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2018 MLB Draft Profile – Wake Forest

As of this writing, RHP Griffin Roberts has a K/9 of 12.70. That’s slightly down from his 2017 peak (13.51), but still an elite mark for a starting pitcher. Also down from 2017 is his walk rate per nine: his 2017 (5.40) number has dipped to a far more palatable 3.38 here in 2018. That’s really good news. Most encouragingly, however, is the number seven. That’s exactly how many innings Roberts has averaged per start so far in 2018. He’s currently sitting at 56 innings in 8 starts. For a converted reliever trying to convince the baseball world he has the stuff and stamina to make it in a professional rotation, it’s hard to overstate how huge that seven really is.

Pitching deep into games is one thing; maintaining premium stuff, missing bats, and keeping runs off the board while doing so is an entirely different beast. So far in 2018, Roberts has done all that and more. The highly athletic 6-3, 210 pound righthander will enter the draft as one of this year’s surest things. His floor — late-inning relief weapon capable of going multiple frames as needed — is clearly evident with every low- to mid-80s breaking ball (more slider than curve) that darts by the opposition. That one pitch alone will lead to tons of success as a pro for Roberts. My mind goes right to a spectrum of bullpen outcomes that includes successful relievers like David Robertson, Greg Holland, AJ Ramos, Drew Storen, and Shawn Kelley. When paired with a sinking fastball at 88-94 MPH (96 peak), Robert’s one-two pitch combination goes to another level. Between those pitches, the aforementioned plus athleticism, and college track record of swings and misses, I could easily see Roberts continuing to start in pro ball. Predicting any young pitcher can remain in a rotation with only two pitches is admittedly a little out there — among qualified 2017 pitchers, only Chris Archer, Patrick Corbin, and Luis Perdomo threw a third pitch less than 10% of the time — but I think the way pitcher usage is evolving (namely how starters aren’t expected to go as deep) could allow Roberts to get away with it. He does have a third pitch — an 81-85 MPH changeup — that he has shown enough command of to think more work will get it to at least serviceable with daily pro instruction/repetition (this is where I should point out I’m bullish on the pitch developing into even more of that based on what I’ve personally seen, what I’ve heard, and what I’ll project thanks to Roberts’s elite athleticism and reported work ethic), so it isn’t as if there isn’t a building block for Roberts to begin.

If it all comes together for Roberts in pro ball as a starter, the name I keep coming back to as a potential comp, both as a draft day standard (42nd overall pick in 2009) and potential pro production arc (minus the injuries, hopefully) is Garrett Richards. Interestingly enough, Richards has been cited as a comp four times on the site over the past decade. Ashe Russell (Dayton Moore), Kyle Serrano (BA), Kyle Funkhouser (me), and Jonathan Gray (consensus) were all compared to Richards at one point or another. Toss out Serrano (injuries) as an outlier and you’ve got the 21st, 115th, and 3rd overall picks respectively. That comes out to around a 46th overall pick average, not too far off from where Richards once went. All of this is to say that I really, really like Roberts (hence the Richards starter comp, plus all those fun reliever comps) and think that if my totally non-scientific guess is anywhere close to accurate, Richards will wind up great value if picked anywhere from around pick forty on.

Quick quiz: RHP Rayne Supple has a) electric stuff, b) little to know idea where the ball is going once it leaves his hand, c) one of this year’s best names, or d) all of the above. His control has gotten better (14.09 BB/9 coming into the year) in 2018 (5.25 BB/9) to the point where we can now call it “effectively wild,” so that’s a big win for Supple’s draft stock. His brand of fastball velocity (88-94, 95 peak) and breaking ball quality (77-78 hybrid, flashes plus) is what teams look for in relief prospects. If pro ball doesn’t work out, there’s always the Novel Sport Mouthguard Device. According to the outstanding Wake Forest team site, Supple holds a United States design patent for that very product. Pretty cool.

LHP Tyler Witt has my full attention as another (we’ll get to some more later) Wake Forest pitching prospect who breaks the mold a bit. Typically when we think sinker/slider relief prospects, we think righthanded pitchers on the shorter end of the spectrum. Witt happens to be a 6-5, 215 pound lefthander. Count me as a big fan…or at least as big a fan as any one draft prospect writer can be of a middle reliever on a below .500 college team can be. For the record, it’s bigger than you’d think.

I hate the expression “it is what it is,” but damn if it doesn’t fit sometimes. Having seen him a bunch at Germantown Academy and one time in each two of the last three seasons at Wake Forest, I feel pretty confident in saying 3B/SS John Aiello is what he is. Aiello has above-average to plus power. Aiello has above-average to plus arm strength when healthy. Aiello has more feel for hitting than often given credit and is a good enough athlete to play above-average defense at the hot corner while being able to fake it at shortstop as needed. Those are all really great qualities to see in a young position player prospect. Aiello’s potential fatal flaw has always been his plate discipline. For all the natural hitting ability, Aiello strikes out a ton. Always has. His first two years at Wake Forest led to this: 29.7 K% and 8.8 BB%. The question scouts will have to answer is whether or not he always will. His early 2018 smaller sample numbers are encouraging: 23.0 K% and 11.2 BB%. His career to date totals look like this…

.287/.381/.527 – 28.1 K% and 9.4 BB%
.282/.374/.468 – 26.7 K% and 11.9 BB%

That’s Aiello on top. The numbers on the bottom belong to 2011 fourth round pick Bobby Dalbec. The two aren’t quite twins, but there are enough similarities in both the numbers and their scouting profiles to make you go “hmm.” I’d give Aiello the edge as a hitter and defender while Dalbec bests him in the power department and as a thrower. Dalbec holds small advantages in both K% and BB% cited above, though it’s worth repeating that Aiello is at least trending the right direction there. I wound up ranking Dalbec about one hundred spots lower (213) than Boston ultimately selected him (118), a decision I obviously stand by. That feels like a similar area where I’m likely to rank Aiello in this class, and I think around round seven or so is when his upside begins to start making sense on the risk/reward matrix every pick is run through. In much the same way I would have stayed away from Dalbec until a few rounds after he was actually selected, Aiello’s swing-and-miss would scare me from popping him too early. At some point, however, Aiello’s makeup, athleticism, and power would all be too much to ignore, strikeouts be damned.

SS/2B Bruce Steel, OF/1B Keegan Maronpot, and RHP Chris Farish are all still suspended indefinitely for violating athletics department rules. Without any more information than that, it’s very difficult to ascertain the extent of damage done to each player’s respective prospect stock. If it’s a dumb NCAA thing, then I’d venture most teams won’t care but for the loss of developmental time and scouting opportunities. If it’s something deeper, all bets are off. As is, I think Maronpot stands to lose the most. The senior .202/.293/.386 career hitter (33.3 K% and 10.3 BB%) was probably not going to get drafted anyway, but now whatever little shot you’d have given him before the year — disappointing numbers aside, Maronpot had a tiny shot as a good athlete with a pro build who can play all four of the corner spots — seems gone. That’s rough, but that’s the way life goes.

Pro ball will likely be inclined to be more forgiving to better prospects Steel and Farish. I’ve liked Steel for a while as a legitimate shortstop with above-average pop, speed, and arm strength. If the approach comes around, I think he can be a potential regular in the big leagues one day. If not, then his defensive versatility makes him a nice bet to get plenty of chances to make it as a utility infielder along the way. Farish has the size (6-4, 220), velocity (88-94, 96 peak), and breaking ball (an average or better 78-82 CB that morphed into a more dangerous mid-80s SL in 2017) to fit in a big league bullpen one day. A 12.98 career K/9 certainly doesn’t hurt the cause. Best not to mention his career 9.47 BB/9, though, since we’re already mentioning it, it’s worth pointing out he did at least drop it down to 4.43 in his 18.1 innings last season. Baby steps.

Circling back to the question about who gets hurt the most by these suspensions, I’ll stick with Maronpot as the answer because going from maybe drafted to definitely not drafted has to sting in a special kind of way. However, thinking this over a bit has me believing that all three guys are really going to get hurt by this. Steel and Farish are both talented prospects who had a ton to prove this spring. Being unable to do so on the field is a killer for their long-term chances at pro success. I would have boldly guessed that Steel could have played his way into the top five rounds as one of the country’s best shortstop prospects and Farish would have been a stone cold mortal lock to be a true senior-sign that saves a team money in the top ten rounds while also being a damn good prospect in his own right. With both being out of sight and out of mind this spring, I honestly have no idea how pro teams will consider them come June.

2B Jake Mueller is a good athlete who can both defend and hit. If a team talks themselves into his potential on the left side of the infield as well, then he has a shot to get drafted higher than most think as a potential backup infielder. Even if that’s not the case — I’ve heard his arm would be too far stretched at short and third — he’s still a damn intriguing second base prospect. That may be an oxymoron to some, but not for me. C Logan Harvey is a good enough defender to work himself into the 2019 senior-sign mix.

SS/OF Patrick Frick is very high on my list of players I know little about but want to learn everything about this upcoming summer. OF/SS DJ Poteet and OF Chris Lanzilli seem like interesting follows for 2020. Same goes for 1B Bobby Seymour. LHP Carter Bach is a really weird prospect in that he’s a lefty who relies more on good offspeed stuff than premium fastball velocity (88-92) yet is still ridiculously wild. Like, if RHP Colin Peluse was that wild then it would make a little more sense. Big righthanders with big fastballs (Peluse is up to 95) fit that high velocity/high walk rate pitching prospect archetype more easily in my brain, but it’s very much not the case here. RHP Morgan McSweeney gets us closer to said archetype, but is too good to get stuck with that tag. Any narrative you want to attach to it, the Demon Deacons have a nice foursome (the aforementioned three plus RHP Rhyse Dee) of sophomore arms to build on.

JR RHP Griffin Roberts (2018)
rSR RHP Chris Farish (2018)
JR RHP Rayne Supple (2018)
JR LHP Tyler Witt (2018)
JR 3B/SS John Aiello (2018)
rJR SS/2B Bruce Steel (2018)
JR 2B Jake Mueller (2018)
JR C Logan Harvey (2018)
SR OF/1B Keegan Maronpot (2018)
SO LHP Carter Bach (2019)
SO RHP Colin Peluse (2019)
SO RHP Morgan McSweeney (2019)
SO RHP Rhyse Dee (2019)
SO OF Nick DiPonzio (2019)
SO SS/OF Patrick Frick (2019)
SO SS/3B Chase Mascolo (2019)
SO OF Christian Long (2019)
FR RHP/1B Cole McNamee (2020)
FR LHP/OF Jared Shuster (2020)
FR C/RHP Shane Muntz (2020)
FR OF/LHP Michael Ludowig (2020)
FR OF/SS DJ Poteet (2020)
FR OF Chris Lanzilli (2020)
FR 1B Bobby Seymour (2020)

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2017 ACC All-Draft Team (Hitters)

Brendan McKay, Adam Haseley, Pavin Smith, and Drew Ellis are the four clear top tier ACC hitting prospects in the 2017 MLB Draft. I’m not sure anybody would quibble with the first three — though you’re free to do so, of course — so that leaves Ellis as the only somewhat controversial pick. I’d like to think my love for him is pretty well established by now, so I won’t go into too much detail why I think the present .405/.500/.759 hitter with plus raw power and more walks than strikeouts deserves serious first round consideration. Some clarity on his long-term defensive home would be nice, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily needed with how he’s hitting. As a third baseman, he’s a potential star. Same for a corner outfield spot. At first base, the bar is raised high enough that you’d have to knock him down the board just a bit, but not all that far considering the confidence I have in him continuing to hit past the necessary threshold to start in the big leagues there. There’s more to player evaluation than college production (duh), but worth pointing out that Ellis and McKay, more likely to go out as a hitter with every passing four homer day, have very similar 2017 numbers. If the latter is a slam dunk starter at first at the next level, then why couldn’t Ellis do the same if that’s what it comes down to?

Beyond that foursome, things are wide open. I’d be willing to hear arguments on any of the following seven players being tier one prospects: Taylor Walls, Brian Miller, Colby Fitch, Gavin Sheets, Stuart Fairchild, Logan Warmoth, and Devin Hairston. That’s six up-the-middle prospects plus the seemingly unstoppable bat of Sheets. The next tier down includes too many players to even bother listing at this point. I mean, I’ll do it anyway because writing more than necessary is true to my #brand, but it’s almost too many names to derive much meaning beyond “damn, the ACC is stacked this year.” There are consensus favorites with impressive tools who have underwhelmed (note: we’re only using “underwhelmed” in the context of incredibly high expectations of on-field numbers; none of these guys are having bad years by any stretch, it’s just that they are showing one or more flaws that would need to be addressed by any interested front office) from a performance standpoint to date (Evan Mendoza, Logan Taylor, Carl Chester, Kyle Datres, Joe Dunand) as well as personal favorites like Rhett Aplin, Wade Bailey, Reed Rohlman, Trevor Craport, Cody Roberts, Ben Breazeale, Robbie Coman (who, incidentally, I’ll be very glad once he’s drafted and gone from my life since my fingers want to spell his last name “Comand” every single time), Ernie Clement, Tyler Lynn, Bruce Stell, and Charlie Cody…damn, the ACC really is stacked this year.

Here are some All-Draft Prospect Teams that I whipped up while my computer was dead last week. I’m going to try to do these for as many conferences as I can squeeze in. The depth of the ACC let me go three teams deep. Here’s the first team…

First Team

C – Colby Fitch
1B – Pavin Smith
2B – Taylor Walls
SS – Logan Warmoth
3B – Drew Ellis
OF – Adam Haseley, Brian Miller, Stuart Fairchild

I think every one of these guys has been covered by now with the exception of Stuart Fairchild. The Wake Forest center fielder has one of this year’s most well-rounded skill sets. Averages dot his card with above-averages within range (perhaps a plus for speed) depending on how much you like him. Fairchild is also one of this class’s “great approach, hasn’t really shown it” types. Everybody who has seen him has raved to me about his pitch recognition, ability to spoil good pitchers’s pitches, and general knowledge of the strike zone, but his BB/K ratios have been up (39/42 last year) and down (18/40 as a freshman, 22/37 so far this year) throughout his college career. Count me in as a believer that the results will catch up to his talent in pro ball. Fairchild has the ceiling of a first-division regular in center with a mature enough present skill set that seems too strong across the board to result in a complete flame out. In English, I like both his ceiling and floor quite a bit.

What you think about Taylor Walls‘s defense should dictate how high you’re willing to run him up your board. Indecisive internet draft writer that I am, I vacillate between shortstop and second base on him far more often than I’d like to admit. Case in point: when I wrote this last night, I decided on second base for him. The logic there was simple: his arm may be a bit light for short and erring on the side of caution in cases like these (i.e, if there’s debate on whether or not an amateur guy will stick at a position, chances are he won’t) often proves the smartest strategy in the long run. On the other hand, his range is great, he’s an above-average runner (a solid proxy for athleticism), and some of the mixed opinions on his arm have it closer to playing plus than anything. So…I don’t know. I’m leaning shortstop today after having him as a second baseman yesterday. Ask me again tomorrow and I might make him a free safety. Wherever he plays, he’s a keeper. Maybe you don’t see a regular when looking at him (or maybe you do), but it’s hard not to see a big league player in some capacity.

I’m still not convinced Adam Haseley isn’t a top ten player in this class. Maybe I’m nuts. I can live with that. I also don’t see why the aforementioned Drew Ellis can’t crack the top thirty. These are really good players. The feeling I get about Ellis reminds me a little bit how I felt about Edwin Rios, sixth round steal by the Dodgers in 2015. I loved Rios then (ranked 119, drafted 192) and I love Ellis even more now. The second he inevitably falls out of the first round, he’ll then become one of this draft’s best value picks.

Second Team

C – Cody Roberts
1B – Brendan McKay
2B – Wade Bailey
SS – Devin Hairston
3B – Charlie Cody
OF – Tyler Lynn, Logan Taylor, Carl Chester

Happy to keep banging the drum for Charlie Cody from now until draft day. He can hit. Putting him back at his high school position of third base in the pros takes a significant leap of faith after he’s spent the past three years splitting time between DH and LF, but I’m enough of a believer in his bat that moving him to an outfield corner wouldn’t torpedo his value altogether. I like Wade Bailey a lot as well; his stock should keep rising considering the general dearth of quality middle infielders in this college class.

I’ve mentally gone back and forth between Pavin Smith and Brendan McKay a dozen times this spring with the expectation I do it another half-dozen times between now and the draft. I’m not really sure you can go wrong with either at this point. Smith feels like the better all-around hitter (by a razor thin margin), but McKay has more present functional power. Add in McKay’s ability as a pitcher and it’s hard to argue he’s the better (and safer) overall prospect. I still like Smith a bit more as a position player, so that’s what gives him the nod over McKay for this particular exercise.

Logan Taylor and Carl Chester are cut from the same cloth. We’re talking speed, defense, and minimal pop. It’s a prospect profile I’ve never been able to quit even as I see players like this get exposed in pro ball year after year. The floor makes it worth it at a certain point in the draft, but I need to stop overrating these types. Will I? Stay tuned!

Third Team

C – Robbie Coman
1B – Gavin Sheets
2B – Ernie Clement
SS – Bruce Steel
3B – Joe Dunand
OF – Rhett Aplin, Reed Rohlman, Jonathan Pryor

I wrote about Wake Forest in an as yet unpublished piece that will likely never see the light of day. It was half-finished, so I didn’t get to all of the big names on this year’s Demon Deacons team…but I did get to Bruce Steel. Here’s what I wrote about him about three weeks ago…

Bruce Steel makes my head hurt as a low-average, high-OBP, shockingly high-power potential middle infielder. His limited experience as a redshirt-sophomore after tearing ligaments in his thumb in 2016 just makes it all the more confusing. I’m super intrigued by Steel and think he’s getting slept on pretty heavily within the industry. His power and makeup are both legit (first two things I hear about when asking about him), reports about his defense this year at shortstop have been far more good than bad, and he’s young for his class (turns 21 in December). Did I just talk myself into making him a rare in-season FAVORITE? You bet.

Also wrote this about Jonathan Pryor with an lead-in about Ben Breazeale, who was narrowly edged out for this third catcher spot by Robbie Coman

Ben Breazeale’s hot start brings me great joy. I thought a big year was coming last season, but better late than never. He’s an outstanding senior-sign catcher with more than enough glove to stick behind the plate and enough offensive punch to profile as a big league backup. Jonathan Pryor could do similar things as an outfielder who can hang in center and provide a little something with the stick. It’s early yet, but his 15/20 BB/K ratio is cool to see from somebody who put up an impossibly ugly 5/40 ratio just two seasons ago.

Pryor’s BB/K is now at 23/32 for those of you scoring at home.

Then there’s Gavin Sheets. I have no idea what to do with Gavin Sheets. I think he hits enough to play regularly in the big leagues. As a first baseman, that means I think he’ll hit a whole heck of a lot. If he can do that, he’ll become only the third ever Gavin (Floyd and Cecchini beat him) to play in the majors. I’m leaning towards Sheets as the fifth best draft-eligible bat in the conference and think he’ll represent great value to teams if he winds up sliding on draft day as expected. I know teams pay a premium for up-the-middle talent, but sometimes the allure of a big bat is just too strong to ignore.

Others receiving consideration…

C – Ben Breazeale, Chris Williams, Ryan Lidge
1B – Sam Fragale, Quincy Nieporte, Justin Bellinger, Kel Johnson
2B – Jack Owens, Jake Palomaki, Johnny Ruiz, Kyle Fiala
SS – Justin Novak, Liam Sabino
3B – Trevor Craport, Ryan Tufts, Jack Labosky, Evan Mendoza, Kyle Datres, Dylan Busby, Zack Gahagan
OF – Jacob Wright, Chase Pinder, Coleman Poje, Ryan Peurifoy, Hunter Tackett, Adam Pate, Josh McLain, Brock Deatherage, Mac Caples, Rahiem Cooper