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1B/RHP Rylan Thomas can flat mash. He swings and misses too much, he comes with the dreaded R/R first base only profile, and his size (5-11, 235) isn’t what some evaluators have come to expect out of a potential thumper in the middle of the lineup, but, boy, can he mash. Thomas is a plus power hitter with a much better feel for hitting than most sluggers typecast for the role. He’s not for everybody, but it’s worth noting that he’s made serious improvements in his approach in his two years at Central Florida. Last year, Thomas did this: 33.2 K% and 5.8 BB%. This year, his K% is down to a high but manageable 21.3 and his BB% is up to a much more comforting 14.7. If those gains are real — or, better yet, part of a larger trend to come — then Thomas could be of those sleeper R/R first basemen that everybody has been hunting for since the big Paul Goldschmidt breakout. I could see him being viewed as a shorter, righthanded draft prospect equivalent to Darick Hall, fourteenth round pick of the Phillies in 2016. With a little more perceived upside than Hall — Thomas was a pretty big deal as a high school star at Windermere Prep — he could go even higher than that. Signability could play in, however, as Thomas has two years of college remaining if he decides to opt in. He’s a really tough yet fun evaluation this year.
OF/SS Ray Alejo, a transfer from Mississippi, would have been one of my breakout picks coming into the year if I was the type to actually have things done on time. It might be for the best that I didn’t because Alejo’s 2018 has been a mixed bat so far. His speed, athleticism, and defense up the middle have all been as promised. His limited pop (for now) paired with a power hitter’s whiff rate (29.3%) hurt. I’d say the good outweighs the bad because where Alejo wins (speed, athleticism, defense…if you have already forgotten) tends to translate well to pro ball. Like Thomas, he’ll be another challenging evaluation for scouts this spring/summer.
2B Matthew Mika is a plus runner who goes into at bats with a solid plan in place. I like guys like that. Limited power and the unknowns about his defensive versatility hold him back. If those unknowns are known by those who know more than me, then Mika could work himself into a late-round potential utility player place in this draft. For now, I have him as a primary second baseman and that’s a tough path to the pros.
Much was expected of OF/1B Brody Wofford as a prospect going back to his high school days. Minus one good but not great year at junior college, there’s not a ton to show for all his promise. C Logan Heiser could get a look for his defense by a team badly in need of a late round catcher. I don’t see the bat as pro-quality, but reasonable minds may differ. I don’t have a ton on OF/3B Tyler Osik, but he’s hit enough this season to at least enter the draft conversation. SS Brandon Hernandez had the chance to do the same with a solid junior season, but will now probably have to wait until 2019 to rebuild his draft stock. He’s a good enough defender to be a late pick, so if the bat comes around that’s where he’ll likely go.
The five year mystery of RHP Cre Finfrock‘s name continues to beguile me. As far as I can tell, Cre isn’t short for anything. It’s just Cre. Just this morning I realized that all this time I’ve been thinking about his first name when his last name is unlike any I have ever heard either. Finfrock is a great last name. Cre Finfrock altogether is just perfect. Making this even better is the fact that Finfrock is really good when healthy. So far so good on that front this year after missing his 2017 season due to injury. At his best (and healthiest), Finfrock can run it up to the mid-90s (97 peak) while sitting anywhere from 88-94 with serious sink. He’s also shown flashes of a quality breaking ball (77-84) and change (79-81), both potential average or better pitches in time. If you can get past his shorter build (6-1, 200) and give him a break on his 2018 wildness (expected, I’d think, after a year away), then I think a strong case could be made for Finfrock to get a shot as a starting pitcher in pro ball. The stuff and pitchability are there. If not, he could move really quickly as a reliever. That would hardly be a bad thing, especially considering the way modern relievers are being used by certain teams. Finfrock could make his make in the pros as a starter, a one-inning reliever who goes all out, or a multi-inning relief ace. None of the above would surprise me. I’m a fan.
LHP Bryce Tucker had an eye-popping junior sophomore season. Look at his 2017: 13.03 K/9 and 2.84 BB/9 in 38.0 IP of 1.66 ERA ball. That’s about as good as it gets on the college level. He hasn’t bee as good in any area so far in 2018, but that’s hardly a concern considering his numbers (outside of an inflated walk rate) have all only dropped from great to very good. Tucker’s most logical fit in the pro game will be to continue as a lefthanded weapon out of the bullpen. His raw stuff may not blow you away, but his overall repertoire is one that works for him. Tucker can command an average or better fastball (86-92, 94 peak), a quality low-80s changeup, and an emerging 79-83 slider that will flash above-average. On top of that, his deceptiveness and fearlessness of throwing any of his three pitches in any count help everything play up. Tucker would be an easy player to miss in a class filled with fun college pitching, but he’s a good one.
RHP Jordan Spicer was really high on my preseason intrigue list. Billed as an athletic righty with a chance for a plus sinker (87-92, 94 peak) and slider (80-82) mix, Spicer was expected to hit the ground running at Central Florida from day one. That hasn’t exactly been the case from a run prevention point of view (his 5.04 ERA is second highest on the team), but he’s managed to miss bats and limit free passes at more than acceptable rates. That’s all a long way of saying that I’m still buying what Spicer’s selling.
RHP JJ Montgomery‘s fastball is enough to get him selected pretty high. That’s what you get when you can run it up to 97 MPH while also managing to live between 90-94 with plus sink. That’s a really nice start for any relief prospect. RHP Thad Ward has a touch less velocity (sits 88-92, hits 94-95), but similar movement and command of the pitch. Ward’s offspeed stuff (82-85 SL, 81 CU) is a little further along, but, like Montgomery, it’ll be his ability to pitch off that fastball that gets a team excited on draft day.
RHP Eric Hepple may not be a household draft name, but any pitcher with pro stuff (90-92 fastball, 76-80 breaking ball, 88-89 cutter) and a double-digit strikeout rate (11.67 K/9 as of this writing) is worth knowing. The senior’s ERA has spiked a bit from his crazy junior year success (0.87 ERA in 20.2 IP), but the peripherals remain strong.
RHP Garrett Westberg and LHP Luis Ferrer both have good numbers and names that sound like those you’d find in a pro bullpen near you. RHP Nick McCoy has bounced around a bit and seen some tough times from an injury standpoint (most notably Tommy John surgery), but the soon-to-be 25-year-old (in July) has worked his way back to the mound for five really good senior year innings this year. Future pro or not, that’s cool.
I get a lot of questions about projection versus production. Specifically, I’m asked to what degree should a college player’s production be weighed with a professional ball projection in mind. I tend to factor it in more heavily than most real BASEBALL KNOWERS probably like, but there natural limits to scouting the box score. RHP Chris Williams has done nothing but produce since stepping foot on Central Florida’s campus. His ERA’s by year: 2.30, 2.65, 2.14. As of this writing, he’s closing in on a career high in innings with 71.1 (also a team high). Williams is a great college pitcher. Unfortunately, this does not necessarily make him a great pro prospect. Depending on who you talk to, he may not be a pro prospect at all. The good news here is that we’ll all likely have another season to figure this out — Williams is a redshirt-junior — so hopefully the undersized righthander will keep dominating the competition and wind up making us look bad for doubting him.
JR LHP Bryce Tucker (2018)
JR RHP Jordan Spicer (2018)
rJR RHP Cre Finfrock (2018):
rJR RHP Chris Williams (2018)
SR RHP Eric Hepple (2018)
SO RHP Thad Ward (2018)
JR RHP JJ Montgomery (2018)
rSR RHP Nick McCoy (2018)
JR RHP Garrett Westberg (2018)
rJR LHP Luis Ferrer (2018)
SO 1B/RHP Rylan Thomas (2018)
rSO OF/SS Ray Alejo (2018)
JR 2B Matthew Mika (2018)
SR OF Max Wood (2018)
JR OF/1B Brody Wofford (2018)
SR C Logan Heiser (2018)
rJR OF/3B Tyler Osik (2018)
JR SS Brandon Hernandez (2018)
JR C/1B Anthony George (2018)
rJR C Michael Higgins (2018)
rSO 3B Jackson Webb (2018)
SO LHP Joe Sheridan (2019)
SO RHP Daniel Litchfield (2019)
SO C/1B Dallas Beaver (2019)
FR RHP Jack Sinclair (2020)
FR 3B Griffin Bernardo (2020)
FR OF Dalton Wingo (2020)