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2018 MLB Draft Profile – Virginia

RHP Evan Sperling – good but wild
RHP Derek Casey – good, not wild

I’ve done this bit before, but I like it enough so I’m doing it again. Those were my placeholder notes on RHP Evan Sperling and RHP Derek Casey designed to serve as a jumping off point for a larger discussion about each young Virginia pitcher. If you’re not into a couple hundred words on each guy, then those quick synopses should work. If you want more…

Both Sperling and Casey were lumped together in my notes because they are both good (as one can plainly read in the exhaustive notes written above) and coming off of Tommy John surgery. Clever, right? Both guys also took their tags far more to the extreme last season than this current one. Sperling (“good but wild”) missed bats (10.34 K/9) but walked a ton of guys (7.05 BB/9) in his 38.1 shaky (7.51 ERA) innings. Casey (“good, not wild”) was good (3.79 ERA in 71.1 IP) and not wild (2.65 BB/9), but didn’t show quite the same strikeout stuff (7.32 K/9). Literally everything (outside of Casey’s slightly higher ERA, but there’s so much noise with these small sample ERA’s that I don’t sweat it) is better this year. Strikeouts are up (13.53 K/9 for Sperling, 12.06 K/9 for Casey) and walks are down (4.06 BB/9 for Sperling, 2.11 BB/9 for Casey). Weaknesses are shrinking and strengths are growing. Really can’t ask for much more than that.

Of course, looking up the stats is easy. Important, sure, but easy. You probably come here for the scouting reports, such as they are. Sperling has premium size (6-6, 215) and velocity (a wide range of 87-94 depending on health and role, but up to 96 in short bursts is eye-catching no matter what) with an average to above-average mid- to upper-70s breaker that goes between a curve and slider. He’s shown enough proof of a changeup existing in the past that keeping him in the rotation isn’t out of the question in pro ball. If that works, there’s enough here to be a big league starting pitcher. If not, Sperling’s stuff and effectively wild ways would play well in the bullpen. Casey, the more athletic of the two, can’t quite match that size (6-1, 200) or arm strength (though I have him up to 94-95 in the past, he was more 85-90ish in his return last season) but comes with a more pro-ready changeup (average or better) and a soft mid-70s curve that flashes average in its own right. Increased velocity — which may have already happened since, full disclosure, I don’t have anything from 2018 on him yet — would increase his ceiling, though I think the profile still makes a ton of sense as a backend big league starter if it all works out.

How does a 6-4, 200 pound lefthander with enough fastball (85-92, 94 peak) and a wide assortment of quality offspeed pitches (above-average 76-84 CU, average 75-83 CB, above-average 82-86 cut-slider) only miss 5.24 batters per nine in their sophomore season? I don’t know, but maybe LHP Daniel Lynch can fill us in one day. I’d only think to ask because those low strikeout numbers are but a thing of the past. As of this writing, he’s sitting at a far more fitting 10.45 K/9 through six starts. All is right in the world again. I like Lynch a lot as a potential big league starting pitcher. This year’s Virginia squad may be struggling by their admittedly high standard, but that doesn’t mean I still can’t like a ton of their pitching prospects.

LHP Bennett Sousa had a K/9 of exactly 12 last year in 33 innings pitched. Bennett Sousa has a K/9 of exactly 12 (as of this writing*) in 21 innings pitched this year. There should be no at this point that Sousa has the ability to miss bats. Limiting free passes? Now that’s an open question. As is whether or not his good yet not great stuff — namely a fastball between 88-92 MPH (94 peak) and a low-80s slider with promise — will continue to help him pile up strikeouts in the pros remains to be seen. The good news is the likely draft capital needed to find out what you really have in the senior lefthander figures to be well worth the risk. That’s a nice way of saying Sousa, though equipped with that low-90s heat and strong collegiate strikeout rate, figures to fall long enough on draft day to be considered good value when he’s eventually selected.

*Now that’s I’ve gone back to finish this and post it, I see his K/9 is up to 12.38 in 24 IP. I could just make the change in the original sentence, but let me have this little bit of cheap narrative heat. Also, for the sake of completeness, Lynch’s K/9 is up to 11.11 after his seventh start.

RHP Chesdin Harrington fits the polished lefty with an upper-80s fastball and above-average changeup player archetype like a glove. That glove, however, actually goes on Harrington’s left hand, so maybe we need to rethink the handedness requirement for this particular archetype. A healthy Harrington, who is currently on the shelf with a bum elbow, is a draft-worthy talent even without premium velocity. An injured one may be tougher to wrestle away from such a good school, especially if he has two years of eligibility remaining as expected. LHP Riley Wilson missed a lot of bats (12.95 K/9) while also missing the strike zone a lot (6.78 BB/9) in his 14.2 innings last season. The upper-80s lefty will probably have to come back for a senior season in 2019 to get more draft notice, though getting innings in an ever-crowded Cavalier bullpen is easier said than done. The same path seems likely for RHP Grant Donahue, a sinker/slider relief prospect that could work himself into the 2019 senior-sign mix if everything breaks right.

Injuries are the worst. OF/RHP Cameron Simmons was poised for a fantastic draft season, but a serious shoulder injury will wipe away his entire junior year. How big a blow is this to the top of this June’s draft? Those who have seen Simmons more than I have were adamant that he was ready to flip his 23 BB/40 K from last season all the way around as a junior. An athlete like Simmons who can run, throw, and hit for power with a cleaned up approach at the plate? That’s a potential first round sleeper. Alas, we’ll either have to wait a year for him to try it all again or see if a team that has really done its homework can draft him in a spot high enough to buy him out of those last two years of collegiate eligibility.

OF Jake McCarthy managed to get thirteen games in before going down with an injury of his own. A bum wrist has kept him out of the lineup since early March, though he could be in line to return before the close of the current month. Jake’s older brother Joe was a ridiculous steal by Tampa as a fifth round pick back in 2015. I don’t think Jake was going to fall that far and I still wouldn’t be surprised to see him taken earlier than that if deemed signable this spring. McCarthy is a legitimate four tool (only a lousy arm holds him back) potential impact player. He may never quite give you star-level offensive production, but his game-changing speed and above-average center field range should make him a potential regular regardless. I’ve been told “Kevin Kiermaier without the arm” as one frame of reference for McCarthy that makes some sense. I’m not about to project him as that kind of defender — those types of center fielders are rare — but I think it’s smart to think of McCarthy as being part of the larger Kiermaier, Pillar, Dyson, Bourjos, Inciarte, and Gentry prospect genus. There’s a wide range of ability within that group, so maybe putting him with all those guys doesn’t tell you as much as you’d like…but it’s better than nothing, at least as a starting point.

3B/1B Nate Eikhoff is easy to like as a steady bat who can hold his own at the hot corner. The lack of power and no clear carrying tool makes him tough to love. If teams think he can play up the middle at all, then his stock as a potential utility player goes up. That’s where 2B/SS Andy Weber is. Weber is a good athlete and capable defender at all of the infield spots. There might be just enough bat to work himself into regular time up the middle, but the strong backup infielder floor is intriguing enough if it doesn’t. If I was a little bolder, I’d make the same call for 2B Jack Gerstenmaier. From a tools standpoint, he’s rock solid: average or better hit tool, defense at second, and speed. It’s the lack of at bats and time away from the game hurts him. Also working against him is present unknowns about his ability to play effective defense anywhere but the keystone. If he can, then you can put Gerstenmaier and his 113 career at bats in your folder of deep deep deep long shot sleeper prospects. 3B/2B Justin Novak interests me more as a potential catcher conversion project than anything else. His bat is light, but there’s enough defensive versatility (experience at second, third, short, and catcher) to potentially get him a shot as a “seat filler” in pro ball. It’s not glamorous work, but somebody has to do it.

I still believe in OF/3B Charlie Cody as a potential big league player, but I can admit my conviction in that belief has been shaken quite a bit over the past calendar year. His early season power loss is notable as is the decreased likelihood he’ll get a shot to keep playing third base at the next level. A third baseman with power? Sign me up. A corner outfielder currently rocking a .026 ISO? Hard pass. I have a long enough memory to not totally bail on the Cody bandwagon — after all, I am the guy who had Cody as a fourth round value last year and one ranked him as a top five third base prospect coming out of high school — but I’ll admit it is getting a little lonely on this ride.

It appears I may have jumped the gun in busting out the HBP% stat on Notre Dame infielder Nick Podkul last week. C Caleb Knight may just be the one true king of getting hit by very fast baseballs after all. My rough math (as of this writing) has him at a whopping 9.6% career HBP rate. That is absolutely insane. If you include his two years at junior college (thus increasing the sample to an even meatier 697 collegiate PA), that figure drops down to a still wild 6.6%. No matter how you look at it, Knight knows how to take a pitch off the body like very few ballplayers before him. It’s worth noting that the Virginia catcher’s approach at the plate includes more than just “wait until something gets close and lean it.” Knight has a career 42 BB/43 K mark over two seasons as a Cavalier. With a little bit of pop to go with that, there’s enough offensively working for Knight that he could carve out a long career as a minor league catcher with a shot to one day reach the big leagues as a backup if you buy into his defense behind the plate.

As excited as I am about what RHP Bobby Nicholson and LHP Andrew Abbott have shown so far this year, I’m almost that nervous about the offensive future of the Virginia program. It’s tough to look too far ahead, but there isn’t a ton for me to get excited about offensively here. There’s certainly a lot of pressure on guys like SS/3B Tanner Morris and SS Andrew Papantonis to help prop up the offensive future of the team.

rSR RHP Mack Meyer (2018)
SR LHP Bennett Sousa (2018)
rJR RHP Derek Casey (2018)
JR LHP Daniel Lynch (2018)
rSO RHP Evan Sperling (2018)
JR RHP Grant Donahue (2018)
JR RHP Chesdin Harrington (2018)
rJR LHP Riley Wilson (2018)
JR OF/RHP Cameron Simmons (2018)
rSO OF Jake McCarthy (2018)
SR 3B/2B Justin Novak (2018)
SR C Caleb Knight (2018)
JR C Cameron Comer (2018)
JR 3B/1B Nate Eikhoff (2018)
JR 2B/SS Andy Weber (2018)
JR OF/3B Charlie Cody (2018)
SR 2B Jack Gerstenmaier (2018)
SO RHP Bobby Nicholson (2019)
SO RHP Noah Murdock (2019)
SO C Drew Blakely (2019)
SO SS Cayman Richardson (2019)
SO OF Jalen Harrison (2019)
FR RHP Griff McGarry (2020)
FR LHP Andrew Abbott (2020)
FR RHP Kyle Whitten (2020)
FR LHP Robb Adams (2020)
FR SS/RHP Devin Ortiz (2020)
FR SS Andrew Papantonis (2020)
FR 1B/OF Alex Tappen (2020)
FR OF Christian Hinka (2020)
FR C Brendan Rivoli (2020)
FR SS/3B Tanner Morris (2020)

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2017 MLB Draft Report – Virginia

The success of Adam Haseley this year has me kicking myself. I enjoyed writing those 2016 MLB Draft Reviews this past fall/winter a ton, so, you know, no regrets but…fine, there are always going to be some regrets. Opportunity cost is a very real thing. Spending all that time, effort, and energy on those reviews meant a later start than usual on writing about the upcoming draft. Being first in this line of “work” shouldn’t be as big a badge of honor as some make it out to be, but, why lie, there is something undeniably satisfying about being ahead of the curve on a prospect. If I would have ranked Haseley as high as I was going to back in October when I first decided he’d be a definite first rounder, I’d be sitting pretty right about now. I mean, maybe instead of being the nineteenth most influential internet baseball draft writer, I’d be eighteenth. Dare to dream, right? As it is, I’m just one of the many internet draft bros following the obvious trend that puts Haseley at or near the top of his position group. Kidding aside, at the end of the day as long as a great player like Haseley gets his due, I’m happy. All of the praise he’s gotten this spring is very well deserved. My ego will live to fight another day.

As for Haseley the actual draft prospect, my only question now is how high he can rise. I know I’m going to have him really, really high on my personal college draft rankings, but the decision on how high is still, pardon the pun, up in the air. I’m not 100% sure just yet, but it would seem awfully hard to justify any other college outfielder ahead of him at this point. Few players in the college game can match Haseley’s combination of hit tool (legit plus, a rarity at this level), raw power (above-average to all fields), and defensive future (sure-fire center fielder at the next level). There are some that can rival his upside in each individual area, but it’s the overall package in one player that makes Haseley stand out. To be as good as he is in the three most critical areas of the game is rare, and his speed and arm (both at least above-average for me) are pretty impressive in their own right. I get that he’s taken his game to another level in 2017, but acting like he’s come out of nowhere couldn’t be further from the truth. Dude hit .304/.377/.502 last year with 28 BB/28 K. So you’re not only getting the tools but also a lengthy track record to back it up. Or vice-versa (i.e., he’s more than just a college star but also a super projectable pro athlete) depending on where your scouting vs stats allegiances lie. It’s not a direct comparison per se, but watching Haseley in 2017 makes me think about what Mickey Moniak might have looked like after a couple of years at UCLA. Superstar upside.

Virginia being Virginia means that they not only have arguably the top outfielder in this class but also the top first baseman. That’s where I currently have Pavin Smith, the Cavaliers sweet-swinging junior slugger. Much like Haseley, the first thing to stand out about Smith is the hit tool. Smith has everything it takes to hit .300 or better in the big leagues. With above-average to plus raw power and a fantastic approach at the plate, he’s one of my favorite bats in this class. More on him from a few days ago…

As for Smith, I’m still not really sure what he doesn’t do well. It’s a true plus hit tool with a picture perfect swing, outstanding plate coverage, and standout pitch recognition. His raw power is above-average to plus and already showing up in games. He’s a well above-average glove at first with enough athleticism and arm strength (88-93 FB pre-TJ surgery) to at least give some teams pause when considering his long-term defensive position. Seriously, what’s not to like about him as an offensive player?

If we wanted to nitpick — and we DO — then it’s worth pointing out that there have been some whispers about less than ideal bat speed. Fine, I guess. I struggle with identifying bat speed outside of the extremes, so I’m happy to tip my cap to anybody who can tag a guy with an above- or below-average swing of the bat using only the naked eye. I can’t, so I try not to judge. Can’t say I’ve noticed anything all that remarkable — good or bad — about Smith’s bat speed, and at some point his outstanding three years of hitting high-level amateur pitching should win out anyway. It’s the current Rowdy Tellez argument manifesting itself in college ball. I like Tellez. I like Smith.

I’ve also heard some BASEBALL MEN chatter about Virginia hitters struggling to adjust to pro ball. Can’t say I really buy that one, though I suppose the murderer’s row of Phil Gosselin, Jarrett Parker, John Hicks, and Chris Taylor haven’t exactly lit the world on fire in the pros. Brandon Guyer, Ryan Zimmerman, and Mark Reynolds give the Cavaliers a little more clout, but that’s going way back. I remember liking guys like Tyler Cannon, Dan Grovatt, Steve Proscia, Stephen Bruno, and Reed Gragnani with little to nothing to show for it in terms of pro success. Mike Papi, Derek Fisher, and Daniel Pinero seem primed to turn the reputation around…if you think the reputation needed turning around in the first place. And then there’s this guy…

.338/.427/.518 with 74 BB/55 K and 4/5 SB in 554 AB
.323/.394/.515 with 78 BB/68 K and 5/12 SB in 637 AB

Top is Matt Thaiss’s career numbers at Virginia. Those were good enough to get him selected sixteenth overall last year. Bottom is what Smith has done so far. Feels like there’s a comparison to be made between the two hitters in there somewhere. Like Thaiss last year, mid-first round feels like a fair landing spot for Smith as of now.

No player was harder for me to rank on the position lists than Ernie Clement. The guy is just a weird prospect. That’s of course meant in the most flattering way possible. Clement excels at things that don’t typically get much scouting buzz except from the super old-school types. He’s among the best in the country at spoiling pitchers’s pitches, bunting both for hits and to move teammates over, and, above all else, making insane amounts of contact. Defensively, he’s great just about anywhere you put him. Response was split as to his best long-term position with half preferring him at second and the rest thinking he’d be best in center. Most agreed that he could even play a good shortstop if asked. Such defensive versatility opens up a whole world of fun comps for the weird and wonderful Clement.

I had to look it up to see if I have ever used David Eckstein as a comp before — for the curious, yes, once, Tyler Hanover — because I think it really fits Clement well. Eckstein with better speed feels about right. I’ve also heard Fernando Vina and Eric Young. Baseball America has offered Chris Taylor in the past. Interesting group on the whole. I’ll stick with speedier Eckstein for now. Just yesterday I got a Jose Peraza for him. I don’t hate that at all. Something on that spectrum would be a fine outcome for Clement, a high-floor prospect as a future utility guy with a ceiling limited much beyond that due to his serious lack of pop. Figuring out where to properly rate such a weird player like this is above my current pay grade.

(My goal was to use the word weird five times when describing Clement. Three will have to do. Until next time…)

Somebody shut me up before I write an extra thousand words about the rest of Virginia’s 2017 draft-eligible hitters. The short version: Robbie Coman, Charlie Cody, and even Caleb Knight all have flashed enough ability to warrant pro consideration this June. Coman is easy to like as a steady glove with a veteran’s approach to hitting. His arm strength, not particularly special to begin with, was sapped by last year’s Tommy John surgery, so he’ll have to prove to teams he has enough mustard on his throws to keep catching as a pro. Cody is a huge personal favorite who has his best ball ahead of him. DID YOU KNOW that Perfect Game once compared him to David Wright as a prep prospect? Pretty heady praise. He’s played intermittently through two and half years at Virginia, but a really strong start to 2017 has me all-in on the Charlie Cody bandwagon once again. Hope on that bandwagon while there’s still space left. I’m by no means an expert on Knight, but all the quiet buzz I’ve heard on him has been positive. Catchers who can stay catchers and can hit a bit will always get love from me, and Knight is no exception.

I like Justin Novak as a potential low-minors chess piece that can be moved all over the infield. I talk often about the utility of such players and Novak seems like a potentially useful one. Guys who can multiple spots like Novak can help protect other prospects by filling in defensively as needed. It also doesn’t hurt to show teams you have a diversified defensive skill set when it comes to making you more marketable, especially in the age of tiny benches.

I’m not sure why Tommy Doyle doesn’t get more love as one of the draft’s top college pitchers. Maybe it’s his usage out of the bullpen at Virginia that obscures the fact he’s got everything you’d want in an innings-eating big league starting pitcher. It’s not wise to chase the reliever to starter waterfall — former Cavaliers Nick Howard, Josh Sborz, and Branden Kline being three such recent flops — but Doyle has the stuff (88-94 FB with sink, 95-96 sink; 77-81 CB, flashes average; above-average 82-87 cut-SL; above-average split-CU) and frame (6-6, 225) to make the move. Whether or not he has the delivery or command remain open questions, but I think an early round pick on finding out firsthand is worth the investment. I’m of the opinion that just about any Virginia pitcher needs some mechanical tweaking anyway (hate the crouch), so knowing you’ve got a little work to do with his windup shouldn’t come as a surprise. Bet on the stuff, body, and results, and figure out the delivery later, I say.

(I did the UVA prospects in the pros thing for the hitters when I wrote about Pavin Smith a few days ago, so I won’t go into too much detail with the pitchers…but the recent track record of Virginia arms does not inspire much confidence. There have been 22 Cavalier pitchers drafted since 2009. Only three players [Tyler Wilson, Kyle Crockett, Kline] out of 22 [13.6%] have reached the big leagues. Not great.)

Pitchers besides Doyle looking to buck that parenthetical trend include Alec Bettinger, Jack Roberts, Derek Casey, and Bennett Sousa. Count me as a big fan of all of them. Bettinger is a personal favorite senior-sign with a potent sinker/slider mix and experience as a multi-inning reliever. His peripherals have always outstripped his run prevention ability, but smart teams will focus on all the positives he brings to the mound rather than the negatives (many of which are out of his control). From my notes on Roberts: “getting wild ways under control…but still pretty wild.” Seems fair for a guy with BB/9’s of 7.50, 8.86, and 6.29 over the last three seasons. When he throws strikes, his stuff (87-92 heat, 94 peak; average breaking ball, flashes better; average change) impresses. Casey flashes similar stuff along with far better control made all the more significant considering he’s on the road back from Tommy John surgery. Sousa is a lefty with above-average velocity (90-94) and a low-80s slider with serious promise. Can’t hate that.

*****

JR RHP Tommy Doyle (2017)
SR RHP Alec Bettinger (2017)
rSO LHP Riley Wilson (2017)
SR RHP Tyler Shambora (2017)
rJR RHP Jack Roberts (2017)
rSO RHP Derek Casey (2017)
JR LHP Bennett Sousa (2017)
JR OF/LHP Adam Haseley (2017)
JR 1B/OF Pavin Smith (2017)
JR 2B/OF Ernie Clement (2017)
JR SS/2B Justin Novak (2017)
rSR C Robbie Coman (2017)
JR 3B/OF Charlie Cody (2017)
JR C Caleb Knight (2017)
SO LHP Daniel Lynch (2018)
rFR RHP Evan Sperling (2018)
SO RHP Grant Donahue (2018)
SO LHP Connor Eason (2018)
SO RHP Chesdin Harrington (2018)
SO OF/RHP Cameron Simmons (2018)
SO 3B/1B Nate Eikhoff (2018)
SO C Cameron Comer (2018)
rFR OF Jake McCarthy (2018)
SO 2B/SS Andy Weber (2018)
FR RHP Noah Murdock (2019)
FR RHP Bobby Nicholson (2019)
FR SS Cayman Richardson (2019)
FR OF Jalen Harrison (2019)
FR C Drew Blakely (2019)