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Favorites – Part I (ACC)

I’m an admitted draft junkie who loves tracking the NFL and NBA Drafts almost as much as I love keeping things current on this here MLB Draft site. Like any follower of any pro sport draft, I tend to obsess about certain players that I really, really, really would like to see my favorite team draft at some point. This is relatively easy when it comes to the NFL (Fletcher Cox, Brandon Boykin, Joe Adams, and Isaiah Pead would be a super first three rounds for the Eagles) and NBA (John Henson or Tony Mitchell, please) because I have no real dog, outside of said allegiance to “my” team, in those races. I watch the entire draft process unfold and enjoy it like the fan that I am. When it comes to baseball, things are a bit different. The idea of a draft favorite isn’t entirely consigned to “Boy, I hope my team drafts him.” There’s more separation between my feelings towards my team and the overarching respect I have for the entire year-round grind that is following the draft. I think I do a pretty good job of masking my Phillies fandom as much as I can, but I still have my moments, especially on draft day, when the raw emotion of “They took they guy I wanted them to take? They took the guy I wanted them to take! THEY TOOK THE GUY THEY WANTED THEM TO TAKE!!!” or, more likely, “Him? Why?????” takes over. That said, here’s my attempt to share a few names that I oh so cleverly denoted in my notes as personal favorites by marking each name with FAVORITE. There were 31 college guys and 12 high school guys that I marked as FAVORITE(s) before the season started. Apologies to anybody out there who finds this a tad self-indulgent — it is a bit more meta, than I personally like — but I’m short on time this week so this will have to do in a pinch. These favorites aren’t so much guys that I’d want my team to draft, but rather players who do certain things well and/or guys who have impressed me firsthand and/or prospects that I have that tricky to pin down “it” factor that just draws an evaluator towards them.

There’s no rhyme or reason to the order, other than the fact I organize my notes by conference starting with the AQ schools (ACC, Big East, SEC, etc.), then move to the “mid-majors,” and finish with junior colleges, NAIA, and Division II and III. Not every conference will be covered due to time constraints — the draft is less than six weeks away, you know — but we’ll get to as many was we can. Many, though not all, of the favorites are at least somewhat off the beaten track in terms of national attention, but I’m sure most readers will be familiar with the vast majority of names shared in this space. To kick things off, the ACC…

Virginia JR SS/3B Stephen Bruno (2012)

Why was he a favorite?

No weak tool – good speed, strong arm, plus or near plus defensive tools at short, more than enough pop for a middle infielder. I also have a soft spot for prospects who play out of position as amateurs, though I can’t really explain why. Plus, I wrote about him back in January 2010, so we’ve got a little history here.

Update (park/schedule adjusted stats)

.407/.458/.593 – 13 BB/16 K – 9/9 SB – 162 AB

Verdict

All scouting reports remain positive, and his performance in 2012 is getting him the notice he rightfully deserves. He’s been on the radar for years — once upon a time he was a New Jersey high school star and draft pick of the New York Yankees — but is finally breaking out in a big way on the college stage after missing the 2011 season due to injury. I haven’t stacked up the entire draft board yet, so I can’t really put a range on where he’ll be drafted, but his ceiling is considerable.

North Carolina SO 3B Colin Moran (2013)

Why was he a favorite?

I’m hardly alone in loving Moran’s upside, but his approach, picture perfect lefthanded stroke, and much improved defense at the hot corner are too much to ignore. I haven’t seen the experts lists for 2013 just yet, but I’m fairly certain that Moran will rank very, very highly (first overall?) on my own summer list.

Update (park/schedule adjusted stats)

.389/.463/.556 – 14 BB/11 K – 90 AB

Verdict

The numbers are eerily similar to Moran’s freshman season line of .351/.462/.577. The big difference has been Moran’s 2012 health – the UNC sophomore broke his right hand early about a third of the way through the current season. Before the injury there were some positive reports about Moran’s defense, as well as some less than positive things said about his overall tools package (e.g. only his hit tool is clearly above-average…the rest of his tools, not so much). There are tools beyond the standard big five that scouts look for, and Moran’s pitch recognition, plate coverage, ability to hit to all fields, and balanced swing mechanics all contribute to his plus-plus plate discipline. Every evaluator will weigh particular skills differently, but Moran’s plate discipline means a great deal more to me than the fact that he isn’t a great runner or not a burner on the base paths.

Georgia Tech SO 1B/OF Daniel Palka (2013)

Why was he a favorite?

Short and sweet: plus-plus raw power

Update (park/schedule adjusted stats)

.295/.378/.564 – 13 BB/31 K – 149 AB

Verdict

More or less about what we expected from Palka in his sophomore campaign. Like Moran before him, his 2012 numbers very closely mirror his freshman year stats (.310/.389/.586). The power will remain less of a question than his eventual defensive home. If he can handle an outfield corner from an athletic standpoint — with his arm, he’d look good in right — then he’s a potential first round pick in 2013. If he’s limited to first base, well, he could still wind up as a first day pick, but it will take the requisite amount of hitting (i.e. even more than he’s currently doing) to build the confidence that he can play everyday at first in the big leagues.

Georgia Tech SO OF Kyle Wren (2013)

Why was he a favorite?

I’m a sucker for speed, professional CF range, and the ideal leadoff hitter approach. He reminds me of Alabama’s Taylor Dugas, another FAVORITE you’ll see later on, but with louder tools.

Update (park/schedule adjusted stats)

.261/.355/.360 – 21 BB/19 K – 12/16 SB – 161 AB)

Verdict

As happy as I am to see he’s maintained many of his strengths — still fast, still a good defender, still taking pitches — there’s no denying that his 2012 has been a disappointment. The “good” news for college baseball fans is that they are likely to get another year out of Wren, as I’d be fairly surprised to see the draft-eligible sophomore get drafted high enough to keep him from returning to Georgia Tech for a junior season. I remain a fan, but concede the point that many have made all along – Wren will have to put on some muscle if he hopes to continue to make progress as a hitter.

Clemson SO 2B/SS Steve Wilkerson (2013)

Why was he a favorite?

Speed, athleticism, defensive tools, and a strong high school pedigree all put him on the map, but really strong word of mouth from scouts who saw him firsthand sold me on his potential big league starting infielder upside

Update (park/schedule adjusted stats)

.329/.374/.412 – 13 BB/26 K – 170 AB

Verdict

As much as any player listed above, the jury is still out on Wilkerson’s future. His bat has been even better than advertised and there is continued positivity about his speed and defense, but he’s reputation as a free swinger makes me a little nervous going forward. He’s one to watch all the same, and could emerge as an even better prospect than I currently give him credit for assuming he gets the chance to play some shortstop (he should once Jason Stolz graduates, right?) down the line.

2011 College World Series Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels

The first team to get the full College World Series preview is your North Carolina Tar Heels. The setup up for this is about as simple as can be: first category is for players drafted in 2011, second category is for players eligible for the 2012 draft, and the last category is for, you guessed it, players eligible for the 2013 draft. 

1.30 JR SS Levi Michael (Minnesota Twins) | 34th ranked prospect overall

I’ve mentioned it before, but it is so incredible to me that it bears repeating: Levi Michael graduated high school early to enroll at UNC mid-year, and then went on to tear it up as a freshman playing as a starter in the ACC. Occasionally we’ll see pitchers do this, and last year we had the whole Bryce Harper skipping his senior year to go destroy wood ball junior college ball thing, but it is still pretty rare to see a hitter do what Michael did in the manner he did (repeat: he smashed the ball all over the place back in 2009 as an 18-year-old) that it is worth pointing out over and over again. Michael has plenty of bat speed, double-digit homer upside, and the footwork and instincts to potentially stick at his junior season college position of shortstop.

Big fan of Michael the college player and Michael the new Minnesota Twins first round prospect. He’s a joy to watch as a big play college shortstop and team leader who also projects as a potential above-average regular with plus defensive upside at second. I’ve always been a sucker for guys with the kind of plate discipline that have you wondering if they know the strike zone better than the men in blue actually paid to call balls and strikes.

8.247 SR RHP Greg Holt (Washington Nationals)

Huge raw power, but one of three natural first basemen vying for playing time behind Dustin Ackley on 2009 team; Moneyball listed as favorite book, so he has that going for him

How’s that for a blast from the past? Back in March 2009 Holt was battling Tarron Robinson and Brett Thomas for whatever at bats could be had behind eventual number two overall pick Dustin Ackley. Now Holt is a relief prospect with a fastball that sits 88-91 (93 peak) and a good low-80s slider.

24.730 SR 1B Jesse Wierzbicki (Houston Astros) | 164th ranked prospect overall (2010)

Wierzbicki’s tools grade out as solid across the board, especially if you’re like me and willing to grade a catcher’s running speed on a curve. I tend to think of backup catchers falling into one of three general archetypes. The first group of backups are the sluggers (big raw power, capable of popping an extra base hit or two in that one start a week), the second are the defensive aces (nothing mesmerizes big league coaching staffs more than a catching with a plus arm), and the third are the players that do everything pretty well, but nothing great. Wierzbicki falls squarely in with that last category of player. He’s known for having power to the gaps, a consistent line drive generating swing, and a solid arm. He’s also a tireless worker who knows his own athletic limitations, two of those tricky intangible qualities that either mean a lot to a team or nothing at all.

That was written back in 2010 when I thought Wierzbicki could play behind the plate as a pro. I still think he’s got the athleticism and enough catch-and-throw ability to play back there. As a first baseman, however, I don’t see how his bat will work at all. Hopefully the Astros will be creative and try him in a utility role going forward.

25.768 SR RHP Patrick Johnson (Colorado Rockies)

Starter for UNC in the past, but profiles better as a reliever in the pros; too early to predict, but he could be on the Robert Woodard/Adam Warren four year path; good numbers, but has done it all against inferior mid-week competition; lack of size may doom him to the bullpen long-term, but his performance pitching largely out of the pen this season give hope that his stuff will play

Fairly prescient 2009 prognostication, if I do say so myself. Warren, who has been so much better as a pro than I ever would have imagined, is probably Johnson’s absolute best case scenario at this point. He throws an upper-80s fastball (92 peak), good upper-70s curve, and average change.

42.1285 JR C Jacob Stallings (Cincinnati Reds) | 158th ranked prospect overall

There is no question about Stallings’s plus defense; that alone could be his ticket to the show as a backup catcher. Like Kometani, there’s more raw power here than he has shown so far. Stallings isn’t really talked about as a top college catching prospect, but he’s a really talented prospect with a plus-plus arm that could make him an interesting mound conversion if things don’t work out behind the dish.

I won’t lie here. I’m baffled about Stallings falling as low as he did. I suppose acceptance that strange things happen during the draft is the only way to survive in these topsy turvy times. Players with a legit upside of backup catcher/middle reliever are more useful than his draft pick warranted. I haven’t heard anything to back this up, but perhaps his signability is in question.

*****

JR RHP Jimmy Messer (2012) | 10.80 K/9 – 3.60 BB/9 – 5.09 FIP – 10 IP

44th round pick in 2008; favorite foods are sushi and Swiss cake rolls, a winning combination if I ever heard one; fastball sits in the low 90s, above-average (present) curveball with definite plus potential; another top three round candidate

Messer hasn’t quite developed into the player many thought he would, but there is still time for the rising senior. His average fastball (88-90, 92 peak), above-average 75-77 slider, and solid command could make him an attractive mid-round senior sign relief prospect in 2012. If nothing else, we’ll always have that sushi and Swiss cake roll combo…

JR RHP Garrett Davis (2012)

Good size (6-4, 195); currently no spot for him in the rotation, but may be stretched out as starter next year; definitely has the repertoire to start; will be draft eligible next year as a redshirt sophomore, velocity has crept back up after TJ surgery in March 2008, but his command and availability to pitch back-to-back games remain question marks going forward

Deservedly lauded for great raw stuff, Davis has dealt with nagging injuries and bouts of wildness that have limited his college innings. Modern medicine has spoiled us into thinking Tommy John surgery always ends happily; hard as it is to say, we must now entertain the thought that Davis will never return to his high school, pre-injury form. Or we can continue to believe he’ll find a consistent release point and improve his control as a senior. I prefer the latter.

***

SO RHP Michael Morin (2012) | 10.05 K/9 – 2.40 BB/9 – 2.86 FIP – 60 IP

The good news is Morin’s changeup is a true plus pitch. The bad news is…well…there isn’t much bad news. Backed up by his solid fastball (88-92 with room for more), good sinking two-seamer, average curve, above-average athleticism, pro frame (6-4, 180 pounds), and outstanding college production, Morin is one of the best college arms of the 2012 class.

SO RHP Cody Penny (2012) | 10.69 K/9 – 4.50 BB/9 – 2.59 FIP – 16 IP

Penny has the present stuff of a dominant college reliever (mid-90s peak fastball and a really good spike curve), and the future stuff (CU and SL coming on) of a potential pro starter.

SO 2B Tommy Coyle (2012) | .337/.429/.451 – 37 BB/21 K – 19/25 SB – 255 AB

Coyle played his high school ball about fifteen minutes from where I grew up, so I was lucky enough to catch him a couple of times during his senior season. He’s got above-average speed and athleticism, a really solid line drive swing, and an outstanding batting eye. It is still really early in the process, but I think we’re looking at a player with the ceiling of a big league regular with the possibility of a utility future a realistic backup option. I’m looking forward to seeing where he stacks up against the rest of the 2012 college middle infield crop, but I have a feeling he’ll be up there.

SO RHP Cody Stiles (2012) | 7.54 K/9 – 2.92 BB/9 – 3.91 FIP – 37 IP

With two breaking balls with above-average upside, Stiles heads into his junior campaign with a chance to shoot up draft boards. This isn’t a realistic comp for a sophomore coming off a 37 inning regular season, but there is something about Stiles’ repertoire (94 peak FB, promising SL and CB, CU with sink) that reads a little like 2011 first round pick Matt Barnes.

SO LHP RC Orlan (2012) | 12.56 K/9 – 5.65 BB/9 – 3.54 FIP – 14.1 IP

Sometimes good college pitchers are just that. Other times they become good pro pitchers. On rare occasions, they become great pro pitchers. It may be easy to lump Orlan into that first category, but I think he ultimately could fall into the middle grouping. His raw stuff doesn’t jump out at you — upper-80s FB (92 peak), above-average mid-80s cutter, a pair of usable breaking balls — and his slight frame doesn’t scream big leaguer, but his total package is greater than the sum of his individual parts.

SO OF Chaz Frank (2012) | .287/.430/.349 – 43 BB/27 K – 11/14 SB – 209 AB

There may not be a whole lot of raw power here, but Frank has a good approach, above-average speed, and a solid hit tool. His best present tool is probably his defensive range in the outfield.

SO RHP Chris Munnelly (2012) | 7.84 K/9 – 3.73 BB/9 – 4.29 FIP – 70 IP

If I’ve learned one thing in doing this post, it’s that North Carolina’s pitching depth is crazy. I can’t even imagine how they’ll divvy up innings if some of their biggest recruits wind up on campus this fall. One of the top returning pitchers next year will be Chris Munnelly. Munnelly was counted on to throw a lot this past spring for North Carolina, and with good reason. His decent fastball (88-91) plays up because of plus command, and both his advanced change and rapidly improving breaking stuff could be even bigger weapons in time.

*****

FR 3B Colin Moran (2013) | .348/.459/.583 – 48 BB/29 K – 230 AB

When he enrolled at North Carolina last fall, Moran’s name jumped out as the younger brother of former Tar Heels reliever Brian and nephew of former Tar Heel and big league star BJ Surhoff. I also knew he was a well regarded high school prospect out of New York, but, since we’re all pals now and have no reason not to be honest with one another, had assumed that the family legacy bit had way more to do with his scholarship than his ability. Take a look at his freshman year stat line and laugh at how very wrong I was. Moran is the real deal as a prospect, a hitter with legit big league upside, a gorgeous lefthanded stroke, and a great approach at the plate. He is an average defender at present, but there is enough there in the way of tools that makes you think he can become an above-average third baseman in time. Physically, he reminds me a little bit of former Ranger Hank Blalock.

FR LHP Kent Emanuel (2013) | 8.56 K/9 – 2.01 BB/9 – 3.56 FIP – 89.1 IP

Emanuel is another prospect who has far surpassed my expectations as a freshman. One thing I’ve enjoyed about Emanuel’s excellent freshman season has been the answer to the question “What would happen if a Tyler Skaggs/Henry Owens type went to campus instead of turning pro?” Emanuel tacked on over thirty pounds to his 6-4 frame (now up to 205) and upped his sitting fastball a couple ticks (now at 87-89 MPH). His change is already an above-average college offering, and could be plus pro pitch with the way he throws it with fastball arm speed. His best bet at another above-average pro pitch is probably a slider, but that is something to be developed down the line; for now, his cut fastball works as a usable college offering just fine.

FR C Matt Roberts (2013) | .237/.310/.316 – 2 BB/10 K – 38 AB

If Stallings signs with the Reds — hardly a foregone conclusion as a 42nd round pick — then Roberts should take over full-time duty behind the plate in 2012. On paper he has everything you’d want in a young catching prospect: athleticism, above-average defensive upside, and good power.

FR RHP Andrew Smith (2013) | 10.04 K/9 – 3.12 BB/9 – 3.55 FIP – 26 IP

I can’t wait to see what the super talented Smith does in an expanded role next season. He reminds me a bit of Cody Stiles (93 peak FB, potential plus mid-70s CB, SL with promise) and could really take off next year if his changeup, a pitch I’ve heard looked good in practice this year, comes around.

FR RHP Shane Taylor (2013) | 10.25 K/9 – 2.75 BB/9 – 3.01 FIP – 36 IP

Woodard, Warren, Johnson…Taylor? His upper-80s sitting fastball, good mid-70s curveball, and really impressive control and command definitely bring back memories of former Tar Heels pitchability righthanded greats.

FR RHP Jake Cole (2013)

Cole’s arm strength (92-93 peak) and the makings of a hard upper-70s slider make him a name to remember. There were some rumors that he will be given a retroactive redshirt for 2011; if that’s the case, he’ll remain a freshman in 2012, but also remain draft-eligible in 2013.

FR OF Jeff Bouton (2013) | .282/.378/.410 – 4 BB/21 K – 3/3 SB – 39 AB

Bouton came to school with the reputation of a good power/speed prospect, but almost all the power/speed in the world won’t work with plate discipline like that. Just a freshman, there is plenty of time for him to figure it out going forward.

FR 1B/OF Thomas Zengel (2013) | .214/.338/.313 – 20 BB/16 K – 112 AB

Zengel is a bat-first prospect who will have to keep on hitting if he hopes to get noticed. He strikes me more of a potentially really good college player more than a future big-time pro prospect, but the plate discipline shown in 2011 has me a little intrigued.

FR C Brian Holberton (2013) | .267/.352/.400 – 11 BB/13 K – 75 AB

Matt Roberts was the high profile catching recruit in 2011 and the expected heir apparent to the job, but Holberton has a chance to alter those plans. His defense behind the plate is his biggest strength and his gap power has been better than advertised.

FR 1B/2B Parks Jordan (2013) | .179/.343/.214 – 6 BB/10 K – 28 AB

There could be room for Parks Jordan to get some time at second base next year if North Carolina decides to shift Tommy Coyle to shortstop (i.e. the Levi Michael Special). There is some upside with the bat, but his glove is a question mark.

FR LHP Tate Parrish (2013): LOOGY upside; 6-0, 165 pounds; (9.39 K/9 – 5.28 BB/9 – 2.70 FIP – 15.1 IP)

Parrish is by all accounts a great guy and tireless worker. I could say that about a lot of the players on this list, but, when asking around about Parrish for this piece, almost every person I spoke to commented on Parrish the person before talking about Parrish the player. They also said that he’s got the stuff to get college lefthanders out consistently and, with continued development, perhaps pro lefthanders as well. That last sentence is structured horribly, but I’m losing steam here…

FR LHP Hobbs Johnson (2013)

Johnson is a pitchability lefty with an upper-80s fastball. That’s all I’ve got.