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2015 MLB Draft Reviews – Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays 2015 MLB Draft Picks

This might make me look rather foolish, but the best position player drafted by Tampa was not the guy they took in the first round with the thirteenth overall pick. Nothing against Garrett Whitley (we’ll get to him soon enough), but my favorite pick by the Rays is 2B Brandon Lowe (24). Let’s see what past-me has to say about him…

I’ve noticed that I sometimes struggle when writing about players, hitters especially, that I really like. It’s almost like I don’t know what to say other than I just really, really like him. I just really, really like Maryland rSO 2B Brandon Lowe. His tools don’t jump out at you, but they aren’t half-bad, either: lots of tools in the 45 to 55 range including his glove at second, arm strength, and foot speed. It’s the bat, of course, that makes him an all-caps FAVORITE. Lowe’s hit tool is no joke

Watching Lowe hit is a joy. There’s plenty of bat speed, consistent hard contact from barrel to ball, and undeniable plus pitch recognition. His ability to make adjustments from at bat to at bat and his impressive bat control make him a potentially well above-average big league hitter. And he just flat produces at every stop. He reminds me a good deal of an old favorite, Tommy La Stella. One scout who knew I liked Lowe to an almost unhealthy degree threw a Nick Punto (bat only) comp on him. Most fans would probably take that as an insult, but we both knew it was a compliment. Punto, love him or hate him, lasted 14 years in the big leagues and made over $20 million along the way. Punto’s best full seasons (2006 and 2008) serve as interesting goal posts for what Lowe could do if/when he reaches the top of the mountain. In those years Punto hit around .285/.350/.375. In today’s game that’s a top ten big league hitter at second base. Maybe I’m not crazy enough to project a top ten at his position future for Lowe, but he’ll make an outstanding consolation prize for any team who misses/passes on Alex Bregman, the consensus top college second base prospect, this draft. I’m also not quite crazy enough to think Lowe’s draft ceiling will match that of another similar prospect (Tony Renda of Cal, who went 80th overall in 2012), but the skill sets share a lot of commonalities.

The draft ceiling comp (80) worked out pretty well with Lowe going 87th overall, though you might argue that Renda’s subsequent pro career is a cautionary tale about the difficulty of making it as a true second base prospect. If I had to guess, I could see Tampa attempting to stretch Lowe defensively some to see if he can handle shortstop in a pinch. That obviously would up his floor to a utility future, which would be nice especially to those who don’t believe in him as a future regular at second. I sure as heck do, as you can read from my pre-season take…

It should come as no shock to any long-time reader that rSO 2B Brandon Lowe is my kind of ballplayer. His physical tools skew closer to average than not (glove, arm, speed, raw power), but the man has a knack for consistent hard contact that can’t be taught. He also has a tremendous batting eye that often puts him in good hitting counts. It’s a really tough profile to get too excited about — offensive second basemen who can’t really run are not typically seen as prospects by anybody — but I believe in the bat (.348/.464/.464 with 34 BB/20 K in 181 AB last year) enough to think he’s got a real chance to make it. He’s obviously not the best position player prospect in the ACC this year, but he’s definitely my favorite.

My enthusiasm got the best of me as I completely spaced out on Maryland moving to the Big 10, but the rest of the analysis is what I wanted to get across. Lowe is a FAVORITE for a lot of reasons (clearly), but one of the things I like best is his ability to look good even on a bad night. He can finish a disappointing 0-3 in the box score, but still impress with how he battles throughout at bats, works deep counts, and makes the opposing pitcher reveal all of his secrets. That’s my kind of hitter. I’m anxiously looking forward to his pro debut next season.

While Lowe healed up, other “second basemen” had a chance to make their mark on the Tampa brass this summer. 2B Brett Sullivan (182) and 2B Jacob Cronenworth (208) both ranked among my favorite mid-tier college infielders in this year’s class. I had Sullivan way higher than his draft position (300+ spots) and Cronenworth right on the nose (208 and 208!). Technically announced as a second basemen on draft day, Sullivan actually wound up playing third base over 98% of his innings for Princeton. This further muddles the defensive picture that was already plenty muddled to begin with…

Pacific JR SS/OF Brett Sullivan is an all-caps FAVORITE of mine who compares favorably to Holder in many areas of the game. The one great big obvious difference between the two is defensive projection. I’m obviously confident in Holder being a damn fine defensive shortstop in the big leagues, but I can’t say the same with much certainty about Sullivan. I mean this literally: I can’t say it with certainty because I straight up don’t know right now.

I still don’t know enough about Sullivan the defender to make a knowledgeable claim about his long-term home. Maybe it’s 2B, maybe it’s 3B, maybe it’s in the outfield somewhere: I have no clue. Most likely, it’ll be a combination of all those spots as he attempts to hit his way towards a utility spot down the line. Cronenworth — who, thanks to the best show on television Rick and Morty, I now think of as Cronenberg — hit very well in his debut run in the NYPL. The two-way star from Michigan (he’s a legit prospect on the mound with three average or better pitches and all the expected athleticism) is another player that has enough bat and glove to profile as a really intriguing utility player (he’s played lots of 2B and some SS already). I actually think there could be even more than that, as putting the energy and attention formerly paid to pitching 50ish innings a year can now be applied towards improving as a hitter and fielder. Like Lowe and Sullivan before him, Cronenworth is an all-caps FAVORITE.

Sullivan played third base at Princeton while 2B Blake Butera manned the keystone. A few words on the BC product from late May…

I remain weirdly into Blake Butera as a late-round senior that could hang around pro ball a few years based on his glove, approach, and makeup.

I stand by that, though his lack of discernible pop will obviously impede his progress as pitching continues to improve around him. Despite his limitations, he’s still not a bad org player to land in the 35th round.

All credit to Tampa for correctly gauging the signability of C Chris Betts (36) and getting a deal done this summer. He joins Brandon Lowe and Garrett Whitley as first round offensive talents landed by the Rays with their first three picks. Is that good? It seems good. Betts slipped for reasons of signability and health, but he’s a potential impact regular if it all comes together.

As a player who has been famous in prospect circles for two plus years now, the draft stock of Chris Betts (Wilson HS, California) is currently suffering from a clear case of prospect fatigue (also known as Daz Cameron Syndrome). Teams have seen him so often that they are now firmly in the nit-pick stage of evaluation. Internet folk (like me!) have known about him for so long that they (we!) now worry if placing him at the top of the pile will be considered too boring, too safe, and too predictable a projection.

The obvious head-to-head comparison of Betts and Tyler Stephenson generated some strong opinions throughout the spring. Eventually, Stephenson claimed the top spot on draft day, on this site’s board, and the vast majority of pro boards. I made note of the debate back when it was at its peak…

I think it’s fair (boring, perhaps) to like Betts more as a prospect because of his overall defensive edge. The belief that their bats will be close enough with Betts being the better bet to remain a catcher through his first contract of club control has merit. Close or not, Stephenson still has more upside as a hitter, but the lingering defensive questions mitigate some of the recent excitement about his offensive game. This is hard. The two are very, very close to me. I understand the desire to chase offensive upside with your first round pick, so Team Stephenson has a strong built-in argument that I wouldn’t debate against. If it all clicks, Stephenson should end up the better player — catcher or not — but the odds of it all clicking are a bit higher for Betts.

At minimum, I think it can be agreed upon that these are the top two high school catching prospects in the country without much current competition threatening to knock them off their perch. Both profile as average or better all-around big league catchers who stack up quite well with with any one-two catching prospect punch of the last few years. Asking around on each player didn’t give me the kind of comps I was hoping to hear — the old adage of “don’t force comps” applies to these two players, apparently — but I manage to get one name for Betts and two for Stephenson. Neither of the prospect to prospect comps that you’ll read were given with much confidence and I hesitate to even share them because they were very much “well, if I HAD to compare him to somebody I’ve seen…” kind of comps, so let’s all agree to view these for the entertainment value that they bring more than anything. The name I heard for Betts was Greg Bird (as a hitter only) and the name I heard for Stephenson was (a bigger) Clint Coulter. I mentioned earlier that I got two comps for Stephenson…yeah, the other was Wieters. I believe he was deemed the “Matt Wieters starter kit.” Don’t know why I expected to hear anything differently, but there you go. For the record, since I’m realizing while doing a quick edit of this that I’ve written mostly about Stephenson, Betts can really, really hit. The Bird comp feels a bit rich based on what we know Bird has done as a pro so far, but I think an average or slightly better hit tool and raw power combination could be the end game for Betts. Those abilities combined with a reasonably disciplined approach and a high probability of playing average or better defense behind the plate for years makes Betts a legitimate first round pick.

Betts and Stephenson or Stephenson and Betts. Either way, you’re looking at two quality catching prospects worthy of mid- to late-first round draft consideration. I’m more comfortable with Betts right now, but the upside of Stephenson is not lost on me. Ask me again in a month and you may or may not get the same answer, but I’ll almost certainly have changed my mind a dozen times or so in the interim. I’m glad there’s a few more weeks to think this over.

As previously mentioned, the upside of Stephenson did eventually win the day. That doesn’t mean Betts is without considerable upside in his own right. Greg Bird as a catcher is a seriously valuable player, though the growing pains young catchers go through will mean we’re all going to have to be patient on this one.

I realize that C Danny De la Calle was a senior sign brought in on the cheap ($7,500!) in the ninth round, but I still don’t really get it. I love and appreciate defense as much as the next guy, but…

The high hopes I had for SR C Daniel De La Calle heading into last year were quickly dashed by his struggles at the plate (.224/.315/.241). He’s still so good behind the dish that a professional future can’t be ruled out, but even a pro backup has to hit a little bit.

Somewhat predictably, De la Calle’s 10 BB/57 K ratio as a senior in the ACC translated to a 3 BB/45 K in the NYPL. There’s no need to rush to judgment on a 134 PA sample (.164/.201/.258, by the way), but it’s hardly an aberration based on his larger track record. I don’t enjoy knocking the pick because a) I don’t ever enjoy knocking a pick, and b) I almost always jump up and down with excitement when discussing the intangible value of adding good people who provide veteran leadership (as Baseball America notes, De la Calle is bilingual) to younger minor league teammates, but the ninth round was just too early for a guy who won’t hit enough to get out of AA. Future manager? Sure. Future big league catcher? Highly doubtful.

I don’t know what to say about OF Garrett Whitley (38) that surely hasn’t already been said elsewhere, on this site or on the internet at large. Here’s the old stuff on him…

I’ve waited to get into too much detail on Garrett Whitley (Niskayuna HS, New York) because he’s at or near the top of the list of prospects that most confound me in this class. Quite frankly, I don’t have much detail to get into outside of what you, Mr./Mrs. Informed Reader, already know. His natural ability is obvious and there’s a chance he does enough outside of the batter’s box to contribute to a big league team one day even if he doesn’t hit as much as his peers, but the nagging doubts I have about him developing into the kind of hitter that winds up being a true difference-maker keep me from pumping him up as a potential top ten pick. That said, I’ve heard and read – and much of this is public info that you (yes, you!) might have read as well – that he’s made a huge leap as a hitter this spring. I haven’t had independent sources corroborate this – the geography of the situation is killing me here – but even just seeing the national guys talk him up is obviously quite encouraging. It certainly makes me feel as though my lukewarm opinion on his bat based largely on what I saw last summer (I’m not a scout, but I am a human who will have biases that seep into my evaluations) isn’t a fair way to judge him anymore, if it ever was at all (see previous parenthetical). That’s a long way of saying that I genuinely don’t know what to make of Whitley. One of the failings of trying to cover a country’s worth of prospects by myself as a hobby means that certain players, even top guys like Whitley, can fall through the cracks.

Whitley is this class’s biggest mystery to me. He could wind up a star. He could wind up topping out in AA unable to hit anything but average-ish fastballs. Consider any attempt at my ranking him with his peers with a gigantic block of salt. The few responses I’ve gotten when asking about Whitley (all from guys working well outside Whitley’s area) haven’t helped me achieve increased clarity. One friend thought I was nuts for liking Plummer over Whitley, calling the latter a carbon copy of a young Adam Jones. That’s a comp I haven’t heard before or since, yet I don’t hate it. Another simply shared his own confusion about what to do with Whitley, calling him “the most likely prospect to make or break an executive’s career” in this year’s class. That actually made a lot of sense to me. Whitley has been such a tricky player to scout fairly this spring that hitting on him would be a tremendous victory for a scouting staff. Missing on him, however, would mean blowing an early first round pick. I think picking him at any point after the first few picks or so is justified, but still damn risky. Can’t wait to see which brave team takes the gamble.

Taking Whitley at thirteen seems just late enough to be reasonable considering his ceiling, but there’s a reason why I was told he was “the most likely prospect to make or break an executive’s career” this spring. A quick look back through the archives confirms that he’s one of the rawest top twenty picks in recent memory. Reasonable minds may disagree, but I’d put him on the same level as guys like Austin Meadows and Tim Anderson (2013), DJ Davis (2012), Bubba Starling (2011), and Donavan Tate (2009). The last name is the one that intrigues me most because Tate was seen as a player “too toolsy to fail” in some circles. I don’t mean to suggest that anybody believed he’d be a slam dunk impact big league player, but he was so fast (plus-plus speed) and so graceful in center and so athletic and so confident that it seemed almost hard to believe he’d not at least stay afloat professionally as he worked on what needed to be done in the batter’s box. Nobody drafts a player with a top twenty pick hoping for a fifth outfielder/defensive replacement/pinch-runner, but that was the reasonable floor for Tate…and for Whitley. With that as a floor and an Adam Jones type as a ceiling, the pick begins to make more sense. Still, even with the acknowledgement that I’m perhaps more risk-adverse in the first round than I ought to be, I don’t think I could have pulled the trigger on Whitley this early, especially considering the talent still on the board. If you wanted boom/bust, there was Kolby Allard (I disagree with him being boom/bust, just passing along the narrative that stuck with him this spring for some reason) and Brady Aiken. If you wanted a HS OF with upside, there was Trent Clark and Nick Plummer. If you wanted an up-the-middle defender, you could have gone with Richie Martin or Kevin Newman. Years of watching the Phillies emphasize tools over skills with first round picks has scarred me for life. Grab the toolsy guys in rounds 2-40, but pass on the Greg Golsons and Anthony Hewitts of the world in round one; get me a little bit of security with a real ballplayer (I can’t believe I wrote that…I’ve become my father) in the first.

The obvious counter to all of this is that Whitley is a far more developed prospect than given credit for (Tampa loved him so much they took him 13th, after all) and much of the speculation about his rawness is based on dated information that has been slow to change because so few in the media were able to see him up close this spring. Furthermore, guys with big tools are awesome and far more likely to turn into game-altering superstars than the supposedly safer, often older, and almost always less exciting prospects I claim to prefer. Completely valid points. All of this things must be considered when drafting until a proper balance of risk/reward/upside/certainty is achieved. That’s how the Whitley pick can be defended even by somebody who may not love the player. Tampa managed to steal Brandon Lowe, Chris Betts, Joe McCarthy, and Devin Davis, all top 100 prospects according to this silly site, in addition to adding Whitley. That’s diversification in the form of bats: college second baseman, college outfielder, high school catcher, high school first basemen, and high school outfielder. If one of Lowe or McCarthy strike you as the type of safe-ish prospect I’ve described above, then think of Whitley as that second or third round lottery ticket that is needed to swing the draft but could absolutely do so if he pans out.

Short version: I wouldn’t have done it, but I’m glad a smart organization with a well-regarded developmental program — recent iffy results with hitters notwithstanding — saw something in him to give him a first round opportunity.

OF Joe McCarthy (73), a borderline first round talent in his own right, showed more functional speed than expected in his first crack at pro ball. After stealing 25 bases over his entire college career, McCarthy went out and stole 18/21 bags in his debut 49 game season at Hudson Valley. The strong success rate lines up with his college numbers (25/27) and his physical ability (above-average to plus times to first), so it’s less major shocker than one of those quirks that make following up on recent draftees fun. In more relevant news — not to say that McCarthy being a threat on the bases isn’t relevant — Tampa’s selection of McCarthy begins to make it seem like there’s some Moneyball-ish underlying thinking in this draft. Chris Betts, Brandon Lowe, and Joe McCarthy all arguably fell further in the draft than their talent warranted because of injuries. With none of the injuries looking like they’d cause long-term problems, Tampa’s approach is a textbook example of scooping up depressed assets at their lowest point.

McCarthy is a great athlete who can hit, run, and work deep counts. He’s a natural left fielder, a fact that is both good (since he’s damn good out there) and not so good (more pressure on the bat since he can’t play center). He has a ways to go towards figuring out how to unlock his power (swing and mentality, mostly), though his frame (6-4, 225) suggests the kind of natural strength that can put balls in the gaps and beyond if it clicks.

OF Landon Cray (493) walked 58 times the past two college season with just 22 strikeouts. I’m in. He played mostly left field in his pro debut in deference to Zacrey Law, but he’s more than capable in center with plus speed and keen instincts. I’ve comped him to an old favorite, Tyler Holt, in the past, so a fourth outfielder upside doesn’t feel out of reach. I thought OF David Olmedo-Barrera might return to Cal State Fullerton for a senior season, but the junior with just enough power, speed, and strength to remain interesting opted to sign.

1B Devin Davis (85) is a dude. He’s not yet THE dude — that’s taken — but I liked him a lot before the draft and I love the idea of signing him after waiting all the way until round 25 to take a shot. Here was the pre-draft take…

If pure uncut bat speed is what you’re looking for, then Devin Davis (Valencia HS, California) is your guy. He’s also a really slick defender at first – without too much thought I’d say he’s the best glove out of the top guys listed – with more than enough power to profile as a regular if it all works out. He also has a little bit of growth left (potentially), so an uptick in his existing physical profile, especially in terms of power, remains possible. Projecting high school first base prospects is a dangerous game because out of any HS position group what you see is what you get with the heavy hitters at first, but Davis could have a little bit left in the tank that could help him eventually overtake Naylor or Baker as the best long-term player in this class.

Despite those nice words, I really don’t know what to make of Davis. I like him, sure, but my crystal ball is cloudy beyond that. Figuring out which way high school first basemen will turn out in the pro game remains the biggest mystery in scouting for me. If you’re good at it, contact your local big league franchise immediately and inquire about their willingness to have you volunteer and assist an area scout. Assuming you’re cool with being paid in swag, of course.

OF Kewby Meyer (390) was announced as an outfielder, but he’s a first basemen through and through. The gap between my view on Meyer (390!) and his draft position (1108) is as wide as any I can recall so far, but I stand by my belief that the Nevada product is a wildly underrated hitter with great feel for the strike zone and above-average raw power. He’s not the biggest, he’s not the strongest, and he’s certainly not the fastest, but if he can fake it some in the outfield corners he could make it as a lefty bench bat. That’s something.

3B Matt Dacey (338) split his time in his pro debut at first and third; needless to say, if he can hold his on at the hot corner then he goes from nice value pick as a 21st round pick to straight steal. Even as a first baseman, I like him. From before the season…

There are also an unusual number of potential power bats in the conference; arguably none are better than rSO 1B Matt Dacey (Richmond). His relative inexperience gives hope that he’ll make strides in terms of approach, which would in turn help him further unlock his prodigious raw power. He mashed last year even as he showed signs of that aforementioned raw approach, so the sky is the limit for him as a hitter as he gains experience.

The power is big and it plays. Like Meyer, a fair upside guess would be a platoon player or a bench bat capable of holding down both first and third. At pick 628, why not?

16.34, 10.10, 10.20, and 10.49. Those are the K/9’s of the four college relievers taken by Tampa in rounds four, eight, ten, and eleven. When last I looked at the best of that group, RHP Brandon Koch (129), he was striking out 18.98 batters per nine. And I said this…

There are a lot of good, quick-moving relievers in college baseball – there always are – but Koch might be the best of the bunch when it’s all said and done.

Pretty sure that holds up today. Koch could pitch in the big leagues next year if that’s the path Tampa wants to take with him. His stuff jumped up across the board last season (from 88-94 FB to 93-98; more consistently plus to plus-plus 82-90 cut-SL) and his control, the biggest concern many had in terms of his on-field skill set, showed some signs of improving as a pro.

RHP Reece Karalus (298) pitched in the same Hudson Valley bullpen as Koch after signing. His fastball velocity doesn’t quite match Koch’s, but the silly movement he gets on the pitch levels the playing field. Add that to a plus slider — not quite as good nor hard as Koch’s, but pretty damn good in its own right — and you’ve got a keeper.

Santa Clara JR RHP Reece Karalus is a classic sinker/slider arm that adds a fun wrinkle to the archetype with his plus command and plus control. He’s too good to call a sleeper, but between the way he misses bats, gets ground balls (presumably…would love to dig up the numbers on him), and limits walks he could be a shockingly quick mover once he hits the pro game.

Fastball, slider, command, control. What more can you ask for out of a reliever? RHP Sam Triece has the first two parts down (90-95 FB, above-average 82-84 SL) while he works on the last two. Then there’s RHP Ian Gibaut (421). I like Ian Gibaut.

Forgive me if I copy/paste that paragraph whenever Dillon Tate, Carson Fulmer, and Tyler Jay are brought up this spring. For now, the logic presented above applies to JR RHP Ian Gibaut, who has excelled as a college reliever since first stepping foot on campus at Tulane in 2013. There’s no reason to believe that Gibaut’s success as an amateur reliever would slow down in any way as he transitions to pro ball this summer. Still, I’d be tempted to stretch him out and see how his stuff holds up as a starter. My desire to see him work in a starter’s role isn’t so great that I’d kill a team for thinking he’ll be best in the bullpen as a professional; if anything, it’s more of a selfish curiosity to see what a college reliever with the build, arm action (in my amateur view), and diverse enough set of pitches (above-average 75-78 CB, upper-70s CU that flashes plus [others like it less and I’ll at least acknowledge it’s an inconsistent pitch at present], and hard mid-80s SL) could do in a more taxing role. I’ve heard but not seen firsthand that Gibaut’s velocity is the type that plays up in short bursts, so keeping him in the bullpen would seem to be a perfectly reasonable course of action. If that winds up being how it plays out, then don’t be surprised when Gibaut winds up as one of this year’s fastest moving college relief prospects.

I’m glad he stuck in the bullpen. Some guys are just better there. Let him pump his mid-90s heat in shorter outings and watch him climb the ladder quickly. Speaking of moving quickly, before the draft Koch (“quick-moving”), Karalus (“shockingly quick mover”), and Gibaut (“one of this year’s fastest moving”) were all identified as being particularly close to the big leagues. Much like the double-digit K/9’s quoted above, I think we might have a bit of a trend on our hands here. I love using non-premium picks — you could argue the fourth rounder spent on Koch was “premium,” but he’s really good so I can live with it — on players who have demonstrated a high probability of moving quickly through a system and helping out the big league club in a peripheral way sooner rather than later. Filling out the margins of one’s roster with young, cost-controlled talent at positions of lesser importance (bench bats and middle relief) allows for the big bucks to go elsewhere. And if one of those middle relievers turns into a shutdown closer, so much the better.

As much as I like the closer-upside of Koch, my favorite pitcher (by a hair) drafted by Tampa this year is RHP Benton Moss (136). Maybe he winds up in the bullpen in the long run, but he should be tried as a starter until there’s no doubt remaining that he should move to relief. It’s next to impossible to try to predict the next mostly unheralded arm to break out in a major way — I’m thinking of guys like Keuchel, deGrom, and Kluber here — but I’ll throw Benton Moss out there as a name that years from now people will look back and wonder how he got this good.

I’m shocked that I haven’t written much if at all about SR RHP Benton Moss on the site already because I really think the world of him as a prospect. Off the top of my head, I’d have him as the country’s best senior sign pitching prospect. Smart, athletic, competitive, dependable, and with an arm that can crank it to 95 when he needs to, Moss has all the components of a legitimate big league starting pitcher. He’s added to this repertoire over time (most notably two similar yet distinct pitches: a low- to mid-80s slider and a mid-80s cutter) and can now throw any one of four to five pitches (above-average mid-70s CB and upper-70s CU as well) for strikes in any given count. I have no feel at all for when he’ll be selected this June — his big senior season has to help boost his stock, though his recent arm woes (which he’s come back from, but still) could scare some teams off — but I have the feeling that he’ll wind up a really good value for a really happy team.

RHP Tyler Brashears seems like a guy who could see his stuff tick up a bit after moving to the bullpen as a pro. His success as a starter at Hawaii (1.85 ERA in 101 IP) might be enough to keep him in a rotation, but an extra tick or two to his 87-92 FB (93 peak) and a little added sharpness to an already above-average to plus 76-82 breaking ball could make him dangerous in short bursts. RHP Justin Marsden looks like a really smart overslot signing in round 22. He’s got two average or better pitches already (88-92 FB, 93 peak; mid-70s CB that flashes plus) and the frame to put on a bit more weight. RHP Bryan Bonnell is a big guy (6-5, 200) coming off such a disaster of a junior season (7.39 ERA in 28 IP) that you just know he’s got the kind of good stuff that can get that overlooked. He’s armed with a fastball that lives between 88-92 and a splitter that could grow into an out-pitch in time. His selection intrigues me because of how different his college track record (i.e., not good) is from the majority of the arms drafted by Tampa.

South Florida 2B/SS Kyle Teaf, personal favorite college infielder of mine, was also drafted by Tampa. He’s passing up his shot in pro ball to pursue a career in medical device sales. I’m not sure why I find that so cool, but I do. Whether he’s chasing his own unique dream or believing he’s making a pragmatic mature decision about his long-term future or something else altogether, best of luck to him going forward.

Here are the signed Tampa prospects that ranked on my pre-draft top 500…

24 – Brandon Lowe
36 – Chris Betts
38 – Garrett Whitley
73 – Joe McCarthy
85 – Devin Davis
129 – Brandon Koch
136 – Benton Moss
182 – Brett Sullivan
208 – Jacob Cronenworth
298 – Reece Karalus
338 – Matt Dacey
390 – Kewby Meyer
421 – Ian Gibaut
493 – Landon Cray

Missouri Valley Conference 2015 MLB Draft All-Prospect Team

Dallas Baptist rJR C Daniel Salters
Missouri State JR 1B Spencer Johnson
Missouri State SR 2B Eric Cheray
Bradley JR SS Tyler Leffler
Wichita State JR 3B Chase Rader
Missouri State JR OF Tate Matheny
Dallas Baptist JR OF Daniel Sweet
Evansville rSR OF Kevin Kaczmarski

Missouri State JR RHP Jon Harris
Dallas Baptist JR RHP Brandon Koch
Dallas Baptist JR RHP Joseph Shaw
Missouri State JR LHP Matt Hall
Dallas Baptist JR RHP Drew Smith

The rise of many of this class’s toolsier players 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.

I’ve always lumped Matheny together with Cameron Gibson of Michigan State for reasons I’ve never actually stopped and thought about. It probably has something do with their respective big league bloodlines, Midwestern roots (I don’t actually think of Michigan as being particularly Midwestern, but I’m an East Coast jerk so everything that’s not an hour drive from the ocean is Middle America to me), similar birthdays (Matheny is just three days older), similar summer paths (Northwoods in 2013, Cape in 2014), and the fact they both play for a MSU. The comp doesn’t hold up when you actually taken into account the stuff we’re supposed to care about on a baseball draft website (Gibson is a lefthanded hitter with more speed, Matheny is a righty bat who has flashed more pop), but the brain works in mysterious ways.

I’m not sure why Dallas Baptist JR OF Daniel Sweet hasn’t been in the lineup — I’m assuming injury, but two minutes of Google reveal nothing — but I’m hoping whatever it is he’ll be back at it soon. A fairly strong argument can be made for Sweet over Matheny based largely on the difference between Sweet’s consistently above-average tools (raw power, speed, range, arm) and Matheny’s average-ish across the board skill set. Matheny is the safer of the two, having proved he could produce at a high-level over his past three college seasons, but Sweet’s junior college track record is darn impressive in its own right. His two years at Polk State weren’t bad…

.307/.436/.419 – 29 BB/29 K – 30/37 SB – 179 AB
.411/.525/.565 – 42 BB/44 K – 30/33 SB – 209 AB

So between that and his silly athleticism, you see why he’s a highly regarded prospect, right? I have less of a clue than normal about where the industry views Sweet as a prospect, but I’m fairly sure I’ll wind up having him far above anybody else this June. I’m cool with that. Sweet is good.

I like Evansville rSR OF Kevin Kaczmarski a lot. He’s always been one of those guys that smart people have told me had an outstanding approach at the plate. He could hit in AA right now, they said. His ability to track the ball out of the pitcher’s hand is legendary around campus, they said. His plate discipline is what sets him apart, they said. I took all that in, but the cognitive dissonance when hearing that and looking at his BB/K numbers (never bad, but never particularly good, either) was palpable. Keeping in mind that a) it’s early yet, and b) Kaczmarski is a redshirt senior and older than the vast majority of his competition, the smart people who kept talking up his approach (13 BB/6 K in 64 AB) look really good. He’s always been able to hit, so the gains in plate discipline are a welcomed sight. His impressive gap power and above-average speed round out his offensive game nicely. It’ll be most interesting to me to see how pro teams view his range in the outfield. I’ve heard from those who think he’s a lock to play center at the next level. The majority, however, have told me that he’s not the kind of player you’d want out there over a full season and that an outfield corner, where he’d be quite good, is his most likely future home. Since his drafting team would probably select him with a backup future as their most realistic best case scenario for him in mind, I’d think just being able to hang in center without killing you for short stretches will be enough.

I had Dallas Baptist teammates rJR C/OF Daniel Salters and JR OF Daniel Sweet as the 24th and 25th ranked college hitters in the country before the season. We covered Sweet already, so let’s get into Salters. Simply put, things have not gone well for the divisive Patriot in 2015. It’s only been 76 at bats and his BB/K numbers remain encouraging (20/22), but it’s hard to put a happy face on a .171/.364/.250 start. Slow start or not, I still believe in the athletic, powerful (plus raw for me, others have it closer to average) backstop with tremendous arm strength. I’ve heard some smart people suggest it could be time to move him from out behind the plate to an outfield corner in order to jumpstart his bat, but I’m not there yet. I think he can catch as a pro, and I think he can hit enough to be an above-average starter in the big leagues. If vouching for a guy hitting .171 just two months away from the draft like that doesn’t show you I believe in his ability, then nothing will.

Illinois State rJR C/3B Paul DeJong is the gift that keeps giving to college ball. Few players can match his uniqueness as a hitter who flat mashes (.408/.491/.714 in 98 AB this year so far) while being defensively versatile enough to play every infield position but short. Unsurprisingly, I think the smartest play for his future is to keep trying to develop him as a catcher as long as possible. He’s got the athleticism, instincts, and hands for it, so making it work should be the top priority for his drafting team. There might be enough to him as a hitter to play elsewhere in a regular role, but his best fit professionally is as a super-utility player that floats mostly between second, third, and catcher.

The loss of Missouri State SR 2B/SS Eric Cheray to a fractured left ankle is one of this season’s biggest bummers from a draft prospective. He’ll still get his shot in pro ball, but won’t get to do so on the heels of what was starting off as a monster senior season (.474/.577/.737 with 6 BB/2 K in 19 AB). I honestly believe he could have hit his way into the draft’s top five rounds or so. Lost season or not, he’s still one of my favorite straight bats in the country. The fact that he can play a variety of positions – some think he’d take really well if he returns to catching full-time – only makes him a more fascinating prospect to me. There are obvious parallels between Cheray’s game and what Paul DeJong can do; I’ll take Cheray’s plus approach over DeJong’s power upside, but it’s a close call.

Bradley rJR 2B Chris Godinez is a plus runner with the chance to play well enough on the left side of the infield to be a potential utility infielder professionally. His double-play partner, JR SS Tyler Leffler, appeared poised for a big draft season (strong arm, improved glove, intriguing bat) but has stumbled some out of the gate. Evansville SR 2B Brett Synek controls the strike zone about as well as any player in the country.

Pitcher with projection left and a chance to be an above-average big league starter or pitcher who is what he is but what he is happens to be a ready-made high-leverage big league reliever with a mid-90s fastball (98 peak) and a wipeout slider that touches 90? Or, in other words, Missouri State JR RHP Jon Harris or Dallas Baptist JR RHP Brandon Koch? You can’t really go wrong either way, but, as always, I lean towards the future starter all else otherwise being close to equal. Harris throws four pitches for strikes (88-93 FB, 95 peak; above-average upper-70s CB; plus mid-80s SL; sinking CU) with the frame to add a bit more velocity as he fills out. He’s also pulled off the trick of being a reliable starter at Missouri State since day one while also getting slowly but surely more effective along the way. Meanwhile, all Koch is doing is striking out just under 19 batters per nine innings (18.98 as I write this). There are a lot of good, quick-moving relievers in college baseball – there always are – but Koch might be the best of the bunch when it’s all said and done.

Both Harris and Koch come from loaded pitching staffs chock full of potential pro arms. Joining Koch on the Dallas Baptist staff is JR RHP Joseph Shaw, a fastball-reliant (hard to blame him when he sits 90-95, hits 98) potential starting pitcher at the next level with the kind of workhorse frame that some teams prioritize with their pitching targets. There’s also JR RHP Drew Smith, the third Patriot that I have as capable of touching 98 (lives 90-96). Smith also mixes in an average or better mid-70s curve, plus a low-80s changeup and a slider of a similar speed. He’s particularly intriguing to me because he’s been exclusively a reliever this season despite possessing a repertoire capable of going through a lineup more than once. JR RHP Cory Taylor only throws as hard as 94 MPH (slacker), so he’ll have to make up for it with his plus slider. He’s had problems throwing strikes in the past, but seems to have smoothed things out mechanically this year which has in turn improved his control. Like Shaw, Taylor is a big boy (6-2, 250) and a rather intimidating presence on the mound. JR RHP Chance Adams (low-90s FB, great numbers) and SR RHP Jay Calhoun (88-91 FB with plus movement, SL flashes plus) are both also draftable talents. Throw in rSO LHP Colin Poche, a really talented arm to follow next year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, and that’s one incredible staff.

Missouri State isn’t quite as stacked in terms of pro prospects, but Harris’s running mate in the rotation, JR LHP Matt Hall, lines up with almost any other second tier arm in the conference. It’s a fairly typical lefty profile (86-90 FB, average or better CB and CU, good command) with enough of the extra stuff (pitchability, smarts, results) to warrant top ten round consideration.

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Hitting 

  1. Missouri State JR OF Tate Matheny
  2. Dallas Baptist JR OF Daniel Sweet
  3. Dallas Baptist rJR C/OF Daniel Salters
  4. Missouri State SR 2B/SS Eric Cheray
  5. Illinois State rJR C/3B Paul DeJong
  6. Bradley JR SS Tyler Leffler
  7. Evansville rSR OF Kevin Kaczmarski
  8. Bradley rJR 2B Chris Godinez
  9. Evansville SR 2B Brett Synek
  10. Wichita State JR 3B Chase Rader
  11. Wichita State JR 3B/RHP Willie Schwanke
  12. Evansville JR SS Shain Showers
  13. Illinois State JR OF Daniel Dwyer
  14. Illinois State JR OF Jack Czeszewski
  15. Missouri State JR 1B/OF Spencer Johnson
  16. Dallas Baptist SR 2B/SS Drew Turbin
  17. Dallas Baptist JR 1B/3B Trooper Reynolds
  18. Wichita State JR OF Daniel Kihle
  19. Indiana State SR OF Landon Curry
  20. Evansville JR 1B/OF Eric McKibban

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Pitching

  1. Missouri State JR RHP Jon Harris
  2. Dallas Baptist JR RHP Brandon Koch
  3. Dallas Baptist JR RHP Joseph Shaw
  4. Missouri State JR LHP Matt Hall
  5. Dallas Baptist JR RHP Drew Smith
  6. Dallas Baptist JR RHP Cory Taylor
  7. Evansville JR RHP Brent Jurceka
  8. Wichita State rSO RHP Chase Williams
  9. Indiana State rJR LHP Greg Kuhlman
  10. Wichita State JR RHP Isaac Anderson
  11. Wichita State rJR RHP John Hayes
  12. Bradley JR RHP Eric Scheuermann
  13. Southern Illinois JR RHP Colten Selvey
  14. Illinois State JR LHP Will Headean
  15. Bradley rJR RHP Steve Adkins
  16. Dallas Baptist rSO LHP Colin Poche
  17. Bradley JR RHP/1B Elliot Aschbeck
  18. Dallas Baptist JR RHP Chance Adams
  19. Dallas Baptist SR RHP Jay Calhoun
  20. Illinois State JR LHP Jacob Hendren
  21. Southern Illinois JR RHP Alex Lesiak
  22. Southern Illinois SO RHP Kyle Pruemer
  23. Southern Illinois rSR LHP Aaron Hauge
  24. Southern Illinois rSO RHP Connor McFadden
  25. Wichita State JR RHP/OF Jon Ferendelli