of Southern Nevada RHP Sam Wolff (Round 47) should get the chance to start this upcoming season at New Mexico. If that’s the case, I like him to emerge as one of college baseball’s biggest “out of nowhere” success stories and become a top fifteen round pick next June. He started his college career at San Diego, but it wasn’t until junior college where his fastball, and subsequently his prospect stock, really picked up. I had him at maxing out at 91-92 out of high school, but Baseball America’s draft update had him peaking at 95 this past spring. He’s always been an unusually polished young pitcher with excellent command and an above-average breaking ball. Added growth to the fastball makes him a dangerous three-pitch prospect with the chance to do some very interesting things this fall for the Lobos.

Oxnard HS (CA) 2B Austin Davidson (Round 21) has the defensive tools to work himself into a good defender at either third base or second base. His bat profiles a lot better at second as he’s a player with a well-rounded skill set rather than an athlete with a plus tool or two. Guys without loud tools are smart to go to college where production is weighted more heavily than it is at the high school level. If a non-tools guy produces for three years in college, certain teams will take notice. Davidson will get noticed in three years.

Davidson’s down senior season will probably cost him some cash in the short-term, but his solid blend of tools will still get him noticed on draft day. I think he has the chops to be a good defender at third base, but his lack of power upside may keep him from ever holding down an everyday spot. It is tough to project a utility player on a high school prospect, but Davidson’s skill set — average arm, average speed, cerebral player — seems well suited for spot duty.

I don’t like Deven Marrero quite as much as I’m supposed to. I also didn’t like Christian Colon (prior to his draft year) as much as others. My small sample size (the first round shortstops of 2002 also come to mind) conclusion: college shortstops who are projected to stay at shortstop for defensive reasons tend to be overrated. That’s a good thing for Luella HS (GA) SS Julius Gaines (Round 32), a player I really happen to like as a defensive prospect. I don’t think he’ll ever be an early first rounder like Colon was and Marrero will likely be, but three years impressing scouts with his range and arm at Florida International could get him picked much earlier than anybody would currently guess.

There are about a dozen prep shortstops who can realistically lay claim to “potential big league shortstop,” a statement that is more about their defensive futures than any kind of upside at the plate. When projecting shortstops long-term, defense is king. If there is one thing we are sure Gaines can do, it’s defense. How the bat develops is a whole other story, but his range and hands at short are so good that his hit tool is almost an afterthought. Almost.

St. Xavier HS (KY) RHP Matt Spalding (Round 29) is a short righthander with a big fastball, hard slider, and violent delivery. If that sounds like a future reliever, then you’ve been paying careful attention.

RHP Matt Spalding (St. Xavier HS, Kentucky): 91-94 FB, 95-96 peak; 73-77 SL; violent delivery; 6-0, 190

Washington State 1B Taylor Ard (Round 25) has been a big favorite since his days at Mount Hood CC for his big raw power and surprising big man athleticism. He could jump into the top ten rounds with a big senior season, but the usual bat-first prospect caveats apply.

I feel as though my notes on Ard sum up his game pretty well: plus-plus raw power; average at best hit tool; good athlete; wrist injury kept him down in 2010; solid defender; strong track record hitting with wood; some question about ability to hit with funky swing, but just as likely an adjustment will help him tap into his raw power even more. Yeah, that sounds about right.

Maryland OF Matt Marquis (Round 41) in a nutshell: at Maryland he hit .207/.207/.310 in 29 at bats, but as a professional he hit .337/.429/.494 in 83 at bats. He’s a really gifted athlete who still shows all of the physical tools that made him such a highly sought after high school recruit, but something has held him back to this point. I’m seeing high boom/bust potential (starting caliber performances or stalling out in AA) in his future.

This past summer, a summer forever to be known to many prospect watchers as “The Summer of Trout,” I had a conversation with a friend well connected in the business who told me, and I know he won’t mind me quoting him here, “Matt Marquis was Mike Trout before Mike Trout was Mike Trout.” Pretty cool statement if you ask me. Marquis was a highly sought after high school prospect from New Jersey. He had speed, power to all fields, a strong arm, and an even stronger commitment to a great baseball school in Vanderbilt. A common comparison for each player, as funny as it seems with the benefit of hindsight, was Aaron Rowand. Getting the Trout vibe yet? Fast forward to today. Trout has completely blown up as a professional while Marquis has lagged behind. The second-year Maryland outfielder still offers up that tantalizing blend of above-average speed and raw power, but the production, from Nashville to College Park, has never matched the hype. Teams still hold out hope that he’ll put it all together as an above-average corner outfielder. Count me in as a believer.

I can’t wait to see if Wake Forest OF Mac Williamson (Round 46) can put it all together in his redshirt junior season. He’s a legit five-tool prospect who has made great strides in his approach to hitting since arriving at Wake Forest. From a pure tools standpoint, I’m not sure there are five better outfielders in all of college baseball. The biggest strike against him for me is the fact he’ll almost be 22 years old by the time next June’s draft rolls around.

Williamson, a potential catching conversion candidate at the pro level, has serious power upside and a plus arm, but his swing at everything approach could prevent him from ever getting the chance to put his crazy raw tools to use. He could very well be viewed as a potential late inning relief prospect because of the reported mid-90s heat to go along with a solid sinker/slider mix.