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2015 MLB Draft Reviews – Cleveland Indians

Cleveland Indians 2015 MLB Draft Picks

Cleveland drafts in the middle of the first round pretty closely to how I’d draft in the horrifying alternate reality where an internet dude like me got that kind of power: lots of college players with long track records of success (with an emphasis on strong peripherals), a willingness to take calculated risks when the board allows for it, and tons of HS players with signability questions to help back up those risks. Let’s get to Mr. Calculated Risk himself…

LHP Brady Aiken (34) is kind of a big deal. I’m guessing if you’re here, you know his story. If 100% healthy, he would have easily been the top pitcher in this class and a top five overall prospect. Hypotheticals like this make my head hurt, but I think I would have had him as the top prospect for a second straight season. A mid-market club like Cleveland taking the gamble on Aiken tells us something about how teams view the draft. When everybody had teams like the Dodgers or the Yankees being the most likely franchises to take the Aiken risk, it was Cleveland of all teams to put all their mid-first round (17) chips in on a player with arguably the most upside in his entire class. Just another reminder that there’s no more frustrating place to be than in the middle. When you’re terrible, the sport does what it can to help you out., most notably through giving up top picks in the draft and the corresponding shot at the potential superstar players picked in the top half-dozen or so selections. When you’re great, you’re great. Simple as that. It’s nice that you have free agency (international and domestic) as an option to flex those financial muscles. When you’re in the middle, however, the best way to get the kind of game-changing talent you need is by taking mighty hacks and swinging for home runs when you get your shot. Aiken is Cleveland’s shot. So what are they getting with him?

My optimistic forecast for the pre-injury version of Aiken last season was a more physical Matt Moore. Ironically enough, that comparison was made just a few weeks after Moore went under the knife for his own Tommy John surgery. Aiken’s arm woes were revealed a couple of months later. It’s obviously very early in Moore’s return, but initial returns are a reminder that nothing is guaranteed when attempting a comeback from elbow surgery. Healthy, Aiken is an ace. I hope he’s healthy. Cleveland hopes he’s healthy.

I really, really like RHP Triston McKenzie (20), a mid-first round talent who fell to the Indians second pick at 42. Reaching out to get names on him after the draft produced some really impressive names: Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Wacha, and Vincent Velasquez. Each name was mentioned in the context of the draft version and not the finished product, but elements of each of those up-and-coming stars’s respective games (extension, smarts, ability to hold velocity, frame) can be found in McKenzie. In terms of a more contemporary comparison — because deGrom, Syndergaard, Wacha, and Velasquez are all soooo old — I’ve been reminded some of Grayson Long, third round pick of the Angels. Long managed to fill out physically, but his fastball velocity never made the expected jump along the way. Even if McKenzie follows that same path, he can still be an effective big league starter at his current velocity — presently 86-92, 93 peak — because of plus fastball movement and above-average offspeed stuff (the mid-70s curve is ahead now, but his 82-85 changeup could be plus in time). If he fills out and sees his fastball jump up like some of those names listed above…the sky’s the limit. If Aiken doesn’t make a full return to health, McKenzie has the raw talent, work ethic, and baseball IQ to make up for it.

LHP Juan Hillman (92) brings polish, pitchability, and deception not typically seen from high school pitching prospects. He has the requisite three pitches that go a long way towards making it as a rotation mainstay: 87-93 FB (95 peak), mid-70s CB with upside, and an easy above-average upper-70s CU that he leans on heavily. Too often he was seen on the lower end of that velocity spectrum (87-90) this spring with offspeed stuff not nearly as sharp as those who first fell for him the previous summer came to expect. Hillman is a nice example of how we really don’t know anything about how teams value certain players. On his best day, Hillman is a first rounder with mid-rotation upside or better. On his, shall we say, not best day, he’s more of a third to seventh round type with a back-end rotation or middle relief future. Teams that thought of him as a mid-round player were probably relieved to see Cleveland “reach” on him; obviously, the Indians front office is thrilled with getting him when they did. Consensus and the draft just don’t get along. RHP Jonas Wyatt (299) has a similar upside to the good Hillman if it all works. He’s pretty well physically maxed out for a teenager, but I like his fastball (88-94, 96 peak) and changeup (average low- to mid-80s with above-average upside).

If you want an early follow list for 2018 college pitching, look no further to the list of unsigned arms on Cleveland’s draft board. Check out these names…

RHP Chandler Newman (Georgia Southern)
RHP Daniel Sprinkle (Auburn)
RHP Austin Rubick (Arizona)
RHP Chandler Day (Vanderbilt)
RHP Andrew Cabezas (Miami)
RHP Braden Webb (South Carolina)
RHP Hunter Parsons (Maryland)
RHP Tristin English (Georgia Tech)

Day (39) and English (53) both are likely future first round picks in three years. Parsons (473) also made my top 500. And, for good measure, there are two unsigned college juniors going back for one more season…

RHP Lucas Humpal (Texas State)
LHP Jacob Hill (San Diego)

The best college arm taken and signed by Cleveland this year is attached to the body of RHP Justin Garza (156). The reasons for his drop to the eighth round are valid (5-11, 165 pound frame; TJ surgery about a month before the draft), but he’s exactly the kind of undersized righthander that deserves the chance to keep starting until he proves he can’t. Garza is a crazy athletic pitcher with three potential above-average pitches (90-94 FB, 96 peak; above-average to plus 80-86 cut-SL; average yet inconsistent 76-82 CU that flashes better) who held up well as a starter at Fullerton. In fact, he was remarkably consistent in that role: 7.67 K/9 and 1.33 BB/9 (2013), 7.40 K/9 and 1.73 BB/9 (2014), 7.34 K/9 and 1.94 BB/9 (2015) with ERAs/FIPs between 3.05 and 3.54 each year. The history of arm troubles — before the elbow, it was a sore shoulder — could make him remaining a starter a non-starter, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker. If he can stay healthy as a starter, I can see Garza as a mid-rotation arm; if not, he’s got the goods to pitch big innings late in games out of the pen. Not a bad gamble with pick 244.

The selection of RHP Matt Esparza is one of my favorite moves by the Tribe this year. He doesn’t overwhelm with his fastball (88-92, 93 peak), but his offspeed stuff is excellent (plus mid-80s splitter/slider hybrid, 76-80 CB with above-average promise), he has experience as a starter (7.36 K/9 and 3.18 BB/9 in 98 IP at UC Irvine), and he’s a fine athlete. It’s easy to imagine his stuff playing up further in a bullpen role — so far, so good as a professional — which is about all you could ask for in a fourteenth round pick. RHP Brock Hartson (428) is another favorite thanks to an excellent 82-85 changeup. His ability to throw three pitches for strikes makes up for his underwhelming college strikeout numbers some. A lesser version of former fifth round pick Nick Tropeano feels like a fair hope for Hartson’s pro future. RHP Devon Stewart (461) has stuff (87-94 FB, 96 peak; average or better low-80s SL; usable low-80s CU) that outstripped his college career numbers. A full-time move to the bullpen could give him a shot to keep moving up. RHP Chad Smith isn’t quite at his level athletically, but there’s some Justin Garza (undersized, big fastball, two useful offspeed pitches) in his scouting profile. LHP Billy Strode missed a lot of bats in his two years at Florida State (9.19 K/9 in 2014, 12.40 K/9 in 2015) and could have a shot as a lefty specialist if he can improve his control. I was pleasantly surprised to see him go as high as he did as a tenth round money-saving senior-sign. LHP Ryan Perez is more famous for his switch-pitching than known as a viable professional prospect, but his stuff from the left side (90-94 FB, above-average to plus 77-81 CB) could also make him a matchup guy with increased reps.

Cleveland didn’t sign a HS position player, but the college guys they managed to bring aboard are plenty intriguing on their own. C Daniel Salters (148) was a pre-draft FAVORITE who feels like a major steal as a thirteenth round pick. Arm strength, raw power, athleticism, and plate discipline add up to a dangerous hitter with a better shot than people think to stick behind the dish. I’ll admit that some patience might be required on the defensive side, but the potential pay day makes it worth waiting on. Interestingly enough, unsigned 33rd round pick C Garret Wolforth (179) will head to Dallas Baptist as Salters’s successor. Circle of life, I suppose.

1B Anthony Miller (423) hit .443/.556/.974 at Johnson County CC this past spring. He’s currently hitting .202/.288/.253 (give a take or two from when I wrote this to when I’ll post this) for the AZL Indians. Pro ball is hard. Power and a track record — junior college or not — like his are hard to come by, especially once you get down past pick 500. Nabbing Miller at pick 544 feels like a win no matter the outcome.

2B Mark Mathias (77) can flat swing the bat. It’s a risky profile as any bat-first second base only prospect tends to be (Tony Renda sticks out as similarly talented college guy I probably overrated), but snagging a potential regular at a key defensive position in the third round seems about right. I mentioned Mark Loretta as a potential comp pre-draft, so let’s stick with that for now. I thought 2B Sam Haggerty could be a tricky sign as a junior with three solid or better years with the bat under his belt as a college junior, so consider the steady fielding, fleet of foot infielder a potential utility infield sleeper. The Indians took four quality shortstops (signing two) that all ranked in my top 500 overall prospects. SS Tyler Krieger, the highest ranked (58) and highest selected (124) of the quartet, hasn’t yet suited up as a pro due to injury, so it’s unclear how the Indians development staff yet view him defensively. Shoulder surgery sapped some his formerly above-average arm strength, so second base seems like his most likely pro outcome. That puts him in direct competition with Mathias in a battle to man second in beautiful — not being sarcastic here, it’s an underrated town! — Cleveland. The two have actually been really similar hitters from a college production standpoint, so the edge to Krieger is more about speed, athleticism, and the glove. I still think both are future big leaguers. SS Luke Wakamatsu is an athlete who can run, throw, and field his position with the bonus bloodlines that teams love. Unsigned shortstops Nick Madrigal (102) and AJ Graffanino (239) head to the Pac-12 to square off at Oregon State and Washington respectively.

3B Garrett Benge (276) lived up to his reputation as a tough sign by announcing shortly after the draft his intention to honor his commitment to Oklahoma State. He should start right away to the right of returning senior Donnie Walton as part of one of the country’s best (on paper) left sides of the infield.

Between Salters, Miller, Mathias, and Krieger, the Indians did really well to interject some high probability big league players into the mix. I wish for their sake that they had added Belge, but now there’s one more interesting 2017 draft prospect to follow. The Indians then took a similar approach with the outfield prospects brought on board starting with Ka’ai Tom (313). Tom has played left field so far, but the pre-draft speculation that he could get a serious look at second base hasn’t died down as some have hinted that the Indians could give it a shot starting in the instructional league this fall. Such a switch would create an almost comical backlog of college second basemen to come out of this draft, but would fit his offensive profile better. Tom’s an average speed/average pop offensive player with the kind of feel for the game and makeup to play above his tools.

By my rankings both Tom and OF Nathan Lukes (478) were technically overdrafts, but you can see the logic what Cleveland was thinking in liking each guy. Like Tom, Lukes is more of an average all-around offensive player with his most appealing trait being his plate discipline and aesthetically pleasing well-roundedness. Same goes for OF Connor Marabell, the Jacksonville product with “good approach” as the first line on his pre-draft blurb. The safety of those three makes up some for the boom/bust potential of OF Todd Isaacs (316). Isaacs is a true burner with all that you’d want in a future above-average or better glove in center field, but the bat is going to take some time. I had Issacs all the way up as the sixth best high school outfielder in last year’s class. His up-and-down year at Palm Beach State (up: lots of contact and speed; down: approach and pop) knocked down his stock enough for the Indians to wait him out until the nineteenth round this year. It’s a pick that could pay off in a major way just as easily as it’ll wind up forgotten within two years. Analysis!

Top 500 Prospects drafted by Cleveland per me…

20 – Triston McKenzie
34 – Brady Aiken
58 – Tyler Krieger
77 – Mark Mathias
92 – Juan Hillman
148 – Daniel Salters
156 – Justin Garza
299 – Jonas Wyatt
313 – Ka’ai Tom
316 – Todd Isaacs
423 – Anthony Miller
428 – Brock Hartson
461 – Devon Stewart
478 – Nathan Lukes

Cleveland Indians 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Cleveland 2011 Draft Selections

Without repeating myself pre-draft too much (check all the bold below for that take), here’s where I stand on Monteverde Academy (FL) SS Francisco Lindor. Of all the positives he brings to the field, the two biggest positives I can currently give him credit for are his defense and time/age. Lindor’s defensive skills really are exemplary and there is no doubt that he’ll stick at shortstop through his first big league contract (at least). As for time/age, well, consider this a preemptive plea in the event Lindor struggles at the plate next season: the guy will be playing his entire first full pro season at just eighteen years old. For reference’s sake, Jimmy Rollins, the player I compared Lindor’s upside to leading up to the draft, played his entire Age-18 season at Low-A in the South Atlantic League and hit .270/.330/.370 in 624 plate appearances. A year like that wouldn’t be a shocker unless he goes all Jurickson Profar, a name Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks recently evoked after watching Lindor, on the low minors. Either way, I’m much happier with this pick now than I would have been a few months ago. Cleveland saw the opportunity to land a superstar talent at a premium defensive position and went for it, high risk and all.

So much has already been written about Lindor that I think I’ll cut right to the chase and explain what excites me about him and what worries me about him. First, and most obvious, is the glove. There are many factors that lead to attrition when it comes to amateur shortstops hoping to stick at the position professionally, but Lindor is as safe a bet as any prep player to stay at short that I can remember. He has the range, the hands, the instincts, the athleticism, and the arm to not only stick up to middle, but to excel there. With that out of the way, we can focus on his bat. At the plate, Lindor has one big thing going for him: his age. At only 17 years of age, Lindor is one of the 2011 draft’s youngest prospects. For a guy with as many questions with the bat as Lindor has, it is a very good thing that he has time on his side. His swing really works from the right side, generating surprisingly easy pull power. From the left side, there is much work to be done. There is something about his lefty stroke that seems to limit his power (can’t put my finger on what exactly), but you have to imagine good coaching and hard work give that a solid chance to improve. The iffy swing is mitigated some by his impressive bat speed, but it is still a worry. On balance, however, I have to say I do like his raw power upside as much as any of his offensive tools (hit tool is average for me and I don’t think he’ll be a big basestealing threat as a pro) and can envision a future where he hits upwards of fifteen homers annually. This may be an example of me forcing a comp when there really isn’t one there, but I’ve come around to the idea that Lindor shares many similarities to current Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus (Lindor’s power advantage and Andrus’ plus speed make this one a stretch, but I could see vaguely similar batting lines despite the differences). Rather than a ceiling comp, however, I’d say that Andrus qualifies as Lindor’s big league floor. If we’re talking upside, Lindor compares favorably with Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

Getting a first round talent like Searcy HS (AR) RHP Dillon Howard with the 67th overall pick is a big win for the Cleveland scouting staff. Howard’s two-seamer is a true bat breaker and his sinking low-80s changeup is a swing and miss pitch when on. Like any young pitching prospect some refinement is needed – work on commanding the four-seamer and a renewed emphasis on his promising slider – but there are enough positives to imagine a future where Howard is an above-average middle of the rotation arm with three pitches he can throw for strikes.

RHP Dillon Howard (Searcy HS, Arkansas): 90-92 FB, 93-95 peak; rumors of a 98 peak; also throws sinker that will break bats; outstanding sinking 81-83 CU; 76-78 CB; good 81-82 SL that he too often gets away from; good athlete; 6-3, 200

Merced JC (CA) RHP Jake Sisco was very much under the national radar for much of the spring, but area scouts knew him quite well. I knew him only as a hard thrower with underdeveloped secondary stuff, but Baseball America touted him as having the “makings of four plus pitches.” All I can really say is that I’ve heard differently. His fastball and pro body alone make him an interesting prospect, and the possibility of above-average secondaries make him a worthy early round gamble. As for Sisco having the potential for four plus pitches, here’s my honest take: Baseball America doesn’t know everything, of course, but they know a whole heck of a lot and you should probably trust them over me.

Merced JC FR RHP Jake Sisco: 92-93 FB, 95 peak; 6-3, 200

I don’t hold it against James Madison C Jake Lowery, but, man, does this guy have some fervent supporters. I rarely get any emails concerning the site, but Lowery had half a dozen friends/family members/fans who all very much enjoyed telling me how awful I was to rank Lowery anywhere but atop the top spot of the college catcher rankings. To them I humbly say: he’s a good player! Honestly, he’s a good player coming off an outrageous college season with the chance to someday play in the big leagues. However, he simply isn’t as good as his video game college numbers had some believing pre-draft. For my money, he’s in that big group of college catchers that could find work as big league backups due to his patient approach, average power upside, and good enough defense.

Lowery has a solid arm and is an above-average defender, but let’s be real here, it is the amazing power uptick that has scouts buzzing this spring.

Cleveland took Virginia RHP Will Roberts about ten rounds before I would have guessed he’d go off the board. His fastball isn’t overly impressive, but he does have a pair of secondary pitches (good change, average slider). His college claim to fame was throwing the first perfect game in Virginia history, so, you know, that’s pretty awesome. As a pro prospect, I’ll just say I really, really wish he was a lefty and leave it at that. I’m almost certainly falling into the trap of lowering Roberts’ stock in my head based off a few less than thrilling firsthand looks the past two springs, so consider my somewhat irrational bias in mind when forming your own opinion of Roberts.

Virginia JR RHP Will Roberts: 85-89 FB, 92 peak; good CU

Stephen F. Austin State OF Bryson Myles profiles as an interesting offense-first backup outfielder who, with proper pro coaching, should also contribute on the base paths. If you buy the bat a little more than I do, then you could be talking a player with similar upside to Marlon Byrd. I’ll be the under on the comp, but Myles, coming off a crazy college season of .440/.509/.627 (park/schedule adjusted) and a strong showing (.302/.394/.401) in the New York-Penn League, should still be a fun player to watch develop.

[plus athlete; good speed; interesting upside with bat]

I’m an unabashed supported of Divine Child HS (MI) C Eric Haase because I like athletic catchers with above-average hit tools and strong defensive tools. His journey to the big leagues will take some time, but Haase’s upside is worth the wait.

The biggest question mark on Haase is how the Westland, Michigan native wound up committing to Ohio State in the first place. Lack of allegiance to his home state university aside (I kid!), Haase profiles similarly to Blake Swihart, except without Swihart’s switch-hitting ability. Despite the typical risk involved that comes from selecting a cold weather prospect early, he’ll still find his way ranked near the top of some clubs’ draft boards. Strong defensive chops, plus athleticism, a strong pro-ready build, and a balanced swing will do that for a guy.

Gilbert HS (AZ) LHP Stephen Tarpley is an interesting case. He isn’t super physical, but his arm strength is big league quality. He shows flashes of above-average secondary pitches, but wasn’t consistent enough with his offspeed offerings to do anything but pitch predominantly off the fastball this past spring. If it came down solely to Haase or Tarpley as an either/or signing, I think Cleveland made the right choice, but Tarpley still has the athleticism and overall promise to get him to the early rounds in 2014.

LHP Stephen Tarpley (Gilbert HS, Arizona): 88-91 FB, 93 peak; good 74-76 CB needs polish; 81 CU; good athlete; 6-0, 170

St. Cloud State 3B Jordan Smith reminds me a little bit of former Indians first round pick Beau Mills. Mills obviously wasn’t a good pick in hindsight, but was a well-regarded prospect at the time. That said, bat-first prospects like Mills either have to be special (though let the record show that, at the time, Cleveland and many others thought Mills’ bat was in fact special) or, you know, not top half of the first round selections. Smith may not have a special bat, but he did enough with the stick at St. Cloud to make a ninth round selection seem worth a shot.

What you see is what you get with Cal Poly RHP Jeff Johnson. That’s a good thing when what you see is a big fastball and plus hard splitter. His ceiling is limited by the fact he’s a reliever all the way, but still rates as good a bet as any player drafted by Cleveland to contribute to the big club. A high floor power reliever is a good get in the tenth round.

Cal Poly JR RHP Jeff Johnson: 92-95 peak FB; nasty 86-88 splitter; two pitch pitcher makes it work; 6-0, 200

I wish Arizona State 2B Zack MacPhee (Round 13) had the arm strength to play on the left side. As it is, his future might be second base or bust. When he hits like he has in the past then being limited to second is fine, but the major tumble he had this past season is cause for concern going forward.

This isn’t quite Jett Bandy bad — notice the still strong BB/K numbers — but the degradation of MacPhee’s once promising prospect stock is still disappointing to see. On the bright side, he still has near plus speed, impressive bat speed, and excellent defensive tools up the middle. I’d love to know whether or not his batting average collapse had something to do with a BABIP-fueled string of bad luck or if he just isn’t making the kind of hard contact he did in 2010. Reports on him struggling to square up on balls this spring have me afraid it is the latter, but that great 2010 season should be enough to have a handful of teams buying into him as a potential utility player.

Feather River JC (CA) RHP Cody Anderson (Round 14) is another good example of a team doing its due diligence by closing monitoring both a player’s skill level and signability over the course of multiple years. Not much was though of Anderson last year at this time, but a year well spent at junior college now catapults his upside to the land of potential hard throwing starting pitcher. He’s still plenty rough around the edges – he fits the mold of thrower more than pitcher, for me – but the possibility he puts it all together is pretty tantalizing.

If I had any real baseball talent, I’m 99% certain I’d sign for big early round money out of high school rather than go to college. Three discounted years of hanging out in an educational environment like the ones found on campuses at North Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Stanford would be awful tempting, but I’m still quite sure I’d take the money and follow my ultimate dream instead. That could be the reason why I root so hard for players who do the exact opposite. Clemson RHP Kevin Brady (Round 17) turned down big early round Red Sox money out of high school to instead go to school. Two inconsistent, injury-plagued seasons later find Brady, a draft-eligible sophomore this past summer, still at Clemson trying to recapture the promise he showed as a high school standout. A strong junior season should easily get him picked ten rounds higher next June. Not for nothing, but Brady ranked 148th on my pre-draft prospect list. Whether or not he shows he can handle starting pitching – from both repertoire (he’s got the hard stuff to start, but still waiting on a usable change) and workload (can he handle the innings?) points of view – will determine his 2012 draft status.

Clemson SO RHP Kevin Brady: straight 90-92 FB, touches 94-95; good FB command; good, but inconsistent SL; occasional CB; improved CU; offered third round deal from Red Sox out of high school; 6-3, 205

Armstrong is a really underrated name for a pitcher. It is probably just me, but I take for granted how well it fits. East Carolina RHP Shawn Armstrong (Round 18) has, you guessed it, a strong arm. He also has an above-average slider to compliment his low-90s heat. I include him here mostly because I saw him a few times up close this past spring (oh, and also the name), but can’t say I’m particularly bullish about his prospect stock. If he irons out his control wrinkles and sharpens up his stuff, he’s a potential middle reliever. This Shawn Armstrong should not be confused with 2012 Draft prospect Shawn Armstrong of Morehead City, by the way. Don’t make the same initial mistake I did…

Cleveland delivered a nasty one-two punch to East Carolina with the signing of back-to-back picks Armstrong and ECU commit Ocean Lakes HS (VA) LHP Shawn Morimando (Round 19). Morimando is the second of Cleveland’s trio of short high school lefties, sandwiched between unsigned Stephen Tarpley and unsigned Dillon Peters. Unfortunately for Cleveland, Morimando is the least impressive of the three. Fortunately for Cleveland, there was enough of an uptick in his stuff this spring – offspeed stuff has always looked solid to me, and now his fastball is finally fast enough – to give hope that there’s a potential starting pitcher tucked away in his 5’11”, 170 pound frame.

Ranked one spot behind fellow unsigned high school lefty Stephen Tarpley on my pre-draft list, Cathedral HS (IN) LHP Dillon Peters (Round 20) is an uncannily similar prospect. He’s a little bit more advanced than Tarpley, but offers less projection and uglier mechanics. He has the three pitches needed to start at Texas, but concerns about his size and herky jerky delivery could keep him in the bullpen, at least at the onset of his college career. Without putting undue pressure on the Longhorns coaching staff, I’d say Peters is putting some serious money on the line by gambling a) he’ll be used responsibly in college and b) he’ll find a coach who can clean up his delivery enough to make him a viable starting pitching candidate. If in three years Tarpley is a Friday night starter mowing down college competition in line for a potential top three round selection, as his raw talent suggests, then there ought to be some Longhorn Network cash headed the way of Texas pitching coach Skip Johnson.

LHP Dillon Peters (Cathedral HS, Indiana): 90-92 FB, 94 peak; good 80 CU; very good 73-76 CB; 5-10, 195 pounds

Rice RHP Matthew Reckling (Round 22) is well positioned to become one of the 2012 Draft’s top pitching senior signs. A relative newcomer to pitching, Reckling struggles with some of the finer aspects of the craft like holding his velocity late into starts and showing the consistent command needed to get good hitters out, but flashes of a promising fastball and a good curve make up a solid base to build on.

Rice JR RHP Matthew Reckling: 90-93 FB at start, velocity dips to 86-89 quickly; good 79-81 CB, loses effectiveness when it dips to mid-70s

High Point RHP Cody Allen (Round 23) throws a fastball that hitters have a really hard time squaring up. That alone makes him interesting to me, though his above-average upper-70s curve gives him a second pitch to lean on in what will likely be a bullpen or bust career path. He impressed the Indians brass from day one due to his performance (75 K and 14 BB in 54.2 combined IP of 1.65 ERA ball) and maturity (filled in at High A and AA when organizational roster crunch necessitated a young arm to fill in).

High Point JR RHP Cody Allen (2011): 90-93 FB with great movement; 76-78 CB; 84-86 sinker; 80-82 CU

In a perfect world, every team would sign every player for a lot of money and we’d all be happy and content to go about our day. In reality, decisions sometimes have to be made about how wise sinking six figures into a pro contract for an 18-year old really is. St. John Bosco HS (CA) 3B Taylor Sparks (Round 24) would have been a good signing by Cleveland, but it is perfectly understandable why a deal wasn’t reached between the two parties. Sparks’ athleticism is borderline unfair (I know I’m jealous…), but it hasn’t translated to meaningful baseball skills, let alone exciting baseball tools, at this point.

Taylor Sparks, the former American Idol finalist (probably), is one of the most fascinating draft prospects in this year’s class. There are polished prospects who may be short on tools, but have high floors and a relatively clear path up the minor league ladder. There are raw prospects who have tremendous physical gifts, but need a lot of professional work to reach their admittedly difficult to hit ceilings. Then we have a guy like Sparks, a rare prospect with upside who is undeniably raw yet somehow not super toolsy. There are a lot of 50s in his scouting report (average arm, average power, average speed, average defense), but also something about his game that leaves you wanting more, in a good way. Part of that could be the rapid improvement he showed in certain areas — namely power and speed — this spring. If he can improve in those two areas, who is to say he can’t keep getting better after he signs on the dotted line?

The most interesting thing to watch concerning the development of Turlock HS (CA) SS Kevin Kramer (Round 25) over the next three years at UCLA will be his defense. If the fast-rising middle infielder’s hit tool continues to impress, he’ll be a legitimate early round prospect at shortstop in 2014. If he winds up at second, as I expect, he’s downgraded slightly but still a potential big leaguer. I’ve heard from “somebody who knows” that UCLA is pretty happy that Kramer made it to campus; to say he’s looked better than the player they saw in high school would be an understatement.

Strength, both at the plate and jammed into his throwing arm, describes Kramer’s biggest current asset. I also like his bat a lot — feel like I’ve said that about a half dozen players already, but it’s true — and have a strong intuitive feel on him.

All college baseball fans should be excited about the return of South Carolina LHP Michael Roth (Round 31) to college. Well, all fans of teams outside of the SEC. Roth is a tremendous college pitcher, an outstanding competitor, and by all accounts a fascinating guy with a vast assortment of varied interests outside the game. Rumors abound that he isn’t a lock to sign with a pro team even after his upcoming senior year, but, assuming he gives pro ball a shot, he’d make a fine mid- to late-round senior sign who would contribute to an organization beyond whatever he accomplishes between the lines.

Roth could presently be the lefty version of what Randall hopes to evolve into next year. He may not have a knockout pitch, but the way he works each batter’s eye level is a sight to behold. 

My only notes on Cal Poly RHP Mason Radeke (Round 35): “had elbow trouble in 2009.” He’s a little bit like Will Roberts in that, because of slightly underwhelming stuff, I wish he was lefthanded.

I have nobody to blame but myself for making a bad American Idol joke about Taylor Sparks when I could have just as easily saved it for unsigned Oregon State RHP Taylor Starr (Round 37). Sparks has gotten a Scott Mathieson comp from a friend who has seen both, though I can’t help but wonder how much their similar injury histories (Tommy John surgery twice each? Seriously, guys?) has to do with that. At his best he’s a hard thrower (pre-injury 94-95 peak), but you wouldn’t really know that from his college career. After throwing 22.1 IP in 2008, Starr has only faced three batters, and they all came in 2009. If you’ll allow me a rare bad word on this otherwise family friendly site…injuries are the fucking worst. There really is no telling what to expect out of Starr in 2012, but a return to good health would be an excellent start. We’re rooting for him.

I wrote about Virginia OF John Barr (Round 39) almost two years ago. This is what I came up with: “JR OF John Barr (2010) is as nondescript a prospect as you’ll find. It’s nothing personal – in fact, I saw Barr play in high school, and I tend to form weird (non-creepy!) attachments to players I’ve seen early on – but nothing about his game stands out as being an average or better big league tool. His numbers dipped from his freshman year to his sophomore season, but he deserves the benefit of the doubt as he was recovering from shoulder surgery for much of 2009.” Yeah, I’m sticking with that. He can run, defend, and take a walk, but there isn’t enough beyond that (i.e. he won’t hit) to make him a legit pro prospect. He’s still a good guy to have on the back end of your minor league roster, however.

Oregon SS KC Serna (Round 42) had a disappointing draft year, but rebounded somewhat in the eyes of scouts with his steady play in the field after being assigned to Mahoning, Cleveland’s New York-Penn League affiliate. Small sample size alert: the righthanded Serna destroyed lefties to the tune of .436/.489/.513 in 39 at bats as a pro. I can’t emphasize the small sample warning enough, but it could be something to keep an eye on. Late round college guys need to find a niche in pro ball if they want to keep the dream alive. A utility infielder who hits lefties well isn’t a role in crazy demand in the pros, but stranger things have happened.

Rahmatulla, Semien, and now Serna – three Pac-10 shortstop prospects who underperformed greatly in 2011. Serna’s struggles are more damning, for no other reason than his spotty track record of staying out of trouble away from the diamond. Scouts will overlook character concerns as best they can if you can really, really play; if you can’t, you’ll be labeled as a player that will cause more headaches than you’re worth.

I really like what Arkansas LHP Geoff Davenport (Round 43) and Cleveland did by coming together and agreeing on an overslot bonus of $100,000. Davenport wins because he gets to rehab from his March Tommy John surgery with a professional training staff at no personal cost. Well, that, and he gets 100,000 bucks. Good deal, I’d say. Cleveland wins because they get a quality starting pitching prospect for a relatively low financial figure all at the low, low price of a 43rd round pick. Davenport is obviously way more talented than your usual 43rd rounder who is well worth keeping an eye on as he rehabs into next season. When healthy, he shows that classic lefthanded pitchability repertoire (upper-80s fastball, good mid-70s curve, and solid change) that occasionally pays off with a prospect.

Arkansas JR LHP Geoffrey Davenport: 87-90 FB, 91 peak; above-average 76 CB; decent CU; good command; 6-1, 180 ; Tommy John surgery in March 2011


Alex White’s Debut

Cleveland’s Alex White made a pretty successful big league debut (6 IP 6 H 2 ER 4 BB 4 K – two of the walks were intentional) on Saturday against the Detroit Tigers. Per Fangraphs, he threw around 75% fastballs (both two-seamers and four-seamers), 6% splitters, and 18% sliders with the two fastballs the most successful of his four distinct offerings. In light of his solid debut, I thought a quick retrospective on White was in order. It can be a lot of fun to check in on draft prospects as they evolve into minor leaguers and eventually grow into big leaguers. It was a good idea…in theory. I say that because Alex White’s path the big leagues is a unique one. For White there hasn’t been a whole lot of evolving and growing, at least not on the surface. I don’t mean to downplay all of the work he has put in over the past few years, not do I want to make light of the personal growth and subsequent effect that has had on his professional prospects. I just think it is funny that not much has changed about White over the years from a scouting standpoint. This can be construed as either a positive (stuff has remained above-average across the board, plus he’s had no velocity loss) or a negative (no meaningful improvement in his stuff, with the exception of a slight improvement with his split), depending on how you world view. I’m a glass half-full kind of guy, so I think it is pretty cool that White has stayed true to himself. Sinkers, sliders, splitter. They helped get him drafted out of high school, they helped get him drafted in the first round out of college, and now they’ve helped him reach the big leagues after less than 200 innings pitched in the minors.

Big Board Standing

White started the 2009 draft cycle as the second overall ranked player on my board. His stock held more or less steady throughout the year, dropping only four spots to sixth overall. By June, White was behind only Stephen Strasburg, Dustin Ackley, Tyler Matzek, Mike Leake, and Tanner Scheppers on the board.

Mock Draft Prognostication  

White wound up going fifteenth overall to Cleveland despite the fact that in each of three 2009 mock drafts he was a top ten pick. I started with him going ninth overall to Detroit, then moved him up to fourth (Pittsburgh), and then finally settled on him winding up with Baltimore at the fifth spot. Three hacks at it, three empty swings.

Commentary (from 2/2009)

A big, strong righthanded pitcher, Alex White stands alone as the best starboard thrower non-Strasburg division in the upcoming draft. Originally a Dodgers draft pick out of high school (413th overall), White has, if nothing else, the Logan White Seal of Approval™. His rumored asking price was somewhere between $850,000 and $1.4 million back in 2006, a pretty good chunk of change to be sure, but it’s still safe to say he made a wise fiscal decision by passing up the pros. Think about all of the good that came from White’s decision to pass on the Dodgers offer. By opting to bet on his talent, he wound up with three partially paid years at one of the nation’s finest universities. At Carolina, White has been able to enjoy the beautiful surrounding area (hard to beat being college-aged and living in Chapel Hill), play at a gorgeous renovated ballpark, and experience all of the, ahem, perks of being a top student-athlete at a southern college campus. To do that all while learning from a top notch coaching staff that has helped him continue his development towards becoming a high first rounder cashing a paycheck that could triple his original salary demands as a high schooler. Alex White: living proof that in these turbulent economic times, the best financial decision we can make is to invest in ourselves. The Baseball Draft Report: come for the baseball, stay for the life lessons…and crazy run-on sentences.

White’s sinking 2-seam fastball regularly registers in the low 90s. White’s straight but heavy 4-seam fastball comes in faster, as he is able to pump it up into the mid-90s. He fits in with many of the other players on this list because he partners up that fastball with the occasionally slurvy slider that is a true weapon. The slider sits in the low 80s and works best when it bears in on the hands of lefthanded hitters. White also throws a good splitter that helps him get both swings and misses and plenty of ground balls. There isn’t a whole lot to find fault in with his actual stuff and he has top of the rotation potential assuming good health.

Commentary 2.0 (from 6/2009)

But I won’t knock the real Indians taking Alex White at 15. Sensational pick. White came into the year as the frontrunner to go number two overall to Seattle, so you know he’s naturally gifted. I buy the talk coming out of Carolina that suggested his struggles on the mound this year were due largely to nagging injuries. Get him healthy and watch him take off – White has the upside of a really good big league number two starting pitcher.