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College First Basemen Revisited – 2011 MLB Draft

Not every draft is like 2008. Not every draft is like 2008. Not every draft is like 2008. That’s my mantra as I check and recheck the list of 2011 draft-eligible college first basemen. Are you sure this is everybody? There are no Justin Smoak’s, Yonder Alonso’s, or, heck, even Ike Davis’s hiding anywhere? Sure, David Cooper and Allan Dykstra went bust, but there were both highly thought of at the time. This may be over the top negative (it’s what I do best, after all), but I’m not positive there is a slam dunk top five round college first baseman this year, let alone five players capable of cracking the first like in 2008. Incidentally, when looking back over that draft I’m always amazed at the stones, for lack of a better term, Kansas City showed by taking Eric Hosmer third. I know he was an outstanding high school hitter, but taking a prep first baseman before accomplished college talents like Brian Matusz (4th), Buster Posey (5th), and Justin Smoak (11th) took some serious intestinal fortitude. Posey is a stud and both Matusz and Smoak have shown enough promise that we can expect big things going forward, but Hosmer has a chance to be one of the elite middle of the lineup hitters in all of baseball in very short order. The book is far from closed on any of these players, and I’ll acknowledge that Posey would be a tremendous addition to the emerging Royals core, but, man, I have to give credit where credit is due on that pick. Loads of high picks year after year will often lead to good things, but in any sport, especially baseball, you still need to identify the right guy. Hosmer might not have been the only right guy in 2008, but he certainly looks like one of them.

Oh, right. 2011 college first basemen. Here is the original list. I don’t see a clear big league starter in the bunch, though I’m admittedly all aboard the Preston Tucker bandwagon. If any guy winds up starting for a big league team, it’ll be him. The rest look like potential four-corners utility guys (1B/3B/corner OF), pinch hitters, or platoon options. No shame in any of those outcomes, of course, so long as nobody out there is banking on getting a close to the big leagues power hitting college first baseman this year.

1. Florida JR 1B Preston Tucker (.361/.424/.627 – 15 BB/18 K)

I wrote a bit about Tucker in the past, so I won’t get into too much detail now. Here are the money quotes from last time, if you’re too cool to click the link:

To be an above-average first baseman in the bigs, you either need to have a special bat, outrageously good defense, or a well above-average mixture of the two. To that end, I’m not sure Tucker, or any other college first baseman in this class, is a prospect that will wind up receiving a first round grade, from me personally or any of the thirty big league scouting departments…

…Late first round seems like his draft ceiling. Fifth round, like fellow SEC 1B Andy Wilkins in 2010, could be his floor, barring injury.

2. Southern California JR 1B Ricky Oropesa (.384/.459/.582 – 21 BB/30 K)

There’s still too much swing and miss in his approach than I’d like, but the fact Oropesa fits the classic slugging first baseman mold better than Tucker could help him become the first college 1B off the board. Scouts want the best players, obviously, but they do have their biases. I think said bias could help Oropesa this June.

3. St. Mary’s JR 1B Troy Channing (.292/.366/.454 – 11 BB/34 K)

I know for a fact one team preferred Channing to Tucker heading into the season, though I can’t imagine that is still the case after his down showing so far this year.

4. Fresno State SR 1B Jordan Ribera (.206/.293/.382 – 13 BB/30 K)

Take a minute and process Ribera’s 2011 numbers. That’s one complete and utter collapse. I can’t believe that it is entirely the new bats to blame, like some have insinuated. Unlike Channing, Ribera doesn’t have the option of returning to school in 2012, so he can’t do much more than to hold out hope some team saw him at his best in 2010.

5. Washington State JR 1B Taylor Ard (.301/.374/.431 – 12 BB/15 K)

All of the numbers are park/league adjusted, but sometimes even more context is needed. Ard isn’t your typical college junior. As a former junior college star, Ard’s acquitted himself well enough in his first year of major college ball that I think a team that liked him heading into the season would still be on board now. His upside rivals that of any first baseman in the class.

6. East Tennessee State SR 1B Paul Hoilman (.275/.441/.580 – 38 BB/46 K)

How could you not possibly love this year’s draft Three True Outcome hero? Over half (54% to be precise) of his at bats end in a homer, walk, or strikeout. Cool.

7. Cal State Fullerton JR 1B Nick Ramirez (.280/.401/.440 – 24 BB/23 K)

I’m really, really fond of Nick Ramirez the college baseball player (his pitching stats: 12.1 IP – 1.51 FIP – 13.86 K/9 – 3.65 BB/9) and think he’s a viable option either at first or on the mound professionally. He has a reputation as a guess hitter, but I’ve heard his approach has gotten much better in 2011. As a pitcher, his upper-70s changeup is a legit out pitch, though it is kind of a shame that it isn’t even the best cambio in his family…

8. UCLA JR 1B Dean Espy (.299/.354/.381 – 10 BB/23 K)

Probably time to start thinking about the 2012 Draft with numbers like that…

9. Vanderbilt SR 1B Aaron Westlake (.377/.505/.596 – 32 BB/33 K) – I can live with ranking a player highly only to see him flame out. I realize the risk that comes with sometimes being too optimistic. I hate it when a player I like but am too chicken to rank appropriately plays great. Pretty sure all of that makes me a bad person – being indifferent if a player struggles, but annoyed when a player succeeds rates seems pretty selfish. If it helps, I always feel guilty about it. Westlake is one such source of annoyance. The Vanderbilt senior ranked as high as second on my original, off the top of my head list, but wound up ninth after I shuffled up some other names that I felt had more upside. Dumb move. All Westlake does is hit.

10. North Carolina State JR 1B Harold Riggins (.302/.442/.442 – 29 BB/46 K)

Another personal favorite coming into the year who hasn’t delivered quite what was expected in the power department. Positional versatility could help him make it as one of those four-corners utility guys we talked about earlier.

11. Mississippi SR 1B Matt Snyder (.273/.396/.445 – 21 BB/32 K)

Haven’t seen him myself, but have heard less than nice things about his defense. When scouts wonder if you have what it takes to stick at first, you’d better be able to hit a ton. Snyder is a nice college thumper, but nothing about his scouting profile or college numbers scream big league hitter to me.

12. Northwestern JR 1B Paul Snieder (.352/.450/.544 – 22 BB/24 K)

Snieder is reportedly a tough sign, but I like him as an org guy for a lot of the same reasons I like Western Kentucky C Matt Rice.

13. Cal State Fullerton SO 1B Carlos Lopez (.329/.400/.447 – 11 BB/7 K)

Only 85 at bats, so we’re dealing with a limited sample but I remain intrigued at Lopez’s skill set and performance to date.

14. Oklahoma JR 1B Cameron Seitzer (.331/.429/.476 – 20 BB/20 K)

I was lower on him than most, and remain cautiously optimistic at best, but I’d remiss if I didn’t point out a lot of positive chatter about Seitzer’s more mature frame and subsequent transformation from guy with big raw power to guy with loads of in-game power, despite what the relatively modest slugging numbers may indicate. He’ll probably go higher than a few names listed above him here, but, hey, it’s my list, right?

15. Southern Illinois JR 1B Chris Serritella

Serritella has missed time due to wrist injury and has a whopping 0 ABs this year. Have to imagine the injury will keep him at Southern Illinois for another season or two.

Quick 2011 MLB Draft Thoughts – Wake Forest Demon Deacons

1. Good college teams can sometimes have not so exciting pro prospects. Bad college teams can sometimes have really interesting pro prospects. That kind of cognitive dissonance can be hard for hard core — dare I say, homer? — college baseball fans to accept because the discrepancies between production and projection can be tricky to spot when emotionally invested. So what kind of team will Wake Forest be in 2011? I don’t know nearly enough about the year-to-year dynamics of college baseball to have an opinion about the Wake Forest team’s prospects heading into the 2011 season, but feel confident in declaring, at least on paper, there’s a good amount of talent on the Demon Deacon’s roster, especially on the pitching side. Will the 2011 Wake Forest team be remembered as a bad college group with good pro prospects? Or will those good pro prospects produce enough to make 2011 a season to talk about?

2. Winston-Salem will be home to two of the highest upside senior signs in 2011, OF Steven Brooks and LHP Mark Adzick. I actually am at a loss for why Steven Brooks doesn’t get more draft love — the Cubs took him in the 17th round last year, part of an overall trend of ACC outfielders (Holt, Grovatt, Rowland, and Schaus) falling way lower than expected — because he’s that rare mix of tools (plus speed, above-average raw power) and skill (great approach at plate, fantastic base runner, above-average range in CF). Adzick (upper-80s FB, very good low-70s CB, solid mid-70s CU) was seen as a potential top five round pick out of high school who fell because of a reported first round asking price. If he’s healthy and getting innings this spring, his stock could skyrocket.

3. The Demon Deacons also have two of the most intriguing 2011 two-way prospects, JR LHP/1B Austin Stadler and SO OF/RHP Mac Williamson. Stadler’s a pretty typical three pitch lefthander (upper-80s FB, CU, CB) who has a really strong track record of success (8.69 K/9 – 3.32 BB/9 – 3.79 FIP – 78.2 IP) pitching against high level competition. Williamson, a potential catching conversion candidate at the pro level, has serious power upside and a plus arm, but his swing at everything approach could prevent him from ever getting the chance to put his crazy raw tools to use. That’s one way to look at these prospects. Most teams, however, will probably wind up considering Stadler at first base due to his much improved glove, athleticism, approach at the plate, and untapped raw power. Williamson, on the other hand, could very well be viewed as a potential late inning relief prospect because of the reported mid-90s heat to go along with a solid sinker/slider mix.

Early 2011 Draft Guesses

Three bullet points and no mention of one of my favorite 2011 draft “sleepers,” SO RHP Daniel Marrs. Before injuring his labrum, Marrs was a prospect on the same level of current Phillies minor leaguer Jarred Cosart. His pre-injury power stuff (most notably a 92-94 FB peaking at 97 and a good splitter that worked as CU) could tempt a team into drafting him well before his present stuff (sinking upper-80s FB, rapidly improving cutter) would typically merit. Whether or not he ever recaptures that pre-surgery stuff remains to be seen, but Marrs is good enough to continue to expand his repertoire — the new cutter was a great fall ball surprise, I’m told — if that what it takes to succeed. After Marrs, I’d rank the Wake Forest pitching prospects, in order, JR RHP Michael Dimock (plus slider and strong performances to date), Stadler, Williamson, and Adzick.  A handful of Wake relievers could garner some interest, but, really, at this point we’re just throwing names against the wall and seeing what sticks. JR LHP Zach White has the classic “everything but the kitchen sink” arsenal of pitches, JR RHP Gabe Feldman has legitimately intriguing stuff (low-90s peak FB, good mid-70s CB, potential plus cutter) but iffy command and a limited track record keep him off the slam dunk draftable list for now, and SR LHP Eli Robins has good stuff, including a good slider, but poor control has held him back so far.

There is less to be excited offensively, as only the aforementioned Brooks is a lock to get redrafted in 2011. If you count him as a first baseman and not a pitcher, then Stadler would double the number of draftable Demon Deacon hitters. JR 3B/OF Carlos Lopez is my dark horse to go later in the draft to a team willing to bet on his interesting physical tools, including his very quick wrists.