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Conference USA 2015 MLB Draft All-Prospect Team

Rice SR C John Clay Reeves
Florida Atlantic rSO 1B Esteban Puerta
Charlotte SR 2B Brad Elwood
Louisiana Tech rJR SS Taylor Love
Florida International JR 3B Edwin Rios
Florida Atlantic JR OF Brendon Sanger
Florida Atlantic JR OF Roman Collins
Middle Tennessee State JR OF Ronnie Jebavy

Rice SO RHP Jon Duplantier
Rice rJR RHP Jordan Stephens
Texas-San Antonio JR RHP Brock Hartson
Florida Atlantic JR RHP Seth McGarry
Rice rFR RHP Andrew Dunlap

A pair of solid senior signs in John Clay Reeves (Rice) and Michael Adkins (Middle Tennessee State) highlight Conference USA’s 2015 crop of draft-eligible catchers. Reeves is a mature defender with enough pop to profile somewhere between a fringe starter or high-level backup. As an elite defender and light bat, Adkins fits the more traditional future backup catcher profile. A gamble on upside at the position could lead you to rJR C Esteban Tresgallo (UAB), a steady glove with as yet unrealized promise at the plate. The Miami transfer held his own as a freshman (.243/.335/.379 in 140 AB), but almost two years of lost developmental time make him a far bigger mystery at this point than most (maybe all) fourth-year college players. It could be a good year for Estebans in C-USA as another hitter by the same first name ranks as my favorite first base prospect in the conference. That would be rSO 1B Esteban Puerta (Florida Atlantic), a smart, patient hitter with breakout potential. He gets the nod over a thin overall group, though the power upsides of JR 1B Ryne Dean (Marshall) and SR 1B Ryan Church (Western Kentucky) are fun to dream on.

Neither SR 2B/OF Brad Elwood (Charlotte) nor SR 2B/SS Ford Stainback (Rice) experienced the breakthrough junior season that many (like me) expected in 2014. Both players seemed on the verge of finding a way to combine their steady defense, plate discipline, and emerging pop into something draft-worthy, but saw their numbers take a dive in their first year of collegiate draft-eligibility. Elwood missed a significant portion of the season due to injury, so his dip in production can be more easily explained away; the clearer explanation as to why he slumped in 2014 is partially why I have him ahead of Stainback on this list. Another more substantial reason is Elwood’s edge in power, though neither player figures to have anything but below-average power as a professional. We’re now at over 100 words on two players with utility infielder ceilings with very long roads ahead to even get to that point, so let’s call it a day and move on.

I’m a big fan of rJR SS/2B Taylor Love (Louisiana Tech) for his blend of patience, speed, defense, and sneaky pop. Along with JR SS/OF Leon Byrd (Rice), he’s probably the player with the highest probability of reaching his destiny as a big league utility infielder on the list. Byrd has a strong argument for top prospect in the middle infield group due to his plus speed and positional versatility (2B, SS, CF). He has the exact type of skill set that is easy to see working in the big leagues for years. In between Love and Byrd stands rJR SS Jason McMurray (Old Dominion), a speculative inclusion that ranks highly for the overwhelmingly positive things I’ve heard about his power/speed mix.

Then there’s SR SS Julius Gaines (Florida International), a player that ranks among the most famous in all of college baseball for those that obsessively follow this stuff as much as I assume anybody currently reading does. Gaines has been on the prospect radar for as long as my sleep-deprived mind can remember. I actually had Gaines ranked as high as fifth among all college shortstops on a mid-season shortstop follow list from last year. That’s after having him ranked fifth in the 2011 HS shortstop rankings. It should be mentioned, however, that said list turned out to be littered with busts from every angle. I don’t even know how I’d answer if somebody asked me how to retroactively rank the HS shortstops from 2011. It would go Francisco Lindor (big gap), Trevor Story (another gap), and…somebody else. Chris Mariscal, maybe? Anyway, I think a lot of what was said about Gaines back in high school holds true today…

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.

Gaines can still field, throw, and run (though not as efficiently as you’d like to see), but the jury remains out on how much upside he brings with the stick. The track record to this point suggests his bat will keep his ultimate ceiling in utility infielder territory, but a big senior season could change smart minds in a hurry. I can’t personally talk about Gaines without mentioning that he was part of what I have to believe will go down as a historically great 2011 Boston Red Sox draft class. Matt Barnes, Blake Swihart, Henry Owens, Jackie Bradley, and Mookie Betts were all taken within Boston’s first eight picks. Underrated and potentially useful big leaguers Travis Shaw and Noe Ramirez (also within those first eight picks) were also brought into the fold. That class also produced one of the stronger things written on this site, though I don’t personally take much credit for seeing great things ahead then as it didn’t take a genius to appreciate what the Sox were doing in real time.

I’m very curious to see what path JR 3B/2B Edwin Rios eventually takes as he embarks on a pro career. He’s a viable defensive option at third, second, or a corner outfield spot, and the ability to play all those spots could be his ticket to a long career. I’ve gotten mixed reviews on his glove at each spot as some have argued him as a third baseman only (too slow for an outfield corner, not athletic enough for second), some have said he could work as a “big second baseman,” and others have lobbied for him moving out of the dirt entirely in order to fast track a bat that they believe in more than most. I’d send him out as a primary third baseman for now, but not before working him out at second to see what he’s got going on at the keystone up close. The bat should play quite nicely at either infield spot; so much so, in fact, that the argument that he could even profile as an average or better hitter as a left fielder is not without merit. Rios has many fans who swear by his hit tool and raw physical strength, but I’m a little hesitant (as always) to prop up a guy with so much swing-and-miss to his game. If Rios can clean up his approach a bit, then he could find himself in the top five round mix as a power bat with the chance to play an important defensive position. If not, then he’ll fall back into the much larger collection of big power/questionable approach hitters who may be a good pro hitting instructor away from figuring it out or…not. I lean towards the former since I’m a sunny optimist (and, more honestly, because a lot of smart people I know have vouched for Rios blowing up this year), so stay tuned.

Rios’ teammate at Florida International rSR 3B Josh Anderson is a pretty darn solid ballplayer in his own right. I’d actually go so far as to call him one of my favorite under-the-radar prospects in college ball and a potential high-level senior sign come June. He’s a natural born hitter with average raw power, average defense at third, above-average athleticism and a really strong arm. I haven’t seen or read anything about this, so consider it entirely my own speculation but I wonder if a team might draft him somewhere between rounds six to ten with the dual purpose of saving a little bit of money and stealing an undervalued asset who could be a prime candidate to convert to catching. Anderson is already 22, so maybe he’s past the age when a difficult position switch makes sense – calling a 22-year old “past the age…” when I’m 10 months short of 30 pains me, if you were wondering – but the physical profile, current defense skill set, and makeup all add up to a potentially very rewarding gamble. A player who has made the opposite move over the years, but should still receive draft consideration as a senior sign is SR 3B/1B Bre’shon Kimbell (Louisiana Tech). The former acclaimed high school catcher has had a career that oddly parallels the aforementioned Julius Gaines. Both Kimbell and Gaines went from serious high school prospects to big fish in relatively small ponds (no offense intended towards FIU and La Tech) before underwhelming on the whole during their time at school despite showing flashes of what made them so highly sought after once upon a time. Like Gaines, the quick report on Kimbell from high school holds true today…

Kimbell is unusually strong, very athletic, and a gifted defender. He also has shown big raw power in the past, but inconsistencies with his swing mechanics make his trips to the plate hit or miss, no pun intended. Some good pro coaching could turn him into a high level pro prospect in short order. Also, BreShon – a fella with a name like that is obviously destined for greatness, even though I sometimes read it as Bre$hon.

I’d most like to see a team go all-in on Kimbell one way or another. If that means moving him back behind the plate and doing whatever possible to make catching work for him, so be it. If it means fully embracing his weird but wonderful defensive profile (C, 1B/3B, LF/RF), then even better. Interestingly enough, the two names below Kimbell on this list could experience similar professional fates. JR 3B PJ Higgins and rJR 3B/SS Nick Lustrino (Old Dominion, both) are both multi-talented defenders capable of playing a variety of spots around the diamond. Higgins is the closer comparison as he’s seen as a potential C/2B/3B/OF at the next level. Lustrino is more of an infielder at present, but I’ve heard from interested observers who saw him dating back to his Temple days that he could be an interesting catching conversion project if he finds a team willing to take a risk on him.

SR OF Connor Barron completes the triumvirate of top notch high school prospects from 2011 turned last chance senior sign types in 2015. Barron, like Julius Gaines and Bre’Shon Kimbell before him, was a high school prospect that everybody knew and loved. He was a primary shortstop back in the day who just so happened to fall one spot behind Gaines on the 2011 HS shortstop rankings. Back then I’m fairly sure I was the low man on him out of just about anybody, but that was mostly the byproduct of me getting to him as a prospect kind of late and having less information on him than most of his peers. Here’s the old report…

It is easy to see why Barron has been one of the draft’s fastest risers this spring. He has great speed, a strong arm, and a big league frame that makes projecting his bat an easy relative to many of his draft class peers. The Reid Brignac comps are popular, and with good reason.

There were two truly embarrassing typos in the three quoted sentences above. Both were legitimate typing errors rather than me being an ungood writing guy, but still. I debated on whether to leave them or not before deciding to save myself some shame by fixing them. ANYWAY. Barron remains as tooled-up as ever, but the results to date have simply not been good. All those who saw him this past summer came away encouraged, so there’s hope yet that he’ll fulfill at least some of the promise he showed as a teen. Right now he’s the classic do-everything player who literally can do it all as a ballplayer….except hit. Years of experience following baseball has me convinced that – you might want to sit down for this revelation – hitting is a really, really important part of the game. If Barron’s progress is real, watch out. If not, then I think the smart thing to do is to spend a little time appreciating how fantastic an athlete he is while also contemplating how even athletes in the top .001% of the country’s population can struggle with a skill that I maintain is the hardest repeatable act in sport. Hitting is really, really hard. Anthony Hewitt, a plus-plus athlete with all-world makeup, defines this line of thought perfectly. Reflecting on this is what makes baseball such a great game.

JR OF/2B Brandon Sanger (Florida Atlantic) is a lot of fun to watch as a hitter. He’s a high-contact bat with above-average raw power and average or better speed. Beyond that, Sanger is the kind of player that is tough for me to write about because he’s just so darn well-rounded that his game borders on boring at times. He gets on base so often that you begin to take for granted his outstanding plate discipline. He wears out the gaps as well as almost any other hitter in the country. If he could be counted on playing average or better defense at second base professionally – and I’m not ruling this out, but hedging my bets with the corner outfield projection because that’s what people who have seen him more than I have recommended – then he’d be at or near the top of my list of “Why are we not including this guy among the nation’s best position player prospects?” players. As a corner outfielder he’s a little less exciting, but still one of my favorite bats to watch this spring.

If you’ve read previous lists, you might have come to realize that I don’t fear recent transfers who haven’t proven anything at the D1 level. The fact that this list features JR OF Roman Collins (Florida Atlantic) and JR OF Ronnie Jebavy (Middle Tennessee State) in the all-prospect outfield should reinforce the point. Collins is a guy who falls out of bed ready to hit each morning. I don’t doubt that his big raw power will continue to play against more advanced arms. Jebavy is best known for his extreme athleticism, speed, arm strength, and center field range. Both players haven’t done it on the big stage yet, but have shown enough ability over the years to earn their spot here.

Rice has some pitching. Let’s get that out of the way first. The rest of the conference has some quality arms – JR RHP Brock Hartson (Texas-San Antonio), JR RHP Kyle Miller (Florida Atlantic), rSO LHP Dylan Munger (UAB), and rSO RHP Gianni Zayas (Florida International) stand out as favorites – but it’s still Rice’s world and every other pitching staff is playing for second. SO RHP Jon Duplantier (Rice) has all the elements of a big league starting pitcher: size (6-4, 210), arm speed (87-94 FB, 95 peak), a varied and effective offspeed mix (good CU and CB, average but improving SL), and developing command. His control is the only thing at this point holding him back. rJR RHP Jordan Stephens (Rice) doesn’t have that problem, but instead faces questions about his return from Tommy John surgery and his relative lack of size and physicality (6-1, 185 pounds). If his curve finds its way back as he returns to full health, he’s got a shot to overtake Duplantier as the conference’s highest drafted arm. rFR RHP Andrew Dunlap (Rice) makes up for his lack of height (5-11, 210 pounds) and relative inexperience on the mound with a blazing fastball (lives mid-90s, 97-98 peak) that has proven unusually difficult to square up. rJR RHP Matt Ditman (Rice) doesn’t bring the same heat (upper-80s, mostly), but consistently has put up video game numbers (10.04 K/9 and 1.57 BB/9 with a 1.83 ERA in 68 IP last year) while leaning on a nasty spike-curve. A little bit further down the list are JR LHP Blake Fox (Rice) and JR RHP Kevin McCanna (Rice), a pair of pitchers that fit the textbook definition of “crafty” (mid-to upper-80s FB, offspeed pitches for days, love to work backwards, stellar command) down to the letter. SR RHP Trevor Teykl (Rice) is the last Owl listed, but there’s really no shame in that since he’d be many schools’ top 2015 pitching prospect. His size (6-7, 225 pounds), fastball (88-92), and results (8.54 K/9 and 1.62 BB/9 in 77 IP) all reflect well on his pro prospects.

Lighting round for the non-Rice arms of note! Hartson has an outstanding mid-80s changeup and overall profile that reminds me some of my old favorite Nick Tropeano. JR RHP Seth McGarry (Florida Atlantic) should be a quick-moving reliever with his power stuff (mid-90s FB, 97 peak and plus low-80s SL). Miller is a two-way player who hasn’t pitched a ton but has a fresh arm, plenty of athleticism, and has flashes a legit fastball (mid-90s) when given a shot. Munger is another crafty lefty with a good frame and really strong first year numbers. Zayas might be a little lost in the shuffle as an incoming transfer from NC State, but the possibility of three above-average or better pitches with solid command is in play.

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Hitting 

  1. Florida Atlantic JR OF/2B Brendon Sanger
  2. Florida Atlantic JR OF Roman Collins
  3. Florida International JR 3B/2B Edwin Rios
  4. Middle Tennessee State JR OF Ronnie Jebavy
  5. Florida International rSR 3B Josh Anderson
  6. Western Kentucky JR OF/LHP Anderson Miller
  7. Louisiana Tech rJR SS/2B Taylor Love
  8. Rice SR C John Clay Reeves
  9. Old Dominion rJR SS Jason McMurray
  10. Rice JR SS/OF Leon Byrd
  11. Florida International SR SS Julius Gaines
  12. Southern Mississippi SR OF Connor Barron
  13. Florida Atlantic JR OF Christian Dicks
  14. Southern Mississippi JR 3B/1B Chase Scott
  15. Louisiana Tech SR 3B/1B Bre’shon Kimbell
  16. Old Dominion SR OF/1B Taylor Ostrich
  17. Western Kentucky SR SS Cody Wofford
  18. Middle Tennessee State SR C/RHP Michael Adkins
  19. UAB rJR C Esteban Tresgallo
  20. Florida International SR OF/1B Brian Portelli
  21. Old Dominion JR 3B PJ Higgins
  22. Old Dominion rJR 3B/SS Nick Lustrino
  23. Charlotte SR 2B/OF Brad Elwood
  24. Rice SR 2B/SS Ford Stainback
  25. Rice SR OF/1B Kirby Taylor
  26. Florida Atlantic SR SS Ricky Santiago
  27. Charlotte SR SS Derek Gallelo
  28. Florida Atlantic rSO 1B Esteban Puerta
  29. Marshall JR 1B Ryne Dean
  30. Western Kentucky SR 1B Ryan Church
  31. Middle Tennessee State SR SS Austin Bryant
  32. Western Kentucky rSR C Ryan Messex
  33. UAB JR C Mitch Williams
  34. Southern Mississippi SR C Austin Roussel
  35. Middle Tennessee State SR SS Dustin Delgado
  36. Southern Mississippi JR SS/1B Tim Lynch

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Pitching

  1. Rice SO RHP Jon Duplantier
  2. Rice rJR RHP Jordan Stephens
  3. Texas-San Antonio JR RHP Brock Hartson
  4. Florida Atlantic JR RHP Seth McGarry
  5. Rice rFR RHP/C Andrew Dunlap
  6. Rice rJR RHP Matt Ditman
  7. Florida Atlantic JR RHP Kyle Miller
  8. UAB rSO LHP Dylan Munger
  9. Rice JR LHP Blake Fox
  10. Rice JR RHP Kevin McCanna
  11. Middle Tennessee State SR LHP Johnathan Frebis
  12. Middle Tennessee State JR RHP/OF Heath Slatton
  13. Marshall JR RHP Chase Boster
  14. Rice SR RHP Trevor Teykl
  15. Southern Mississippi SR RHP Christian Talley
  16. Southern Mississippi rJR LHP Cody Livingston
  17. Marshall rSR RHP Kolin Stanley
  18. Marshall JR RHP Michael Taylor
  19. Florida International rSO RHP Gianni Zayas
  20. Middle Tennessee State JR RHP Garrett Ring
  21. Middle Tennessee State rSR RHP Keaton Baker
  22. Southern Mississippi rJR RHP/3B James McMahon
  23. Florida International JR LHP Brandon Diaz
  24. Middle Tennessee State rJR LHP Brandon Zajac
  25. Rice JR RHP Ryan McCarthy
  26. Charlotte JR RHP Brandon Casas
  27. Florida Atlantic SR RHP Drew Jackson
  28. Florida Atlantic SR RHP Cody Mizelle
  29. Charlotte rSO LHP Sean Geoghegan
  30. Charlotte JR RHP Micah Wells
  31. Florida Atlantic SR RHP Reily Monkman
  32. Florida Atlantic rSR LHP Bo Logan
  33. Marshall JR LHP Sam Hunter
  34. Rice JR RHP Austin Orewiler
  35. UAB SR RHP Alex Luna

Milwaukee Brewers 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Brewers 2011 MLB Draft Selections

I think Texas RHP Taylor Jungmann unfairly got lost amongst the collection of so many talented 2011 college arms. I think his fastball command is so good that he’ll have early enough pro success to buy him some time to sharpen up his inconsistent offspeed stuff. I think the Jared Weaver comp – made by Baseball America, if memory serves – is a good approximation for his ceiling. So concludes three things I think I think about Taylor Jungmann.

Texas JR RHP Taylor Jungmann: has touched 96-99, but regularly sits low-90s (91-93); new reports have him 92-95; can still reach back and crank upper-90s (like on opening day 2011), but sits most comfortably 92-93, occasionally dipping to 89-91; plus FB command; good sink on FB; plus 75-78 CB; plus CB command; good 85-87 CU; good SL; love the Jered Weaver comp

The parallel careers of Georgia Tech LHP Jed Bradley and new Seattle Mariner LHP Danny Hultzen will be fascinating to watch. Bradley can do many of the same things that caused so many to fall in love with Hultzen this past spring. Hultzen dominated the college game in a way Bradley didn’t, but, from a stuff perspective, the two lefties are much closer than you might think. Bradley’s fastball might even be a tick better than Hultzen’s, though his secondary offerings are nowhere near as consistent. There are days, however, that his change and slider look just as good as Hultzen’s top two offspeed pitches.

Georgia Tech JR LHP Jed Bradley: 88-92 FB with plus life and good sink, pretty steady peak up at 94-96; loves to cut the FB; has sat 91-93 at times; holds velocity late; good sink on FB; average 80-84 SL that flashes plus when velocity gets up to 86-87; good 77-79 CB; plus 79-83 CU that he has worked very hard on, but sometimes goes away from for too long; both the SL and CB are very inconsistent offerings; 6-4, 200 pounds

Academia de Milagrosa (PR) HS RHP Jorge Lopez is a really intriguing mix of polished present stuff and long-range upside. He currently can throw three pitches for strikes – fastball, curve, change – and there’s a chance each pitch winds up big league average or better. He’s also a great athlete with exactly the kind of projectable frame that gets the scouts hot and bothered.

RHP Jorge Lopez (Academia la Milagrosa, Puerto Rico): 88-91 FB with good command, 93 peak; very good 73-75 CB; plus CU; 6-5, 175

The early pro reports on Long Beach State RHP Drew Gagnon’s velocity are promising (e.g. fewer pitches in the upper-80s, peaking at 95), but I’m still lukewarm about any pitcher without one clear knockout pitch. His slider (82-85) shows the most promise, but he leaves it up too often and has difficulty putting it in a spot where hitters will consistently chase it. There remains value in Gagnon’s steady three-pitch assortment (he still throws the curve, a fourth pitch, but that should be scrapped going forward) and his plus fastball command, like Jungmann, is attractive, but limited upside keeps me from loving the pick. I do appreciate the stacking of starting pitchers early, however; it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that the Brewers added four big league starting pitchers with their first four picks in the draft.

Long Beach State JR RHP Andrew Gagnon: 89-91 FB, has hit 93-94; once promising slurvy breaking ball has turned into above-average 82-85 SL; rapidly improving 85-86 CU that is now at least an average pitch; plus command; 78-82 CB; breaking ball command an issue; 6-2, 188 pounds

Lefthanded power and good defense does not a star first base prospect make. Cal State Fullerton 1B Nick Ramirez can hit it out of the park and shows no problems fielding his position, but the expectations for a first base prospect are likely too high for him to ever provide value as an everyday player. I don’t think he’ll struggle so much as a hitter that he’ll ever be tempted to return to pitching, but the thought of him someday holding down a lefthanded reliever/power bench bat role makes me happy. For me, Nick Ramirez is the next step of the evolution that began the post-injury version of Joe Savery.

Ramirez has a well-deserved reputation as a power hitting first baseman with a plus throwing arm, but what I think I enjoy most about his game is his quality defense. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: no matter what becomes of Ramirez as a pro, he’ll go down as one of my favorite college players to watch.

Overslot fifth round pick Leander HS (TX) OF Michael Reed is a toolsy yet raw athlete from Texas. He looks great in a uniform and possesses the strength you’d normally see from a star football player, but there are legitimate questions about how he’ll bat will play as a pro. The fifth round is as good a time as any to start taking chances on prospects like this.

[strong; plus arm; average speed; raw bat; shows all five tools]

Most high school athletes are raw. That’s a fairly uncontroversial statement that we can all agree to, right? There are, of course, degrees of rawness, but the gap between what a player shows as a teenager to what he’ll hopefully show once he’s on the precipice of becoming a big league ballplayer is immense. The following might be a little bit more subjective, but hear me out: Like Michael Reed, Newbury Park HS (CA) RHP Daniel Keller is another raw prospect with big tools, but, as a pitcher, has upside that can be more reasonably met with good instruction. At one point or another, Keller has shown all of the things you’d want to see in a future big league pitcher: his fastball sits between 88-92 (peaking 93-94) with occasionally impressive sink, his change has shown flashes of being an above-average pitch, and both his curve and slider look like usable pitches on his best day. The problem with Keller is that he’s never really had all of his pitches going at the same time. That, combined with a delivery befitting a pitcher as raw as he is, makes Keller a long-term project. The abilities that go into throwing hard, locating pitches, and spinning breaking balls strike me as skills that you own forever (more or less) once you’ve shown that you can do them. Figuring out how to hit all these crazy pitches, like Reed will have to do, requires a far steeper learning curve. In other words, all else being equal, I’ll take the raw pitcher over the raw position player.

RHP Danny Keller (Newbury Park HS, California): 88-92 FB, 94 peak; good sinker; raw but interesting CU; good 79-80 CB; 75 SL; raw; violent delivery; 6-5, 185

Mississippi RHP David Goforth throws very, very hard. That’s good. David Goforth also throws the ball very, very straight. That’s less good. Pro hitters don’t have as much trouble squaring up on straight fastballs as their SEC counterparts. Upper-90s heat can work even without a ton of movement when complemented with a consistent, well-placed offspeed pitch. When on, Goforth’s slider qualifies and, though it isn’t offspeed per se, the new and improved cutter could also work. Big fastball plus the potential for an interesting secondary plus a max effort delivery all adds up to a future big league reliever.

Mississippi JR RHP David Goforth: 93-96 straight FB; has hit 97-99 in relief; average 79-83 SL that flashes plus; occasional CU; max effort delivery; good athlete; poor command; new 88-91 cutter has been effective; has been up to 98-100 in 2011; 5-11, 185

Biggest thing working in Brookswood SS (BC) C Dustin Houle’s favor is time. He’s young enough that he’ll have plenty of time to show that he can hit professional pitching and defend at either third or behind the plate. I know it is a lazy comp and I apologize, but I’m a lazy apologetic man: Houle’s perfect world upside sounds a lot like fellow Canadian Russell Martin to me.

Houle probably fits best behind the plate, but I’m sticking with him as a third baseman for now. He is a talented player who will need a lot of minor league reps. That shouldn’t be a problem for him because, as one of the youngest draft-eligible players this year, youth is on his side.

I’ve heard the Brewers were pleasantly surprised at how good La Grange HS (GA) OF Malcolm Dowell looked in his first shot at pro ball. They knew he was a great athlete who would steal bases and cover a lot of ground in center, but his approach to hitting was far more refined than expected. If everything works out, he has leadoff hitter upside. Not a bad potential outcome for a player I personally badly missed on leading up to the draft.

I honestly can’t remember why I cooled on Oklahoma State LHP Mike Strong this past spring; reports on his stuff were somewhat down in 2011, but his results remained as strong as ever. He succeeds with a good fastball and a better curve. A new cutter and better conditioning helped him pitch deeper into games, but his iffy control might not be what the pros want out of a starting pitcher. As a lefty with three usable pitches, he’ll get his chances even if he moves to the bullpen in the not so distant future.

Oklahoma State SR LHP Mike Strong (2011): 88-92 FB; holds velocity late; plus hammer mid-70s CB; cutter; developing CU; 6-0, 180 pounds; (9.65 K/9 – 4.90 BB/9 – 4.42 FIP – 64.1 IP)

Florida RHP Tommy Toledo (Round 11) is an intriguing sleeper that could emerge as a legit starting pitching prospect if his arm checks out. When he commands his low-90s fastball, he’s tough to hit. If the starting experiment doesn’t work, Toledo can always move back to the bullpen into the role he played so well while at Florida.

Florida JR RHP Tommy Toledo: coming back from arm injury; 88-91 FB; took line drive off of face in 2010; 91-93 back and healthy; command comes and goes; really nice breaking stuff

Neither UNC Wilmington OF Andrew Cain (Round 12) nor Holly Springs HS (NC) LHP Carlos Rodon (Round 16) signed with Milwaukee, so both will head back to the great state of North Carolina to play college ball. In the case of Cain, he’s taking his pro grade speed, raw power, and size back to UNC Wilmington. An improvement to his offensive approach would go a long way towards getting him picked where the rest of his talent – we’re talking top five tools – warrants. Rodon will give it the old college try at North Carolina State. He’s flashed well above-average stuff across the board, but inconsistency rightfully knocked him down on draft day. Those three potential pro pitches – fastball, slider, and change – make him a potential first day pick next time around.

LHP Carlos Rodon (Holly Springs HS, North Carolina): 87-89 FB, peak 92-93; loses velocity early; 75-76 CB; good 76-80 SL; emerging CU; raw enough that he may be better off at NC State; inconsistent offspeed stuff; spotty command; good athlete; 6-2, 210

Outside of the three pitchers taken by Milwaukee in the first two rounds, Lufkin HS (TX) SS Chris McFarland (Round 18) is the best long-range prospect selected in 2011. All of his tools work really well at third, and I believe in his bat in a big way. Reagan HS (FL) C Mario Amaral (Round 17) got away, but he’ll be a fun prospect to watch develop at Florida State.

The 2014 draft class might wind up loaded with premium third base prospects if all of the supposed difficult signs wind up at their respective universities. McFarland’s down senior year has many thinking he’ll wind up at Rice this fall. That’d be great news for college baseball, but a bummer for the fans of whatever team drafts him. They’d be missing out on an excellent athlete with five-tool upside at third. McFarland’s lightning quick bat is his best tool, followed closely behind by his well above-average raw power and aided by his discerning eye at the plate. His speed, size, and arm are all exactly what you’d want out of a potential big league regular.

I’m a huge sucker for hitters who know the strike zone better than the umpire, so count me in as a fan of Connecticut 1B Michael Nemeth (Round 21). Unfortunately, I’m more of a fan of Nemeth the player rather than Nemeth the prospect, if that makes sense. It’s really hard to hitch your wagon to a first base only prospect without neither a plus hit tool nor plus power. Patient hitters with gap power who play above-average or better defense are not without value, but those guys face a pretty massive uphill slog to legit prospectdom in today’s game.

Nemeth’s name kept coming up in discussions with people in the know leading up to the publication of this list. He was admittedly off my radar heading into the year, but those 2011 plate discipline numbers are eye popping. After having seen him myself a few times this year, I can say he looked to me like a guy with good power to the gaps with the chance to be an average hitter and above-average defender down the line.

I’ve long been a fan of Florida C Ben McMahan (Round 23), and see no reason why he won’t turn up as a big league backup catching option a few years down the line. He won’t hit enough to play every day, but his defense is top notch.

There is still a part of me that thinks McMahan could surface a few years down the line as a big league backup, based largely on the strength of his plus defensive tools.

Georgia RHP Michael Palazzone (Round 24) doesn’t wow you with the fastball (sits upper-80s, 92 peak), but his top two secondary pitches are good ones. A good final season for the Bulldogs could get him taken in the top ten rounds.

Georgia JR RHP Michael Palazzone: 92 peak FB; plus CU; solid CB

If Orange Coast CC RHP Chad Thompson (Round 27) is healthy, then the Brewers got a major steal this late in the draft. He’s got the size, heat, and upside of a prospect who typically would be selected within the first five rounds. In a weak Brewers farm system, Thompson could rise up into their top ten by season’s end. Or his stuff, slow to recover from Tommy John surgery so far, never returns to his high school level. If that’s the case, the Crew are out a 27th round pick. Classic low risk, high reward pick. Either way, great gamble by Milwaukee at this stage in the draft.

Thompson is huge (6-8, 215) with an explosive low-90s FB (90-93) peaking at 94-95, nasty splitter, upper-70s circle change with serious sink, and a raw mid-70s curve that needs polish. There are also rumblings that he now throws a good forkball, but, haven’t not seen him personally since high school, I can neither confirm nor deny its existence. If Thompson’s elbow is structurally sound after last May’s Tommy John surgery, the Phillies have a major sleeper on their hands.

On top of being a pretty darn fine draft prospect, Mesquite HS (TX) C BreShon Kimbell also deserves credit for being a man of many names. Baseball America has him listed incorrectly as “Kimbrell” in their draft database and the Louisiana Tech website lists his first name as Bre’shon. I personally like Bre$hon, but just because I think it looks cool. The unsigned Kimbell has a heck of a chance to become Louisiana Tech’s best draft prospect since Brian Rike in 2007. If/when he reaches the bigs, he’ll have his sights set on David Segui, currently the most accomplished Bulldog of all time. Kimbell has the raw talent to do big things in college, but he has a long way to go.

Kimbell is unusually strong, very athletic, and a gifted defender. He also has shown big raw power in the past, but inconsistencies with his swing mechanics make his trips to the plate hit or miss, no pun intended. Some good pro coaching could turn him into a high level pro prospect in short order. Also, BreShon – a fella with a name like that is obviously destined for greatness, even though I sometimes read it as Bre$hon.

You know Maryland SS Alfredo Rodriguez (Round 32) must really, really, really be able to pick it at short if he pulled off getting drafted despite a 2011 slugging percentage less than Ravens tackle Michael Oher’s listed (313 pounds) weight.

The most highly regarded returning Terrapins prospect is JR SS Alfredo Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a really good defender who will definitely stick at short as a pro. He made strides with the bat last spring, but is still almost exclusively a singles hitter at this point. Needless to say, great defense or not, I’m not as high on him as I know some are. 

Born, raised, educated, and now a professional ballplayer, all in the great state of Wisconsin. Wisconsin-Milwaukee RHP Chad Pierce (Round 38) is just a bit more than a feel-good local pick, however; his fastball peaks at 92 and he’s got the athleticism you’d expect from a converted college catcher.

Connecticut LHP Elliott Glynn (Round 39) is a crafty lefty with a mid-80s fastball that dances low in the zone often enough to get him way more groundballs than your typical crafty lefty. He also has two solid secondaries (slider and change) that he’ll throw at any point in the count. There’s some relief upside here which, for a 39th rounder, makes Glynn more interesting than most. Connecticut C Doug Elliot (Round 35), Glynn’s college battery mate, is a solid defender with interesting but undeveloped power. Seems like a handy org guy to me.

Connecticut SR LHP Elliot Glynn (2011): upper-80s FB with good movement; 82-83, peak at 86; solid SL; plus CU

I’ve heard conflicting reports on whether or not we’ll be seeing Trinity Christian Academy (FL) SS Ahmad Christian (Round 46) play baseball for the Gamecocks this spring. He’s such a good athlete that the NFL is a possibility down the line, but I still hope he gives baseball a shot. His defense at short is already professional quality. In reading up on both Christian and new teammate/fellow two-way athlete Shon Carson, I stumbled upon a fact that I feel like the last person on the planet to either know or care about. Sheldon Brown, former Eagle and current Brown defensive back, was a part-time outfielder for the USC baseball team?

It sure doesn’t seem like Christian will sign a pro contract this year, but his crazy athleticism, great range, and plus glove are all too good to leave him off this list. In the likely event he’ll wind up at South Carolina, it’ll be interesting to track his development as a dual-sport (the other being football) prospect. Like Hunter Cole before him, going off to school could be a blessing in disguise for his long-term outlook. There are still many concerns about Christian’s offensive ability and three years in the SEC will provide a clearer picture of his skills.

Final 2011 MLB Draft High School Catcher Rankings

1. C Blake Swihart (Cleveland HS, New Mexico)

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.

2. C Eric Haase (Divine Child HS, Michigan)

The biggest question mark on Haase is how the Westland, Michigan native wound up committing to Ohio State in the first place. Lack of allegiance to his home state university aside (I kid!), Haase profiles similarly to Blake Swihart, except without Swihart’s switch-hitting ability. Despite the typical risk involved that comes from selecting a cold weather prospect early, he’ll still find his way ranked near the top of some clubs’ draft boards. Strong defensive chops, plus athleticism, a strong pro-ready build, and a balanced swing will do that for a guy.

3. C Riley Moore (San Marcos HS, California)

One of the draft’s fastest risers, Riley Moore does two things really, really well. Moore can throw with the best of them and Moore can hit the ball a long way. Plus arm strength and plus raw power will get a young catcher very far on draft day. Throw in an above-average hit tool and really nifty footwork behind the plate and you’ve got yourself a young player with the potential to be a first division starter.

4. C Elvin Soto (Xaverian HS, New York)

Of my many odd player evaluation biases, one of the weirdest is my affinity for players from non-traditional locales. Something about the possibility of untapped ability just gets me all worked up, I suppose. Like Eric Haase before him, in Soto we have another cold weather prospect with a well-rounded skill set. I see big promise with the bat, a pro-caliber arm, and the potential for plus defense in the very near future.

5. C Garrett Boulware (TL Hanna HS, South Carolina)

Without the benefit of meaningful statistics, two of the most difficult things to assess at the high school level are plate discipline and pitch recognition. Boulware’s patient approach to hitting has gotten raves from everybody I’ve heard from, so, with the absence of BB/K data, I’m ready to take those positive reports and run with them. There is a chance Boulware gets moved off the position, but I think his above-average arm and good but not great hands should keep him a catcher for at least a few years.

6. C Cameron Gallagher (Manheim Township HS, Pennsylvania)

The “local” guy that I’ve seen this year a few times – 90 minutes away is local, right? – has had himself an oddly inconsistent year for a potential top five round draft prospect. He reminds me a good bit of Tyler Marlette, except with a tiny bit (we’re talking teeny tiny) less arm strength and a good bit more raw power and physical strength. So, basically, he reminds me of Marlette except for three pretty big differences – maybe that’s not the best comp after all. Gallagher is still a very raw defender, but steady improvement throughout the spring has led me to believe he can remain a catcher, assuming he doesn’t experience another growth spurt. The raw power is undeniably his biggest strength and there are some who think he’s got enough bat to handle first base if the whole catching thing doesn’t pan out. Not sure I’m buying into the bat that hard, but also not sure he’ll be moving to first any time soon.

7. C Austin Hedges (JSerra HS, California)

I don’t feel too bad about ranking Austin Hedges lower than most because, when it comes down to it, what do these rankings really mean anyway? I hope they are a good resource for fans checking in on their team’s newest draft pick, but they won’t influence what happens on draft day one iota. Despite my lack of love, Hedges is a potential first rounder. Words don’t really do his defense justice, but I’ll give it my best shot all the same. Austin Hedges is already one of the 30 best defensive catchers in the country. I’m talking pro, college, and anything in between. Young catchers who can pull off a plus-plus arm, fantastic hands, and all-around plus receiving ability are few and far between. The bat is the problem. He has a long way to go before being labeled a finished product, but, as of now, I’d have to really squint hard to see a future where Hedges ever hits more than one of the league’s lesser 8-hole hitters. Selfishly, I’d love to see him go to UCLA on the off-chance that he’d get some time on the mound and really put that cannon of a right arm to work.

8. C Nicky Delmonico (Farragut HS, Tennessee)

Delmonico is another player who could realistically sneak into the first round who I’m not quite as high on as others. He’ll get the last laugh on draft day, so I don’t feel too bad breaking him down now. In Delmonico, I don’t see a standout tool. His arm works alright and there is some power upside, but there is no one part of his game that makes you stand up and take notice. In his defense, well, I like his defense. So many had written him off as a catcher, but in my brief looks and the scouting reports I’ve read, I don’t see anything that makes me think he’ll have to move to first anytime soon.

9. C Tyler Marlette (Hagerty HS, Florida)

Marlette has as much upside at the plate as any high school catcher sans Swihart, but questions about his defense continue to suppress his stock. The shame of it is that he has above-average defensive tools – he’s surprisingly natural behind the plate – but lacks the polish that comes with years of practice at the position. The aforementioned upside as a hitter works in much the same way. In batting practice Marlette is a monster, but he’s more of a gap-to-gap hitter in game action thus far. A solid defensive catcher with plus power is a heck of a prospect, of course. An iffy defensive catcher who may or may not stick with gap power is less exciting. This is where teams who have seen Marlette multiple times over a couple of years have a huge leg up on what I do.

10. C Grayson Greiner (Blythewood HS, South Carolina)

Regular readers of the site knew I couldn’t get past the top ten without throwing a major upside play in there somewhere. Greiner is a little bit under the radar, partly because of a really strong commitment to South Carolina. I mentioned earlier that teams are moving away from bigger catchers, but Greiner’s picture perfect 6-5, 220 pound frame could have a few teams backpedaling on that strategy just a wee bit. With that pro-ready frame comes, you guessed it, plus raw power and really intriguing arm strength. With that pro-ready frame also come some mechanical issues that need to be ironed out, but that’s a problem for the minor league instructors, not the faceless baseball draft writer.

11. C Greg Bird (Grandview HS, Colorado)

Bird came into the year a big prospect, but much of the hype that came with catching Kevin Gausman last year seems to have disappeared after Gausman went off to LSU. The Colorado high school catcher has a little bit of Cameron Gallagher to his game. Both prospects are raw defensively with impressive raw power that has been seen firsthand by area scouts at the high school level. That’s an important thing to note, I think. We hear so much about raw power, so it is worth pointing out when a player has plus raw power and average present power. That’s where I think Bird is currently at. There might not be a ton of projection to him, for better or worse.

12. C Brandon Sedell (American Heritage HS, Florida)

Sedell is a pro-ready backstop from a high school program with a deserved reputation of being a pro ballplayer producing factory. His calling card is his tremendous raw power, though it is limited somewhat to the pull side. He won’t win any Gold Gloves for his work behind the plate and his throws down to second won’t evoke comparisons of the Molina brothers, but he sets up a nice target for his pitcher and moves around laterally better than you’d expect from a big guy. He gets bonus points for his extensive experience catching high velocity arms. This may be a little nuts, but I feel as though the recent pros that have come out of American Heritage in recent years (most notably Eric Hosmer, still the most advanced high school bat I’ve ever seen) have brainwashed some scouts into thinking the game comes easy to all prep players there. Sedell isn’t Hosmer, but he’s still a damn fine pro prospect with big league starter upside.

13. C BreShon Kimbell (Mesquite HS, Texas)

Kimbell is unusually strong, very athletic, and a gifted defender. He also has shown big raw power in the past, but inconsistencies with his swing mechanics make his trips to the plate hit or miss, no pun intended. Some good pro coaching could turn him into a high level pro prospect in short order. Also, BreShon – a fella with a name like that is obviously destined for greatness, even though I sometimes read it as Bre$hon.

14. C Brett Austin (Providence HS, North Carolina)

First Austin Hedges, then Nicky Delmonico, and now Brett Austin – my trio of lower than expected rankings is finally complete. It all comes down to what you want in a catcher, I guess. I’ll take defensive ability, raw power, mature hitting actions, and arm strength, in that order. If you don’t have a plus tool in any of those four areas, I’m a little nervous. Austin’s defensive work has been spotty this spring, and he’s not assured of starting his professional career as a catcher. I’d generously give him a 55 on raw power – damn good to be sure, but not on the level of a handful of players ranked above him – and his arm is average on his best day. He’s got impressive athleticism and arguably the best foot speed of any prep catching prospect, so a position switch – second base, maybe? – could actually help his pro standing in my eyes.

15. C AJ Murray (Westfield HS, New Jersey)

Fast-rising prospect poised to make me look stupid for having him this low. Area scouts rave about his athleticism and sheer physical strength.

And now for five more guys that I couldn’t bear to leave out, but knew that if I started to write a little something about them then I’d wind up writing about high school catchers forever. With two weeks until the draft, that’s a no-no. Five additional high school catchers that I’m high on with very brief thoughts on each:

16. C Daniel Mengden (Westside HS, Texas)

A good low-90s fastball has most preferring Mengden on the mound, but I’m going to stubbornly stick by him as the receiving end of a pitcher-catcher battery, thank you very much. Why do I like him as a catcher? Well, you already know he has a plus arm back there and his defensive actions are all very good. I also have liked what I’ve seen out of his swing so far; it is the kind of level, line drive producing swing that might not generate a ton of raw power, but will help him keep the ball off the ground and into the gaps.

17. C Taylor Nichols (Faith Academy, Alabama)

Quick draft day math problem for you: plus power plus plus arm strength minus strong college commitment (no offense South Alabama) equals potential top ten round catching prospect.

18. C Hunter Lockwood (LD Bell HS, Texas)

No weaknesses in Lockwood’s game, just a really solid, well-rounded skill set.

19. C Aramis Garcia (Pines Charter HS, Florida)

Similar to Nichols in that he’s best known for his power bat and power arm.

20. C Dylan Delso (Broken Arrow HS, Oklahoma)

Like Greg Bird and Brandon Sedell above, Delso has no problems catching high velocity heat. Archie Bradley’s prep catcher approves.