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2015 GB% Mid-May Update

In what will probably the last one of these we do before draft day, here are some notable pitching prospects GB% through the most recent weekend of the college season.

Walker Buehler: 63.7%
Nathan Kirby: 64.0%
Kyle Funkhouser: 55.4%
Dillon Tate: 68.4%
Carson Fulmer: 46.1%
Phil Bickford: 53.2%
Kyle Twomey: 58.0%

I dropped Lemoine and Young out of laziness, but I can go back and do the math on either if anybody is curious. I didn’t include Matuella since he hasn’t thrown a pitch since the last update. In a shocking upset, his GB% (55.8) remains unchanged since then. Amazing how that worked out.

One of the interesting things about this list is the actual makeup of the players chosen. If you recall, I chose the names for this list by simply going down the rankings of my top college pitchers from before the season. The order then was Brady Aiken, Kirby, Matuella, Buehler, Tate, Fulmer, Jay, Funkhouser, Bickford, Lemoine, and Twomey. Tyler Ferguson was next, but his unpredictable usage made him too difficult to track. I haven’t gone back and updated my college rankings yet — that’ll come after I finish up the HS prospects, possibly as soon as mid-way through next week — but I think the original list has held up fairly well. I know there are questions about many of the top guys, but I’m still a pretty firm believer in Buehler (top ten or so), Kirby (mid-first), and Twomey (late-first/supplemental) despite some of the concerns. Everybody loves Tate (and rightfully so), I’m higher on Fulmer than most (but not all), and Funkhouser, despite my trying to talk myself into him a few weeks ago, remains a guy I’m lower on than most.

While I can defend the names on the initial list, there are a few omissions that I really would like to have back. In fact, I might go through and grab some data on these players later and update this one last time before June. I’m particularly curious to see the numbers of James Kaprielian, Cody Ponce, and Thomas Eshelman. If I had to choose just one name to have back, however, it would without a doubt be Jon Harris. I liked Harris plenty before the season…

Harris throws four pitches for strikes (88-93 FB, 95 peak; above-average upper-70s CB; plus mid-80s SL; sinking CU) with the frame to add a bit more velocity as he fills out. He’s also pulled off the trick of being a reliable starter at Missouri State since day one while also getting slowly but surely more effective along the way.

…but still feel like having him as low as I did (27th) on the aforementioned college pitching list didn’t do my appreciation for him justice. It’s a pre-season miss that will be rectified in the updated rankings.

I admittedly haven’t given this a ton of thought just yet, but I think Harris would crack my top five college pitchers with relative ease right now. My current working order would go Jay (top overall pitcher), Tate, Buehler, Harris, and Fulmer.

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2015 GB% Mid-April Update

Nathan Kirby – 66.3%
Michael Matuella – 55.8%
Walker Buehler – 62.7%
Dillon Tate – 67.8%
Carson Fulmer – 45.7%
Kyle Funkhouser – 60.4%
Phillip Bickford – 53.3%
Jake Lemoine – 58.5%
Kyle Twomey – 61.3%
Alex Young – 60.4%

First, a quick thanks for all those that stumble across this site for whatever reason and click around a bit to see what we’ve been working on. An even bigger thanks to those of you who knowingly come back time after time. I never had expectations in terms of traffic, but it’s still pretty cool to see things trending upwards the way they have over the past few months. Yesterday was a non-June record high for the site, which is both exciting and more than a little funny since it happened on one of the very few weekdays I didn’t publish a post (did my TAXES and went to the DENTIST instead because I’m an ADULT now) since the start of December. This has easily been the most fun I’ve had covering a draft and we’re only getting started.

I’ve been sky high on Kirby in the past, so seeing some of the reports of him having less than stellar stuff in recent starts is a definite bummer. I’m still choosing to believe that he’s being knocked a tad unfairly by experts who put more stock (rightly or wrongly, it’s up to you to decide) in the one outing or so that they see firsthand than the information they gather along the way from individuals who see a player far more often, but it’s a situation well worth monitoring going forward.

Like many experts have already alluded to — or, in one case, reported and then quickly deleted for reasons unknown — concerns within baseball about Matuella’s recovery from Tommy John surgery are far less than whatever is going on with Brady Aiken’s left elbow. That said, since rumblings of complications have not yet manifested themselves in concrete news items, I’d still rank the more talented Aiken ahead of Matuella as of this second. There’s been so much interesting stuff written about the Tommy John procedure (much of it concluding with an attitude of “hey, let’s all pump the breaks on assuming it’s an easy in/out recovery and appreciate how rare it is for even the best athletes to overcome tearing a ligament in the most important part of their body”) over the past few months that I’m now wary of putting either prospect in the top ten conversation. Based on what we think we know at this point — a dangerous game to be sure, but it’s all we’ve got right now — any team drafting Aiken, and to a lesser extent Matuella, has to be prepared for the possibility that they’ll wind up getting nothing out of the pick. I think both players are talented enough, hard working enough, and young enough to recover and eventually pitch in the big leagues, but I’m no doctor…and even if I was, I wouldn’t know anything from the outside looking in at this point. Confusing stuff, really. This may just confuse things further (I’ve waffled a bit since then), but I wrote this to a friend (tried to edit out as much of the local spin as possible) the day after Aiken announced he had the surgery. Much of it presupposes that Aiken’s injury is more standard than what the rumors of late have indicated. I can only hope that this is the case for all involved. Here’s what I wrote last month…

Brady Aiken very stealthily went under the knife last night to repair his busted elbow. Everybody knew he wasn’t right, and in a weird way I’m glad that this was the cause for his average stuff of late. The success rate for Tommy John surgery isn’t what it used to be — it went from a scary thing to a seemingly normal thing and now it’s back to being kind of scary again — but it’s still a reliable enough procedure that I think I’d take it (with appropriate recovery time) over some of the other rumored possibilities (back, shoulder, hip). What does it all mean for the top of the draft?

I’d personally still consider taking Aiken with a top ten pick, but only if everybody in the organization was on the same page about his recovery and development. If it was up to me, I’d plan on him not pitching in a real game until the end of June 2016 (when Rookie ball starts) at the earliest. That’s admittedly a tough pill to swallow since teams picking in the top ten need RESULTS NOW out of their picks to an extent (you don’t have to give in to public pressure and much of the public doesn’t really follow the draft so much anyway, but some teams value this more than others), so I’d understand the trepidation felt by those against the pick. I’d be adamant about holding him out until I was sure he was right. The research on “rushing” guys back is pretty illuminating and a sobering reminder that any arm surgery is a big deal. If you really want to consider the long view, then fourteen months should be the prescribed minimum for this kind of thing per the numbers. Of course, everybody is built differently and standardizing recovery times and rehabilitation has it’s own downsides.

As to that last point, Lucas Giolito is the easiest point of reference from recent history. He was back from TJ in a crazy ten months: surgery on 8/31/12 and back in game action 7/3/13. The ongoing recovery of Jeff Hoffman should also be considered. I think there’s a non-zero chance that those players could both be freaks (in a great way), so it’s hard to use them as measuring sticks. Aiken strikes me as another freaky athlete with the chance to get back on the mound quicker than most, but that’s without knowing the extent of the injury. As far as the draft goes, it’s far from a sure thing teams picking in the back half of the top ten/early teens will even get a chance at Aiken. An injured Hoffman went ninth in the very same draft that a healthy Aiken went first. If Hoffman could go ninth in a better draft (an arguable point, but I freely admit that I hold the minority view that this year’s top half of the first round is every bit as good as last year’s…though with every passing injury this becomes a more difficult position to maintain), then why couldn’t the more talented Aiken do the same or better this year?

My number one hope above all else right now is for whatever team that drafts Aiken does so with a plan in place for his recovery. More to the point, I hope they take the long view with him and don’t give in to rushing his recovery in any way. He’s so damn talented (and young for his class) that the lost developmental time is hardly a killer in the long run. After getting his feet wet in Rookie ball next summer, he could be on a path that would include combined A ball in 2017, AA in 2018, and a shot at the big leagues at some point in 2019. That’s probably too slow a timeline for most fans and/or bosses with jobs on the line (he’d still just be 23 that August), so I could see wanting to pass on him. You could conceivably move that up a bit (skip Low-A, go A+/AA in 2017, AA/AAA in 2018 before potentially getting an audition for the ’19 rotation that September), but, advanced or not (and he is quite advanced, make no mistake), that’s a really aggressive path for a “high school” arm like Aiken. And, of course, this all assumes no setbacks, on the field or otherwise.

As mentioned previously, I think there is enough high-end pitching talent in this class that passing on an injured pitcher like Aiken or Matuella (who has looked really good and healthy of late), talented as they may be, would be justified. I’d lean towards taking the risk right now, but that’s easy to say in March…and when all that is at stake is your internet reputation and not your livelihood.

See the bolded part in that last paragraph? See how quickly things can change when following the draft? Damn. I’ve just depressed myself unintentionally from the past. Let’s get positive…

Buehler and Tate: both as advertised all year long. Strong argument to be made that they are the 1-2 in terms of college pitching in this class, though the order would be flipped (Tate then Buehler). Funkhouser and Twomey have also come on strong of late. I think the former might just pitch his way into top ten lock status soon (I’m still more in like with him than in love with him, but I’m a bit behind on his recent performances so we’ll see) while the latter could still sneak himself into the back of the first round.

SEC 2015 MLB Draft All-Prospect Team – PITCHERS

First Team

Vanderbilt JR RHP Walker Buehler
Vanderbilt JR RHP Carson Fulmer
Kentucky JR RHP Kyle Cody
Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter
Texas A&M JR RHP Grayson Long

Second Team

Missouri JR RHP Alec Rash
Florida JR RHP Eric Hanhold
Arkansas JR RHP Trey Killian
Tennessee JR LHP Drake Owenby
Vanderbilt SO LHP John Kilichowski

Before we get to some updated stuff, here are a few words I’ve written about some of the SEC’s top pitching prospects (or so I thought…if I could get a do-over on some of those Second Team picks above, I sure would) from before the season…

Vanderbilt JR RHP Walker Buehler

Beyond his smarts, pitchability, command, athleticism, and groundball tendencies, Buehler sticks out to me for having two legitimate, distinct above-average to plus breaking balls. They can run into each other at times — I’ve seen an unhealthy amount of baseball in my life and consider myself reasonably bright, but distinguishing between curves, sliders, and even cutters isn’t a personal strength — especially when they are both in the low-80 MPH range, but there’s enough separation between his mostly upper-70s curve (77-83, really) and his “hard CB” from high school (then 78-82) that is now a fully formed 80-85 slider that both get swings and misses. I will say that in my experience viewing him and talking to smarter people who have seen him way more, the two pitches don’t often seem to be in that above-average to plus range within the same game. I’d like to chart a few of his starts to test the validity of this claim, but it’s been said to me that he’ll figure out which breaking ball is working early in the game and then lean on it almost exclusively as his breaker of choice throughout the game. The ability to spin two quality breaking balls on top of an impressive fastball (90-94, 96 peak) and average mid-80s sinking changeup that flashes much better on top of all of Buehler’s previous strengths and two arguable weaknesses (size and inconsistencies with his breaking balls) make him a difficult pitcher to find an instructive comparable player for. Some of the names I’ve tossed out as ceiling comparisons over the past few years include Roy Oswalt, Javier Vazquez, and Julio Teheran. All of those work and don’t work for various reasons, I think. I also think I like Buehler so much as a prospect that I’m cool with dropping the Zack Greinke with a harder curve comp that’s been on my mind with him for a while now. It’s not meant to be a comparison we all get crazy carried away with — Greinke was already in the big leagues at Buehler’s current age, after all — but in terms of the total present prospect package of stuff, pitchability, build, and frame, I think it works very well.

Vanderbilt JR RHP Carson Fulmer

Fulmer has had almost as much success as Buehler through two college seasons with their only significant difference coming in the former’s more common bouts of wildness. It’s not the kind of wildness that raises any kind of red flags, but rather something that falls somewhere between the typical developmental path of an electric young arm and the potential start of a long, fruitful run of being “effectively wild” from now until the day he retires. That aside, the biggest real question about Fulmer will be future big league role. I’d like to think I’ve long shown a willingness to allow players to play themselves from bigger roles (starting, up-the-middle defensive spots, etc.) to smaller roles, so it should be no shock that I’d run Fulmer out as a starter for as long as he shows he is capable of holding down the job in pro ball. A big part of believing in Fulmer as a starter is the fact that his stuff does not appear to appreciably suffer in longer outings. He has the three pitches he’ll need to go through lineups multiple times (mid-90s FB, honest 99 peak; plus low-80s breaking ball; mid-80s changeup with promise) and more than enough deception in his delivery to make him a tough matchup in almost any circumstance. There is some fair cause for concern that his delivery — I’m not expert on these things and I mostly only care that it’s repeatable, but it’s rough enough that even I can see what the fuss is about — won’t allow him to hold up throwing 200+ innings a season. This isn’t the only reason why Buehler is universally regarded as the better prospect (see the silly amount of fawning I do over him above for more), but it’s a big one. Not all drafts are created equal, but I have a hard time imagining Fulmer falling too far on draft day one year after a very similar pitcher in Grant Holmes went 22nd overall.

Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter

Put me down as believing JR RHP Trey Wingenter is in store for a monster 2015 campaign. All of the pieces are there for a big season: legit fastball (88-94, 95/96 peak), a pair of breaking balls ranging from average (mid-70s CB) to better than that (mid-80s SL), an average or better CU, a very low-mileage arm (only 36 innings through two college seasons), and an imposing yet still projectionable 6-7, 200 pound frame.

Missouri JR RHP Alec Rash

Rash has been a hot name in prospect circles (78th ranked prospect in 2012 here) since his high school days. He couldn’t come to terms with the Phillies that same year after being selected with the 95th overall pick. Things haven’t gone quite according to script for him at Missouri (less than 50 combined innings pitched to date), but he’s missed bats when called upon (8.15 K/9 last year) and still flashes pro-caliber stuff. The lack of innings only presents an issue in how it’s limited opportunities for him to further develop the third pitch he’d likely need to start as a professional. Nobody questions his fastball (90-95), slider (low-80s, flashes plus), frame (6-6, 200), athleticism, or work ethic, so it’ll mostly come down to how he looks in an expanded role and whether or not his mid-80s changeup impresses evaluators enough to project him in a starting role going forward. He’ll be a high pick either way, but showing he can start could mean the difference between a top three round selection and a top seven round selection.

Arkansas JR RHP Trey Killian

JR RHP Trey Killian’s performances through two year are confusing. His first year was quite strong (8.59 K/9 and 2.95 BB/9), but he did it in limited innings (36.2). Last year he proved to be more of a workhorse (94 IP) and he did a great job of keeping runs off the board (2.30 ERA), but he missed way less bats (5.94 K/9) yet wound up improving his control (1.72 BB/9). Good, less good, good, good, less good, good…you see how he can confuse even the most brilliant internet baseball writers, right? His track record, stuff (88-92 FB, 94 peak; good cutter; really good yet underused low-80s CU; above-average slider; usable curve), command, and athleticism all add up to strong back of the rotation starter material, so maybe I’m overthinking it with him anyway. Or maybe I’m still waiting on a year when he combines really good peripherals with really good run prevention and we all point to him as a guy who figured it out enough to get the bump to middle of the rotation material. That’s my hope — I want to say expectation, but I’m not quite there — for Killian in 2015. He’s the best returning arm on the Arkansas staff either way.

Tennessee JR LHP Drake Owenby

JR LHP Drake Owenby, the owner of one of the sport’s most difficult to scout fastballs, will need to reign in his serious control issues if he wants to get himself selected in a draft range commiserate with his considerable raw stuff. At his best, he’s got a big league fastball (more on that in a second), a well above-average mid-70s curve that flashes plus, and an underdeveloped but plenty intriguing changeup. His walks have been out of hand to date, but he’s missed bats along the way (8.53 K/9 in 25.1 IP last year) and he’s the kind of athlete you believe will figure out some of his mechanical issues (and corresponding control woes) along the way. As for that aforementioned confounding fastball: at least in my looks, Owenby has added and subtracted from his heater to a degree that I can’t recall an honest to goodness amateur prospect doing so before. My notes have his fastball at literally anywhere between 85-95 (most often 88-92ish, like about 95% of the pitchers I see), and there doesn’t appear to be any external cause (e.g. injury, game situation, weather conditions) for the fluctuations. Owenby is a weird, fun prospect who also just so happens to be, you guessed it, pretty good.

*****

I’ll personally champion Walker Buehler as a candidate to go 1-1 because there’s little in his profile to suggest anything but a consistently above-average big league starting pitcher. Zack Greinke Lite with a firmer curve was my original comparison for him, and I’m sticking with it. Though I’d be fairly surprised if the Diamondbacks of all teams considered either Vandy arm with their pick, I personally believe that Carson Fulmer deserves to be in the 1-1 on merit. There’s something about so many tripping over themselves to talk about Dillon Tate (who is also awesome, just so we’re clear), but unwilling to go there with Fulmer that makes me laugh a bit. Worst case scenario he’s a better version of Joel Peralta (and much quicker moving), middle ground has him becoming an impact reliever like David Robertson, and his ceiling could be a little bit like a (WARNING: weird comp not to be taken literally ahead!) righthanded Gio Gonzalez. Or, if you hate my comps, just think solid middle reliever or elite closer or electric if a tad wild above-average starter. It’s a fun spectrum with both a reasonably high floor and pretty thrilling ceiling.

The third member of the presumed Vanderbilt weekend rotation also happened to rank third on the pre-season version of this list. I had to make a rare edit, however, because keeping Tyler Ferguson that high just straight up makes no sense at all. I hate saying that because he’s a really talented young pitcher, but until he can figure out the root cause for his serious control problems (categorized by some as a case of the dreaded “yips”) then he’ll remain one of the draft’s most mysterious prospects. Area scouts will earn their money and then some if they can properly identify whether or not whatever Ferguson’s got going on is correctable because it’s a fantastic arm otherwise.

Kentucky JR RHP Kyle Cody takes Ferguson’s place in the three spot (jumping all the way up from four!), which is only right because he has been really good this year. Good year + big guy (6-7, 250) + big stuff (mid-90s FB peaking at 98, chance for two average or better offspeed pitches) = serious prospect. I’ve seen and heard some top ten talk for Cody, but that seems a little much. Still, he’s a good one. I go back and forth on him, Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter (covered above and having a solid year), and Texas A&M JR RHP Grayson Long for the best non-Vanderbilt pitching prospect in the conference. It’s Cody for now, but Long seems like the stiffest competition going forward.

As far as unsigned 2012 high school pitchers go, only Buehler, Hunter Virant, Kyle Twomey, Trey Killian, and Keaton Haack ranked ahead of Long. Right behind him were Fulmer, Justin Garza, Alec Rash, Ryan Burr, and Cody Poteet. I dug that up initially because of wanting to talk about Long, but look at those names again. Long is obviously in the SEC now, and check out the rest (in order): SEC, Pac-12, Pac-12, SEC, SEC (Haack started at Alabama), SEC, Big West, SEC, Pac-12, and Pac-12. As a dispassionate observer of who actually wins and loses these games, I stay out of the conference pissing contests…so draw your own conclusions there. As for Long, here’s what I wrote about him back in his HS days…

62. RHP Grayson Long (Barbers Hill HS, Texas): 88-91 FB, 93 peak; good 80 CU; 75-77 CB with upside; SL with plus upside, but still a really inconsistent pitch; delivery ready for the pros; similar prospect to Walker Weickel in many ways, for better or worse; love his FB – command and movement make it a plus pitch even without big present velocity; has fallen off in the eyes of many this spring, but the long-term value is still very high; 6-6, 190 pounds

I like the Weickel comparison not because it was particularly prescient or anything (at this point in each player’s respective development, who knows), but, assuming it has even the slightest shed of validity, we can then compare/contrast each player’s career as if they are the same person living alternate timelines. Or not. It’s an admittedly silly exercise because there are way too many factors to ever pull off a realistic enough experiment to draw conclusions, but I still find it amusing. Anyway….

Long hasn’t progressed quite as much as I was expecting back then, but that’s not to say he hasn’t progressed at all. It’s been a slow and steady climb for him, and the results so far this year indicate that real honest improvements have been made. Long lives 88-92, but can climb up to 94-95 when needed, though those mid-90s figures are an admittedly rare occurrence. The fact that the long and lean high school version of Long, thought for all the world to be full of projection and potentially of capable of eventually lighting up radar guns once he filled out, hasn’t added much to his fastball can be taken either as a negative (for obvious reasons) or a positive (he’s pitched damn well even without the big fastball and there could yet be some more in the tank coming) depending on your world view. All of those other extras that made me fall for his heater in the first place remain, and I’d call his fastball a plus pitch still even without the knockout velocity. There still isn’t one consistent offspeed pitch that he can lean on from start to start, but there are enough flashes of his change and slider that you can understand what the finished product could look like.

If Tyler Ferguson is one of this draft’s bigger mysteries, then Alec Rash and Florida JR RHP Eric Hanhold have to be right there with him. Rash (see above) might be my favorite pitcher who hasn’t actually pitched. Hanhold hasn’t pitched much either (12.1 IP as of 4/11) and been wild when given his shot (7 BB), but I still like the overall package. I’ll stubbornly hold out hope for both because the arm talent is hard to give up on, inconsistent college careers be damned.

Ferguson’s stumble this season has opened the door for draft-eligible sophomore (he’ll be 21 in May) LHP John Kilichowski to slide in as Vanderbilt’s third best 2015 pro pitching prospect. He was great as a freshman last year (8.61 K/9 and 1.57 ERA in 23 IP) and has continued to do good things in 2015 (44 K/11 BB in 37.2 IP). His fastball isn’t an overpowering pitch (86-92), so he wisely leans on a pair of average or better offspeed offerings (mid-70s CB, upper-70s CU) to help him miss bats. Good stuff, solid track record, relatively fresh arm, and plenty of size (6-5, 210) all coming in from the left side? Nice. Statistically he’s had a very similar season to teammate rJR LHP Philip Pfeifer, yet another potential early pick off the Commodores staff. Pfeifer can’t match Kilichowski’s size or track record as a starter, but his fastball is a tick faster (94 peak) and his curve a bit sharper. How much of that can be attributed to his fastball/curveball combo playing up in shorter outings – in fairness, though he’s pitched out of the bullpen exclusively this season he almost always goes multiple innings at a time – or just having flat better stuff is up for the smarter area guys to decide. I give Kilichowski the edge for now based on what I know, but I can see it being a coin flip for many.

Florida rSO RHP Mike Vinson is another pitcher who hasn’t pitched much, but when he has he’s had the chance to show off a nasty cutter that ranks as one of the nation’s best pitches of its kind. I’ve banged the drum for Mississippi rSR RHP Scott Weathersby before, so what’s one more bold statement with a ton of weird qualifiers: of all of college baseball’s current relievers who aren’t primary closing options for their team, he’s the safest bet to pitch in the big leagues.

Tennessee JR RHP/1B Andrew Lee is a fascinating two-way prospect currently killing it on both ends. When he finally gets a chance to concentrate full time on pitching then he could really take off. His teammate, LHP Andy Cox, is one of my favorite “sleepers,” thanks in part to his well-rounded arsenal (88-91 FB, average or better low-80s SL, average or better CU) that could make him an interesting relief to rotation project in the pro ranks.

There are a ton of pitchers that I don’t yet have the time to cover as much as they deserve, but rest assured all of the following have had really good starts to the season worthy of more attention than they are getting: Auburn rJR RHP Justin Camp, Florida SR LHP Bobby Poyner, LSU rSO RHP Hunter Newman, Mississippi rSO RHP Brady Bramlett, Georgia JR LHP Ryan Lawlor, Georgia JR RHP Sean McLaughlin, Georgia rJR RHP David Sosebee, Mississippi State SR RHP Trevor Fitts, Missouri JR RHP Peter Fairbanks, Missouri JR RHP Reggie McClain (the most famous name of the bunch and arguably the best), Missouri JR RHP Breckin Williams, South Carolina JR LHP Jack Wynkoop, Tennessee SR RHP Bret Marks, Texas A&M JR LHP Matt Kent, Texas A&M JR RHP Andrew Vinson, and Texas A&M LHP AJ Minter. All of those players will be higher on an updated ranking.

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Pitching

  1. Vanderbilt JR RHP Walker Buehler
  2. Vanderbilt JR RHP Carson Fulmer
  3. Kentucky JR RHP Kyle Cody
  4. Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter
  5. Texas A&M JR RHP Grayson Long
  6. Missouri JR RHP Alec Rash
  7. Florida JR RHP Eric Hanhold
  8. Arkansas JR RHP Trey Killian
  9. Tennessee JR LHP Drake Owenby
  10. Vanderbilt SO LHP John Kilichowski
  11. Vanderbilt JR RHP Tyler Ferguson
  12. Missouri JR RHP Reggie McClain
  13. Florida rSO RHP Mike Vinson
  14. Mississippi rSR RHP Scott Weathersby
  15. Tennessee JR RHP/1B Andrew Lee
  16. Tennessee JR LHP Andy Cox
  17. Texas A&M JR LHP/OF AJ Minter
  18. Florida rJR RHP Aaron Rhodes
  19. Kentucky JR RHP Dustin Beggs
  20. Alabama rJR RHP Jake Hubbard
  21. Alabama JR RHP Ray Castillo
  22. Alabama JR RHP Will Carter
  23. Louisiana State rSO RHP Hunter Newman
  24. Mississippi rJR LHP Christian Trent
  25. Mississippi rSO RHP Brady Bramlett
  26. Texas A&M SO LHP Tyler Stubblefield
  27. Mississippi rSO RHP Jacob Waguespack
  28. Mississippi JR RHP Sean Johnson
  29. Auburn SR RHP Rocky McCord
  30. Missouri JR RHP Breckin Williams
  31. Texas A&M JR RHP/INF Andrew Vinson
  32. Texas A&M JR LHP Ty Schlottmann
  33. South Carolina JR LHP Jack Wynkoop
  34. Arkansas SR RHP Jacob Stone
  35. Tennessee SR RHP Bret Marks
  36. Mississippi State SR RHP Trevor Fitts
  37. Louisiana State SR RHP Zac Person
  38. Tennessee SR RHP Eric Martin
  39. Tennessee JR RHP Steven Kane
  40. South Carolina SR LHP Vincent Fiori
  41. Alabama SR LHP Taylor Guilbeau
  42. Louisiana State rSO RHP Russell Reynolds
  43. Tennessee SR RHP Peter Lenstrohm
  44. South Carolina SR RHP Cody Mincey
  45. Alabama SR LHP Jonathan Keller
  46. Mississippi SR RHP Sam Smith
  47. Kentucky rJR LHP Matt Snyder
  48. Alabama rSO LHP/OF Colton Freeman
  49. Alabama JR RHP/C Mitch Greer
  50. Georgia JR RHP/OF Sean McLaughlin
  51. Texas A&M SO RHP Cody Whiting
  52. Mississippi State rSO RHP Paul Young
  53. Missouri JR RHP Brandon Mahovlich
  54. Florida JR LHP Danny Young
  55. Missouri rJR RHP John Miles
  56. Florida SR LHP Bobby Poyner
  57. Texas A&M SR RHP Jason Freeman
  58. Kentucky JR LHP Dylan Dwyer
  59. Georgia SR RHP Jared Cheek
  60. Georgia rJR RHP David Sosebee
  61. Kentucky JR LHP Ryne Combs
  62. Georgia JR LHP Ryan Lawlor
  63. Georgia JR RHP David Gonzalez
  64. Florida JR RHP Taylor Lewis
  65. Auburn rJR RHP Justin Camp
  66. Kentucky SR RHP Andrew Nelson
  67. Vanderbilt rJR LHP Philip Pfeifer
  68. Mississippi State JR RHP Myles Gentry
  69. Kentucky SR RHP Spencer Jack
  70. Arkansas rSR RHP Jackson Lowery
  71. Auburn SR RHP Jacob Milliman
  72. Missouri JR RHP Peter Fairbanks
  73. Texas A&M JR LHP Matt Kent
  74. Louisiana State SR LHP Kyle Bouman
  75. Missouri SR RHP Jace James

2015 MLB Draft Prospects – Vanderbilt

JR RHP Walker Buehler (2015)
JR RHP Carson Fulmer (2015)
rJR LHP Philip Pfeifer (2015)
SO LHP John Kilichowski (2015)
JR RHP Tyler Ferguson (2015)
JR OF/RHP Kyle Smith (2015)
JR SS/2B Dansby Swanson (2015)
JR 3B Xavier Turner (2015)
JR OF Rhett Wiseman (2015)
rJR 1B Zander Wiel (2015)
JR 2B/SS Tyler Campbell (2015)
SO OF/1B Bryan Reynolds (2016)
SO C Jason Delay (2016)
SO OF/INF Nolan Rogers (2016)
SO RHP Hayden Stone (2016)
SO LHP Ben Bowden (2016)
rFR RHP Jordan Sheffield (2016)
SO C Karl Ellison (2016)
SO RHP/LHP Aubrey McCarty (2016)
rFR OF/INF Tyler Green (2016)
rFR OF Drake Parker (2016)
SO OF/2B Ro Coleman (2016)
FR 3B/SS Will Toffey (2016)
FR OF Jeren Kendall (2017)
FR RHP Brendan Spagnuolo (2017)
FR SS Liam Sabino (2017)
FR RHP Joey Abraham (2017)
FR RHP Matt Ruppenthal (2017)
FR RHP Collin Snider (2017)
FR RHP Kyle Wright (2017)
FR C Tristan Chari (2017)
FR 3B Joey Mundy (2017)

If JR RHP Walker Buehler, JR RHP Carson Fulmer, JR SS Dansby Swanson, JR RHP Tyler Ferguson, and JR OF Rhett Wiseman were your favorite big league team’s top five prospects heading into the season, I think you’d feel all right. Brewers, Angels, Tigers, Marlins (this year), and Rays fans know all too well what I’m talking about there. Buehler wasn’t in Keith Law”s final top 100 prospects back in 2012 and he ranked 50th on Baseball America’s list. Here, however, Buehler came in at 28th with the following text accompaniment:

28. RHP Walker Buehler (Henry Clay HS, Kentucky): classic case of a plus pitchability arm who one day wakes up to big league quality stuff; his upper-80s FB (91-92 peak) has jumped to a steady 90-94, peaking 95-96; best offsped pitch is an above-average 76-78 CB with plus upside, one of the best of its kind in the class – even more effective when he throws it a little harder (78-82); third pitch is a straight CU with tumble that at times is his best offering; hardly going out on a limb, but Buehler is one of my favorite prep arms in this year’s class: smarts, three big league pitches, and repeatable mechanics all add up to a potential quality big league starter; 6-1, 165 pounds

Since then all Buehler has done is dominate the SEC, add a second plus breaking ball (80-85 SL) and further refined his mechanics, command, and pitchability. The only thing he hasn’t done since his high school days is grow. For some teams this could present a problem, but I don’t see anything in his delivery (to say nothing of his awesome athleticism) to knock him for standing in at his present height and weight of 6-1, 160 pounds. What stands out to me above all else about Buehler’s progression over the years is the first line in the quoted section above. Young pitchers are probably too easily categorized as “pitchers” or “throwers” at an early age. Being a pitcher who is called a pitcher should not be newsworthy, but many use it as a shorthand for praising a guy’s command, smarts, and, at times, offspeed stuff while knocking his velocity. Calling a pitcher a thrower has a more obvious pejorative tone; throwers can do just that (often quite hard), but do so without understanding many of the nuances of what it truly takes to get more advanced hitters out. My favorite pitching prospects are the guys who don’t have the knockout fastballs at an early age, but develop it in their late-teens. Throwing in the mid- to upper-80s is more than enough to get even most good high school hitters out, but short fastballs like that get exposed against bigger programs and on the showcase circuit. When a stacked lineup is staring you in the face, you have to learn to be crafty and think along with the hitters by putting emphasis on the art of changing speeds, pitching backwards (more opportunities to throw offspeed stuff), and relying on refining command. If you just so happen to one day wake up and find your arm is now capable of throwing 91 MPH, then 93 MPH, then finally mid-90s heat, so much the better. The skills that you relied on before won’t disappear; if you use it wisely, you’ve only added another weapon to your arsenal.

Beyond his smarts, pitchability, command, athleticism, and groundball tendencies, Buehler sticks out to me for having two legitimate, distinct above-average to plus breaking balls. They can run into each other at times — I’ve seen an unhealthy amount of baseball in my life and consider myself reasonably bright, but distinguishing between curves, sliders, and even cutters isn’t a personal strength — especially when they are both in the low-80 MPH range, but there’s enough separation between his mostly upper-70s curve (77-83, really) and his “hard CB” from high school (then 78-82) that is now a fully formed 80-85 slider that both get swings and misses. I will say that in my experience viewing him and talking to smarter people who have seen him way more, the two pitches don’t often seem to be in that above-average to plus range within the same game. I’d like to chart a few of his starts to test the validity of this claim, but it’s been said to me that he’ll figure out which breaking ball is working early in the game and then lean on it almost exclusively as his breaker of choice throughout the game. The ability to spin two quality breaking balls on top of an impressive fastball (90-94, 96 peak) and average mid-80s sinking changeup that flashes much better on top of all of Buehler’s previous strengths and two arguable weaknesses (size and inconsistencies with his breaking balls) make him a difficult pitcher to find an instructive comparable player for. Some of the names I’ve tossed out as ceiling comparisons over the past few years include Roy Oswalt, Javier Vazquez, and Julio Teheran. All of those work and don’t work for various reasons, I think. I also think I like Buehler so much as a prospect that I’m cool with dropping the Zack Greinke with a harder curve comp that’s been on my mind with him for a while now. It’s not meant to be a comparison we all get crazy carried away with — Greinke was already in the big leagues at Buehler’s current age, after all — but in terms of the total present prospect package of stuff, pitchability, build, and frame, I think it works very well.

Fulmer has had almost as much success as Buehler through two college seasons with their only significant difference coming in the former’s more common bouts of wildness. It’s not the kind of wildness that raises any kind of red flags, but rather something that falls somewhere between the typical developmental path of an electric young arm and the potential start of a long, fruitful run of being “effectively wild” from now until the day he retires. That aside, the biggest real question about Fulmer will be future big league role. I’d like to think I’ve long shown a willingness to allow players to play themselves from bigger roles (starting, up-the-middle defensive spots, etc.) to smaller roles, so it should be no shock that I’d run Fulmer out as a starter for as long as he shows he is capable of holding down the job in pro ball. A big part of believing in Fulmer as a starter is the fact that his stuff does not appear to appreciably suffer in longer outings. He has the three pitches he’ll need to go through lineups multiple times (mid-90s FB, honest 99 peak; plus low-80s breaking ball; mid-80s changeup with promise) and more than enough deception in his delivery to make him a tough matchup in almost any circumstance. There is some fair cause for concern that his delivery — I’m not expert on on these things and I mostly only care that it’s repeatable, but it’s rough enough that even I can see what the fuss is about — won’t allow him to hold up throwing 200+ innings a season. This isn’t the only reason why Buehler is universally regarded as the better prospect (see the silly amount of fawning I do over him above for more), but it’s a big one. Not all drafts are created equal, but I have a hard time imagining Fulmer falling too far on draft day one year after a very similar pitcher in Grant Holmes went 22nd overall.

Ferguson is sometimes the forgotten man when people discuss Vanderbilt’s awesome pitching. On just about any other staff in the country he’d be the unquestioned Friday night starter. The greater likelihood that he’ll remain in a rotation has me wondering if we’ll all look back on the pre-season draft rankings and wonder how he fell below Fulmer. I’m not sure I’m gutsy enough to make that call right now, but it’s super close. If Ferguson shows a better changeup (currently interesting but undeniably raw) than he has to date, I think the bandwagon will get very full, very quickly. He presently throws gas just like Buehler and Fulmer (90-95, 97 peak) with a pair of above-average breaking balls in his own right (above-average low- to mid-80s cut-SL and a mid- to upper-70s CB). He’s also the most conventionally looking big league starting pitcher of the trio (6-3, 225) with amusingly similar peripherals through two seasons, especially when looked through a park/schedule adjusted prism (7.71 K/9 and 3.51 BB/9 in year one; 7.60 K/9 and 3.51 BB/9 last year). Big, strong, and consistent with good stuff from a top flight program known for churning out good big league pitchers? What’s not to like? If he misses a few more bats and shows a little something extra with the changeup, he’s an easy first rounder.

Swanson broke out last season in a big, big way. His first real test at the college level was hardly a test at all as he hit .333/.411/.475 with 37 BB and 39 K in 282 AB. He also added 22 steals in 27 attempts for good measure. The numbers obviously speak for themselves, but it’s still nice when the scouting reports back it up. Swanson can really play. I’ll indirectly piggyback a bit on Baseball America’s Trea Turner (with less speed) comp and reuse one of my comps for Turner last year for Swanson. It actually fits a lot better now, so I don’t feel too bad going to the Brett Gardner well in back-to-back drafts. The package of athleticism, speed, defensive upside at a critical up-the-middle spot with an above-average hit tool and average-ish power (little less, probably) works out to a consistently above-average regular with the chance for stardom — certainly flashes of it — within reach.

There’s a bit of a gap between Vanderbilt’s (draft) class of 2015 and Wiseman, but that speaks to the strength of having four likely first round picks more so than any major deficits in Wiseman’s game. I’ve run into two interesting schools of thought about Wiseman while putting this together. The first, and I’ll admit that this was my initial view from the start, is that he’s still more tools than skills right now. The tools are quite strong, but the fact that they haven’t turned into the skills many expected by now gives some pause. Still, those tools that were clear to almost all going back to his high school days are still real and still worth getting excited about. The breakout could come any day now for him and when it does we’ll be looking at a potential first-division regular in the outfield. The opposing view believes that Wiseman’s development has gone as scripted and what we’re seeing right now is more or less what we’re going to get with him. He’s a great athlete and a far more cerebral hitter than given credit, but the tools were overstated across the board at the onset of his amateur career and now we’re seeing expectations for him correcting themselves based on what he really is. There really are no pluses in his game and no carrying tool that will help him rise above his future fourth outfielder station. I’m a believer that it’s always wise to bet on athletes having the light bulb turn on before too long, so count me in as still leaning closer to the former (and my original) position. I do understand the concerns about Wiseman potentially topping out as a “tweener” outfield prospect — he hasn’t shown the power yet to work in a corner, but that’s where he’s clearly best defensively — so going on the first day might be off the table. He’s still an intriguing blend of production (good, not mind-blowing) and tools (same) who could wind up a relative bargain if he slips much later than that. I could see him both being ranked and drafted in the same area that I had him listed (110th overall) out of Buckingham Browne & Nichols.

In any event, I don’t think Wiseman’s viewed by many as quite the prospect he was back in high school and a good part of that was the way many — me included — viewed his rawness, age, and relative inexperience as a New England high school product as positives. We all are guilty of assuming there are concretely meaningful patterns we can expect from prospect development and that all young players will continue to get better with age and experience. Development is not linear and can be wildly unpredictable. Some guys are as good as they are going to get at 17 while others don’t figure it out (unfortunately) until way after their physical peak. This speaks to the heart of what makes assessing and drafting amateurs so much fun. We’re all just trying to gather as much information on as many players as possible and then making the best possible guesses as to what we’ll wind up with.

Vanderbilt has good players beyond their special top five. rJR 1B Zander Wiel’s success in limited at bats in 2013 had me really excited to see what he could do with steady playing time in 2014. The results were more good than great, but I remain encouraged about his future. Like Wiseman, toolsy JR 3B Xavier Turner has held his own (and more, at times) in two years as a mainstay in the Commodores lineup. His offensive skill set doesn’t necessarily scream professional third baseman (more speed and gap power at present), but that doesn’t mean it won’t play at the next level. Also like Wiseman, I’d stick with Turner this year because it never hurts to bet on athleticism. He’s an elite athlete with the kind of strength and speed blend even a fine physical specimen such as myself can appreciate. It’s awful hard to top a college left side of the infield of Swanson and Turner…hopefully there’s some good news coming regarding the latter’s suspension that will make that infield a reality.

1/20/15 EDIT: SO LHP John Kilichowski is eligible for this year’s draft. FR 3B/SS Will Toffey is eligible for next year’s draft.