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Through absolutely no fault of his own, Central Arizona JC (AZ) OF Keenyn Walker (134th ranked draft prospect) drives me nuts. A few months ago I had just finished writing up a particularly insightful piece (if I do say so myself) on 2011’s junior college prospects (Walker included) when a wayward first grader sent my laptop crashing to the floor. Most, but not all, of my work was recovered. Losing my notes on the junior college prospects was rough, but I’ll do my best not to associate that sad, expensive day when evaluating Walker. I wrote about him a bit last year after the Phillies drafted him (see below). I felt that report was fairly positive, but I now feel even better about Walker’s prospects. He should be an above-average defender in center with top of the lineup speed and double digit home run power.
I like him more than your typical toolsy junior college outfielder because of his history dating back to his high school days as a guy with serious thunder from the left side. Whether or not that power plays professionally remains to be seen, but his plus athleticism, good speed, and strong arm will all help if the bat isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Guys like California RHP Erik Johnson (205th ranked draft prospect) are what make scouting tricky. At his best, Johnson looks like a mid-rotation horse with two quality offspeed offerings that flash plus. On his rougher days – like the day I saw him throw this past spring – he is a one pitch pitcher (fastballs only) that profiles best as a reliever. I realize this could be said about so many prospects, but I’ll state the obvious anyway: so much of this player’s development will come down to his adjustment to the pro game. If Johnson stays in shape/drops a few pounds and finds himself a consistent release point on the mound, he’s a big league starter. If not, he’s a reliever at best.
California JR RHP Erik Johnson: heavy 90-92 FB, 93-94 peak; emerging 76-78 CB that is now a weapon; 81-84 CU needs work, but is now plus pitch with added velo; command needs work; decent 85-88 SL that could also be a cutter; no sure fire consistent plus offering; 6-3, 240 pounds
Johnson County CC (KS) RHP Jeff Soptic (250th ranked draft prospect) is like a watered down version of the guy taken by the White Sox one round earlier. He’s got a big league fastball and has shown flashes of quality offspeed stuff, but has struggled with consistency, both command and control, and his mechanics.
Johnson County CC SO RHP Jeff Soptic: 93-96 FB, 98-100 peak; flashes plus 83-84 SL; average CU on his best day; control issues; 6-6, 200
Kent State RHP Kyle McMillen and Stanford LHP Scott Snodgress are more than just quality pitching prospects; they are data points for those (like me) who make the case that the 2011 draft had a once in a generation group of college pitchers. These two guys were buried on the college pitching prospect depth chart, but they both have big league talent. Snodgress, the more likely of the two to remain a starter, is particularly interesting as a lefthander with an above-average to plus fastball and the makings of a pair of average or better offspeed pitches. McMillen lacks a putaway breaking ball at this point, but has a solid heater and outstanding athleticism.
Kent State JR RHP/1B Kyle McMillen (2011): 89-92 FB, 93-94 peak; decent SL; average CU; power potential; 6-2, 185 pounds
Stanford JR LHP Scott Snodgress (2011): low- to mid- 90s FB, touches 96; potentially above-average CB and CU; 6-5, 210 pounds; sitting 90-92 in 2011; also at 88-91, 92 peak
I’m not a huge fan of California SS Marcus Semien (utility infielder ceiling), but he’s decent value as a sixth rounder. Pittsburgh C Kevan Smith (186th ranked draft prospect), however, is a totally different story. I’m an unabashed huge fan of his and consider him way more than just decent value as a seventh rounder; he’s a flat out steal. The tools have turned into skills, and I’m willing to go out on a limb and say I think Smith is a future big league starting catcher.
Semien is considered a draft sleeper by many, but I don’t see it. He probably has the range and arm to stay at short, so that’s a plus, but without much in the way of a hit tool, power, or speed, there isn’t enough there to project him as a big leaguer at this point.
Smith has been awesome at the plate and on the base paths (10/11 SB). It is great to see a player with such special physical gifts who is able to translate raw upside into big time college production. I never really have much of a clue how actual big league front offices view draft prospects and I haven’t heard any buzz about Smith’s draft stock, but I sure like him. Definitely on my short list of top senior signs.
Not signing eight round pick Angelina JC (TX) RHP Ian Gardeck is rough. I’ve seen him a few times over the years, from his time at Dayton to his days playing summer ball up in New England, and always came away impressed. His biggest current issues are, in order, poor command, a violent delivery, and a lack of any semblance of a third pitch. I tend to think his command has a chance to at least ramp up to average if his delivery – featuring a pronounced herky jerky head movement – gets cleaned up. That takes care of the first two issues. If, and that’s an “if” with a capital I, the coaches at Alabama can help with his delivery/command, Gardeck will be in the running for first college reliever off the board next June. That, in a way, takes care of the third issues; no need for a third pitch when you’ve got two plus offerings as a reliever.
Angelina JC SO RHP Ian Gardeck (2011): 91-93 FB, 94-96 peak, now hitting 98; good mid- to upper-80s SL; huge command issues; good athlete; Dayton transfer; holds velocity really well; violent delivery; 6-2, 210
Northwest Florida State JC (FL) LHP Matt Lane continues the trend of Chicago selecting big pitchers with quality fastballs and questionable breaking stuff. Unsigned Santa Fe CC (FL) LHP Ben O’Shea also happens to be a big pitcher (6-6, 250 pounds) with a quality fastball and questionable breaking stuff, though his change is more advanced than Lane’s. He’ll head to Maryland and be eligible for next year’s draft.
On account of the White Sox frugality and unwillingness to bust slot, there are a ton of college prospects outside of the top ten rounds to discuss. For reference’s sake, a “ton” in this case is equal to 32 rounds worth of college or junior college players. That’s crazy. Kicking things off we have California C Chadd Krist (Round 13). Krist has the defensive chops to play pro ball, but will have to ply his wares at the college level another year. He’s a backup catcher at best for now, but continued offensive improvement would make him an easy top ten round senior sign catching prospect in 2012.
Krist’s defense has been dinged as inconsistent in the past, but having seen him play a couple times in 2011 I have to say I think he’s underrated behind the plate. His arm might not rate above average and his power upside is limited, but he does enough just well enough to have backup catcher upside.
Chicago also couldn’t sign their next pick Oklahoma State 3B Mark Ginther (Round 14). Ginther has a world of untapped upside who could emerge as a top five round prospect and future big league starter at the hot corner.
I came into the year thinking Ginther was a better player than he has shown, and I still feel that way after another good but not great college season. His athleticism is up there with any college third baseman in the class and his arm strength is an asset defensively, but his hit tool hasn’t shown much progress in his three years with the Cowboys. Ginther certainly looks the part of a potential big league third baseman with three well above-average tools (defense, arm, power) and special athleticism, but it’ll take much more contact and a less loopy swing if he wants to make it as a regular.
James Madison SS David Herbek (Round 15) was good value in the fifteenth round as a high floor player with the upside of an offense-first infielder off the bench. The Bill Mueller comp from last year represents his absolute ceiling.
Last year I wrote: “Herbek is a certifiable draft sleeper. He currently has gap power to all fields, but his beautifully level line drive stroke (reminiscent of Bill Mueller’s righthanded swing) has me thinking there is double digit home run potential if he can add some strength in the coming years.”
I didn’t anticipate that double digit home run totals to come in just over 200 senior year at bats, but there you go. His bat ranks up there with almost any other college shortstop in his class, but the relatively low ranking can be owed to his occasionally spotty defense. As an offense-first infielder off the bench he’ll do just fine.
Arkansas OF Collin Kuhn (Round 17) does everything pretty well but throw. Jack of all trades, master of none players often find homes as reserve outfielders if they show enough of the hit tool early on.
Arkansas JR OF Collin Kuhn (2011): strong hit tool; good runner; good power; great range; good approach; great athlete
Connecticut RHP Kevin Vance (Round 19) was outstanding value this late in the draft. I like his stuff at least as much if not more than Chicago’s fourth round pick, Kyle McMillen. The evidence that we just witnessed a crazy strong college pitching draft continues to mount.
Connecticut JR RHP/3B Kevin Vance (2011): 88-92 FB; plus CB; plus command; has some experience behind plate; average power; 6-0, 200 pounds
Still think I prefer JR UTIL Kevin Vance as part of a battery, whether that be behind the plate or on the mound, than at the hot corner. I like his above-average fastball/plus curveball combo and plus command as a potential relief arm down the line. If he sticks as a position player, I think that arm would be best served as a catcher. Surprised to see his batting line as weak as it is because I really liked his level, powerful, and well-balanced swing. A team could gamble on his upside, but it is starting to look like his down junior year could keep him a Husky for another season.
Between rounds 20 and 25 the White Sox selected college players from the state of California with five out of six picks. Two of those players are Southern California 2B Joe DePinto (Round 21) and UC Santa Barbara OF Mark Haddow (Round 24). DePinto fell as a prospect due to an ACL injury, but is now back to full health. Haddow was a nice senior sign who shows flashes of four of the five tools, but the one that is lacking (the hit tool) is a biggie.
UC Santa Barbara SR OF Mark Haddow (2011): good athlete; plus power potential; too many K’s; good runner; solid-average RF arm; 6-2, 215 pounds; (263/365/409 – 22 BB/48 K – 17/21 SB – 198 AB)
JR OF Mark Haddow (2010 – UC Santa Barbara) offers up plus power potential, but also strikeouts about as much as you’d expected from a raw college player with plus power potential. Luckily, power isn’t his only claim to fame. Haddow can also rely on his solid athleticism, better than you’d think speed, and slightly above-average big league right field arm. He has the raw tools to dramatically rise up draft boards, but first needs to take a more disciplined approach at the plate to show big league clubs he’d cut it as something more than a backup outfielder professionally. If he begins even to hint at improvement in those deficient areas in his game, I’d bet good money some team out there will draft him with the idea that he’ll be a big league starter in right someday.
West Virginia 3B Grant Buckner (Round 26) went from relative unknown (to me, at least) to legitimate senior sign draft pick. His arm and raw power are his two best tools, but what I like most about him as a prospect is his defensive versatility.
Valhalla HS (CA) C Bryce Mosier (Round 33) will go down in the history books as Chicago’s first American high school draftee in 2011. He’s also a solid catching prospect who many teams didn’t think of as signable after round 15. The White Sox, much to their credit, did their homework and stuck with him as he fell down the board. I’m a big fan of his ability behind the plate and believe his arm is one of the best of any 2011 high school catcher. The White Sox followed up the pick of Mosier with another prep player, Washington HS (IA) RHP Dakota Freese (Round 34). Don’t go uncorking the champagne just yet because, unfortunately, they didn’t sign him. He’s off to LSU-Eunice where he’ll have the opportunity to pitch early and put himself in position to go in the top ten rounds in 2012. Irresponsible anonymous source alert: a scout friend praised his stuff this past spring before quickly saying they couldn’t recommend him to higher ups because of questions about how he’d handle the professional part of pro ball.
RHP Dakota Freese (Washington HS, Iowa): 88-90 FB, 92 peak; good CB; 6-4, 190
Our quick high school interlude is over; like young adults all over the country this week, it is time to head back to college. I’ve written a disproportionate amount on Virginia RHP Cody Winiarski (Round 36) over the years. He looks like a solid minor league arm at this point. Liberty RHP Keegan Linza (Round 38), he of the bigger fastball, looks like he could be a little more than that.
Virginia SR RHP Cody Winiarski (2011): high-80s fastball, 88-90, 92 peak; good 81-83 CU; average SL
Liberty SR RHP Keegan Linza (2011): low-90s
The unsigned trio of Helix Charter HS (CA) RHP Jake Reed (Round 40), Lawrence County HS (KY) RHP Chandler Shepherd (Round 41), and Madison JC (WI) RHP Joel Effertz (Round 43) all should be heard from in the coming years. Reed and Shepherd are especially intriguing prospects; both are athletic, have frames to put on some size, and better than expected (for late round high school pitchers) breaking stuff.
One of the most popular (fine, the only) question I’ve been emailed since starting this site up goes a little something like this: I’m going to see ____ University/College/State play this weekend and I was wondering if there was anybody with a professional future that would be worth watching. The College Team Profiles are designed to preemptively answer any and all questions about the prospects from a particular college team…or maybe just open up a whole new debate full of new, even more confusing questions. We’ll see. The next three draft classes for one particular school are featured, with the players ranked in order (from greatest to least greatest) within each class. As always, whether you agree, disagree, or think I’m a dope who should leave this sort of stuff to the experts (thanks, Mom)…let’s hear it via email (you can use either robozga at gmail dot com or thebaseballdraftreport at gmail dot com) or in the comments section.
JR OF Jarrett Parker (2010) is one of the best of the many 2010 toolsy lottery ticket kind of players. I haven’t been doing this draft thing for that long, so it is hard for me to compare talent levels from class to class, but it seems that this year has a high number of mid-round high upside, high flameout potential players. I also haven’t been doing this writing thing long, as you can see from the mess that was that last sentence. Anyway, as mentioned, Parker is one of the very best of the so-called (by me) “lottery ticket” group, so he isn’t necessarily included in the mid-round subsection. In fact, many see him as a candidate to go in the first round. It’s easy to see why. His mix of tools and big-time sophomore numbers would make him a top-three round guy right now. Continued incremental improvements in his game his junior year will push his draft stock even higher. I’ll make a scary cross-race comparison here and claim Parker has a similar skill set as Lastings Milledge. He has plus power potential, an above-average arm, good speed, and the defensive chops to be a well above-average corner outfielder or a steady stopgap in center. Like Milledge, he struggles against breaking balls to the point that it’s hard not to see him as a 100+ strikeout big league hitter at this point. However, and I try my best to sandwich the bad news in between good news when I can, two big assets in Parker’s favor are his big league ready frame (6-4, 210 after packing on serious muscle), and the seemingly ever-increasing athleticism and agility (honed by practicing yoga) that should help him withstand the rigors of the professional grind. Additionally, Parker improved his walk rate from his freshman year to his sophomore year, and continued the positive trend during his otherwise disappointing campaign on the Cape this summer. I like that.
JR OF Dan Grovatt (2010) has a very patient approach at the plate, power to the gaps, average speed, and a good enough arm to play right field professionally. Sounds good, right? It should because Grovatt is a top five round caliber talent. My only worry is that his more good than great toolset makes him too similar a prospect to former Florida State standout Jack Rye. Rye was one of my all-time favorite college players and a guy I touted as a draft sleeper, but his pro numbers, especially his power indicators, haven’t exactly set the world on fire so far. The comparison is probably unfair – one player’s struggles don’t really have anything to do with another’s future – but, having seen both play, the similarity between the two seemed worth pointing out. However, the two aren’t clones of one another, either. Grovatt is the better athlete and defensive player, and he has more upside with the bat, especially in the power department. Those are all pretty important points in Grovatt’s favor. It’ll take more time and research to see where exactly Grovatt stacks up when compared to fellow 2010 college outfielders, but I have the feeling that he’ll grade out higher here than in most spots. His well-rounded game and extensive big-time college experience make him a good bet to hit the ground running professionally. I’d peg his upside as that of a solid everyday corner outfielder (defense included) with a still valuable floor as a good fourth outfielder.
JR RHP Robert Morey (2010) will, if nothing else, always have a big win over Stephen Strasburg in the opener of the 2009 Irvine Regional. Fortunately for him, however, he won’t have to limit himself to that one particular game when someday regaling his grandkids about his playing days. A low-90s fastball, above-average slider, and an emerging straight changeup, plus his status as the Saturday starter for a championship caliber college team, should get him into the top ten rounds this June as a future back of the rotation starter.
JR RHP Tyler Wilson (2010) will probably be the Cavalier most directly impacted by Cody Winiarski’s arrival on campus. The opportunity to slide into the vacant weekend starting spot would have done wonders for Wilson’s 2010 draft stock. Even without the starting gig, he’ll get noticed as Virginia’s primary reliever, the bullpen ace relied upon to pitch multiple innings at a time whenever called upon. His plus command, good athleticism, and easy, repeatable arm action help him thrive in the role. Additionally, Wilson’s solid three-pitch mix (fastball sitting 90-92 and topping out at 94, good sinking high-70s change, average slider) gives credence to the idea he has value either in the bullpen or as a starter. I like him a lot, and believe he’ll be a top-ten round guy in June.
JR RHP Kevin Arico (2010) had himself a breakout season as Virginia’s closer in 2009. His bread and butter is a plus low-80s slider that he has no problem throwing over and over and over again. The first time I saw Arico pitch I walked away pretty impressed with myself for finally finding a player that I could compare to Kiko Calero. After seeing him throw a few more times since then, I think I’m now ready to upgrade the comp a smidge to now qualify Arico for a Chad Qualls type of ceiling. There is little to no chance his final draft standing rivals Qualls’s (you’d think last names ending with the letter s would annoy me, but, brother let me tell you, nothing is worse than a name ending in z), but he could still find himself as a top 12-15 round pick who could be a quick mover for the team that takes the plunge. There should be some concern about a player so reliant on one specific skill, but Arico’s results against high level competition should help assuage most clubs’ worry.
JR INF/OF Phil Gosselin (2010) heads into the 2010 season as the man without a position. The 2009 First-Team All-ACC second baseman has been working out in leftfield almost exclusively this fall, but has also apparently been told to be ready to fill in just about anywhere (3B, 2B, maybe SS, in that order) as needed this spring. It’s rare that a college supersub would be a legit draft prospect, but Gosselin is just that. He is a slightly below-average infielder with an average arm (2B being his most likely pro landing spot if a team prefers him in the infield), who will almost certainly be first tried in the outfield as a pro. I’m not sure if that is the best way to maximize Gosselin’s pro value. He doesn’t have the glove/range for center, and doesn’t have the bat for a corner. If he isn’t a starting caliber outfielder, why not at least give him a shot in the infield? If he can bump his defense up to at least average in the infield, then you’ve got yourself a player who can help you stretch the limits of your 25-man roster, especially in the NL.
JR C/1B/OF Kenny Swab (2010) and his Cavalier teammate John Hicks (2011) – separated at birth? Swab figures to have the inside track on the primary backup catching job, but should also see time at first base, right field (to take advantage of his plus arm), and designated hitter. He’s got a live bat with above-average power potential, but it’ll take some serious lineup juggling from Brian O’Connor to get him the at bats he’ll need to boost his draft stock. As is, Swab is a potential 10-20th round player based on upside alone.
SR LHP Neal Davis (2010) goes into his senior season as Virginia’s top lefthanded relief pitcher, a player able to skillfully mix and match fastballs, sliders, and changeups to get hitters out. His most recent season was arguably his least successful – certainly his least dominating – so he heads into 2010 with plenty to prove. His big league frame (6-6, 210) and past success in a highly competitive conference (he struck out nearly a batter an inning [39 in 40] while only allowing 7 earned runs in 40 relief innings [1.58 ERA] in 2008) combined with intriguing stuff (sits in the high-80s to low-90s with the fastball and has an above-average mid-70s slider) make him another second half of the draft option for a team looking for a warm A-ball body on the cheap. I know I do this a lot, but I’d be remiss to write this much about Davis without mentioning the possibility that his stuff and frame would actually play well as a starting pitcher professionally.
JR RHP Cody Winiarski (2010) comes to Virginia via noted talent factory Madison Area Technical College. After doing a little bit of homework on him, I’ve found that he is a player with a whole lot of adamant supporters. Someone who saw him pitch on multiple occasions while at MATC raved about his potential plus changeup. Another admitted that while he had never actually seen Winiarski throw himself, he had heard very positive things from others about his command and general pitchability. Winiarski doesn’t have as much room for error as some pitchers with bigger fastballs, but the praise he has gotten from those who have seen him firsthand makes me a believer in his pro prospects. Assuming he holds down the last weekend starting job as expected, watch out for Winiarksi as a potential top-15 round arm this June.
SR INF Tyler Cannon (2010) reminds me of a better version of Missouri’s Greg Folgia, a player picked a round higher in 2009. Cannon is solid in all phases of the game, but lacks fluidity on defense at any position. Between his lack of a true defensive home and his steady, but unspectacular bat, Cannon has many believing his professional role will be that of a super-sub capable of playing literally every position on the diamond, including catcher. His college counting stats (through his first two seasons) match up with Eric Bruntlett’s in almost an eerie way, but the comparison falls apart when you look at each player’s rate stats. Anyway, I’d say that the Bruntlett comp may actually be a tad optimistic at this point. Cannon’s collegiate track record isn’t quite as strong as Bruntlett’s (though another big season like Cannon had last year would close the gap) and he lacks Bruntlett’s tremendous Civil War reenactor (that may be the single ugliest looking word in the English language) style beard, but I’d bet on enough marginal improvements as he progresses into his mid-20s to see him getting a chance as a AAAA utility guy good enough to position himself as a potential callup when injuries to the more talented players occur. His big junior year gives him something to build on heading into 2010, and the continued increase of talented infielders to the Cavalier program ought to give him more of an opportunity to show off the defensive versatility that will be his best shot at someday playing big league baseball.
SR C Franco Valdes (2010) plays exceptional defense behind the plate. He’s adept at blocking balls in the dirt, athletic enough to get out of his crouch to pounce on anything in front of him, and has a strong enough arm to keep potential base stealers honest. He also has one heck of a reputation when it comes to handling a pitching staff. However, and this is a biggie, his offense (career OBP = .301) leaves much to be desired. However, and this is may or may not be a biggie depending on how you feel about this sort of thing, he does have the benefit of draft pedigree (15th round pick of Detroit back in 2006) on his side. I never know how much stock to put into previous draft standing, especially when we’re talking about a college junior or senior who was drafted in a late round three or four years prior. So much can change in the span of three or four seasons, you know? Valdes certainly isn’t a 15th round caliber player anymore, mainly due to the stalled development of his offensive game, but the fact he was previously drafted makes me hesitant to claim he has no shot at all this time around. At best, he’s worth nothing more than a late late late round flier at this point.
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.
INF JR Corey Hunt (2010) has to be a big believer in the idea that timing is everything, if for not other reason than to help him ease his troubled head at night. In a different era of Virginia baseball it’s possible Hunt could have come in, gotten playing time early, established himself as a useful defense-first middle infielder with above-average on-base skills, and pushed his draft stock up enough by his senior season to be a worthwhile 20ish round or so pick. Instead, he has been behind some pretty good veteran infielders to start off his Cavalier career and he’ll be behind some really impressive youngsters to end his career. Without regular playing time he’ll be a very difficult player for scouts to assess come June. The lack of track record and standout tools make him a non-prospect at this point.
JR INF/OF Tyler Biddix (2010) has one of the most underrated names in all of college baseball. K’Nex, Lego, Megatendo, Fischertechnik, Biddix, Uberstix, Blockos…which ones are real building block toys and which ones are fake? Pretty sure the end table I bought from Ikea a few months ago was a Biddix. Damn, the Ikea joke was a better one than the K’Nex/Uberstix one, wasn’t it? Wish I would have thought of it first. Anyway, I have no doubt that the real Biddix (the person) is a better prospect than the flimsy table, but not by enough to make him a draftable prospect.
SO INF/C Keith Werman (2011) did his best Pat Venditte impression while in high school, pitching a seven-inning complete game both lefthanded (3.1 innings) and righthanded (3.2 innings). That fun fact from the Virginia baseball website may have absolutely no bearing on Werman’s prospect stock, but it’s undeniably cool. What is relevant about his prospect stock is the fact he is a plus defender at second base who also has experience at shortstop and catcher dating back to his prep career. He can also handle the bat (.400/.481/.457 line in 70 at bats) enough to keep himself in the mix for a starting spot in 2010. Werman’s draft upside may be limited by his size (5-7, 150 – not saying judging him on size is fair, but it’s the reality), but the universal praise he earned last year as a sparkplug second leadoff hitter (the nice way of saying 9-hole hitter) for Virginia down the stretch should continue to get him noticed on the college level. The gap between Werman and Stephen Bruno is more perception than reality.
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.
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, Frank Thomas 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.
***Frank Thomas may or may not have been a shortstop in high school. I actually have no idea. I just thought he was a good example for the point I was trying to make. Now I realize that making stuff up doesn’t help my argument at all, but it’s my site and I get to be as bad a writer and as big a liar as I want to be. Maybe Jim Thome would have been a better example; I bet he played shortstop in high school…
UPDATE: Found something! Go here, or just trust this excerpt: “In baseball, he was a 6-2, 175-pound shortstop. The Cincinnati Reds were interested but never drafted him. So Thome enrolled at Illinois Central College, where he played baseball and basketball. The Indians drafted him in the 13th round in 1989, one of the smartest selections they ever made.”
FR SS Chris Taylor (2012) might have hit himself into regular playing time after mashing the ball throughout the fall. One rumored starting infield for Virginia has Steven Proscia at first, Keith Werman at second, Tyler Cannon sliding back over to third, and Taylor getting regular time at short. Taylor has plus raw power and intriguing defensive tools, but comes to school with a bit less fanfare as fellow freshman infielders Gragnani and Bruno.