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This may shock you, but I like to talk baseball. A lot. It’s something I do literally every single day. I try not to bother too many people in real life with it, but I do have a small circle of similarly passionate baseball fan friends who put up with my all too frequent emails about whatever random baseball topic (bigs, minors, draft, anything) pops into my head in a given day. I love sharing ideas, coming up with new theories, dreaming about future rosters, and, most of all, reading the occasional reply from pals (occasional only because my outgoing mail tends to outnumber incoming messages at a rate of, like, ten to one…or so it seems). When work is a challenge and real life gets too real, talking baseball becomes more than just my preferred option of escapism, but the only thing that keeps me sane. Despite four years living in Boston, I can’t say I’ve ever seen Fever Pitch all the way through; truth be told, the parts I’ve seen were more than enough for me to know I never need to make time to watch it beginning to end. One line that always stuck with me was when Jimmy Fallon’s character was talking to…a young boy, I think…and the boy said the following: “You love the Red Sox, but have they ever loved you back?” Shitty movie or not, that’s a solid gut punch of a line for any hopelessly devoted sports fan to hear. No, the Red Sox/Yankees/Dodgers/Pirates/Whatevers don’t love you back, but that’s not the point. It’s hard to properly explain, but the teams (businesses, really) can’t and won’t love you; the sport itself, however, can give you something pretty damn close. Baseball has a special way of uniting, dividing, distracting, engaging, and otherwise entertaining so many of us on a daily basis. I’m absolutely rambling now — and way off-topic — but, love or not, I’ll take whatever that feeling is. I’d rather watch a ballgame than just about anything, but writing about it comes in solidly at second place.
Writing for this site doesn’t often give me that same feeling. That sounds awful, but it’s not. Something about the medium locks me up and I wind up writing very unlike myself. It could be that I feel some small degree of responsibility to not write anything that could bum out a player’s family or friends in a public forum. I know what I write doesn’t matter to anybody making the big decisions on prospects’ futures, but I still don’t enjoy writing about players I don’t think will make it at the next level. I realize that’s a part of the process, but I don’t have to enjoy it. Because of that, despite the fact I have no aspirations to write anywhere but here, I feel like I need to write in a manner more befitting a “professional” draft writer, so as not to be that shit-stirring nobody on the internet who exists solely to pop off with random opinions and can’t be trusted. I do have opinions, damnit, and I think my instincts are good, but I lack whatever it is inside of a person to get up on a rooftop and share with the world. I’m a much more relaxed writer via email, but something about putting something up on “the site” changes me. Barely anybody reads this darn thing — as always, thanks to all that do — so I don’t know why I get that weird writer stage fright just before hitting publish. I’m trying to get over that, so bear with me.
All this is a long way of saying that this post is hopefully a little bit closer to my original version of the site. Less formulaic, more conversational. More open-ended, less…list-y. Yeah, there will still be lists and rankings and content that gets published without me feeling 100% about the level of information provided (much as I think the conference follow lists are a solid resource, I hate that I don’t have the time to do more commentary within each piece), but, for at least one post, we all get a reprieve. And, who knows, maybe this will be the start of a personal breakthrough for me as I try to loosen up as a writer. We’ll see.
With no further ado, here we have a series of emails sent by me over the past ten days. Some of the conversation may seem a bit out of nowhere, but that’s because it is. I tend to slip in draft related stuff when the unlucky email recipients (and total draft novices) are least suspecting it. Why shouldn’t a conversation about bullpens around the league turn into a chat about the draft’s top relief arm? Opinions are all mine, all honest, all more “off the cuff” than usual, yet still well-supported with intelligence acquired firsthand or otherwise.
Perfect World Second Round Draft Targets
The pick at 7 is going to be a college arm, prep bat, or Trea Turner. I’m fairly sure, at least (more on that in the SS section).That means it won’t be a non-Turner college bat at 7. As mentioned, I spent the last three months getting my scouting database up and running for this year’s college position player group and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the fact there are no real top of the first round talents (outside of Turner) get in the way of a Phillies draft discussion.
So, forget 7. We’ll talk 7 to death over the next few months anyway. Pick 47 holds way more intrigue to me at the moment. I have to believe that at least one of these 15 players will be there at 47. If they go with an arm at 7, I sure wouldn’t mind one of these guys later…
There’s some above-average relative depth at the top, but I couldn’t see the Phils going C early when you factor in the prospect depth in the system already and the high picks used on it last year in Knapp and Sweaney. If they do make a move at 47, I think Mark Zagunis should be a target. Almost everybody has Max Pentecost as the draft’s top catcher — I’ve compared his ceiling to Jon Lucroy, so he is a fine prospect — but I like Zagunis a touch better. Pentecost will likely be gone between 8 and 47, but I could see Zagunis still there. I’d be tempted. He actually reminds me a little bit of Knapp, from a scouting perspective. By the numbers, Pentecost is actually close to a Knapp doppelganger through two college seasons. I think both are better prospects through two years than Knapp, for what it’s worth.
Virginia Tech JR C/OF Mark Zagunis, Kennesaw State JR C Max Pentecost
Surprising yet intriguing position of “need” as Howard will only have 2.5 years remaining on his deal come draft day. Draft a college guy, let him dominate rookie ball and get a taste of A-ball, then move him up to A/A+ (maybe AA) in 2015, AA/AAA in 2016, and have him ready to replace Howard in 2017. Not much depth at the spot as usual, but Casey Gillaspie stands out. The big name is Kyle Schwarber, a bit of a lefthanded Mike Napoli clone both at the plate (he mashes) and in the field (he’s currently a “catcher,” but doesn’t profile there as a regular). If I was confident he could get himself up to league average with the glove behind the plate, he’d be in the mix at 7. As is, he’s a stretch there, but a complete lock to be gone shortly thereafter. That’s what makes Gillaspie stand out. He’s arguably the next best pure college bat in the draft. His power, hit tool, and plate discipline are all big league regular quality.
Indiana JR 1B/C Kyle Schwarber, Wichita State JR 1B Casey Gillaspie
It’s a relatively good year for college 2B, a position group that is oft-ignored on draft day. I’m with the consensus that most good 2B are made and not born (i.e. converted from other positions), but there are a fair number of intriguing “natural” 2B to consider early on. The Phillies could also take a pass here in the first few rounds since there is nice depth at the position. If they do make a move at 47, the top two names are Brian Anderson and Alex Blandino. Both actually fit the aforementioned consensus view as Anderson has spent time at SS, 3B, and CF while Blandino is seen as a 3B by many (I think he might be alright at SS, but that’s a minority view).
Arkansas JR 2B/SS/OF Brian Anderson, Stanford JR 2B/3B Alex Blandino
I know 3B isn’t the target area like it has been in the past, but I can’t help myself from fixating on the position because, honestly, it’s all I really know. For no reason at all, I have a really strange feeling about Matt Chapman at 47. I have no insider scoop nor am I utilizing any past draft trends, but I can just picture him as the pick. I’d love it if true (and if he’s even on the board) as I think he’s going to be an excellent pro. Taylor Sparks probably fits the Phillies prototype better — or the old prototype, at least — as a tooled-up, boom/bust, athletic free-swinging kind of guy.
Cal State Fullerton JR 3B Matt Chapman, UC Irvine JR 3B Taylor Sparks
It’s pretty much Trea Turner at 7 or bust, though I think they would be smart to consider Joey Pankake — think of the merchandising opportunities — if he’s there at 47. Pankake is already being moved off SS by most of the draft experts, but I don’t see why he’ll have to make the switch to 3B just yet. I think it’s an overreaction to his lack of foot speed, a vastly overrated (in my view) aspect of infield defense. The big question at the position will be what happens if Turner is there at 7 (I think he’ll be). So many things to consider there. Everybody says BPA BPA BPA in baseball, something I obviously agree with, but I think there are limits to that kind of thinking. I mean, at some point common sense needs to take over: if you’re locked in with a young franchise 1B, you don’t draft a 1B every year in the first round just because he’s the top guy on the board. I think there are enough close calls in the draft that organizational need can be taken into account if you are in need of a “tie-breaker.”
Obviously, unlike 1B, a position like SS can be drafted in bulk with more confidence since these players can be moved around the diamond a bit. There’s already talk about Turner being an option in CF (he’s played there some as well as 3B) and Crawford could fairly easily handle a switch to 2B if need be. There’s also the school of thought that values minor leaguers as assets only. Accumulating as many valuable assets as possible is wise, and if you have two players on similar timelines at the same position you can always utilize the other as a trade chip when the time comes. All true. Long story short, if Turner is the top guy on the board by a large enough margin over the next guy then you have to take him and sort the rest out later. I’m not convinced Turner will be the best guy on the board — Carlos Rodon, Jeff Hoffman, Tyler Beede, Alex Jackson, Jacob Gatewood, and your top HS arm or two all are equally in the mix at this point, I believe — but I’d be more than happy with taking a second shortstop in the first round if he’s the top guy there. I have a lot of ideas for comps after watching Turner up close and envisioning the kind of career he’s capable of, but I think my favorite is a mashup of Yankee outfielders: Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner spliced together. Or, alternatively, Ellsbury (minus that 30+ HR outlier year) or Gardner (with a little bit more pop). Put that at SS, you’ve got something special. Also considered Stephen Drew with plus-plus speed and, if we’re going nuts, a slightly less lanky version of Jose Reyes. The fact that I think such lofty heights are attainable should tell you all you need to know about how I feel about him. Turner is an impact talent.
North Carolina State JR SS/OF Trea Turner, South Carolina JR SS/RHP Joey Pankake
Unless we see a crazy Kris Bryant kind of season out of one of the top dogs here (not likely), I don’t see a real outfield option at 7. There are, however, plenty of talented guys who will fly off the board between 8 and 47. If one of these five below somehow survives, then he very well could be your guy. I think there’s only one player here with a better than average shot to be there at 47: local guy (kind of) Mike Papi. Notes on his tools are below [going against much of what I said in the intro here and saving said notes for the site later on, sorry], so I’ll just reiterate his 2013 line here as the driving force of my rationale for loving him at 47: .409/.542/.653 – 47 BB/24 K – 6/8 SB – 176 AB. It’s a risky game to play, but, since I love him more than the general consensus at this point, there’s a chance he’s there at 82, 113, or even 143.
San Francisco JR OF Bradley Zimmer, Oregon State JR OF/1B Michael Conforto, Virginia JR OF Mike Papi, Oregon State JR OF Dylan Davis, Virginia JR OF Derek Fisher
Alex Jackson: Top Ten Pick?
I saw [Alex] Jackson in person twice this summer and way more than that on TV/video. With the everlasting caveat that I’m not a scout, I walked away each time surprised — well, surprised the first time and more confused thereafter — that everybody had hyped up his bat while downplaying his glove. Not doing the Charlie Contrarian shtick, but I was more impressed with his glove than I thought and not really wowed by the bat. It’s still a really impressive, first round quality stick, especially since I think he could stick at catcher, but not the Bryce Harper (not a comparison, just mentioning him as the most recent high profile catcher to outfielder conversion) kind of hit/power/approach combination that makes you want to rush him to the big leagues as a right fielder. I’d draft him with high confidence as a mid-first round pick — could rise to top ten, easily — as a catcher, obviously a little bit lower as an outfielder (where there’s way more competition in this draft class, both prep and college). Lots of rumblings that he wants to move to the outfield ASAP to speed up his developmental timeline. That’s a fun twist on the usual team-first approach to that kind of thing.
College Ball’s Best Relief Prospects
Here’s a somewhat bizarre followup question that ties the bullpen to the draft talk from the other day. Top pure reliever in the draft is Nick Burdi from Louisville. I saw him last year and should see him again this year. He is pretty damn good, easily the hardest thrower I’ve ever seen up close. I don’t think I’d ever take a reliever in the first round, but at 47…maybe.
Louisville JR RHP Nick Burdi: 95-99 FB, 100-102 peak; plus 88-93 SL; passable CU, but doesn’t need it in relief role; much improved command, inconsistent but better; 6-4, 225 pounds
2012: 5.56 K/9 | 3.97 BB/9 | 4.33 FIP | 22.2 IP
2013: 15.90 K/9 | 3.28 BB/9 | 1.31 FIP | 35.2 IP
15.90 K/9 last year isn’t a typo. He should be ready to pitch in the big leagues by next season (2015), but could conceivably be up in 2014, especially considering the relative low-mileage on his arm. Cost-certainty in the bullpen is a nice thing, so if you can get an excellent late-inning reliever at a low price for the next six years…maybe. I think there will be better options at the point — seriously, this class is looking really deep in the first few rounds — but somebody to think about.
Here’s another total draft wild card to keep in mind: San Diego State RHP Michael Cederoth.
JR RHP Michael Cederoth: 93-97 FB, 100 peak; average 73-80 CB, flashes better; 79-85 SL flashes plus; threw above-average CU in past, but hasn’t shown it yet in 2014; has some command issues stemming from inconsistent mechanics; 6-6, 200 pounds
2012: 8.55 K/9 | 6.15 BB/9 | 3.62 FIP | 67.1 IP
2013: 10.57 K/9 | 4.44 BB/9 | 3.07 FIP | 95.1 IP
Numbers aren’t obviously as dominant as Burdi’s, but that can at least be partially explained by him being a starter and not a closer. He made one start this year before being moved to the bullpen. I lump him together with Burdi because they are pretty comfortably the two hardest throwers in this year’s college class, but I think they are two very different prospects. Burdi strikes me as really safe: he’s going to be a good reliever, maybe a great one, but that’s almost certainly his role in the big leagues. Maybe you give him a tiny shot at starting, but the odds are against him. Cederoth is far less safe, but comes with the upside of a big-time starter…if he puts it all together. PG has compared him to Kevin Gausman in the past, but the industry is down on him now (based on what I’ve heard) relative to where they’ve been in the past. I do think it’s fair to wonder what kind of numbers he would have put up as a reliever; perhaps the gap in perception for some wouldn’t be as great. Great relievers are often made and not born. Burdi looks like an exception — he was born to close in the bigs — but Cederoth could be that guy who just couldn’t figure it out as a starter yet thrived in short bursts coming out of the bullpen.
All that said, Cederoth is less likely to be there later on (i.e. after 7) than Burdi (I think), so the whole comparison might be moot anyway. A big guy like him with a plus-plus fastball, potential plus slider, and a usable second breaking ball (and maybe change) is intriguing to pro teams just as he is to me…not like I’m the only one out there dreaming he falls and you’ve got a steal. Somebody will wise up and take him before he becomes too great of a steal…and yet he still could/should pay off big time for them.
Early First Round Prospect Timelines
[Trea] Turner on the Kris Bryant track would be great. Might be aggressive, but would love to see him up to AA by his first full year (2015) and potentially challenging for a big league spot by 2016. I know the hit tool isn’t for everybody, but I think the swing works, the hands definitely work, and his overall balance and approach look fine.
Think [Tyler] Beede could be more of a 2017 arrival as you mention since he has some clear things to work on (though he seems to be working through said things quite well so far this year). I think [Jacob] Gatewood’s best case scenario developmentally — and a decent physical comp, by the way — is what we’re seeing with Carlos Correa now. Drafted in 2014 (rookie ball all the way, chance at W-Port [Phillies short-season affiliate] down the stretch if all goes well), Low-A to start 2015, and then quite possibly one level per year all the way through. That would mean AAA by 2018, so maybe a September ’18 callup and ready for prime time in 2019.
Most Likely Top Ten Pick HS Pitchers
Also probably time to add one more name to the list at 7. I mentioned three HS arms as consensus favorites a while back (Kolek, Aiken, and my man TOUKI), but I think it’s appropriate to add Grant Holmes now. He’s been pretty great so far in the early going with the latest rumors of him hitting triple digits in his last start. I wasn’t as excited about him as most because there’s not much projection to him — he’s 6-1, 210 pounds — but, like Kolek, his present stuff may be good enough that it doesn’t matter. Not quite going there with the comp just yet, but the last HS arm with little projection and similar present stuff like Holmes that I can remember is Dylan Bundy…just saying.
1. 3B Javier Baez (Arlington County Day HS, Florida)
From watching Baez a good bit this spring, scouts are pretty confident that can run, throw, and hit for power. Much of his projection revolves around his defensive upside. Considering many think he has the requisite footwork and quick release to catch and perhaps the agility and range for shortstop, I have to believe he’ll be just fine at third base as a pro. A pretty cool outside the box comp I’ve heard on Baez is current Rangers infielder Michael Young.
2. 3B Matt Dean (The Colony HS, Texas)
I’m trying to imagine the Texas Longhorns squad adding both Josh Bell and Matt Dean to their already stacked core of young talent, but there’s just no way that both stud prep stars wind up in Austin, right? For the sake of the rest of the Big 12, I hope not. Dean’s commitment to Texas is reportedly quite strong, but I don’t think it’ll scare off pro clubs looking for the next big thing. The kind of plus power and special defensive tools that Dean brings to the table ought to get him paid this year.
3. 3B Tyler Goeddel (St. Francis HS, California)
Fast rising Tyler Goeddel has emerged as one of the finest prep players in California this spring. He’s shown all five tools in game action, including a really strong hit tool. His arm, speed, and power are all average or better, and his pro frame gives him room to mature physically.
4. 3B Jake Hager (Sierra Vista HS, Nevada)
Hager is a shortstop on many team’s draft boards, but I prefer him as a potential defensive star at third base. His arm and reaction time are both perfectly suited for the hot corner. The only downside with moving him off short is the acknowledgement that his bat, specifically his power, profiles better as a middle infielder that at a corner. His approach to hitting and history of hitting with wood assuage some of those worries, but I understand the concern. I’ve heard a Daric Barton comp on his bat that I like.
5. 3B Chris McFarland (Lufkin HS, Texas)
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.
6. 3B Taylor Sparks (St. John Bosco HS, California)
Taylor Sparks, the former American Idol finalist (probably), is one of the most fascinating draft prospects in this year’s class. There are polished prospects who may be short on tools, but have high floors and a relatively clear path up the minor league ladder. There are raw prospects who have tremendous physical gifts, but need a lot of professional work to reach their admittedly difficult to hit ceilings. Then we have a guy like Sparks, a rare prospect with upside who is undeniably raw yet somehow not super toolsy. There are a lot of 50s in his scouting report (average arm, average power, average speed, average defense), but also something about his game that leaves you wanting more, in a good way. Part of that could be the rapid improvement he showed in certain areas — namely power and speed — this spring. If he can improve in those two areas, who is to say he can’t keep getting better after he signs on the dotted line?
7. 3B Matt Papi (Tunkhannock HS, Pennsylvania)
Another player with a better than average shot at winding up in class this fall, Matt Papi’s solid across the board tool set could get him drafted early enough to keep him away from enrolling at Virginia. His best tool is an electric right arm, a true plus tool that helps the still raw defender compensate for his occasional defensive shortcomings.
8. 3B Nicholas Howard (St. John’s College HS, Washington DC)
Howard is a similar player to Matt Papi, at least in the way both players have standout throwing arms and less than stellar defensive reputations. I obviously think both prospects will work out at the hot corner — they wouldn’t be on this list otherwise — but their respective defensive progress will be something to monitor as they enter pro ball. Howard’s power and athleticism make him a really interesting option after some of the elite prep bats are off the board.
9. 3B Austin Slater (The Bolles School, Florida)
I don’t often account for signability in these rankings unless something obvious is up. That’s exactly the case with Slater, a player who would be ranked higher on merit (really like the bat) but dinged for being a 99% slam dunk to attend Stanford (their new strategy targeting top prep stars named Austin has now worked two years in a row) after hobbling through an injury plagued senior season of high school. He could reemerge in three years as a premium pick once again.
10. 3B Patrick Leonard (St. Thomas HS, Texas)
Leonard has a fun mix that includes an above-average hit tool, impressive power upside, good athleticism, and above-average arm strength. Questions about his defensive future keep him lower than his bat warrants, at least for now.
11. 3B Hunter Cole (Moore HS, South Carolina)
Cole is another really tough sign (strong Georgia commit) with loads of raw power and good defensive tools. His bat is currently way more advanced than his glove, so maybe part of the idea of heading to Athens is to polish up his overall game and help him pop up as a first rounder in 2014.
12. 3B Alex Santana (Mariner HS, Florida)
As a plus athlete with above-average speed, Santana is a bit of an anomaly in this year’s high school class. Some question his power upside, but there is a long way to go before his body (6-4, 190) fills out.
13. 3B Austin Davidson (Oxnard HS, California)
Davidson’s down senior season will probably cost him some cash in the short-term, but his solid blend of tools will still get him noticed on draft day. I think he has the chops to be a good defender at third base, but his lack of power upside may keep him from ever holding down an everyday spot. It is tough to project a utility player on a high school prospect, but Davidson’s skill set — average arm, average speed, cerebral player — seems well suited for spot duty.
14. 3B Ahmad Christian (Trinity Christian Academy, Florida)
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.
15. 3B Max Kuhn (Zionsville HS, Indiana)
Three reasons why I like Max Kuhn: 1) his upside with the bat, 2) any early round prep prospect from Indiana is fun, and 3) baseball could use another quality Max. One of my first — and as it turns out, only — autographs came from Max Patkin, the Clown Prince of Baseball, at a shoe store when I was six.
16. 3B Dustin Houle (Langley SS, British Columbia)
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.
17. 3B Brian Anderson (Deer Creek HS, Oklahoma)
18. 3B Justin Atkinson (St Aloysius Gonzaga SS, Ontario)