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Somebody just asked me who my favorite 2012 MLB Draft prospects at each position across the ACC were last night. Alright, that’s a total lie…but here they are anyway:
Virginia Tech SO C Chad Morgan | .237/.333/.360 – 16 BB/34 K – 139 AB
Morgan was a favorite heading into 2011 because of his big power upside, plus arm strength, and well above-average defensive skills. His sophomore year numbers don’t exactly scream early round candidate heading into 2012, but the big tools remain.
Florida State SO 1B Jayce Boyd | .339/.423/.519 – 36 BB/30 K – 233 AB
Despite the change in bats, Boyd put up a nearly identical stat line in 2011 (2010 numbers: .341/.413/.528 – 28 BB/36 K – 214 AB) with the biggest exception being his improved plate discipline. The most difficult players to project – for me, anyway – are the prospects who are destined for bat-first positions (i.e. first base and corner outfield) because the margin for error is so slight. Boyd has a bat I believe in. Watching him hit reminds you of the difference between a good power hitter and a good hitter who hits for power. Boyd is squarely in the latter category; his plus raw power and outstanding collegiate production are byproducts of his special hit tool. I’d caution against thinking that his likely inability to stick at third base at the next level equates to below-average athleticism and negative defensive value. Yeah, it’s true that he may be too stiff to man the hot corner professionally, but his solid athleticism, soft hands, and great baseball instincts make him a plus defender at first base.
Florida State SO 2B Devon Travis | .336/.462/.523 – 43 BB/28 K – 5/9 SB – 220 AB
Travis will head into the 2012 season duking it out with North Carolina’s Tommy Coyle for the honor of first second baseman picked out of the ACC. I like the rising Florida State junior to be the first off the board because of his exciting mix of future tools and current skills. As his 2011 hitting line shows, his bat fits well as a potential pro leadoff hitter, offering that almost ideal blend of patience and little man (5-9, 180 pounds) pop. He has also shown above-average speed along with plus defensive tools at second, though his on-field output in both areas (only 10 steals in two years and up and down performances in the field) has been inconsistent to date.
Virginia SO SS Stephen Bruno | .240/.269/.320 – 0 BB/7 K – 0/1 SB – 25 AB
I wrote about Bruno a bit back in the day…
FR SS Stephen Bruno (2012) was one of the rarest of the rare coming out of high school – a prep player actually expected to stay at shortstop as a pro. We always hear about how pretty much every worthwhile big leaguer was the star shortstop/pitcher of his high school team, but it never registered how often these players were forced to move off the position after signing that first pro deal. I mean, Jim Thome was a shortstop in high school* because, let’s be honest, that’s just where you put the best athlete at that level. I remember watching Billy Rowell play shortstop in high school. He positioned himself about 3 steps out on the outfield grass, basically admitting to all in attendance he had no range and instead relying exclusively on his rocket arm to gun people down at first. Rowell wasn’t a pro prospect as a shortstop, but he played shortstop on his high school team because, quite simply, if he didn’t, then who would? Bruno was a top ten round talent in 2009 who fell to the Yankees in the 26th round due to a very strong commitment to Virginia. He’ll stick at shortstop throughout his career due to his plus range, slightly above-average speed, and Speedy Gonzalez quick hands. He has flashed present power, launching a couple of 450 bombs his senior year of school, but lacks the overall strength to do it on a consistent basis. That last point may not seem like a huge deal for a middle infield prospect, but it does speak to the general concerns about Bruno’s future. Some players are projects based on the development of their tools, an area that Bruno grades out fairly well across the board (in addition to the aforementioned defensive skills, he has a 55 arm), but other players are projects based on their physical development. That’s where Bruno is at right now. He has worked his tail off to improve in each of the five tools (most notably speed and arm strength), but it’ll be the way is body fills out (keeping in mind he is 5-9, 165) that will make him into either a first round caliber guy or not.
It really is a shame that an injured hamstring has held back Bruno in 2011 because, when healthy, he can really, really play. He should get his chance next season, though it remains to be seen if he’ll get the opportunity to unseat the incumbent Chris Taylor or have to put his strong arm and good athleticism to use elsewhere on the diamond. As good as Taylor has been at short for the Cavaliers, I think Bruno’s defensive upside is even higher.
North Carolina State SO 3B Danny Canela | .267/.349/.443 – 17 BB/26 K – 131 AB
This may be a little bit of a cheat seeing how Canela’s likeliest defensive home at the next level is probably behind the plate, but a little bit of creative licensing gets him the job at the hot corner on our list. He is probably talented enough to play at least average defense at either position, but his, shall we say, “compact” 5-10, 230 pound frame gives him the look of a future pro backstop. Canela’s signature tool is probably his raw arm strength – no surprise considering his two defensive positions – but his quick bat and power upside are nearly as appealing positives.
Georgia Tech SO OF Brandon Thomas | .322/.434/.449 – 38 BB/40 K – 20/23 SB – 205 AB
It’s easy to see why Thomas has drawn favorably comparisons (by me) to former Georgia Tech outfielders Charlie Blackmon and Danny Payne. A quick rundown of his biggest positives: above-average range in a corner spot, an arm strong enough for right field, good speed that he knows how to use, gap power with a chance for more, excellent athleticism, and a pro ready body (6-3, 205 pounds). It can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint a good prospect a year ahead of the draft, but tools like that combined with really strong production at an outstanding college program make this whole prognostication thing a lot easier.
North Carolina State SO OF Tarran Senay | .271/.401/.388 – 26 BB/38 K – 0/1 SB – 129 AB
Senay is probably the least toolsy of the outfielders listed, so the “bat or bust” risk factor typified by future first basemen/left fielders is magnified. Injuries knocked his numbers down in 2011 (check his freshman season line: .304/.456/.571 – 28 BB/29 K – 112 AB), but the plus raw power keeps him squarely on the 2012 draft map.
Virginia SO OF Reed Gragnani | .293/.410/.361 – 19 BB/13 K – 1/3 SB – 133 AB
A little bit of Gragnani appreciation written by me (though with too much information lifted from here…I feel bad about that, so sorry Mr. Kolenich…I’ve gotten better at attributing sources since then) prior to his freshman year…
FR SS Reed Gragnani (2012) is yet another talented young prospect expected to see significant time in a loaded Virginia infield. His game right now revolves largely around his well above-average speed, excellent athleticism, and impressive range up the middle, but he is no slouch with the bat either. Early comps include Brian Roberts (if he develops as is) and Ryan Zimmerman (if he bulks up and gains power). Gragnani’s brother, Robbie, grew four inches during his college tenure at Virginia Commonwealth, so that Ryan Zimmerman developmental path isn’t totally out of the question. That’s not to say that the only thing standing in the way between Gragnani and future big league All-Star status is a couple of inches and some muscle, but he’s a good player with high round talent all the same.
I still believe in Gragnani as a middle infielder, but also think he has the tools to play a mean center field if given the chance. I also still believe in his bat. While it is true that his power hasn’t come on like many (myself included) had hoped, he still has the chance to hit for a high average and gap power at the next level.
1. One of the interesting things about previewing college teams heading into 2011 draft season is getting the chance to review what actually went down in 2010. The transition from this year’s draft to the next happens so fast that it can be hard to process what exactly happened between draft day and signing day. To wit, I would have never guessed the Hokies had a whopping 8 players selected in last year’s draft. I see almost no way they match that number this year — honestly, getting half the amount would be an accomplishment with the talent level of Virginia Tech’s upperclassmen — but that doesn’t take away from the really impressive group of talent that graduated to the professional ranks last year. There’s no Austin Wates, Jesse Hahn, or Mathew Price in this year’s class, but prospects like JR 3B Ronnie Shaban, SR SS Tim Smalling (unsigned 14th rounder last year), and JR RHP Jake Peeling could all go as early as round 7 or 8.
2. Pretty sure my favorite draft prospect on this year’s Virgina Tech team is a player who has yet to record his first plate appearance with the squad. FR C/OF Chad Morgan (2012 draft eligible after redshirting last season) should get all the at bats he can handle this upcoming year. Morgan has a strong bat, good pop, a plus arm, and enough athleticism to play multiple spots around the diamond. I’ve heard a “shorter Ryan Ortiz” comp that I think is appropriate. He’s one to watch.
3. It’s funny to see where my opinions diverge with the big boys in the industry because, for reasons I really can’t explain, there seems to be a weird pattern when it comes to our differences. Let me preface this by saying that those actually in the business have way better contacts, resources, and pooled brain power devoted to what they do, so, when in doubt, go with the experts you’ve come to know and trust. Anyway, it seems that there are certain colleges and geographical regions where I consistently fall in line with the experts and certain spots where there are bigger disagreements in player preferences. This year’s group of draft eligible Virginia Tech talent falls under the umbrella of big time divergent opinion. I’m relatively down on Virginia Tech compared to many of the smarter people actually in the business, so, like always, take all this for what really is.
Early 2011 Draft Guesses
I only see two solid bets I’d be willing to stick my neck out on to get drafted this year out of the Virginia Tech lineup: Ronnie Shaban and Tim Smalling. Both players are flawed — Shaban lacks a standout tool and Smalling’s approach at the plate leaves much to be desired — but each does enough well — Shaban’s bat could be an above-average tool and his arm is strong while Smalling’s similarly effective bat plays even bigger up the middle — that they should be off the board within the first fifteen rounds. Jake Peeling‘s flaw is more damning as teams tend to be very wary of pitchers coming off of labrum surgery, but an average fastball, above-average slider, and good size could get him back on the prospect radar this spring. After those three, there is a noticeable gap in Hokie draft eligible talent. SO 1B Andrew Rash has huge righthanded power, but equally large holes in his swing (20 K’s in only 90 AB last year). SO RHP Charlie McCann could be on the outside looking in as he fights for meaningful innings in the early going, but his solid three pitch mix (upper-80s FB, effective slow CB, good CU) should get him on a few follow lists for 2012 and 2013.